Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Those crazy Cambodians!

Lots to talk about in a short amount of time! Here we go!

Last week, instead of sitting in a classroom to learn about early Cambodian history, we spent three days trekking around the temples of Angkor, from the earliest stages to the final ones. If you've had time to look at my over-abundance of pictures, you can see how absolutely amazing they were.

The first day, we took a bus out to a village on the outskirts of Angkor which lives today in a style similar to those who had built the temples centuries ago. In other words: the Cambodian Amish. I had always felt like people stared at you here in Cambodia, but it was nothing like what we experienced when we went there! A group of children and monks ran up to our bus as soon as we got off, and as we walked around the village looking at the way of life, holy center, etc, the crowd just kept getting bigger. Finally, we went to a field and saw what our guide, Dameon, said was the earliest, prehistoric evidence foreshadowing the beginning of Angkor. As we stood gazing upon the ruins, the silence whispering through the field was quite rudely interrupted by a large, obviously agitated cow standing next to us. The crowd of kids then proceeded to make cow sounds themselves...haha...

Next, we traveled to the Preah Ko, Bakong, and Lo Lei temples. Even though they were smaller than what we would see later, they were still really beautiful with their intricate carving all over them. It was fun having Dameon with us, because he is the deputy director for the "Greater Angkor" project which is seeking to pick up the archaeological process that was interrupted by the Khmer Rouge.

Ooook, the NEXT day we took an amazingly long and bumpy bus ride out to the middle of nowhere. Dameon showed us an archaeological dig that has uncovered a section of the intensive, hydraulic system that late Angkor had developed. Their findings are supporting their theory that the fall of Angkor was due to a break in the water system (which would suck for them because rice needs water, their religious ceremonies needed water, and..uh...the people would need water..). No one really knows why Angkor collapsed, so it was cool to see archaeologists hard at work trying to figure it out. They weren't no Indiana Jones (more like middle-aged Australians with potbellies :), but it was still super interesting.

After that, we traveled to To Prohm, which is where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed..if any of you have seen it. I know I haven't! Anyway, after Angkor Wat, it is the most famous temple in the Angkor complex because it has been completely overgrown with giant trees. It would have been very peaceful, but it was crawling with tourists (not that I'm not one also, but I kind of put myself in the category of student :). Next, we took another long bus trip out to a large baray, which is a big, man-made, ceremonial lake. We were going to take a boat out, but all of a sudden, a storm blew in and we had to run for cover. There were these little girls who pretty much attacked us with bracelets saying over and over "Seven for one dollar, seven for one dollar.." As annoying as it was, we tried to talk to them with our limited Cambodian, and we even played a hand game with them (Down by the banks with the hanky-panky...anyone remember that one?? ). FINALLY, it stopped pouring, we (and the girls, haha) jumped in the boat and headed out to a little island in the middle called West Mebon. There we saw more ruins and an inverted linga.

** Side note: A linga is a phallic symbol (I can hear all of you giggling right now, stop it!). Pretty much all of Angkor is covered in lingas...At our favorite restaurant in Siem Reap, the Blue Pumpkin, they even sell Chocolate Lingas...uh, yeah. Anyways..

Ok, last day! We finally made our way to the famous Angkor Wat, the biggest temple made by the last great king of Angkor. My favorite part was that it was covered in Apsara, which are like angels. After that, we made another archaeological pit stop to see the ruins of a bridge made of parts of a temple. Finally, after that, we took a smaller bus to Bayon to see the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of the Elephants. Inside the gate we toured around Angkor Thom, which has the four faces, if any of you are familiar with that. At this point, as you can imagine, we were a little sick of temples and old looking rocks and headed back home to catch up the hundreds of pages of reading that we had neglected to do that last couple of days...O_o. We even got our Cambodian tour guide to sing a little karaoke for us, haha ;). All in all, it was really amazing, and if any of you ever have a chance to come to Southeast Asia, you must come see the Angkor temples.

This past weekend, I went with eight friends to Battambang. Trying to be wily tourists, we booked tickets to take a boat along the river which boasted a lovely three hour ride past the most beautiful scenery in Cambodia.


Five hours and a whole loaf of bread and jar of Nutella later, we still hadn't gotten to Battambang. The boat was crowded with an odd mix of Australians, Cambodians, Germans, and of course, us Americans. We would be chugging along when suddenly we would stop at a random floating hut in the middle of nowhere to let a Cambodian off. Apparently, we were riding the "bus of Cambodia". All of us were pretty grumpy at this point because our butts were getting sore from sitting on the wooden benches when suddenly the engine sputters to a stop. We had run out of gas. In the middle of Cambodia. Thankfully, a bit down current, there was another floating apparatus that had a tank of gas that got us along for another two hours until we could stop again for some more.

After a lovely scenic EIGHT HOUR BOAT TRIP, we made it to Battambang relatively unscathed. I say relatively because I had fallen asleep with my legs hanging out the boat for a couple hours, and my knees (and only my knees) were completely fried. Very cute. O_o Needless to say, as soon as we got to the hotel, we crashed.

Well, at least we crashed for a little bit. At about 3 in the morning, we were woken up by Cambodian music and what we found out later was a monk praying in a microphone blaring outside our window. When we rolled out of bed at 9, it was still going. Those crazy Cambodians.

Sarim and I tried to go to the museum, but it was closed on the weekend, so we ended up just exploring. After looking at two Wats, we found a restaurant that served FRIED CHICKEN AND FRENCH FRIES! And it was the most amazing meal I have ever had in my life! Just like home :).

After meeting up with everyone else at the hotel, we spent a good twenty minutes arguing amongst ourselves whether we were going to take a moto or a tuk-tuk to Phnom Sampeou (Mt. Sailing Boat :)...we finally convinced everyone to grow a pair and get on a moto, and I'm glad we did! Our moto drivers were very nice and careful to go slow for us wimpy Americans, and mine pointed out all of the interesting things in the countryside as we passed. After paying the "Tourist Police", we hiked up the mountain to see the Killing Caves. On the mountain, the Khmer Rouge had a prison and an interrogation complex, and after they killed their prisoners, they threw them down into a cave. When the Vietnamese finally arrived, they found a large pile of bones and black and red rags. Since then, a stuppa has been erected to house the remains, but it was made clear so that people can see the amount of death that occurred on this mountain.

On the way up, our tour guide ("Harry") shared his story about his father during the Khmer Rouge. Because his father was from a family of educated parents, they had to hide their identities when they were taken out of the city to work in the fields because the KR sought to kill anyone with education or economic standing. One night, Khmer Rouge soldiers came to the hut and began yelling at our Harry's father's parents, telling them that they knew who they were and to come with them. Everyone was crying, and when the mother turned to to Harry's father to ask him to take care of the family, a soldier began hitting her in the face. Moments later, the children heard gun shots from the woods.

After that, Harry's father's two older brothers were taken to work on the dam project, and he never saw them again. His sister later died from starvation. The only reason Harry's father survived was because he still thought there was a chance that his two brothers were alive.

Harry, who is 24, had only heard this story from his father this year when he asked him about it. The people who went through this time do not talk about what happened and prefer to forget it happened. Those who tell the stories are mostly the children, like Harry. It is forbidden to teach that period of history in Cambodian schools.

Sorry for the sad story, but it was really moving while we were sitting there on the mountain as it was raining.

That night, we were sitting outside eating when suddenly a long train of buses, trucks, motos, and people rushed by us with flashing lights and red, white, and yellow flags. It was a political demonstration for the Cambodian People's Party, the ruling party which has been dominating the elections. It wasn't the last one we saw, but it was definitely the biggest. Those crazy Cambodians.

Having learned from our past mistakes, we took a bus home. And it only took four hours :).

Two nights ago, Emily (my room mate) and I were peacefully slumbering when all of a sudden at 3:30 a.m., our room started shaking from these loud booms and explosions. We looked out our window trying to see what was going on. Was there bombing?? Election violence??

No no. We wrapped up in our blankets and stepped outside on the balcony. There were fireworks going off. The big kind. And also the loud kind. And we had no idea why they were going off at three in the morning, much less for a whole hour! The loud noise proceeded to freak out the hundreds of dogs in the city, as well as the damn rooster that crows for hours in the morning. Those crazy Cambodians!

We found out later that all the madness was due to the fact that it was ruled that Preah Vihear Temple belonged to Cambodia. This had been a contested issue for a long time between the Thai and the Cambodians, because it lies right on the border. Now, the Cambodians can petition to make it a World Heritage site. So, I suppose the fireworks were ok. Just badly timed.

Ok, you bored yet? If so, no worries. I'm finished, because I'm getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and I don't know about you, but I'm not a big fan of malaria.

I'm leaving to go to Phnom Penh this Friday to stay with a host family for two weeks..woo hooooo! One of our professors is even going to take us on a tour of the sex district. The boys are really excited, haha..We're even going to Heart of Darkness with the same professor, the shady night club owned by the grandsons of some important dude.

Miss you guys! Hope you are doing well! Muah! :)


Kim said...

You made me sad with Harry's story...

But then again, it might have been punishment for thinking about you eating chocolate wieners. Please take a picture of a chocolate wiener. Please. Please.

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that they don't teach about their history. I can understand why, but still sad.

This stuff is interesting. I've had to Wiki a couple things you talk about because I have NO idea what they are. Even though a moto should have been fairly obvious.

Keep it coming!

Also, does the Heart of Darkness have anything to do with the novel by Joseph Conrad about the Belgian Congo?...probably not.