Another piece in the puzzle

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Monday, June 6, 2005

Since I returned home from my intriguing adventure in Preah Vihear province over three weeks ago, I've been pretty busy with work as it's nearing the end of term, although a few things have happened which warrant a journal entry.

Tonle Bati/Ta Prohm and Phnom Chisor - 5/6/2005
It's been on the cards for weeks, but finally I managed to escape the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh for a quiet sunday in the country. About 30km south of Phnom Penh is the "resort" of Tonle Bati lake, and the nearby Ta Prohm temple. Another 19km further on is Phnom Chisor, a solitary hill amidst the flat arid countryside, with an 11th century Angkorian temple perched on top. An ideal day trip! Especially for someone not yet suffering from a common symptom here, temple fatigue!

My friends and I had actually planned on two prior occasions to make this trip happen, but both times it fell through. The same thing nearly happened this time, with Carly feeling ill and Michelle refusing to get out of bed, but in the end Rowena and I decided to fork out an extra $5 each and just do it!

We arrived at Tonle Bat around 9am, and had to fork out another $3 for a "foreigner only entrance fee". I'm used to these now. When we got out of the car near the lake we both looked at each other with the same look, "what on earth are we doing?!". My students told me that Tonle Bati was a site where many Khmer people went for picnics, and there were hundred of little straw huts built on the lake front. It's wasn't an idealic location, but with a wat on the otherside, it definitely provided a nice change of scenery from Phnom Penh. The thing was, the place was virtually deserted. It had obviously once been a site where many people went, but something had happened, and now the place was just run down. Even the people selling things here were different to anywhere I'd seen. They'd look at you and then drop their heads before you even had a chance to say no thanks. Many just looked at us and didn't even bother asking. The situation seemed really hopeless, and the people here seemed to know it. It was quite sad, and Ro and I spent about 45 minutes wandering around and letting the sad situation soak in.

After our complimentary coke we got with our ticket, we wandered about 500m to the ancient 11th century laterite temple of Ta Prohm. Now it wasn't spectacular, certainly not on the same scale as Preah Vihear or Koh Ker, but it was charming in its own way. There were quite a few old men and old ladies in the complex, all wanting to say a prayer for a few hundred riel. My jaded view of poor people and beggars has changed substantially since I've been living here, and I was quite happy to help these people out a little. It was obvious that they had no source of income and struggled to get enough food. Ro and I spent around an hour at the complex, wandering off in our own directions. Not sure what Ro thought of the place, but I liked hunting down the small bas-reliefs I'd read about in my guidebook! We found some kids later on, and they took us to nearby Yeay Peau temple where we saw some strange statues, similar to the odd ones I'd seen previously in Battambang.

At around midday we decided to move onto Phnom Chisor, where we would get some lunch. There was just one problem though, upon arrival we were told by all of the 20 or so ladies selling drinks that we couldn't buy food. Each vendor had a chicken in a plastic bag which they offered, but no rice! Instead we both downed two cans of fanta each to get some sugar into us, and we began the 412 step hike to the top of the hill. The view at the top was spectacular. A 360 degree vista of the countryside of Takeo province. At the base of the eastern side of the hill we could clearly see two more temples, Sen Thmol and Sen Ravang, as well as the ancient reservoir of Tonle Om. These two temples, combined with the one on Phnom Chisor form a direct line to Angkor Wat.

The temple itself was quite interesting. Some pagodas and accommodation for monks had been built quite close by, and I found it a little strange to see the contrast between the structures. The temple had actually been bombed during the Vietnam war, as the VC used the hill as a lookout. We met some kids who showed us around, and we then walked down the eastern side of the hill (we'd climbed the southern side) to see the other temples. These had been obliterated by the Americans, which was a little disturbing. The kids walked us back to the base of the hill where our driver was waiting, and in the half an hour it took, I thought about a lot of things. The land was so arid here, and the people obviously poor, with little drinking water. It made me really sad to think that these people struggled on a daily basis to eke out a living, and the Americans just came in and bombed the shit out of them. For what purpose, in the grand scheme of things? I can't imagine life ever changing for the people here.

Ploughing Day - 26/5/05
One thing Phnom Penh has plenty of is public holidays, but Ploughing day was one I found a little different. Each year the King presides over a royal procession from the Palace to the grounds near the National museum, which is nearby. Laid out in the middle of the grounds are five bowls, containing rice, beans, wheat, wine and grass. The Royal oxen are paraded around the people, and then let loose to feed on the gifts. The food they eat is a sign for the coming harvest, predicted by the royal astrologer. I spent a while at this ceremony with my friend Peggy, before we both decided it was a little boring, so we got some breakfast and watched the rest of the ceremony live on television. Nothing out of the ordinary really!

Other than this, there hasn't been much to write home about. I attended a Khmer wedding with Peggy, which was an interesting experience, although I regret forgetting my camera. Khmer weddings are very loud and colourful affairs, with all of the girls (not just the bride and bridesmaids) doing themselves up. It was pouring with rain when we arrived, and for some reason we were met with strange looks as we lept off the moto in our raincoats and then took them off. The Khmer people weren't even wet! Everyone had fun at the wedding, and the groom is more than happy to have a few barangs along, but under one condition, and that is they pay money! Here weddings aren't so much an occasion to celebrate the union of loved ones, but more an opportunity to make as much money as possible.

There are now less than two weeks left of my first term at ACE, and the students are stressing about their exams. I'm really happy with the majority of my students. I've got to know all of them a lot better, and it really is good when you can see the improvement in their work from week 3 to week 8. However I will be taking (what I believe is) a well earned two week holiday at the end of term, when I'll be heading to Siem Reap to check out a side of Cambodia that everyone comes to see, but I have left till now - the temples of Angkor Wat!
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