Thursday, January 18, 2007

Angkor management

As I attempted for Manila and Tokyo, I offer five things about Cambodia (or, more specifically, Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor).


1. The Khmers invented Poohsticks. You put an identifying mark on a coconut and drop it down the well at the Bayon. About a week later, it should reappear in the great lake of Tonlé Sap; if you spot it, good fortune will be yours.

2. Coolest cigarette brand in the world: Alain Delon.

3. In the centre of Siem Reap, local people (mostly, but not exclusively, women) peddle second-hand books from carts. It's the usual mix of guidebooks, lurid volumes documenting the foul excesses of the Pol Pot regime, and the tome that now appears to be compulsory reading in the backpacky community: Mr Nice, by Howard Marks. Each cart has a large placard attached, giving a potted biography (in English, sometimes also in French) of the seller: name; age; number of children; disabilities and illnesses of any family members (polio, landmines, etc). It's difficult to know whether the details are accurate but, as spin doctors now tend to put it, the narrative is plausible. I think of the tart cards left in London phone boxes, and immediately feel guilty that I've made such a connection. But do you get my point?

4. Avoid the superficially charming monkeys of Angkor Wat. They climb trees and throw coconuts at innocent tourists. Bastards.


5. Most of the temples have been reclaimed from the jungle, but at Ta Prohm the trees have been allowed to take over. As a result, the stones are constantly shifting position; the tree trunks, meanwhile, seem petrified, a little like stalagmites. The whole place seems to sum up two key elements of Buddhist philosophy: anicca, the notion of impermanence; and the belief that existence is a never-ending cycle of life and death. It's not often that a man-made structure accidentally comes to embody the very concepts that it was built to commemorate.

12 comments:

dh said...

In my day "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja." was required reading. You can probably still find the odd soggy copy in the Tonle Sap.

Anonymous said...

It was worth reading this post for Alain Delon alone.
Never been to Cambodia but the temples look lovely.

llewtrah said...

The biographies of the book sellers make me think of the old hierarchy of beggars where they'd strap up legs or make fake boils to get more money/sympathy.

No copies of "Star of the Sea"? Every charity shop I've visited in the last few months has at least one copy of "Star of the Sea".

Tim Footman said...

dh: Oh yeah, several of those. Interminable prison memoirs, soft porn about bargirls, and for the real bottom-feeders, John Grisham.

realdoc: He's so cool, isn't he? (Although apparently he's a complete shit.) Have you seen Le Samouraï?

llewtrah: I really liked O'Connor's early stuff, then I drifted. Maybe I ought to go back.

Spinsterella said...

In my backpacking days (1999) It was Mr Nice by Howard Marks. He must be sitting on some nice royalties. Or perhaps it's still the same few copies going round and round again...

Billy said...

Looks good... I must go to Cambodia, I'd probably end up coming back with a library worth of books.

Anonymous said...

I love the cheeky monkeys. They have the right idea.

dh said...

Watchit. A friend of mine wrote one of those soft-core porn books. 'Losing the Plot' it's called. He may even have moved the genre up an intellectual notch or two.

Anonymous said...

Monkeys are always bastards.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't help thinking of a TV makeover programme pitch. A prominent 80's TV presentress would organize sponsorship and help to restore Ta Prohm to it's original glory. Working title "Challenge Anicca".
(sorry)

Anonymous said...

...not to mention apostrophe nightmare...

Tim Footman said...

Oh for crying out loud, Murph. That Chalky business has really pushed you over the edge, hasn't it?