Monday, May 16, 2011

How's Bagpacking in America?

I had a fun time today, just finished my 3rd of 4 exams and went to hang out with some friends in my Islam class where we managed not to study and talk about the US this whole time. The conversation started out my friend, Hannah, she's going to do a work study in Albany, NY at Six Flags for the summer and wanted to know the weather. She then was asking about bagpacking and how to get to LA. I decided it was time to pull out a map and sadly ruin her dreams of bagpacking the US.

Nobody understands how big our country is. Out here or a lot of the Europeans I meet who have never been to the US. The girls today tried to compare it to the UK. Not even close. As a part of a paper I did for ROTC, I wrote about how there are things that we, as Americans, consider common knowledge that other countries dont. For instance, I never knew a majority of SE Asia was occupied and imprisoned by the Japanese in WWII. The US public school system didn't teach me that, because its not as important as other things are. However, I know the general size of the majority of countries in the world. I know we are huge and I know Singapore is mega mega tiny. World Geography, as I have found, is not common knowledge for the SE Asias to learn, even the very westernized Singaporeans don't learn much of it. Its ok, we all have our own educational priorities set up by the government, but it leads many foreigners to not understand about the size of the US.

I pulled up a map of the US on google images and pointed out the location of major cities. Then I described the distance (in driving time, since km/miles aren't a fun easy conversion lol). NM to FL, 30 hours. DC to FL, 12 hours (I know all the good ones!). IT was sad to tell her this, since she was really looking forward to a "cheap weekend bagpacking to LA", but its best she learns before her trip rather than during.

This is not the first time I've had this conversation. There have been many others, mainly with the Europeans, who say how "weird" American's are because they never go out of their country of "vacation". This was something that I needed to explain and I feel like I've really became aware of since I've been abroad. When American's go on a vacation, they normally stay within a few states of their home or visit family. Travel isn't cheap because our cities are very far apart, therefore there is no mega cheap mass transit like there is in Europe or SE Asia. They have cheap flights across cities/countries because they are so CLOSE. There are no bagpack friendly things in the US (like here/Europe) because people dont bagpack in the US since major sites are quite far away from each other. Its expensive enough to go cross-country, why go out of the country? We have every kind of landscape, lets just stay here. Its a true mindset of Americans I believe and a bit hard to explain to those who grew up out here where everything is so freaking close together!

We then proceded to pull up people of Walmart and laugh. It was great.

Only a few more days left :) After my exam Wed night, going out for a night on the town in Arab Street for some cheap beer and good hummus with friends and lounging by the pool for a day and a half before starting the realllly long journey home.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 7/8: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Today was MUCH more cheery! We went to an all day cooking class and had a GREAT time! It started with a trip to the market to get to see what type of stuff we would be using and for the guide to point out what was commonly used by the Cambodians. As the usual Asian market scene, it was like a grocery store, selling everything you could eat, every kind of meat, vegetable, spice, etc. Here are some particularly odd things: pigs blood, buckets of sticky palm sugar, they used duck (not chicken) eggs here, balloot (spelling? which is almost ready to hatch chicken eggs that were cracked and you pretty much ate the baby chicken), lotuses, all the fish was alive and was be-headed in front of you, leaving a small bloody pile of still squirmy fish heads in the corner. Gross.

We went back to our cooking place, a roof terrace above a blind massage parlor, and made 4 dishes: chicken spring rolls, this pumpkin meringue, chicken curry, and salad. The dessert (pumpkin) was a meringue poured inside a hallow pumpkin, which was used as a steamer and was steamed for about two hours. The Salad was fruit, chicken, and different herbs and vegetable mixed with this awesome spicy peanut sauce. I have developed quite a tolerance for spicy curry here and love it! The curry was the best, as Cambodia has a huge Indian influence (why they were all Hindu's back in the day) so curry is a big deal. However, unlike the watery/oily curry of the Indians, Cambodians and Thai (the Khmer people used to rule Thailand and Vietnam, and now only have Cambodia, which is why stuff is so similar around them) use coconut cream to make their curry creamy, which is amazing. There was lots of "Isnt this Thai food?" which the chef had to say the Thai's copy the Cambodians since the Khmer ruled Thailand first. We made out minced meat by hand, used a mortar to mix stuff for like 30 minutes, it was awesome.

While we were in between dishes, the cooks themselves were making lunch. There is this gross nasty fish that is fermented for 3 (yes, three) YEARS and you can only imagine how it smells. They put it inside a strainer in a pot of boiling water and the fish immediately melts into the water, leaving the strainer full of bones that are thrown away. Our chef said its way too much for anybody to try BUT Cambodians hahaha. Our chef also told us about how the Cambodians LET the French colonize them, as the kingdom was being threatened by Vietnam and Thailand and would have been taken into the borders of those countries if France hadn't intervened and why he loved the French people. Also learned Saigon was a Cambodian city until 1943, and 13 million Khmer people live there today.

That evening, Kara and I went out for drinks. In Siem Reap, alcohol was actually cheaper than water or soda, as we were told due to the competition between restaurants for tourists money. In PP, it was a little more expensive, but still considered a good price at home. We sat on a terrace overlooking the Lake in PP and drank for a while. We found a night market and did a little shopping , as they were more willing to bargain here and went home.

We slept great (thank you booze) despite the loud music and on/off AC throughout the night that had occurred every night since we arrived in PP. We made it to the airport and Singapore with no problems :)

Now it's study time, for the next week and a half before I go home. Its gotten even hotter here in Singapore, so I'm trying to figure out when to use the AC so I don't die while reading my school books. Just a few most posts and I'm home!

Day 6: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

**Warning: we went to learn about the genocide today. I'm not going to leave anything out so you can really hear in detail what happened to these people, but there's some sick stuff in here. Just wanted to warn you....

We woke up late morning with the Canadian girls and went to hire a tuk-tuk for the day to take us to the main sites of PP; Royal Palace, the Genocide Museum, and the Killing Fields. So, a tuk-tuk is a motorbike that had a trailer hitches to it where we sit in little seats, versus a rickshaw which is a guy biking a trailer where we sit in the front. So what happens is we walk outside our hotel and immediately there are tuk-tuks asking us where we want to go, usually yelling "tuk tuk lady?" In PP, they said lady or sister. We previously decided on a price among ourselves and pretty much tell the tuk tuk driver what we want, he laughs and says no, its too far, then we walk away, and he comes yelling after us OK OK! Works like a charm, every time. So we got a tuk-tuk all day for $12 = $3pp. Awesome.

Our first stop was the Royal Palace. Cambodia's official title is The Kingdom of Cambodia, and yes there is a king. I went inside with one girl while the other two went to get tickets for our cooking class the following day, as they had been to Bangkok (I haven't) and said nothing in SE Asia beats that huge palace. So like many important buildings in SE Asia, you have to be properly dressed, meaning legs covered to knees and no shoulders. At EVERY place I have been, if you aren't properly dressed, since its hot and everyone who comes to see are tourists, there is a bin of random sarongs or scarves to wrap yourself in so you can go in. Not here. There was a sign saying you CANT use a scarf/sarong, which is just weird. SO I had on shorts and the other girls had a sleeveless shirt. They didn't have a bin and you had to buy these ugly white shirts to go in. Not worth our money, as the place was pretty overpriced anyway. SO I snuck my camera through some gates and snapped some pictures anyway.

History time:
In the middle of the 20th century, Cambodia was in a civil war. There was the "bad guys" and the Khmer Rouge (KR for ease of typing). They were political parties battling it out for control of the kingdom. It coincided with the Vietnam War. Days after the fall of Saigon (Vietnam War, when the North took over the main city in the South), PP fell to the KR. It was called "Liberation Day", April 17th, 1975. The people thought that the KR were the good guys, communists, and people kind of celebrated, still not knowing what to think. Within days of the liberation, PP turned into a ghost town. Pol Pot, the leader of the KR, also called Brother No. 1 (which confused many locals because they thought there was someone above Pol Pot, who was the leader, not just a brother, and Pol Pot just let them think that) he had some twisted ideas. He wanted to create a country that went back in time, back when it was just farmers. To him, this meant killing all of the intellectuals and forcing people to become farmers.

The city became a ghost town because he forced the people out to work in villages and become farmers. Obviously, you can tell this effected more people than some, as many farmers out in the borders continued their work, just with worse conditions. The killing of intellectuals wasn't known, just that there would be men coming in the middle of the night to take away a member of the family. Then, the whole family would disappear. The farmers were forced to work under terrible conditions with little food, resulting in the death from starvation of 1.5 million people. This continued from 1975-1979 when the Vietnamese finally intervened, stopping the genocide that took place, which I will explain in a minute. The KR, being a political party, still exists today. The leadership claims to not have known about the harsh conditions and blames it on the lower members of the party. More on this later.

Tuol Slung Genocide Museum (also called S21)
This museum is actually the place of the largest prison ran by the KR, located in the heart of PP. As schools, factories, and all other stores in the city was abandoned, the KR took over this high school, S21, and turned in into a torture camp for the intellectuals of Cambodia. When the KR decided they found an intellectual, or someome they didn't like, trying to oppose them, they arrested that person, claiming them to be either CIA or KGB. They tortured the prisoner until they confessed to flase allegations and gave up the names of their family members. Then they and their whole entire family (children, cousins, aunts, parents) would be taken to a killing field (10's of them throughout the country) and they would be killed. In 1979, when the world got its first glimpse at what was happening here, they found 14 (or 16) bodies at S21. They had built a grave site at the entrance of the museum. The school consisted of 4 main buildings, three stories each, making two court yards. Three were used to imprisonment. There were large rooms with metal bed frames and shackles with large dark blood stains under the beds. In the rooms they actually found tortured and murdered victims, they took a photo of the gruesome scene and hung it on the wall for us to see when we entered. Every single room had a large blood stained floor directly under the bed. Each building had a different type of cell, many consisting of pantry-sized rooms made from concrete where prisoners were shackled to the floor and fed almost nothing out of dog bowls.

They found all the torture equipment still here. Water boarding was common. They turned monkey bars from the school into a device where they tired a victim upside down until unconsciousness then was dunked into a pot of water. And continued. They didn't do this to women. Instead, they cut off their nipples and mad scorpions and bugs bite the raw flesh. They were fed almost nothing. They were not allowed to speak or do anything. All of the buildings had a wall of barbed wire completely enclosing it, to keep the prisoners from jumping off and committing suicide. They photographed and height each prisoner and they left behind every record. There were rooms and rooms set up with the photos of the people who were imprisoned here, who all but 7 died. There were only SEVEN survivors ever found , which happened when they were let go near the Vietnam border in 1979.

In the rooms, there were artist depictions of the stories that were documented about this place. Many of the workers who worked in the prison were forced to work there out of fear for their lives as well. There were so many documents about this place on display so they could be read.

The most interesting part was a few rooms dedication to the current court trials about the 5 heads of the KR. I wasn't completely clear about this part, but Pol Pot, his 4 ring leaders (2 men and a COUPLE, yes a women did this too)., and Duch, the nickname of the man who ran S21, plus many others were arrested. For some reason, after they were given a death sentence, they were released by the King of Cambodia, I think on some weird technicality. Pol Pot died while still under house arrest in 1998 before being released. The others were re-arrested in 2006, not after the UN recognized the KR as a legitimate party to be heard before their court. Duch confessed to everything, saying he is completely responsible for the actions at the prison. As genocide is hard to use as a term in this use, since technically it was against intellectuals/political parties and not a particular race, he was only given a 35 year sentence. But he's in his 70s and wont live it out. The other 4 are still awaiting trial for a long laundry list of things. In the museum, they had copies of incriminating letters being used in the court cases to help convict these people. Our guides said they are all upset, as they get to live in prisons and get fed and sleep, which is heaven compared to how they made their own people live for 4 years.

We went to the killing fields next. When the prisoners were finished confessing, and the KR believed they had found all of the family (to prevent retaliation by a family member for killing another), they were loaded into a truck, in rags or naked, and brought to a field 17km out of the city limits of PP. This was the "field of choice" for the men and women from S21, while there are 10s of fields throughout of the country. They were unloaded and brought into the "waiting room of death". Music blared, as speakers were attached to trees to try and drown out the sound of screams and moans of death. The KR chose this spot as it was an old Chinese grave site, and they believed it would be inconspicuous to kill people here. Even though it was only 17km away from the city, it was a far distance to travel by non-motorized means. WE were told people who farmed on the outskirts could hear it, but they either couldn't do anything about it, or chose to rather not know, since they themselves were probably at deaths door. They found 130-something shallow graves and unearthed 92 of them, as the rest had been washed away from the years and years of floods. They uncovered 8,900+ skulls, with the single largest grave housing 450 people. As Buddhists believe in putting bodies in a stupa after death, all large intact bones and skulls were transported into a giant stupa built in 1988 on the grounds, and placed on one of 17 layers so the families could come prey for their loved ones. Every tour guide had some history about this place, a few we heard say their family was in the stupa. Pretty much anyone born before the 1980's was affected.

There was two particular graves that were especially gruesome. Well, they all were. There were just what looked like rolling hills, which really were the dug up graves. The people were bound and blindfolded and killed by farming tools. The KR believed bullets were too valuable to be used to kill this many (they killed 1.5 million total in the fields around the country) so they used hoes, bamboo sticks, any farm tool. The bodies were hacked alive and many were actually buried alive. One was reserved for the soldiers of the KR who tried to run away and were caught. They were beheaded by bamboo stick, more to torture than to instantly kill, as you can imagine how long it took to hit someone with a bamboo stick to take off their head. Another grave was reserved for women and children. Small children were taken from the mothers and had their heads hurled against a tree, smashing it, before being thrown into a grave. Some were thrown in the air and they used a bayonet to cut the babies in two mid-air. It was terrible.

To this day, after it rains, bones and clothes reach the surface. Just waking around, you could see bone fragments and teeth in the dirt and pieces of shirts and clothing coming up from the earth. IT was the saddest thing I have ever seen.

After this, we took a break and had some food. IT was pretty hard to find cheery conversation, but there was a small 2 year old who wanted to share her mangoes with us so we played with her and that lightened our mood. We also ate food by this cow who just wouldn't stop moo-ing and it was quite funny. Kara and I stopped at the two famous markets in town, Central and the Russian market. IT was quite sad, nobody wanted to barter and nobody seemed interested at all in selling stuff. Maybe because they close at 5pm ,as does EVERYTHING in PP, and it was like 4pm, or just because they can rip off tourists more because its the popular capital. But shopping was weak.

Day 5: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Today, we woke up pretty early and hoped back on the bus to Siem Reap. It was such a great place, I was a bit sad to leave. From what we saw of PP when we landed, it was just another large city in Asia.

So to fully understand the torture of this bus ride, when we got back to Singapore (where I am typing now), we looked up the weather. The WHOLE entire week it was 35C (95F). It was SOOO hot. The bus ride was the worst thing in the world. We transferred from our hotel to a bus which took us about 10 minutes to another station. It was nice, there was no whiny Cambodian music videos at full blast and the AC was nice. Then we got onto a new bus. It was completely full, and the front/side doors didn't close. There was no AC. For 6 hours in the middle of the afternoon. Literally, we sat in a pile of sweat trying not to touch one another, it was so miserable. We stopped mid ride for food, and it was much cooler (by this, I mean like 95 instead of 100) outside, so that was nice. Once we got within an our of PP, the main highway was still under construction. SO the non packed roads brought loads of dust circulating inside the bus. Everyone had their shirts over their mouths, coughing and everything in sight had a thick layer of red dust over it. IT was terrible.

There really is very limited transportation in Cambodia. The main transportation is by these buses, which are not government run but randomly ran by companies. There is no train system or no government bus system. Another very common was is to pay to ride in the back of someones truck.

Our new hostel was pretty nice. IT was only 5 months old so everything was clean. IT was what I would consider a party hostel. Lots of drinking, loud music, weed, but they served good food and there was limited AC, so we had SOME comfort. The city itself smelled. It was very gross. It looked like all the other big cities in Asia, except there wasn't the "nice and clean" part within the city limits. It smelled either like weed, gas, or trash. There were tons of people, but despite everything w read online, I didn't feel like I was going to get mugged at any minute, even though we were warned by locals all the time to "mind your things" when inside the markets. We met these two Canadian girls who were backpacking for 7 weeks in SE Asia and decided to join up with them the following day for the tour.

We got into an interesting conversation about skin. One thing that has happened to me at almost every trip is that my face breaks out. I always brushed it off, maybe its because I use my travel stuff which is different, or I"m busy and sweat alot. But one of the girls said that's not relay why, its because of the pollution. It made so much sense. The pollution in the cities (minus Singapore, of course, because eco green is their life even though they don't always practice what they preach) is terrible here. It's quite ironic, in the US, we are led to believe by the media and some other countries that we are the worst polluters because we drive big trucks and hummers. They obviously have never visited the streets of Bangkok or Cambodia. The motorcycles here jet out large plumed of black smoke and there is not one inch of street that isn't covered in something gross. In the morning the smell is worse, as it rains sometimes at night and the smell gets to sit in the water and become grosser. I actually saw and trash dump IN The city in PP while we were riding around.

Two things I forgot to mention that day before that Lucy told me. In their stable, there was a world map. They had the idea to have guests tack their home countries to see how many people visited the stables. IT was just an ordinary map, but obviously not an American printed map, since the US was on the right side instead of the left side like we see it at home. She told us that her workers, which are locals and orphans they hire, had no idea what it was. They had never seen "the sea" or a map, never the less a WORLD map. She had to explain to them what the other colors meant. Could you imagine seeing a world map for the first time? Another thing we talked about, was the Cambodian music videos. The women would stand and sway on their feet and twist their lands at their hips. It was like Hawaiian dance, with the hand motions, but no hip movements and their hands were stuck to their sides. Lucy said that they bound their hands to make them very flexible (think bound feet of the ancient Chinese) because very flexible hands was considered a beauty thing in Cambodia. Many of the women could bend their fingers back to their arms, it was a common thing. Who knew?

It was a nice easy day :)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day 4: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today started early for Kara and I, we went to this place called Happy Horse Ranch and rode Cambodian ponies around the country side. The place is run by an old embassy working from Phnom Penh who was rescued by the US during the civil war against the Khmer Rouge and lived in CA with his family for 30 years. Lucy, this gal from New Zealand, rode with us at 530 this morning, since its just so hot during the day. We did a 3..5 hour ride around the small village they had their ranch in and around lots of farm lands. It was so nice, because it was so early we got to see everyone starting their day. Lots of people were bathing (pots of water and scoops) and little kids were getting ready for school. Our guide the other day said that the little kids are all taught to say hi and bye to tourists to be polite, and ALL of the small kids ran to the road and waved to say hi, it was so cute! The animals were all waking up and wandering around. The calf's were all scared and interested at the horses and the dogs liked to follow.

We walked n between fields of rice. There were some farm squares that were all water for fish farming and we saw duck farmers. There were tons of water buffalo everywhere too! Lucy has been living here on and off for 4 years (she traveled here on vacation and fell in love with the ranch so she stayed!) and showed us the huge baby buffalo. The horses are pretty scare of them and we could trot or canter by, since she said the buffalo will chance the horses. WE talked alot of the time, she told me about the weird things shes seen during tours, like a guy electric shock fishing (illegal). My horse was quite feisty, randomly kicking into a run or doing small bucks. Once while we were walking through deep irrigation water, he decided to stop and sit down in the water! I leaped off so I didn't get smashed and the horse got up, just wanting a dip in the water., IT was quite funny and my camera survived, even though I was soaked in muddy water. It was defiantly one of the most fun days we've had :) We saw homemade cricket catchers with sheets and bright lights. We had a great time and got lots of photos!

We came back and napped. We got up at 430 the last couple days and were so tired. We got a hold of a map and wandered around the city, which basically was the restaurant/markets we've been going to the whole time. We tried to exchange money at a place that claimed to. She didn't really know what my Indonesian Ruphiah were and she undercharged Kara's Singapore exchange to USD by about $40. When we laughed and said no thanks, she said okay then how much, like she was trying to barter the exchange. Ya right, we left. We went back to the market this evening to look at some more things. We fund a T-shirt shop ran by this guy who made his own designs and made shirts fro his designs and his brothers artwork. They were very nice, as they werent' screaming tourist shirt, so we bought ones. Looked at the gemstones some more, but nothing was looking good. We're guna save the rest of our money for Phnom Penh, which has this famous place called Russian Market, so who knows, maybe we'll find something cool :)

Getting the mega exciting bus ride back to PP tomorrow. Yay. Not.

Day 3: Angkor, Cambodia

I will try as hard as I Can to keep this not ridiculously long, since I saw about 10 temples today during out 12 hour tour... :)

So if you have never heard of Angkor (pronounced anchor) Wat Archaeological Part before, you should google image it to understand the magnificence of this compound. Here's some back history. The Kingdom of Cambodia, as its officially title insinuates, has been run by kings its whole life. There are three periods known by Cambodians; Pre-Angkorian which is pre 9th century, Angkor Period (9-15th century) and Post Angkor (15c to present). The ethnicity of the Cambodia's have always been the Khmer (kuh-mer) people, which they are still called today. They call their country Cambodge, as this is a French colony and many of the names/pronunciations have been influenced by French. The Angkorian period was a period of peace (even though there were a few wars in there) and the "best" kings are considered to come from here. There are two types of stone used during this building that all (but one) the temple were built from, gathered from a quarry over 70km away. The base of the places were built with limestone, and this was awesome being porous so the water didn't sit in the temple and ruin things, it drained through. The outer stone was sandstone, which was like a veneer layer, as this was very soft and easy to carve. In the beginning, the people practices animism, then Hinduism came and they were Hindu's. During the Angkorian period, they decided to become Buddhists, which 95% of the population practices, even though its still a bit influenced by Hindus.

The paragraph titles are the names of the things we saw during our tour + history.  

Angkor Thom: 
In the early 10th century, Angkor Thom was built. Angkor means capital (kind of) and Thom means big. Angkor Thom was the capital during the beginning of the Angkorian period. In the 10th century, they built a moat around the capital and a small dirt wall. In the 12th century, they decided to make a stone wall where the dirt one was. It encloses a space of 12km. There are 5 entrances, 1 in all directions and 2 to the east. The east is a very important direction for both religious (Hindu/Buddhism), for many reasons, (Buddhism) like the run rises in the east, so its a new beginning. The Hindu's believe there is an invisible mountain the middle of the universe that has 7 levels where all the gods live, and the mountain's entrance is to its east, hence the two east entrances because its important. Each of the gates has sculptures on the sides leading up to it. Don't quote me on the name, but its a Buddhist story called the battle of the milk sea. One of their main gods was reincarnated to a snake and there was a fight between good and evil on the invisible mountain which is found i the middle of the milk sea in the middle of the universe. There is a famous depiction of the snake being tugged (think tug of war) with the good and bad on either sides, with the back puller the gods of good/evil. This is a really popular story, as its depicted in many of the temples. Either side of the road leading up to the gate is either side of the snake being pulled into two.The capital was eventually relocated to its current city of Phnom Penh during a 4 year war with the Siem people. The complex was then abandoned and pretty much not used of after.

Angkor Wat (the famous one)
Wat means temple in Sanskrit, so this is the capital temple, built in the 12th century for a place of worship for the kings, located outside the angkor thom walls. Its surrounded by its own moat, which is pretty awesome because any of the temples sit in their own water, as the porous limestone lets the water run though, but not out from under the temples. But Angkor Wat has a moat so the water goes there, and its been continuously used even after the relocation of the capital, so its the most intact temple in he complex, and also the biggest. Its area encloses an area of 4km and the temple itself is 1km (when i say this, i mean km^2). The temple was built during the Hindu period, and was then used for Buddhist worship when they changed religions in Cambodia. There is 1 gate surrounding the complex, which sits on 4 levels with 3 of them being levels of the buildings. Every single square inch of this place (not including the floor, but including the ceiling) is completely covered in etchings and drawings. Its beautiful! Every little nook and entrance and column is covered in pictures of Hindu Gods, lotuses, bas reliefs (stories), etc. The 1st floor has the bas reliefs on it. They include many of the stories we saw at Prambanan in Indonesia, the famous Hindu ones, also including the battle of the milk sea. Since its a UNESCO, there are many different countries working of recovering the workings, and the US is renovating the milk sea story here. Monks pray at the 3rd story, as there's a monastery next to it. Our tour guide made a point to mention they are not forced monks like the Thais, as he said every male in Thailand has to take a monk-ship in his life.

One of the bas reliefs shows 3 levels in carvings, representing the 3 levels, heaven, earth, and hell. There are 36 Hindu punishments received in hell for different things and they are shown in the bas reliefs. Here are the ones I remember. Adulterers, both the male and female, have to climb a thorn tree and get impaled with the thorns as they do it. Women who have abortions are brought to hell and hot stones are put in their belly. Men who cheat other men have a long stick stuck inside of them.... Quite interesting depictions. 

The main entrance here is to the west, not east, for many reasons as well. IT was first built to be a mausoleum they think, since facing the west represents the sun going down and all its insinuations, like the end of life, etc. Also, if it faced the east, it would put its back facing the Angkor Thom capital, which would have just been rude. Its east gate is also very close to the stream that was used to help carry the rocks from the quarry to build, so its the only temple with a west entrance. 

From 1177-1181, the Angkorians fought with the Cham (pronounced jam). Cham is a country (region I guess) that Vietnam has since taken over, which is why nobody has heard of it in the US. Anyway, they waged war for 4 years which the temple was being completed, so some places are not complete and were finished later in life by the Buddhist monks in the 16th century (who also pained parts of the Temple red but that has since wore off). Fortunately, there is only one civil war scar (Cambodia vs Khmer rouge, the people who did the genocide from 1975-1979) which was 1 bullet hole.

There are these chambers, which are the the "foyers" into the temple from the outside. If you stand near the walls, you can pound on your chest (make a loud deep noise basically) and it echos! Called the echo chamber, the story behind it is if you are angry and want to get it out, come here and beat your chest and get your anger out and it echos. They had this is another temple also. 

When we left breakfast, we passed this place again and saw people taking wedding photos. Our guide said he was recently married and got some shots in front of the temple too, its  Siem Reap thing and apparently the rest of Cambodia is jealous. Wouldn't blame them lol Also when we left, our guide showed up this offering. It was a skinned chicken, and you offer the skin which still has its feathers on. The offering is made for the gods to help sickly family members.

Prehn Khan (pray kan)
So the king who built the Angkor Thom also built a large majority of the stuff inside, including this temple. is name was Javavarman VII (I will call him VII because its just easier for me) and is mega famous. Varman (look in his name) is a common title the kings add to their names, as in Sanskrit it means king of gods (or god of kings, but you get the idea). This temple he built for his father, and was used as a university to mainly royals during its time period. VII was the Cambodian who fought back (before he was king) to the Cham people when they started the war and took over. He was made king after that. This temple was built in 1191 on one of the main battlefields during the war. The overall design scheme is a large cross hallways which you could see all the way to the other end from each cross side. In the middle there is a stupa (Buddhist grave stone like thing), but there was originally a bronze statue. More on that later. The doorways are purposely quite small, to force people to bow when they enter. Right now its still being renovated, so its pretty collapsed in.

During the change from Hinduism to Buddhism, all the temple (minus Angkor Wat) was changed. All the wall sculptured of Buddha was removed, leaving an outline of a sitting Buddha where the sharp objects were used to carve out the statue. There are etchings on columns of a cross legged Buddha that were etched over to show an oddly sitting Hindi god and Buddha was giving a beard. You can still see the original Buddha sitting behind it. There are lots of Garuda (Bhrama's bird vehicle in Hinduism, hes like the "head"god) and Naga (the snake) combinations here. Naga is represented in both religions, but now its seen as a Buddhist figure, so these are a show of the coming together of religions.

Another thing here are lingas, which are like pillars with 3 different shaped pieces (think circle pillar with a hexagonal part and a square part) that represents the 3 "head" gods of Hinduism. The pillar is set in a stone block and water is poured on top of it. There is a small drainage canal carved in to the rock that sticks out which is supposed to represent the female organ, and makes the water become holy when it pours out the other side. 

This temple, like many others, was very looted. The bronze statue that was in the middle was taken by the Siem people when they were at was with the Cambodians in the 14th century. Its believed it was destroyed and has never again been found. This temple, mainly in the center of the cross, was covered in small holes on the wall that used to hold rubies, sapphires, and copper pieces, to add reflection to the place for beauty. Many deities that are females also had jeweled belly buttons and eyebrows, which have been looted away. Many heads of statues have been taken off to sell on the black market and its still popular to do that these days also.

We saw a nun (looks like monks meaning shaved head lol) here selling stuff to make offerings. She had no teeth. The guide says nuns (women) don't smoke normally, but they chew this harsh tobacco and that's why she has no teeth. He was also explaining this other stuff they chew, a combination of beetle powder and this white paste that comes from firing a clam shell, that turns red when you chew it, which was why her tongue was dyed red. Gross and creepy.

Bayon (bay yuan)

This temple was built by VII for himself, sitting directly in the middle of the 12km square made by the Angkor Thom walls inside the capital. It is different from the rest, as the bas reliefs represent only true stories about Cambodian life. The majority of the bas relief on the outside represent his conquering of the Cham people. There are walls about the land and sea battles, as the war began when the Cham invaded by sea. The different ethnicity's are seen on the wall, as well as the Chinese soldiers who came to help he Cambodians. There are many depictions of the daily life of the Cambodians, with markets, food, etc. There's a funny one of a women who is holding a turtle to cook, and the turtle bites her husband in the butt and he's screaming, its kind of funny.

The coolest thing about this temple is the faces. There are large round blocks with 4 faces (many gods have an additional four faces on the top of their head). There are a total of 49 blocks + 5 from the gates = 54 blocks. These represent the 54 provinces of Cambodia during his time period. So there are 54*4=216 faces. There is only 1 large smiling face with open eyes, showing the peoples love for their king. WE took lot of fun photos that look like we are kissing the statues!

Ba Poon
This is another large temple that you can't go inside (only around) because its still being renovated. They started renovations when the French occupied it. Then it got bombed during the Vietnam War and the top was blown off. The French and after had documented each stone and was rebuilding it, when the Khmer Rouge took power and destroyed all the documentation and where each stone went and what the temple looked like before. So they are having trouble putting it back together. It looks like a pyramid of squares. One of the lengths of the walls used to be a 17m reclining Buddha, which isn't there anymore, you you can still see the outline.

Royal Palace
There isn't actually one here... well there is but its not around anymore, you can only see the royal temple that only the kings + his family used inside the capital. The royal palace and houses were built of wood, so they have since disintegrated, but they found foundations so they know when exist. The wall surrounding the royal complex was made of stones, however its destroyed and in rubble. People believed since it was a royal wall, it had rubies and gold inside of it so they looted it, but there wasn't any and they found none.

Elephant Terrace
This is a stage-like thing that overlooks the parade grounds during the Angkor time, which has 12Buddhist temples (mini ones) on the back. There are lots of carvings of elephants and structural holdings that are made to look like elephants trunks hold of the walls. Cool.

Ta Prohm
This is the Tomb Raider Temple, as it was featured in the movie and pretty much is what brings tourists to Angkor Wat. It was built by VII for his mother and is pretty much in runs minus the main walls. The thing that is SOOO famous about it are the trees. There are 150+ trees here that look like birch, called Sprung (translated Sanskrit). They are white and have the same texture as birch, and the only leafy parts are right at the top. They can grow on about anything and have crazy roots. So there are trees that began to grow on the tops of the walls and have rooted down and around the walls and rocks of the temple walls. You have to google it or look at my FB pictures to understand just how awesome it is....

We went to a few other minor places, such as Batey Kdai and saw what would be the swimming pool (giant lake) in the complex. We saw the oldest temple in the complex built pre-anything else in the 10th century that was made of bricks. We went to the top of a very high hill which has an active Buddhist temple on top (Angkor period as well) to watch the sunset (it was cloudy) but we could get a 360 panorama of the Tonle Sap Lake, Angkor town, Siem Reap, everything! I'll stop, because this is long. Bit it rock, the tour guides all are park certified and went to school for lots of years and do apprentice ships there so they rocked, it was amazing!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Day 2: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sticky keyboard, apologizing in advanced.

Kara and I spent the day on a boat tour of Tonle Sap lake. Its the biggest lake in SE Asia and is quite amazing. it varies per season, from 2m deep and 2500km^2 of area to 12m deep and 12,000km^2 of area! we lucked out, we were the only ones on the boat in our tour, and our guide spoke very good English and wanted to just share everything with us! here is what we did :)

We got picked up in a nice AC Car. even at 8am, the eventual 92 degree weather was in the mid 80s. We drove through the local streets of town and our guide was telling us about the basic jobs in Cambodia, farmer, fisher, and seller. the sellers, business man, either are educated and are "rich men" or they set up a small convenient store-like shop out of the downstairs and sell snacks and gas. the people i learned liked to buy gas from these people as the gas pumps charge a government tax. We got to see the rich and poor men house, as he differentiated. Just as an example, the rich man would own a color TV (not big screen, LCD, or multiple channels...) and the poor man couldn't afford one. They were all stilt houses. The rich ones were nicely painted, made out of nice wood and some had stucco looking coverings. the poor houses were smaller stilts made out of wood and the walls/roof was dried palm leaves. The stilts were for many things besides just to keep the house safe from the highly fluctuating river, such as protecting from dangerous snakes and insects and a place to keep the cows and dogs and chickens, which most have. The right side of the road was the rich side, as they backed up to a rice paddy and were allowed to own land. The poor left side backed up to the river, which wasn't allowed to be owned as it was government property.

We reached the end of a long road at a ''mountain' which was just a tall hill with a temple on top. It was the ONLY high ground around and was useful for helping lost fisherman get back to the port. This is a lake that looks like the great lakes, like an ocean. There are a number of villages inside and out and i will try and explain the best I can. a long time ago, there were two types of villages, the stilt ones and the floating houses. The floating houses are actually movable and not attached to the lake by any means. Education became harder for both villages, as high schools and even secondary schools were only being built in the city, so their children had no transportation and possibly not enough money even to attend the city schools. The villages then got left in the dust and were very poor. The floating villages try to adapt, but building some stilt houses along a road build by the pier to the lake, which was owned by a Korean company to promote tourism on the lake. They also built permanent floating houses and schools, meaning they rise with the water but are anchored to the ground. So now, there are floating villagers that part of the year live on the lake, part of the year live in these new houses. There is still a purely stilt village we visited, as well as one other village that has stilt houses but takes them apart and moves on dry land during the year. and then re-builds back when they are done!

When I saw floating village, i don't mean like just houses live we've seen in Indonesia. These are legit 'gas stations", food stores, religious buildings, restaurants, etc everything is floating. So we are in mega dry season right now, and the lake is at its lowest, and is this ugly clay color of mud since its only a few feet deep. We can see the whole mangrove forest of trees towering 10s of feet into the air. During the rainy season, only the tip tops of these trees are visible, how neat! We sent to each village and saw how each season gave a different way to catch fish, including some acre-long complicated contraptions that look like mazes... The stilt village was all dried up, so we walked through it. The children had just got out of school, as they only went to school half a day (and had to go to the city past primary school). There were all sorts of animals and naked babies running around again. I learned all the animals but the pigs were allowed into the houses during the flooded season, and the pigs had a communal floating pen. There was one place that was high enough to be always not flooded, the town monastery. they had local monks who lived off the towns donations and we got to see the small kitchen where the old ladies cooked for them. They only eat breakfast and lunch, and cannot be alone talking with a lady or touch one ever. They had lots of stupas and pagodas being built, and our guide told us that bodies were cremated in there, as they don't bury their dead like many others do.

We got to see the small primary school, which had gotten recent money from NUS (college in Singapore)'s angel fund. It had wide access to the towns water supply that was put up about 40 feet in the air to keep from contamination from the flooded seasons. Each house had pipe access to the water, and there was a small well by the monastery that had a sign that it was donated form a family from PA. Each house also had battery-operated electricity that they had to charge daily. Somehow. There was drying peanuts and shrimp on the sidewalk. I learned the dried shrimp goes for 3 times as much money per kilo than fresh shrimp here. Makes sense, as in Singapore they literally sprinkle it on EVERYTHING like it was salt or Parmesan cheese or something....

We went back to the floating village to see a restaurant where they kept some animals for attraction. They have small crocodiles at  this lake, and they are a great catch/breed for people as they are very expensive to sell to surrounding countries. They also farm catfish here to make money during the low seasons. We learned that there can be over 400,000 tons of fish caught each year here, and as well as 5 million snakes (also caught to sell to feed the crocs and eaten, including pythons). There were small boys waiting in little boats for us, and when we approached the floating restaurants, tried to come in the boat to let us hold their pythons. These little 6 years olds were relentless. There was already a 3 year old (I swear to god he was 3) who jumped into our moving boat from his fathers moving canoe with a huge bucket of beer to try and sell us.... Anyway, we got to see there are over 400 kinds of fish here and they sell rice "wine"(liquor) they soak in scorpions and snakes to make more potent.....

Unfortunately, Alma made it to the airport just on time and forgot her passport and won't be joining us :(

the market here is amazing. Bought presents, so can't tell you specifics :) BUT there are amazing real gemstone jewelry and silk and homemade soaps and everything SOOO cheap here! Misquitos are out really bad tonight though :/ The food here is great and very cheap. The alcoholic beverages are about 25cents a beer, we had 8 margaritas for $5 tonight with dinner. Its ridiculous. Can't complain. But must get sleep, got a 5am sunrise tour of Angkor in the morning :)