Our first item of business upon landing in Cambodia was taking the "Angkor Walk" to Angkor Wat. The ancient temple complexes of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and many more compose a sprawling campus of hundreds of temples, shrines and ruins, scattered over an immense area. Angkor Wat, the most famous temple, is just the tip of the iceberg, however it's typically the first stop for the tourist or pilgrim, and it was our destination for this inaugural "pico-pilgrimage."
A few folks bike from Siem Reap to Angkor--but no one walks. It isn't difficult to find transportation to the temples--tuk tuks--motocycle-driven carriages--are so plentiful we turned down atleast a dozen enthusiastic offers to save us from our bipedal explorations... And the time would come when we'd relish hopping in and getting whisked away... but there's just something really powerful about walking in a new country for the first time, especially if you don't have to. And I've often found that the little moments of transcendence usually happen in between the grand destinations.
We struck off from our guesthouse--the cozy, comfortable Villa Siem Reap--in the early morning and walked through the city, following the signs--and the endless flow of traffic. On the outskirts of town we stopped at a gigantic, empty field--a veritable dustbowl overshadowed by a huge billboard. Not surprisingly, the billboard advertised yet another luxury hotel soon to be encamped on the very spot, joining an inconceivable glut that appear to have sprouted over night. If there was one thing that blew us away from the moment we touched down in Siem Reap, it was the abundance of tourism.
But the interesting thing about the field were the kids racing up and down, from one end to the other, flying homemade kites. We stopped to watch for a while, then chatted with the kids in fragments of English and Khmer when they came over to show us their creations. One kite was fashioned from a black plastic trash bag. The rest were made from notebook paper, a twig, some twine and an empty plastic juice bottle.I couldn't believe they actually worked--but they did! And amazingly well! (much better than those cheapy, factory-made jobs we had as kids).
Seems kids all over the world have this affinity for kite-flying: in the slums of Port-au-Prince, I saw kids flying makeshift kites almost every day. But I think it's more than kite flying--it's the universality of the creative instinct, the urge to produce something, especially something which enhances life, no matter how limited the resources.
I fired up my camcorder and ran with the kids as they launched their kites into the air. All the while giant construction trucks trolled through the field, kicked up Iowa thunderhead-sized plumes of dust, seemingly obvious to these tiny kite-flyers.
Eventually I made it back to Jared, who waited with our equipment back at the road, anxious to continue the pilgrimage to Angkor Wat, but, as a pediatrician, equally touched by the optimism and ingenuity of the kids.
We wished the kids well and as we walked away wondered whether this field would
be the home of kite-flying children or adventure-seeking tourists when we returned to Cambodia next...