Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Angkor Who?

Angkor Wat is the most well known landmark in Cambodia, and also the biggest draw for foreign tourism. I had the following conversation at least eight times:

Japanese coworker: Emily, are you going back to America for New Year's?
Me: No.. I'm, um, going to Cambodia instead.
Japanese coworker: Cambodia?! Whatever for?
Me: Um.. well, Angkor Wat..?
Japanese coworker: Ah, of course! Angkor Wat, how cool.

It was a little different with the people who had seen my poster/whom I had begged for money for our required PEPY donation. So you're going down there to volunteer? Well, not exactly... But it seemed too complicated to explain in that mid-hallway standing situation that voluntourism is lately coming under criticism and there are other ways to help. That patching a school's roof or repainting it in a weekend between touring Angkor Wat and getting cheap massages is not the most effective aid to education in a developing place.

But I digress. All I mean is, "Angkor Wat" were the two words (Angkor means city, and Wat means temple) that launched my mysterious winter vacation trip out of the realm of ridiculous/altruistic and into the more comfortable vein of tourism. Add in the fact that I majored in classics, love ancient things, and spent one of my best semesters in college exploring ancient (often temple) ruins in Roma, and we've got ourselves a deal.

Sunrise was sort of a group decision, not something I would have come up with on my own, but which is apparently a familiar notion to locals. At Aqua (the bar) the night before, when we said "we've got an early morning," we were met with knowing nods and "sunrise at Angkor Wat eh?" Which was only frustrating because we kind of thought we were special.

So much for that
But once again, we were up in the dark, this time whisked through the early morning chill by tuk-tuk to the ruins site, where Yut lit our path with a little flashlight and helped us find a great spot to wait on the steps of the ancient 'library.'

On the library steps

  So here's Angkor Wat as revealed by the sunrise. It actually was kind of cool, since we'd never seen it before, to have it slowly emerge out of the pitch dark.

Break for jumping picture (we kind of look like the towers, here)
Back to reflection pool

And then some more jumping.

The library roof.
After the sun was well and truly up over the temple, Yut took us to get breakfast, and then we set off for Angkor Thom, the bridge to which is lined on one side with gods and the other with demons. Both teams hold one long Naga serpent. 

Gods at left, demons to the right
Next was Bayon (which is within the walls of Angkor Thom, if I understand properly), the smiling faces temple, where Yut pointed out various features and then let us explore the area and climb on things. We got to touch noses with the ancient kings. The four faces each pointing in a different direction is symbolic of four qualities a king should possess to be a good monarch.
Eskimo kisses with kings
Baphuon was next, also in Angkor Thom; we climbed up that too. I think that might have been where the king had to go be with a goddess in the form of a serpent. Yut taught us a lot of things, but I can't remember many of them now. It was a little frustrating to be on sites that felt so historical and meaningful and to not be already steeped in knowledge of what their significance was (to contrast with my exploration of ruins on the Centro program, even if I didn't know about a place, I had a much better grasp on the context, and if you said when it was built or used, or by whom, or for what, I could easily get my head around it and therefore retain it). But I tried (and to some surprise, succeeded) to just not worry about that and simply enjoy the day!
On top of Baphuon with the friends I made by saying one word of Japanese

After this, we took a break for some coconuts (which will cure what ails you, perhaps even broken hearts, should you drink enough of them), then moved on to Ta Prohm. This one is particularly famous nowadays for being the location of some of the Tomb Raider movie footage. It also has some seriously gnarly cheese trees eating up the old stones.

Group photo by the Tomb Raider door

One thing I DO remember is this guy:

  Yut said he is Time, the Destroyer, and they put him over doorways because nothing will escape his jaws. Not even the stones, apparently, escape time's destruction.

After Ta Prohm, we stopped for lunch, and played silly word games, and passed stories around. Yut even shared a thing or two about his childhood and family. It's at this point that I'd like to say something about Yut, because he spent six days with us, and his guidance and presence (well, on top of a bangarang itineraty put together by the PEPY team) is what made our trip what it was, and after speaking with a few others who spent a day or two or four in Cambodia and who were, by the end, just so ready to get the hell out once they were done, I know that the.. something else about this trip, the important thing that I keep thinking I somehow (by writing about all the things of all the days we were there) will be able to express through a blog, that had a lot to do with Yut as well.

I like to catch people off guard with my camera.
 Maybe because you filter a little of what you take in through those with whom you surround yourself, and maybe because that happens even more markedly in a foreign place, where you don't know much, where you are uncertain. Our group loved Yut (we kept talking about him in Laos once we left), and I think we were special to him too. As a professionally licensed guide (he even had to wear a special uniform on days we went into the Angkor temple areas), he is of course knowledgeable in the details of historical import. But that something else isn't from that.

I'm a pretty skeptical and defensive traveler. Whenever someone tries to sell me something, my initial response is always, no, why would I need that. I don't want to hire someone to do what I can probably do myself with a good informative book and lots of research time. I don't like being sold things. And I'm not a very good salesperson. What I'm trying to say is, I don't hope to convince you of anything, I'm just telling you the things of which I've become convinced.

He managed to make us feel more like he was sharing Cambodia with us than anything else. He was the guide, yes, but he also asked questions, and shared his enthusiasm and curiosity. Yut has spent ten years (that's one-third of his life) as a Buddhist monk, studying in temples, so when he shared the "Way of the Day" (we learned about one or two of Buddhism's Eight Ways each day), it was always from a very genuine place. He was always friendly, not only to us, but to anyone and everyone we passed. He speaks English fluently, and of course Khmer (Khmai), but somehow knows not only how to say hello in a ton of other languages, but also when to use them (that is, he can tell if a tourist is German, French, Japanese, etc.). While we were looking at carvings on the wall of Angkor Wat, some guide-less travelers asked him a question about on particular figure in the whole wide wall of figures, he explained it happily. He also disarmed every person that approached us, seeing only rich, pale, tourists (partly by not looking like us, I guess). He exchanged greetings with the children, gave us recommendations on when we could find items cheaper somewhere else.

I guess the best way I can describe Yut is genuine, although while discussing him, Kam and I tossed back and forth words like "inspiring," and "so funny," also with that special Cambodian smile. Yut is a good guy. If  you are going to Cambodia and want to meet him, he can be found at, and he comes with our highest recommendations. I am aware that part of how well our group got along with him has to do with our group as well, but I'm sold; if you can't get Yut because he's booked, get a good one, because it does make a huge difference in your experience.

That library again
After lunch, we went back for the big one, Angkor Wat, and walked around inside. Dress code is enforced (shoulders and knees covered for both women and men). Angkor Wat is, I believe, Yut’s bread and butter, and he explained the carvings, reliefs, statues (some present, some missing), pools and stones, bullet holes, and all. Again I wished I were more aware of the history of things, that I could recognize the names of the kings being said to me, but I had to settle for recognizing them from previous talks and references during the day and the trip.

I think he got used to hearing me pipe up from wherever I was lingering back from the group (caught on some carved picture or other), “Yut! Question!” But eventually I was satisfied with the amount of information absorbed.

Not our best jumping photo. But Angkor Wat! 
Something about the color of the sky in all my photos makes them look a tad fake. 

 Aaaand finally, it was time to go back and take a nap and get ready for the evening. Because our Angkor Wat day was also New Year’s Eve!

Yut is the last one standing.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Other New Year

I've been going through and posting about our winter trip little by little, because I want to note it all pretty carefully, but I realized today that I've been leaving out a lot of what's happened since then!

Today it's sunny and ridiculously warm for January; I've got the windows open and the laundry out. Wearin' just one layer and everything! It feels like Georgia out there (46, according to the weather channel).. It's a bright way to start the Dragon year.

Tomorrow's new moon kicks off the lunar new year, which is the actual start of the Year of the Dragon. Water Dragon, to be precise, and I hope that bodes well. Lawyers and I did "The Year in Review" back in December, and by most counts it was a pretty lame year. I recall saying I looked forward to the Rabbit for a nice little rest, and in many ways I can see how last year was metallic rabbitlike, a period of holding space, of making progress without ever actually achieving anything, it seemed. It was hard to find the special high points, although easy enough to point to the low (March, June). The Tohoku disaster was absolutely, abominably devastating to so many people's lives. And while for me, the hardest part of losing Shannon is seeing others lose her too (lose her more?), it was and is still a rocking personal loss. We were asked to give our own personal "best news" from 2011 for the end of year party and I found myself swallowing and looking back over the months and finding... what? "Best news"? What had I accomplished? What had I become in one year's time?

I wrote down my Shorinji brown belt (not to be confused with my 2-kyu test in the summer, which I hated), and my kids winning speech contest, and could not generate a third piece of news. This is strictly personal of course. I had a lot of fun, did a lot of stuff, traveled, met new people, conceived new dreams, tried to kill some old ones off, but couldn't boil it down to anything solid. This also has a lot to do with the state of mind I was in pre-trip.

But tomorrow's new moon is not for dwelling on the past year and its immobility, its status as the "Year without climax." It's about what's happening now, and what will happen next. My next Cambodia trip entry will be the Angkor Wat day, which was also New Year's Eve, and how we rang it into Siem Reap. What I know about the Dragon, now, is that I'm ready. I know this in the same way that I knew with the Rabbit I was not. Not ready to take on the next big challenge, the move, the change, the handing over of this niche and life to someone else.

Today I went to buy new filters for my water pitcher, and picked the 4-pack. "Hey successor," I thought, "you probably haven't even been selected yet, but I'm already gettin you presents." ('Cause the life of all 4 water filters exceeds my tenure)

Sometimes when I stop to think about it, I don't know how I'm going to give up this seat. I've never been good at letting go of any good thing, and I know this is a good thing. For all the little pitfalls and problems, it's still a good thing. You know a vacation was good when it is not only fun in the moment, but makes you better able to appreciate what you have once you get back home, and our trip definitely did that.

I got back on the ball and finished my TEFL course upon returning to Japan. I took the test last weekend and am officially certified now, just like that (certificate's in the mail!). My Shorinji Kempo test for 1-kyu is coming up on the 2nd, and I feel good about it. I mean, I'm not supremely confident, but I've been working hard, and I feel much more ready. For the first week after I got back to Japan, I was going to bed at a reasonable hour and not feeling rushed anymore, or as put-upon. A little of that has come back, but mostly things are falling off as I had lined them up to do. Once decision day is past, I can start training a successor in Hyogo Times. I'm auctioning off my jetwit posting responsibilities to whoever is a capable comer. Twitchy-sensei is the only thing guaranteed to make me crazy, but since they teamed him up, this semester, with Mikan-sensei (poor Mikan-sensei is a pretty big responsibility sponge over there), he keeps Twitchy in line; things are much more tolerable even there.

I have a tendency, I know, to load up on too many things. There are too many things to do, and a great number of them seem worth doing, and so I decide to do them. My resolution last year was -- in space-holding fashion -- just not to add any new things (and I failed at that right away with jetwit). This year it is a decided shift in a letting-go direction. Stop doing all that stuff. Actively get rid of things (objects, responsibilities), with an aim toward a simpler, less cluttered, thus less stressed life, and perhaps even time to write that novel.

I'm still going to travel, and write, and keep in touch by sending people things, because now I don't know how not to. But I am working on saying no, on giving myself the time and space which I am always so keen to give away. I enjoy socializing, but it really does take energy. Today I planned to just hang out until this evening's event in Himeji, reading Hunger Games before my Amazon Prime membership expires tomorrow, running errands. I've had two invitations to go places and do things, and I very nearly said yes to them both. I love to say yes, I love to hang out and chat with people, but I am recognizing more and more that I need some of that for just me, too, and that saying yes just because you are asked is silly.

So, the Water Dragon, what is that like? The dragon is the luckiest of the 12 zodiac creatures, and the only one that is mythical. It's the most badass. I think the water element will make it calm, but it will still be all about energy, dynamism, change. It's a good time to learn to leap.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sights and Sounds in Siem Reap

Our temple tour, post-blessing
   The next day was our only non-Yut day, where our guide was Sarah instead, of PEPY tours. After our breakfast at the hotel (at which the waitress laughed at me a little because she brought me like... three breakfasts), Sarah met us to bring us to the temple where we would receive our Buddhist blessing. We sat in a way that was more difficult for us than the Japanese seiza has become, and a group of three priests chanted and flicked water on us. It was really nice, as I like spiritual things. I was a little self conscious of the skirt I wore that only just covered my knees. We had heard from Yut about the life of a monk, since he'd been one for ten years; they have strict rules about what and when they can eat (no dinner, no food after lunch!), and they aren't permitted to touch women at all (not even their family members!). A youngish monk gave us a tour of the temple's grounds, which were generally bright and peaceful.

Our next stop was the PEPY offices, where we would learn get to see more about who they are and what they do. We heard first from the PEPY Cambodia side, the NPO, about their programs in Chanleas Dai, both currently ongoing and also those previously tried and phased out. I have a lot of respect for the work they're doing there, not least because it's very hands-on (it's so frustrating when decisions are made "high up" at a level from which their effects "on the ground" aren't clear), but it's also community focused and driven, meaning that they're veering hard away from giving a man a fish, so to speak. They're teaching the children to fish, instead.

An example is the Child-to-Child program, where children work together to think about issues in their own communities. They have to identify and research issues that they see around them, and then discuss possible solutions. But not only this, PEPY is working toward the eventual goal of phasing itself out, which is logically the goal of any NPO in a developing area -- the idea being, the area gets underway and once the ball is rolling, such NPOs and their help become unnecessary. A good percentage of PEPY's personnel are Cambodian, rather than it being made up of westerners. Because, heck. It's Cambodia's issues they're working with, so it's Cambodia's people that ought to be doing it, eh? All part of the avoidance of just giving fish (stuff), and developing people instead.

Cambodia is a really young country, and in that way, it can feel like the opposite of Japan. Japan's problem lately is falling birthrates and an aging population. Too many old people, and not enough youngsters to support them. This is of course a problem economically, but it also changes the feel, and that's not something I really noticed until I contrasted it with the Cambodian thing. Cambodia is full of young people and kids, and their issue is not a matter of lacking vigor/energy (like Japan?), but their need is wisdom (the kind that comes with age) and teachers. The old need the young for their strength, and the young need the old for their knowledge.

Katie and I in the tuk-tuk on the way to PEPY office
Because of the experience I have, education is my pet issue. In general, I'm a fan of the idea of teaching kids how to learn, how to ask questions, how to think critically, how to problem-solve, rather than just giving them facts and information. In today's world, memorized facts are less and less useful. There are so many things I either never knew or have forgotten, but I know how to find a lot of them (I confess that mostly the method is "google that shit"), and that's good enough for most situations.

Next we visited the PEPY tours office, right next door to the NPO. For me personally, it's nice to see things in real life, so I can imagine them better. For all that I like writing, written descriptions of things fall rather flat on me. I like to stand with a thing or in a place to really understand it.. I have to be there to get it. A lot of PEPY people were either out in the field, or else getting ready for the PEPY Ride, their big bike trip across the country (which I kind of.. er.. hope to attend next year, so I'll be working on that soon, hopefully!), but we did get to meet some of the staff, and I noted that their offices had a friendly, warm feel to them.

Food side of market
More of food market
Sarah took us to get a delicious noodle lunch, and then we were off to the market, which was jam-packed with goods and sights and smells, all kinds of fruits and vegetables and meats, prepared foods in one section (Kameron got a banana leaf of sticky rice), ingredients elsewhere, and in another area, souvenirs and clothes, odds and ends. Anytime you paused or even glanced at something, you would be immediately accosted by the voice of the booth's proprietor (at least in the souvenir section) urging you to buy something. I've never been especially good at haggling or bargaining, and I kind of hate having someone hang right on me as I shop, so this didn't always play well with me. But, I do like to get things on the cheaps, and in Cambodia in the market, a lot of things are on the cheaps, so it was a dilemma indeed.

After the market, we walked back along the river, stopping for an ice dessert along the way. She brought us back to the hotel, pointing out other places of interest along the way, then sent us on our merry 'free afternoon' way. We returned to the market and ran a few 'errands' (I needed some more knee-covering pants for the temple visiting), then had an early pizza dinner, before beginning the search for a pool we'd heard about. We thought we found the building that had a pool on the roof, and as we climbed the stairs we heard music and crowd-like noises... but it was just a skating rink! We laughed about that for a bit, then redoubled our search efforts. Eventually we did find Aqua, a bar apparently frequented by expats (one of whom had a really cute dog that reminded me a lot of Karma), complete with in-pool bar facility. We swam around, then caught out tuk-tuks back for a reasonably early bedtime, since the next morning was to be a super early start-- up at 4 again, this time for sunrise at Angkor Wat!

Skating rink, not a pool


Monday, January 16, 2012

Into Siem Reap

The morning of the 29th, we packed up, patted Tupaco (the half-tailed cat at homestay) farewell, thanked our homestay families, and departed after a breakfast involving another round of the strong, thick coffee and condensed milk (I got the bottom of the pitcher one day, and may have asked they group if anyone wanted my "coffee paste"). The drive back to town was pretty long, more window-staring, some soul-searching maybe, or just observation.

We arrived at the Mandalay Inn and dropped off our things, then got some lunch in town. Someone prophetically dubbed our lunch spot "clubhouse II," and we would return there more than once during the course of our Siem Reap stay.

On the roof of Mandalay
Since we'd been in the village the night before, and a wedding was in process that week, we'd again been woken very early by the loudspeakers, not to mention the ever-present animals (that goose...), who all seemed to awake simultaneously about 20 minutes before dawn (dawn was 6:30). The hotel was equipped with showers (!) and individual beds, and also a small rooftop gym for Kameron, so we all got a bit of relaxation before our sunset bike ride towards Tonle Sap Lake.

In the late afternoon, we rented mountain bikes and set off south for Phnom Krom, a temple atop a hill overlooking the lake.

As mentioned before, this year saw some intense flooding in Siem Reap, so whatever condition the roads are normally in, they were in worse shape this winter. I was glad to be on a real mountain bike and not China Downtown when negotiating the under-construction road, pitted and also dotted here and there with construction crews, complete with their mud layering and gravel. The tires slid and kicked up Georgia-red-clay-colored mud onto my legs and clothes, but I was happy to be moving, and under my own power too.

The road that leads to Phnom Krom also leads to the floating village; in the lake area, flooding is normal, and everything is either built up high, or else floatable. We didn't see the floating village, but if we'd had another day, it might have been the addition. We rode past rice fields and restaurants, and lots and lots of houses, delighting in the mud and breeze and slanting sun.

From partway up the steps to Phnom Krom
From further up the steps

Amongst the ruins

Our sermon on the mount.

We climbed up the steps to Phnom Krom and walked through the active temple area to the temple ruins. After looking around there a little bit, we took up a spot on the hillside facing the sun. Here we had our second "Way of the Day," wherein Yut explained another of the Eight Ways of Buddhism. I thought of them more as his way of telling us about the 'true meaning of Buddhism,' and this instance in particular as the sermon on the mount. Yut was a monk for ten years, so I consider him pretty well studied.

Sunset over Tonle Sap
We watched the sun on its way down, but we had already been told that we couldn't watch the whole sunset, because then the sun would be down, and we'd be biking home in the dark, and that was not the plan; also we had dinner plans with some people from PEPY. We lingered too long, though, and even though we hurried down the mountain and biked fast through the buggy evening past houses setting out their dinners in the fading light, night fell over us as on the road back. I was in the lead, being a speed demon and having been given the go-ahead, navigating the darkening road (it was a straight shot, so no one was worried).

I was soon using the light of passing cars to see the road and it's changes. I stopped caring whether I went into the roughened patches or stayed on the smooth part of the road. Up ahead I saw where the road changed to a stretch of gravel. I was nearly on top of it when I realized it wasn't a stretch of gravel, it was a my-height pile of gravel, but then it was too late and I rode headfirst into it. I imagine from the side it looked really comical, because from the side it was really obvious that I was biking almost full speed directly into a stationary object, but from my perspective the morph from flat road ahead to vertical pile was instantaneous and shocking. Kameron almost crashed into me. I was fine (it was a little exhilarating), but also willing to take a spot further back in the biking line as several group members passed me trying to extricate my bike from the gravel into which it had softly sunk.

We got back and cleaned up to meet the PEPY folk for dinner and discussions about development and foreign aid. Those after-dinner discussions were like being back in college: read this article, argue on this side of the issue, then switch. It looked to me like they were pleased with our academic exertions, and it reminded me personally of what I miss about being formally in school.

But then again, one need not be formally in school to do things like this, eh? So here's to always being in the process of learning something.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Village

Once we’d made our way through visa adventures (we were last in line for some reason) and changed some money in the tiny Siem Reap airport, we were met outside by a guy holding a sign emblazoned with the PEPY logo and our names. This was Yut, our guide for most of the trip. We made a quick round of introductions, and he led us to a van. I was pretty loopy from the whole getting up at 4am (3am, Cambodia time!) thing, and it was now about 8:30.

  Yut explained that we were going to head to the village homestay straightaway, with a stop along the way to visit a silk-making place. He passed us some snacks (one bag was full of chips and things, the jackfruit chips being my favorite, and the other bag was full of assorted fruit like tiny bananas, lychees, mangosteen, and other things too exotic to be within my memory grasp), and then we were seeing how silk was made, both old and new methods of spinning, dyeing, weaving, and so on. Cambodian silk is always a yellow color before dyeing. We got to hold silkworms!

Next, we stopped for lunch; Yut said it was an early lunch, but to me it felt like about the right timing.. we’d been up for a whole day’s worth of time, and it was throwing me off. Yut casually explained what kind of ice is okay to have in your glass (round cylinders with holes are okay, but stuff that looks like it was maybe hammered off a big ol’ block is not so good) and ordered us a round of freaking delicious soup and other food.

We progressed on the road to Banteay Chmar, which is northwest of Siem Reap, near the Thailand border, stopping once for gas (and fried banana chips sprinkled with a dusting of sugar). Spent most of that time just staring out the window at the landscape. Miles and miles of houses on stilts, muddy large-puddles or mini-ponds filled with ducks by the roadside, large expanses of now-dry Riceland populated with wandering cows.

At Banteay Chmar, we settled our stuff in our homestay locations, two houses across the street from one another, and regrouped at the town’s local center for tourism and international things, which we came to consider our base or clubhouse, as we often met and ate there.

We had our first language lesson with Yut, who had taught us some Khmai (Khmer) in the van (we had immediately wanted to know how to say things like hello and thank you). Being a whole team of language teachers, we practiced it on each other. Then we took a walking tour to one of the small temples that is part of a set of eight that surround the big temple of Banteay Chmar. A group of cows made way for us and we learned about the four-faces style of the Cambodia temples from our locally (as in Banteay Chmar) based guide, and from Yut (who is from just outside Siem Reap).


We walked back through the village saying hello and taking in sights as we headed toward dinner at our clubhouse. Over dinner, we discussed an article we’d been asked to read about the recent flooding in Cambodia. The big lake between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Tonle Sap, grows and shrinks with the rainy and dry seasons (that is why houses are often built off the ground level), but this year the rainy season brought flooding more extensive and intense than in years before (read about it here).

After dinner, we were all pretty tired. We returned to our homestays where I washed up with the ladle and resovoir of rainwater in the tiled bathroom while Kameron, Katie, and Miriam practiced Khmai with our host family in the ground-floor living room. We then went upstairs to bed under mosquito nets in little wooden rooms with the shutters open. Our local guide had explained we can shut the windows when we get cold, and we’d laughed, but that night the wind made things pretty chilly and we ended up taking his advice.

Being in the village was like hitting the opposite of everything I had been sunk in even just the day before, in our plush hotel in downtown KL with room service breakfasts and shopping malls across the park at KLCC. I felt, in Banteay Chmar, farther away than I had ever, ever been from everything I had ever known. Our homestay house was a rich one, I knew, because they had a TV and it was on in the evening when we came back. Across the street there was parked a Toyota Camry. There wasn’t running water, so you flushed the toilet by pouring water in with a ladle-scoop. The roads were dirt, and incredibly dusty in this dry season.

That's the front door; our rental van at right.
 Kids ran around both shoed and barefoot, chickens seemed to be living the free-range life. Everything seemed much more raw and vivid, like the terrifying idea of living hand-to-mouth, only for real out here, not through some conduit of paychecks and well-lit open-late grocery stores. There were no grocery stores, nor things that required 24-hour refrigeration because the electricity turned off at night. That’s why (I conjecture, anyway) Cambodian coffee is served with condensed milk (and fresh milk is more a sign of luxury). Trash just littered the streets near the front of the market area, old, part of the ground almost.

Charging batteries for nighttime use.
The children were curious, the people were all very friendly. They were poor, of course, but there was something else. We, from America, New Zealand, and Canada, could make comparisons and think of what they lacked, but did they even know? And if you have never had a thing, can you miss it, can you long for it?

It was sort of.. swallowing. Certainly perspective-lending, which I will say I found myself in perfectly fitting need of right at that time. Beneath the Cambodian winter sun, standing on the dust and watching the dogs wander and people go by on trucks piled high, on bikes seating two or three, on long-horned automotive creatures, it really could not matter about this or that or all those other things I had already forgotten as soon as we got out of the van. The world is so, so much bigger, with so so many more problems, issues, opportunities, and things to understand than we can possibly know.

 Outside our bedroom window lived an extremely loud goose. Even without the goose, though, we were wakened early by a loudspeaker somewhere blasting music and sounding like a morning radio show (was that the weather in Khmai?) or something. I drowsed through it with my mad combination of sleeping-near-a-highway skills and earplugs until about dawn, when we all rolled out and back to the clubhouse to get ready for this second day in the village.

In the morning we went through the market, full of goods (someone tell me why Angry Birds are all over Southeast Asia?) and another part with food, buckets of still-flopping snake-headed fish, women shooing flies off of cuts of meat, lots of fruit and vegetables. Everyone who smiled at you when you said hello, or smiled at them, or sometimes for no reason at all. Little kids shouting hello in English.

I didn’t take any photos because I felt self-conscious about it, and because once we reached the end of the market and turned around, something was happening on one side. A woman was shouting at a man. I happened to be walking near Yut, so I asked him what was going on. “Domestic violence,” he said as we edged past the couple. I blinked. The woman had a meat cleaver. No way. “She’s very angry, he’s drunk.” Yut added.

In the rainy season, people have to work hard and fast to plant rice and get everything taken care of in time, but once it gets dry and wintery, people can relax more. It’s the harvest, and wedding season too. Our bike ride through the area had us end up near a place where day one of a wedding was to be held later that day. The preparation, a grooming ritual about cutting hair and making yourself ready to wed, I think.. there are seven days in a usual wedding, and on this day the bride and groom would wear red. We decided to go back to it after lunch instead of going straight to the old temple.

We visited another silk weaving place, and this time I bought a few things. We had another delicious lunch and learned some more Khmai (counting!), read some articles and had a nap before heading back to the wedding.

The goddesses are at far left and right
The wedding was strange to me, not for the customs but for the way we were treated. We were given seats and included like what I would call guests of honor, even though we were foreign strangers. I felt like we were gatecrashing a family event, but I heard later that they felt really honored that we came to that part of the wedding, graced it with our curious presences, I suppose. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that exactly. The wedding’s leader/holy man/emcee was really cool, and a pair of other people did a skit about goddesses coming to earth. It sounded like there was wordplay going on, and one of the goddesses was a guy dressed up in makeup, but all in all it was very cool. Lots of bright colors and music, and kids running around, playing games where if you win you get to hit each other.

From there, we headed to the temple, where we climbed all over. I’m used to sites where you can’t really touch anything, but this was a whole other place. We learned a bit about the naval battle and the fromage trees that are destroying temples everywhere (even if you cut them down, they come up somewhere else from the same root system, I think?). A boy from town followed us around, I guess to practice English.

Naval battle!

Fromage trees

As evening fell, we returned to homestay to clean up, another bracing rainwater bath, then we had our picnic dinner. We went back to the temple ruins and sat under the stars (there are a LOT of stars out there) by candle and torchlight while musicans played traditional instruments and had our dinner. A group of French tourists sat nearby, but I think we were having more fun than they were. After we finished eating, we got up and were taught traditional dances around a torch; we laughed and flailed. It was one of the magical moments of the trip, for me. Simon taught us the Maori haka, and we thanked the musicians and the cooks from the clubhouse and our local guide, because we were to leave the next morning.

The village stay, since it was so very far from everything, everything, is one of the most significant parts of the trip to me. I think I may still be working it all out.. something about living simply, about needing and wanting, about work or freedom or… something.

Katie with Tupaco

View from our homestay upper porch
More photos from this part here.