March 18, 2017
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Well, I officially broke my wife. Not literally. But enough so that last night, when we were discussing our adventures for today, she was almost giddy with delight when I asked her if, for Shabbat, she’d prefer to just sit out today’s full-day of Temple hopping and take a ‘casual day’ while I had Savath schlep me around.
I’m shocked, to be honest. I’ve been reading reams of information to her the past week about the intricate details of the different temples and how to differentiate between those built by Suryavarman I from those built by Jayavarman VII or Indravarman I.
We’ve spent hours going over the meaning of the bas relief scenes from the Ramayana depicting the struggle of the divine prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana that are carved on various Angkor temple walls, lintels, mantelpieces and chaise lounges.
I’ve watched her studiously learning the correct hand and foot postures so she could provide me with hours of entertainment while performing the nymph-like Apsara dances.
And after all that, what do I get? She tells me, “I’ve converted. I am now a follower of the ‘Seen one, Seen ‘em all’ school of ancient wonders of the world. Debbie, out!”
As a result, instead of climbing up and down temple mountains (and 1 real one) in 37C heat for 8 hours, she slept in and went for brunch at some point.
What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means you get the unadulterated, no holds barred accounting of what I did today without being hindered by facts that she might make me tell you about.
Using the logic that only I have been able to develop so far in SE Asia, I asked Savath to start our Shabbat Temple Hopping adventure by taking me first thing this morning in his tuk tuk to see the place where ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE ELSE only goes to see at sunset. Phnom Bakheng is a temple on top of a steep hill about 1.5 km. from Angkor Wat and the views of the setting sun setting the Angkor towers on fire are supposed to be amazing. In early morning, not so much.
But, there is a method to my madness. Only 300 people at a time are allowed at the top of Phnom Bakheng and I’ve seen the hordes of tourists in the area and heard that if you actually want to see the sun set over Angkor Wat from up there you’d better get there early. One guide book says that the best time to go is 1972.
And so, by no later than 9:00am, there I was, alone at the top of Phnom Bakheng. Well, me and the Security Guard. Who, in his best Khm-English, asked if I was lost. After an hour, it got hot. By this, I mean it was no longer 37C. It was 38C. I know my limits. I climbed down from the mountain and Savath just shook his head in wonder (not for the first time these past few days, mind you) and we headed off to the next Shul.
This one is called Preah Khan. I was excited. I thought it might have something to do with Star Trek – ‘Wrath of Khan’ and all. I was wrong. There was no trace of Star Trek to be found. And the place was ruined. So ruined that when they found it (well, when the White French Explorers found it, I mean – the locals always knew it was here) they said, “Let’s just leave it alone so one day people will take pictures of the amazing way the trees grow right out of the rocks”.
Sina Sao (call me “Okie”) is a security guard at Preah Khan. Just like Rana is at the sister temple we visited a few days ago, Ta Promh. There is symmetry all over the place here. I will explain:
1. Ta Promh was built to commemorate the victory of Jay 7 & the Khmer over the Vietnamese Chams. He dedicated that Temple in honour of his dad.
2. Preah Khan was also built to commemorate the victory of Jay 7 & the Khmer over the Vietnamese Chams. He dedicated this Temple in honour of his mom.
3. Ta Promh is celebrated as “The Tomb Raider” temple in popular history as the living connection between the jungle and the temple ruins is very picturesque and served as a site for the filming of scenes from that movie.
4. Preah Khan is likewise celebrated for its living connections between the jungle and the temple ruins.
5. Rana is the Security Guard that I said hello to at Ta Promh and, a $5 tip later, I’d been given a private guided tour that mostly consisted of “give me your iPhone, I’ll take the photo for you” highlight moments.
6. Ditto with Okie at Preah Khan.
As a result of my fortuitous meetings with Rana & Okie, I now understand that security guards at ancient ruins in Cambodia are actually itinerant tour guides who know more about how to use your iPhone’s camera capabilities than you ever will…. When they aren’t sitting under a tree cross-stitching, that is.
Savath was asleep in his hammock that he strings up inside his tuk tuk that he’s parked in a shady spot under a big leafy tree while I’m shvitzing so much from climbing the fershtinkineh steps of these temples that I swear my undershirt is going to drown at some point.
And another thing about these temple stairs. What gives? Were the people of Cambodia 8 feet tall a thousand years ago? Each of these stairs are about 4 feet high. And 3 inches wide. I saw a mountain goat using ropes to get up and down a set of them yesterday. I have looked this up and it turns out that in a normal set of stairs, according to “The Stairs Calculator.com”, the dimensions should be like this:
“The riser height should be 8.25 inches (21cm) or lower. The nosing protrusion length should be 1.25 inches (3.2 cm) or lower to prevent tripping on the nosing. The headroom is recommended to be 6 feet and 8 inches (203 cm) or higher. The stair width is recommended to be 35 inches (89cm) or longer.”
I can tell you, without hesitation or fear of being wrong, that Jay II & all of his begettings never, ever heard of “The Stairs Calculator.com”. Or, if they did, they ignored it.
I hated to wake him up from his nap in his hammock, but it was time for Savath to decide which temple torture he next wanted to inflict on me. This one, it turned out, would be a walk in the park. Or on a tightrope, to be exact.
Neak Poan is a very small temple complex that is on an island. To get there, you have to walk about ½ a mile across a 2 ft. wide boardwalk over a lake filled with things sticking out of it. I don’t know exactly what the things were but they were sticking out all over the place. Look at the photos and call me if you can figure out what they are.
This, you would think, would be picturesque and no biggie. Until the Japanese tour buses showed up. And then the 2 ft. wide boardwalk shrinks to 2” because they walk 3 abreast and stop to take 5 photos of each other … and then selfies ….
And that’s all I have to say about Neak Poan except for this. It’s lunchtime. Without Debbie. What does that mean? Give me something with a LOT of chilies. Make it hot. Really hot.
I am so stupid sometimes.
Savath has come to understand my needs. He was able to discern instantly from looking at my lips that, I’m guessing, had swelled to 6 times normal size, that perhaps a nice refreshing bottle of ice cold water would be what the doctor ordered.
Did you know that water just spreads the chili around? Now I do, too.
Well, I guess I’ve had better Kiddush lunches in the past but our afternoon wasn’t nearly done yet as there were 3 (count ‘em – 3) more temples that Savath forced me to climb up and down for the next 4 hours. East Mebon, Pre Rup and then, when I begged for mercy, he showed some and took me to Prasat Tot.
Its actual name is Prasat Kravan. But Prasat Tot means ‘little temple’ and that is how Savath took pity on me and we ended the day, by going to centre of the (relatively) little Prasat Kravan temple complex, looking at the spectacular dancing Apsara carvings almost hidden away in one of the towers, and thanking God that this day of shul hopping was finally over.
When I limped into the room and collapsed on the bed, my wife glanced up from her Netflix tv show and asked how my day was.
I told her it was great and that we’re getting up at 4:30am tomorrow to go see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. She laughed, put her ear plugs back in, and went back to planning my murder.