Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The High Line, the New Blog, and the East End

I had a long wait at the airport(s) on New Year’s Eve, so to replicate that, I’ll wait to write about it and instead write about some more recent goings-on. I was in Manhattan a couple of weeks ago and went to visit the High Line. They took the old elevated freight lines along the West Side, abandoned for many years, and turned it into a park. This had been in the works for years and Phase I opened this month (go to www.thehighline.org for more). I was very glad to visit it during its opening weeks, oohing and aahing and taking pictures and enjoying the park along with everyone else. I loved it – and (cue music) I love New York.

My sister and her family were out in Southampton that weekend, and, as she is wont to do, she took a walk and collected trash (while the rest of us played Rummikub!). She said she wanted to start a blog with pictures of the trash, and I helped set it up. Check out www.sweptashore.blogspot.com. Here’s an outtake! I have been collecting the trash while I am here and she is not – so now I have a new addition to my daily routine. I had been looking for a service project to do once my departure date got postponed, and now this is it!

And as long as my departure date was postponed – I decided there was no time like the present to do that East End exploration I have been talking about since I got here. I rented a car and did the South Fork one day and the North Fork the next! Growing up in Queens, the East End always seemed so far – because it is – so now, when I am 65 miles from the beginning, it seemed a good time to go the other 35 to the end. It’s a Long Island!

To Montauk I went, past farm stands and windmills and the cute little downtowns of Water Mill and Bridgehampton, stopping in the chi-chi downtown of East Hampton for lunch. After East Hampton (well, after Amagansett) it gets very rural – I stopped at some state park overlooks but the tick warnings were enough to dissuade me from doing any hiking. Maybe next winter or spring before it is sandals weather and I am still wearing long pants that I can tuck into socks. I did go to Montauk Lighthouse (commissioned by George Washington) and looked at Block Island – it’s not that far away!

The next day I drove west to Riverhead, which had always been a name on the Long Island Expressway sign and not an actual destination. Its downtown looked like an old Midwest one as opposed to the cute/trendy ones on the Forks. To the North Fork I went – through Aquebogue, and Jamesport, and Laurel, and Mattituck, and Comet, and Cupid (no, just kidding) – to Cutchogue, where I ate at the home-cooking diner there (tourist info that I read said chicken pot pie – I have been in the mood for one, since the time I went to the Golden Pear here for one and they told me it was just a winter dish; alas, the Cutchogue Diner did not have one on this day either). I went past winery after winery, leaving tasting for another time (I think it would be more fun to go with a friend…). Long Island wines have started to get good reviews and awards, so they say (job opportunity? I did like the wine industry. But I don’t want to go back…). Onward through Peconic, Southold, and Greenport to Orient Point, another place that always seemed so far out there…in the Orient!

I saw the ferry to New London and marveled that I had just traveled to the end of Long Island Sound. I did short hikes in Orient Point County Park and Orient Point State Park (they’re on different sides of the point), checking afterwards for ticks. I stopped in Greenport on the way back – it seems to be the cutest North Fork town – and rather than going around all the way west, I took the north ferry to Shelter Island. Did another short hike in the Nature Conservancy lands there (another place to go back to, properly dressed!) and then took the south ferry to Sag Harbor and walked around its cute downtown for a while.

I know that I have said a couple of times that I wouldn’t mind living out here someday. Could this have been my someday? There are lots of things to do – the hikes and wineries, historic museums, places to eat and to shop – and maybe if I had a car here and more time here I would explore more, but now that I’ve seen what’s there, I feel very content to remain in Southampton, where I have everything I need in walking or biking distance! When I returned the car I walked through the cute downtown right here, and the next day I walked on the little nature path that’s about a mile from the house. The hydrangeas are just beginning to bloom and it’s finally beach-walking weather (trash or no trash). With my departure date postponed, I can enjoy a couple of weeks of the Southampton that the summer people come for!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Stay Another Day

Both Laos and Cambodia have “Stay Another Day” campaigns – they know that many people go to Luang Prabang and Siem Reap for just a day and don’t see anything else of the country. We had just about 24 hours in Luang Prabang, and it wasn’t enough. So when I was making my Siem Reap reservation I decided to stay another day. Not that that was enough either, but it did give me the opportunity to see something else. Sure, I could have stayed longer, but it was a trip to Thailand and Indonesia, so anywhere else was already a bonus!

Kong said that many people come for just one day – the first time. And then they’ll come back for three or five days to see the temples again and to see some of the outlying temples, or they’ll come back for a week and also see Phnom Penh, the capital, and the beach at Sihanoukville, or maybe the northeast part of the country. I asked him if he could drive me all over if I were to come back and he said yes. As with Laos, it’s not as easy to get around the country on one’s own as it is in Thailand. But I get ahead of myself – first, we had the day (or really part of the day, since I was flying out in mid-afternoon).

I thought of going back to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, seeing them in the quiet of the morning, when I was more fresh. But Kong had told me about some of the other things in the area, and I chose to go to a big lake, Tonle Sap, that had a floating village and a boat ride (I love boat rides). When he picked me up in the morning, though, he had changed his mind (so now I really have to go back, to see the floating village!). Instead, we went to Phnom Kulen, the big hill where all the sandstone that was built into the temples comes from. It’s a sacred site too, with a temple built high on a rock at the peak, a reclining Buddha and a Buddha footprint.

There was also the river of a thousand lingas (phallic symbols) – carved into the stone under the river! – and a big waterfall that is visited by the locals (in the background you can see locals dressed in costume for photos – kind of like Americans dressing in old Western outfits). After all the major tourist sites, it was nice to see a place where Cambodians go. I had a snack of fried banana, but didn’t want to eat too much, because on the way there we had passed the place where we’d had lunch the day before, and I wanted more chicken amok!

We then went to a silk farm, this one run by Artisans d’Angkor, a fair-trade operative. Fair trade is expensive! Or, to put it another way, when you get a really good deal, it means someone is not earning a living wage. It was interesting to see the process from silkworm to loom. I will never look at weaving in quite the same way now that I know more about it!

And all too soon it was time to go to the airport. Maybe flying to another country is not the most festive way to spend New Year’s Eve, but it beats being caught up in craziness in another culture when you don’t know anyone, so for me it was a good way to ring out the old and ring in the new.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the only temple that faces west, so it is best seen in the afternoon. It is impressive. It is monumental. And I hate to say this, but my first reaction upon getting there was, “I’ve seen this.” I had seen so many replicas and pictures that seeing it in person at first didn’t leave me in awe. I was much more thrilled with the other things I had seen that day, the unexpected. It also started to rain while I was there (I was inside at the time, so it wasn’t a problem, but it meant no sunset).

That said, I’ll agree with the Rough Guide’s words – Angkor Wat represents the height of inspiration and perfection in Khmer art, combining architectural harmony, grand proportions and detailed artistry. My initial reaction made me feel a little jaded, but as I approached and entered and the sheer size and scale of the place became clear, I was impressed.

Four smaller towers surround the taller central one; the cones are designed to look like lotus buds. The temple is made up of three platforms, with long, columned galleries extending outward. In the rain, I had a chance to admire some of the detail. The main part was closed to the public and part of it was under scaffolding but that in a way made it more grand. Even as I was there, and almost immediately after I left, I felt I had to go back to see it again, that it was almost too much to take in at once. And if I never get back there? Well, I don’t like thinking that way – even though there are so many other things to see that I haven’t seen yet (not to mention that I was keeping track of what was happening with the economy).

It was a long day, with much of it spent in the car – it was good to walk into the Old Market area. I wasn’t that hungry, so I had the Khmer version of fried rice (yum). And felt really fortunate to have been here at all.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was a walled city, the last and greatest capital of the Angkor era, built in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. It was home to more than a million inhabitants and more spectacular and extravagant than any Western city of its time. The houses were made of wood and have weathered away, but the stone religious monuments remain. This is mostly from the Rough Guide; Kong gave me a good orientation as well, but there were a lot of different things to see, and though I liked the flexibility of being on my own, it might have been nice to also have a guide along for this stop.

The Terrace of the Leper King was named after the statue of a naked figure that was found there (and is now in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

The Terrace of the Elephants would have been used by the king to address the public and as a viewing platform on special occasions.

Not much is left of the King’s Palace, but the bathing pools are there.

The neighboring temple of Baphuon is now a pile of rubble, but in its day was much more impressive, adorned with bronze.

The highlight (and another candidate for favorite place of the day) was Bayon, the temple at the center, with large carved faces that adorn the 54 towers – each tower has four heads, each facing one of the points of the compass.

There were some people getting dressed in traditional garb for a performance – I didn’t see the performance but I did see the garb!

I loved it here – I was (am?) very tempted to buy a replica head for the imaginary apartment.

I even had Kong take a picture of me in front of it.

There are five gateways – one for each of the cardinal points and the fifth leading directly to the royal palace compound. Each gateway is approached by a causeway and each causeway had 54 god images on the left and 54 demon images on the right. Even with so much that remains, I couldn't begin to imagine what it was like in its heyday.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pre Rup and Ta Prohm

Kong had made a good call on the sunrise, too, I think – it was pretty cloudy. It was also nice to get a good night’s sleep. After our first two stops we went on to Pre Rup, which had been a crematorium. It was a thing to climb, for the sake of climbing and for the view, and a thing to illustrate how different the different temples in the area are. But not a ruin at which one should spend a lot of time when one has a full agenda. Still, it was nice up there on top – I lingered a bit and just took it all in before I walked back down.

And then it was lunchtime – how did the morning go by so quickly? With so much more to see! But we were near a restaurant with which Kong (and several drivers, it became apparent) had a relationship – and which had great food. I had chicken amok – a traditional Cambodian dish, made with coconut milk to cool off spices that gave it quite a kick. The restaurant also had a view of Sra Srang, the former royal baths – a bonus sight to see.

Then it was on to Ta Prohm – a jungle temple. Kong dropped me off at one end of the temple and told me to walk straight through and he would meet me at the other side. The jungle had overgrown the entire complex; here, they left some trees and roots in the state in which they were found (though they are still working to restore and piece together other elements). Seeing trees growing out of the rocks was a testament to the power of nature. I assume that if any Buddhists came they would consider it auspicious. This was all tourists, no locals – I did ask Kong if he had ever been inside the temples and he said yes, once; he spends his waiting time reading up on Angkor so he has more to tell tourists – he’s not a licensed guide, he’s a driver, but he knew a lot! And he spoke English well – as did just about everyone I talked to; they do cater to tourists!