24 October 2005

Commentary: Rock On Saroeuth!

One of the most surreal things in life is hearing that someone you knew and cared about has passed away.

I found out earlier today that my Junior Varsity Volleyball Coach, Saroeuth Phim, had passed away in a car accident a couple of days ago. No, we were not the best of friends. No, we did not keep in touch after that year that she was my coach, but we did share a lot of memories.

The weird thing is that a couple of days ago I came across this picture of her and thought, "I wonder how Saroeuth is doing?" I do not know the exact date of the car accident and I do not know the exact date that I looked at her picture again but the question is still there. Was the fact that I just happened across her picture again a mere coincidence? Or was there something behind it? For all I know, while I was looking at her picture and wondering how she was, she could have been breathing her last breath. Life is weird but death is even weirder.

I feel sad not because she's no longer a part of my life but because she is no longer living her life. Like I said, after my Junior Varsity year, I would still see her from time to time but we did not really keep in touch. However, before I could think about her and ponder, "What is she doing right now?" Now, when I think of her, I will know that she has passed away and that if she is doing something, it is her spirit that is doing it in some afterlife or another.

She was only twenty-one. I hate to think about death even though it is a huge part of life because I know that I can die anytime, anywhere. Thinking about death and what happens afterwards and all of that stuff baffles my mind. I really do not know the answers to the questions regarding death. Like Confucius said, "We do not know life, how can we know death?" I think that is why I try to live my life day by day or week by week. Sure, when a school assignment is set a month or three months in advance I will think about it. Or when an important event is set up way in advance, I will mark it on the calendar but for the most part, I just do not think that far ahead. My thoughts of the future are pretty abstract, something along the lines of, "Yes, I plan to do this thing sometime within the next year."

I think of Saroeuth and I think of her smile. I cannot get her smile out of my head. Even when she was mad, the image of her smile was there just beneath the surface. She was one of the Varsity volleyball players I was afraid of during my year on the Freshman team but I respected her immensely and was awed by her skills. She was an awesome server. One day, late in my freshman year, I finally got enough courage to ask her for help and advice on serving because I sucked and she actually did help me out. When she was my coach for the Junior Varsity team, she continued to help me with my serving, along with so many other things.
Saroeuth, I have so many wonderful memories of you. You are in my heart and I will never forget you. I know that you are in a better place now so all I can say is, "Rock On!"

22 October 2005

Commentary: Christian Mongols?

One of the most interesting things I have learned this last week is that there were Christian Mongols in the 10th and 11th centuries. I guess I should have known, I mean, religions spread readily and what would stop some Mongols from adopting a new religion?

I think I was surprised by this fact because of the stereotypes I still hold about the Mongols. I am glad that I am learning more about them and their civilization because it helps to dispel such foolish beliefs. Obviously, for the most part, the things we learn about the Mongols are from the Western vantage point. As we all know, the West was not happy to meet the Mongols because their only experiences with them involved sackings and bloody losses. Due to this Western perspective, all I ever learned about the Mongols was that they were fierce warriors - scary people who were not to be messed with.

So why is it that we never hear about the Mongolian point of view? Because Mongol history is still kept under-wraps in The Secret History of the Mongols, a book that is still exclusively only for Mongols to access and write in. What little we actually do know about the Mongol culture and history has been based off of the bits and pieces that have leaked out from the book or from rare documents that tell us about the Mongols without a severely Western biased opinion of these people.

Anyway, if you are wondering what inspired me to bring this up, it was Eliot's blog. He had some posts about religion on his site and that reminded me of the Mongols. The Mongols who did convert to Christianity, did not convert to the Christianity that most people are familiar with; it was not the Christianity of the Byzantine Empire. The Mongols actually converted to Nestorian Christianity. The Nestorians were dissenters of Byzantine Christianity who broke away from the religious practices of the Byzantines because they believed in the diophysite (dual nature, divine and mortal) existence of Christ while the Byzantines believed in his monophysite (the belief that even as Jesus, Christ was essentially divine in nature) existence. When these dissenters broke away and formed the Nestorian branch of Christianity, they moved east of the Byzantine Empire to escape persecution.

Thus it came that the people who then adapted Nestorian Christianity were the people in Central Asia, the Sogdians (interchangeably called the Parthians or the Persians). Many Sogdians were merchants who traveled the Silk Road and during their travels, they passed through a great part of Central Asia. It is not surprising that they met some Mongols along the way and that some of these Mongols were influenced and persuaded by the Sogdians to convert to Nestorian Christianity.

There are many reasons why the Mongols were not barbaric or uncivilized, but I think the fact that some of them did adopt a monotheistic religion suffices as proof to those who believe that they were just "heathens." There is a lot more that I can say about the Mongol culture but I do not think I will get into all of that yet. However, the Mongols were an advanced group in their own way. Did you know they had a complex system of roads known as the Yam? During its time the Yam was comparable to the Roman Roads and the Persian Royal Road, in fact, it was such a successful and admirable network of transportation that the Mamluks (of Egypt) adopted their own version of it! Just as remnants of the Roman roads still remain and are used today, parts of the Yam exist and are also used in contemporary times.