Friday, November 10, 2006

Combining Cultures and Touring Temples (by Bec)

* Warning: this blog entry may have the tendency to be overly sentimental but it is with good cause I assure you…

Another water festival has come and gone. This time, instead of spending it with the masses in Phnom Penh we headed to Siem Reap. As amazing as Phnom Penh is at this time; doubling in population size (and the cities preparation for this – installing 50 porta-loos to cope with the influx of 1 million people); the fireworks; the boat races; the Moomba-esque like floats on the river…none of this could compare to the special weekend we had.

Enter Yim and family.

Now some of you have heard of our dear Yim. She is without question, a mother to us and an amazing woman with all that she has gone through in her life. She works 7 days a week, day and night; living with a woman we know only as Madam…in what seems like an indentured slave arrangement. Yim also works for us 5 afternoons a week cleaning our house and doing our laundry. I was adamant when I first arrived in Cambodia that Ben and I weren’t going to have a “maid”, as it seemed far too colonial for my liking…but once we moved in with Andrew, Yim was part of the package and so I had to adjust to having her around. It didn’t take long for me to embrace not having to do the ironing or cleaning the bathroom…but more than that…to embrace Yim. The relationship that Ben, Andrew and I have formed with her is an incredibly special part to living in this country…and one that I hope will continue even after we leave.

So this past weekend gone…we (Andrew, Anthea, Nic, Melissa, Ben and I) took Yim and some members of her family to see the National pride of Cambodia – Angkor Wat. There is no way for me to describe the importance of such an event to a Cambodian person…particularly to a family who most likely would never have made it there otherwise. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s even possible for me to grasp the full significance. But if you factor in that Yim has probably never had a real holiday before and she is 55 years old; she had never been anywhere aside from her home province and Phnom Penh; and she never expected in her life that she would get the opportunity to see Angkor Wat; then you start to get the idea of just how special this was. Yim’s own words say it best…and I apologise but I am somewhat paraphrasing here but the intended meaning is the same:

“I’m so happy I feel like I’m sixteen”

“I’m so happy I don’t need to eat”

These combined with continual smiles, comments on her family all being very happy, repeatedly saying thank you, hugs and constant affection…and you start to get an idea of how humbling this experience was for Andrew, Anthea, Nic, Meliss, Ben and I. Organising this trip took so little on our part…and yet the meaning it holds for us all is truly special.

So the highlights!

** Seeing Yim’s face as she saw Angkor Wat for the first time and watching her take turns walking hand in hand with Andrew, Ben, Melissa and Anthea.

** Observing Yim’s family spending time together relaxing and sightseeing.

** Seeing Yim’s surprise when she realised that there were more temples than just Ankor Wat:
“I’m Khmer and I didn’t know there were other temples and that they were so far apart”.

** Watching Yim strike up conversation with anyone and everyone as we walked around the temples…she frequently got guided tours and additional information from temple staff and just enjoyed chats with other Khmer’s there as visitors.

** Observing how much interest Yim took in finding out about each individual temple, the carvings, the history, and making sure she remembered all of the temple names so she could tell other friends and family about it in her home province of Kampong Speu.

** Watching Yim pretend to be an Apsara dancer at Angkor Wat, Preah Khan…and several other temples.

** Watching Apsara dancing on our final night at dinner – observing the beautiful costumes whilst eating delicious food. Yim and family totally enjoying the production with Yim constantly asking me to take photos of the performers because they were so beautiful.

** Detouring slightly on the way back to Phnom Penh to see Beng Melea temple and getting a guided tour through the site that felt quite adventuresome as we scaled old stones and climbed and weaved our way through the temple ruins.

Now this highlights list could go on and on…so perhaps it’s better just to say that this was one of my favourite trips to the temples and I’ve been there five times now…talk about privileged! Good time’s people…good times!


Erik D said...

A beautiful post - Sounds like an amazing trip. Any photos? I'd especially love to see one of Yim the Apsara!

Kratzy said...

Ahhh.... Yim. I was looking at a photo of her last week and it made my heart do huge leaps when I heard your and Andrew's stories about your trip. Keep smiling!