27 April 2008

dark abandoned alleyways

Let me start by telling you a little more about my first few days in Bangkok. I had learned a few weeks ago that a friend needed my favor of being his ‘wedding date’ for a destination wedding of two Americans in Bangkok. I was already in country and my travel through the city coincided with the wedding dates –or so I thought. Through email I had already learned that I needed some sort of formal dress and that there would be an event the day I arrive.

Arriving in Bangkok late morning in an overnight train from Chiang Mai, I stow my luggage at the hotel and set out on the town to find a tailor for a formal dress hoping that the shop will be agreeable to creating it in one day.

Meeting up with my wedding-date later, we share a beer overlooking the river and city from the 16th floor. I learn now that this wedding is for an Indian couple and will be a five day affair as well as incredibly formal with four chefs from India flown in to cater the entire week with strict vegetarian fare. Over 500 guests were expected and I would need a sari or two in addition to the formal dress I had just kicked off.

My wedding-date I find is nervous about traveling around the city and taking public transportation as we seek out a new tailor for my saris and go for a first and second fitting for the formal dress. He finds it funny that I lead him confidently through the city when I’m the country girl of us two. The night of the Sangeet I wear the first beautiful sari with many amazed that a white chick like me could pull it off. "Who tied it for you?!" they all asked. I told them my tailor dressed me.

This is where it starts.
My sari was going to be ready near to the Sangeet start time and only five hours since first meeting the tailor, thus I got completely ready at the hotel putting up my hair, applying party ready makeup, donning high heels as well as putting on all the jewelry we had picked out that day – bangles, special earrings, necklace, the works such that all I had to do was put on the sari and head straight to the party. My wedding-date asked at the last minute if I minded going to the tailor alone and then meeting him at the party. With the tailor’s business card written in Thai, the hotel helps me get a taxi back to the Indian Market in the middle of Chinatown. After a short ride, I recognize that we arrive in China town but it is different from the day, the streets now deserted and storefronts are closed with heavy metal garage type doors. It’s also dark, night coming early near the equator. My driver stops the taxi and explains to me mostly in Thai that he doesn’t know where the shop is and that my ride is complete. He asks for payment.

I refuse to pay him, pointing to the business card and insisting he take me. He spews out the same words and frustrated gets out and opens my door. Reluctantly I get out. There are not many people in the street and there were no other taxis around. We continue going back and forth still getting nowhere. He keeps mentioning police and I start to assume that they must be prevalent on the street of my destination and he must avoid them.

Unaware, a heavy set Indian woman walks up to us and stands very close. I eye her up and down wondering what she wants though she remains silent as if not hearing our conversation but also not focused anywhere else either. Exasperated, I ask her if she knows the place I need to go. She takes a minute to read the card and starts to go back and forth with the driver herself, though I can tell this also goes nowhere. She finally turns to me and tells me he is ‘loco’. At least we agree on this.

There I am stuck with this taxi driver insisting I pay him, this Indian girl, and me dressed up with neither map, more than $3, a language guide, credit card, nor phone. I didn’t even have ID.

The Indian girl explains that she is the sister of the cousin of the wife of the guy who owns the tailor shop I am looking for and she can take me there.

Yeah, I think this is a little sketchy too, but what else am I supposed to do? The Sangeet was to start in thirty minutes. (For future reference, one should take the taxi back to the hotel, get a friend to join you and get a different driver.)

I follow this woman through alley ways, under buildings, and more dark streets taking passages that were once thriving markets during the day but now deserted dingy places one would see watching a scary movie. I'm really not sure how my body will be found when all this is said and done let alone how my friends and family will even begin to think to search for my dismembered limbs in this hidden forsaken place.

During our walk, the woman chats away though her language is mostly unintelligible to me. Then she announces that she's a Krishna, though at first I think she says Christian. Maybe she was. Here I am scared and thinking I’m about to get robbed and murdered and we have a nice little conversation about faith. Sure enough, she's a god-sent angel as she takes me directly to my tailor. Once there, four others help me get dressed; they are like my attendants. They even pick out a bindi for me to wear but the tailor says it’s no good. He leaves the shop briefly and the girls stick it on me anyway saying he didn’t know what he was talking about. I shrug when he re-enters as he notices it immediately. Under his breath and with a little head shake, he says to take it off when I can. I know he has good taste after this day of sari making and jewelry dressing so off it came once in the taxi far away from the waving hands of my attendants and the angel.

**funny sight we see when walking on the street earlier that day**

20 April 2008

working on Sunday won't kill you

I always like to think and it has been repeatedly confirmed, that everything happens for a reason. One always doesn’t

know when it’s happening, good or bad, but given time, there is often revealed a good result.

I was walking on a beautiful sunny Colorado afternoon hiking up a trail to see how far I could make it until snow made it impassable or unbearable. It would be my first fourteener though I wouldn’t get to summit due to the large masses of snow still covering the top, my lack of serious mountain- eering skills not withstanding. I had walked parts of this trail in the week prior but it had always been snow covered. The last two days had been glorious and clear, spring temperatures melting away most of the snow revealing multiple colored stones and creating small streams that meandered down the trail. It was easy to walk and often warm except when the wind blew.

The trail was steep but the vistas were so incredible that I often stopped to simply breathe in the view, taking pictures all along the way. Around 11,000 feet I started to get into a rhythm picking my way carefully and steadily along the now soft and slushy snow covered path.

Streams of water continued flowing down it often spilling over the edge and eroding the trail. I stayed close to the mountain side remembering the story of a family riding in a Jeep up a nearby pass the summer prior who pulled to the side to let another Jeep pass from the opposite direction. It’s courtesy and appropriate; however, the stalling Jeep was sitting on the downward slope side. Apparently though frequently traveled, these trails are not stable enough to support a stationary weight of that magnitude. The soil collapsed and the Jeep rolled to its passenger’s demise. Now while I’m not quite as heavy as a vehicle, my phobia of heights kept me to the inside, while my curiosity and the beautiful warm sky pushed me onward and upward.

It was then that my cell phone rang.

I was still level with the ski resort to my south and likely pulling from their towers. The call was from a potential new client I’d been vying for business with and we still had

much to discuss. I could have just let it go to voicemail, being a Sunday and me climbing a breathtaking steep trail in the middle of no-where and all, but having spent the entire day alone, knowing how

busy my client was in addition to wanting to close the negotiations, I answered the call. Consequently, my pace slowed ultimately stopping to focus on the conversation.

I was nearing a bend in the trail where water was pouring down from everywhere cascading over smooth red stone, concentrated water falls in three locations. I had already passed the two falls admiring the water on the

stone face of the mountain as I finished the call.

I turned to the final waterfall only thirty paces ahead noting what appeared to be thicker snow laid on the trail as

it curved upward. The trail had opened to the face of the mountain here and was not as protected as below as well as relatively barren below the ledge wher

e I stood. I noticed there was a crevice of snow thirty feet above the trail where the water paused before falling again to trail level.

It looked like only a small amount of snow. It was then immediately, this bit of wet snow broke free of the crevice and slid down the rock wall creating now a huge pile of wet snow on the trail and spillin

g over the edge completely blocking my path; the pile now five feet tall in front of me. More clumps of snow fell as I stared at the pile. I know had I kept my original pace, that I would either be under that snow or trapped on the other side. I stood very still thrilled at what I had just witnessed and contemplating what my actions would have been had I been closer. I wondered also if perhaps I should simply climb over this pile of new snow and continue my hike.

The silence was suddenly deafening filling my ears with the motion around me. I heard the small clatter of small stones running down the rock face behind me, the soft sound of running water over smooth stones and I took in the wet trail and the many streams of water running over and down it.

02 April 2008

ancient wonder

We get up early to make the canal boat that will take us six hours to the town of Siem Reap from Phnom Penh. We pass many stilted wooden houses along the river as well as a few floating villages. The transient nature of their home from the wet to the dry seasons is curious to me. Growing up in a house that flooded between three to thirty inches each spring, I wonder if this disruption is simply thought of as something that just happens.

Running aground, we climb out of our boat to find many excited tuk-tuk drivers vying for our business. Four follow us after we make our choice still pleading their cases. As in the rest of rural Cambodia I’ve visited, I see the old wooden thatched dwellings along with progress to stucco structures, families tending to their own animals for sustenance and likely working a private rice field behind their homes. While these families don’t have many material things, for most they would not be considered poor.

My friend and I rent fixed gear bikes for two days to tool around the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. This is the modern term for a bicycle with only one gear I suppose, when really the bikes we rented are just plain old cruising bikes that just happened to be made long ago with only gear. We immerse ourselves in the crazy traffic where walkers, tuk-tuks (motos pulling two- wheeled carriage like structures with a roof), cars, motos, big tourist buses, industrial trucks, bicycles, and push carts all share the road ways with each person often traveling diagonally, across, against traffic, at their own pace, or simply stopping where ever they find their need.

It’s like there is an agreement that you will let someone turn in front of you and in turn, they would get out of the way quickly. It’s actually more like a big game of chicken. All the horn honking is merely to show presence, not a "get out of my way" gesture as it is here in the States. I find it amazing that no one is hurt. This insanity is laughable and tests our nerves while we avoid being killed ringing our little bells at intersections to alert those we pass.

Angkor Wat is the brainchild of King Suryavarman II who ruled 1113 – 1150 AD. He made Angkor Wat the ruling center for Cambodia. Many who visit these temples and residences are amazed by the advanced architecture and necessary tools obviously needed to construct these grand structures for their time. The entire campus was mostly abandoned in the 16th century and the jungle has slowly started to reclaim its place. The temple formally named Angkor Wat is surrounded by a large moat. It is believed that the expanse of water has protected this particular temple from extreme over growth.

The area was discovered by Europeans in the 1800s. The French explorer, Henri Mouhot wrote of it, “One of these temples – a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo- might take an honourable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.”

We pedal past beautiful rice fields and in tree lined narrow roads. We hike all over those ruins taking photo after photo of what now seem like the same picture. Every temple is unique in style and many of the structures of Angkor Wat were built as residences. Each king that took rein over Cambodia wanted his own building of course. Most had gilded stucco towers and figures as well as wooden ceiling panels and doors. Now all that remains are weather worn sandstone and faint fanciful reliefs.

Rushing home our first day after visiting at least five or six temples to beat the darkness that comes so early this close to the equator, we come upon the north gate of Angkor Thom, (as I mentioned, there are many wats (temples) a part of Angkor Wat, where Angkor Wat has is it's own temple and is also the name of this temple region). The Angkor Thom gate is this amazing stone structure with a huge face carved in it. By huge, I'm talking eight feet tall or so (the face). Of course we have to stop and take a photo of it as we only have two days to cover the entire campus and will likely not pass this way again.

Three kids are playing near by and upon seeing us stop to take photos, they drop their toys (one carrying a large hatchet making me somewhat alarmed. As an aside this is how they cut grass!!!!!) and run toward us. As I was instantly alarmed, it is fortunate that they start to beg from us, "Candy?" "One dollar?" they chime. I nicknamed them the trolls of the bridge and tried to teach them a new phrase that I thought would earn them more laughs and possibly more dollars: "What's your favorite color?" I would say to them slowly. They would start to attempt to repeat for me then remember their original purpose of harassing us. “One dollar?”

The dark won and we found ourselves on the road with no lights and many tuks, motos, and large tourist buses whizzing past us as we tried to abide by the agreements of getting out of the way and holding our breath when someone honked. Getting through the signal-less intersections with everyone going this way and that was an exhilarating challenge if not completely frightful all at once.

The next day we spent a far amount at a temple known for its very large faces; Bayon of Angkor Thom. As you may have learned, I talk to most anyone where ever I travel; this exchange today worth sharing for its comedic value, my conversationalists unaware. There was an Australian family touring as we, parents and a son my age and I notice that the mother is heavy with a cast and make-shift sling on her arm. Her son is recommending to her that perhaps he'll go down the set of steep steps first (that will take them out of the ruin).

  • (me) "To cushion your fall?!" I chide to the woman
  • (son) laughing, "yeah"
  • (she) "I've already broken an arm once this holiday"
  • (me) "here?"

  • (she) snidely as if I should know, "New Zealand" then goes on to tell me a bit more
  • (son) to his mother, "are you coming?" insistently, impatiently
  • (she) "yes, yes" continuing to descend the stairs tentatively
  • (father/husband) rolling his eyes, saying to no one, "She had to have a running dialog; a necessity of the female condition before doing anything."
taking in the surrounds..

view from the canal boat en route to Siem Reap