Thursday, September 28, 2006
Da, Ba, and Run, my friendly Ta Prom tour guides, show me the secret (well, not so secret) chamber of doom! Well, not so much doom per se as echo and vibration. Sorry. When I talk about Ta Prom, the Indiana Jones inside gets a little carried away.
When I go back to Cambodia, I'm going back to Angkor just to see these kids again...
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Saturday, September 23, 2006
It`s taken me forever to get these pictures up. Hopefully I`ll get the time to write a bit more about them soon...Gomen ne, minna! m(- -)m
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Arrival outside of Siem Reap, after a remarkable comfortable and quick (comparatively speaking) bus ride from Phnom Phen.
Approaching Angkor Wat, hoping to catch the sunset from its central peak...
I`ve never seen Angkor in this light before...So beautiful!
Ahh! I can`t escape them! They`re everywhere! (^_<) Just kidding. My new Japanese friends Nori, Sayaka and Hiro.
Due to a YahooBB bill that went unpaid during my visit to Cambodia, I have been experiencing some technical difficulties. Hopefully I`ll be able to get more up soon!
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Monday, September 11, 2006
By the time we arrived, many of the shopkeepers were closing up. I ran into the dark and desserted market, looking for anyone who might be able to help me. In desperation I ran to a small Khmer woman almost hidden behind a multi-colored mountain of silk, smiling as I greeted her as politely as I could. She smiled and looked very eager to help an obviously clueless foreigner wandering around the empty market. I showed her my hair band and she pointed me a few stalls down, smiling and laughing. I ran down to the stall just as they were pulling the metal barrier down. With one look at my desperate face and the broken hair band the old woman laughed and sent her daughter back into the storage space to find me a huge back of hair bands. I bowed, pressed my palms together and gratefully sighed. "Awkoon chiran (Thank you very much)." Relieved, I headed back out onto the street. The sun was fading fast, but the street was coming alive. Colorful mounds of fresh fruits and vegetable spilled out onto the street, as fresh fish, many of them still alive, flapped around in pans or neatly packed baskets.
Oh! See the bright orange squash in the upper left corner? Thats what they call "Japanese pumpkin". I have been told many times that the Japanese word for it, Kabocha, actually comes from the word Cambodia, because that is where the vegetable was originally imported from.
Flopping about, only moments before being "cut to order". Brings new meaning to the word fresh, does it not?
Since it was getting dark, I figured I`d better head back home and get ready for my trip to Siem Reap.
That`s when I met this adorable little girl. She was so beautiful, sitting on the street with her mother, staring up at with me with those big brown eyes. "Hello!" I smiled back at her, waving. "Hello" she said shyly, looking around for her brothers and friends. They were already running towards us from every direction screaming "Hello, hello, hello!"
"Hello!" I laughed, suprised at their speedy response time. Someone took hold of my hand, and I looked down to find an adorable little girl smiling up at me. "Ha-lo" she whispered, giggling to herself. "Da da!" ( Lets go, or something along those lines!) one of the boys called out, and soon we were on our way down the street, stopping at every child we met to say hello. Most of them joined our odd little parade through the crowded street, single file, with me infront and the rest of the crew close behind.
When the crowd thinned and we had some space to play without getting run over, I marched forward with exaggerated movements. The kids would hurry behind, mimicking my every move until I stopped suddenly, and they all crashed into me, laughing. After awhile the kept their distance, bursting into giggles if I even pretended to stop, or looked back at them over my shoulder. Then I would pull and instant replay reverse, running backwards until I got someone. Up and down the street, we marched, amusing moto dups and adults.
"I'm thirsty!" I caught myself exclaiming nvoluntarily. Its not like any of them understood me. The little girl looked up at me with sad eyes. "Thirsty! Gulp, gulp, gulp" I smiled at her, pretending to pour something into my mouth and finishing the gesture off with a great big "Ahhh!" Her eyes lit up and she took my hand, leading me a few steps. The she stopped. "No. Madame, no." She put her hand over her heart "Me, 500 riel. Madame, no. Madame, 1000." She was trying to tell me that if she bought the water for me, it would be cheaper. "Awkoon chiran!" I I said, touched that she was thinking of me as a friend, and not a rich tourist. I gave her the 500 riel and she disappeared for a moment before sneaking up behind me and under my arm. She smiled as she handed me the cool, wet bottle and a straw. " Thank you cuteness!" I said as she hugged me. Suddenly one of the boys reappeared waving for us to join the fun on the sidewalk.
We tip-toed through the tangle of street venders watching over their wares and up onto the pavement. One of the boys pointed at my camera, pretending to take a picutre and then pointing at all thie kids. "Picture?" I asked. Silly question.
Striking a pose...Now where do you suppose he picked this up?
After they had exhausted their curiousity, seeing themselves in every possible pose played back on my LCD sceen, we began to play Cambodian children`s games. We were split into teams, and squatted in parallel lines facing each other. One team covered their eyes while their team captain tapped a member on the shoulder. That person continued to cover their eyes, holding out one hand. The opposing team silently chose a member to slap it, and if the person could guess who it was, the slapper joined the guesser's team. We played tag and all kinds of good things, and a few of the children even sang and danced for the rest of us.
By now it was quite dark. The mother had found a neighborhood university student who spoke fluent Engish, and brought him over to act as a translator. "Wow. You really like kids!" He said, amazed by the crowd of children that had attached themselves to me. "I love them!" I said, looking down at the sweet heart that continued to cling to my waist. "I just wish I knew what they were saying."
"You don`t speak Khmer?" he asked in suprise. "How long have you been here? What have you been doing?"
"Just a few hours, playing," I said, feeling foolish. He laughed. "What NGO do you work for?"
"No, I don`t work here. I`m just visiting," I said carefully avoiding the T word (toursit).
"Wow. You`re not like most tourists," he said. "Thanks," I smiled.
The little girl tugged at his shirt, saying something softly in Khmer and then looking up at me, smiling. "She said she wants you to take her home with you. She said she wants to sleep with you. I don`t know. Maybe you make her happy, you play with her and make her feel love. She wants to go home and sleep with you. Maybe then she can feel safe."
I looked back down at her and she smiled, nodded, and burried her face into my shirt. My eyes filled up with tears. " Please tell her I want to. I wish I could take her home with me. Wouldn`t your mother miss you? I asked. Oh my gosh Im gonna cry..." I looked away, out into the darkness, trying to catch myself.
"Madame," she called to me softly, speaking Khmer. "Don`t cry, she said" the young man translated. He broke into a long explanation in Khmer, and the mother, standing close by added that it would be Ok with her if I took her, smiling.
The beautiful little girl in question, standing behind me with her mother, brothers and a few friends.
"Please make sure she knows that if I could I would take her home with me, but its not that easy...Please make her understand." He began speaking to her in what seemed to me to be unconcerned Khmer. I wanted her to know that I meant it. I held her little face in my hands and looked in her eyes, but my eyes couldnt hold back the tears any longer. " Madame, no cry." She said, wiping my tears away.
It was getting really late and I was alone. After many hugs and more tears, the kids found me a reliable moto dup willing to make the trip back to the riverfront. They ran after us down the street, waving and saying goodbye. I wish I could have brought them all back with me.
When I arrived at the Paragon, a small group of kids from our pervious feast were there to greet me. "Tomorrow you go to Siem Reap?" They asked. " When you coming back?
So many children ...
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Now meet Sensovesai (with a short guest appearance by Vutha). There is an interesting misunderstanding that takes place near the end of the video, in which I think they are saying men when really they are saying monks. Seems painfully obvious now, but maybe it will help you understand my ridiculous reaction.
Anyways, enjoy! And ignore my increasingly strange-sounding English! Onegaishimasu!
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Remember Sna? Now you can meet him for yourself! What an amazing age we live in (despite the fact that it took me about 3 days to get this uploaded)!
Such a beautiful smile. Please try ignore my scary voice and enjoy Sna's amazing English speaking abilities! (^_<)
Thursday, September 07, 2006
I followed him through his tiny village of brightly colored walls, hung like faded robes, looking all the lovlier for the wear. When it seemed we had wandered through all the secret passageways, we came at last to a thin wall separating their peaceful sancutary from the busy world outside. Vutha stopped in front of "House No. 39" and calmly scaled the scallopped steps fanning out from the narrow door. He disappeared inside the dark room for a moment, popping his head back out to look for me. Unsure if I should follow or wait, I had stopped at the bottom of the steps, nervously looking everywhere but into the darkness. "Ok, come on. Come in."
I climbed the stairs slowly, stopping at the threshold. Vutha was clearing a place for me on a long wooden arm chair. "Come on. Please. Sit here." I stepped shyly into the room, bowing (its a habit) and raising my hands in prayer, as Cambodians do, trying my best to say "Soksabay che te" without sounding as ridiculous as I felt. The other monks scattered about the room stopped for a moment, looking blankly from me to Vutha, then smiled at me and returned my greeting. I sat down very conscious of my movements and appearance, unsure of how to act, but Vutha casually pulled up a chair in front of me and started asking me questions about my life in America and Japan. In a few minutes we were talking and laughing as if we were good friends reunited after a long separation.
In the background, a monk stood sweeping the room, an MP3 player clipped to his shoulder, earphones hidden in his ears. Another sat on the floor behind us, studying. Some had gathered to begin preparing lunch. One by one, the slender silhouettes of young monks appeared in the flood of light streaming through the doorway as they returned from their classes. Many of them smiled saying "Oh! Hello! So, what`s your name? Where are you from? How long have you been in Cambodia?" sitting down to join in the conversation, or simply listen. Soon the long wooden sofa was full and I moved to the floor to ensure a safe distance between us.
As we sat around laughing, an older monk appeared from a separate room and leaned up against the wall, smoking a cigarette. I was shocked at first to see him smoking, but he looked down at me and smiled kindly. "Soksabay che te" I said, pressing my palms together below my down cast eyes. He smiled and nodded "soksabay," launching into a beautifully melodic stream of Khmer, which turned out to be his complimenting me on my clearly spoken Cambodia and asking how long I had lived in Cambodia. "The Venerable asks your name ." Vutha translated, and I answered. As Vutha later explained, he was the most senior monk in the house and treated with a great deal of respect. After awhile he disappeared back into his room, and the monks began to tell me about their daily life.
Vutha told me that Cambodian monks, like most in southeast Asia, followed Theravada, "The Way of the Elders," the oldest surviving school of Buddhism. At 25 years old, Vutha has been studying Pali, the ancient language of the Theravada's canon, for 8 years. As a monk, he serves his community by presiding over religious ceremonies and providing instruction in basic Buddhist morality and teachings. As a scholar, he dedicates his life to his studies, both religious and secular. He hopes to someday become a teacher of Khmer Literature, and studies both English and Japanese as well.
Vutha also introduced me to another young monk with impeccable English named Sensovesai. His name, he told me, means "I meet you, I am lucky. You meet me, you are lucky." At 21, he has been a monk for 5 years, and is dedicated to studying English and Japanese, despite the fact that he hopes to someday become a singer. "My friends tell me I dance like Micheal Jackson!" He laughed.
Micheal Jackson? That I had to see! Only one problem. As a monk, Sensovesai can't dance, and he can't sing. He isin't even supposed to listen to music.
Monks vow to undertake 10 Precepts, abstaining from: 1) harming or taking life, 2) taking what is not given, 3) sexual misconduct, 4) false speech, 5) using intoxicants, 6) eating after midday, 7) dancing, singing, music, or any kind of entertainment, 8) using garlands, perfumes, unguents and adornments, 9) using luxurious beds or seats, and 10) accepting or holding money.
But whatever the idealized, romantic preconceptions of monks may be, they are just people like you and me. In Cambodia, becoming a monk is sometimes the only way to get an education, fill your stomach and relieve the burden of your family. Very few young men (boys can usually enter the monkhood at the age of 13) become monks with the hopes of living a monastic life forever. There is no stigma attached to leaving the monkhood, and even in House No. 39, a young ex-monk and fellow aspiring singer continued to live just as he always had, among the monks in the monastery. Being ordained as a monk, even for a short time, is thought to be very virtuous. Just taking the vows, regardless of whether or not you keep them, is a virtue.
Vutha brings in the laymen's laundry, as Vesai paruses my trusty travel companion, the JET Diary.
Worried I was imposing on people too polite to tell me to leave, I asked if perhaps I should go so that they could prepare for their next round of classes. "No, no, no, don't worry! Aren't you hungry? You should have something to eat!" Vutha insisted.
By this time, the two young women, (Vutha's sister, and a cusin), had finished preparing the final meal of the day. The monks began to lay mats and gather infront of the buddah shrine, and the venerable emerged from his room carrying a small, low table. "Would you like to eat here?" Vutha asked.
"I would love to, but I don't want to eat all your food! There won't be enough for everyone! That food is for the monks..."
"Oh, there's more than enough. Now, we have to eat. You can't eat with us, but you can wait. And then afterwards you can eat with them (the girls). It is like a blessing for you!"
My western educated mind reeled for a moment. Oh yeah. How blessed! I get to sit and watch you eat, and then, when your finished you will allow us second class citizens to partake of your leftovers. This all shot through my mind in an instant, almost too quickly for me to realize I had thought it. It disappointed me. I would rather believe it was something I was programmed to think than consider it an original thought of my own. The truth is, I did feel greatly blessed: Blessed to have been able to come back to Cambodia, to have met Vutha, to have been welcomed into his home and treated so kindly, and to be invited to eat with them, observing their lifestytle, learning about their culture and taking part in their customs.
"Today the food is very delicious," the Venerable added (translated by Vesai). "You should stay and eat."
Good food? A personal invitation from the Venerable? How could I argue with that?
The girls and I enjoyed our meal, trying to communicate in my non-existent Cambodian, gestures, and smiles. I'm not sure what we we were eating, but it involved fish and was delicious.
After lunch Vutha rushed off to bathe before his next round of classes at 1PM. Vesai, who was finished for the day, offered to show me around the temple grounds and accompany me to the National Museum after Vutha left.
As Vutha left for class he asked me to come again when I returned (the next day I planned to head back to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat) and blessed me, wishing me health, happiness and good luck. Vesai headed upstairs to put on his formal robes and we headed out into the temple grounds for my personal tour.
We headed back through the muted maze of monk dwellings and out onto noisy (in comparison) streets towards the National Museum. In order to keep the lay people from criticizing him, Vesai asked me to walk behind him until we were in the museum. I understood, and kept my distance, even after entering the museum grounds. " Are you sure its OK for you to talk to me out here?" I asked, concerned I was about to horribly offend the entire Cambodia capital. "No, its ok. In here there are only foreigners. They don't care, I'm sure."
So together we explored the amazing collection of Khmer carving and craftsmanship. Vesai patiently explained the symbolism and context of each of the beautifully carven statues and stellas, and even tried the ancient inscriptions written in a flowing form of Pali. Knowing the Vesai was eager to practice his Japanese, I secretly scoped the scene for a large Asian tour group, straining my ears to hear the languages being spoken all around me. There were many Koreans and Chinese tourists, who traveled in pairs or small groups, but it took awhile before a true Japanese your came through, fluent Japanese guide, flag and all.
I approached them apologetically (as is the custom-- sumimasen!) and began to ask them where they were from. Amazed that I could speak Japanese, they were thrilled to talk to me and try to understand how that could be. Knowing the tour had to be short on time, I introduced Vesai and told them that he,too, was studying Japanese. A chorus of "Eeee! Sugoi!" echoed through the lofty rooms as they tried to converse with the young monk. When it proved more difficult than they had hoped, they turned their attention back to me. The tour guide was a bit kibishii (strict) and urged the group to move along. I offered to take a quick picture, remembering that Vesai had once told me that since he could not travel, it was nice to think at least his picture could.Everyone smiled and shot up the peace sign, except for Vesai, who put on his serious monk face and stood with his hands at his side.
Time was running short for us as well. Vesai asked me to visit when I returned from Angkor, and I promised I would. He headed back towards House No. 39, far ahead of me, and I, overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the day and a creeping sense of sadness that it had to end, turned back to the riverside, where it had all begun.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
After about a half hour, I figured it was time to get some yum-yum (as they say in Khmer). "You, me, yum yum?" I called over his shoulder. "Me?" he asked. I nodded my head enthusiastically, and he motioned for me to make a few turns before we ended up at a small noodle shop packed with Cambodians, spilling out onto the sidewalk, seated at their tiny tables. I amazed everyone by successfully stopping the cyclo, pulling the break and hopping off like a an old pro. Some people even broke into applause.
We quickly seated ourselves on shakey stools, before big bowls of steaming noodles were slid in front of us, garnished with beansprouts, chili sauce and lime. Delicious as they were, I spent very little time eating. A Doctor from the Soviet- Khmer Friendship hospital who worked with HIV patients in a special ward had graciously welcomed me to Cambodia, and we were soon engaged in a thoughtful discussion about his life surviving Pol Pot, the current Cambodian government, and his ambition to someday visit America, "the land of the free, and of opportunity." He invited me to visit his hospital if I had a chance, and gave me his address and phone number before rushing off to work. I quickly slurpped down my noodles, sorry to keep my company waiting. Athough he had finished much sooner, he sat smiling, enjoying his time in the shade. When I hopped back up on the high seat and set off again, I asked him to direct me towards the gracefully curved spires and imacculately layered roof of the terra cotta colored National Museum.
When we arrived near the entrance, I hopped of anf handed the cycling steed back to its rightful owner. After spending only .75 cents on breakfast, I felt compelled to give him something for letting me pimp his ride around town while he could have been finding other buisness. He, of course, had no idea what I was on about, and hopped up on the bike, ready to leave. In a panic I turned to the first person I saw and asked for help... That person just happened to be a monk.
Vutha`s first mistake was smiling kindly at an obviously distressed foreigner. "I`m sorry!" I bowed (its a Japanese thing), "Can you help me? I know you must be busy...Oh my gosh your a monk? Am I even allowed to be talking to you..." My cyclo driver was getting away. "Wait!" I desperately called out after him.
"Its OK!" the young monk laughed, "I speak English!" With a word, he had called the cyclo back. "Now what`s wrong?" he asked. I explained the situation to him and he calmly unttered a few soft words to the cylco driver, who humbley replied. "He said, f you can, give him 2000 Riel so he can get something to eat at lunch."
So little. 2000 Riel is about .50 cents. I handed it to him saying "Awkoon" (thank you in Khmer) and turned back to the monk. "Thank you so much! I`m really sorry to bother you!" I apologized, bowing my head and touching my palms together, as if in prayer.
"Don`t worry!" He smiled. "I`m not busy. So, where are you from?" "I`m from America, but I live in Japan. His face lit up. "Oh"! America! And you live in Japan!" The whole situation seemed a bit too surreal as I stood nervously conversing with this young monk, his bright orange robes complimented by the rich, rusted red of the museum behind him. "Are you busy right now?" he asked. "Me? No! Not busy!" I answered anxiously.
"Well, Would you like to come back to my place?"
"What?!" I laughed, amazed. I realized he had meant it sans-the sleezy connotations so common in American culture, but it still suprised me to hear it from the mouth of a monk. "Um, OK! Wait...Really? Is that OK?"
"Sure!" he said in that soft, reassuring way Cambodians do. He smiled as he stepped past me into the street, looking back over his shoulder. "Come on."
I stood on the corner, convinced I was dreaming, and slowly stepped into the street. Timidly tracing his footsteps, I struggled to leave a respectable amount of distance between us as I followed him towards his wat.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The ever-changing kaliedescope of colors and light, as the dark cool shades of night melted away.No one can accuse me of vanity after posting this! Sleepy-eyed and cheese-faced, from the balcony of my most excellent, albeit impermanent, abode.
The day was young and full of possibilities. I had no idea where it was about to lead me, no expectations of what I would do or see, no place I "had" to go, no schedules, no shackles. I was completely free, and that is always a good thing. (^_<)
I lazily stumbled down the steps from my 4th floor room, through a lobby full of friendly faces, out onto the street. With every step I took I was greated with a chorus of traditional, city-style greetings: "Madame, moto? Moto Madame? Madame, Cylco? Cyclo, madame? " Smiling and shaking my head "no," I skipped across the street, through the trickle of traffic begining to flood the riverfront, and sat down in the sun, soaking it in, the sounds of fishermen speaking Vietnamese floating on the wind.
I waited patiently for the day to reveal itself to me. A brilliant stream of billowing saffron caught my gaze, slowly flowing towards me. The early light of morning, caught in citrus colored, umbrellas glowed in the distance, spilling over onto saffron colored robes like streams of sunlight pouring through stained glass. An ethereal glow seemed to radiate from the round, shaved heads shaded beneath them, like an aura of pure energy. Their bronze-toned, sun-kissed skin was wrapped in robes that echoed the many shades of sunrise still ethched in my mind: golden, crimson, saffron, and tangerine. I watched in awe at the unworldly quality of the scene before me, unable even to fumble for my camera to try to capture it.
I sat there, alone, contemplating how so much beauty can exist in such a cruel and troubled world. "The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater."Lost in thought, I began to wander the streets, coming to life with the colors and flavors of Cambodia's capital city.
Have you ever seen so many banannas before? Bunch by bunch, handed down from the truck to the cyclo, hopefully on its way to becoming one of the many delicious fruit smoothies I consumed in a day. Yumm...
A small girl on the side of the road, all alone. She just stood there, looking around, watching people pass her by without a second glance. She didnt beg. She had nothing to sell. She was just there. Alone.
So beautiful. I sat and watched the bananaman for awhile, hoping someone would come and take her hand, and lead her away smiling and skipping down the street. I wish I could've brought her home with me!
Did I need a cyclo? No. But he needed a passanger, and maybe a bit of breakfast. I tried to explain to him that I didn't need a ride; that I was happy walking around and getting lost. The language barrier, however, was not on my side, and a constant smile does little to discourage the desperate. So I decided to give him a break. "Ok!" I laughed. "Me, cylco! You, here!" I pointed from him to the carriage. He jumped down off his seat grinning. "Ok?" He said, pointing at my legs. "Ok!" I assured him, ushering him to his seat. To the amazement of everyone within viewing distance, I hopped up on the cyclo, ready to speed off, when he hopped out of the seat and ran behind me. I was afraid he had reconsidered allowing a foreigner to drive his precious chariot, at the risk of both his personal saftey and my own, but he simply ran behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, showed me how to release the break, and then gleefully hopped back into his seat. And off we went...
To be Continued....