He nodded and explained.
"Just before 1975 there was a Buddhist prophesy that the country of Cambodia would be emptied of its people. My father's father, my grandfather, was a Buddhist priest and his wife, my grandmother, a Buddhist nun and they told my father the Buddhist priests predicted that the cities of Cambodia would be emptied. The roads would be empty and the sun and the moon would rise on empty fields." He gestured to the sky and the island rice paddies on the islands in the Mekong below us. "They also predicted that when Cambodia recovered, a lot of foreigners would come - particularly to Siem Riep province, to help restore the country.
Now, at this time, my father spoke French and we learned French in school. After the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979 and we went back to school, my father reminded me of the prediction that a lot of foreigners would come. So I needed to learn another language than French, I needed to learn English. They had to pay a fine because I was learning English, it was a multiple of my body weight! That is why we moved in secret from house to house to study. But, at first I learned English from a Cambodian, not a native English speaker so my pronunciation was impossible to understand." he smiled. "That is why I listen to native English speakers carefully and try to improve my pronunciation."
I looked this up later. What Q referred to was an ancient Buddhist text called the put tumniay which predicted that enemies of the religion would rise to power and the kingdom would be ruled by hooligans, the uneducated and drunkards - a complete reversal of the known social order. Many Cambodians currently believe that the Pol Pot regime qualified as fulfillment of this prophesy.
By now we were at the top of the hill and about to enter the temple. We removed our shoes and hats before entering. I was hot but appropriately dressed in long pants and a tee shirt that covered my shoulders (it's mandatory that shoulders and knees be covered when entering a temple - capris would I been fine had I had any.
We sat down before the three young monks and they began to chant. I confess the chanting took a little getting used to.
We sat facing the three monks in their orange robes sitting cross legged. We pressed our palms together, heart level while they chanted for ten minutes. The young monk on the far right flicked water over us. This was meant to cleans our souls of the sins of past lives. After a few minutes the chanting became truly beautiful to me and tears sprang to my eyes with an unexpected rush of emotion. It was so beautiful my heart cracked wide open. I wasn't the only one as the flurry of nose blowing would attest. We accepted the blessing with by bowing to the priests three times and saying the equivalent to 'amen' in Pali, the Buddhist language. Several of us were still in tears at the end as a monk tied a red blessing thread around our right wrists.
This beautiful stupa was at the monastery. The story was that the head of the pagoda fell gravely ill and the monks were afraid he was going to die. So they had this stupa built for his remains. As soon as the stupa was complete, he recovered fully and he is still the director today.
We also had the unexpected pleasure of visiting a Cambodian home. When we approached, a little girl, about 3 years old and wearing nothing but a tee-shirt and a scowl, shouted at us, "No! No! No!" And the 'guard' dogs made a half-hearted inspection of our persons. A moment later an older girl, perhaps fourteen appeared with the little one's hand firmly clutched in hers. The toddler was now suitably garbed in trousers as well as her tee shirt. The older girl showed us around. She only went to school half a day (as all Cambodian children do) so that she could help her parents out. They had rice paddies on an island across the river so the young girl looked after the toddler and the house during the day.
The roof is left open underneath, no ceiling, again to facilitate ventilation.
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Rice is stored in the big white sacks.
Coming up next: SILK!
Photos: R. Marion