Angor Wat, Cambodia

Angor Wat, Cambodia

“One of these temples – a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo  – might take its place besides our most beautiful buildings – Grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome …it makes the traveler forget all the fatigues of the journey, filling him with admiration and delight, such as should be experienced on finding a verdant oasis in the sandy desert” Henry Mouhot (the French explorer who publicized Angor Wat by writing about his findings)

There’s a moment just before you do what it is you have anticipated doing for your whole life, that is better than actually doing it. That is how it felt as the plane landed in Siem Reap. Everyone was a tourist. Everyone had their Iphones out and were snapping photos out the window and of the Cambodian Airlines plane that we were on.

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Collective excitement is definitely more exciting – especially in many different languages. We were here. The place that we had watched on the Discovery Channel specials, or documentaries and/or had seen photos of, was just a few miles from the airport. The next day, everyone on that plane was about to see one of the most impressive sights in the world.

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Angor Wat is the largest temple in the world and the world’s largest religious building constructed of stone.

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It is often described as one of the most extraordinary architectural creations ever built, with its intricate bas-reliefs, strange acoustics and magnificent soaring towers. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century. The Cambodian word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Nagara’ meaning ‘holy city’. It was originally built as a Hindu temple.

Angkor Wat is unusually oriented to the west, a direction typically associated with death in Hindu culture. Archaeologists and scholars disagree about why the ancient builders chose to deviate from the ‘norm’ at the time. Bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat read counterclockwise, another sign that the temple is associated with funeral rituals.

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Also unusual for the time of construction, Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu a Hindu deity, rather than the current king.

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Angkor Wat was shifted from Hindu to Buddhist use sometime around the late 13th century. The temple is still used by Buddhists today.

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The temples greatest sculptural treasure is its 2 meter high bas reliefs, around the walls of the outer gallery.

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It is the longest continuous bas reliefs in the world. In some areas, traces of paint and gilt that once covered the carvings can still be seen.

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There are scenes of legends, wars and everyday life, enhanced by carvings of nearly 2,000 apsaras, or celestial dancers.

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Angor Wat was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1992.The site suffered from decades of unregulated tourism and looting; many ancient statues have been decapitated and their heads sold to private collectors.

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An international collaborative effort has helped to slowly restore sites and prevent further collapse of unstable structures.

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Sokimex, a private company founded by an ethnic Vietnamese-Cambodian businessman, has rented Angkor Wat from Cambodia since 1990 and manages tourism there – for profit.

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Most of the money to restore Angkor Wat comes from foreign aid.

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Only an estimated 28% of ticket sales goes back into the temples,

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It is architecturally and artistically breathtaking. No photograph can capture the immensity of this monument.

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I expected to have some deep spiritual connection with Angor Wat but I did not. Instead I felt the imprints of history and stood in awe of the skill and artistry that covers ever inch of the buildings from an ancient Khmer universe that surpasses the imagination.

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Fly safe,

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JAZ

 

 

Everything Touches Everything

‘ Everything touches everything.”           Jose Luis Borge

After 9/11, the world reacted in very kind and  humane ways. The best story that I heard was the one from the Masai tribe in Kenya.  One of the Masai was living in New York and studying to be a doctor at the time. He returned to Kenya and reported the story to the tribe. Telling stories to the Masai was the way of passing on the news.  They hadn’t watched it on television. They didn’t comprehend the logistics. They didn’t know who the bad guys were.  They understood  that  3000 people had perished in an attack on the United States. They wanted to help. The cow is life to a Masai. They use every part of the cow and treat it as a sacred animal.  Fourteen families gave up their only  cows as a gift to America. It was a big sacrifice for them.  It was a bigger lesson for me.  No one is so important that they do not need kindness and you can  always do something  to help the human condition.

Over the last few years, I have started to travel to third world countries. I always   do something. I heard about the first school being built in the mountains in Peru and I cashed in  my travelers checks (no easy feat by the way) to help them. I gave pens and pencils  to the Embera tribe in the rainforest in Panama. I also taught English for a day. In Cuba we handed out everything  we brought in the first few days.  After that, I gave away my own things and all my cash. My suitcase to Burma was filled with things for the orphanages including 12 dozen children’s toothbrushes. (I read that it was one toothbrush for a 100 children)    I happened to mention to someone I had just met  that I  was going to buy toothbrushes for the orphanages . The next day i received a text to come pick them up at her office. She always does something.

There are different theories on this. There was an article in Cambodia that the orphanages were not using the things that were donated because if they looked poor they would get more stuff.  It is said that America ties its foreign aid to its allies and interests. I have read that if you give money to children begging in the street, their families won’t send them to school.

The best thing to do is to research a country you are passionate about.  Find a cause that you support. The most basic causes are food and water. I am passionate about education and I always try to do something with a school. There are many choices- ecotourism, humanitarian,  medical, teaching, cultural,  conservation, farming and research.  You can do it for a day , or a week or a year. There are many international organizations who do good work that accept donations – just research where the money is going before you give. International Red Cross and Unicef are two well known ones.  Donate items, money or time. Perhaps do all three.  Food, clothing, clean water,  medical , household and school supplies are always appreciated. You may not feel that you are doing enough to change the world but you  are  doing enough to change someone’s day for the better.

In Peru, I gave my boxed lunch to a Quechua woman on the plane.  I went to the bathroom when we landed. When I came out,  the Quechua woman was standing there. I asked her in Spanish if everything was ok. She  nodded.  We walked through the terminal and into the luggage area together in silence . We walked over to where my group was and then she left. I thought about it for a long time. I was a stranger from another country. In her culture, people exist by helping each other. It didn’t matter who I was. I gave her my lunch. She made sure I got to where I needed to go. There was no speaking. It is just something you do.

Fly safe,

JAZ