Thursday, December 18, 2008

Angkor Wat

Today has been marked by the slow, respectful pace of admiration and wonder as we have made our way from one part of the Angkor Wat complex to the next. My eyes have been met with competing beauties from the ruins, the tangle of roots reaching across the jungle floor like old hands, trees that have wound their way around one another and anything else that has stood still long enough. (This is not to give you an Oz-like nightmare - time here has plodded in centuries and the encroachment of the jungle on the ruins of the various Buddhist and Hindu ruins has taken that kind of time.)

As Nadine and I poured over a map this morning I noted a UNESCO office with a comment that compared it to sports broadcasting. Basically if you are working for UNESCO in the Angkor Wat area you, like a sports broadcaster, have to be really enjoying your job. You don't end up doing this kind of work as a waystation to bigger ambitions or because you are looking for something to fall back on.

The intricacies of the ruins, both in their original incarnation and in the form that they have been restored or preserved in has the indelible imprint of patience, commitment, love and awareness of a higher power. The effort by the people over the last millenium, despite or because of the separation in time, is humbling and deserves great reverence. The people in the area and most of the visitors here have demonstrated it.

Nadine and I still have not visited the Wat itself. We wanted to build up to it. We had a glimpse of it tonight from the vantage point we watched sunset from. Before heading there, we started out further afield, visiting an area which has some idols and figures (I'll spare you the names) carved into the rock of a riverbed. Who knows how long they will stand up to erosion. We also visited three other locations before stopping for sunset. The penultimate will require another visit. I doubt we walked a fifth of it in the 20 minutes we stopped.

Throughout the day we also had a chance to watch the lifestyles of those who live in the Wat area. People were leading subsistence lives, eking things out of the land the best way they could and living in shacks with thatch roofs. The day was a blur of kids, pedaling bikes they werer five years from sittingon and braking with their barefeet on the ground, breastfeeders, farmers, lazing water buffaloes, frantic chickens, roadside stands of gas in Sprite and Pepsi bottles, smiles, palm trees, haze and fellow tuktuks and bikes loaded with whatever could be carried to get people through the day's business or life.

Back in town we tried to get a feeling for the pulse of the place, but before we had a chance the power went out for about 90 minutes. We wandered the streets for light to read our map by and even a place with its own generator and a menu. We finally found one that served basically a Khmer hotpot. It was a feast of meat and vegetables that we made at our table. We were stunned to be asked if we needed more meat. In our experience more rice, more cabbage, more soup, more lettuce yes. MORE MEAT?! We had to gratefully decline.

Tomorrow we will head for the Wat for sunrise and more of the highlights of the complex. This is far from complete. For one thing, I got monk shots.