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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Bangkok, at Wat Pho

I have been a few times to Bangkok, and this was my second time to visit Wat Pho temple. Although it was my second visit, it refreshed my memories from long ago about this impressive temple. The hot humid summer did not deter me and the tourists coming to this temple that morning.

After passing the Chinese Giant Guardians, the Tha Tian entrance gate, I went straight into the Temple of Reclining Buddha. Like any other temple, you need to take your shoes off to enter, and all visitors must wear appropriate clothing, that means no exposed shoulders or skin above the knee. Then, straight from the entrance the first thing I found was the side of Buddha’s head sitting nicely on his right arm. The size of his head is amazing, and the elongated reclining body made the statue even more impressive. It stands 15 meters tall and 46 meters long, covered in gold leaves shining majestically in the rather dark room, making its presence dominating the whole room. Not sure about the weight of this gigantic Buddha statue, but the entire statue had a brick core, which was molded with plaster before finally being gilded.

His fish-shaped eyes made of white mother of pearl looked like lost in a thought. The crown on his head, or Ushnisha , symbolizes his Enlightenment, and the small dot between his eyebrows, or Urna, symbolizes a third eye, which in turn symbolizes vision into the divine world. His long earlobes symbolize a conscious rejection of the material world in favor of spiritual enlightenment.

After walking together with so many vistors along the 46 meters long reclining body we reached his feet, which are also gigantic in scale, 3 meters high and 4.5 meters long! The base of these feet are also inlaid with mother-of-pearl, engraved with carvings to display the symbols of Buddha. On the soles of his feet, there are 108 auspicious signs such as flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers, and altar accessories by which Buddha can be identified. At the center of each foot there is a circle representing a chakra or 'energy point'. Many visitors were immersed in the beauty of this golden Buddha and the symbolism it represented.

Although the reclining Buddha looks like someone relaxing on a sofa, it is actually a representation of Buddha’s last moments on earth during his illness. It represents the moment he was about to enter parinirvana, the nirvana after death. He is lying on his right side with his blissful face resting on a cushion as he supports his head with his hand.

As a way of commemorating his passage to the afterlife, his disciples built a statue of him in this pose. This is now the grand, golden statue that lies inside Wat Pho. Decades later, more versions of reclining Buddhas were created all over South East Asia.


Source: Wikimedia

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Bangkok, in the Morning

Bangkok in the Morning perhaps is a better representation of the real Bangkok, rather than the touristic image it has during day time and during night time. No wonder, most tourists searched for those attractive places during day time and the entertainments at night time. Not many tourists want to wake-up early in the morning to see the people of Bangkok getting ready and rush to work, to beat the traffic jams.

Even less tourists wake-up earlier than 6AM to see the monks go on a daily alms round to collect their food of the day. I happened to woke up early in the morning one day and went with my camera to the see the early morning roads and to visit Wat That Thong temple located in the heart of Bangkok, Ekkamai area, that is not on most tourists itinerary.

On the streets and at the Wat That Thong temple, I saw many monks in orange robe wandering with a bowl in their hands. Traditionally in Theravada Buddhism, monks would get up as early as 4 am, do some prayers to the Buddha and meditate, and then have a light morning meal. After that, they might go for alms round in the community, return to monastery and have the meal together before 12 noon.

Mothers have been cooking food for monks and giving alms since the dawn of Buddhism over 2,500 years ago. Specifically, almsgiving is a tradition of Theravada Buddhists, who are an overwhelming majority in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Laos. By bringing monks food each day, the faithful are investing in the faith, and in doing so they too make merit to nourish their own souls.

So, on that day I felt like giving alms to the monks, but we must remember that most of the monks are vegetarian. The food should be simple as the monks generally must eat whatever foods are given to them. But it is not charity as presumed by Western interpreters. It is closer to a symbolic connection to the spiritual realm and to show humbleness and respect in the presence of the secular society. Indeed, it was always the best food from our kitchen, as it was intended not just to give food to the monks but also to demonstrate the giver’s selflessness and commitment to the faith. It is the worldly duty of the layman, as a way to maintain a direct connection with the Lord Buddha.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Hi Seoul Festival, Pop Music

The Korean popular music or K-pop has become a global phenomenon featuring distinctive blend of catchy melodies, slick choreography and stage effects. The success of K-pop is also attributed to the attractive performers spending years in grueling studio learning and practicing to sing and dance in synchronized perfection. The songs typically consist of one or a mixture of pop, rock, hip hop, R&B, and electronic music.

In October, the ‘Hi Seoul Festival’ was going on at Gwanghwamun Square. It was a large annual performing arts festival to promote international unity by enabling people to communicate with one another through music and non-verbal performances, going beyond the barriers of language, race and age. Hundreds of performances by teams from around the world are presented during the week-long festival.

One of the performances in the festival is off course the Pop band. Korean pop music has been around in Korea for some time, but it’s only in the past decade or so that it’s made significant inroads into the mainstream music world. The Korean youngsters love their Korean pop music bands and are proud of them gaining recognition on an international level as well.


Saturday, April 18, 2020

An Interview with Sulli

Photo: Wikimedia
I came straight from the Incheon airport to SM Entertainment brand new head quarter in Cheongdam-dong area of Seoul to meet the highly popular actress and singer, Sulli. Actually I was surprised to get the assignment to interview this star, as our publication normally does not cover tabloid articles like this. But, hey, the times change and we must adapt to the times.

Anyway, it would be exciting to meet celebrities in the epicenter of the K-Pop industry, the driver of “Hallyu“ or “Korean Wave”. If lucky, I may also got see BoA, TVXQ, Super Junior, SNSD, Shinee, f(x), EXO, Girls’ Generation, etc. Just follow the screaming voice of the fans and I could find them.

Sulli appeared to be a modest behaviour girl, too modest for her stage persona. Dressed like other Korean girl, yellow with flower embroidery pinned to the skirt, like she was going to a wedding party. Her smile was sweet, which she covered it with her hand when she laughed, like a shy teen girl meeting a cute boy. So much different than the way she dressed and danced on stage, or on video clip or as a drug addict on her latest movie.

Her skin was as white as milk, like other Korean girls, her hair bleached to pinkish blond, like many other Korean celebrities. Her eyes looked puffy like what we can see on many of her photos and instagrams, the puffy lower eyelids looked dark, probably because of cosmetic, not sure.

Anyway, it was very pleasant to meet her, she was very friendly and casual, no ‘diva’ air in her behaviour. Neither did she looked like Sulli the controversial girl that rocked the social media with her appearance and statements, rather she was soft spoken and occasionally smiled and laughed.

So, after greeting her, I went straight to my check list that I prepared, not to waste time:

“Sulli, you began your career as a trainee at the very young age of 11 in 2004, and then played the young Princess Seonhwa of Silla in the drama movie Ballad of Seodong. Further, as a young actress you played in drama movie like the ‘Vacation’, ‘Punch Lady’, ‘Babo’.  Then you debuted as a member of the girl singing group f(x) in 2009, while in the mean time you continued your acting career and peaked in the television drama series ‘To the Beautiful You’. In this drama series you received the New Star Award in 2012 for your role as a girl disguised as a boy to meet an athlete idol, played by Choi Minho of Shinee.  All I can say, what an impressive career Sulli, you must have been under huge pressure to achieve all that at young age.”

“I think because I've been active since I was young, there haven't been many people who thought of me as young. There were a lot of scary moments. If they told me to do something, I would, and I didn't even know the reason why I had to. At a certain point, I started to wonder, 'Why do I have to do this?' I don't think it was a good fit for me.  I was under so much pressure. I often felt scared. “

I said:
“You left the girls singing group f(x) in 2014, reportedly due to mental and physical exhaustion and to focus on your acting career. What happened….?”

“I had been struggling with online abuse, and struggling with a panic disorder, social phobia my whole life …. I’ve had panic disorder ever since I was young. There were times when close people… Some of my closest friends have left me. People hurt me, so everything fell apart. I didn’t feel like I had anyone on my side or anyone who could understand me. So that’s why I completely fell apart. I was scared and unsure of my future, so I think I tried to protect myself as much as possible. I was trying to protect myself, so there was a sense of urgency. There wasn't anybody to listen to me when I was going through a hard time. It felt like I was just left alone in the world”.

I said:
“It was also rumored that you took a break from the entertainment industry due to the stress of rumors revolving around your relationship with Dynamic Duo's Choiza. The two of you later confirmed your relationship. The 14-year age gap with the then 20-year old you as well as Choiza’s rough and thuggish image shattered your cutesy pop idol facade – fueling fans’ outrage at the relationship. Is Choiza your ideal type really?”

“My ideal type is someone that is dependable, that doesn’t act cute a lot and listens to everything I say. It would be nice if he is always in the same place. And that he should be a man with straight hair, tidy clothing, sexy, and a dignified and open mind.”

I said:
“And Choiza said in an interview that his ideal type has never been a pretty woman or a young woman. He has never felt attraction towards someone who is both, but he really got along well with you, Sulli. You two have a lot in common. He also said that he takes inspiration from his relationship with you. He said, that it’s especially true that these memories are engraved in his songs. One of the songs that he wrote while dating you is ‘Eat, Do It, Sleep’, received criticism from Korean listeners due to its sexual and suggestive lyrics, and many presumed that the song was about you.”

“Back then I used to upload pictures of our dates. But when I posted one of our kisses, haters flocked to my Instagram, saying ‘Did you have to post this?’, ‘Please get married. Looks like you’ll have to.’
But I could care less what they say. I was in love and I was proud to show it. Why am I not allowed to post a photo of our kiss?”

I said:
“You have also come under fire for your posts on Instagram, which have been perceived by many as too revealing. In some of your photos, you were wearing thin, see-through lingerie, no bra, showing your nipples. What comments did you receive from the netizens about these photos?”.

“Something like, ‘Is Sulli's beauty real?’, ‘So beautiful in fall’, ‘I can't stop looking even though I try not too’, ‘She's a public figure. Can't she hold back a little bit?’, ‘You want to get naked so bad, huh?’,
‘Who does this? Who takes pictures like this and posts them?’, and more…..”

I said:
“In the Reality TV show Night of Hate Comments, where Korean celebrities gathered to tackle cyberbullying by reading and discussing harsh comments, you talked with a light laughter that you were sitting there in the show without wearing a bra. Why did you choose no bra clothing?”

“It is the freedom of the individual. Bras aren’t good for your health, they have a wire, they are not good for your digestive organs, and I have issues with my digestion. Since it’s more comfortable not to, I don’t wear them. I think that it’s free and beautiful. I also think of bras as accessories. They suit some clothing and if there is a clothing that doesn’t look good with bra, then I don’t wear one. When I first posted a ‘no bra photo’ there was a lot of talk about it. I was scared and could have hidden, but the reason I didn’t is that I want to change people’s prejudices about that. Part of me also wanted to say ‘This isn’t that big of a deal’. I have heard that lately there are more people who go out without bras on.”

I said:
“Did you file a criminal complaint against those people who wrote malicious comment about you?”

“I had filed a criminal complaint against someone. However, I found out that the person was going to a famous university and was the same age as me. If I wasn’t lenient with a student who goes to such good university, that person would become an ex-convict. The person would have issue when trying to find a job later on. I received a long letter from the malicious commenter. The person said sorry and hadn’t known it would become such a big issue, and had taken out their stress on me. I felt bad about turning someone my own age into an ex convict and decided to be lenient. However, if I file a complaint again I won’t be lenient ……(laughing, covering it with her hand).”

I said:
“Another controversy was about your comment in regards to South Korea's lift on the abortion ban. On 11th April 2019 the government ruled the 66-year-old anti-abortion law as unconstitutional. The anti-abortion law made having an abortion a crime and punishable up to 2 years in prison.”

“On that day, I shared a photo of flowers via Instagram and stated, ‘abortion crime abolished. It's an honorable day! Give choice to all women."

I said:
“Given that the subject of abortion has always been a controversial one, it would have been best for celebrities to perhaps been discreet about how overjoyed you were. While these acts aren’t surprising for the Western world, Korea’s conservative beliefs and culture lead to your condemnation in the public eye.”

“ Sorry, I do not wish to make any further comment about my stance on this matter.”

I said:
“There are people who suspected that you were using drug by looking at some of your Instagram posts, your pupils look dilated. Is it true?”

“There are people who have uploaded comparison photos of my pupils next to the photos of people who really do drugs. I did a film called ‘Real’ and there was a scene that portrayed drug use. I did a lot of research then and watched 5 films a day about drugs. So, my friend said: ‘Are you Heath Ledger or something?’,  I told them ‘Can’t I do methodical acting too? I do this because I want to do a good job.’
I could take a strand of my hair now to test whether I have been using drug.”

I said:
“I see, a hair follicle drug test is the only drug test that can detect repeated drug use up to 90 days prior to the test. But you had dyed her hair and eyebrows….”

“Then I do it with my leg hair….. (laughing, covering it with her hand). I don’t do anything illegal, I act freely within the limit of the law.”

I said:
“You mentioned the movie ‘Real’, which you starred with top-tier actor Kim Soo Hyun in 2017, but actually flopped in the box office. Why do you think so?”

“Its convoluted plot and twists are hard to understand and failed any effort to make the audiences’ mind blown. In Kim Soo Hyun words, the film isn’t exactly the kind of movie that people will naturally like at first so it will take some time for it to sink in. But the reviews were so harsh it brought Kim Soo Hyun to tears when giving speech during the promotional events for the movie. The tears didn’t last long, though, and he was quickly able to get ahold of himself and finish up with his speech.”

I said:
“Actually, your overdosed death scene in the bathtub hugged by Kim Soo Hyun was quite touching and memorable.  Your scenes were not that many but receive good comments from your fans. And the negative reviews that ‘Real’ has been getting, you were able to portray an unconventional and risky role, which has opened more doors for your acting career.
But somehow the scene that went viral is your explicit sex scene with Kim Soo Hyun, your naked breasts visible in the scene, was this scene really necessary to the story?”

“Yes, I feel the explicit sex scenes are necessary to the story. I don’t think it was easy. It was a huge challenge for me, acting-wise and in other areas. It was hard and I had a lot of concerns but it was fun.
I think I have a lot of ambition when it comes to acting. It grew when I was shooting this film. I felt something like a sense of achievement while acting.”

I said:
“After you left the girl singing group f(x) in 2014 to take a break, as you became mentally and physically exhausted from the continuous malicious comments and false rumors, then in 2017 you renewed your contract with SM Entertainment for movies and other programs.  Then in 2019 you returned to the K-Pop idol scene, debuting as a soloist in the Music Video single album ‘Goblin’. You helped to write the lyrics of the three songs.

The song ‘Goblin’ tells an internal monologue where a lady, which you portrayed, converses with three personalities, one good, one bad, and the other being her normal self. They want to be accepted by the lady since she has a dissociative order. With all of the controversies you have had in the past, people may easily assume that the song is indeed talking about you and your experience.”

“The three personalities are not monsters or goblins and the lady even comforted them saying ‘don’t be afraid, I just wanna tell you hi.’ (she mumbled the song)….. Don’t be so hard on me, I’m not a bad person (trying to smile through her sorrows). Please don’t misunderstand me.

 You know, my name Sulli, Sul means snow, and Li means the flower of Callery pear tree, originated from China and Vietnam, with small 5 petals white flowers,  so I will probably reincarnate into a flower that, though small, will be full of vitality.”

I said:
“Thank you Sulli for this interesting interview, but I have a last request, may I …ehm…..hug you…?”

Sulli said “Sure” with a sweet smile and reached for the hug. She smelled like the rose of the ‘Romance’ fragrance by Ralph Lauren ……

This is an imaginary interview in memory of Sulli.