Sometimes there is so much to write about a place that it seems better to say less than ignorantly talk beyond what you understand. This is my experience with Cambodia. In three and a half days I only caught a glimpse of something, and although I will recite their most basic history, I’m not by any means educated on the subject and don’t pretend to understand what happened or why. Cambodia is a place with a deep and turbulent past ranging from an empire and culture that surpassed European contemporary societies cities during it’s height, to a genocidal restructuring of the entire population during the 1970’s by a Marxist madman. I came to the city of Siem Reap to visit the temples of Angkor built during the height of the Khmer empire between the years of 802 and 1431. These have been repeatedly called the 8th wonder of the world, and I think it would be hard to argue against that after spending time here.
I almost immediately realized however that the contrast between my quick stop off tourism and the lives and history of the people was not something I could glance over. I was very affected by the glimpse I saw of people’s lives, and the conversations I had. The affects of the highs and lows are in full view here. The people exhibit a reserved pride. They are a young population with few elder mentors as the previous generation was greatly decimated along with many direct links to their cultural past, and clear pathways to an economic future. 30 years on and the country is recovering, but poverty is common, as are the effects of the wars and their devices (I saw many people with limbs missing presumably from landmines). Commerce and industry are returning to Cambodia, but far behind it’s neighbors Thailand, Vietnam, and China. What I observed were a lot of people who worked very hard to educate themselves and often were not able to afford the education they needed. Learning English seemed to be the primary first step in this process for many people. They are well aware of the progress of the world around them and want the same for themselves.
As for the temples, they were all they promised to be. Rather than attempt to see dozens (of the over 200) temples, I only visited 4 and spent many hours at each one, often sitting in one spot for an extended period and studying details. This was a great way to meet people as well. Tour groups would come through and then there would be periods of solitude. A lot of people said “hello” to see what I was doing stopping as groups or as individuals. I was continually reminded of how great of a tool that drawing can be to open doors to communication. I’m also learning how useful it is to be able to say “hello” and “thank you” in as many languages as possible. They are simple and appreciated gestures. I hope very much I can return here and spend more time in the country beyond the temples, but I was in awe of what I did see and humbled by the resolve of the Cambodian people.
Posted in Cool things, location drawing
Tagged angkor tom, angkor wat, banteay srei, bayon, cambodia, khmer, khmer rouge, location drawing, pol pot, siem reap, ta prohm, temple, travel, urban sketch, Vietnam
After a couple of days out on Halong Bay, my brother and I made it down to Hoi An. Hoi An is a town with a couple hundred tailors and a bit of a destination for getting clothes made. Apart from this it’s on the coast and one of the most beautiful environments yet in this trip.
We did see some of the beauty this morning on a 5a.m. Tour of My Son, an ancient temple complex used by the Cham people many hundreds of years ago. During the war My Son was a hiding place for the Viet Cong and was subsequently damaged significantly during American bombing. After the war quite a bit was rebuilt though the newer structures are faring far worse than their ancient counterparts. I’ll be heading to Angkor Wat in Cambodia next week and even though this is a much smaller set of structures it was beautiful nonetheless.
However as I mentioned there were clothes to be made in this town. An admission, I can’t stand shopping for clothes, it brings me little joy and much stress. Getting clothes custom made is even more anxiety, so many choices and so many fabrics. The result in the end however is worth it, standing in a sharply fitted suit and shirt while three comely women hem and haw at the seams. The deal is you can get whatever you want and the price is reasonable to say the least. As Vietnam develops more and more the costs will increase also. We went to Phuoc An Silk (reccomended by lonely planet). I think the prices were in the mid range of what you could pat.Time will tell if the quality is there in the clothes we had made, but I can tell you they look great and fit great even an the staff helped us through 3 or 4 refittings to get it right. They worked very hard and were very quick. If I did have to miss some more sites to get it done. A more than fair trade.
One final thing, we stayed at the hotel Nhi Nhi, also recommended by LP. The staff has been the best in the country. I’ve spent a lot of time with them learning Vietnamese words and every time I go downstairs they have a new list of phrases for me to learn. With every place we’ve been, all the food we’ve eaten, all the time spent sketching on the streets and in boats and buses, I can without hesitation say that my time spent talking with people here and learning bits of the language have been the highlight of the trip. Language opens doors that sometimes lead to friendship, sometimes learning, and sometimes lead to a piece of shared mango with a few great people. The fit is great.
I’ve spent a lot of time walking through the neighborhoods and not only drawing but spending time with people. There are so many different ways people go about work here than in the states. What I mean by that is not that the tasks are different (though in some cases they are), but the intermixing of work, community, the physical proximity to the street, and family life is totally combined. There is also a complete mixing of generations. People of all ages are socially connected. Just like in the states, people of different generations will congregate together such as the 1000,s of teens-20 something’s that hang out at night eating ice cream and cruising on motorbikes, but in that group you’ll see families with young children and older people comfortably sharing space and conversations. I also want to keep noting how kind people are and how genuine there smiles are. I’ll be away from any Internet for three days so wanted to share a few images, but I have more with specific stories I will post later.
Much of the day has been spent in the Old Quarter which is…it’s a lot of stuff for sale and a lot of motorbikes. More motorbikes than I could imagine, literally hundreds ride by every minute. It’s a tremendous place to draw and to dodge traffic. I’ll spend a few days in the city and get outside of this district later on, but as far as an ideal urban Southeast Asian City experience, you know the kind you see in anime movies, endless vendors, and power lines, and street carts, and people, this is it. I am really enjoying it, even as I dodge the very heavy rain. I’m finding that my drawing allows me to interact with people that I would never meet otherwise. Just drawing will draw onlookers, usually one or two that stick around for the whole image, and a few others that come and go. Once I pull out watercolor, a lot more will show up. Without speaking the language I’m not sure what other opportunity I would get to run into locals that didn’t involve the shopping experience or a tour experience. I’m not implying that people aren’t friendly, they are really wonderful, but at least on the street they have money to make and I’m a prime target. In some cases my drawing leads to more people coming up and trying to sell, or if somebody has spent some time talking I might get a bit of a hard sell that I should now purchase from them, but the flip side is true as well. I will get helpful advice and locals that speak english well who are very willing to give me information about how much things should cost or how to get to someplace. Hmmm, my post makes it sound like commerce is the order of the day and I guess that so far it has been the dominating experience. I’m essentially drawing commercial moments, shops, vendors, and restaurants. Last night I came across a stage where something was going on. A cultural even partly and somethign else I couldn’t make out, but I did get a sketch and enjoyed watching something not aimed at me, but welcoming nonetheless. I think I’ll end this post by saying that I really enjoy the Vietnamese. They are engaging, friendly, and energetic. Three too simple words, but I as I continue on I will think and write more about my experiences in this culture.