Friday, July 20, 2018

Battling Butterflies and a Fox Hat

Yesterday we had a leisurely day in Siem Reap. It started off rather strangely, when we were rousted from bed by loud music and cheering. I thought maybe there was a wedding or some other party nearby, but it turned out to be a passing political parade on the road outside our hotel. Apparently elections are scheduled in a week or so, and this was one political party's efforts to drum up some votes:

Cambodians certainly seem happy about their politics, don't they? Unlike Americans at the moment.

I spent the morning reading by the pool, and then Dave and I went to lunch at a restaurant called the Butterflies Garden, featuring dozens and dozens of colorful butterflies in a screened-in garden enclosure. There's also a fish pond, somewhere between the size of a big bathtub and a small swimming pool. The food was excellent.

Here's something I never knew: Apparently butterflies fight each other. We saw a few that looked rather tattered, and then I saw one land on another in a way that seemed aggressive. Sure enough, it's all about defending territory. I suppose in the tiny environment of a screened enclosure a little aggression is understandable. It's "Lord of the Flies" -- for real!

Then Dave went back to the room and I took a walk through town. I passed this guy serving as a dual locksmith and shoe repairman, and I asked him if I could take his picture. Why is it that locksmithing and shoe repair go hand-in-hand? We often see the same combination in London.

My goal was to walk all the way back to the hotel, and I almost made it, despite having only a fuzzy map of Siem Reap in my head. I just walked and walked, figuring I could always get a tuk-tuk if I got hopelessly lost. As it turns out, I was pretty close to our hotel by the time I got tired and caught a ride.

I passed a lot of curious places along the way. This bar, for example. I wondered if "wearing a fox hat" had some kind of significance? And sure enough, there's a picture of a guy on the sign, wearing a tuxedo and, yes, a fox hat:

I was extremely bewildered.

Then I came home and Googled it, and apparently it's a pun, relating back to this 1999 Miller Beer commercial. File this under "moments in popular culture that I have missed."

(I had to travel to Cambodia to learn this?!)

Last night, we went to dinner at the Embassy Restaurant, an elegant place near the river. We had a six-course meal with wine pairings for me (herbal tea for Dave, who has sworn off alcohol because of his Crohn's) and it was very good. The chefs are two women with the same name who call themselves "twins," and Dave noticed that every employee we saw was a woman. Sisters are doin' it for themselves!

Most of today we're relaxing in Siem Reap, and then this evening we're on a plane to Hanoi. Coming to you tomorrow from Vietnam!

Thursday, July 19, 2018


I have wanted to see Angkor Wat for as long as I've known about it. The story is so intriguing -- a medieval lost temple, or really collection of temples, abandoned in the jungle and overgrown by gigantic trees and vines. Evidence of an earlier civilization, but unknown to the wider world until "discovered" by French colonizers of Indochina in the 1860s. It's all very "Indiana Jones."

Of course, I'm sure at least some Cambodians knew it was there all along, but the massive effort to reclaim the temples from the jungle and make them available to visitors who want to appreciate the relics of the Khmers is relatively recent.

It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and since the 1990s it has drawn so many visitors that my guidebook calls it "the Disneyland of Buddhist temples in Asia." There were certainly plenty of people out and about when Dave and I visited, despite overcast skies and humidity hovering around 100 percent.

Some of the visitors were pretty interesting! (At first I thought that right-hand monk was flashing a gang sign -- but actually I think he was just adjusting his robes.)

The temples -- both Buddhist and Hindu, depending on who was in power -- mostly date from the period that Angkor served as the Khmer capital between the years 802 and 1295. This one, The Bayon, is known for its many carved faces. The large temple complex in the top photo is the main Angkor Wat, with its famous reflecting pools.

Some of the carvings around the base of the temples are very ornate. And the height of the temples varies, depending on who they're for -- temples for royalty tend to have several levels, according to our guide.

Near the ancient temples are a few more modern ones, like this one featuring a gigantic Buddha statue. Angkor is still an active Buddhist site where people go to pray and light incense. (For a sense of scale, you can see a few people crouched at its base.)

The area around the temples is preserved as a forest, and there's plenty of wildlife. We saw monkeys, lizards and loads of different butterflies, and we heard some very exotic-sounding birds.

Apparently one of Angkor's most globally famous moments came in the movie "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," with Angelina Jolie, from 2001. I'd never seen this film, so when our guide kept talking about the "Tomb Raider" temple, Ta Prohm, his references were lost on me. But indeed, the movie was filmed at the temple in the photo above. (By the time we got there it was pouring rain.)

Here's a still from the movie, which we rented and watched last night. It's silly but mildly diverting. (Dave fell asleep.)

And here's the same location as we saw it, featuring about 100 tourists! Everyone wants a picture in front of that big tree with the tangled roots.

I've got to hand it to our guide, whose name I think was Gou. (I never saw it written down!) He knew all the best photo spots and showed us tiny, subtle elements of the temples that would otherwise be easily missed, like a carving that appears to show a stegosaurus:

By the time Dave and I got back to our hotel, we were sweaty and exhausted, but it was a great day. We immediately took showers and ordered room service for dinner. I had something called "Bra Hook," because HOW COULD I NOT with a name like that?! It turned out to be a pork-and-vegetable dish with rice and tiny aubergines the size of large peas. Supposedly it contained salty fish, but I didn't detect any. It was possibly obscured by the radioactively hot pepper that I failed to pick out of one mouthful of food -- I ate it and was literally left gasping. My eyes watered for half an hour!

Oh, and speaking of food, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant where I got "banana bud salad," and I'm pretty sure those red pod-like vegetables in yesterday's post are indeed banana buds.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Eiffel and Alaska

Yesterday afternoon, after a short nap, Dave asked at the hotel desk for a recommendation for lunch somewhere in town. The staff suggested Pop Street. We had no idea what Pop Street was, but we dutifully hired a tuk-tuk and told him that's where we wanted to go. When we got there, we realized it was, in fact, called Pub Street and it's surrounded by a complex of little restaurants and bars and market stalls all packed cheek-by-jowl along narrow alleys.

Well, it was perfect for our mid-afternoon meal -- a quiet affair of chicken curry and fish amok, a Cambodian specialty, that we ate at 4 p.m. "We're having the early-bird special!" I told Dave before downing my first local beer, called, appropriately, Angkor. We were the only ones eating at that crazy hour.

Siem Reap is a peculiar little town. We keep finding places named for other places. Above is the Eiffel Time Container Night Market, complete with a miniature tower, and in our tuk-tuk we passed a big building called the Alaska Massage Center. ("They rub you with a salmon," Dave said.) I suppose it's kind of like a mini Las Vegas.

We walked around the food market, where tables of not-always-readily-identifiable meat, dried fish and produce were laid out for sale. I see cucumbers and limes and pineapple, and some kind of mushroom on the right. But what are those round things in the middle? And those reddish pods, upper left? And those wrinkly brown things in the back?

Cambodia is full of mysteries.

The streets are buzzing with bicycles and mopeds and tuk-tuks. This picture actually doesn't do the traffic justice. It's much busier than that. I keep absent-mindedly looking to the right before stepping off the curb, as I would in London, and I think, "Man, I've got to stop doing that before I get killed." Which is true, but the traffic here seems very organic. It all just flows around obstacles like careless pedestrians and meandering tuk-tuks and stray dogs and all manner of vehicles trying to turn left. Nobody's going very fast.

That building shaded by palms is an elegant-looking boutique hotel called the Hotel de Ville. (That usually means City Hall in French, but apparently not in this case.)

After our curry early-bird supper we stopped at another streetside bar and sat out on the patio. We had, for dessert, steamed pumpkin with sweet custard poured into the center. Yum! Who thinks of these things?!

The light fixtures in the bar were made of old bicycles. (It's kind of hard to tell from the photo, but they're hanging from the ceiling.)

Oh, and speaking of inventiveness, I forgot to mention a feature of yesterday's flight that I found really amazing. Our plane had windows that turned from clear to dark, deep blue to screen out the sun. Compared to those tatty plastic pull-down blinds, these windows seemed so elegant. Have you ever seen them before? And you can control the darkness of the glass with a little dial beneath the window. It's very smooth and space-age and if Steve Jobs didn't design them, it seems like he'd at least approve.

Off to Angkor Wat today!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

In Cambodia, a Common Rose

We're in Siem Reap, Cambodia, after a long, LONG flight via Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). We are lying by the pool at our hotel waiting for our room to be prepared. The desk clerk said we have the "James Bond Room," which confused me until I realized he meant No. 007.

The flight went smoothly. I finished two books and an issue of The New Yorker. If you haven't read the article about young people and the culture of live-streaming, go check it out. It was the most confounding thing I've ever read. The idea that people pay money to watch someone go about his or her daily life, for hours, and also come up with numerous (and sometimes dangerous) ways to harass that person -- well, it just makes me realize there's a whole universe of stuff going on out there that I never imagined. And it makes me think, like any old curmudgeon, that the world might just be going to hell.

And also, what is up with people and carry-on luggage? A woman on my flight had FIVE carrry-on bags -- two backpacks, a roller bag and two shopping bags.

But anyway, never mind my grousing -- because we're in Cambodia!

The airports in both Saigon and Siem Reap are gleaming, modern structures -- Saigon's could be pretty much anywhere, with its gleaming stone floors, glass walls and numerous flat-screen TVs. (Granted, they were showing K-Pop boy bands.) I got a bit concerned when my bag wasn't immediately evident on the luggage carousel in Siem Reap, but turns out it just fell off the belt and was lying behind some equipment. A guy from the lost & found desk located it promptly!

The thing in the top photo is a tuk-tuk, the driver of which picked us up from the airport and took us to our hotel. Dave may look concerned, all folded up inside it, but he was hamming it up for the camera -- he was actually very excited to ride in one. The second photo was the view from the tuk-tuk on the way to the hotel. Lots of interesting vehicles on the road!

Soon after we ensconced ourselves here at the hotel pool, this large swallowtail butterfly floated past and landed on a shrub near our chairs. I think it's a type called a "common rose," although I am certainly not an expert on Cambodian butterflies.

I feel dead on my feet, but I'm afraid to go to sleep for fear I won't sleep tonight. So that's the challenge -- staying awake for the next eight hours!

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Backward Glance

I'm posting this updated garden photo both to show you how different it looks now compared to about a month ago, and to remind myself while I'm traveling what's going on at home. It always seems a mixed blessing to leave the garden in summer.

The purple flowers in front are loosestrife, which came into bloom a week or two ago, and you can see behind that our big hydrangea. The pink butterfly bush and blue globe thistles are to the right. The roses, behind the butterfly bush, are almost entirely done -- only one bush is still blooming.

Here's the front porch. I can't complain at all about our zinnias -- they're looking great! And on the right is an African marigold and a dianthus I bought in the early spring that has lasted far, far longer than I ever expected it to. (Did you know, by the way, that the name "marigold" derives from the Virgin Mary? I just read that online somewhere, and since it's on the Internet, it must be true.)

We have a friend who will tend the garden in our absence, so hopefully everything will continue to look good.

Back on June 6, I posted a picture of some random shoes scattered on a concrete step near the high street. Well, the shoe pile is not only still there -- it's GROWN! And there's still only one of each shoe. What is going on here?!

Ponder that mystery. Meanwhile, Dave and I are taking off in a matter of hours on our new adventure.

Someone asked if I will be blogging from Southeast Asia. I intend to, but I have no idea what our Internet connectivity is going to be like -- and obviously we'll be on a completely different timetable. So I can't tell you when a new post will appear. I hope to post daily as usual!

Sunday, July 15, 2018


This is a calendula that we bought from the herb man at the Jester Festival last weekend. (Yeah, I know, it looks a lot like that zinnia I posted about a week ago!) We got two of them -- I put one in the garden and one in a pot in case the garden specimen gets devoured by slugs. Hasn't happened yet, which is a good sign.

We have finally reached the point where all our July social and political obligations have been fulfilled. Now we're just biding our time until we take off tomorrow for Southeast Asia. It still doesn't seem real to me. I haven't even started to pack, but I'm thinking about what to pack -- so I suppose I've started mentally.

Yesterday I never left the house. With Olga already off at her kennel, I don't even have a dog to walk!

Speaking of Olga, her kennel has a webcam feature that allows us to check in on her at any time. When I set it up yesterday, this is what I saw:

Somehow, that's not very comforting. She looks like she's not sure why she's there. That's just her "bedroom," as they call it -- she supposedly also has access to a "private, fully covered exercise area," which I think is through that little doorway at the back. As you can see, she took her bed and her Kong with her.

I think I may have to take this app off my phone. Otherwise I will be compulsively checking on Olga the whole time we're gone.

It looks like a much smaller right-wing response to Friday's anti-Trump march did indeed take place in London yesterday, but it appeared to be less about Trump and more about supporting an English far-right leader who's currently in jail. Isn't it interesting that virtually all of the demonstrators seem to be white men?

Last night we finally watched the charming movie "Lady Bird," which I really liked.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

No to Trump -- and Brexit!

I went to the massive, MASSIVE anti-Trump protest in London yesterday. The crowds were YUGE, whether Trump wants to admit it or not, and it was heartening to see so many thousands of people who cared enough to make signs, march and protest.

In the morning, Dave and I went down to Parliament Square to see the "Trump Baby" blimp, with its tiny hands and Tweeting phone, hover over the crowds.

The blimp was minded by "Trump Babysitters" like this one, in the process of being interviewed. There were also pro-Europe flags and ant-Brexit fliers -- for many Londoners Trump and Brexit correctly go hand-in-hand as part of the same wrong-headed global movement.

Then we went back home, and a few hours later I set out for the main march along Regent Street and down to Trafalgar Square. It's roughly the same route followed by the much more glittery LGBTQ Pride parade the weekend before.

Before the marching began, we congregated along Portland Place, where there were speeches by several people (I have no idea who because we couldn't see them) saying something (I have no idea what because none of us could hear them). This dragged on for about an hour, which annoyed a lot of us, but finally we got moving around 3 p.m.

There were many, many creative signs:

I loved how blunt some of the signs were. For every clever slogan ("God Save the Queen from the Rotten Tangerine") and piece of careful artwork, there were signs that said "Piss Off" or "Fuck Off Nazi Punks." I saw one that said "Fuck Off Pee Brain." Somehow these were even more amusing than the clever ones.

And the turnout did not disappoint. Easily tens of thousands of people -- I couldn't even begin to guesstimate how many were there...

...but Trafalgar Square and the surrounding streets were full to overflowing. Surely this must be a record demonstration against any sitting foreign leader.

I met up with our pal Mike and his daughter, Sorren, who also marched, and we all went down to Greenwich for dinner. Dave came down by train to join us, and had a little dust-up with some drunk guys on the train who challenged him over a "Bollocks to Brexit" sticker on his shirt (which he got at the Trump Baby event in the morning). Apparently it turned into a big argument among several people on a train platform which, Dave said, the anti-Brexit group ultimately won. Scary!

I saw no sign of counterprotesters at all, though it's been reported that there will be some kind of right-wing demonstration today. I'm steering clear.