A blog about writing, reading, travelling and great characters I meet in life. I love these things more than cheese-on-toast times trampolines times monkeys.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Playtime and laughter in Battambang, Cambodia

The bus journey to Battambang sets the tone...

A Cambodian comedy programme is showing on the bus - Super Mario meets the Chuckle Brothers...

The whole bus is watching and laughing. This woman is literally screaming with laughter at the show - she's brilliant...

Even the bus driver is watching as he drives along the highway...

We swim into Battambang...

Next day, I take the bamboo train out to a village...

This is the bamboo train driver - turns out, he's a speed demon...

We're flying so fast we're about to bump the train in front...

Oops, cow on the line...

What happens when a bamboo train comes from the other direction? Easy, just lift one of the trains off the track...

We arrive at a small village - the village kids jump on board and playtime starts...

This boy looks too cool for school at first...

But then he does his Superman impression...

At the kids' table, we make clay pigs and grasshoppers...

The village twins ask me to play spot the difference...

If in doubt, stick a clay pig's head to your face while nobody's watching...

Then act completely natural...

Friday, 20 May 2011

A dragonfly, a butterfly and the one dollar-bees of Cambodia

First, there’s a dragonfly...

He lands in the grass at Angkor Wat. He balances on a blade of dry grass. His head is a small bead. His body is a yellow and black jellybean.

Next, a butterfly lands in Ta Keo temple...

She flutters around me on the steep temple steps. I almost fall as I follow her in the sky. She lands again on the temple wall.

Then there are hundreds of one dollar-bees...

The knee high fliers of Siem Reap.

The temple traders.

The sun-baked sellers.

The joke-tellers.

The one-dollar bees survive on the American dollar.

They fly from person to person, searching for their paper pollen.

I listened out for the collective voice of the one dollar-bees – the children of the Siem Reap temples, three years upwards, who half speak and half sing to you as they sell baskets of bracelets and books, postcards and scarves, magnets and drinks, dresses and flutes...

The sound of the one dollar-bees

One for one dollar, one for one dollar, buy postcard, buy bracelet, buy fan, you buy flute, only one dollar, one for one dollar, how much you want for only one dollar, please lady buy, two for one dollar, cold drink for you and for your driver, lady for you, buy scarf or buy two, one for three dollar, bag for five dollar, you no have a magnet, buy magnet or two, one for one dollar, buy from me two, you buy from my friend, why you no like me, please buy from me too.

Where you come from lady? You come from England, I come from my Mum, you go to the temple and when you come out, please don’t forget me, I wait for you here, buy postcard from me, ten for one dollar, look lady look, ten for one dollar: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, nung, song, sam, si, ha, ho jed, bad, kow, sip, un, deux, trois, quatre, cinque, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix...

One for one dollar just for one dollar only one dollar lady one dollar, lady buy shirt, lady buy dress, lady buy hat, lady bye bye.

My purchases from the one dollar-bees at the Siem Reap temples

5 x weave bracelets, 5 x bead bracelets, 1 x shirt, 1 x bag, set of 6 chopsticks, 2 x set of 10 postcards, 1 x dress, 1 x wooden flute, 1 x fridge magnet, 1 x fan, 1 x scarf, 5 x cold drinks, 1 x coconut, donations for photographs.

Anyone want a set of chopsticks?

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Shyness and passion - I can relate

Finding a balance between shyness and passion is a paradoxical challenge in my life – particularly when it comes to relating to people I really like. I’m a hedgehog and Tigger at the same time. A dark blue coat with shiny red lining. It’s often lots of fun to be this way, but it can be confusing too!

So when I met artist and writer, Basile Morin, in Don Det – I asked him to produce an ambigram design of SHYNESS and PASSION. Ambigrams are one of Basile’s artistic specialities – they are word designs which read the same when turned through 180 degrees.

Basile describes ambigrams as puzzles – ‘they are a bridge between the two words,’ he says.

For me, this idea of designing a bridge between shyness and passion is perfect - as it’s the delicate balance between shyness and passion that leads to serenity in my life.

I’d love to hear from people who have experienced shyness and passion in their life or relationships - so please post a comment if you relate to this.

And check out Basile’s website – www.ambigrammes.com – other ambigram designs include:
- amour / haine (love / hate)
- acheter / vendre (buy / sell)
- salut / adieu (hi / bye)

Basile has even created a design for Friedrich Nietzsche - I bet he’d have a few things to say about shyness and passion!

Thursday, 12 May 2011

On temple safari in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat at sunrise. The start of my 'temple safari' in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Exploring the 401 square kms of temples thrills like the search for lions or giraffes in the wild. I'll try to restrict myself to brief facts in this piece - otherwise I could overdose on superlatives.

Angkor Wat was created in the 12th century in King Suryavarman II's reign. It took 37 years to build - Cambodians call it the eighth wonder of the world. Immediately I see Angkor Wat, I understand why.

Angkor Wat's lotus shaped towers are symbols of heaven.

The three main towers at Angkor Wat represent Hindu gods Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.

Angkor Wat's five central towers are shaped like the five on a dice - this is the Hindu configurement.

50,000 people built Angkor Wat. The temple survived the cultural obliteration carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime in 1970s. 50,000 monks were killed in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. In total, almost 2 million people died in Pol Pot's genocide.

Angkor Wat is the world's largest religious structure. The sandstone used to construct the temple was transported down Siem Reap river, then carried by elephants to the temple site.

Inside Angkor Wat, I explore long corridors, walking in the footsteps of God Kings.

I come across an eight handed statue representing Vishnu inside Angkor Wat.

There are hundreds of metres of bas-relief, this one depicting the descent to Hell - these wall engravings cover the corridors inside Angkor Wat, showing ancient battles between Gods and demons.

A moat surrounds Angkor Wat - 1300m x 1500m - the water symbolises purification, life and protection.

Angkor Wat is said to be the peak of Khmer architecture in Cambodia.

Tuon shows me round the temples. Tuon is my rent-a-brain for the 3 day temple safari - he knows the answers to hundreds of questions I ask. Tuon enjoys writing about the temples and sharing his knowledge with visitors. He is very proud of the Siem Reap temples for surviving the Khmer Rouge regime - Tuon tells me that his immediate family were the only survivors in their village of the Khmer Rouge. All their friends and wider relations were murdered in the late 1970s.

Tuon takes me to Angkor Thom next, the Great City, home to 1 million people in the 12th century, when London and Paris had a mere 30,000 inhabitants each. We go through the gate to the Angkor Thom complex - 54 Gods and 54 demons line the entrance.

Angkor Thom was built in 12th to 13th century in King Jayavarman 7th's reign. It took 39 years to build and it represents the unification of Hinduism and Buddhism in Cambodia.

On the towers of the Bayon temple in the Angkor Thom complex, King Jayavarman 7th's commanding faces overlook his ancient Great City.

The King's face is depicted three ways on the Bayon towers:
1) eyes closed: representing meditation
2) one eye open, one eye closed: representing the idea there are always two ways in life - the positive and the negative, life and death
3) both eyes open: representing the King's love for his people

This relief at the Bayon temple shows a maternity scene. King Jayavarman 7th built 102 hospitals and 121 travellers' rests in Cambodia for his people.

At the Bayon temple in Angkor Thom, I step through crumbling door frames. It's like climbing into ancient picture frames to explore the past.

A group of Hindu dancers light up the Bayon temple.

In the Angkor Thom complex, I am blessed by a Buddhist Nun. She removes my sins (thanks) and wishes me good luck on my travels.

The Buddhist Nun ties red thread around my wrist as she blesses me. I love her kind face.

A Cambodian man sits in front of Buddha. I like his shiny black trousers - stylish as well as spiritual.

Next, the Baphuon temple in the Angkor Thom complex. Baphuon is known as the world's largest jigsaw puzzle as it was meticulously reconstructed, stone by stone. On this wall is a 70m x 9m reclining Buddha.

The shade of tall trees in the Angkor Thom complex is welcome.

Phimeanakas temple in the Angkor Thom complex is a pyramid-shaped Hindu temple.

We come to two enormous swimming pools in Angkor Thom. Tuon tells me that the large pool (45m x 125m) was for women and the small pool (25m x 45m) was for men. Then Tuon tells me that's because the King had 500 wives and 3000 concubines. I wonder if the King knew all their names.

A Buddhist monk blesses (soaks) a Cambodian family.

Then on to Ta Keo temple, dedicated to the God King and Shiva the destroyer.

Ta Keo is 65 metres high, representing the ascent to Heaven.

The steps in Ta Keo temple are very narrow and steep, representing the difficult journey to get to Heaven.

During construction in the 10th century, lightning struck this temple, taken to be an omen - so it was never completed.

My first glimpse of Ta Prohm temple is this gate into the 'jungle temple'. King Jayavarman 7th built Ta Prohm to honour his mother.

My guide Tuon and my driver Loch can't wait to show me this temple. They are really excited for me, which I appreciate!

Inside the jungle temple, there are spung trees with silver bark.

I walk the path beside the temple walls.

Inside Ta Prohm, Tuon tells me that this temple represents the four states of mind of the King - kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity. Nice guy.

500 year old trees are inside Ta Prohm, that's as old as Shakespeare.

Here's the door featured in the movie Tombraider - a swarm of tourists queue to have their photo taken here.

This is the view up the Tombraider tree - Angelina Jolie woz 'ere.

The temple towers inside Ta Prohm are open to Heaven above, in deference to the Gods.

An apsara dancer peeks through tree roots.

Elephant and snake shaped tree roots at Ta Prohm - nature is the best designer.

A seed lands 500 years ago and today there is a wooden waterfall of roots that spill down the temple wall.

Next, the world's largest swimming pool - fancy a dip?

The five towers of Prasat Kravan, originally a Hindu temple, are now said to represent unification of five religions in Cambodia.

Pre Rup temple, this is the view up the crematorium tower, where Kings and priests were cremated.

Banteay Srei, lady temple, citadel of women.

Monuments and wall engravings at Banteay Srei are dedicated to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva and their wives.

Even the cafe at Banteay Srei is built to please - I want bamboo ceilings in my garden!

East Mebon temple - 2 metre elephants stand in each corner of the temple. Thousands of working elephants transported the sandstone, laterite and brick used to make this temple.

The wall detail at East Mebon temple.

Ta Som, constructed in 12th to 13th century - the five towers inside represent Buddha.

A 300 year old tree inside Ta Som.

Neak Pean temple - this water temple is said to lead to nirvana - can I go please?

Around Neak Pean temple.

Finally, I visit Phnom Bakheng, the mountain temple, home of Shiva the destroyer. There are 108 towers here, a holy and happy number. You can just see the towers of Angkor Wat in the distance.

The floor of Phnom Bakheng - mind the gaps.

A monk waits for sunset - he perches on the edge. And I think that there are still dozens more Angkor temples - I have only scratched the surface of the Cambodian temple experience.

The sun sets at Phnom Bakheng.

That night, I meet up with writers Megan and Ally - they're writing about their travels and working on novels. They are about to start their temple safari the next morning. We buy a 3 dollar juice each to steal an hour at a fancy Siem Reap hotel. I put my temple feet up on the comfy sun lounger. And dip my legs in the pool.

And I allow myself to explode with adjectives as I tell Megan and Ally about my experience of the temples - ASTOUNDING, BRILLIANT, CREATIVE, DRAMATIC, EXCITING, FANTASTIC, GREAT, HUMBLING, INNOVATIVE, JAW-DROPPING...

I could go on.

And on.

But I think you get the picture.