Sunday, February 14, 2016

Something Beautiful: Thoughts from Siem Reap




I’ve been up since 4:30 am and I love this place. Two things that haven’t been true in a while. I’m sweating, stinky, sticky, and wearing my worst clothes and I am still happy. What a difference leaving Phnom Penh made. I really thought I would like that city but I didn’t. It was suffocating and dull. I was worried that I may hate Siem Reap too, since I knew it would be a tourist town - a place where the entire economy revolves around tourism. But unlike Luang Prabang or Hoi An or Bagan, Siem Reap is actually a really chill place. It’s actually a livable place. It is clean, well-lit, and has sidewalks. There is a healthy population of ex-pats and even the locals seem savvy. The roads here are the most developed I have seen in Cambodia by far.

When I rode the bus into Siem Reap, all I could see were whole villages eaten alive by dirt. Anything that couldn’t move fast enough was covered in it. Trees, bark and leaves. Umbrellas, whole houses, gates, car parts, and things forgotten. Everything cloaked in dirt.  Dirt would cover even shadows if it could cling to them. It was as if the entire landscape was made of iron, and it had rusted over and was not a reddish orange.  I was disgusted by that parched landscape, as if the earth were gasping for water with dry dust-coated lungs. I started to think Siem Reap would look like this. Why not? This was the only scene after miles and miles of countryside. But somehow when we entered the city the scene changed drastically, especially when I dismounted the bus and road a tuktuk into town. Suddenly I  found myself in a dense forest. The air was cool and tall thin trees shaded everything beneath them. There greenery as far as the neck could bend. The sun was hidden behind the tree-fringed horizon. I could have been in Portland, or Shimane. I could have been home. I needed that shade and those trees like the earth needs to breath. I needed to not see a landscape conquered by dirt. I needed something lush and beautiful.

I woke up this morning joyously, and savored the cool dark ride in the tuktuk this morning. When we found droves of people by the lake waiting to take the perfect photo for sunrise, we walked to the eastern gate and waited on the stoop for the sun to rise. There were no dramatic colors in the sky today. It was a cool, pale, slow lightening. I left at 6:45 am and still no sight of the sun. But when I walked back to the west gate of Angkor Wat, I saw the sun some up a a ferocious speed, as if hurrying to make up for lost time. It was glowing red, the same color as the dirt of the land. I had a  few quiet hours in the temples by myself, and it didn’t become bitterly hot until around 11:00.  By then the tourists were packing into the narrow stone corridors and it became impossible to enjoy anything, much less photograph it. So I left around 12:00 and opted to spend the afternoon indoors at a cafe, which I am enjoying. The atmosphere of the cafes we have been to has not impressed me, but the wifi is fast, the drinks are decent, and no one seems to mind how long we have been here, so I’m not complaining. I wish I had more time in Siem Reap.

Friday, Jan. 30,  The Hive Cafe, Siem Reap, 12:55 pm

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