Looking for Immortality (but will Settle for a Cold Beer) at the Angkor Temples

It’s the middle of the afternoon, the hateful sun is making my scalp tingle, and I am sweating in places I didn’t even know you could sweat. Seriously, why would my knees need to sweat? What possible cooling mechanism does one need for one’s knees?

The baked lava-like steps of Bakong temple loom in front of me. Oh, my apologies. The temple is composed of sandstone, not lava stone. “Bakong is the first temple mountain of sandstone constructed by rulers of the Khmer empire at Angkor near modern Siem Reap in Cambodia,” says the now damp Wikipedia page I printed out and brought with us.

Bakong temple
Note the numerous stairs.

We’ve been assured by our guide Nak that this particular temple—our seventh or eighth one in the last three days—has some of the best examples of guard lion statues in the area.

Three days ago, that little tip would have filled me with unbridled enthusiasm. I would have been agog: “WHAT? Lions? Made out of stone?? To guard the temple? And these ones right here are the BEST remaining examples? I cannot believe our luck! No, I do not need you to lead the way, Nak. I will find them!”

But today, looking up at these ridiculously narrow steps (how small were the Khmer people’s feet?? I practically have to tippy-toe my way up and down the temple stairs here) to the multitude of terraces that make up the Bakong temple, all I can think is, “Yes, that’s nice, but what are the chances that those guard lions are protecting a nice cold beer that’s been waiting just for me?”

The famous stone lions at Bakong temple
The famous stone lions at Bakong temple.

I was officially templed out.

We saw, like I said, seven or eight temples in the Angkor complex and we really only scratched the surface. There are literally hundreds of major temples spread out over a 154-square mile area, which, at its’ height in the 9th to 15th centuries, had a population of over 1 million citizens.

We were also getting a crash course in Cambodian history, Hindu and Buddhist religions, ancient architectural practices, and a graduate-level dissertation on obscure symbolism. All in 100 degree heat and humidity. It was enough to make anyone’s head swim.

Nevertheless, learning did occur and there were definitely some standouts who managed to stick in our soggy brains:

Bantreay Srei's pink sandstone.
Bantreay Srei’s pink sandstone.
  • Bantreay Srei: I think this was probably our favorite one. It was the farthest away from the main temples (about 20 miles), which means it tends to be a bit less crowded. We went fairly early in the morning, when the sun made the rose-pink sandstone carvings even more beautiful. The temple was originally dedicated to Shiva (the destroyer or transformer) and the name of the temple means “Citadel of the Women,” so not surprisingly, it’s got a lot of beautiful apsara (nymphs). And the bas relief carvings on all the pediments and doorways were amazingly well preserved.
Ta Prohm tree
You might recognize this famous celebrity tree. Also, I am LOVING that woman’s talons to the right in this picture. They are just everything and are perfect for this setting.
  • Ta Prohm – This was the first temple we went to and its claim to fame is that it was used as the movie set of Tomb Raider. There are lots of people posing for pictures with the twisted spung tree that sits over the ruins. The whole spung tree thing is pretty crazy. You see them growing up out of the temples, basically consuming them. It’s very easy to imagine the jungle eventually just taking Ta Prohm back. Most of the temples are under UNESCO protection and there are international efforts underway to restore or preserve them, but the groups decided to leave Ta Prohm as is so that people could get an idea of that interrelation between the temple and the jungle.
Buddhists as tourists at Bayon.
Hey guys, meet your spiritual leader, Buddha (at Bayon).
  • Bayon — The Bayon temple features a sea of over 200 massive stone faces looking in all direction. You see these smiling faces a lot through Angkor, and their believed to be a combination of Buddha and the King Jayavarman VII. It’s a favorite among the tourist crews, who swarm like little ants all over the three levels. It’s really is beautiful and ornate, even the crumbling bits look ornamental and intentional.
Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Angkor Wat at sunrise.
  • Angkor Wat – The big Kahuna. The granddaddy of them all. So iconic, it’s the symbol on the country’s flag (the only country to have a building on their flag, by the way).  The best time to see it is at sunrise, and our morning spent sitting on the edge of the reservoir surrounding it, waiting for the big, red-orange sun to show up is one of my fondest memories of the whole trip. Everyone’s just sitting there patiently, chatting in hushed tones while the tuk tuks putter past in the background and the frogs do their ribbetting frog thing. Once inside, there are bas-reliefs all along the walls on the first level. They depict Hindu stories including the mythical “Churning of the Ocean of Milk,” a super awesome name for a badass legend where Hindu deities stir vast oceans in order to extract the nectar of immortal life. AND to churn the ocean they used the Serpent King, Vasuki. I mean, how fantastic is that?? “Heya, Vasuki, what did you do this weekend?” “Oh, I had some of the guys over for tapas. After I ran out of Rioja, we went out and churned an ocean to get some Amrita nectar as a replacement. You know, as you do. So anyway. Crazy night.”
Churning away at immortality in Angkor Wat.
Churning away at immortality in Angkor Wat.

The temples at Angkor are amazing and wondrous. A once in a lifetime experience. And I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to see them. I’m especially indebted to our guide, Nak, who helped arrange the temple-hopping schedule so that we avoided most of the crowds. And there were plenty of crowds. It was not at all uncommon for us to be exiting a temple right as a convoy of tour buses was pulling up and offloading hoards of (mostly Asian) tourists (there are approximately 2 million visitors annually).

This was during a quiet time of day.
This was during a quiet (hottest) time of day when most folks go back to their hotel for a nap before heading out again for another round of temple hopping in the late afternoon/early evening.

Here’s a great story on the somewhat negative impact of the massive interest in the temples, including the problem of aggressive vendors and rude tourists.

So, for those who wonder, yes, three days of Angkor temples is sufficient.

We came back to our “favorite temple in Siem Reap” (Nak’s joke) the Le Meridien Angkor each afternoon tired and sweaty, our brains fried by the sun and the unbelievable amounts of information that we’d probably never have reason to call upon again (Was that last temple dedicated to Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Naga?).  But we were also stocked with a slew of new memories and shared experiences, tons of pictures and definitely ready for a nice cold beer by the pool.

Poe's nose at Bayon
Rubbing noses with the local Buddha faces at Bayon. #nofilter #nomakeup #sweatglow

Friday Links: Does This Blog Post Make My Butt Look Big (And/Or Shiny?) Edition

Kim's twin comets

I was a bit light on posting this weekend. Mostly because I was transfixed by the comet landing. I just don’t get it. Why would anyone want to land on a comet? I don’t get space exploration in general. And don’t even get me started on this nonsense about commercial space travel. Or NASA funding. Just avoid all space-related topics around me.

Anyway, that’s my excuse. And a roundup of some links that may or may not have distracted me from writing blog posts.

  • The Styleite story “behind” the overtly racist French artist who inspired the Kim Kardashian Paper cover. Yep, pun intended.
  • Who even knew that there was a beer mile record? Welp, there is and a mother of six broke it. Chris Kimbrough ran four laps and drank four beers in 6 minutes 28.6 seconds. Also known as Friday Happy Hour at Poe Industries. Minus the running laps part.
  • MentalFloss rounds up 11 common things people are trying to replace or redesign, including the toilet, which I’ve written about before. I mean, building a better toilet. I’ve written about that effort. Not just toilets, like randomly, or anything. OK. Time to be quiet now.
  • Sweet bat karma justice at work, via Revolver Magazine: New “Bat Frog” Found in Amazon, Named for Ozzy Osbourne
  • Lifehacker has some good tips on how not to become a hermit crab when working from home. I have to admit, I struggle with this, especially now that it’s getting cold out. I’ve been pretty good about going to the gym and I’m trying to get out to events, coffee dates, etc. But man, sometimes all I want to do is snuggle up on the couch with the cat and the computer.
  • What I’m cooking today (using up some leftover chicken – PLUS it has “scrumptious” in the name): Scrumptious Thai coconut red curry

Have a happy beer chugging, butt-oiling, and bat-frog-avoiding weekend!

Flying a Kite on a Balinese Beach is Basically Like Getting in a Time Machine

Meet Henri.

Henri the Balinese kite

Henri is a little something we picked up on the Nusa Dua beach in Bali. He’s basically a kite. But he’s oh so much more than that.

Henri is actually a magic wand that takes you back to childhood. You literally cannot hold a kite and not be filled with wonder and joy and peace. Anything that might be bothering you just miraculously…..disappears. This happens for two reasons: 1) your focusing on getting your kite higher and higher without having the string ripped out of your hands, and 2) you’re just staring up at its majestic beauty with your jaw hanging slack.

Flying a kite on a beach in Bali
You cannot see my face, but it is indeed slack-jawed in wonder.

We saw kites flying in the skies all over Bali. In fact, Bali has a very large annual kite festival. In Bali, they believe that kites carry messages for a good harvest to the Hindu gods.

As it was, we saw them every day while we were there, tiny dark specks floating high above the ground. Sometimes we’d get close enough to make out the shape of a ship or a turtle or a fish, but we were never able to see the people holding the invisible string attached to these floating time machines.

Yes, time machine. Because, honestly, when’s the last time you flew a kite? I know for me, it had been a very, very long time. Not since I was a kid. I definitely had forgotten how magical they could be.

I guess I’m not alone in this feeling. In fact, a director who made a documentary about Bali’s kite-flying culture said this in the Jakarta Post:

“We believe that those who fly kites are possessed by the wind,” says Yoka Sara. “And in that blissful state anything they do will be forgiven, in the way that children are forgiven. It is a return to childhood.”…

An architect by trade Yoka Sara produced the film because he believes that people in Indonesia and abroad should learn more about the hard work, meticulous artistry and sacred traditions that are involved in sending kites skyward in Bali.

So when we saw a vendor selling them on the beach, we jumped at the chance to get one.

There’s just something about standing on a warm sunny beach, with a beer nestled in the sand nearby, and leaning your head far back, squinting up at a pretty thing in a bright blue sky that brings on a sense of smallness and tranquility.

Balinese kite up in the sky.

We loved Henri so much that when it came time to leave Bali, I insisted we bring him home. Even though it was in no way practical. Keep in mind that Henri’s around three feet long and made of silk and fragile thin bamboo-type rods. And, our trip home had multiple legs. I took Henri from the St. Regis in Bali, through the airport security, on the plane to Bangkok, off the plane in Bangkok, to the hotel in Bangkok, on our errands the next day, to the Bangkok airport, through the airport security, on the flight to Munich, off the plane in Munich, to the hotel in Munich, through the airport security, and onto the flight to D.C. And then, finally, home.

Nevertheless, he’s the best thing we’ve ever bought on a trip. Hands down.

Flying a kite on a beach in Bali
Very happy Poe. I can’t lie: those beers you see in the foreground there don’t hurt.

We’ve flown him twice since our trip, at a park near the airport here in D.C. And even though it hasn’t been as smooth and carefree as our Bali beach experiences (our fragile little Henri is starting to show some wear and tear, and the wind is a bit inconsistent here this time of year), he still has a way of turning a bad day into a much better one.

Pure magic.

Links: Naked and Afraid of Sharks Edition

Hope everyone had a great weekend. My personal master-of-the-remote XFE and I certainly did. I suppose you heard that we’re having a heat wave up here in the Northeast, so we did the safe thing, and spent Sunday lying on the couch with a couple of pitchers of watermelon-mint-tequila-aqua-fresca watching the first four episodes of Naked and Afraid. Let me tell you: I was Clothed and Stressed Out. That show is nuts! (Pun: INTENDED)

naked and afraid

While we all ponder why exactly the contestants have to be nude, let’s peruse this bounty of links provided by the Internet, shall we?

  • I’m just so genuinely happy that this exists. And it’s in Alabama, of all places. I present to you, the Prancing Elites.
  • Unfortunately, this Cynthia Rowley gold wetsuit being hawked on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop is already out of stock. Question: Would a gold wetsuit promoted by Gwynnie make me more or less attractive to sharks?
  • This other wetsuit maker thinks they’ve got something to repel sharks. Not nearly as exciting as the Cynthia Rowley option.
  • Speaking of sharks, Discovery Channel’s new commercial for Shark Week had is pretty damn hilarious.
  • This amazing collection of vintage travel posters from the Boston Public Library will totally keep you busy for a while. With this heat wave, Antarctica is looking pretty good right now.
  • What else looks good? Beer. Any type so long as it’s cold. I just noticed the date on this beer map is kinda old, but I don’t care. There’s no expiration on beer. Well, actually, I think there is. But everyone knows expiration dates are just a suggestion.
  • In case you’re ever stuck in a room with one and don’t know what to say, here’s a list of things Texans like to talk about. Although, I’d argue that everyone likes to complain about how hot it is outside. And George Strait IS a badass. Everyone knows that.
  • Carrying on the Texas theme: 34 Things Austinites Love. 11 and 12 crack me up. I would just combine numbers 10 and 13 and say “floating down a river of queso” is my favorite thing. And I did just wait in line for four hours for Franklin’s brisket about 3 weeks ago, so obviously, that’s spot on.

I think I saw that Austin thong guy in those last two links on Naked and Afraid. He sure looks familiar….

Austin thong dude

Friday Linkage: Big Cats Find Love on Metro

  • crowdWant to get even closer to the sweaty intern swaying next to you on the packed Blue line this summer? Now there’s a dating website for DC metro riders. Giving new meaning to “weekend track work.” (I have no idea what I was insinuating there. Doesn’t really work, does it? Look! Something shiny!)

big cat

  • Speaking of metro, I saw the above advertisement on the way home the other night. Apparently, big cats are roaming the wilds of DC and disrupting public safety. Maybe I should alert them about this beastie.

Petunia Garbo

 

  • My super helpful friend Emilia (who’s killing me with her Instagrams of her vacation in Cinque Terre right now) sent me this list of shark-infested waters a couple of week’s ago, with a note: “I bet you’re in the midst of planning your next vacation. Be sure to pass this along to XFE so he can consider one of these & please his loving girlfriend.” Nice. Don’t fall off any cliffs, Emilia.

 

  • It’s only a month till our trip to Croatia and I have not started my packing matrix! Just kidding. Of course I have. And I incorporated a few tips from this packing tutorial on Refinery 29, even though I will obviously NOT be trying to live out of a carry on.

 

  • Life is full of difficult choices. But deciding, NAY, knowing when to drink beer in the shower is no longer one of them, thanks to this handy infographic. Have a great holiday weekend!
Should I Drink a Beer in the Shower?

 

I’d Rather Be Having a Beer

I know, I know. This isn’t a real post. But work and life in general have been kicking my butt and  it doesn’t appear that it’s going to let up until sometime in mid-May. Plus, it’s still freezing cold here in DC, which has put me in a very foul and non-chatty blogger mood. I am still wearing a winter coat and tights in April.  APRIL.

AND, to just heap the awfulness on the crap plate that can sometimes be one’s daily existence, it’s High Touron season here, which is just so, so aggravating (for more on this phenomenon, go here).

The other night during rush hour, I literally had to listen to a cheerful (and loud) Touron lament the fact that us DC-Northern Virginia commuters seemed so grumpy on the metro. I’m sorry, excuse me? We’re just trying to get from home to work and back again. It’s not a freaking roller coaster ride: it’s a commute. What do you look like when you’re driving to work, balancing a cup of coffee, your phone and whatever other stuff you have to schlep around all day while weaving in and out of traffic around people who may or may not know where they’re going? Are you cheerful in rush hour traffic? Are you whistling Dixie because you get to go to work? I don’t think so.

Now try doing all of that, standing up, in a moving train, in a skirt and heels, pressed up against some government bureaucrat with a body odor problem.

And then let’s just pretend for a minute that some weird stranger is sitting riiiggght next to you in your car and gabbing away two inches from your face about how uncheerful you are about the often-tardy, always-overcrowded and incorrectly-ventilated logistical device that transports you to work at a highway robbery fair of $7-plus dollars a day. Still whistling, Tammy Tourist?

Sorry. I got a bit wound up there. Better to think of something pleasant. Like beer.

Because, even though life and work are kicking my butt, at least there’s nothing preventing me from enjoying a beer. Maybe if they’d install some serve-yourself coolers in the metro cars, we’d all be much more cheerful about our commutes.

Tips for Parenting from a Beer Festival

I hate Father’s Day. And Mother’s Day. In fact, I hate any recognition holiday that celebrates traditional family structures. When you are born, you have a 50/50 chance of having at least one decent parent. My younger sister and I struck out completely. We got crap for parents, on both sides. Our dad peaced out when I was just five years old, put in a brief reappearance when I was 14, and that was about it.

Oh, there was also a brief blip on the radar when he asked my mom to settle on his child support debt so he could get it taken off his record. Seems he wanted to buy one of his other children a house or something, and that whole pesky state-ordered debt to provide a pittance to help raise your children was getting in the way of him being a good parent to one of his later kids. I wasn’t privy to those negotiations, so I don’t really count that as contact with my father. But my sister and I are not unique in this regard. There are lots of bad parents out there.  In fact, I saw a lot of questionable parenting yesterday at the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival. The Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival is pretty self-explanatory. They have a bunch of tents, you get a little glass and you go around and get tastings of beer and bourbon. We tend to focus on the drinking, and not so much on the BBQ, which unfortunately, isn’t handed out. You have to pay for it. But you can’t really beat our BBQ anyway, so no loss there.

The festival used to be held way out in Maryland, but a few years back, it moved to National Harbor, which is still in Maryland, but just across the river from Virginia. (I know, northeastern geography is quite mysterious to me as well.) We went to that festival that first year, and it was a really small affair. Not very busy at all. But it has definitely grown over the past couple of years.

It was pretty packed yesterday, but still was a really good time. There must’ve 100 different beers. Our favorites were from the Kona Brewing Company. They had three beers, their Longboard, Wailua Wheat and my favorite, Koko Brown, which had a slight tinge of coconut. I think I “tasted” that beer probably four times.

The day was pretty perfect: It was bright and sunny, the beers and bourbons were flowing, and the redneck music was hopping. There were lots of girls in skimpy shorts, and lecherous men oogling them.  And tons of fuzzy Viking horn hats, which made no sense in the heat.

But back to the parenting: We saw quite a few people, mostly men, carrying an interesting festival accessory –babies in those front carrier things.

Like this dude on the right. I didn’t take this and this actually wasn’t from yesterday’s event, but that’s the size of the tasting glasses and the happy-dad-carrying-baby motif was common.

Now, why would you bring a baby to a drinking festival? And, if you are going to bring a baby, shouldn’t you put that kid to work? Maybe get an extra tasting glass since there are two of you. Or maybe put one of those beer can hats on the kid’s head and you can go hands free. I can’t imagine how many of those kids are going to be traumatized by the full roasted pigs on display. And the questionable adult behaviors going on.

All I know is after about 40 minutes at the festival, I had a nice warm buzz going and I would definitely not have wanted to be in charge of remembering that there was a mini-person attached to my rapidly sunburning chest.

Hell, I couldn’t even be responsible for putting on my own sunscreen.

Chicago: 1, Poe: 0

 

As I mentioned yesterday, we’re heading to Chicago Friday morning for a wedding this weekend. I’ve only been to Chicago once, but me and Chi-town (despite your deeeelishous pizza), we had a very rough start.

I went to Chicago for the first time in May for the Magellan Spring Half Marathon (May 15th). I want you to keep in mind what I just said there, particularly two key words: May. Spring. Got it?

Why Chicago? Well, my friends Matt, Melissa and Michelle are from there. And when Matt and Melissa took up running at the beginning of the year with the goal of doing a half-marathon, I got very excited. I thought, “Yeah! New running buddies to run with! And we’ll enter lots and lots of races, and collect tons and tons of tech shirts, and it will be totally awesome, we’ll be a Running Wolf Pack for EVA!!”

A few months later, Matt and Melissa informed me that they hated running. A lot. And that after the Chicago half-marathon that they had signed up for, they would probably never run again. Suddenly, all my dreams of a Running Wolf Pack began to evaporate. In a panic, and realizing this would be my only chance to run with them, I quickly signed up for my first half-marathon.

I’ve done my fair share of races. I’ve even done a couple of ten milers, including the George Washington Parkway Classic in mid-April. But I had never done a half-marathon. So I threw myself into training and we all did really well in our individual trainings. We felt physically and mentally prepared for the race.

Matt, Melissa and crew (including super-cheerleader Kelly) got to Chicago a couple of days before I did. They said it was cold, and the weather reports seemed to agree. Highs in the low 40s?? Since it was already pretty warm here in DC, I guess we all had forgotten what 40s felt like. Regardless, I made sure I packed a running jacket, some ear muffs and some gloves. Yep, that should do it.

It did not. We made a desperate last minute run to the now-boycotted-forever Nike to try to get some more appropriate running gear the day before the race. The place was mobbed, and fully stocked….with summer running gear. Hardly a parka to be found. And definitely no gloves. Poor Melissa and Michelle ended up wearing gardening gloves purchased at a drugstore.

When we woke up the morning of the race, we tried to pump ourselves up, convincing ourselves that the tiny peaks of sunlight indicated a nice, warm day. Then we got outside and we knew we were in trouble. It must have been in the 30s and the winds were 20-30 mph. With the wind chill, the temperature was (no shit) 27 degrees. Oh, and we were running entirely along the lakeshore, where the winds would kick waves onto us. Oh, and did I mention it was sprinkling the whole time?

We soldiered on and ran the entire race. It was pure endurance and stubbornness. And it was hands down the most miserable running experience of my life. I could not stop shivering after the race and when I took a hot shower, it hurt so bad. I just stood there in the shower for about 10 minutes before I could actually use my hands.

It's all a blur. Literally, a blur. Also: I'm wearing my favorite race shirt, a UT running shirt. Which Melissa has reminded me is a Nike shirt and I can no longer wear. Awesome.

So yeah, Chicago has a lot to make up for.

This is not a grimace of triumph. It's a visage of extreme pain.

I’m warning you Chicago: Running Buddy Amy and I are bringing our running shoes this weekend and I’m spoiling for a rematch. 

I was too cold to drink beer. UNFATHOMABLE. Too cold? To drink beer?