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Day 46 – Teach The Children (More AngkorTemples)

April 18, 2010

Dateline: Siem Riep and Rolus Group Temples of Angkor, Cambodia – Sunday, April 18, 2010

Temple: Preah Ko

Completed: 879

Location: Roulus Group, 15 km southeast of main Angkor temples

Random facts:

First major temple built from Angkor period. The “Sacred Bull” temple. Made of brick, unlike later temple.

Built to honor the king’s family. Has six towers, two representing the king’s parents, two for the king’s grandparents, the center two for the king who founded the Khmer empire and that king’s wife.

The three towers in front represent the men, the three behind, their wives, exhibiting the universe as it should be, except the back three temples really should be bar foot, pregnant, and in the kitchen makin’ some pies. Guess they couldn’t get it to work architecturally.

It’s the same every time:

“Mista, you like cold drink?”

“Buy ten postcard, only one dollar. Send to your friend or girlfriend.”

“Ten bracelet, only one dollar.”

“You like to buy fruit? Have mango, pineapple, banana.”

“What your name?”

“You want something to eat?”

“Business no good today. You buy from me.”

“You buy guide book. It tell you story. Must learn story.”

“Where you from? If I tell you the capital of California, governor, the president of America, population then you buy from me.”

Sometimes it would be a horde of little girls carrying baskets of knickknacks. Sometimes it would be ladies calling out from their roadside food stands. Sometimes it would be a lone man standing near an entrance holding guide books. The order of the phrases change. The words vary a bit. But after the 500th time, it all sounds the same. These are the perils of visiting Angkor.

Some people hate this kind of crap. They despise the hard sell. They don’t like it when the kids don’t take no for an answer, trailing around after you even though you’ve waved them off and said you don’t need more Angkor Wat fridge magnets because you bought 1,000 yesterday for all your girlfriends. It drives them absolutely mad.

I can’t blame them.

Temple: Bakong

Completed: 881

Location: Roulus Group, in center of the first Angkorian capital

Random Facts:

Built in the “mountain style” with five tiers. Made of sandstone, not brick. Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Has two moats and is surrounded by brick towers similar to those at Preah Ko. Subsequent kings added and expanded the original temple. This is a running theme in the Angkor temples. A site will start out Hindu, then a later king will remodel, expand, or destroy bits to make it Buddhist. Then another king changes it back.

The philosophy seems to follow that of certain late 20th century car buyers—find something previously owned, then pimp it to your own eccentricities. When you lose it in a pink slip drag race, don’t be surprised if the new owner guts it for parts, strips your old paint job, or uses it to curry favor with Vin Diesel in a surprisingly virulent virus of a movie franchise. What were we talking about again?


Don’t get me wrong. I got sick of them too and I think I have a high tolerance for this kind of thing . It’s day three of temple hopping and I felt like every walk up to the site was the same. It started off innocently enough with Collin and Haley two days ago. We sat down for a late breakfast at a food stand near Bayon. A group of kids rushed us and tried to sell us woven jewelry, Angkor trinkets, postcards, and toys. When we insisted we didn’t need anything, one girl just stood at our table with her basket of stuff propped on the edge. She didn’t say anything for a long time. She watched us get our food. She sat in on our conversation. Only occasionally would she shuffle.

I’m talking dedication to her vocation. Did I mention she was probably only 8 years old?

Whereas we were polite about our refusal, the American lady at the next table was much more brusque.

“No. Leave. I don’t want anything. No. Go away. Put that back in your basket, I don’t want it. Stop.”

I didn’t know whether she or the kids were more annoyed.

I’ve heard some people hate Cambodia because of the people. If they only visited Angkor and Siem Riep, I can see why. Here, no question is ever innocent.

Someone wants to know your name? They’re running game.

Someone wants to know where you’re from? They’re going to use it to try to impress you with knowledge of your home country so they can sell you something.

Someone offer to show you something in a temple? They’re going to put their hand out for a tip.

It’s always a best price. It’s always please. It’s never just because. Under the onslaught, it’s very easy to become cynical about every Khmer you meet.

Temple: Lolei

Completed: 893

Location: Roulus Group, on an island of a now dry lake bed

Random Facts:

Last major temple built before the capital moved to the Angkor area. Four brick towers built on a platform. Dedicated to Shiva and the royal family. It’s the smallest of the major Roulus Group temples. Now the site of an active monastery. Monks dressed in orange go about their monk duties while you wander the temple grounds. This site has never played host to a Super Bowl.

Even though I was weary of the constant sales pitches, my attitude started to change. It went through the classic comedy arc. A short story, to illustrate.

When I lived in the Philippines, I attended a male beauty pageant in which my cousin was a contestant. (Man pageants are normal in the Philippines. Think football but with more outfit changes and less putting your hands between another guy’s legs.) In the talent section, one guy chose to play a guitar and sing a song he’d written himself.

When he started it was clear this was a disaster, as in the only way you could tell he wasn’t chewing on the tail of a live cat was because you could see his mouth wasn’t full.

Everyone in the audience was trying to hold back their laughter, you know, to be polite and all. You could hear a titter running up and down the audience. When he got to verse two, though, some people were openly laughing. They couldn’t hold it in.

That is, until he got to verses three and four. At this point, everyone started to feel sorry for him. He was humiliating himself and didn’t seem to know it. Someone had told him he was good when he clearly wasn’t. A murmur of shared embarrassment rippled through the crowd. It was sad to watch.

BUT when the contestant decided the audience hadn’t had enough of his self-written piece and plowed right into verse five? Everyone lost it. People were practically rolling in the aisles. All sympathy was gone. The guy was doing it to himself.

The situation had started comedic, turned tragic, then–after the tragedy had cried itself out—become comedy once again. After all, sometimes when things are going bad, all you can do is laugh.

I went through the same progression with the aggressive sales pitches. At first I thought it was amusing. These kids are so clever and cute, coming up with ways to get people to buy.

Then I started feeling annoyed and sorry for myself. What the heck? Can’t these people see that I just want to experience the peace of an ancient temple? I’ve said “no” a thousand times to every other seller out there. Nothing you can say will make me want to buy a small, brass version of Angkor Wat. What am I going to do with a wooden flute? Leave me alone!

After a while, though it became high comedy. I’d try to guess which line the kid was going to use. I’d laugh when I’d say “no” the first time, every kid immediately asked, “Where you from?” I started to think of these people as the opening and closing credits to the temples. Most times I’d want to skip them, but after a while they became part of the main event—a catchy, familiar tune that I’d hum along to as I walked into each site.

These people live in a poor country and are trying to eke out a living whatever way they can. They’re certainly not doing it to get rich. They’re not rude and they don’t yell; they’re just insistent. They’ve learned English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, maybe only a little bit but enough to get their point across. Furthermore, these are the descendents of the people who built these temples.

The least I can do is turn them down politely. Maybe I’ll even teach one how to say, “California. So if I tell you state budget deficit, you buy from me.”

Click here for pictures!  Maybe there will be temples?


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