The essays below will focus on Southeast Asian geography, describing religious pilgrimages, and reasons beyond.
The paper will follow and explore four individuals as they embark on personal journeys on the holistic landscape of South East Asia. Surakarta, Central Java, Indonesia to Makam Sunan Drajat [the tomb of Sunan Drajat] Java, Indonesia.
An 18-year-old boy takes a journey after he discovers a letter from his mother who abandoned him at the doorstep of expat residents in Laos.
Pakxe, Laos to Wat Xieng Thong, Khem Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos
A student at the National University of Laos architecture faculty undertakes the journey to complete his thesis and re-link with his roots.
Manila, Philippines to Kamay Ni Hesus, Lucban, Quezo
A recent Social Science graduate embarks on a journey back to her homeland on a pilgrimage for mass prayer for slums in her land of origin.
Mandalay, Myanmar to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Mon State, Myanmar
An academic in the music field embarks on a journey to convert to Buddhism after he is drawn to the subject matter of his studies.
My Soul Journey in South East Asia
My name is Widji Widodo. I was born in August 1998. I just turned 18 years old. The journey of my story began when my laminated school badge fell off my bag one day. It was picked up by a young girl. I heard someone running toward me and muttered to myself ‘I do not have extra lunch left’. Her voice droned in my ear. She shouted out in echoes. Poverty around me made me want to throw up my slices of well-packed lunch box that I chewed on. The sounds and sights of poverty lingered all around me.
She uttered my full name. I was surprised and numb, slowing down in my strides. Then I saw her waving my badge. I latched onto it sacredly. “Hey, are you related to…Widji Thukul, his real name was Widji Widodo! she uttered excitedly.
I was raised in the home of expats living in Indonesia in a place called ‘Solo.’ More formally known as Surakarta located in the middle of the island known as Java. The expat community in Solo retirees living mainly in the countryside and some foreign academics studying Javanese culture, language, and tradition were a mere distant observation, with a bundle of material in literature, video, and audio all in my parents’ library. They were academics. I never questioned my original roots and succumbed to convenient sustainability. It was a life a step ahead of the contrast of daily life in Solo. My expat adoptive parents shunned any airs of curiosity.
But that day I questioned my name. I sat in the library and found an enclosed cabinet full off publications. Who was this? I read more. Widji Widodo was born in Solo in 1963. He was a poet with a voice of activism in the social and political sphere. He was one of the activists Widji Thukul who disappeared during the black period 1997-1998 when many activists were either missing or abducted, and some were even killed mysteriously. His poems are political and often critical of the Indonesian government (under Suharto) and the social conditions of the country. It’s suspected that he’s one of many anti-government protesters abducted by government forces.
Vaguely I knew I was taken into this home from birth after I was left at the doorstep of my academic and theatre-inclined parents. They named me and chose that name. Why? I dug deeper. I was born in a neighborhood close by shortly after Widjy Thukul that I was named after went missing after a protest and there was no trace of him. My roots? Nobody really knew. I was left in their care. I questioned holding the books authored by Widji Thukul in my hand.
My first name, as I was told, was given to them in a package with the books and a letter. My parents gave me the letter. The envelope said, “I leave you apart from the trenches of poverty and continue on my mission. When you are 18, take the pilgrimage to Makam Sunan Drajat.” My journey to heal had sparked off. My point of departure was a pilgrimage.
I left at Surakarta and stopped at Solo Blalpan after almost four hours. Then walked for six minutes to Plaza Surabaya Gubeng and another bus from Plaza Surabaya for forty minutes. We reached the masjid Tamiriya Indrapura after one and a half an hour on a bus. We got to the terminal Bunder and then another long ride for two hours at Pasar Waga. After a thirteen-minute walk, I reached my destination – Makam Sunan Drajat. The tomb of Sonan Drajat is in Drajat, Lomongan. Sunan Drajat spread Islam on the island of Java. Born in 1470 AD by the name of Raden Qasim, Sunan Drajat was known for his philosophy and social awareness spirit. The Sunan Drajat philosophy of reducing poverty is enshrined in stairs to the seventh level of the Tomb:
- Memangun tyasing Sasoma recipe (we always make other people happy).
- Jroning like kudu Eling lan alert (in a jovial mood we should be aware and alert).
- Laksmitaning subrata tan nyipta marang pringgabayaning lampah (on the way to achieving the goal – a lofty we are not concerned with any form of obstacle).
- Mèpèr Hardaning Pancadriya (we should always suppress a surge of passions).
- Heneng – Hening – Henung (at rest we will get in a state of stillness and silence that we will achieve the goal – noble).
- Mulya to Panca Time (an inner and outer happiness can only be achieved with prayers five times a day).
- Mènèhana signed marang wong kang Wuta, Mènèhana manganese marang wong kang luwé, Mènèhana fashion marang wong kang Wuda, Mènèhana ngiyup marang wong kang kodanan (Give science for people to be clever, Teach morality in people who have no shame, and give the protection of people who suffer).
Sunan Drajat also became known as a saint of songs of Java. Mocopat is a pickaxe that is played using a gamelan set “Singo Mengkok”. The gamelan set Sunan Drajat Kuno is stored in the museum of the Sunan Drajat complex that is located Sunan Drajat tomb. Clutching my mother’s letter in my hand, I whispered out…My son…. Widji Wadoto, by the time you read this letter, arise, take a pilgrimage to Makam………hear the sounds, feel the words…….
Pakxe, Laos to Wat Xieng Thong to Khem Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos
My name is ……………………….. I am an architecture student at the National University of Laos (NUOL), a university located in Vientiane, the capital of Laos. I am originally from Pakse, which is predominantly Buddhist. I decided to embark on a journey to Khem Khong, for an assignment of a thesis on architect sites in Laos. Laos had multiple architectural sites to choose from. I chose this as a particular combination as a journey of my soul. I initiated the journey with a short family visit in Pakxe.
Tourists take the journey to Laos for many reasons but Laos Architecture is an exciting stimulus with the attachment to animism and Buddhism. Animal shapes and Buddha images are usually featured in Laos. Some historical constructions were damaged as a result of war but there are several remnants that win the interest of architects, tourists, archaeologists, and adventurers worldwide.
Significant attractions in Laos are influenced by the French colonial era. The city of Pakxe was founded by the French administration. It was formerly a residence of King Ratsadanay (1874-1945), the father of Prince Boun Oum who became the Prime Minister between 1948–1950 and also from 1960 to 1962. He eventually retired from the political sphere and pursued business ventures from Pakxe and Chapassak until he went into exile when communist forces came into power in 1975.
The route went northeast toward the No.38 Road; from there, I was on route 13 to Vientiane where my University is based. Eventually it was Route 4 to Luang Prabang, Kingkitsarath Rd to Khem Khong. The destination was on the left of Khem Khong.
Wat Xieng Thong is at the tip of the peninsula in Luang Prabang, Laos. It is richly decorated and attractive. This royal temple was built in 1559 on the Mekong River Banks. It was one of the few temples that survived the 1887 invasion of the Black flag army.
The most attractive building is the congregation hall of the Wat Xieng Thong temple. Extensive decoration of gold stenciling on a black lacquer background covers the interior and exterior of the areas.
A tree of life mosaic on a red background was created in the 1960s with a standing Buddha picture and images of a tiger and two peacocks and a man walking. The mosaic has an entrance door intricately carved on either side. The interior consists of pillars of teak wood supporting the roof. The walls are stenciled in gold with animals, floral motifs, and daily life scenes.
Chariot Hall, Tree of life, Manila, Philippines to Kamay Ni Hesus, Lucban, Quezon
The journey began with a traveler, Angelika Kei. She was born and raised in the Philippines but eventually moved to the USA with her parents and continued schooling there. During her last semester at Philippines college, she was designated to an outreach program in the Smokey Mountains. A slum area in Manila, Philippines. Smokey Mountains is the largest dumpsite and impoverished area where garbage is gathered by over 250,000 people, who make a living this way.
Several years have passed and she had achieved her academic levels in social sciences. She decides to embark back on a trip in a venture to take a pilgrimage of healing for the slums of Manilla.
The bus journey was a three-hour route. It passed Sariava and Tiaong Candelaria. There are minibusses and jeeps that travel to Lucban.
Kamay ni Hesus Shrine
Kamay ni Hesus Shrine located in Lucban Quezon is a destination for all those who seek to be part of the chapel’s healing mass. The journey involves climbing 305 steps to the statue of Ascending Christ which is 50ft tall.
The property has various sites inclusive of Noah’s Ark, Luklukan ni Maria, Resurrected Christ, Garden of Eden, The Angels Hill, Gallery of Saints, the religious Murals, and The Marian Park.
Noah’s Ark was intended to be a spiritual retreat, for families and individuals in need of spiritual renewal.
Mandalay, Myanmar to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Mon State, Myanmar. My Journey in Myanmar
Myanmar is a country that is known for Buddhist Pagodas, natural landscapes, and ancient cities with remarkable traditional ways. In an academic discourse in my music major, I got drawn into an assignment. Shortly after I discovered my original heritage was linked to Myanmar. I made a bold decision to undertake conversion to Buddhism as the insight and philosophy entered every segment of my soul, through my personal and academic journey. My Thesis was on Nandashay Sayar Tin, the composer of the national anthem.
I eventually took on the initiative to name myself w Sayar, Burmese meaning “Teacher’, to link with my Mandalay roots.
After high school, Tin worked at a private school and also established himself in traditional Burmese Sounds. The “young men Buddhist private school was founded by him in 1918.
In 1930, the school was closed and Tin relocated to Yangon, where he had recorded music recorded, and Tin joined a political movement. He composed the anthem ‘Kaba Ma Kyei’, the national Burmese anthem. “Till the end of the world’. Tin was imprisoned after patriotic lyrics of the song he composed after a ceremony rendition and accused of inciting activism by the British officers. He was eventually released in 1946, and the song became a national anthem. He was awarded on Independence Day on January the fourth in 1950.
After I completed my thesis on Sayar Tin, I undertook my journey of conversion to Buddhism.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is perched on the edge of a cliff. It is a giant rock that is gravity-defying and plastered with gold leaf. Also known as Golden Rock, it is a site of sacred pilgrimage site located in Mon State. According to legend folklore, it is maintained that rock defies gravity and keeps balance as it contains a strand of Buddha’s hair that is meticulously placed.
It was the day I converted to Buddhism
- Evans, G (1998) The Politics of Ritual and Remembrance: Laos Since 1975,
- Quin, G, Throwing money at the holy door: Commercial aspects of popular pilgrimage in Java,
- Fealy and Sally White (eds.), Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies ( 2007), p 63-7
- USA International Business Publications, Laos Business Law Handbook. Wilkinson, G (2015),
- Golden Rock, Myanmar: Asia’s mysterious giant rock defying the rules of gravity.
- Jovino, S, Smokey Mountain: A walk through the slums of Manila, Philippines,
- Renown Travel ( 2010 – 2016), Wat Xieng Thong, One of Laos’ most beautiful and richly decorated temples,
- Yampolsky, T. R. (2003) Wiji Thuku: People’s poet, Lontar Foundation, Jakarta.
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