Thursday, January 27, 2011

We Interrupt Cambodia to Bring you Christmas Presents.

Oh, hey, don't worry. I'll be back next week (it's Chinese New Year, so I've a WHOLE WEEK to finish up with a few more terrific Cambodia pictures--but Christmas actually came and went and our presents finally arrived!

I'm not really crazy about Chinese art and for quite awhile nothing was really catching my eye--I seriously thought we'd be living here for a few years, and I'd have really not much to show for it. But slowly, some things start to grow on you, and you start to find things here and there that catch your eye. In the end, I think it's been good, because we haven't bought a lot until this year and I really love the things we do have.

As part of having a new head of school and the 30th anniversary at ISB, a muralist was hired to paint the entrance of the school and one of the hallways. These peasant paintings are really popular and I guess this particular artist is quite famous. I love this picture of Chinese New Year. We have such terrible light in our house that even during the daytime I often need to use a flash so the picture looks much brighter than it is.

One of the great things about here is that you can have furniture made from pictures and it's not that expensive. This cabinet I adore. It just came today. I found a picture and explained what I wanted and 3 weeks later--voila! The cool thing is that the wood is at least 120 years old. As buildings get torn down, everything gets recycled, so even a new piece has an aged "lived-in" look. I've been wanting something like this for a long time.

From my trip to the tile factory, I picked up this dragon head. I need to mount a wooden support before I can hang it on a wall, so for right now it's glaring down at us from above the TV. The factory was supposed to be torn down in November, but I just saw it was standing when I went to get gas this morning. I have an urge to run over and snap up another one. Matching sets and all. The stone disc behind is another something I really like. They come in all sizes and colors, the most common being jade green, ivory, and a bronze. You can use them as servers, trivets, or just display. The red pots are from a furniture store where we got our TV cabinet and I know I paid too much for them, but I love the red. So much here is porcelain and either blue and white or ornately painted. Finding the more rustic pottery that I like isn't easy. I actually might have bought 5 of them. No, I really did buy 5 of them.

This I love. It's a shadow puppet that I got in Cambodia. We took a tuk-tuk to an out-of-the-way temple and then wandered around looking for this little shop with no signage. The tiny room and the little lady sold these amazing shadow puppets, all hand made out of leather. Can you all those cutouts? It's crazy! China also has shadow puppets, but they are much more delicate. I'll be picking some of those up (they are a lot more expensive) but again the more rustic look suited me. I was warned they'd be pretty expensive...and boy, this elepant was a whopping $25. Seriously. For once "pretty expensive" turned out to be in my budget!
Merry Christmas--again!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

One Last Look...

Bang Melea

Bang Melea was a drive out of town...many times I wished we didn't have a van--it made it hard to stop suddenly to see something quickly--but on this day I was not complaining. We took a back (dirt) road that rivaled Tanzania in parts--great to see farms and the stilted houses, the families working the rice fields, the oxen and carts that haven't changed in hundreds of years.

The temple has collapsed and I dearly hope it doesn't get rebuilt. If you have children that resemble mountain goats, no problem, because it requires climbing over enormous blocks of stone and wedging yourself through tiny passages. If you are less nimble, you’d have to go around the outside. If you've seen the tiger movie Two Brothers you would recognize the temple from the opening scenes before the cubs are captured. If you haven't seen it, you should, it's beautiful movie. They built a very nice walkway through part of the site that made part of the adventure a little easier.

The trees are doing their best to reclaim the land for their own.

With all the rubble, it's wasy to forget how precise the construction was. Even here, the perfect angles, the straight lines, the amazing assembly was. No morter.

Nothing like a mediocre beer, with a straw. At least it was icy cold. You can't expect Diet Coke to have infiltrated the pastoral serenity of Cambodia, I guess.

It's hard to find people to set a good example for your children nowadays. Everyone took a turn on the Tarzan vines. I worried we'd be ruining someone else's wonderful picture if we broke it.

More Temples

Ta Phrom was one of our favorite temples. You might recognize the site where Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed, and if you do, then I'm sorry because that was one. bad. movie. Seriously. Our guide told us that the government solicits information from official guides regularly as to how people feel about the temples, the restoration, etc. I think that the restored temples are beautiful, but I loved the ones that show the ravages of time. The whole Indiana Jones thing, you know? It’s really eerily beautiful. Our guide said that a lot people said the same thing—that some temples should be restored, but others should have the decay preserved, which is a funny idea when you think about it.

I love how the tree roots ooze down over the buildings like melted wax. Some of them looked like legs of an ancient dinosaur, or the trunk from a prehistoric elephant.

In one of the main temple buildings, looking up. It's so tall! What's more amazing, though, are the walls. Looking closer, each one of the holes was filled with a precious jewel...rubies, emeralds, diamonds, must have been amazing.

I love the contrasts and textures. Photography was 9:00 the sun was so bright that it washed out all the pics. It was hard to capture the right balance of light and shadow. Most of our shots did end up too bright, I think--but as most of these were done by Cameron, I think he did a really nice job.

What is it with the Mormons?

I found a funny article called "Why I Can't Stop Reading Mormon Housewife Blogs." I have a friend, Andalucy, whose blog I love to read, who is Mormon. And her sister, who often posts wickedly funny things on Facebook, I also count as one of the very few friends I've never met in person, but I can't wait to! Growing up my friend Lisa and I would hanker our Mormon friends for invitations to dances. People had to dress nicely at those dances. The lights had to be on. Chaperones circulated, making sure there was no hanky-panky (or close dancing) going on. And the dancing--not hanging on to each other, but a clean-cut nice-looking boy would take your hand and hold you around the waist (his name was Mark and we ate too many Frosties at Wendy's so we could gaze at his bastketball picture on the sports wall and yes, Dr. Friess, I was I who stole his picture from the "after" section of your orthodontist's photo album). Going to those dances was like taking a step back in time. It felt simple, safe, and refreshing.

But here's the thing--the girl we would finagle invitations out of was one of 13 children. Her father was the principal at our elementary school. Our neighbors also sported a family of 13 kids (including 2 sets of twins). He was an artist. I'm pretty sure with that many kids, niehter of those moms had time for flower-arranging, reupholstering furniture, and finding the perfect grograin ribbon to edge those new throw pillows. Honestly, I would think that maybe FEEDING and CLOTHING that many people might consume someone's days. Andalucy and her sister both sound like delicious cooks, and I'm sure keep lovely houses, but...seriously? The whole "shining-happy-people" all around seems to be really taken to an extreme.

I wonder if all those people who love to lurk on Mormon blogs, yearning for an escape from their own lives, stop and consider why Mormons have their image? I think it's because if you are Mormon, you've committed your life to something larger and more everlasting than just yourself and your own needs. I know several quite conservative Christians (whose politics make my toes curl) who exude a sense of joy and peace, even when things are tough. These families have recognized that life isn't really all about them. There's something more, something bigger, something much better in and around them. There's a purpose, a direction, and an intentional reason for their decisions. The things their children "can't" do--not a big deal, because they all know why they are living their lives and what they are doing instead of all those things society tells us to do and have is better. My Mormon friends are well-read. By tuning out so many aspects of modern culture, their children are independent, creative, and articulate. They know so much about history, and music, and literature. By turning away from caffeine and alcohol, they are healthier.

It's not about being Mormon, I suspect, as much as it is being disciplined and intentional--and a life that is disciplined and intentional can't be simply attributed to just a religion. It is a daily commitment to a belief and a way of life that is NOT always shiny and pretty and perfect. It is a way of life, though, that makes sense and give structure and purpose to what you do. I suspect those who are committed to other faiths would understand that. It's not about any of those things those women say they read those blogs for. At the end of the article the author says, "But the basic messages expressed in these blogs -- family is wonderful, life is meant to be enjoyed, celebrate the small things -- are still lovely." That's not Mormon, folks. That's entirely possible and attainable. For all of us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chinese Mothers--and Then Us.

Amy Chua's article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" has garnered a LOT of attention, most of it negative. The article was, I imagine, part of the build-up to her book which was released this week. I think she really missed the mark with her tone--what she may have imagined as "tongue-n-cheek" simply came off to me as bitchy and cruel. Chua seems not to just delight in winning the battles against her daughters, but to enjoy the battles themselves. I also don't believe her assertion that once someone perfects something, they will enjoy it. I suspect there are hundreds of people who were browbeaten into music lessons or sports activities by their parents who would say that the negativity surrounding those experiences was enough to put them off of that activity forever. There would also be those who had achieved that high level, yet find no joy or pleasure in their achievement.

Some of the strongest voices came from Chinese who said that Chua did not represent any Chinese mother they had ever known. Those who had been raised across cultures (Chinese-American or Canadian) did, however, acknowledge that their parents did push them differently than their non-Chinese peers.

And therein, is an important point. As Americans, we need to be careful to crow about the superiority of our educational system. While there are many things that we do very well, we certainly have a whole lot of shortcomings, many of which are becoming more and more obvious as the years go by. Education is also a product of culture--we value certain attributes, so our systems and parenting reinforce that. We want our children to be independent, individuals, unique. We want them to feel good about themselves, to be well-rounded, to have a lot of experiences. Happiness and a sense of satisfaction are important. We have thousands of parenting books the tell us how important all these things are, and yet often make us feel like we aren't living up to some standard.

To look at the Chinese--or any other culture--and impose those values on another group, is quite ethnocentric. In Tanzania, for example, independence is not valued and there's trouble in a home or a village if someone reaches for their own personal achievement and doesn't consider how they need to help their family. The Chinese "way" is more about conformity. Hard work is valued more than free time. Tutors are hired to make sure kids do things very well, rather than letting them dabble and find things they like. I've heard it said that the Chinese feel they have to be competative--after all, there are so many other Chinese to compete with for those university spots and jobs. "Face" is also very important, which may lead to families competing to look as successful as someone else (we don't call it that in the US--we call it "keeping up with the Joneses). I have students who are excelling at music or drawing or swimming and they soundly dislike those activities, but they are the ones their parents have chosen. Parent-pleasing is strong here--most of us really don't want our kids to do something just to make us happy. In return, parents don't expect their children to do many chores, or work at jobs, or have many responsibilities other than school work--we expect our kids to do all of those things.

I thought Chua's tone was, for lack of a better word, bitchy--at the same time, I thought that many comments were unfair for expecting a Chinese mother to raise her children differently than her culture dictated. The fact that she is living in America and is a Yale professor would make her decisions more difficult because her children would be surrounded by a very different parenting style, but would not mean that her values and beliefs would fit in with a traditional or mainstream American approach to childrearing. So many of my very Western acting and sounding Chinese students go home every night to very traditional homes--I have a 3rd grader who has only eaten peanut butter once in his life--so people live their lives on different levels in public and in private.

To be fair to Ms. Chua, I read her rebuttal here in which she talks about her own parents, her childhood, and that this book was born out of an awareness of her development as a mother. I thought those comments put her in a much kinder light, and I was able to better understand her feelings. I would love to hear what her daughters have to say about their family--would they acknowledge the difficulties, explain what they hated, and still say they loved their mother and had great times with her and felt close to her? I hope they do--it would be a good ending for an uncomfortable story.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

For Your Consideration

"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to Man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middleground between light and shadow, between science and superstition...This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call...the Twilight Zone."

This carving is was on one of the 11th century temples we visited. A stegosauraus, perhaps? I can't imagine any modern animal that matches this description. Noah claimed it proves the existence of time travel and immediately started looking for the Tardis. Cameron tucked it neatly in with crop circles and those strange lines in South America and began humming "Close Encounters." What do you think?

More in and around Angkor

I had to remember to take pictures of our family. Sometimes I get caught up in those things that I know I may never see again and overlook the family I see every day. Then there's the fact that keeping all 5 of us in the same place at the same time...well, it's a challenge. And there's those phases that kids go through (and hopefully don't get stuck in) where it's not so much smiling as it is grimacing and mugging). Add a dash of the Chinese habit of flashing the peace sign in every shot...well, I think I did a pretty good job this time!

The girls took off one morning for a tour through the rice fields and villages to a small crumbling temple...

The men took a slightly faster trip through some other fields to another small crumbling temple.

Cameron and Noah bring a stylish Chinese touch to the Cambodian ATV scene.

Sock monkey was our constant companion...and a constant source of amusement to others.

See what I mean? In motion...

Flashing the ubiquitous peace sign... but look at the exquisite detailing on the wall behind us!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is magnificent. Most of it was built in the 10th-11th centuries, making it older than many (most?) of the major architectural achievements we are more familiar with in Europe. China, with it's long history, has so many old temples and buildings; but because so many of them were made of wood, they've been destroyed and rebuilt over time, so many of the things that we've seen are new (and faithful) reproductions. The temples (Angkor Wat is only one--we saw many) rise from what was jungle and loom over the landscape with a mysterious and exotic air. Despite the number of people, the sites have an air of serenity. The complex itself is massive. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom have a loop of about 20 km so walking around is really not an option. People can rent bicycles, or tuk-tuks...we had rented a car and driver, which was very useful when we headed out of town, but I would have liked to have used something closer to the ground a lot of the time. The scale of everything was difficult to comprehend. Like Egypt, the kings built these temples and monuments to the gods (so they would be pleased with them)--and like Egypt, the materials come from some distance. The engineering and artistry caught us by surprise over and over.

Bayon originally had 219 giant faces carved or built into the temple. At first it was hard to see them, but they slowly appear like an optical puzzle.

One of the amazing things about the temples, especially Angkor Wat, is the lines. After 900 years, the lines and angles remain completely straight and perfect. The ground hasn't settled, the stones haven't warped, which gives some beautiful scenes...

Most of the temples are being reconstructed, using the actual stones where they can be identified and used, or other stones from that period, or new stones if nothing else can be used. I didn't expect to capture the big green tarp in my iconic photo...

Thanks to Cameron, who bothered to actually master our new camera and has a nice eye.

Bantey Srei is an unusual temple. Unlike the other gray temples, it was carved from pink sandstone. It was very small, and the carving so intricate that it's believed to have been done by woman. Some the detailing appears almost three-dimensional.

The temples were assembled and then carved. The height and angles (and the heat) must have made the job so very difficult!