Archive for the ‘Heritage tourism’ Category

Wounds apart

by Cindy Austin

This weekend I had some sort of stomach bug and today my tour guide, Yut, did too. As we hopped from temple to temple Yut’s face got more and more distorted. You could tell he was in pain by the way he clutched at his stomach and could barely make full sentences.

While stopped at one of the temples, Yut couldn’t show us around because he was in so much pain so we helped ourselves. When we got back to the bus, Yut showed us huge red marks, 10 inches long and 2 inches thick down his back. We gaped at the eight or 10 marks as he explained he had been “coined.”

While I was sick, I talked to my mother about what medicines she’d recommend as a nurse. I took the pills she prescribed and felt better after a while. Yut had talked to one of the ladies around the temple and she had offered to coin him, which meant taking a coin and scraping it up and down his back to “release the pain.”

I couldn’t help but compare our two approaches, but who knows which one works better.

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Alternate temple lesson

By Frances Micklow

As we jumped from crumbled ruin to crumbled ruin at the Beng Mealea Temple, I got a Khmer lesson from my guide and a member of the Apsera Society who helped us navigate through the piles of stone.

The Apsera Society helps preserve and protect the temples of Cambodia. They are considered the guardians of the temples. Our lady, dressed in an Apsera Society shirt and hat, quietly helped us as we made our way through the piles of rock.

Toward the end of our tour, we somehow got on the topic of numbers and counting. Excited to show off what Khmer I had learned, I began to count along.

Once we got to 10, the lesson began. Our Apsera Society friend kept counting, pausing after each number long enough for me to repeat. Yut, our guide, would periodically say the numbers in English if I looked lost.

By the time we were exiting out the South gate, we had counted all the way up to 50.

I smiled at my tutor. “Awkunh”

“Awkunh ch’ran,” she smiled back.

From travel writer to tourist

By Jayshri Patel
As much as I would have enjoyed the company, there were no eyes watching us as we drifted into Chong Kneas, a floating village on the Tonle Sap. The transition from three kilometers of trafficky tributary to a quite village of roughly 5000 people was abrupt and unexpected. Even more so unexpected was the silence.
“It’s eerie out here,” I said as I searched for some form of life in the village.
Soon enough, a young boy quietly paddled by in a metal basin no larger than two kitchen sinks. I was fascinated by this young child but he paid no attention to us; ironically, the photo I took of him will undoubtedly attract many.
By this point, the sense of being a travel writer had most definitively vanished. The people of Chong Kneas knew they were a spectacle, they were immune to tourists. And that is what we had become.
No one cared for our presence; our reception was rather unwelcoming. There were no hands waving at us as we made our way toward Koh Andeth Fish Farm. But what did I expect. These were real people, with real life-issues to deal with. Greeting strangers is the last thing they would think to do.

Hopping into a monk parade

By Beth Pollak

Fifteen soon-to-be monks. Fifteen horses. Countless parasols. Two ecstatic, running, American girls.

On the way to our tour of the Tonle Sap lake, the group’s five tuk-tuks were held up in traffic. Siem Reap’s streets are often crowded with vehicles, but coming to a standstill was a new experience – the drivers don’t even usually stop for stop lights or signs.

Up ahead, Elizabeth and I saw a grand procession of people. We were still about 400 yards back, but our fabulous driver sped up and passed other vehicles – by going on the other side of the road, of course, as is customary in Cambodia – to get us right behind the procession.

“What’s going on?” we asked Chhiev, our guide.

He explained that the men on horses were heading to a nearby temple to become monks. They rode horses to emulate Buddha. The parasols that covered them, as well as much of the clothing the paraders were wearing, were the same brilliant orange color that we’ve come to recognize as the shade of a monk’s robes.

“Can we get out?” Elizabeth and I asked Chhiev.

“Of course,” he said, as he stopped the tuk-tuk, and we sprinted out into the crowd, eyes wide and mouths smiling, our cameras snapping constantly.

Each man’s mother carried her son’s future robes on her head on the way to the temple. Four men pranced around in elaborate mascot-like costumes designed to look like large people. Revelers cheered and whooped as an old man yelled the traditional sayings of this type of celebration. All in all, the procession was loud, colorful and joyful.

The main show of my day occurred before we even reached our destination.

An unfinished story

By Jayshri Patel
I wasn’t dressed to visit a monk. In fact, I looked like I hadn’t showered in days. But despite my grubby appearance, the monk, Tapeh, tapped the mat in front of him, motioning me to sit with him.
He was a jolly character. He watched my every move and chuckled with a warm, tender-hearted smile. I felt obliged to return the happiness, and seen as we could not communicate verbally, we simply chuckled together.
In front of him was a dish with incense, a lighter, and one dollar in it. In his lap he held a book of palm leaves. Yes, palm leaves had come into my life again. In the middle of Angkor Wat I was out of place, but here on an island in West Baray Lake, surrounded by my friends, my fellow travel writers, I was asked to pick my fortune. I hesitated, but then figured that I was meant to inquire into my future.
Upon instruction, I prayed as I lifted the book of fortunes over my head. Then, I swept the pointer of the book over of edge of the pages. When I was ready, I wedged the pointer in between two pages to mark my fortune.
This I did twice because my first fortune was not the most positive. Our guide covered his face with has hands and said, “Try again, your work is maybe not very good in the future”.
Feeling the pressure, I concentrated as hard as I could and picked my second leaf. And this time, Tapeh joyfully laughed and gave me a thumbs up. I was excited. My destiny wasn’t all doom and gloom.
“Can you tell me exactly what he said?” I asked our guide.
There was no reply. Our guide could not translate this leaf! He said he did not know what the monk was saying in sanskrit.
Devastated, I sat in front of Tapeh and contemplated the inevitable ups and downs of my future; the message was clear. Sometimes, the future is suppposed to be left unsaid.

Sharing a greeting … and more

By Frances Micklow

Under the shade of the concrete-stilt house, on top of the dust-like, dirt-covered concrete floor, was a wooden frame. To a Westerner it was about the height of a coffee table and as big as a queen-sized bed. Across the frame were two-inch thick, weathered, wooden slats. This was a multifunctional piece of furniture for the family who lived in the house. It was a table, a mid-day resting place, and today, a seat for visitors.

The lady of the house spread out a mat of woven blue, yellow, and cream plastic fibers. She looked at me, looked at the mat,  motioned between myself and the mat, and then smiled. I gladly accepted the shaded seat, flanked on all sides by hammocks made of  blue nets, the family cows, and all the local children that had flocked to us, the outsiders.

After some of the other girls in the class and I were seated, the woman went around to each of us, placed her two palms together, slightly bowed, and said “cham reap sour.” I asked our guide what she was saying.

“How do you do,” he said. “It is the older, proper way that women greet.”

Touched by this woman’s hospitality and warmth, I practiced the Khmer phrase with my guide. Once I felt like I had mastered it, I turned to the woman. I placed my palms together, bowed, and said, “cham reap sour.”

The woman in the village and I shared both a greeting, a laugh and an understanding today.

Village hospitality

By Nicole Meadows

According to one travel guide about Cambodia, “life is centered on family, faith, and food.” We saw the heart of this in a visit to one of the guide’s home village.

Our bumpy tuk tuk ride on the wide dirt road, orange and corrugated, was like a victory parade. Almost every kid we passed waved and shouted “halloo” to us – sometimes unseen from behind the dry palm trees. I wondered what they associated with the sight of visitors like us. It seemed to be exciting things.

On our tour we were able to taste rice wine, which we were told is hard to make. Then we visited the stilted house of our guide’s mother, who makes rice noodles to sell at the market and to other villagers.

A cluster of concrete posts stood to the side of the yard, on hand for replacing the wooden pillars supporting the house when termites ate them away. Like a good ol’ barn raisin’, fixing a house is a community affair. By the strength of gathered neighbors, the house is lifted and the posts switched out. In payment, thanks and celebration, a meal and wine are shared.

We passed grandmother and aunt, both widowed nuns, and sister with her children. We stopped at a woman’s home where her relative taught English to students for $2 a month. Older women asked our guide why he had so many pretty girls with him and laughed, one touching a girl’s arm like it was a fine fabric.

A cloud of children gathered behind us and floated on the ground as we waited for fresh coconuts to drink the milk from. Our hostess sent her daughter to get a woven mat to cover the bed, which was wooden slats and long leaves, for us to sit on.

Some kids had necklaces of string with coin pendants. One young boy, with a droopy eye and swollen forehead, even wore a car key. These necklaces were protection from sickness.

Our coconuts were fresh – a teen scaled a palm tree and brought a clump down, then they used a machete to slice the tops off and make an opening. After handing out the “cococups” our hostess, who had held her kissing palms to the girls of the group with an old greeting, rushed away and back, bringing a bag of straws and making sure no one was left without one.

It may have been a side effect of our guide being in his own village, among his relatives and friends, but it felt like we were also visiting home on a special occasion.

How to approach a monk

By Jayshri Patel
“Your smile is all they need to see,” said Yiy Chhayleang (Chhay) when I asked him about bowing to a monk.
We were walking away from Ta Prom Temple down a serene and dusty path; saffron-robed monks illuminated the distance ahead of us. Kema and I were curious about how to approach, greet, acknowledge a monk. All we knew was that one should not make eye contact with a monk, and we both agreed that there had to be more to it. So, as budding travel writers, we asked.
Chhay gladly demonstrated. Walking a few feet in front us, as two monks passed by, Chhay calmly removed his hat, looked down at the ground, and bowed his head slowly. Excited and anxious to learn, Kema and I echoed Chhay’s actions.
I still feel that fleeting moment. My heart beating quickly. I tried to greet the monks the way Chhay did, to send them my respect, but when I bowed, my coordination went out the window. After skipping a step and almost dropping my hat, my eyes naturally sauntered up from the dirt path to the monks’ eyes–I was attempting to finish off my greeting and see if they had “received” my bow.
“How do I know that they have acknowledged me acknowledging them?” I asked after botching-up my greeting.
Chhay said that I do not need to worry about being acknowledged. He said the monks will do the seeing, and that all they need to see is my smile.
That’s when I decided that the trick to greeting a monk is to focus on what you should do rather than what you should not. This being said, here are five things to keep in mind when approaching a monk:
1. Do not try to avoid eye contact, just remember that monks generally do not look at others in the eyes
2. It is considered more respectful to a monk if you hold your pressed palms at forehead level.
3.  If you are wearing a hat, remove it and hold it at your chest with your right hand.
4. Look down at the floor, or at the feet of the monk, tilt your head toward the monk you are greeting, and bow slowly. A fast bow is interpreted as insincere.
5. Smile. We all smile in the same language.
If anything just remember, as Chhay delicately put it, “When you are bowing to a monk you are not being polite, you are being respectful.”

Amongst the ruins, spirits escape

By Frances Micklow

The once grand pieces of Ta Prohm lie scattered about the dusty ground like piles of a child’s building blocks left neglected. The blue sky provides stark contrast to the lichen covered and whether worn towers and dilapidated corridors. Tourist meander about in the same slow, snake-like way the tree roots have settled amongst the awe-inspiring structure.

Inside one of the towers still structurally sound enough to enter, my tour guide, Sina, instructed me to put my back against the left wall and pound my chest with my fist.

I took off my hat to take full advantage of the cool air and shade of the tower room. I placed my back against the smooth, cool stone of the chamber. I hit my chest. A loud and hollow series of booms resounded throughout my entire body and the entire chamber. It was the type of sound that can be both heard and felt.

The echo was the sound and feeling of the evil spirits leaving my body. “You beat out the evil spirits and bring happiness home,” Sena said.

And happiness is the sweetest souvenir I could bring home.

Choosing the right path

By Nicole Meadows

In the entrance yard of The Cambodia Land Mine Museum and Relief Facility, rusty six-foot rocket shells rest upright in the sand.

Inside, a green moat surrounds a gazebo with walls of glass. Anyone looking in would see round metal canisters hanging in clusters from the ceiling and piled on the floor. All of these are deactivated land mines, a small fraction of the millions laid across Cambodia.

The founder of the museum, Aki Ra, was a child soldier of the Khmer Rouge who now works to eradicate his country of land mines. He has also established an international school for child victims of land mine explosions, which is located next to the museum.

In addition to displays about the not-for-profit’s work and students, the facility tells the history of the Khmer Rouge regime, a topic that I had not yet understood.

An information sign about the site stated that the museum “is a firm supporter of utilizing tourism as a means of launching social awareness education. Doing so inspires humanitarian and developmental action.”

I feel like being a tourist here is a walking social awareness education, but maybe it depends on where you walk. Hopefully, I will be able to choose paths that inspire action.