Monday, September 8, 2014

Temples! And (light) philosophy ramblings!

I've specifically avoided writing these past few days because I fear from all that I've seen and heard and done in such a short time, that it may be quite impossible to do it justice in words and pretty pictures. I mean, how exactly does one describe getting in their first motorcycle accident on the way to a Christian church next to an alligator farm? Even stranger, what if I don't have the words to describe what it's like to wake up to a strange child crawling underneath the floorboards of my room? How can I describe how majestic Angkor Wat is but also at the same time try to avoid making someone sick when I give mention to the gallons of sweat that poured, no, exploded and LEAKED from every pore of my body when the humidity soared past 95% and little old, Washington-weathered me, tried hist best to climb to the top of some crazy tall towers without suffering from heat stroke? And finally, on a much more serious note, how do I describe what I see and experience, past the fun Facebook photos (which only show the fun! and exciting! times and certainly none of the "bad") and the picturesque adventurer life and the 50 cent beers (think foreign Pabst. Ugh, but come on, how can you pass up 50 cent beer?), in a country that has such poverty that is crushing, prevalent, and strangely enduring all at the same time without diving into pages and pages of rants about failing systems and why I am sometimes ashamed to be a white, privileged, sheltered American?

Well, I guess the best I can do is try, right? Good, because you dear reader, are going to get all that and more. You might agree, you might not, but I hope you keep an open mind, because I do my best to do it as well.

So first off, let's talk temples, alright (at least for this post)? Everyone loves temples! Granted, the majority of us probably have a cultural, political, and religious understanding of monuments gleaned pretty much from either Tomb Raider or Temple Run or Indiana Jones (I know I did). Mr. Small, still as kind as ever, took me on his personal tuk-tuk tour and man, was it more than I could have ever hoped for and more.

The reason I chose Siem Reap first on my trip is very simple: I love temples and climbing things and anything really, really ancient. Also, no surprise, I'm pretty fascinated by religions. First Hindu, then Buddhist temples with a mysterious past that is part history and part myth? Count me in. But I'm not going to bore you with facts about Angkor Wat and the surrounding monuments. That's what Wikipedia is for. What I want to try to do is explain the feeling you get when you touch something, when you climb something, when you feel apart of something that is ancient and old and holy (edit - total lie! I begin to ramble in exactly three sentences). You suddenly feel very small and you realize the scope of the world and how each one of us is such a small part of the story. It's surreal to imagine what the conversations were like more than a thousand years ago in the places I stood. 

Quick side-story (edit - yep, here we go. Sorry).
While climbing through Ta Phrom, I came upon a rather dark four way crossing. In the middle of the crossing, was a rather dilapidated Buddha statue, the top of his head shining ever so slightly from a purposelessly made hole in the roof, I guess today's equivalent of a sunroof. Besides this statue, sat a women who quite honestly looked older than the ruins I was in. She was murmuring something indecipherable. Next to her, another tourist, was bowed in prayer before the statue. I came closer and the woman handed me a lit incense stick. I thanked her and paused.

"Uh, so, now what?" I wanted to ask.

I certainly don't worship Buddha and have no need to pray to him. But when in Rome Siem Reap, right? So I put my incense in the little ashtray thing and got on my knees. I sent off a little prayer to no one in particular and got back up. The woman motioned me closer before I could take off and wrapped a red bracelet around my wrist. And then, and only then, is when I choked up and tears started to form. Which is crazy, because the temples, as awe-inspiring as they were, never did that. Though they should have because they were as majestic and as sexy as they were in my dreams and in the movies. The temples themselves made me think and wonder and imagine, but this tiny band given by this frail woman made me not only think, but it made me feel.

This woman, older than dirt, is here everyday, doing the same thing, everyday, for God/Buddha knows how many years, because she believes in it with her entire heart.

I thought to myself: do I have anything in my life that I'm that passionate about? Do I have something so important that I would drop everything in my life to follow it/her/them?

The answer is: I do, I just haven't gotten the courage to do it.

And it got me thinking even more, not just about passion and commitment to a belief system, but passion and commitment to anything in life. Sometimes, I spread myself so thin that I don't give anything its due attention (binge watching some horrible show on Netflix/Amazon Prime does not count). When have I ever given enough time to the things that matter most in my life? Isn't that what were supposed to be doing with our time anyways?

So, short answer to what the temples and this woman taught me: Patience. Passion. And commitment. Also, more bluntly, that I need to stop half-assing things in my life. Be it relationships to learning French to finishing that almost-done novel just chilling and taunting me on my home computer.

I need to be more like this woman. I need to be more more like these temples.

As one of my favorite essays explains, I need to keep "thinking like a mountain."

Or rather, in this instance, a temple.

But, I digress. Back to temples!

Go see them. Sweat like I did. Climb as many steps as well.
And, please, don't forget to grab that bracelet from that woman.
She'll still be there when you get here.
I don't know much, but I can promise you that much.


  1. I feel like we just had a cup of coffee around this story. Keep them coming!

  2. Best. Blog. Ever. I'm so excited for you.

  3. Lively and very honest text! What is that book you started but not yet finished ?

    1. It's a mystery novel. Its' pretty much done (it's about 250 pages), I just need to go through it and correct all the spelling, grammar, and logistical errors. Which takes forever and is really, really, super boring. I need to do it though because it's driving me insane that I keep putting it off! :)