Our visit to Angkor Wat followed that profound experience with the beggar woman and her son. In retrospect, I see that everything afterward appeared different to me.
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast, we stepped outside the hotel to be picked up by tuktuk and taken to the famous World Heritage Site for a day of exploring.
Before we had walked through the gates of the “official” site, we were accosted by a few children from the ages of perhaps five years to early teens. They surrounded us, cynically flattering and lying shamelessly, pitching their trinkets and bits of souvenirs.
The pressure was nearly unendurable and Paul couldn’t stand it. He caved in and bought two little bracelets from one child and then the game was on! Instantly the crowd of little folks grew and the tiniest ones were yelling, “But what about me?”
The children spoke clear, articulate English and would not be put off until Sharon got very firm, scowling at them and asking them why they weren’t in school. (Education is theoretically free for all children up to high school.) Of course the answer would have been because then they wouldn’t be earning money for the family but they knew we knew that. Gradually the little entrepreneurs dispersed and began looking around for more foreigners to bedevil as we headed toward the main entrance of the temples.
Angkor Wat is overwhelming in its complexity. It is also in a state of constant decay and when we toured, many of the walls were obscured by scaffolding or blocked right off from any exploration. The Banyan trees grow around, beside and over the structures,m pushing and raising those sandstone walls out of place. It is melancholy, with very little colour, the structures being a uniform, dark and dull gray. The original series of sandstone temples was Hindu, built in the twelfth century. Over time it had evolved into a Buddhist temple complex. History is carved in bas relief on the walls and Joseph showed us places that told of invasions and wars, activities such as fishing, dancing, building, as well as portrayals of other nations’ presence.
We pressed on after stopping for a meal of noodles and bottled water, always a safe combination. The heat and humidity were building to an intolerable level. Because we were in Cambodia in April, we were experiencing their hot, dry season which simply meant that it wasn’t pouring rain most of the time. It wasn’t doing me any good at all.
Eventually we found ourselves at the end of the long walk through the many lesser buildings. We had reached the large pool where we met our tuktuk driver who took us back to the hotel. Sharon, Wen, Joseph and Paul were a little wilted but I was quickly moving into mild heat stroke so I crawled into bed after drinking more water and eating a soda cracker and a Gravol tablet.
I slept, wrote in my journal and checked the weather on the hotel computer. It had been around 90 degrees Fahrenheit with the humidity at 90%.
The next day for me was a day of reflection. Cambodia had captured my heart. I remember reading of the horrors of torture, starvation and imprisonment that left an estimated 1.7 to 3 million people dead in the 1970’s. I could not imagine how they could bear that kind of pain. When we visited a young pastor in Siem Reap, he shared that his family, although very poor, was getting plenty of healthy fruit and vegetables to eat and that they were eager to forget the horrific past and move on with forgiveness.
And so we left Cambodia for Vietnam once again. We would be attending a concert with Maestro Simon’s youth orchestra and looked forward with great anticipation!