Thoughts on Independence Day

So today is American Independence Day, a splendid holiday in my opinion. To celebrate the greatness that is our country, we get to eat tons of food, drink cold beverages, and shoot off all kinds of explosive devices (some legal, some not). If you’re especially lucky, you get to eat my mom’s pulled pork and Mississippi Mud. What could be better?

While I guess I’m not especially lucky this year, I’m not too bad off, as we’re actually hanging out with a college friend in Siem Reap, and attending a Fourth of July party with her. There will be food, drinks, and fun, but I’m not so sure about fireworks. So I guess I need you to shoot off a few extra Roman candles for me. And while you send explosives into the sky and try to avoid singing off your eyebrows or burning down your neighbor’s house, take a minute to reflect on all the things that you probably take for granted, but which trust me, should make you feel lucky that you live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. For instance:

*Western-style toilets–a throne with a seat, water in the bowl, a flushing mechanism that doesn’t require buckets of water, and toilet paper (that can be thrown into the toilet!).

*The right to wear whatever you want, even if I think you probably shouldn’t.

*Cheese in its many delicious incarnations.

*The right to make your opinion heard without fear that you could end up dead or “disappeared”.

*Laws that require your parents to send you to school rather than send you out on the streets to sell postcards, bracelets, or even worse, yourself.

*Tex-Mex food. Barbecue. Summer evening cookouts.

*The right to choose your own partner (even if, unfortunately, not all Americans are given the right marry them) and to decide whether or not you’ll have children and how many you’ll have.

*Drinkable water straight from the tap.

*A culture that believes women are as valuable as men, that the color of your skin doesn’t dictate what you can or cannot do, and that anyone can grow up to be President.

Now go celebrate the USA and set the sky (and nothing else, please) on fire! Happy 4th of July!

Too Many Temples

There’s really too many temples in the complex of the temples of Angkor. Trying to plan a trip is pretty mindblowing. Especially when you try to start factoring in the weather (which wears you out in a minute) and the light to catch the best temples at the best time of day. You could spend more time planning where to go than doing it.

We took two very busy days to visit the temples, as many as we could cram in. We exhausted ourselves from sunrise at Angkor Wat to a late afternoon visit to Ta Prohm. We occupied ourselves with the main temples (and that should tell you something, if that took us two full days). What’s incredible about the temples is not so much their sheer size and scope, but the detail with which every nook and cranny is filled. Angkor Wat, for example, is covered floor to ceiling with galleries depicting Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

Every wall is filled with Apsara (celestial dancers) imagery.

Angkor Wat itself is impressive, but we found a few other temples more to our liking.

My favorite was Ta Prohm, a temple in the process of disintigrating into the forest. Big, beautiful trees grew through and around everything. It was best when we went back late in the afternoon when the tour groups had left and the light was softer.

Theresa’s favorite was Banteay Srei, an ornate and beautiful reddish sandstone temple with intricate and expressive carvings. It was rather small, but it definitely embodied the quality over quantity mantra.

The other particularly impressive temples and buildings are centered inside Angkor Thom, a large wall encircling an entire city worth of temples. Five gates lead in, four in the cardinal directions and one Victory Gate also in the east.

At the center is the Bayon, another temple full of faces and intricacies galore.

Just north of the Bayon are the Terrace of the Elephants, very aptly named considering it is a terrace containing tons of bas reliefs of near life size elephants, and the Terrace of the Leper King, which is less clearly named and a more confusing story.

And the thing about Angkor is there were plenty of other temples we visited that we didn’t talk about here, and even so, there were plenty of temples that we didn’t have time to visit. The complex is that vast. And that impressive. And that astounding.