09 October 2015

Angkor Wat Now?

Rachel and I are about to head off on our third day of exploring temples by tuk-tuk before catching the bus to Bangkok tomorrow. It's the most remarkable experience, seeing these temples. We took Lonely Planet's advice (like all the other Americans here, whom we run into at good-cause cupcake shops and yoga cafes) and started with the smallest temples first, leaving the heavy hitters for today. This strategy has been perfect. We are astonished by everything we see. 

My overarching sentiment about these temples is that someone is going to come running over at any moment, likely blowing a whistle, and yank me off of the crumbling ruin that I'm climbing. However, this does not happen. Somehow, we are permitted to climb in and out of ancient windows, to sit in the edge of balustrades. I climbed a set of terrifyingly steep, high stairs yesterday that would be considered a huge liability in the U.S., apart from other considerations. I then stood next to the ruins of a stone elephant at the top of (what I would call) a parapet, looking out over the huge temple and keeping fastidiously away from the edge. This is no country for old men. Or Americans, I guess. 

My least favorite part of the trip continues to be the high prices and constant stream of sales pitches from vendors and tuk-tuk drivers, in part due to my discomfort with my limited knowledge of how much my small purchase would be a large financial boon to them. My favorite part of the trip is the fleeting instant of interaction it allows me to have with the locals we pass in our tuk-tuk. I have seen:
-A man feeding a turtle
-A constant parade of families of four balanced on one motorbike
-Children swimming naked in a pond in the rain
-Countless mothers rocking with their children in hammocks 
-A tiny motorbike carrying two to three times its size of twig brooms, uncovered fish, or hot dogs
-Children playing with a tire, a toy truck, a vine swing, or the dirt

Seeing children playing as we drive past brings me back to a place where we're all the same, and it's what I think about at the end of a day here. Being surrounded by six-year-olds selling you postcards feels so uncomfortable and alien, but seeing kids playing in an unguarded moment feels universal. A fellow tourist icing her sprained ankle at a cafe yesterday told us just before the proprietor helped her to her tuk-tuk, "These are really such kind people. Very kind people."  I just need to find the window to look in and see it. 

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