Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Banteay Kdei, Cambodia

Next we visited Banteay Kdei, a Buddhist temple and monastery constructed in 1181AD. Having the place mostly to ourselves, we enjoyed walking though the ruins, past the entrances decorated with sculptures of Garuda, and past massive tree roots. Inside the structure, the domain belonged to bats, while the skies were home to the calls of green parrots. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Prasat Kravan, Cambodia

True of most tourists to Cambodia, our main destination within the country was found just outside the town of Siem Reap the temples of Angkor. Due to the sheer numbers and spread-out locations of some of the many Buddhist and Hindu sites ranging from the reign of King Jayavarman II (802-850AD) to the mid 1200's, visitors focus on a certain number, depending on their length of stay and temple "stamina." 
The first site we visit was known as Prasat Kravan. Built for Hindu worship in 921AD, the five brick towers had some particularly nice bas-relief carvings inside the central tower of the god Vishnu.

Adding to the destruction wreaked upon the temples by jungle nature and centuries of abandonment, the temples suffered further destruction in Civil War. The Khmer Rouge took statues from the sites and sold them to other countries.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Flaming Coconuts and Riverside Exercising

We also had the opportunity to walk around the riverfront and a bit of Phnom Penh's downtown. Numerous weddings were taking place on side streets. Similar to tradition in India, cut banana plants and flowers adorned the weddings, whose festivities averaged around $5,000. One could see fewer people walking and certainly less busses than in Chennai, but motorcycles remained popular, as did (more comfy-looking) rickshaws pulled by motorcycles. The riverfront became a hub of activity at nightfall. Buddhist devotees lit incense, brought flowers, and placed placed candles inside hollowed-out coconuts, chanting to music by a temple. Further onward, both young and old were doing line dancing to various music styles emanating from large speakers. For those wanting even more action, exercise equipment was available. Not exactly your average playground! After a pleasant dinner at a restaurant located in a well-kept colonial building, we went into a few of the many cute shops. ATM machines abounded, spitting out US$, the preferred currency of the country.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Killing Fields

Still rather stunned by the haunting scenes at S-21, we proceeded in the late afternoon to Choeung Ek. It was here that after being detained and tortured at S-21, enemies of the Khmer Rouge were transported, executed, and buried. Our guide told us that the site was once a Chinese cemetery, a perfect guise for continued burying, albeit at a vastly larger scale. On what appeared to be a slightly postmarked landscape (there are around 130 identified mass graves, of which about a third have been exhumed), small signs revealed the horrors that took place here. One had contained the remains of over 100 women and children, the majority of whom were naked; another had 450 victims; still another contained bodies without heads. 

From the branches of a large tree hung a loudspeaker, whose increasing volume of sound served to drown out the moaning and shrieks of those being executed. Flowers were placed against a tree against which babies were slammed. Even on the pathways, fragments of cloth and teeth protruded from the ground. A glass Memorial Stupa erected in 1988 served as a very vivid reminder of the horrors that took place here. Spanning over 12 levels were the skulls of nearly 9,000 victims clearly visible for all to see. A large collection of clothing gathered from the graves, including a pair of a young child's shorts, further humanized the memorial. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

S21: From School to Prison

While in Phnom Penh, we visited a very sobering site known as S21. Just years after it was built as a school (Tuol Svay Prey High School), the Khmer Rouge transformed the site into a prison where "Enemies of the Revolution" were detained, tortured, and killed. Aside from the barbed-wire meshed fence covering some entrances and balcony openings on the second floor, it still retained the resemblance of a school. Upon entering a classroom, however, things  looked much different. In place of desks and chairs, several rooms contained a single bed, a box for bodily functions, and iron devices used to secure the hands and feet to the bed. Some also contained a chair and desk, from where a member of the Khmer Rouge would meticulously document about the current prisoner, including the torture process. 

In another room, large panels displayed the photos of some of the 12,000 -20,000 individuals that went through the prison. Amongst the stark black&white photos were the faces of children. Hanging on the walls of some rooms were large photos of the decomposing bodies of tortured prisoners still shackled the bed when the prison was liberated, with pools of dried blood staining the floor beneath. Corners of the rooms also bore signs of torture, as did the blood spatters on the ceiling. Going up a very normal school stairway, we walked though rooms subdivided into crude cells the width of a toilet stall and other rooms subdivided with bricks. 

According to our guide, the barbed wire covering the balcony openings was to prevent prisoners from jumping to kill themselves. In another room I read some of the excerpts written by the seven survivors, including an art teacher who believed he was answering the request for an art professor position. Of the two alive today, one was on-site, selling his book. One can only imagine the horrors he experienced within these walls.

Monday, January 23, 2012

National Museum, Phnom Penh

Our next stop was to the National Museum, located just north of the Palace. Although photography of most objects was not allowed, we did enjoy viewing the Hindu statues (some dating back to the 6th century), a statue of the leader responsible for some of the grandest structures within the Angkor period, and some post-Angkor Buddha figures. Wings of the museum opened to a central garden, complete with water gardens, tropical vegetation, and a Buddhist sculpture in the middle. Although the museum was interesting to look at and contained information in English, it would have had more impact had we come after touring Angkor Wat. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

With blue skies and pleasant sunshine, the morning started in a positive way by visiting the Royal Palace grounds in Phnom Penh. One of the dominating buildings in the well-maintained grounds was the Throne Hall. On top of the colonnaded concrete structure (replaced the wooden one built in 1866) was a tall golden spire with four faces, reminiscent of those at Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex. Another building, the Silver Pagoda, so-named for the 5,000 silver tiles each weighing 1 kg lining the floor, is equally popular. Carpeting covers most of the floor surface, so only a small number of these are visible. Two main Buddhas are found inside - the Emerald Buddha made out of Baccarat Crystal, and a life-size one made out of gold and decorated with over 9,500 diamonds. Within the palace grounds, I also enjoyed the extensive mural scenes depicting the Ramayana and the well-manicured bushes, some in the shapes of whimsical animals. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Off to Cambodia

For Christmas break, I traveled with two friends through the. Countries of Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma). I was looking forward to see the countries' ancient sites, natural beauty, and hopefully meet some local people. 

After flying from Chennai to Bangkok and then to Siem Reap, we left the cute airport there reminiscent of traditional Cambodian architecture and headed into the town to pass some time while waiting for the flight into Phnom Penh. Here we toured a workshop where village people learned apprenticeship for traditional crafts in wood and stone carving, painting on silk, lacquer designs, and tooling on copper.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Mural PaintingElephants figures at WorkshopAdding Detail to Celestial NymphTools and PlansBuddha in ProgressSiem Reap Airport with Flags
Blue Top Pinched FingersThree Dancing WomenKneeling DancerWomen Cutting the RiceSmiling Older WomanSmiling Woman with Sickle
Drink in BambooBuildings by Rice FieldMattress HaulerBuying Items for Cooking ClassSunset Siem ReapFinished Spring Rolls

Siem Reap, a set on Flickr.

After touring some sites in Phenom Penh, we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Although most of our time was spent visiting the many sites within Angkor Wat, we did manage to see a traditional dance show, do a cooking class, and tour a place that trains local young people in learning a traditional craft.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Happy Pongal 2012

Boiling pot and door, originally uploaded by melissaenderle.

Tamils all over the world are celebrating the harvest festival of Pongal today. Although kolams (designs made out of rice flour) are typically made in front of Tamil homes, the ones on special occasions such as this are made from colored powder. This kolam, depicting the boiling pot of plenty, sugar cane, coconut, bananas, and other harvest items is not the typical one employing radial symmetry, but I felt it portrayed the harvest festival theme very well.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Phnom Penh

Central Gardens, National MuseumLittle Boy with KiteBeggar Girl with PopcornIncense and CoconutsPeace Girl and Glowing CoconutPlaying the Horseshoe Shaped Percussive Instrument
Glowing Night TempleColorful Tropical FruitsColumns and FiguresRoyal Palace Columns and RoofMetal Design and EntryRoyal Palace Grounds with Potted Plants
Battle Scene DetailPurple LotusesTopiary CreaturesIncense SticksGaruda Sculpture, National MuseumChilies and Greens
Schoolchildren in Produce StandBlack Eggs for SaleHello Kitty Meets SantaPink and White Floral DesignDesk and Torture BedGallows and School Building

Phnom Penh, a set on Flickr.

In December, 2011 I visited the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh. Some places covered: The National Museum, Royal Palace, S1 School/Genocide Museum, the Killing Fields, and a local market.