In 1969, some lost traveler bent down to examine strange shapes under the cool clear waters flowing down a jungle shaded mountain stream -high above the plain of Angkor. These were the long lost 1000 Lingas, painstakingly carved into the stone streambed to bless the water that flows miles away into the massive and complex waterworks around Angkor. Now cleared of mines, it is a unique attraction for those ready to make the trek.
A linga is a sacred stone phallus revered by Hindus - and until modern science interfered - symbolized a irreplaceable part of the cycle of life. They may not need us boy-toys anymore, but once we were gods! I would love to have my Indian neighbor here to pester with questions.
The later arriving Buddhists have usurped the older Hindu stuff. Stone Shivas and Brahmas wear saffron robes now, and are tended by shaved headed old nuns. The Roman church did the same thing - with old Jupiter and Minerva statues simply getting new names as their Pagan temples became Christian churches. And that big black Kabala in Mecca was getting marched around long before the Prophet was born. Religious adaptation defies the strict dogma that too many believe is sooooo pure and eternal.
The jungle is dry but humid, and buzzing with life. Breeze cannot reach us as we climb up the valley. Some botanist with too much time has placed tags near the bigger trees - but both Khmer and Latin names are Greek to me. One big root, polished by hikers shoes, identifies itself - shining like only black ebony can. It is a magic place. Alas, we passed a lot of log trucks driving up to the trailhead.
Reaching the stream, the old watchman shows us around as I hold the hand of his little orphaned ward, just turned 6. She is shy and tiny - they both show signs of past malnutrition. I can understand why movie stars must adopt one of these kids after using their picturesque land as a backdrop for some Hollywood fluff.
My life is a storybook compared to their nightmares, and each legless or footless beggar gets a small bill or two - and a smile - and with my palms together, a slight bow … why? I don't know. Regret that life ain't fair? Frustration that I can't make it fair? Or maybe just guilt - that my culture produced that land mine.
Tonight, as we fly out of Cambodia, over Laos and toward Hanoi, I watch the dark landscape below. Little of my culture has reached it yet. I peeked into Laos in 1968 but must pass it by tonight - maybe again someday. But I have too much input to process already - and approaching is a place that greeted me much too warmly the last time I flew in - North Vietnam.
- Sighing Stew