Sunday, July 20, 2008

angkor after the rain

I am going through my fourth year of living in Cambodia and it almost seems like forever being here. Don't get me wrong. I like being here. No.... I LOVE being here.

I remember arriving at the Siem Reap Airport the first time, ready to start life anew - away from my fantastic life living in a big cosmopolitan slice of Manila from my 15th floor office in Valero Street in Makati. I had the best of everything. I have a cool but small pad in Mandaluyong where I walk home from the office (okay, it's a faaaar walk from home, but my ipod is a loyal company). I have a dream job where I can dictate the time I arrive to the office and the time I go home (my Spanish boss, Alfredo, gave up on my time management issues as I consistently go to work late every single day). I get paid for what I love to do most - being creative and thinking about selling something from out of nothing. I have fantastic lunches at Soup Kitchen, Windows, Bali Blue (at GT Tower), Shanghai Cafe, Bento Box, and even at the dime-a-dozen Valero Street Cafe and Jolly Jeeps. After work, I'd have dinners at the Salcedo Park with my ex-girlfriend (who is now my wife), at Italiani's or at a lovely restaurant somewhere in Greenbelt or Makati Ave. Weekend partying unfolds in Malate, Makati or Libis. Sundays were spent at either at Rockwell, The Podium or at Robinson's Galleria where we go to church at Victory. Manila for me, seemed like a perfect utopian society which we controlled, save for the unbearable traffic at EDSA or the occasional rainy day taxi queue and refusals. Other than that, I couldn't imagine going back to Iloilo or living anywhere else.

But why would I drop everything and give it all up?

Well, that was when I found we were expecting a baby. So Faith and I decided to find a better future for our unborn child. It so happened that I got an email from a friend that eventually led me to work here.

So there I was, a stranger in a foreign land - a country more third world than where I came from. The dusty, barren touristlandia known as Siem Reap greeted me with a desolate feeling of hopelessness. Nightlife was next to nothing, shopping malls are a strange concept and our salaries were handed out in white envelopes as atms don't even exist. Plucking myself from the comforting vastness and complexity of the big city to an obscure lost empire in Indochina seemed like a wrong decision.

Yet here I am almost 4 years after... trodding the temples of Angkor for a photo assignment for a client's brochure. I have memorized Cambodia's 1000 years of history through its World Heritage temples and I can tuktuk my way from one temple to another with my eyes closed. It's almost like I have memorized every nook and cranny of it and the best way for me to scamper my way out of boredom is for it to age another thousand years and see if the moss grows orange from a nuclear holocaust.

But while I was clicking my camera away, something magical happened. It rained. It was not any regular rain. It was pouring, and I was trapped in the upper galleries of the Bayon Temple. I watched how the water and the sky magically shrouded the massive stones into a heap of wet piles. The hundreds of giant faces staring at me, smiling, and assuring me that there is a force - enigmatic as their succumbing presence that brought me here at this time. I was simply reminded of my place on this earth...

As the weather cleared, I headed down to the base of the temple and found a group of geese playfully swimming in the moat.

I also managed to swing by Ta Prohm, in all it's nature-choked grandeur and feasted on these sites, once overrun by busloads of tourists, but because of the rain, were all left serene for me...

And of course, I made another pilgrimage to Angkor Wat for the nth time and was frustrated to find that the ground was dry as cake. Obviously, the deluge hasn't kissed the earth just yet. Also, major repairs are being done on the towers overlooking the southern part of the temple, so getting a good shot is impossible. That led me however, to trot around the temple, in directions I haven't normally used for shots, in search of better angles to hide the steel scaffolding from the UNESCO restoration team. It led me to the northern axis of the galleries, outside the main level to this angle...

So again and again, I have kept asking myself why I am still here...

Well, maybe because this place has changed drastically since then. Or probably because Cambodia reveals itself to me (and to around 2 thousand other expats who live in this town alone) slowly, differently, in a way only itself can.

Now, I can never imagine myself going back to Manila.


Jake Tornado said...

I myself gave up on Makati and transferred job in Mandaluyong City where a lower standard of living. The photo with the geese is like a scened plucked out of that Oliver Stone film "Heaven and Earth" although this time the setting is in Seam Reap. I wonder how the monks would allow you to take photos of them . Curiously though, and please pardon my asking, do your monk models charge you certain fees?

the spool artist said...

hi jake. i think mandaluyong is a great choice logistically - it's right smack in the middle of makati, ortigas and manila! oh yeah, i remember that film about vietnam... although technically, we are a few hours drive away from them.

It's perfectly alright to take photos of monks here. The monks that I use for my artworks are good friends of mine as well, so they know about it. They are very very friendly and amiable. Talk to them about Kristine Hermosa or Jericho Rosales and you could converse for hours! They are quite big here with Philippine teleseryes, mind you!