March 1, 2013
Christof was unhappy with our hotel last night where, because it was hot and humid and without air-conditioning due to the power shortage, he was unable to sleep. First thing this morning he decides that we’re moving and after checking out of our hotel, using the lack of electricity as an excuse for leaving, we transfer our bags to a wonderfully elegant hotel (with a generator) where we intend to spend the next two nights. An attractive receptionist dressed in a traditional sampot, a long silk wrap-around-skirt created out of a length of patterned silk, and similar to a sari, worn with a matching top, orders us a three-wheel taxi for a tour of Angkor Wat.
Wat= temple and Angkor =city, quite literally the temple city city, was constructed mainly during the 12th century in the middle of the jungle, is awe inspiring and due to its size and multitudinous structures, a daunting Heritage Site that is impossible to see on one single day. We barely scratch the surface of this archeological treasure, and glean only a superficial first impression of its magnitude, which is the reason I’ve included an excerpt from Marilia Albanese’s wonderful book The Treasures Of Angkor.
Our friendly young driver ferries us to the ancient city five and a half kilometers outside of Siem Reap, dropping us off in front of diverse temple sites spread across 400 square kilometers, while patiently waiting for our return.
Every time we leave the protected sphere of his three wheeler, we’re immediately encircled by groups of locals peddling guide books, books on Cambodian History, post cards, tourist souvenirs, scarves and cheap clothing, and who are as troublesome and aggressive as a swarm of blood-thirsty mosquitoes. Although we’re aware of their need, their pushy sales tactics force us to swat them away like pests, although at one point we do buy two books from a vendor, unwittingly sending signals to all the other hawkers in the area, who instantly surround us like vultures, begging us in whiny voices to buy something from them,
– Just a dollar miss, good Cambodian silk, a gorgeous highly pregnant teenager wheedles in a pathetic tone of voice, holding out an armful of scarves that are obviously synthetic, and instantly destroying the sympathy her good looks and condition inspire.
– 10 post cards for a dollar, calls out a tiny, bare-footed girl holding up packages of 10 postcards that cleverly unfold into one long line and, as a purchase bonus, eagerly recites her numbers in English,
– 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, and changes smoothly to German at Christof’s request,
– eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs sieben,acht, neun, zehn.
As a five or six-year-old free lance business girl, she has no time for superfluous luxuries like school attendance. For this reason tourists have been requested to donate to charitable organizations instead of buying directly from children, who, if they are successful, will be kept at home by parents dependent on their income.
Her little friends and competitors, who have an instantaneous sixth sense of when and where a colleague has scored a ‘hit’, immediately surround us in a tight circle, badgering us to buy something from them,
– Miss only a dollar, an even smaller brown girl whines holding out a horrible looking plastic Buddha.
– No dear child, I say with a firmness I don’t feel, today I’m only buying these cards.
Realizing from experience – she’s about six years old – that this sale isn’t progressing and is swimming away from her, she reaches into her basket and adds another Buddha to the first one,
– Two for two dollars, she wheedles winsomely.
When I shake my head she adds a third one to the other two.
– Three for two dollar,
As we turn to walk towards the temple her voice trails after us,
– Four for two dollar. . .