New as of February 11th, 2006 (Siem Rep, Cambodia)
New as of February 18th, 2006 (Bangkok, Thailand)
January 22, 2006
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
I like Cambodia so far. Phnom Penh is not the greatest city, but it doesnít seam to be bad for a South East Asian capital. Yesterday I headed off and saw the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace. It reminded me a bit of the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Same basic layout and design, lacking the mirrored mosaics though. Oddly enough the Silver Pagoda, named for the 5,000 1kg silver tiles covering the floor was an actually plain building. The inside had almost no decorative painting at all. It did have an Emerald Buddha and a solid gold Buddha with 10,000 diamonds on it, so the contents made up for a plain building.
I also found a collection of ATMís around town, all of which only give money in US dollars. Odd, but the USD is common, so probably not bad. I just hate using USD in countries where itís not the official currency. Dinner was watching the sun set over a lake. On the way home I may have been a victim of an attempted bag snatching or just a near collision with a motorcycle, one or the other.
Today was the day of dark history. After a sort of slow start and two and a half hours on a slow internet connection updating the website, I went off on the first of two experiences of the darker history of Cambodia. First off was the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
This was the sight of the death of about 17,000 people of all ages and backgrounds from 1975 to 1978. They have unearthed about 8,985 bodies and have only excavated 2/3 of the mass graves. The remains are displayed in a stupa to remember what happened here. As you walk around the remains of their clothes (discarded when they were beaten to death) are still coming to surface and look like rages coming out of the dirt. Part of what makes it so horrible is that in order to save bullets most of the people experienced slow painful deaths as they were beaten and stabbed with improvised weapons.
After that we returned to town to see the Tuol Sleng Museum which is the buildings of the formal Security Prison 21 (S-21). This is where the people killed at Choeung Ek were held and tortured before heading out of town. The buildings are still as they were then with improvised cells and manicals even the corrugated metal fence covered with barbed wire is still in order. This is recent history.
The buildings had been built as a secondary school and then turned into the largest detention and torture center in the country. One whole floor of one building is almost all photos of itís victims from the records they had kept. It again is not a place of much talk.
Dinner was nice, but I think I have had my fill of the dark history of SE Asia for a bit. The actions here are so attrious that I want to learn more about how the country is putting itself back together. The people who did much of this are still out there and part of the community. How do the people keep from going mad?
January 23, 2006
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Well today was a big brighter. This morning I was up early long before my roommates to try and see the traditional dance classes, but in the end couldnít find the class. But it meant I was to the National museum just after opening and had the place to myself more or less. I was just leaving when two tour busses disgorged their contents into the place. I even did my first try at sketching the relief on some of the stone carvings. Itís not that I ever got really good doing the Mayan hieroglyphics but I was way better with them than these. I think it has something to do with the different curves involved. The way arms curve and hands are pointed just are different here. I couldnít make my hand move the right way to catch the right line. I wonder if you studied the lines of different cultures you would be able to pick out the culture a piece came from. The arch of a flying buttress, the perfect round oval of a Shaker box, the silhouette of the onion dome on an Russian Orthodox Church, the round arch of a Roman aqueduct, the shape of a lotus blossom, all different lines that are in many ways typical of where they come from.
After the museum I had a long lunch reading the Bangkok Post and eating a pancake that was a cross between a pancake and corn bread. Yummy and filling. Then it was off to the library.
There arenít a lot of books here as Pol Pot had most of them destroyed but it is a pleasant place. I think I may have ended up wandering in the stack area against the rules, but there wasnít a sign that said I couldnít, and no body was at the desk. A kind man did come and tell me I should check my bag at the door and maybe sit at table rather than on the floor in the stacks.
Part of what made the library odd was that since most of the collection had been destroyed most of the volumes were recent donations from wealthy countries. Countries that donít speak Khmer. I would say well over three quarters of the collection was in English, French or German. In fact the reference section was almost all English, right down to the Enclopedia Britannica. (No World Book though.)
The card catalog indicated they had a book on string games so I went in search of it. I fear that this catalog predates Pol Pot. The entire section for the 700ís was less than one foot of shelf space. I didnít find the book I was looking for, but they do have two brand new copies of ďDesigning with LightĀEa book I read years ago when I starting lighting design. I pulled one off the shelf and started reading it just to see what I think of it now. I still like it and was a bit surprised to see how much my approach to designing a show is probably based on this book. An odd thing to discover here in Cambodia. It makes me want to get back and design a show or two. One other neat thing was one of the examples they gave with photos was ďTera NovaĀEwhich I think was the last full lighting design I did before I left. Fun to see it from someone else's point of view.
After the library was a walk off to the Wat Phnom. The hill that it sits on is called Phnom Penh (Hill of Penh) is what the town is named after. It is largely a pleasant park with a Wat on top of a small hill. One version of the story of the hill says that Penh built the hill in honor of some Buddhaís found in the river flood, others say she just found them on the hill and built the Wat. Either way itís a nice park. (lots of trees.)
I am finally spending enough time in the Buddhist areas to start recognizing some of the stories. Just as one might recognize pictures of Biblical tales, today I finally recognized one of the stories on the murals in the Wat. Not that I could tell the whole story, but then again I would have a hard time telling any of the Biblical tails either. Itís just nice to look at a picture and know what they are trying to portray.
After that was back to spend too much time on a computer slowly uploading my photos. Now I just have to label them and be done with them. Putting them up on the website is a pain sometimes, but lately it seams everybody is having problems with their photos going bye-bye. Either CDís going bad or lousing the MP3 player they are keeping them on, something. Part of it is because what ever way they are doing doesnít have any redundancy in it. Mine doesnít have a lot, but it has a little. Either way, once I get time to my server I have professional computer geeks paid to worry about not lousing them. I just have to trust them to do their job.
Tomorrow I am off to somewhere. I havenít figured that out yet, but I want to go somewhere else before I go to Siem Reap and see Angkor Wat. Everybody seams to be on the exact same trip and I want to break it up a bit. In Vietnam I was in the middle of the tourist track and now I want out.
January 29, 2006
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Well I like Cambodia. Itís is a bit of an antidote to Vietnam. (Not that Vietnam is all bad, but I am glad to be on.) I went south to the seaside town of Sihanoukville. Its name makes me think it is someplace out of a Babar story. As it is, Sihanoukville is really just a little beach town, not very busy. I really didnít do much there except lay on the beach for a couple of days but it has given me a chance to unwind.
I sort of found myself not trusting anyone and that just isnít fun. I was thinking back to Nicaragua when I was living in my hammock on the beach and at the coffee finca and I didnít worry about things. I could trust people first until they gave me a reason not to. When I got here I wasnít doing that. Frustrating. Either way I am getting better.
A few days on a beach and one day off the main tourist track has done wonders. Itís not even that Sihanoukville is really off the tourist trail, but it is off the, ďonly have time to see the highlights trailĀEthat pretty much stops in Phnom Penh for a day or two, then directly on to Siem Reap and Angkor. I havenít been wandering around without a plan, only to end up in a stream of people who are running for the next postcard shot.
As I said Sihanoukville is a beach town, and I followed it with a day in Kam Pot, another little town that although in the Lonely Planet, it is not on the way to Angkor. It was probably as much walking the streets of Kam Pot at night being able to see the stars that made it better. I wish I had been able to spend another day there, but I wanted to make it back here to Phnom Penh to see the shadow puppets. Oh well, even I sometimes get on a schedule.
The Shadow Puppets were good. Itís one of four active companies in the country. They would like to do the three kinds of traditional puppetry, but during the Pol Pot years they lost one of the styles. They know how to make the puppets, but not how to perform them.
I still have to figure out where I am going to go next. Iím back to the Ďwake up in the morning and then decide where to goĀEway of travel. It feels great.
The choices ahead are Siem Reap or another place off in the hills for a couple days. Both sound good. Now if I knew where I was going after a stop to do a little diving in Thailand. New Zealand? I have already made contact with a morris dancer there, Europe for a little, or maybe Malaysia. Hard to decideĀE
Oh, and welcome to the year of the Dog.
January 30th, 2006
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Well I hadn't met to stay here today, but I didn't make it up early enough to make the bus and I still had a couple of things to do.
My first bit of business was to visit the US Embassy. I think this may be the first time I have actually been to the US Embassy in any country. For that matter since I have mostly been doing Visas at the border or via a travel agent, this may be the first time to an embassy at all. (I may have been to the US Embassy in London back in 1984 when my parents were buying their first boat, but I can't remember it for sure. I trust they will correct me.)
Today I was there to have more pages added to my passport. The SE Asian countries have been taking up a lot of room in the thing. Vietnam took up two full pages, Lao a page and a half, and it looks like Cambodia will be a page and a half. Three countries taking up five pages. Every where else it has been half a page a country or less. (Several of the Central American countries fit three to a page.) This had me down to two blank pages and as some countries have a rule that you must have so many blank pages in your passport to be allowed to enter I figured it was excuse enough to get more pages put in. It's free anyway.
The US just opened a brand new embassy in Phnom Penh something like January 7th so it was a very new building. So new in fact that they still haven't got it really working yet. The service area was a bit of a mess as there was no good place to wait to be called where you could see or hear the person who was ready to help you. A bit of a mess, but it did get the people in the waiting room to bond a bit, and learn to read lips thru bullet proof glass.
Anyway my passport now has twice as many pages as it did before most of which I won't use. The thing expires in a year so I would really have to get moving to put any dent into the available pages. (This all came about because since I heard that you could get more pages added if you needed to, I have wanted to need to. And the American Embassy in Cambodia is actually in an easy to get to place instead of out in the middle of no where with no bus service like practically everywhere else.)
The rest of the day was checking about onward transit. The train station was deserted and I still can't tell if they really have passenger rail service or not, and although it would probably make sense if I needed it, the bus area was just chaos. I think I will book my outbound bus ticket thru my guest house. I know, I'm being lazy.
This really wasn't a bad day. Yesterday was mostly just spent sleeping in and finishing up sorting photos. It was funny as in one of the journal entries I uploaded I mentioned people losing their photos; well I ended up with a near miss myself. I thought I had all the photos up loaded and was just about to clear one of the memory chips to get ready for the next batch. Before clearing out a chip I do a quick glance at the pictures to see if I remember labeling them. Well there was a whole batch that I didn't remember labeling and sure enough when I checked online, they hadn't been uploaded yet. Double checking is a good thing. Otherwise you would have missed out on all the gruesome photos of skulls and jail cells. (Aren't you lucky?)
February 2, 2006
Kratie is a little town on the edge of the Mekong, north of Phnom Penh. I headed up here to get off the main tourist trail. (It's still on trail, but it is the trail of people taking the back way into Lao; much more the backpacker type.) Mostly to be off the main tourist track in Cambodia is to not be in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap near Ankgor.
It is nice hear. The travelers I have met are much more my kind of travelers and it seams the nearer I get to Lao, the more the people and pace is like Lao. Part of me wants to just go with the flow and go to Lao for a couple weeks, but I don't have a visa and you need to have one for this border crossing. And anyway I should be getting on to Ankgor. I suspect that Lao, as Nicaragua already is, is one of those places I will think of when the going gets tough. "If it gets really bad I can just go live in Lao."
As I got here I was thinking of my trip back in Lao and being a river town you think in terms of boat traffic again. (It also doesn't hurt that in a friends journal he was talking about my trip down the Nam Ou in Lao.) Wouldn't it be fun to get on a boat again? Most of my travel lately has been by bus and car so getting on the water in a small boat would be run.
Well the bus from Phnom Penh gets in about noon so it was a nice time to get to town and not rush to find a place to stay. I plopped down at the hotel that serves as a bus station and chat with a couple from the bus for a bit and have lunch. By and by I guy who had been in town for bit joins us as he has a motorcycle and the couple were looking to rent one. He said yes he had it for a few days as he was building a raft a few kilometers south of town and had been carting stuff back and forth. He joined us and we chatted about town and his raft as well as my stories about the Nam Ou. I still had to find a hotel room and he has some shopping to do so if it worked out that we were back together he offered to give me a ride out to see the raft. As it was I took too long finding a guesthouse and he was gone, but having nothing else to do I headed down stream to see if I could find him.
This is a pleasant area, and the Mekong is low now so there are large sand bars in the river and sand flats stretching out from the shore. I didn't see the raft but I took one of the trails down to a large flat and walked along it seeing to river and keeping an eye out for a raft builder. After a bit I was to the end of the sand and up to a floating village so I headed back up to the road to walk back. (I forget how much work it is to walk in sand compared to hard ground; I guess it is the same for snow.) On the way back I found saw a very clearly raft-like-object made of bamboo and 30 liter, water jugs lashed together. I figured I had found the raft but he had its owner was already back to town. It's a nice little raft and since we had been having a metric vs imperial measuring systems discussion earlier I was working out in my head how much to boat would float and how high it would float while I walked back to town. (Easy in metric, hard to do in imperial, although I am the one normally defending imperial, that will be a different story.) I figured the raft was going to be pretty good unless he had way too much stuff. By the time I returned to town he was back at his favorite restaurant and we chatted and had dinner until late. His plan had him setting of the next day just after lunch.
After sleeping in late I headed back to the restaurant and he was there. He had already done the rather long portage from the building site to the river which I had been ready to help him with, but it sounded like it had gone wall as the neighborhood kids helped out about halfway through. After lunch he was heading off on his adventure.
One of his tasks that morning was getting food and he had gone to a butcher and bought some meat and brought it back to the restaurant and had them cook it up for them. Apparently the butcher hadn't given him a good deal because when he showed his purchase to the restaurant, the mother took him back to the market and yelled at the lady selling the meat and made her cut off the extra fat and redo the sale. You have to love it when you get adopted like that. They even found a clean bucket that margarine came in for him to store is cooked meat in. Bucket o'Meat here we come. It was also this restaurant's staff that had been helping him finding someone to buy bamboo from and a place build it and the like.
We went down to the boat after lunch and I helped carry the last couple bits down to it. His camera was not happy so I figured I could see him off and at least get a couple pictures of the boat for him. The night before I had offered the plastic garbage bag I had used in Lao if he wanted it but he was traveling very light and didn't need it. I had meant to off a zip-lock bag, but forget to. On the way down he though out loud about how it would have been nice to have a zip-lock for his money belt. Well I told him I was pretty sure I had one in my day pack and he was welcome to it. In fact it was one of the zip lock bags I had gotten almost a year and a half ago from the woman who unloaded her extra lunch on me back in Maine. It's been buried in the inner pocket of the daypack since I figured it would come in handy sooner or later. Well here in Cambodia it has. As when she gave me the sandwiches oh so long ago, I don't expect that she knew I valued the bags they came in as much as the food, let alone that one of those bags would be shared amongst travelers in Cambodia before a trip on a homemade raft. The little things that can come so far.
Part of me would have loved to join him on his raft, but ultimately I am glad I haven't. The raft really is only big enough for one person, a little smaller than a standard double bed. It's HIS raft and half the fun is doing it on his own. I have different plans and at this moment, and I don't want to spend days drifting on the river. I wish him well, and hope the trip doesn't take too long. I worry a bit about that as the Mekong is moving pretty slow and it is a raft so it won't move very fast even if he does paddle. (He had a nice double ended paddle made for the trip.)
Oh and for all the mothers out there thinking of how crazy he is. Well yes he is, but he did buy a life vest and was wearing it when He left and I think he took the boat from Phnom Penh to here so he has seen where he is going, both good ideas. Also from what I can tell there are a good deal of people (and a road) on this stretch of the Mekong so if he does get in trouble there is help. So it is still stupid and dangerous, but a different kind. Hopefully I will get to hear how this trip turns out. I gave him my e-mail address and he will have to at least visit the website if he wants his pictures. If I hear I will probably post it for you as well.
One of the non-boat related things we had been chatting about what how things often just work out. That things are just there when you need them. Like the zip-lock bag. If nothing else, this trip has proved to me about the way things just work out. Like my running into James from Nicaragua in Lao, or the two Americans who met their second cousins from Ireland by being in the same sleeping compartment on the overnight train to Chang Mai. Here the two of us had our own little moment. He had mentioned that his parents were both professional musicians. Well today at lunch it came out that he lived in Bergen Norway. Well one of the shows I worked at Ted Mann was the annual visit of the Bergen woodwind ensemble. Well it wasn't so good that I had met his dad, but I had met the person who shared the role of principal bassoonist. He knew the people I could remember from the group as well as one of the School of Music faculty who is close to the group. I was wishing I could have pulled my notes from my last show with them so I could remember everything. Either way we were already only three dregs of separation before we met yesterday. What a well folded world. (It's NOT a small world; let me tell you, but boy is it interconnected!)
Oh and one silly little unrelated note, the batteries in my keyboard thing have finally gotten low enough to require replacement. I only put them in back at the beginning of July 2004. I figure nineteen months on three AA batteries isn't bad. Especially as they were the cheep "Golden Power" made in China batteries it came with. Maybe I can find some more cheep Chinese batteries for the next couple of years.
February 10, 2006
Siem Rep, Cambodia
To begin with Kratie is a really nice place. I probably should have stayed another day, but I didn't. I guess it is better to leave early and think back with happy thoughts than to stay too long and remember it as a place you wanted to leave. (My new idea along the same lines for packing is that it is better to want than to always have.) Anyway, once I bought my ticket I was stuck leaving. In the end I could have paid less and done more of my get-up in the morning and decide had I know the bus just picked people up at the ferry dock. Oh well.
The trip to Siem Rep was and all day, no fun affair. A note: an all day travel does not necessarily mean no fun: they are independent aspects, but in this case the trip was both. I think part of the problems is that I didn't eat a good breakfast and just got off on the wrong foot. The three hour layover where no one could tell me when or if my next bus was coming didn't help either. In the end just as I had gotten comfortable the bus cameĀE Oh well, it's done with.
Siem Rep is an OK little town. It wasn't what I was expecting, but then again I don't really expect things to ever look like what I come up with in my head. I found a room for two dollars. It's not bad although next time I will take an upgrade for fewer mosquitoes. (It is clearly time for my return as there are certain things I am losing patients with, mosquitoes and moto drivers top the list.) Anyway, what do you really expect for less than a snack at McDonalds.
The big draw here is Ankgor, the former capital city of Cambodia. It is impressive. I got the three day pass and still wouldn't mind another day or two. I have been in full tourist mode getting up before the sun so I can be at one of the temples for sunrise and then planning where I want to be for sunset. Admittedly after two days in a row of this I took day three a bit lighter and missed sunrise. For transportation I did most of it on an electric bicycle rented a four dollars a day. With all the sunrises and sunsets it was almost like being at a morris ale, except without all the people and dancing. :(
It really wasn't much of a bike. Mostly it's an electric scooter that happens to have peddles so they can pretend for licensing purposes it's a bike. (Foreigners can not rent motorcycles or scooters in Siem Rep.) If I had needed to peddle far it would have been ugly. The single gear is way too low and with the battery it weighs a lot. On the other hand it's not a bad scooter. I could do about 30 kph (almost 20 mph) on it so I was faster then the people on the real bikes, but slower than the motos. And I wasn't working hard during the 90 degree heat. One slick thing about the electric bike is that it must be part of a program with one of the preservation groups. If you battery gets low, you can get a fresh one for free at any of the several stations around the ruins. The other non-package tour option is to hire a motodriver for the day, which I did for day three to see some of the farther out sites.
These are amazing ruins. The first day was started without a plan beyond reading the background information in my Ankgor guide book. As it was I ended up at Ankgor Wat just after sunrise. Which is not too bad of time to get there as all the bus tours start with Ankgor for sunrise so just as I arrived everybody else was leaving. The people not trying to make a sunrise were not to arrive for another hour or two so I got it, comparatively, to myself. The Wat does not photograph well. I have been seeing pictures of it since I got to Cambodia. It's even on their flag, but they don't even scratch the surface of what it is like. Partly I think it is because so much of it is the endless corridors and inner spaces that you just can't capture in a picture. Unlike most of the ruins I have seen, the ones at Ankgor have interior space. I guess the opposite are the Mayan pyramids or probably the Egyptian pyramids where they are solid with maybe a tomb or two if you are lucky. These have rooms, and halls, little spaces and inner yards. Which is good as it gives them more space to cover the walls with carvings.
So much of the walls of Angkor Wat are carved it is almost as if they are covered in wall paper. I have taken to one little bit of one pattern to be my personal bit of carving. As I discovered back doing Mayan ruins things can quickly get overwhelming and sitting down and trying to sketch a carving or something is an nice way to relax. Well after seeing enough of the Wat I found a nice corner and sat and sketched a minor little bit of wall decoration. Since I'm not good at this it took a while, but I think I can safely say that for this specific bit of detail I am probably the only person who gave it this much attention since the person who carved it was finished. This motif is repeated thousands of times across the walls. It really is like wall paper. Sure the motif has probably been well documented and sketched. And this particular bit may have been photographed in some mass documentation of every bit of the wat, but to look at just this one little bit and see how it is unique, I expect I am the first. (Actually considering how slow I am at sketching, I probably spent more time on it than it did to make it.) Anyway as far as I am concerned that six square inches of Ankgor Wat is mine.
I'm not going to do a temple by temple report, because even I don't ever want to read that. Not to mention getting the photos labeled will be more than enough in that regard. (I normally take about 50 photos a week on this trip, well I filled up one card and started on the second in three days. That's over 150 photos in three days.)
There are all sorts of temples. Angkor Wat has stunning carvings and is, after all, the world's largest religious building. There are temples they are largely been left unrestored letting you wander around pretending you are Indiana Jones. As it is hard to miss that Tomb Raider was filmed here and you can understand why. (Will have to see that movie when I get home.) Some have height; others have intricate carvings, some you can all but get lost in. It's all there. As I heard one tourist say to another, "You know, they really are different." Certainly not a "you've seen one; you've seen them all" kind of place.
I even got to use my Spanish a bit. There was a couple who had stopped me in the street my first evening in town asking, in English, where the center with hotels and restaurants was. I told them and we went our separate ways. Later I passed them at dinner and smiled and waved. The next day I kept running into them at the ruins each time us smiling but clearly not having the language to chat. After a bit of this the guy apologized that he didn't speak English, in English of course, and asked if I spoke French or Italian and then added Spanish as an almost after thought. Well it turns out they are from Spain. My Spanish is fading fast so we still didn't get to really chat but it was fun as I kept running into them again and again. I'm as much curious as to why Spanish was the last language they listed as it is their national language. It is almost as weird as the Israeli I met who was doing all his e-mail correspondence with his family in English so they wouldn't have to worry if the internet cafĀEs would have the right font set loaded.
February 11, 2006
Siem Rep, Cambodia
Well that was a load of photos to upload and label. I guess that the only thing worse than labeling the photos like this would be to have to do them when I got home. I think I have broken the two thousand mark. That would only be a three hour slide show at five seconds a photo with a fifteen minute intermission. (Donít worry; I wonít make anybody sit through that.)
Yesterday I wandered into a DVD / CD shop just to see what pirated movie they had for sale. They already have Brokeback Mountain for sale. Didnít it only come out a month or so ago? I suspect this is one of the guy-with-a-video-camera pirated movies, but it is amazing how fast things like that can travel. I was at a restaurant in Lao that was playing the latest Harry Potter film less than two weeks after it opened. It even had English subtitles, they didnít relate to the move in any way, but there were English words at the bottom of the screen.
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