Saturday and Sunday were both spent at Angkor. The 101 degree heat and 80% humidity didn’t even have the power to bring down my appreciation for the beautiful Angkor Park. Saturday we were lucky enough to be led on a guided tour by a Khmer archeologist, who told us all the fun facts about Angkor Wat and Angkor Tom. We first went to Angkor Wat, the main giant temple that’s proudly displayed on the Cambodian flag. (Although, I do wonder if that’s truly Angkor Wat on the flag because on it, it only shows three entrances when in real life it has five…) It was incredible. I really can’t thread together the words to describe the overwhelming awe I felt while walking around. We got to see The Churning of the Sea of Milk, which is a specific relief that I studied in my Asian Art History course. After exploring around, climbing to the top and taking panoramas of everything in sight, we finally got to take a break and have lunch. There was no better feeling than the cool menthol towels they gave us at the table for lunch. I did get to indulge in my first coconut after Angkor Wat also, and that was pretty fabulous. After lunch, we headed out to explore two more temples. Because we were with an APSARA guard of Angkor (the archeologist) we were allowed to follow him through the dense jungle to see the gardens of Angkor. Although they were not so visible today, the open field was a really pretty sight compared to the thicket we had all just tumbled through. The second temple we saw was probably one of my favorites because we got to climb so high up and see around the area more. The day ended with a nice thunder storm which was beautiful after our super-hot day! Later in the evening we came back to the hotel and Page, Morgan, Sara, Taewee, Nid Noi, our professor and I attended an art gallery opening for a local artist who we will eventually be participating in a workshop with. It was a really interesting and swanky experience. On the walk home I had Blue Pumpkin ice-cream for the first time and it was AMAZING! I wish we had it back home, although Babcock ice-cream is a worthy adversary.
The second day at Angkor was also a lot of fun because we got to explore on our own. We were dropped off at the ruins where Angelina Jolie filmed her Tomb Raider movie. It was gorgeous, not only because of the architecture, but because of all the living and dead trees that intertwined through the buildings. Although I really enjoyed being at Angkor again, something that left a sour taste in my mouth was the commercialization of Buddhism there. In some of the ruins older men, women or sometimes monks would sit with incense and a shrine to Buddha. They would offer you a stick to put in a pot and then offer to tie a bracelet around your wrist. Although I had participated in this event the day previous, today I didn’t have any money to offer like I did the previous person and that’s when I realized that they were only offering me blessings for my money. This point was brought up in later discussion with the group and our Professor pointed out our ideal image of Buddhism. Which is true, learning about Buddhism I hold the Buddha and followers in high esteem because I personally admire everything Buddhism tries to achieve within an individual and in this world. But just like any religion, although it is meant for moral compass and support, sometimes its practitioners do not follow it exactly as it is intended. Only offering me blessings just for my money made me feel used. Also today the kids at Angkor were extremely busy. As soon as our bus stopped they swarmed the van with postcards and fans trying to sell us things. Throughout the day you had to refuse them, as sad as it was. Also, an APSARA guard showed Brittney and I a shrine to the Queen at a temple, not something all tourists know about. I thought he was being overly nice to tourists but as it turns out he expected a “donation” for himself at the end. The tourist economy in Cambodia is essential for those who are not supported by the job or the government, but preying on my interest in the culture and religion made me recognize my naïve state of mind and quite honestly really annoyed me. Money isn’t easy to come by in Cambodia, but there are other fashions do it rather than exploiting and cornering tourists.
Besides that, lots of fun was had our second day at Angkor and I had another refreshing coconut. Again, the fresh fruit here is to die for. When we came back from Angkor my friend Kong Kia that I had met at the rice tasting invited me to an English conversation table at Wat Damnak with other Khmer students. This is an excerpt from what I wrote immediately after the talk: “I just had the time of my life at an English conversation class for the Khmer students. They were learning about how to present in front of an audience and right once I walked in they made me give a presentation about myself and used me as an example to teach. The teacher explained that I seemed really confident (really I was just fueled by excitement to be there), but how the number one problem for Khmer students is that they are nervous to speak in front of others because they are never taught how to until they are going to college. Also many presentations are given in English which is a second language for them, so many people fear they are speaking to others who know more English than them and they will think their English isn’t as good. Miss Tivorn, a girl who I had met previously at our lunch at Wat Damnak taught the class how to give a good presentation by giving a great presentation herself. She explained pretty much everything that I had learned in my Public Speaking course, keep eye contact, use few notes, and be confident in your presentation by using trustworthy resources. They then asked me how they should get over their public speaking fears and I explained my own techniques on how to get over the nervousness. It was funny because they were really surprised when I said that I got nervous speaking in public too! I explained my deep breathing techniques that I had learned at YES+. One presentation I found interesting was one student, a man about twenty years old, explained to the class how he was going to school for law and explained the different types of law in Cambodia. I found it extremely interesting because the first question he was asked is, “Why do you want to be a police officer? To make lots of money?” And he responded that he wanted to be an officer to help the people, not to become corrupt like most of the police officers are here.” As a class we touched upon the corrupt police system here, but I was sort of surprised how casual it can be brought up in conversation.
Overall this past weekend really enhanced my comfort level here in Cambodia. I really am thankful for the amazing group I’m a part of, the friendly Khmer students I’ve met and the guidance I’ve had from Professor Hansen, Bong Dareneth, Bong Sreypich, and Nid Noi. I’ve learned so much over the weekend and I’m so excited to learn more about the Khmer culture and language. AH I still can’t believe I’m here!!!