|Angkor Wat at sunrise|
|Derek climbing up to the treeline to view the kingdom below|
From Keiko; our encounters with locals; and a booklet called “Dos and Don’ts in Cambodia” (yes- there was such a thing- and quite informative too!), we learned about some proper etiquette in Cambodia. Although it’s a country with a very young population, certain elements of society are still quite conservative. This comes from the fact that a majority of the population practices Theravada Buddhism, which I have learned is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. I got an understanding of this rich history while visiting a local wat or temple in Siem Reap. A beautiful and colorful mural told the story of Buddha in several panels around the perimeter of the temple. Unknowingly I committed one of the “Don’ts” of Cambodia by approaching one of the male monks and asking him a question about the mural’s story. You see, it is taboo for a woman to speak to a monk or for him to even look at a woman. To be fair, he did approach us, but he had another man (who was not of the cloth) in tow and he was probably trying to engage in conversation with Derek. Then, while on a bus trip from Battambang to Siem Reap, Derek had a very chatty and friendly monk sit next to him whose English was so good that he had started an English language school. Derek soon learned from his friendly monk about the gender etiquette. Derek asked what would have happened if his girlfriend had sat next to him? Without offering much reason, the monk replied, “I just couldn’t.” This he said before calling his sister on his cel phone and having Derek chat with her in English for a few minutes! So it seems that Cambodians live with a long, proud history of tradition that is now intertwined with elements of modernity. Certain traditions and etiquette are deeply engrained and common place. Keiko explained that had I unknowingly sat next to the monk, the entire bus would have collaborated together to make sure that the monk’s honor and my humility would have been spared.
Our week in Cambodia was all too short and provided us only with a sampling of its rich history; its quiet and warm people; and its stunning scenery. I envied Keiko and her boyfriend Tyler a little for having had the opportunity to spend two years experiencing Cambodia. Both Derek and I realized that one week was too short to visit it. On the day we left, it was only apt that our friend Den, out first introduction to the warmness of Cambodia, brought us to the airport. As we exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes, I bowed to him with a sompiah and Derek shook his hand. It seemed silly that I was feeling regretful and a little choked up about leaving Cambodia after only one week. I guess we’ll have to find a way to come back again and get a greater sampling of it.