Monday, October 31, 2016

Jordan: Petra

Petra, the ancient city in the region of Edom also known as the Red Rose City. This archaeological rock-cut architecture is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is famous for its half-built, half-carved into the rock and surrounded by mountain riddles with several passages. Located between Red Sea and Dead Sea, Petra was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom and has been inhabited since 300 BC.

From the Visitors Centre, tourists have the option to walk or ride a donkey all the way to the Entrance to The Siq with fascinating display of rock formations. This narrow canyon passage with delicate rock carvings in the wall leads to the famous Al Khazneh better known as The Treasury which is featured in blockbuster films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Mummy Returns, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the like. As you continue your journey you will have a chance to visit the Streets of Facades, Royale TombsTheater, Colonnaded Street, Museum and the Monastery.

Petra without a doubt is one of the most elegant remains of antiquity and Jordan's most valuable tourism treasure.

Here are some of the biblical references that points to Petra:

The border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward. --Judges 1:36

He killed of Edom in the Valley of Salt 10,000 and took Sela by war, and named it Joktheel to this day. --2 Kings 14:7

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

CCF: Being Good While in the Bad

Joseph is brought to Egypt
Genesis 39-40
Bro. Fred Magbanua

Aside from Jesus Christ, Joseph is one of the few characters in the Bible who has no account of misbehavior or wrongdoing. In previous chapters of Genesis we learned that Joseph, was loved by his father Israel more than any of his sons. At a young age, he had a dream about the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him, a dream which made his brothers hated him more. His father Israel then sent him to Shechem to find out about his brothers who are herding flocks. But his brothers took this opportunity to get rid of him but Reuben persuaded them to not kill the boy which they agree. Before Reuben could rescue him, Judah urged them to sell Joseph to the Midianite merchants and deceived their father that Joseph was already dead. Joseph was then sold by the Midianites as a slave to Potiphar in Egypt.

Image courtesy of
If you were Joseph, how would you respond when things gets out of hand, when you are placed to uncertainty and security is taken away from you by the same people who are meant to protect you? Not because you did anything wrong. Joseph's story offers us various lessons of refining our character and enduring trust to God. Genesis 39-40 teaches us how to stay good and do the right thing while in bad situation.

Move forward with God no matter what the situation.

The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. --Genesis 39:2-4

The eyes of the Lord is certainly set to the righteous people. He blesses them in spite and despite of their unfavorable situations. God's blessings on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob now rests on Joseph. Joseph being a man of God found favor in the eyes of his earthly master because his heavenly master was with him.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked. – Psalm 1:1

This is definitely not a prosperity message, Joseph without wrongdoing was betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave, not so fortunate situation. But this did not stop him from seeking God. In spite of his lowest position as a slave, he exhibits good character, faith in God as a result the Lord bless him.
Joseph could have ran away from God, worked without joy, became negative and operated without God in mind, but instead he believed God is in control, worked heartily, remained expectant and trusted God.
Similarly, are we representing Christ's nature to others? Are we living out our belief not only in the church but in the workplace and home? Are we good witnesses of Jesus Christ?

Move forward with God despite previous successes.

Now when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spoke to him, saying, “This is what your slave did to me,” his anger burned. So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; and he was there in the jail. But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him – Genesis 39:19-21

Joseph when faced with a potentially compromising situation, he knew exactly what to do – run. Run away from temptation. But despite being loyal to his master by avoiding Potiphar's wife Joseph ended up in prison. Once again obeying the Lord landed him to a seemingly failure situation. Imagine from a favored son to becoming a slave then eventually in prison could have been overwhelming journey for Joseph. But even in prison, Joseph remained faithful and operated with God in mind, thus the Lord was with him.

Move forward with God despite being forgotten.

After sometime, the chief cupbearer and the baker both offended their master and sent to the prison. They are both placed under Joseph's custody.

Why are your faces so sad today?” Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.” – Genesis 40:7-8

Notice how Joseph as an administrator showed concern and kindness to people under his care. He asked them about their dream and pointed them to God as the source of understanding. Joseph explained the meaning of their dreams and after three days both interpretations happens just as Joseph said.

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. --Genesis 40:23

The cupbearer could have forgotten Joseph, but the Lord did not forget about him. God is sovereign who allowed Joseph to be sold as a slave in Egypt, but continue to be with him so he found favor in his master; locked up in prison for doing what is right; eventually becoming in charge of all Egypt and second most powerful man next to the Pharaoh.

There are times that we can't see where God is leading us and we don't understand why bad things happen to good people. But one thing is for sure, we can continue hanging on to God and know that He is in full control, the One who causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Vietnam: Hanoi Hoy!

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam and the second largest city in the country is known for its centuries-old architecture and rich culture with fusion of Southeast Asia, Chinese and French influences. We visited during the month of March which is cool and mostly dry winter season. The chilling temperature between 15 to 22 degree Celcius on an average, was perfect for a leisure walk around Old Quarter area either for food expedition, cultural journey or shopping spree. The narrow streets of Old Quarter are roughly arranged by commercial products, which makes it fascinating to explore. It is like a whole city of marketplace with diverse line of merchandise. 

Along Ma May Street where Hanoi Guest House is also located(85 Ma May Street, Hoan Kiem Hanoi), we found a traditional Vietnamese house(87 Ma May Street, Hoan Kiem Hanoi)

Ma May Street once located on the bank of the Red river was a very lively commercial harbor. It is consisted of two small streets: Hang May and Hang Ma. Hang May, located near the pier, specialized in the selling of rattan and bamboo products, Hang Ma, close to Hang Bac Street, sold votive papers. At the beginning of the 19th century, the two streets were combined into Ma May Street.

This traditional house was built at the end of the 19th century. Shopkeepers' families lived there successively until 1945, when a family bought it to sell herbal medicine. In 1945, the government requisition the house and five families settled down there until 1999. This house has been restored within the cooperation agreement between Hanoi and Toulouse(France) cities and was inaugurated on the 27th October 1999. Since then, the house helps to promote at local and international levels the cooperation projects, and more specifically to present the Vietnamese architecture and building techniques. It was recognized as Vietnamese National Heritage in 2004.

(Excerpts from Hanoi Old Quarter Heritage Information Center voucher)

Few minutes walk away from Old Quarter is Hoan Kiem Lake("Hồ Hoàn Kiếm" in Vietnam which means "Lake of the Returned/Restored Sword") and Ngoc Son Temple, a pagoda sitting in the centre of the small island. Hoan Kiem Lake is a scenic spot where it is interesting to observe mixture of locals and tourists. 

Just be very careful while crossing the high way towards the lake as a force of motorbike riders who are dashing through the streets have invaded the roads. Definitely not a walk in the park experience. One word you have to keep in mind as you cross the streets - FEARLESS. Just keep going, cut across as if there is no motorcycles on your way. I know this is not the most practical and safest advice you're heard, but believe me. One Vietnamese friend of mine says, just cut through the street without hesitations, the motorbike riders will be the one to adjust for you. Well thank goodness, we went home in one piece.  

Local artists offering on the spot painting service

As night unfolds, Hanoi area transforms itself into multitude of bar, music joints, food quest, cultural shows and night market. 

3D hand-made colorful cards for all occassions
Glaiza sneeking in the the kitchen
Artist Thahn Nguyen Duc
Sidewalks turned into food hubs
Street lights
Colorful lantern Vietnamese Restaurant
Street foods
Vietnam cultural street shows
Streets of Old Quarter at night
Local Vietnamese singer
Finding Glaiza

Vietnam: Hanoi Guest House

Five months before March this year, I manage to book our plane tickets to Hanoi via Vietnam Airlines and got it for SGD 233.00 economy return airfare. I catched a 4pm flight from Singapore and after three hours and fifteen minutes traversing 1359 miles I reached Noi Bai International Airport at 8:20pm. It was my first time flying with Vietnam Airlines, the flag carrier of Vietnam and so far I was quite satisfied with their services and customer care.

Via Agoda, I booked our four nights accommodation to Hanoi GuestHouse for SGD 167 total or SGD 41.75 per night. This two-star guest house is less than an hour drive away from the airport and nestled in the heart of Hanoi Old Quarter area. Exquisitely more than a bed and breakfast and an ideal place for sightseeing and shopping area in Hanoi.

They offer airport transfer, free WIFI, tour packages and 24h front desk which made it very convenient for us to reach the place and plan our itinerary.

The superior twin room assigned to us were spacious, clean and cozy. All the staff were also friendly, helpful and warm to us, making our stay more memorable. 

Our accommodation comes with a daily breakfast of choice with a variety of local Vietnamese and western food. One thing I look forward every morning is their Viet coffee :D 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Vietnam: Halong Bay

Halong Bay, located in Quảng Ninh Provincenorthern part of Vietnam, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its emerald waters and thousands of limestone karsts.

The term Ha Long is derived from Sino-Vietnamese "下龍" which means "descending dragon" and legend tells us that this spectacular seascape was created when the great mountain dragon descended and incinerated the enemies of ancient Vietnamese with their divine fire and giant emeralds. These emeralds scattered in the Gulf of Tonkin after thousands of years became 1,600 pillars of islands and islets in distinct size and shapes.

When visiting Vietnam, Halong Bay should be on top of your must-see places. Our trip started with a 7:30am shuttle pickup from Hanoi Guest House, then we had a short stop over in one of the shops for quick toilet break, breakfast and some souvenir shopping around 10:30am.

Souvenir shop
Thread painting with the locals
Photo op muna with sister ;)
This is where she is good at :D 
Entire trip took us almost three hours from the hotel all the way to Tuan Chau Group Office where we get our tickets for the boat cruise for our Halong Bay trip.

Tuan Chau Port
Boat wharf
Around 12:30pm when we board the Alova Day Cruise as our much awaited Halong Bay cruise begins. The tour comes with a Vietnamese set lunch served aboard during the cruise. After the sumptuous food, our first stop is a floating fishing village where tourist get to try kayaking to explore the bay or have a boat ride through the help of a local Vietnamese to paddle and navigate the boat traversing different areas of the Halong Bay.

Me, Jasper, Glaiza and our local Vietnamese rower :D
Boat ride with the locals
Passing through one of the caves
One side of the bay
Fishing village
After the mystical experience of boat riding through the bay, we then visited Dong Thien Cung cave located in one of the islands in Halong Bay.

Bridge walkway to Dong Thien Cung
Port access to the cave
View from the island
Stalactites formation inside the cave
Natural light passing through the cave
Synthetic colored light inside the cave
Overall our Halong Bay experience is not only satisfying to our appetite(because of the lunch aboard) but also to our eyes.