Rachel Westmaas, Blog Assignment #6 Angkor Wat
It was incredibly hot the day we toured Angkor Wat. As we sweat it out, walking among pillars carved with Vishnu or Buddha and empty swimming pools, I awed. Our tour guide recited the stories of these temples in broken English: one king built a temple to Vishnu (the HIndu god) and the next stripped it out and dedicated the temple to Buddha. Over and over the cycle repeated throughout this magnificent temple complex until the Ancient Khmer civilization fell apart.
My favorite temple was the third we visited. I believe this one was called Bayon. It was a temple to Buddha with 54 towers and four huge faces staring in opposite directions on each tower. I loved the lack of barricades: we could walk inside to see all of the narrow corridors and hallways. It was cooler inside and narrow, steep stairwells to small rooms were every where. Without the barricades, it was easier to imagine the ancient monks walking these halls, looking out the windows, and contemplating the meaning of life. The dark stones would have made their bright orange robes stand out in a stark contrast and their solemn faces would have reflected the faces on the towers.
I think that seeing these towers helped us to understand the deep pride of the Cambodians. I saw this later, at the international conference, when the Cambodian students were very eager to ask questions about development. I was impressed by their openness about their country’s problems with agriculture, education, and corruption, but I was even more impacted by their obvious passion about those issues. They love their country and want to work towards changing it for the better. I think maybe Angkor Wat serves as a reminder of the strength their nation once had and is part of the their motivation to strive towards that again.