Tuesday, 13 January 2009

more of temples

And then another pre-dawn departure on bicycles to watch the sun come up at Angkor Wat.

Many thousands of others have had the same idea, and the lawns heave and all the best places by the northern lotus pond are spiked with tripods that groan with lenses, and there is a hubbub of idle chatter in many tongues, a veritable Babel.
Having seen a few sunrises in my time I amuse myself watching the crowds for a while, and then wander off to the eastern side of the complex where hardly a soul has ventured yet, and am soon warmed by the early morning sun; I sit admiring the splendid stone carvings through binoculars.

Then coffee, and pancakes the thickness of Victoria sponge, beckon.

We cycle on and visit more temples and palaces. Too soon David and Joanna retire fatigued.
I am alone to wander where I will, and I do, all day in a familiar ecstasy.

At the end of the day I cycle out on a rutted track, to the accompaniment of cicadas that could be mistaken for car alarms, to the Eastern Gate of Angkor Thom, little visited as it leads nowhere. Its other name is the Gate of Death. I try to reflect quietly as is appropriate, thinking of Padmasanbhava in the cremation grounds, but my skin begins to creep and crawl in this jungle solitude and I flee back down the track, jolted and jangled, as though a devil pulls at my shirt-tails, towards life. How pathetic, in retrospect.

Tomorrow at dawn - we have seen many dawns on this trip - we leave for the border by taxi (thirty dollars for three hours), where we cross over to Thailand and pick up a train to Bangkok.

Next blog from there!

a day off in siem reap

I go in search of a swimming pool.

I,m told that some of the big hotels have one. The first foyer I enter is as big as a palace, with marble floors that stretch for miles to the reception desk. I flip/flop noisily through the sepulchral calm. The receptionist, gliding silently on dainty slippered feet, leads me another mile to a huge pool with its own waterfalls. I am impressed, gob/smacked. I enquire why it is all so empty>not a soul in sight. The trade has been badly hit by all the trouble at Bangkok airport, quite apart from the recession.There have been cancellations in droves.
I go in search of somewhere peopled.
I look in at the Victoria Hotel, a marvellous french palais. Another perfect pool. I am sorely tempted, but my hairshirt complex kicks in and I,m soon back in the streets.

I pause in the Royal park to shudder again at sight of the bats. And wonder at the smell> a sour acrid odour with a touch of evil about it. They have the wingspan of albatrosses.
When several of these malodorous denizens of the treetops conspire to take flight at the same time, their translucent wings pale beigey=pink against the sunlight, and flap and flip and flop langorously about, my skin horripilates and I want to run from the Park and its loathsomeness.

If I don,t its because a young man in tight shiny trousers comes over and propositions me. In my confusion its a while before I realise he is collecting for an orphanage out of town, and he shows me photos and documentation. After a while, and a pleasant chat, I decide he is kosher and hand over a few dollars and my email address. God knows there is need enough in this country.

I am drawn to the sound of drums and flutes from a nearby temple. Standing across the street from it I start a short video. I have been collecting clips of music and sounds from our travels, and when you, Marcela, have taught me to edit, I hope to put together a little film. All of a sudden the palsied cripple at the foot of the temple steps, begging, gets up and lurches and hobbles hideously towards me, arms waving brokenly. I horripilate all over again, and grab another handful of dollars and pass them to him and make a quick getaway, chastened.

I walk for hours in the hot hot sun. I follow a main road out of town. I,m drawn to these arteries that change character gradually as they distance themselves from the centre, dwindling into shacks and workshops and plebean eateries with their tiny plastic chairs out on the pavement, in red and blue, purloined from a kindergarten perhaps. Motorbikes pass bearing huge sheets of plateglass, upright between driver and pillion. Shattering and bloody consequences if they crashed.

Turning away from the dust and clamour, I make a right into a quieter sidestreet, semi/industrial, karoake bars in improbably grand premises surrounded by small factories and more workshops. Lots of new buildings going up on tired dusty old fields.

I make another right after a kilometer or two, heading back into town along an unmade road of quiet villas and furniture workshops where women are applying varnish to cheaplooking beds and wardrobes. Its a sunday. They smile as I pass, and I wave and worry about the noxious fumes they inhale. I pass Medecins sans Frontieres, a quiet villa with parched gardens. A man collects dead leaves, and little dogs snap and snarl at me from beyond the wrought/iron gates.
I enter the precincts of a large wat on the outskirts of town. Around the central temple there are dozens of funerary stupas, painted in all colours, inscribed with names of the dead in a script I can,t read. Its a quiet place. There are few enough quiet places in Asia. Orange and brown robed monks, and creased old men in little more then loincloths, slumber in the shade. Only mad dogs and Englishman, and a few wide/eyed impervious urchins, are up and about in this midday sun.

Excuse some eccentric punctuation. This keyboard doeseccentric Swiss, thanks to Eric.