August 10, 2006

Getting Orient-ed, Part I

I've come to the startling realization that at the ripe old age of 23, I have likely seen all that I will ever see of Asia in my lifetime, though a return or two to Tokyo may be possible as long as the parentals manage to keep themselves out of the nursing home, condemned to a life of mah jongg and martinis. Wait a second...that's already true. ZING! In all fairness, though, having me around is probably making the years between Mom and Dad and the retirement home close in all the more quickly, something I'm reminded of every time Dad plays with the false teeth he already has. Whoops! Did I write that out loud? Apparently I have no inner monoblog. Sorry Papa-san!

"ANYrate," what I mean to say is that I've just (3 weeks ago) returned from a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, thanks to the supreme generosity of Mom and the company of Mare and Maria Hagen. The 4 of us had quite a time for ourselves experiencing the paradox that is traversing Southeast Asia on a 5-star budget, a fact for which I am of course extremely grateful, ironic though it may be.

Our first stop took us to Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of Angkor Wat. Contrary to what I get the feeling is probably common belief, Angkor Wat is not a town or a destination in and of itself. It is a temple, and a damn big one at that, but just one of hundreds in the area of Siem Reap. It holds the distinction of being the largest religious structure in the world, and I'm proud to say that I have scaled it and enjoyed the view from the top (it was no Huashan by any means, but we're talking 1000-year-old temples here, not mountains).

In the 2 days we spent touring Siem Reap, we probably visited something like 10 different temples, led by our wonderful guide, Sam So (whom I preferred to call SamSonite), including Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, which you would probably recognize sooner under a title such as "Angelina Jolie Temple," having been featured in the acclaimed-critically, extremely-important-to-our-generation film, Tomb Raider. Parenthetical aside: (If you were unfortunate enough to have seen Tomb Raider, you may recall a brief scene in which we find our heroine rowing across what appears to be a heavily populated lake/river-marketplace in Cambodia. That body of water is, in fact, a small, man-made pond in front of Angkor Wat. SamSonite giggled uncontrollably when he told us that.) In all seriousness, the temples of Angkor are among the most amazing structures I've ever had the privilege of seeing with my own eyes, and all the more astounding when you take into account that many of them have been standing for over 1000 years. My pictures hardly do them justice, but at least I managed to preserve the memory for myself.