Friday, December 30, 2011

Siem Reap, Cambodia

  As a reward for our arduous journey thus far Victoria, Jeanette, Sierra and myself spent our first  night in a rather nice hotel in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is famous for its ancient temples. In fact, there are over 200 temples surrounding the city. Based on my photo albums I think I've seen at least six or seven of the most popular attractions. The best way to visit the ruins is to rent a tuk tuk driver each day who can take you exactly where you need to go. It's always a gamble because you never know how reliable your driver will be. Honestly, we could not have hired a nicer man to transport us around the city. Mr. Tea (tee-eh) provided a cooler of bottled water for us every day and always checked on us to see if we were comfortable. He understood more English than he could speak and wore a smile on his face at all times. We paid him $28 each day ($7 per person) for three days. In order to gain admissions to the temples we bought 3-day passes for $40. Although we had access for three days we spent two full days touring and our final day at Angkor Wat for sunrise. 

  Every temple we explored was unique in its own way. In Thailand I feel that many temples are indistinguishable due to traditional architectural design and common religious statues therein. They are all well maintained and perfectly preserved. For me, exploring each new temple in Cambodia seemed to fuel my curiosity and anticipation of what was in store. I was eager to take photos of the intricate bas relief carvings on the walls or the abandoned piles of rubble that have littered the ground for thousands of years. The fact that the temples have virtually been untouched over centuries is fascinating. Nature began to reclaim the stones as vibrant lichens and winding tree roots crept over the walls. Maybe Westerners find these temples particularly captivating because there is nothing truly ancient in America. I couldn't fathom how young America is until I traveled to Italy and Asia. When I read a description of a temple and learned that it was built in the 9th or 12th century I couldn't really comprehend the age of the stones until I wandered inside and saw them for myself. I think all that history is hard to understand, but exploring the mysteries of every temple helped me imagine just how ancient the buildings are. 

  My favorite temples were Bayon (the temple with the stone faces) and Ta Phrom (where Tomb Raider) was filmed. Bayon is exposed in a clearing of trees and encircled by a dirt road for the tuk tuks. From the front steps it's unclear what makes this temple so special. It seems rather small in both height and area, plus the surface appears featureless and eroded. As I approached the temple all the faces seemed to emerge from the towers above. Unable to get a proper view of them from the first floor, I climbed the staircase inside and found myself surrounded by what looked like fifty faces jutting out of the four sides of every tower. I could see each individual stone used to construct the temple. I felt as if I was in a giant jigsaw puzzle. No matter how many photos I took of the place I could never be satisfied. 
Ta Phrom really took the cake as my favorite temple. Aside from feeling like I was on the set of the Tomb Raider film, exploring these ruins was breathtaking. I basically wandered aimlessly, my mouth hanging open in awe, without a care of getting lost. I guess I was lost in awe. The temple looked like it had slowly grown out of the earth thousands of years ago. You can see in my photos how the trees virtually climbed on top of the walls and spread their roots reaching down to the ground. 
Song of the Day:
  This song comes from the downtempo instrumental DJ known as Bonobo. I found him one day by rummaging Itunes for artists similar to Thievery Corporation. Many of his songs have appeared on American television shows from Gossip Girl to House. I've utilized his relaxing and groovy tracks for my DJing gigs at Phra Nakorn. 

Bonobo - 'Change Down'

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The King and I

  I think some current event updates are in order. This weekend was totally awesome. I spent a few days around the Grand Palace, which is just up the street from the school. Pictures will be posted shortly. Monday was the King's birthday, so the area around the palace was lavishly decorated with lights, tents and pictures of him. The road through the park was lined with tent vendors selling things like food, wooden carvings of home appliances and reed sitting mats.  My friends and I spent a few afternoons relaxing and throwing a frisbee in the massive field outside the palace wall. I love the winter season here. Winter weather here is an ideal American summer. It's hot every day, but not unbearably hot and humid like the previous seasons, plus it's cool in the morning and evening. It seems like the seasons change so quickly. It's obviously warm and tropical all the time, but the rain suddenly turned off after rainy season and now the decreasing humidity makes the heat more comfortable. The weather this weekend was perfect for my rooftop gig and the King's birthday celebration. 

  On Sunday I played my first DJ gig in Thailand at Phra Nakorn bar. For those who aren't familiar with the bar, it's conveniently hidden around the corner from Khao San. The place is made up of four levels: a cozy restaurant on the first floor, an art gallery on the second floor, a vintage-themed third floor with a bar and pool table, and finally an open rooftop crowded with small white tables adorned with oil lamps, flanked by a bar on each side. Phra Nakorn has quickly become my favorite bar in Thailand. Eclectic music styles, the inviting atmosphere of each floor and the strongest Long Island iced-teas around all create a recipe for a great night. What led to my gig was my innate curiosity about the music on the roof. Whenever I song catches my ear I always ask the DJ or person near the computer to tell me the artist and song. I've done this a few times at Phra Nakorn; enough to introduce myself to the bar tender. Maybe about two weeks ago I started talking to the bartender, Oct, and his friend, Prince about the possibility of playing music one night on the roof. Guest DJ's (a.k.a. Farangs) are only allowed to play on Sunday nights. Lucky for me, this past Sunday happened to be a full house! Since Monday was the King's 84th birthday, thousands of Thai people poured into the streets and bars to celebrate all weekend. 
  On the way to the bar I went to the street to summon a cab, but attracted a motorbike driver instead. Rather than take a cab through the traffic I decided to hop on the guy's bike even though I couldn't properly explain where I was going. I was nervous to weave in between cars with my computer on my back. When I got closer to the bar, the adjacent street was absolutely packed with people gathering to enjoy the holiday decorations. My motorbike driver drove onto the sidewalk to get out of the traffic. The ride took about twenty minutes and then what felt like another ten just to cross the street. When I arrived on the roof I greeted my Thai friends (Prince and Ock) who work at the bar. I was nervous about my playlist at first because the music was super soft and mellow when I first got there, which made me self-conscious about my louder songs. All that trepidation was so unnecessary! I was just nervous about everything working out. It turned out that my two Thai friends and I all have similar music taste and our selections blended together nicely. To my surprise they were familiar with The Postal Service and The Drums among other bands. I wish I could've played only my songs the whole time, but it was fun to introduce new songs to the Thai guys and learn some new things from them. I was so happy that I could play anything I wanted and that the Thai people liked my selections. Almost all of the Loyola teachers were there to hear me play. How flattering! I could tell everyone had a great time. Prince offered me another chance to play music this Sunday, but I'm going to Avicii/Armin! I'd like to play every Sunday if possible. 

  On Monday night I went with a few friends to the Grand Palace for the big celebration. There were thousands upon thousands of people filling the streets. It was breathtaking when we first arrived - to see lights hanging in all the trees and the glowing golden palace in the distance as hundreds of paper lanterns floated up into the sky. I felt so privileged to be a part of this peaceful cultural celebration. As we neared the white wall of the palace there were images projected along the entire thing. I saw it transform from a giant moving piano into an art gallery of paintings. Once inside the palace we found a spot in the courtyard to sit and chat. It was funny to laugh at all the silly Asian people posing for pictures in front of the golden pagodas. There were plenty of Thai people throwing up the peace sign in a photo and making a goofy face. Later on our walk home we stopped to send off a lantern of our own. 

Song of the Day: Same Same but Different
  "Get a drink, have a good time now. Welcome to paradise." This original song cleared away any initial doubts I had about my playlist when I looked across the bar and saw a Thai man at his table nodding his head to the beat. The track, Since I Left You, is The Avalanches' most recognized hit. The remix properly retains the melody of the original and jumps the tempo to a tropical dance party. After all these years I can still remember the first time I saw the music video. A seemingly uncoordinated and bulky man unexpectedly dances gracefully with a super hot chick. I find the ambiguous plot quite compelling. Maybe it teaches us all to bravely act on those fleeting once-in-a-lifetime opportunities before they fade away...

The Avalanches - 'Since I Left You'

The Avalanches - 'Since I Left You' (Kama Qu Remix)