Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012, Day 328 - Divine fortune

This morning we got up, skipped breakfast, and went with Tim into work.  After we dropped him off in what can only be described as the diplomatic district we went on to visit Wat Phnom.  Even though we've seen a lot of temples already this is an icon of Phnom Penh and it seemed worth a visit.  When we arrived I was surprised to see how small it is, I expect something a little more grand but from the outside it looked no more impressive than many of the temples we had already visited.  However the grandeur of this temple is found within.  Beautiful paintings cover the walls, gold leaf abounds, and the statute of the Buddha at the far end is massive.  It was nice that we arrived early enough that there were almost no tourists, just locals coming to pray.

We took the long way down from the temple's hilltop location and walked a circuit around the grounds.  On one side we found the bat tree which is, as the name suggests, home to colony of bats.  Further on we found a large naga made of rattan woven around a welded metal frame.  Araceli felt compelled to investigate it more closely, I suspect it is the engineer in her whose curiosity cannot be suppressed; so she poked and prodded while we took pictures.

Having skipped breakfast we found Sok and asked for a recommendation.  Unfortunately his first choice of dining establishment was closed so we decided to redirect him to a place we passed earlier.  It was one of those places along the waterfront that had a number of people seated so we took that as a good night.  As it turned out they had a pretty decent breakfast buffet for $2.75 so we ate our fill and the coffee drinkers quickly became sufficiently caffeinated.

Our rumbling stomachs left at the river we then moved on to the Royal Palace.  Sadly none of the palace could be viewed given the recent death of the king father so we were limited to the Silver Pagoda.  It is so named for the large solid silver tiles that covered the floor.  Each, we were told, weighs one kilogram and there are thousands in this temple.  Also housed within are icons of the Buddha wrought in precious metals and studded with gems.  There is one gold statue that weighs ninety kilograms and has almost one hundred carats of diamonds in three massive stones.  The temple is still used on holy days by the royal family and is of course closed to the public on such occasions.

The rest of the grounds were pretty with large animal-shaped topiary littering the courtyards and large pots filled with water lilies in bloom surrounding the many stupas.  The whole courtyard is surrounded by a massive walled gallery that is currently undergoing renovations to restore the painted murals to the original condition.  We also saw displays on the king's elephant stables and while the royal family no longer keeps elephants they have converted the building to a museum with all of the equipment and information about the capture and keeping of those magnificent animals.  After all their informational displays we wandered back onto the temple grounds but it wasn't long before they were shooing us out so that they could close for their extended lunch.  Oh well, we had seen pretty much everything we could so it wasn't a big loss.

I am sure we could have managed without the help if we had really tried but it was getting warm so we called Sok to pick us up and deliver us to the National Museum.  It is a beautiful building, based on traditional temple architecture but greatly enlarged, that opened in 1920 as Musee Albert Sarraut after the Governor-General of Indochina.  The museum features primarily stone sculptures and is divided into three parts; pre-Angkorian, Angkorian, and post-Angkorian.  Many of the pieces are the best examples of sculpture and art taken from the most significant temples throughout Cambodia.  We had a very sweet guide who answered many burning questions we had accumulated over our travels; the things we forgot to ask Mr. Mony when we had the chance.  It was fascinating to see the melding of Hindu and Buddhist themes in the statues and the evolution of art in Cambodia from over the last millennium.

After we finished at the National Museum Francene took us by the Royal University of Fine Art.  The students have something of a sculpture garden that includes traditional and contemporary sculptures in metal and ceramics.  It was interesting to see where art may be headed in Cambodia and the campus seemed pretty lively which I can only assume is a good thing.  It was getting hot so we decided to find Sok again and swing by the grocery store before going back to the apartment.

Pencil Supermarket was an interesting experience.  It is almost like a western supermarket but there are some odd difference.  First, if you want any fresh produce you have to take it to an attendant so they can price it out for the cashier.  Second, nothing is organized in any kind of logical order.  Toothpaste is in the same aisle as laundry detergent and cleaning supplies share an aisle with other personal care items.  Third, they had high end cosmetic counters each staffed by bored looking women with old faded boxes of products that have probably been sitting in the locked cases for years given the absurd prices.  But we bought snack foods, a case of water, and some other odds and ends to fill Tim's pantry.

The afternoon was one of relaxation in Tim's apartment where we could laze around and play on the internet.  I can't say that much of anything was accomplished but it seemed like in no time we were getting ready for dinner.  Tim suggested Fish, one of his favorite dinner places.  Francene and I shares a mixed Asian seafood platter and fish and chips because neither of us could resist such temptation.  Fortunately we were in good company because Tim and Araceli also ordered the fish and chips.  It was a large piece of flaky pacific dory covered in a nice batter served on a plate of spiced french fries.  The mixed Asian seafood platter included some nice seared tuna, a couple other types of fish that I didn't recognize but still enjoyed, calamari, and shrimp.  I still am not fond of water bugs despite enjoying the Kampot crab of a couple days ago so I left the shrimp for Fracene but everything else was really tasty.

When dinner was over I asked if we might go to the night market on the waterfront which was only half a block away.  Everyone graciously indulged me and we walked over but as soon as we stepped off the sidewalk it started to rain.  Well, we are mostly from Oregon and are highly optimistic about rain so we continued on to the market.  I think we barely made it through the gate and it started to rain in earnest.  Soon it was a deluge so we ran for cover at the information tent and waited there for about ten minutes until the rain lightened just long enough for us to seek shelter in Sok's tuk tuk.

Defeated by the weather we headed back to the apartment.  Fortunately we had purchased a surprise dessert earlier in the day.  We got it into our heads that a blizzard cake from Dairy Queen would be a funny surprise for Tim.  Our funny surprise turned into a tasty treat that I think everyone enjoyed.  I am coming down from my sugar high now so I will leave it there, until tomorrow!

A word about the photo below.  This was taken at Wat Phnom and I believe this man is a fortune teller.  You take the book and hold it atop your head and blindly select a page with a little bone bookmark attached.  He then reads you your fortune and in exchange for a small donation you will receive a blessing.  Often if you receive a bad fortune they will let you try up to three more times and if they are all bad, well, you better watch out...

Canon 1D X, Canon 24-70/f2.8L Mark II
70mm, f4, 1/60 sec @ 1250 ISO

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