May 26, 2010

Ends, Beginnings, and Angkor Thom

Yes, CWF Semester 15 has come and gone, and I have packed and moved out of the volunteer house. No more stir-fry, no more 6 AM class; but also, no more Khmer lessons, and no more volunteer coordinator to fix all problems. The fanfare of the student parties and the anxiety about a major change of routine gave way to excitement about a visitor from home, my boyfriend. He arrived in Phnom Penh after the CWF party, just in time to meet nearly everyone of importance and get a taste of my ex-pat life. The next day was one of the most surreal of my life. My boyfriend and I tuk tuked around Phnom Penh eating pork and rice, dodging the unruly traffic, and remembering how to act around each other.

Phnom Penh's chapter now closed, I found myself today on a cheap, rented bicycle pedaling around the temples of Angkor with my boyfriend, an advanced traveler. Angkor Wat is considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, and it is one of the largest religious structures ever built. The ancient Khmers, one of the largest and most advanced societies of the time, built this grand temple (and many others) deep in the jungles of present-day Cambodia. Left in varying stages of ruin until stumbled upon by a western explorer a few hundred years ago, these temples have become the lifeblood of the Cambodian tourism industry. The majesty of Angkor Wat is the pride of Cambodia, and the biggest money maker.

Meanwhile, back on my bike, I was trying to figure out how to justify not wanting to look inside any more temple ruins. My attitude toward ancient temple ruins goes something like this: they sorta all look the same to me, can I skip it and just get another cold drink? It seems that many of my friends (boyfriend included) have a strange invincibility when it comes to traveling. They can sleep whenever, wherever and for as long or short as they need to, they can eat and drink anything without getting sick, and they can walk, hike, bike, and explore for entire days without tiring. For me, the prospect of climbing around on uneven stones baking in 103 degree heat, full-sun is simply exhausting, unappealing even. After exploring the daunting awesomeness of the Bayon inside the walled city of Angkor Thom, and after strolling the elephant terrace, I was keen to go back to air conditioning, or at least ready for lunch. But, respecting the hefty entrance fee to the temple (and stuck on the far end of a loop of road), I staggered through a few more temples with patience and blood sugar waning, before slumping into a restaurant for a break. Welcome to Cambodia, boyfriend—here's your girlfriend with no make up and she's exhausted and irritable. You can't abandon ship because she's got the money. What are you going to do next?

After lunch, we continued biking along the Grand Circuit, a stretch of road that loops around to connect the temples. It turns out that the maps aren't drawn to scale, and that what we thought was going to be about an hour's ride, was more like three and a half...

A few gallons of water, one small argument, and an ice cream later, we were back at our hotel, worn thin (or at least a little less invincible) from a challenging day.