Thursday, July 21, 2005

We Are All Temple Photographers

I embraced my role as the American Tourist today by visiting the
temples. N hired a driver for me, one of Da's friends. He was supposed
to pick me up at 5 AM this morning, so I could see the sunrise at Angkor
Wat. He arrived at 5:30ish and I saw the sunrise from the back of his
motor bike over the rice paddies. It was sudden (as it always is in the
tropics) but the air was cool and was running happily through my hair.
The first glimpse I saw of the Angkor Wat wasn't very impressive, a
few towers rearing over a large reflecting pool. Then as my driver
turned the corner, I saw the whole thing, all five giant towers, one for
each peak of the legendary Mount Meru, home of the Hindu Pantheon. The
giant causeway was peopled with tourists who just enjoyed the sunrise.
Most of them looked rather irrate, so I wasn't sure if it was all that.
I was stopped at the entrance by a guard who wanted to see my ticket.
I produced it, and he let me on. The complex is huge; outer courtyard
that lead to inner courtyards that lead to pyramids, that lead to steep
stairs that lead to tiny, peaked shelters at the very top. Each of the
6 temples I visited followed that plan. All the big western tourists,
were there, in addition to busloads of Japanese, and each one (including
myself) had their camera strapped to their body, ready to capture the
Check out this link to see another tourist's impressions:

I am absulutely these are completely typical of what everyone was
shooting. It was quite lovely, the designers arranged it so you go
through all these doorways that are perfectly aligned with other
structures, so the next scene is framed for you. Exactly like a
well-composed comic. The six I visited were variations on the theme.
One was very tall, and you climbed so high, you were above the jungle
tree tops. Another one was very tiny and falling apaprt. Another one
was more intimate and magical. There was one that had elephants carved
into the outer fence. A huge head-gate guarded one complex, we had to
wait our turn to drive through, and once we did, we were greeted by a
series of 20 portrait heads that made up the balustrade of the street.
Each face was different, yet completely Khmer.
We spent a lot of the time on the back of the motorbike, buzzing
through endless villages and rive paddies. The roads were lined with
little vendors. Each time we disembarked, we were greeted by a posse of
scarf/book/cold water sellers. They were very agressive, and I
practiced my "no."
Around 1:30 I had had enough. I lost my scarf, I could feel my skin
burning, I was bone tired from the endless climbing and I wanted to get
away from the sellers. I asked my driver to head for home. He said I
shouldn't go without seeing Ta Phrom (spelling?). We drove to it, and
it was huge. I told him I really wanted to go home, so he settled for
cruising slowly around the outside.
I took a lot of pictures of the door frames, of the guard-babes, the
sweepers, the big trees, the villages, the pagoda, the piles of garbage,
the textures, the tourists and the workmen. I figured all the
picturesque photos had already been taken a million times, so I
concentrated on the funky scenes that people were ignoring.

because its all really about sex

N.B. The temples were dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, who is
symbolized by a giant penis, called a "linga." Many surfaces of the
temples are decorated with topless, large-breasted nymphs, called
"apsaras." When the Buddhists took over the temples a while back, they
filled in many of the doorways, removed the lingas, and replaced them
with buddhas. So instead of open penis-sanctuaries at the tops of the
pyramids there are these dank little closets with shrines and statues to
buddha. I got conned into buying insense and bowing (it was 6 AM! I
had no idea what the man was pushing into my hand!) to a Vishnu (a
survivor of the hindu-hazings) with a saffron robe (I suppose he
converted). True confession.

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