Thursday, 17 November 2011

Cambodia Part VII - Ancestors and Artisans...

Yes, Price - that's me in YET ANOTHER beer shirt.  And yes,
there is no washing machine on earth that can clean this one either.
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull has now chalked up his 5th straight AFD, which is a frightening statistic if I do say so myself.  Add on an 8th straight day of cardio (I ran 4 slow, easy miles on the treadmill), and dare I say I'm almost on the verge of starting to take care of myself.  Fret not, however - I still found a way to kill half a bag of chips and a block of cheese tonight.  Not sure if that's what's keeping me up, but the Bull is struggling MIGHTILY to sleep these days.  I have only had more than 5 hours once in the last 10 days, and I'm averaging going to bed at 1:30 AM, laying there until I pass out about 3, and then getting up at 7:50.  On the whole, not cool, but so far I've still been awake and functional at work (go ahead - throw the jokes out at this point).

So let's get the important stuff out of the way first:  today all eyes are on the Warf clan and the imminent arrival of their new addition.  Martin is one of my best college mates (Granville West 8th Floor repreSENT, baby!) and his wife is set to deliver today.  Warf - we're thinking of you all.  We love you guys!  And everybody in Hamm's say it with me now:  "SA-RA BAT-TEN!"  So exciting!

In other news, I saw, arguably the most ridiculous fashion statement in Singapore tonight.  I'm on the treadmill, watching Masterchef US (I got SO sucked in - I couldn't leave the treadmill until I saw who got voted off), and I look over at the dude 2 down.  He's moving at a good clip, and I'm about to give him credit when suddenly I look at his head.  THE GUY IS WEARING A BEANIE.  SKI HAT.  TOUQ.  TOBAGGAN.  Seriously?  SERIOUSLY?  IT'S TWELVE THOUSAND DEGREES IN THERE AND YOU LIVE ON THE EQUATOR.  But the most bizarre thing to me is not that he wore the thing inside, but the OWNS ONE AT ALL.  Unless this guy is a ski bum (HIGHLY unlikely), I am at a loss.  And when I saw him STILL wearing it outside later, I lost all respect.

The elephant terrace - complete with lots of statues of...elephants.
But enough of all this.  Let's return to Cambodia for the final day with Daling, Brom, and the temples of Angkor.  We were up and out at 8 AM again the final day, this time with a bit of a hybrid agenda.  Our first stop was the Elephant Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King.  Daling had skipped this the previous two days because the light wasn't perfect upon our arrival.  We did have good light, and it was neat, but due to all the rain, you couldn't walk right up to it in most spots (as you normally could).  And whilst it wasn't as cool as the things we'd seen previously, what was AWESOME was on the other side of the road.  There were these old temple remains that looked like ancient chimneys.  It was all I could do not to run up to one, throw some dirt down, and yell "Diagon Alley!"  I would also have yelled for the House in the Order of the Phoenix, but all I remember is it's 12 something (Grimmauld Place, maybe?  Somebody help me out - I know at least one of you has got the answer.).

We then went to the massive Preah Khan temple, complete with amazing sculpures of various styles.  This one went on and on, and it almost felt more like a Roman temple than Khmer.  There were dancing halls, libraries, founds - you name it.  And there was even one dude playing "Dance the Night Away" on the satir (that's the traditional string instrument out here).

This is where the cat broke out with some J-Lo on the Satir.  Tell me this
image doesn't look like something out of Lord of the Rings.
It was then over to the Roulos group, one of the most far flung of the temples.  The temples of Angkor actually run all the way to the Laos border, but some of them are still not accessible due to all the landmines surrounding them.  Not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but Cambodia is currently providing very successful in their landmind eradication program.  The program is well funded and on schedule, but even still - it will be 2025 before Cambodia is landmine free.  Daling explained to us how both parents and kids will find shells and mines, but rather than dispose of them, they often try to explode them "safely" so that they can obtain the metal and use it around the house. It's a horrifically tragic situation, as are so many in Cambodia.  Jenny and I were amazed at the poverty, subsistence living, and suffering that these people have endured over the last half century.  But what amazed us even more was their smile, energy, and outlook.  These people are hard working and happy.  There have been many times in our travels where Jenny and I have said, "Man, we just really have no idea how lucky we were to be born under the Stars and Stripes."  But this time was different.  This time it was more, "We are so blessed.  We've got to find a way to help these people."  We're not there yet, but finding a charity focused on Cambodia is a priority for us when we get home, as I am a firm believer that these people will make the most of whatever chance the West gives them.

The Roulos group was yet another very different, yet VERY cool set of temples.  The first one that we visited was dedicated to J7's ancestors - his grandmother and grandfather.  The carvings were still equisite, and the sculpture of the bull in front of the temples was surprisingly well preserved.  Not as many folks make it to the Roulos group, and in fact this whole area was one of the worst hit during the flooding.  There was one temple we couldn't visit because the water was still waist high.

Notice the flooding.  We wouldn't have been able to stand
on this bridge a week ago.
One of the highlights of the day came after this first Roulos temple (called Preah Ko), as we got a rare chance to meet a master craftsman.  There was an old guy wandering around a group of minature Angkor temples, and I could tell that Daling was intrigued.  Daling then told us that this was one of the few artists who survived the Khmer Rouge.  To allay suspicion, he hid all of his works under the stairs lest they be discovered.  Once the Civil War ended, he was one of the few trained artists still living, and he's since dedicated his life to training others in the arts of stonework, metalwork, and carving.  It was a very unique experience, not only watching him work but also seeing Daling's reaction to him, as you could tell our guide held him in very high regard.

Preah Ko - temple of the ancestors.
It was then over to Lolei, the last temple of our trip and yet another REALLY impressive one.  The heat was BRUTALLY hot on this day, and Daling had to break down and take an umbrella for shade.  I was all about the sunburn, so I just put on my "tourist hat" and charged forth.  On the walk to the temple, there was a band of land mine victims playing some traditional music.  Daling explained that, like the workshop we were about to go visit, these people were trained to play instruments so that they could support themselves.  There were about 800 musicians throughout the country, and this gave them a way to earn a living.  Given the poverty levels, social welfare isn't nearly as advanced in Cambodia, making this work an essential aspect of survival for many folks. 

Sample classroom in rural Cambodia.  Those were the only
two walls.  The other half of the room is exposed to the elements.
After that it was lunch, where Jenny and I were deflated when we sipped the two worst ice coffees EVER.  Seriously - I'll drink battery acid next time.  But hey, that was a minor hiccup, and it was soon forgotten when we arrived at the "Artisans of Angkor" school.  Now I will be honest, ahead of visiting, I was NOT looking forward to this.  The day before, Daling mentioned "we'd like to take you to a school for the under-privileged and disabled.  This is where they are taught artistic skills."  All I could think of was the CONSTANT ROOKING that went on in Egypt, stopping every five minutes at "workshops," where you were given powdered tea and a 5 minute demonstration on something before you got a 45 minute sell job.  Well, I am THRILLED to report that my fears were unfounded, as this proved to be a very unique stop.
This dude probably thought I was stalking
him, but I couldn't stop watching.  It was
The school really is just that - a place where the destitute or disabled children from rural areas can come to learn a trade.  It's not vocational training - they learn stone work, painting, carving, woodwork, masonry - you name it.  We were given a private guide, and he walked us through each section, explaining how each craft was made, how long it took, and where the folks in each room were from.  I will confess that it was a bit odd taking photos of blind or deaf people as they worked, but our guide kept saying, "You are not taking pictures!  Please, please!  Take as many photos as you wish!  Look around!"  And eventually, your inhibition slips away and you get used to it. 

I was truly blown away by the quality of the crafts (especially the piece he'd just finished - stonework that had taken him 6 weeks!).  The woodworking was probably my favorite, but the soapstone carvings were pretty exceptional as well.  But if the quality was mind-blowing, SO WERE THE PRICES.  Jenny and I thought that we'd get some BARGAINS at this place.  I was ready to do all of our Christmas shopping on the spot and worry about luggage weight limits later.  But when we went in and saw the prices of those pieces (anywhere from $85 to $4500 USD), we thought - "You know, the night markets in Thailand will have knockoffs of this stuff for $2."  So, in the end, we decided to spend the money on pitchers of Angkor Beer instead.  Family - it's not that we don't love you.  This way you'll get more bang for your buck when you open those presents in January. :-)
Silversmiths in action!

After that it was back to the Motherhome, where Jenny hit up the spa for a 1 hour foot massage whilst I floated around in the pool.  We then went back to Easy Speaking, where this time they were wise to our tricks and told us that, if we were going to order kangaroo, that was going to be an extra $1.  We of course were furious about this (which is hilarious, when you think that I paid $30 for a smaller portion in Singapore awhile back), but somehow we found the extra money in our wallets and managed to tear that place to the ground.  Seriously - 6 beers, 5 kinds of meat, and then another side of kangaroo - all for $16 after tip - how on EARTH do you argue with that?

On the way home we did what any Ang Mo's with full bellies would do on a Friday night - get ANOTHER 1 HOUR MASSAGE, BABY!!!!  OH, YEAH!!!  I went with foot and head, and it pretty much changed my life.  I actually fell asleep for a bit of it, but no complaints.  That was the sign that I was PLENTY relaxed.  I don't even know why I bothered taking my blood pressure meds on this vacation - it was hard to get much more relaxed. 

We also hit up the night markets that evening, where I went CRAZY and bought ten, count 'em TEN t-shirts.  They were comfy, and they even had "American" sizes (I was just a large in these).  Ten shirts - wanna guess the price?  $25 total.  And I am pleased to report that they are all holding up nicely.

The creative eye of Daling.  And this time, with the voice of
experience whispering in his ear - use the red head to
block the fat guy's back sweat.  Much better.
It was then back home, where we PASSED OUT, another great day behind us.  We were left with one more day in Siem Reap, and we were gonna make it count.  That, however, is another blog.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (totally chilled out after a day on her own in Brisbane) Jenny

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