I’m sitting in a modern art/strange white-cushioned room in Tokyo International Airport trying to ignore the constant flight announcements broadcasted in a language I don’t understand. With five hours to sit and watch the rushing crowd come and go, I feel sad, missing my travel companion already, stunned that our nine weeks in South East Asia has come and gone...
As my plane took off at 5:30 a.m., I looked out into a burning sunrise and thought about all that has come and passed on this epic adventure: I thought of my father in Tonsai, cracking mangosteens open with his hands, sucking the sweet, velvet insides out while scowling at me, so filled with hurt; I imagined my first climb, the slippery-smooth stone at Firewall, Ethan encouraging me from below and the feeling that I could do anything. These memories feel both near and far away. The engine wheezed, our upward motion eased to a steady straight and the sun illuminated the farmland outside of Bangkok. Goodbye, I whispered into the window, pushing tears away with my wrists… goodbye Thailand, goodbye Sweet Fox.
I last left off in Cambodia, where the enchanted ruins of Siem Reap meet their modern counterparts (think massive five-star monstrosities). Each morning, before the sun rose, we set off, hoping to beat the crowds and see the temples bathed in morning light. My favorite of all the sites (there are so, so many Temples in Angkor, each in various states of disrepair) is Ta Prohm, where the forest has taken over, where huge white trees have entwined themselves with stone. The trees, their roots weaving between the careful carvings of Hindu Gods, remind me of snakes. It’s as if the nagas, the six-headed snakes that guard the temple’s entrance, have taken life in these roots. They wind and coil around the temples, breaking their foundations and pushing them over. I see Ethan; he is taking pictures, so many pictures, trying to capture the majesty of this place. I am tracing shapes—touching the round hips and breasts of they many Aspara figures, the dancing women carved into the walls—dragging my hand from stone to tree and back again. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” “There is nothing quite like it.” “It makes me hopeful.” “How so?” “Can’t you see the world this way, trees taking over, reclaiming what has always been theirs?”
The Temples of Angkor are Hindu and Buddhist. As we wander we see hundreds of depictions of Vishnu, Krishna, Sita, Hanuman and Buddha. In the great bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat, legends are carved in stone, stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, along with tales that immortalize the great Kings of Angkor. All are delicately drawn into stone. One of my favorites (Ethan’s too) is the relief depicting the creation of the world, “The Churning of the Sea of Milk.” Gods and Demons pull on a massive serpent that’s wrapped around a mountain. As they pull the snake’s body churns the sea – the source of all life. The Gods and Demons are fighting for the elixir of life, a magical potion created by the serpent and the churning. The relief is unbelievable. Nine-faced, broad-chested monsters fight the Gods, who are equally muscular but have only one head. Ethan and I point at the carving, eavesdropping as a tour guide recounts the famous legend.
Ethan and I spent three days exploring the temples, climbing so many flights of stairs, amazed that these relics of an empire long-since passed are still standing. Our second day of exploration marked a very special occasion, as we celebrated our one-year first-date anniversary. We treated ourselves to a glass of wine (our first in over two months), and clinked glasses. We sipped slowly, sheltered from a soft rain. Our week in Cambodia passed too quickly… Before I knew it we were on our way to Bangkok, lost in a long, dusty immigration line and exhausted. But we were so warmly welcomed in Bangkok and stayed with Ethan’s friend Elle (a Thai woman he meet in India while studying to be a yoga teacher) and her wonderful family. Her two-year-old son, Alex, is so amazingly cute, and is filled with energy. He is in constant motion and never seems to sit still. In Bangkok we went to an enormous market (selling orchids, pets, food galore, clothing, shoes, antiques, you name it, it’s there). We walked around for hours and still only saw a fraction of the stalls and vendors there. In the evening on our last night, Elle’s family took us out to MK, a popular restaurant where you cook your own soup, which is boiled on the table in front of you. “Do you think this would take off is Asheville?” Ethan asked. “Maybe. I’d eat there.” “I wonder if there are laws in the U.S. about serving raw meat?” “Probably. What’s that you’re eating?” “A dumpling filled with fish eggs.” “Good?” “Yes, good,” he crunches, “but salty.”
And suddenly I am here, killing time in Tokyo, looking into a sea of faces… I still have five hours to wait… then seven hours in the air, then three more hours to wait, then 37 minutes in the air. I am somewhere in-between, halfway between coming and going, between Ethan and my home on Kauai. Limbo. I left Bangkok on September 13th, at 5:30 a.m. I will travel for 23 hours and arrive on Kauai on September 13th, at 11:30 a.m. I am halfway between two worlds, remembering and waiting….