I first saw a picture of Angkor Wat in an elementary school textbook and became fascinated with it. The caption read something to the effect of “…one of the largest buildings/temples in the world.” Having little else in the picture to put the size of Angkor Wat into perspective, my mind wandered. For over a decade, unbeknownst to me, it wandered. Flash forward to April, 2014 and the curiosity reignites.
It had been four years since I went to Germany – my last trip. Itching to go somewhere again, I looked for trips online. “To Asia”, I thought, “That’s exciting! I haven’t been anywhere over there yet.” Looking through my options, I happened to come across a trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Initially, I ignored it in favor of China. Another glance, though, and something caught my eye. I knew I had seen it before, long ago. It was a picture of Angkor Wat. Suddenly reminded of this place, I searched for as much information as I could find about it. To have that childhood curiosity come rushing back to life…what a crazy feeling. I said to myself “I’m going there.”
A few months later I was in Cambodia, driving up to the temple itself. There I was, on the other side of the world, looking at what had brought me all this way. It felt so surreal. The first night there, I sat on the steps of Angkor Wat for what felt like hours and watched as the sun lowered beyond the canopy of trees. It was quiet; a cool, breezy evening with nothing more than the white noise of windswept tree leaves and the distant chatter of fellow travelers to listen to. I don’t believe I have ever been more at peace than I was at that point in time.
Upon returning the next day, we explored the inner confines of the temple. This is what I had been waiting for – to explore this place as best I could. Almost every wall and column of the entire compound has a story carved into it. Be these a mere form of symbolism or a portrayal of historical events, there is much to be learned from them. The temple itself is incredibly beautiful…well, you know, as far as 900-year-old stone temples go. I did this for a few more hours, taking in every little sight that I could see. In the native Khmer language, ‘Angkor Wat’ translates as ‘City of Temples.’ Unfortunately, no number of pictures will do this place justice. It must be seen in person.
Walking out of the inner section of the complex, I found a small marble lying amongst the stones. I picked it up and carried it with me to the outer entrance where I accidentally dropped it. Looking down, I pondered a while and decided against picking it up, believing that I would return someday.
You might say I lost my marble that day, as I and the rest of my group later drove off. But perhaps this was not the case. Two days later, from one of the many local and very talented artists, I bought a painting for my mom. Beautifully rendered across this canvas were two elephants in the foreground of Angkor Wat. The painting has no title, but I call it simply “Elephants at Angkor.” They say an elephant never forgets. Perhaps I am that elephant. Perhaps I have been for all these years. I will return someday to this childhood dream. Until then, I’ll wander elsewhere. After all, I am a citizen of the world – all its places are home to me.