Herbie Hancock's Trip with UNESCO
a special event
Siem Reap, Angkor, CambodiaSr 6, Phum Sala Kanseng, Sangkat Svay Dongkum, Siem Reap, Cambodia | (0)85563964301First day: 10 December 2011
My trip with UNESCO as Goodwill Ambassador has officially begun! (For more information on UNESCO's Goodwill Ambassadors see:
For more information on UNESCO's Phnom Penh Field Office see: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/phnompenh)
Everybody has been so helpful since I arrived in Cambodia. I am very impressed by the Cambodians’ smiles and their willingness to communicate!
After a brief introduction on the history of the Khmer Empire, I got to visit Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site! It contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century (you can learn more about it here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668)
I first visited the famous temple of Angkor Wat, one of Cambodia’s iconic sights! Built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city, it has always been a significant religious centre. It was founded as a Hindu temple, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then became a Buddhist site. Restoration efforts have been taking place on the Angkor Site since 1995. Maria Santoro, the lead engineer working with UNESCO & the Italian government, explained the main conservation challenges faced at the Angkor Wat temple as well as the restoration techniques used to mitigate these damages. The team here is training young Cambodian professionals too, empowering locals with the skills to protect their own heritage
Afterwards, I visited the Ta Prohm temple that the King Jayavarman VII dedicated to his mother in 1186. I marvelled at two new statues of Buddha (just discovered this October within the temple) by the Archaeological Survey of India and APSARA (Cambodian Authorities for the management of Angkor) Teams. Currently 30 projects involving 14 countries are being conducted on the Angkor site.
Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm left me speechless. I could not imagine the scale of the site before nor the span of time of the Khmer Empire. I am absolutely fascinated. I am also encouraged by the combining efforts of the different countries working in Angkor and coordinated by UNESCO. I am proud to see that various nations in the world are combining efforts to restore the remnants of the history of another country.”
Finally, my day finished with an elephant walk to observe the sunset at the Phnom Bakheng temple, one of the first capitals of the Khmer Empire. It was a beautiful day! And it was made possible by this global team here whose work is in many ways a model for the kind of efforts necessary to preserve our heritage but also a model for global peace building and sustainable development.
Angkor showed me today that human beings need each other to move forward. It shows that we cannot do things alone.
Second day: 11 December 2011
Sunny & 81 degrees: Day 2 started brilliantly, with a visit to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Cambodia. This Reserve consists of the Tonle Sap Lake and its surrounding floodplains. The Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in South-East Asia. One of its most extraordinary features is that the lake acts as a natural reservoir for the Mekong River, resulting in the reverse flow of waters during the rainy season. (You can learn more about UNESCO Biosphere Reserves here: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/environment/ecological-sciences/biosphere-reserves)
I was very impressed by the natural phenomena of the reverse flows and the fact that the lake expands 5 times its size during the rainy season. It’s a masterpiece of nature because of its unique ecosystem, with its flooded forests and biodiversity. 7 endangered species of birds such as the milky stork and the black-headed ibis are protected here. When you’re here, you really understand what “ecosystem” is about.
Afterwards, I went to the Preak Tol bird sanctuary which is one of the three core areas of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Former bird catchers were converted into active rangers for their protection. You get a feeling of freedom, seeing the birds fly without fear.
Finally, I was invited to visit a community based ecotourism project ran by Osmose, a UNESCO-supported NGO helping to improve the daily livelihood of the poorest families living on the floating villages through income generation activities such as handicraft of water hyacinth objects and a community restaurant. I had a fantastic time! What a stimulating visit for me to see how people can live on water adapting themselves to these very special conditions. I am impressed by their understanding and knowledge about their environment. They live with nature without countering it with an acute sense of observation. It reminds us where we all come from.
Third day: 12 December 2011
What does it mean to “save” a culture? What does it take? I got to see how UNESCO does this by participating in a series of activities hosted by an international coordination committee for “safeguarding” and “developing” Angkor. “Saving” a culture, indeed, begins with protecting what is there, and encouraging its continued expression into the future.
I was present at the inauguration of a major phase of work at Bayon Temple, one of the iconic temples at Angkor (more about this World Heritage Site here: http://whc.unesco.org/fr/list/668) Restoration efforts, funded by Japan & UNESCO, are extremely ambitious, attempting to consolidate the central tower of this symbolic but extremely complex temple. I was AMAZED by this splendid Khmer architecture! Built in the late 12th century, the Bayon temple stands at the center of Jayavarman VII’s capital, Angkor Thom.
The monuments I’ve seen here are knock-outs even when they’re scaffolded. So, imagine my reaction when I saw the newly restored mural paintings of the Bakong Pagoda! Dating back to the 19th century, the murals depict the life of Buddha. In one word: Incredible!
I was intrigued to learn about an “eco-village” of farmers, living outside the regal Angkor site. I immediately asked to visit this village. According to UNESCO experts working there, this experimental project was launched by the Cambodian Government to relocate young couples who can’t find additional agricultural lands to cultivate. Seventy-two families have been given a house and a plot of land, as well as training on organic agriculture and handicraft. Grassroots efforts like this stun me into the realization that what makes World Heritage Site truly extraordinary is their superior commitment to the sustainable development of human communities around them.
Fourth Day: 13 December 2011
Today I visited the extraordinary 10th century temple of Banteay Srei. Built with red sandstone, the temple is covered with stunning sculptures carved directly into the wall. Unlike other temples in the Angkor complex, Banteay Srei is smaller in size!
My feeling for Angkor has grown considerably in the 4 days since I came here. I’m deeply touched by this place, it’s impressive 15 major temples and thousands of archaeological remains. When I met UNESCO’s coordination team helping to safeguard Angkor, I felt very connected to them and their cause.
The team held a meeting today uniting different experts whose work helps to preserve Angkor for the future. I found it thrilling to discover all the different, and complimentary perspectives that go into this type of sustainable development work: monument conservation, archaeology, tree preservation, cultural tourism, hydrology… I was also very impressed by the number of different countries contributing funding to Angkor (ie: Cambodia, Singapore, Russia, South Korea, Poland, Japan). It shows that this World Heritage Site not only transcends national borders, but demonstrates the strength of working together globally, which also inspires our best efforts to succeed for such a worthy cause. (For more info on other World Heritage Sites, see:http://whc.unesco.org/en/254)
Heritage conservation is complex; each “object” or site requires very specific solutions to mitigate or undo the damage of time. I now realize the importance of specific details in several areas, one example being in chemical treatment for stone restoration!
As expected, debates focused mainly on the damage caused by the flooding to the site and the preventive measures which should be taken to prevent future catastrophes. Several temples and structures were affected by the terrible rains of last October. Inundated by this force of nature’s rage, UNESCO is Angkor’s beacon of hope. (For more info on the ICC, see: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/phnompenh)
Fifth Day: 14 December 2011
This evening we had an audience with His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia.
I was surprised to find that he was a huge fan of my music and loved hearing my stories of Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, and Bertrand Tavernier.
I was happy to hear that one of his favorite pieces is Rhapsody in Blue and one of his favorite pieces of mine is Manhattan.
Sixth Day: 15 December 2011
Definitely an intense, moving, sobering day! I spent the day in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, including visiting the Genocide Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum).
Formerly a high school, it was converted in 1975 into a museum by the Khmer Rouge as a prison and interrogation center. Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were tortured and killed here. Their faces are memorialized by black and white headshots of prisoners, that have come to symbolize for many this somber chapter of the nation’s history. UNESCO inscribed on its “Memory of the World Register” the museum archives, such as pictures, biographies and confessions of victims. There’s talk about digitalizing the 400,000 pages of the archives, in the future. You can check it out here: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/flagship-project-activities/memory-of-the-world/register/full-list-of-registered-heritage/registered-heritage-page-8/tuol-sleng-genocide-museum-archives/#c188357
(If you haven’t heard about it, “Memory of the World” is our humanity’s documentary heritage. That means: the scrolls, books, treaties, films, sound recordings, photos etc that “document” defining moments in world history, such as our struggle for democracy, are at risk. Looting and dispersal, illegal trading, destruction, inadequate housing and funding can threaten their existence. These key documents have to be preserved so that their memory, their messages, are available for the future.)
I discussed the importance of the memory of such atrocities and the right for people to have access to the documentation of those memories and archives with the renowned filmmaker Rithy Panh who is himself a survivor.
Finally, SOME MUSIC! I got the opportunity to hear some Cambodian music, examples ranging from the “Chapey” (a plucked string instrument) to the 14 year old soprano Bospha Panh. We connected by sharing some of the difficulties we artists have in difficult times, especially during war. Many artists were killed in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime I was told that 2 whole generations were sacrificed. In this country, I believe about ½ of the national population is under 22 years old.
Some played music, some sang. Listening to the music of one well known traditional musician reminded me of the blues, in tone, in the improvised phrasing from the instrument, and in his interpretation and his story of that very meeting. It shows the universality of the language of music. This beautiful sunset encounter also captured the spirit of jazz. We were in the moment and unafraid of showing our vulnerability to each other. Those are characteristics that touch peoples’ hearts.
It was a wonderful private dinner with Cambodian musicians covering a variety of genres, ages and styles that ended on a joyful note!
Seventh Day: 17 December 2011
I started the day by visiting the villages surrounding the Borobudur Temple Compounds, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Indonesia. I got a chance to witness the livelihood of the local people which made me realize how different culture and traditions influence their way of living and conducting everyday chores. (For more info, see:
The first visit was a tofu home industry where I saw the tofu making process and tasted the cooked tofu which is really delicious and fresh. Then we went to a different village where they are specializing in pottery making. I remember the smiles of the young children there who were learning to make pottery in many different shapes. I also had the opportunity to be able to make a piece of pottery, the stupa, by myself with the professional assistance of the craftsman from the village who inherited the techniques from his 80 years old mother.
This was a great opportunity for me to see the rich diversity within the communities that surround the temple, who have lived in the region for over a thousand years. I was also moved by the local community’s hospitality and their distinct cultural activities that make the area even more remarkable.
In the afternoon I finally visited the Borobudur Temple itself where I was able to see the beauty of this Buddhist temple which was built around the 9th century. During this visit in Borobudur, I felt honored to take part in the tree-planting ceremony to symbolize the efforts to revitalize the temple after catastrophic eruption of Mt Merapi in 2010. A Mimusops elengi tree was planted with my name on it as one of the UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassadors at the foot of this beautiful temple.
The tree planting was then followed by the launching of UNESCO and National Geographic Indonesia publication entitled ‘Borobudur: the Road to Recovery – Community-based Rehabilitation Work and Sustainable Tourism Development’. I was officially presented with the first copy of the book which documented UNESCO and its partners’ activities to clean the destructive volcanic ash from the temple and to rejuvenate the local community’s livelihoods after the eruption in 2010.
I then had a chance to walk at the temple to see the result of two time periods when UNESCO took part in the restoration work, once in the 1970s and more recently after the eruption in 2010. It is a special moment for me to be here at this time to participate in the celebration of the Borobudur World Heritage Site and to experience how this is bringing the global community together. People from many part of the world, including the US, contributed to the collaborative works for the preservation of this important monument of humanity.
Standing at the top of the temple, I could see why the area is so celebrated and why we should preserve this for present and future generations.
Eighth Day: 18 December 2011
Here I am on Java, the “land of a thousand temples”. Our visit started with the World Heritage Site Prambanan Temple Compounds, built around the 10th century and the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. (More info here: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/642) Although it is just over an hour away from Borobudur, Prambanan has a completely different style and architecture. The temple compound consists of several slender monuments honoring Hindu goddess Shiva. In 2006, the temple was devastated by a major earthquake and it is still undergoing a rehabilitation process. During the first year after the earthquake, UNESCO provided emergency & strategic assistance to Indonesian authorities, notably about the recovery of cultural heritage. Similar to many World Heritage Sites, its restoration keeps on eye on improving the lives of local communities (ie, promoting tourism).
Within this Hindu Prambanan Temple Compound lies the Sewu Temple, the second largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia. It’s a brilliant testament to Indonesia’s cultural diversity. Yogyakarta and Central Java are predominately Muslim areas (Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim country), and relations between religions have lived side by side here harmoniously for centuries. All this makes me think: Here we are now in the 21st century, how can we learn from our past to respect religious differences and live in peace today?
The visit to the temples was then followed by a visit to several areas that were devastated by the 2010 Mt. Merapi eruption. One year after the eruption and I still can see how this eruption greatly affected the environment, the people and its livelihood. It was heartening for me to see the many young trees that were planted since then and that are growing in this surrounding region. Their limbs are reaching out to the skies, confident to embrace a bright future. Hope is shining – and I sense that locals are starting to look up.
- total distance: 10,454 miles (16.824 km)