29 March 2013

Which wat is that?

After twenty four hours in Phnom Penh and Siam Reap it is very difficult to know what wat is what. A wat is a temple - a Buddhist one. This is not just in Cambodia, wat's are Buddhist temples in Thailand and Nepal and Laos as well. 

In Siam Reap - where I am now - they are everywhere.

Siam Reap is a north Cambodian city close to the World Heritage listed Angkor Wat complex. Angkor Wat is a 1000 year old city of temples that was built by the Khmer people. There are dozens and dozens of both crumbling and preserved temples enshrouded - and in some cases - engulfed by the jungle. It is a sight to behold. 

It really is.

My driver and guide for my stay in Cambodia is Johhny. He is the younger brother of Rambo who I had initially booked and found on the Internet. Rambo had another gig and so he called in his little brother Johhny to be my driver and guide. I didn't mind.

I like Johhny a lot.

Johnny met me at Phnom Penh airport. He had a sign with my name on it. Johnny’s air conditioned car whipped me to my hotel in the city. I had made a reservation at the Raffles Hotel. It is obviously not the same Raffles Hotel as the one in Singapore but there is some connection. The Raffles hotel in Phnom Penh is a very beautifully maintained building from the mid nineteenth century. It is grand and opulent. It is classy colonial.

Sir Stamford Raffles is best known as being the Founder of Singapore - where I live. English historians often refer to him as the "Father of Singapore". I doubt very much that the Chinese and Malay ethnic Singaporeans would refer to him as such.

Prior to serving as the Governor of Singapore for the British occupiers of the Island, Raffles worked for the British East India Company. They were the mega global wholesale traders of their time.

When Raffles was Governor of Singapore he cracked down on the illicit opium trading activities that were rife on the Island. Raffles shut the trade and the opium dens down. The British made a fortune off the opium industry though out the nineteenth century. They were a monopoly cartel. They were wholesale smack dealers. Raffles cleaned it up though in Singapore.

The first temple I went to today was called Beng Mealea. It was a two hour drive from Siam Reap. Rambo drove me to Beng Mealea. I already knew Rambo's brother Johhny quite well after our long drive yesterday to Siam Reap from Phnom Penh. I know that he is one of six brothers and there are also two sisters in the Rambo and Johhny family. Rambo is the eldest brother and there is another one named Tony who lives in Germany - with his German wife. Johnny has a law degree and he is the father of an eighteen month old baby. Johhny’s girlfriend is his high school sweetheart. Johhny told me that he is waiting for a position to open up in the Cambodian government so he can work as a human rights lawyer but in the meantime he is working for his brother Rambo.

Both Johhny and Rambo are very nice blokes.

The word Beng Mealea is Khmer for "Lotus pond." The temple is a bit of a mystery. It is known that it was built sometime in the 12th Century under the reign of King Suravaman the Second but no-one seems to know exactly who constructed it. The temple was originally a Hindi temple but it became Buddhist sometime in the last 700 years. The temple grounds are very big and the jungle has now reclaimed much of it. Huge tree roots have cut through the walls and rubble. There were the echoes of jungle birds shrieking while I was there and it was very hot and steamy but it was eerie and ancient and a wonderful place to be.

Here is a picture of a very small part of it:

The Beng Mealea temple has only been accessible to tourists like me over the past couple of years. During the 1970's the Khmer Rouge littered the area with land mines. There is a large sign just outside the access track declaring that the area has been cleared of all explosive devices.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre was established in the year 2000 to enact a program of landline clearance. Cambodian Mine Action Centre have declared that they estimate there was in excess of five million anti personnel land mines laid by the Khmer Rouge across Cambodia. Much of it is still unfound and unexploded and casualties occur on a daily basis. These casualties occur mostly amongst farmers and children. It is horrific. Here is the sign saying how many mines were cleared in the Beng Mealea temple area. 

I had a walk around where many hundreds of mines were found and cleared and I felt quite safe.

I have seen many stupa and pagoda today. My use of these terms is plural and not singular. When a word ends in the letter 'a' you may use them this way. 

One stupa, two stupa, three pagoda, four. 

Pavlova is another example of such a word. A pavlova is a delicious but very-difficult-to-make-properly Australian dessert. I can make a very good one but I cheat because I use something called a pavlova magic egg. I just add water and sugar to the mixture that is contained within the pavlova magic egg and then I cook it very slowly in an oven set at a very low temperature. 

Here is a picture of a pavlova:

I also ate Amok today for my lunch. I asked Rambo what the national dish of Cambodia was and he told me it was amok. The English use the same term to describe a state of madness that is associated with uncontrollable rage. The term is most commonly used in the expression 'to run amok'.

The Cambodian national dish Amok was delicious. It is a slow-cooked fish curry served inside a green coconut. I could taste coriander and papaya and lemongrass in a rich fish sauce with big hunks of white fish. 

I ate it all.

Here is a picture of the amok that I ate. There is also a picture of me eating it and then a further picture of me with an empty coconut shell. It is all pictorial evidence of me eating my amok.

I have also seen many statues and stone and wooden carvings today. I have seen many phallus which the ancient Khmer people seemed to be fond of making and displaying. The phallus were made of both stone and wood. Phallus are enormous penis-shaped sculptures that were created to portray fertility and power. These are common decorations found in the wats of both the Hindi and Buddhist faiths.

Both practices teach that the world was created in a type of birthing following a galactic consummation. The phallus or dick is essential in this consummation – as is the vagina.

It is a very loving big bang theory. 

I think it is nice.

The phallus that I saw today reminded me of my brother Richard. I was reminded of Richard not just because he has a big dick - but primarily because I wrote about it recently and my mum got upset. Actually I didn't write about it - I just mentioned it. I think my Mum got upset because I wrote about it and not by the fact that he has it. Even when I reassured her that my brother Richard liked the fact that I wrote about it she still seemed a bit upset.

Anyway, that's why I was reminded of my brother Richard - when I saw the phallus. 

Don't worry I am not going to put a picture of my brother's phallus on here. I haven't got one and I certainly do not want one. Sorry Mum but he really does like me writing about it though. 

Ask him yourself.

Interestingly phallus is also one of those words that are both singular and plural - like stupa and pagoda and pavlova.

Even though it doesn't end with the letter 'a'.

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