Thursday, October 11, 2007

A few days' worth

One of the central tenets of Buddhism is the intrinsic iniquity of desire. I desperately desire 8 hours of sleep. To wean me from this desire and to start me on my path of asceticism, which will presumably liberate me from my samsaric cycle of unrequitable yearning, my saffron-clad friends have initiated an intensive and effective program of sleep deprivation.

Thanks, guys. You can turn your speakers down now. The first hour of mournful chanting has done its trick. Oh, and the gongs? Yeah. Those can go as well. Oh – it’s already 4:37 am? Well, then, it’s practically time for lunch. Go ahead.

Yes. I’m being sarcastic. And no, I’m not kidding. It really is a quarter til five, and I really have been up for an hour. I love Battambang, but the Buddhist Battle of the Bands that the city’s two main monasteries host every morning is getting a bit old. And it seems much worse today. Perhaps there’s a holiday or a funeral or something.

I’m hoping I can sleep a little on my Sangker River boat ride to Siem Reap. It’s supposed to take 5 hours. Depending on the condition of the boat, its driver and the river, it can take much, much longer. I leave in an hour and a half. Had I slept all night, I’d be thrilled. Right now, not so much.

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The day did not get much better from there. It was not uniformly bad, but it was, overall, not a very good day at all. The boat trip was nice for the first three or four hours; Chien and I enjoyed the scenery and the company of our traveling companions.

About half way through the 7 hour journey, we decided to check out the view from the roof of the boat. In doing so, I made two major mistakes. First, I forgot that Cipro (the antibiotic I’m taking) makes me very sensitive to the sun. Second, I left my cell phone clipped to the outside of my bag, which I left on the floor in front of my seat. After an hour or so up top, I came back down sporting a nasty sunburn (which, after two days, still hurts) and lacking a cell phone. The nice Cambodian woman who had taken my seat, had apparently taken my phone before disembarking at one of the many floating houses along the way.

We arrived in Siem Reap tired, grumpy and phone-free. We found lodging at the Angkor Bequest (yes, Adam Heath, that’s the one where a naked man showed up in your room at 3am) and hired a taxi to take us to a phone shop, where I spent $66 on a new handset, SIM card and phone credit.

That evening, Chien and I wandered about and found ourselves a delicious late lunch and a mediocre late dinner. Neither of us had much patience with our situation or each other, and we ended up having an argument which had one of us sobbing and the other feeling like a lousy dad. The night ended some better, with us huddling together in our little bed, watching an English football until Chien fell asleep at about 10.

Yesterday was much, much better. We slept in til about 8:30, got up and grabbed some breakfast, hired an all-day tuk-tuk driver and headed off to see the great Angkorian temple ruins. Determined to avoid the mistakes of the previous day, I wore long sleeves, long pants and lots of sunscreen. I also put my phone in my front pocket.

We indulged all of our touristic desires, buying snacks, hats, and an Angkor Wat t-shirt for Chien before heading to Angkor Thom, the most atmospheric of all the major temple sites. Angkor Thom was once completely overgrown by jungle, and the main attractions are the huge trees growing on top of and through the temple walls and roofs, roots cascading over doorways and windows and onto the ancient stone floors.

We bought a CD from a band of disabled musicians and rode the 6 kilometers past the mystically serene stone faces of the Bayon to the main temple, the big daddy, Angkor Wat. We grabbed a light lunch and some ice cream at the expensive, but tasty Angkor Café. We spent the next two hours traipsing around the enormous moat-enclosed courtyard and scaling the too-tall steps of majestic stone palace that still fills the Khmer heart with pride nearly a thousand years after its construction.

Our archeological expedition was exhausting, but exhilarating. Chien had a great time, and we returned to our hotel with just enough – barely enough – energy to maintain our good moods until naptime. After a quick rest, we headed out to a DVD store Chien had seen and we bought the Lemony Snicket movie, which we watched later that evening.

Neither of us slept well, but we’re in reasonably good shape this morning. It’s ten til 8, and our bus will arrive soon to take us to Phnom Penh. We had a big breakfast – poached eggs, bacon, fruit, baguettes and muesli – which we hope will last us the 6 hour drive to the capitol city. I’ll let you know how it goes…

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Well, it went. And went and went and went. It was a long bus ride. The Cambodian countryside really is beautiful, but the trip took almost 7 hours. After about 3 hours, we were very, very glad that our long, cross-country trips are finished for now; we stay in and around Phnom Penh until the 16th, when we leave for Thailand.

Shortly after arriving in the city, we headed out to see Narun and Sophal and the kids. They were happy to see us. We played with them for a couple of hours and headed to the riverfront for dinner. Much of the city is closed for business, gated and locked for the three day holiday – something about ancestors and pagodas and offerings to avoid curses – but the riverfront is Tourist Central, and there’s always someplace to eat, drink and/or dance. We chose option ‘A’ and headed to the somewhat posh, colonial Foreign Correspondent’s Club. It’s a bit expensive by Cambodian standards, but it was open, it was tasty and we had a nice time. We had ceviche, calamari and crab cakes. The calamari was served with a lime, tuk treiy (nuoc man in Vietnamese cooking) and chili sauce for dipping. Excellent.

It’s now 5:45 on Thursday morning. Narun is taking Chien and I for a motobike ride of an undetermined ride to an unnamed village for some unknown purpose. We’ll be there for a few hours and then return dusty and bum-weary, no doubt. I hope to visit the Prek Eng orphan home tonight. If I do get out there, I’ll also take pictures of the new house we’ve rented for our soon-to-be-relocated Phnom Penh orphans.

The next couple of days will be an orphanpalooza, which is just fine by Chien and I. The tourist stuff is cool, but we’re here for the kids. I’ll let you know how that goes.

2 comments:

Amanda said...

LOVE all the pictures! So sorry about your phone, glad you have a new one though :)

mosiacmind said...

The pictures are great to get a view of what you guys are experiencing. I appreciate your keeping us all back here in the U.S. in the loop of what is going on. I am really bummed for you about the phone getting stolen and really glad that you were able to get one. I sent an email to Kori yet will mention to you too while I am thnking of it if you want the phone that you guys are letting me use let me know...hope that you both have a great day.