The sunrise on our second morning at Angkor Wat, beautiful as it was, didn’t compare to the day before, and on the temple grounds afterwards Marie and I once again came up empty in our search for monks and monkeys.
After sunrise Mr. Hart drove us to Banteay Srei, a Hindu temple on the outskirts of the Ankgor complex. Banteay Srei’s stone carvings are impressive, but we happened to get there just as several Japanese and Chinese tour buses opened their doors and unleashed an oppressive sea of humanity. We escaped, but the trauma lingers.
On the way back from Banteay Srei we checked out a couple more temples and then stopped for lunch.
I often hear travelers – especially Europeans and Australians – comment on how disengaged we Americans seem to be with our political process. Many times I’ve heard people who live in other countries say some version of, “The Americans we meet know less about American politics than we do.”
That afternoon in Angkor a 13-year-old Cambodian girl provided some convincing support for that claim. In our hotel room the night before, Marie and I happened to have CNN on the TV and one of the newscasters mentioned the Tea Party. “What do you think about the Tea Party?” I asked Marie.
“The what?” she said.
“The Tea Party. You know, the conservative political movement in the U.S.?”
“Never heard of it.”
I paused to digest this. “You’ve never even heard of it?”
“I don’t really follow current events.”
OK, we all have gaps in our knowledge that seem shocking to others. But I couldn’t resist digging around a little to assess the scope of this particular gap. I told Marie I’d start with a ridiculously easy question. “Who is the Vice President of the United States?”
Silence. Embarrassed laughter. “I know his name,” she said. “I just can’t think of it right now.”
I think my jaw literally dropped. “Are you honestly telling me you don’t know who our country’s Vice President is right now?”
“If it was multiple choice I could get it.”
Too funny. Disturbing on a variety of levels, but still really funny. I kept going. “Do you know the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?” Nope. “Either of the two most recent Supreme Court appointments?” Nope. “Are you aware of any Americans being held against their will in the Middle East?” Laughter, but nope. As a graduate of the University of Michigan, I felt obligated to congratulate Marie on how well her education at Michigan State University had prepared her for the duties of citizenship.
Jump forward to the next afternoon… If you’re a tourist anywhere in the Angkor area, people are aggressively trying to sell you things – postcards, t-shirts, guidebooks, drinks, you name it. Many of the salespeople are kids, and at lunch that day a young girl toting a box of souvenirs approached me and Marie. “Where you from?” she asked.
“The United States,” we said, fully aware of where she was headed. The saleskids all used the same techniques and we knew what the next question would be.
“If I tell you capital of United States, you buy from me?”
“No, sorry,” I said. “But can you tell me the Vice President of the United States?”
“Joe Biden,” she said immediately.
How many times do you think Marie had to listen to me reference that story afterwards? When I finally stopped laughing, though, I asked the salesgirl a few more questions, and it was clear she was especially sharp. “What’s the capital of Iceland?”
“Reykjavik,” she answered, casually raising her eyebrows as if to say, “Too easy.” How many Cambodian teenagers know the capital of Iceland?
Marie and I toured a couple more temples after lunch before heading back to the hotel to cool down in the pool.
In spite of my relentless teasing, Marie graciously agreed to a third morning of pre-dawn photos at Ankgor Wat. The sky rewarded us with even more color than we had on the first day.
Even better, we stumbled across both Ms right after sunrise. First we ran into a monk who seemed to be involved in some kind of professional photo shoot. I had no qualms about tagging along.
And right after that we spotted a big group of monkeys running along Angkor Wat’s outer wall. Once again I shamelessly pressured Marie into approaching potentially rabid animals for the sake of a photo opportunity. “I have this package of cheese and crackers,” Marie said. “Should I give it to them?” Before I could answer all the monkeys suddenly began converging on Marie, who yelled something that sounded vaguely like “Eeeep!” as she threw the cheese and crackers into the air. I was facing the other way and saw only the little red cheese-spreading stick fly past.
By that point we’d visited all the major temples and many of the minor ones, so we returned to Bayon for another round of photos.
Many of the temples we visited had extremely steep steps. On the way up Marie and I moved at a similar pace, but on the way down Marie usually dropped back to implement something I called the “Three Points of Contact” (TPC) technique. When TPC had been initiated, three of her four limbs stayed in contact with something solid at all times. For the most part TPC helped Marie TCB (take care of business), but every now and then the stairs were so steep and narrow that even TPC wasn’t enough. And yes, when that happened I shot video instead of helping.
Classic TPC (Video)
TPC Meets Its Match (Video)
Dragging a little bit from the heat and our three consecutive pre-dawn wake-ups, we left the temples at mid-day and went back to the city for lunch. Happy Hour starts early in Siem Reap and we finished off our share of cheap Angkor drafts before heading to the hotel for a lazy afternoon by the pool.