Month: June 2014

Angkor Affleck

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Angkor Wat is like Ben Affleck. It gets top billing – it’s showcased on the Cambodian national flag, gets all the buzz – it’s the temple most people talk about – and it gets most of the attention – when people arrive here, it’s usually the one they want to visit.

In contrast, Bayon temple, part of Angkor Thom is more like Ben Affleck’s brother Casey. It’s a younger temple, built by the King after Angkor Wat who was into Buddhism, it’s more quirky- from massive Buddhist faces etched into rocks throughout:

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To fully realized wall sculptures:

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And, personally, after walking through it, I found it more varied and interesting, even though it’s not on the national flag: (I’m sorry Ben. I’ll still see you in Batman. But, I just didn’t think Argo was as good as most people thought it was. Admittedly, that’s not entirely your fault. But Daredevil? Your character was blind in that movie. I think a lot of moviegoers who went also probably wished they were.)

Angkor Thom is the name of the city enclosure that the second King built around a series of temples, Bayon being the main one, along with a few smaller ones, and other symbolic sculptures.

The entrance is dramatic. Two long rows of soldiers flank either side of the bridge, both holding a massive cobra, whose head comes up to meet you at the end. We were told that the left side of soldiers were in fact, Gods:

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who were counterbalanced on the left side by Demons:

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Rose took a photo on each side, so no one got the wrong idea.

In the entrance way, we came upon our first example of a four headed Buddha – designed so that each one was looking in a single cardinal direction, keeping an eye on things:

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On the Bayon temple grounds, there’s a huge, sculpted wall detailing daily life in the 1200s:

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Including more crocodiles:

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Interestingly, although this second King had decided to lean towards Buddha, he still included sculptures and representations of Khmer culture, like the Apsara dancers, ubiquitous throughout:

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But, for me, the big fixation were the massive Buddhist heads. I’d shoot one side:

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then see more on the other, and kept going:

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We even climbed up to a level, which put us face to face:

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I wasn’t the only affected by the younger Affleck temple. Matt, normally a stalwart against sidewalk scams, hustles and touts, upon entering a darkened corridor in one area of the temple, was offered an incense stick to stick into a shrine, along with an orange wrist tie, which he was told: “GOOD LUCK. VERY, GOOD LUCK.” – went ahead with it, and even bought me one (of which I’m still wearing, by the way. Thanks Matty).

In my last post, about Angkor Wat – for once, I didn’t talk about the heat. It may have been, because we saw that one at the tail end of the day, and I was getting used to living in wet clothes. But, this time around, it was back. Full force, front and centre, and up and down.

Here’s my imitation of a chicken breast at a buffet, under a heat lamp:

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I find, under these intensely hot conditions, I get painfully self conscious, thinking – ugh, my shirt’s wet, it’s gross, and then I have these reactions, in this order: why didn’t I bring a back up shirt? Then two seconds later: wait it’ll just end up as soaked as the one I’m wearing. Ugh, maybe they have a tourist shirt nearby I can buy just to get me through this? Then, in the same manner as last time, in two seconds, realize that unless the shirt is waterproof, it’s gonna turn out the same as if I had brought a back up shirt.

From here, my main thoughts are: I want to leave, burn my clothes, bury them and start over. I think I’ve seen enough Buddhist faces now.

Invariably, it’s at this breaking point in my mind when I see someone, as equally soaked, and I burst out of my self-involved bubble, finding partnership with my drenched brethren.

In this case, it was a guy whose shirt, honestly looked like he’d jump in water, and was dripping after a swim. But, what struck me most about it, the guy seemed to be maintaining his composure. Unlike me, he wasn’t self-consciously pulling his shirt off his wet skin, wiping his forehead, or making any attempt to try to camouflage his deluge.

He didn’t give a shit. And, I thought: “Good for him. Maybe someday. But right now, I just felt a drip start from my shoulder blades, make its way down my back, and finally, unceremoniously, drop down the back of my pants. I think I’ve seen enough for today.”

I think, most of our Team Canada were also feeling the effects of heat, and wanted relief. The good news was that we had an antidote: air conditioning in the mini-van we toured around in. Interestingly, we met other tourists later who had done temple tours on foot, and admitted they didn’t explore the temples as fully, because they wanted to get out of the heat.

While the air conditioning wasn’t exactly the fiery pit where I had hoped to toss in my shirt, it was at least a stopgap until I could hang my sweat-soaked, soon to be fetid shirt outside our door at the hotel as insect repellent.

We made our way out, looked behind for last look and caught this guy making the rounds:

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Finally, after settling in, this brought an end to our day. And, I realize now that you may be disappointed that I’m talking about two celebrity actors, when I’ve been teasing about Lady Lara Croft for the past two, maybe three posts? It’s like a TV show that leaves you at a cliffhanger, so they can jam in an ad, while you’re left pacing.

I’m sorry. I’ve said before, I hate it when people do that, and lookee-see what I done did.

She’s next. I promise.

Talk soon

 

 

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Floating down river

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We’re in a Cambodian river in dry season. This means the water below us is only three feet deep.

Our guide points out where the river overflows in the rainy season. To our right, about 20 feet higher than we are, there’s a straight line of plastic bags, stuck in one tree after the other.

“That’s the flood line”, he tells us. In about two months, after a heavy rain, the water gets this high, and the plastic bags are left behind, becoming markers of what’s to come.

Right now we’re moving slowly downstream, almost touching the bottom as we pass fishermen and their boats along the way – our target, a special village about 20 minutes ahead.

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And, while I can’t help thinking about the movie Apocalypse Now as we’re moving along, here’s where things are wildly different.

Our captain is maybe 13 years old, though I think looks about ten:

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True, there is the occasional curious glance from someone on the riverbank, but most people could care less, focused more on what’s going into their fishing nets:

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This route is also a tourist highway. A slow highway mind you (we’re clocking no more than 5 knots), but other boats like us are ahead and behind.

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Unlike Captain Willard’s boat trip in Apocalypse Now, there are no eerie turns and unknown curves ahead. Everything is well mapped and predictable. It sort of had to be, because it was also on a reality show.

A few years back, this was the setting for The Amazing Race. The target at the end of the river wasn’t an overweight Marlon Brando, but a yellow card. Our guide, Kim-san, was on the show, helping out and working with the contestants – and while I can’t remember what the specific tasks were that the contestants had to do – here’s where it took place:

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A floating village, somewhat like the one we saw in Halong Bay, Vietnam, but at one of the floating, souvenir spots, instead of pearls on hand they’ve got a different kind of farm:

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Maybe, not as elegant as a pearl necklace, a ton of tiny crocodiles were for sale, plus a little girl was modelling her own accessory:

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After this photo, I thought I’d been had. See her holding up one finger? She’s telling me: “1$” again and again. At first I thought she meant for the cost of my photograph. But she was charging to hold the snake. By the time this was clear, I looked over to Rose to show her, but she’d already spotted it and was on the other side of the room with the same look on her face that she had eating Balot.

The village also includes a school, which we drifted past as kids looked like they were changing classes, from one door to the next, all within a few feet.

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I thought, for bored kids, going to school here might not be so bad. With so many tourists passing by, you’ve at least got something to look at “out the window”, maybe even making up games in your head of what country you think a tourist is from based on their looks, clothes and type of camera. Although once this gets boring, I’m not sure what you do – dream of dry land?

The thought of living here is obviously tough- which is, of course, why it’s such a tourist attraction:

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Rose made the suggestion of a floating hotel, or a homestay where people could stay with a family and see the day to day workings of a village, built on styrofoam. While, I’m sure some people would be game – having seen how villagers take in the water and what they put back into it, I was fine to float by it in a single day.

Besides, our trip up the river was only a diversion – we had more temples to see on shore. Our Team Canada, headed back, dodged hawkers and touts on the shore, including personalized plates with our faces on them (someone was taking photographs of every person passing through a gate).

Ultimately, the salesman was asking us if we wanted to eat food off our own faces. I’m not sure if this was an appeal to narcissism or self-loathing. I had both enough in check, that I decided not to go down that road and bid the salesman good luck with other tourists who wanted to see themselves in their food.

After this, we all headed back to our hotel, and got ready for the next excursion – one that, actually had eerie elements. But, rather than from deranged rantings of Dennis Hopper at a temple, our temple was popularly known as a tomb. And, the celebrity behind it, was clean shaven, and looked a lot better in shorts:

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Talk soon

 

Angkor Tenant

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This is it.

The reason 3 million tourists, (and growing) come to the otherwise, unassuming city of Siem Reap every year.

Angkor Wat: the biggest religious structure in the world, which archaeologists also now believe was part of the world’s biggest preindustrial city, even beating out the Mayan civilization who normally come up in spades for claims to grandeur.

Ok. Quick history blurb (just skip to the next photo if you’re already fighting a yawn).

In the 12th Century, Angkor was the name of the Khmer Empire’s city, and “Wat” translates as temple. So, if you’ve watched any Sesame Street, you know how to do the rest.

Built by a Khmer king in the 12th Century, Angkor Wat (“City Temple”, but you already got that) started life as a Hindu temple, but did it in its own unique way. Traditionally, at that time, way back in the 1100s, Hindu temples were built in honour of the god Shiva, but this King decided instead to build it for Vishnu.

If you’re still with me, you now probably want to know: why did el Jefe make the switch?

A few theories: He was pissed off with his parents and wanted to stick it to them a bit? Or, there was something so undeniably incredible about Vishnu that illuminated his mind more than Shiva, that, in the words of a former God (of Rock): “He just couldn’t fight that feeling anymore.”

In other words, I have NO IDEA. I didn’t find anything, but to be honest, I also didn’t spend hours on research, like I might if I was getting graded. Or paid. Unless a cheque rolls in, I’m going to keep this pretty breezy, and the content, really not much deeper than a puddle.

Besides, I’ve got to get our readership up to at least 17 by end of summer. And laying out the intricacies between Hindu gods, while it might appeal to some, I fear may lose our other 17 who are more interested in Rose’s love affair with orange robed monks.

And, learning the very important news that she took her admiration from afar to a-near:

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These were Thai monks, visiting Angkor Wat, who were, obviously far from ascetic, and quiet, and were happy to pose, while also taking their own photos.

Now, some of you may wonder: What are Buddhist monks doing here at a Hindu temple? While others are probably wondering: “Are those monks entirely naked under their wraps?”

To the first wonder: After the death of the Vishnu loving King, a new prince came to town, who was even more pissed off with his parents, and decided to shunt Hinduism aside altogether, choosing instead to honour Buddha as THE GUY – and built two temples in honour of his parents in a more Buddhist fashion: one of which I’ll get to in a later post. So, as part of this shift in allegiance, Angkor Wat, then also switched teams to Buddhism too.

And, for the second wonder: from what I researched online (I decided against a quick lift and peek in person) Not naked, but wearing an under-robe.

Okay, enough background. Now the experience. In short, it was amazing. Not least of which were the designs, sculpted all over the walls, including Apsara dancers (King’s dancers):

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Seeing, ancient language carved into pillars holding up a section of roof:

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Plus, not so ancient language, from the 30ish years ago when the Khmer Rouge took up residence here, and some ingenious soldier, like a dog peeing on a hydrant, decided to say “I WAS HERE” (sorry no photo).

But, at least they didn’t tear down the place like they tried with the rest of the country (More to come on them in a later post).

Also, there were tons of hallways, and doors we walked through, which, reminded me of a certain archaeologist searching for a gold idol (I warned you he’d be back again):

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Then coming on to passageways with an entire sculpted wall, illustrating what life was like in 12th Century Angkor:

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All of this was amazing, as I said. But, what stood above all of it was this:

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We could walk through the entire place. Tourists were allowed to walk through the pillars, duck under the doorways, and enter dark corridors to stare up at a peak of light coming above.

A reality, which I can’t imagine can last, since as much as it was great (and it was) – there’s still a feeling of impact, that shit, I’m not entirely helping the conservation of this place by walking through, even though I paid my entrance fee which goes towards conservation.

Like Chichen Itza in Mexico where people could once climb up its sides, I can only think that the same has to happen here, if they want to preserve it. But, of course, there’s huge forces against it, namely: Cambodia is a poor country. And, one of the concerns by some Cambodians, is that by limiting traffic, you might limit tourists, which might limit money.

Obviously not a great plan for the long-term health of the place. But, looking at it from the point of view of a Cambodian whose struggling everyday just to get by, understandably, he or she is interested in how they can make money to feed their kids, and pay for their school this month, not what’s happening 10 years, 20 years from now. So, it’ll be interesting how the country manages things.

On our exit from Angkor Wat we ran into more orange robed monks – (I make it sound like it was happenstance, when, in reality, Rose made a beeline) this time younger guys:

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Interestingly, we spoke to our guide who said that it’s tradition that, as part of growing up, male Cambodians spend time living in a monastery, as a monk – whether, he goes on to stay there is up to him, but the idea is that he gains exposure to Buddhism.

Anyhow, Angkor Wat is only one of three temples we visited, each one had its own uniqueness, which I’ll blab about in some other posts, including a cameo from Cambodian’s own, Angelina Jolie (she was given citizenship in 2005).

Until then, au revoir from Cambodge:

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