Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo 1
Thirty-three years ago today, the Fall of Saigon ended the Vietnam War. A new regime is in place. America has returned. More than 3 million overseas Vietnamese are scattered around the world. While many Vietnamese have moved on -- built lives in new countries, learned new languages, started families -- vestiges of the war still remain for a few hundred Vietnamese in the Philippines. These stateless refugees, the last of the "boat people," have been in limbo for more than a decade. From my Little Saigon post,
"About half a million Vietnamese fled Vietnam in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Vietnamese boat people had to escape communist authorities and raise money to buy passage on rickety boats where they dealt with starvation, Thai pirates who raped, robbed and killed, and hostile locals when they flooded other Southeast Asian countries. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, in 1981 in Thai waters alone, there were 1,149 attacks on 352 boats; 571 people were killed, 243 abducted, and 599 raped by pirates. Read about their experiences. The refugees were placed in camps and processed to determine whether they were actually fleeing persecution or were economic migrants. Not all the refugees came to America, other popular countries included Australia, Canada, and France. But Vietnamese were scattered everywhere with some ending up in Israel, Finland, and Argentina. Read about the "forgotten ones" who weren't eligible for resettlement."
After more than a decade of dealing with waves upon waves of Vietnamese boat people still fleeing their country, the Steering Committee of the International Conference of Indo-Chinese Refugees formed the Comprehensive Plan of Action in June 1989 in order to resolve the crisis. From then on, the boat people were considered asylum seekers, proving you deserved refugee status became much more difficult. Those who determined not to be refugees, and thus unable to go to another country and unwilling to return to Vietnam, ended up in limbo for years. The CPA program ended in 1996, and Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines began shutting down the refugee camps and forcibly repatriating the refugees back to Vietnam. Some camps tear-gassed, beat, and chained the refugees in order to get them to comply. Some refugees committed self-immolation or suicide in protest, rather than return to Vietnam. Protests were held in Vietnamese communities around the world, most notably in Little Saigon. The refugee camps were shut down anyway. The Philippine government sent one planeload of refugees back to Vietnam but stopped because of protests and concerns that repatriation was not humanitarian. Instead, with $1 million USD in donations from overseas Vietnamese and with the help of the Catholic Church-based Center for Assistance to Displaced Persons, 13 hectares were set aside in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan to build a "Viet Village" for about 2,500 Vietnamese. While the Vietnamese were allowed to remain in the Philippines, they were not allowed citizenship or employment. They scraped by a meager existence working low-end jobs and selling trinkets on the streets. You can view some pictures their stateless existence online at "The Forgotten Ones" and the rest of the images in Brian Doan's book. Bolinao 52, a documentary by Duc Nguyen, is about one boat that started out in May 1988 with 110 people. The engine died, ignored by passing ships, and refused help by a US Navy ship, they resorted to cannibalism to survive. After 37 days at sea, 52 survived. Visit the Bolinao 52 blog to read about his next documentary, "Stateless." In 2005, thanks to seven years of lobbying by Vietnamese-Australian lawyer Hoi Trinh, America, Australia, and Canada agreed to resettle these last refugees of the Vietnam War. You can read more about Trinh's story at the end of the chapter on Viet Kieu in "Vietnam Now: A Reporter Returns," by David Lamb. The book was published in 2002, the section concerning Trinh is brief but important in understanding his role in resettling the last of the boat people. An Australian documentary by Dai Le called "In Limbo," also has more information on Trinh and his efforts. He gave up a promising career in Australia for a bare-bones subsistence in the Philippines. His efforts were aided by other volunteers in Australia and America. He managed to settle one or a handful of refugees at a time. Until finally in 2005, Trinh's earnest doggedness paid off and the U.S. decided to revisit the issue. Trinh was one of the founders of VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment), an organization that works to combat trafficking of women and children, and to resettle the last of the refugees. There are now about 160 refugees left. Which brings me to my friend Don. I've mentioned him before when he stopped by on New Year's Day for a dumplings and noodles lunch at Tasty in San Gabriel, or when he stopped by for some Meyer lemon bars, or when he stopped by for a venison fest. Since February, Don has been in the Philippines, volunteering with VOICE to resettle these last refugees. You can read about his experience on Don's blog. Don was born in America. His parents left in 1975 so they weren't boat people. But this issue affects so many Vietnamese, that as a kid, he volunteered with his mom in walk-a-thons to raise the funds needed in 1996 to create the Viet Village in the Philippines. Needless to say, I am just so very proud of my friend. Before he left, Don invited me and a few of his high school and college friends to his house for dinner. I got a little tour of his parents' garden before we ate. It was pitch-dark so I just pointed my camera at random. I'm not sure what kind of tree this was, but it was reminiscent of the plum blossoms that are popular during Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year).
Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo 2
Miniature orange tree? Tangerines?
Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo 3
Buddha's fingers, or the hand of Buddha. It's a citrus fruit that's more rind and pith than anything else. I've seen it infused in vodka, but beyond that, thought it was merely decorative. Don says his grandmother uses it to flavor soup.
Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo 4
Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo 5
Dinner was the most fabulous pho bo (Vietnamese beef noodle soup). Don's mom made a huge vat with a broth that she had simmered for 14 hours. Now, I know there are cookbooks that say you only need to cook the broth for three hours because all the flavor that's going to be extracted from the bones is done by then. Well, those cookbooks are just plain wrong. Don't believe me? It's simple enough to check for yourself. Next time you make pho bo, ladle out a bowlful after the three-hour mark. Do it again at the 14 hour mark. Taste the difference in each bowl for yourself.
Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo 6
I was in heaven. I ate a huge bowl. For once, I wished I had a bigger stomach so I could eat a second bowl. Don's mom even offered to send me home with some. I shouldn't have been polite and said, "Yes!" :P
Boat People, My Friend Don, and His Mom's Pho Bo 7
I didn't want my story to detract from Don's story or that of the refugees in the Philippines. But really, there are so very many of us. My family escaped during the Chinese exodus of Vietnam. I'm a 79-er by way of Hong Kong. Four nights and three days at sea. Eleven months in the refugee camp. Dear readers, were any of you boat people too? If you've ever wondered about the significance of numbers in pho restaurants, this is one reason why. The other popular number, 54, is because when Vietnam was divided in 1954, 1 million Vietnamese fled from North to South. ***** 1 year ago today, after a cold frost, everything's growing again in my garden -- Lady Fairbanks roses blooming over a trellis, strawberries ripening in the side herb garden, and wildflowers popping up at random.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


My brother stopped by after a visit to the Farmers' Market - Alhambra with a bag of what he said was an "unknown" Asian fruit. They're loquats, I said, surprised that he hadn't had one before.
Loquat 1
Especially because our oldest uncle's neighbor has this magnificent loquat tree. Alas, the neighbor trims his tree so thoroughly that no branches lean over the fence for us to pick. :(
Loquat 2
Loquats originated in southeastern China and made their way to Hawaii by Chinese immigrants. By the 1870s, they were a common sight in California. Loquats ripen in SoCal in April, and in NorCal in May. Though they share similarities in name to kumquats, they are not botanically related. If you ever do manage to find any loquats, they're lovely. Rather reminiscent of apricots. Just peel the lightly fuzzy outside before eating. ***** 1 year ago today, ginormous strawberry-stuffed doughnuts at The Donut Man in Glendora.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Goi Du Du Kho Bo (Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad with Beef Jerky)

Goi Du Du Kho Bo 1

Are you sort of figuring out how my brain works now? I show you pictures of papaya trees with green papaya, then I present a recipe for Goi Du Du Kho Bo (Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad with Beef Jerky). Although, the salad actually came before the papaya. This salad was made back in January.

Green papaya is not sweet, so it's more like a vegetable than a fruit. Very Atkins, low-carb, South Beach Diet-friendly. If that's your thing. There are actually two types of Vietnamese green papaya salad. The kind you see pictured here with beef jerky, and a shrimp and pork version that's a little bit more similar to Thai papaya salad.

You can find kho bo (Vietnamese beef jerky) at most Asian grocery stores, or substitute with a good quality fresh beef jerky. I'm using the jerky I bought from Vua Kho Bo (New Jerky Mfg. Inc.) - San Gabriel. Another option is to serve this with fried liver slices, but that's never quite appealed to me.

You can peel and julienne green papaya for this dish. Or cheat, like I did, and buy some pre-shredded at most Asian grocery stores. :P If you are using fresh papaya, make sure you soak the shredded papaya in salty water for about 15 minutes to remove any lingering waxiness. Drain into a colander and squeeze out excess water before using. You don't need to do this if you buy the pre-shredded papaya as it is already soaking in water. Pre-shredded papaya spoils quickly so make this salad within a day of purchasing it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Papaya Trees

My oldest uncle's papaya trees. Pretty cool huh?
Papaya Trees 1
Papaya Trees 2
Papaya Trees 3
My aunt saw me snapping photos and asked if I wanted to cut one down. I said it's OK, they weren't ripe yet. A few days later, I got a little baggy of ripe papaya. She said they weren't very sweet but they tasted perfect to me. Of course, I can easily eat a whole papaya by myself (and have!). :P
Papaya Trees 4
You can use ripe papaya in my sweet, sour, salty, spicy tropical fruit salad. And green papaya, of course, goes in Goi Du Du Kho Bo (Vietnamese Papaya Salad with Beef Jerky). You can see what else my uncles grow in Garden Updates. ***** 1 year ago today, leftover citrus baked chicken became chicken and dumplings.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Can You Identify My Rose?

That lifeless cane? Turned into a gorgeous velvety red rose. Do you know what it's called? It was here when I moved in so I don't know its name like I do my other roses.
Identify My Rose 1
I liked this angle with the other bud in the background.
Identify My Rose 2
Two days later, it bloomed.
Identify My Rose 3
Update May 12, 2008: Thanks to Nikki Polani, I think this rose might be a Papa Meilland. It certainly looks similar to all the Papa Meilland roses on Google images. Very veiny. Black-red velvety petals. So this is what I shall call it, unless someone tells me different? Other garden updates. ***** 1 year ago today, lil' sis made insalata caprese (Italian Capri tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad), I made citrus roast chicken and roasted golden beets.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Celery, Bleu/Blue Cheese, and Walnut Salad

Celery, Bleu Cheese, and Walnut Salad 1

Since we're on the subject of bleu/blue cheese, another simple salad that's been sitting in my queue is this celery, bleu cheese, and walnut salad.

I was initially inspired by a recipe by Russ Parsons in the Los Angeles Times, except his recipe required 1 bunch of celery, 1 cup bleu cheese, and 3/4 cups walnuts with a shallot vinaigrette. I'd link to the original recipe except the Times has a habit of moving links.

Anyway, I wasn't cooking for anyone except me so the portions in that recipe were way too much. Also, if you're not a fan of celery, bleu cheese, or walnuts, this salad won't be for you. Each of the three components comes through strongly but complement each other rather well. The original recipe called for toasted walnuts but I found that increased the oiliness of the salad and I didn't much care for that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Iceberg Wedge Salad with Bleu/Blue Cheese Dressing

So you know I made a simple Salad of Iceberg Lettuce, Radishes and a Carrot, but what did I do with the other half of the head of iceberg?

Another American classic - the wedge salad.

Wedge Salad 1

Now, you can be lazy and use store-bought dressing for this, but why would you do that when you can make the best bleu cheese dressing ever? (Hmm. Which spelling do you prefer? Bleu cheese? Or blue cheese?) I found a lovely wedge of blue cheese on sale for only $2. It was probably because it was close to the expiration date but blue cheese is already moldy so how bad can it be? This dressing is so great, you can even use it as a dip with my Sriracha Buffalo wings. Or save a bit for my upcoming recipe of Stuffed Potato Skins.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Iceberg Lettuce, Radish, and Carrot Salad

Food blogging is great. So many foods to try. So many flavors. But really, I don't always eat like that. Sometimes, what I eat isn't really that blog-able. Or is it? I was recently reminded of how much I liked very simple salads when I stopped off at Super-A Foods. I usually try to get my fruits and vegetables at the Farmers' Market - Alhambra to support the independent farmers, but every once in a while I need to hit a chain store for something. I had forgotten how cheap Super-A produce can be. Two heads of iceberg lettuce for $1. Five bunches of radishes for $1. Carrots, I don't remember how much but they're almost always cheap.
Iceberg Lettuce, Radish, and Carrot Salad 1
So after chopping up half of a head of lettuce (25 cents), slicing 3 radishes (6 cents), and shaving slices off 1 carrot (pennies really), added a few drizzles of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing and I had enough salad for three meals. That's less than 10 cents a meal! Who can beat that for cheap eats?
Iceberg Lettuce, Radish, and Carrot Salad 2
What are your some of your favorite simple salads? If this is too bland for you, some of my other salad recipes: Cobb Salad Coleslaw Cucumber Salad Croutons with Garlic and Seasoning Fava and Garbanzo Bean Salad Four Color Carrot Salad Goi Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Salad) Goi Xoai Xanh (Vietnamese Green Mango Salad) Heirloom Tomato Salad Hibiscus Leaf and Pomegranate Mixed Greens Salad Insalata Caprese (Italian Capri Salad - Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella) Waldorf Salad ***** 1 year ago today, old-fashioned mochi (Japanese rice cakes) pounded by hand at Fugetsu-Do Sweet Shop, the oldest business in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo and possibly the inventor of the Chinese fortune cookie.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jamaica (Hibiscus Tea)

The first leaves of my jungle red hibiscus came out earlier this month.

Jamaica/Hibiscus Tea 1

Remember the jungle red hibiscus blossoms last November?

I made both a hot and cold hibiscus tea. I think most people are familiar with jamaica (hibiscus tea) when dining at Mexican restaurants, but did you know the Chinese also have a hibiscus drink? Just look at the lovely color of my hibiscus iced tea at Tea Station - Alhambra.

Monday, April 21, 2008

WC's Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry) by Mary Ruth

Who knew my Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry) recipe would be so popular? Have you made it yet? Because yet another reader has. She did a great job too.
Ca Ri Ga by MaryRuth 1
The second submission for Readers Cook WC Recipes comes from MaryRuth of Where's the Bubbler?
"As you requested, here is some feedback on one of your recipes. I made Ca Ri Ga. This was delicious! I even had the leftovers for lunch today, and I think the flavor even improved. This is a pretty straightforward recipe, I followed it to the letter, except for the quantities. I used 6 thighs, 3 large-cut potatoes, 1 small-cut potato and 4 carrots. I ended up using 1.5 cans of coco milk/water. That was mostly because I wanted to make sure that all the food was submerged. Next time I will stick to 1 can and just make sure the meat is covered...the other veggies can steam to cook on top of the meat. I used 2 Tbsp Penzey's Madras curry. This particular curry is a little hot, so I didn't want to go overboard, but next time I would add another tbsp. Fish sauce...I put in 4 good "shakes", but that too could be increased. I served it with brown rice, but the baguette option looks pretty good too. I noticed in your photo and the other posters photo you serve it with a lot of the you end up using a spoon to get it all? I just added enough to my bowl to get everything moistened pretty well, but still used a fork to eat it.
Ca Ri Ga by MaryRuth 2
My house smelled so good while it was cooking! Four forks! I will definitely make this again. My photos turned out kinda crappy, but here they are anyway, You definitely don't have to post them or even use this feedback--I just wanted to let you know that yes, people DO use your recipes! =) Thanks for a great recipe!"
Wanna hijack my blog? Check out Readers Cook WC Recipes for guidelines on how you too can participate. ***** 1 year ago today, my oldest uncle's wife's banh xeo (Vietnamese sizzling crepes).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Yong Tau/Tow Foo (Chinese Stuffed Tofu)

Yong Tau Foo 1

Don't see any tofu you say? Well, yong tau foo (Chinese stuffed tofu) was created in the 1960s in Chew Kuan restaurant as a dish of only stuffed tofu, and now can mean any of a variety of stuffed vegetables. It is a popular dish in Malaysia and Singapore. The stuffed tofu and vegetables may also be served with a clear soup and noodles.

I had frozen the cha ca (Vietnamese fish paste) my youngest aunt had given me a few months back. For the recent death anniversary dinner of my ba noi (paternal grandmother), I decided to defrost the cha ca and stuff it. But instead of making my usual Dau Hu Nhoi Cha Tom voi Sot Chao Ot (Vietnamese Shrimp Paste-Stuffed Tofu with Fermented Bean Curd Chili Sauce), I remembered Rasa Malaysia had stuffed okra and chili peppers. It was so gorgeous that I decided to prepare it that way as well, but substituting the chili peppers with sweet baby bell peppers. I also had some Brussels sprouts sitting around, so I halved those and stuffed them as well.

I haven't made cha ca since I was 12 years old, so you'll have to wait for that recipe. Or maybe that's just as well because I remember adding baking soda to fluff up the fish paste. Then I got clever and added more baking soda because that would make the fish paste even fluffier right? Well, it did, but it also made the fish paste incredibly bitter. So for now, you can either buy from the store, or use my recipe for shrimp paste. You can find fish paste at most Asian grocery stores either in the fresh seafood counter or frozen. Depending on the variety of fish, the paste may be either pink, pale gray, or gray.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chao/Doufu Ru (Fermented Bean Curd)

Fermented bean curd, called chao in Vietnamese and doufu ru in Chinese, is a type of pickled tofu. It is sometimes called "Chinese cheese" because of its similarities in smell, texture, and taste to softened bleu cheese. The dried fermented tofu may be pickled with salt, rice wine, or vinegar. Red fermented bean curd has chili peppers. The fermented bean curd is sold cubed with brine, in jars or clay pots.

Chao (Fermented Bean Curd)

It is popular in Vietnamese and Chinese cooking. Fermented bean curd is very strong in flavor so a little bit goes a long way.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dau Hu Chien (Vietnamese Fried Tofu)

Dau Hu Chien 1

This is a quick and easy recipe that you can eat as a side dish. The tofu is also a great base for my upcoming recipes: Dau Hu Nhoi Cha Tom (Vietnamese Shrimp-Paste Stuffed Tofu) and Yong Tau Foo (Chinese Stuffed Tofu).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How to Chop and Prepare Sugarcane

For Blondee47, who asked for directions after a many-many-months-long search to find sugarcane in Canada just so she can make my recipe for Chao Tom (Vietnamese Grilled Shrimp Paste Wrapped Around Sugarcane). And also because she always leaves such nice comments after she tries one of my recipes. :)

Sugarcane 1

OK, so go into your backyard and cut down some sugarcane. What? You don't grow sugarcane in your backyard you say? You mean everyone doesn't do that?! If you don't grow your own sugarcane, I've seen them sold at the Farmers' Market - Alhambra, and in some Asian and Latino grocery stores.

My ba noi (paternal grandmother) planted this patch of sugarcane on a 1-foot wide strip behind my second-youngest uncle's house about 20 years ago.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pomegranate Blossoms

The very first pomegranate blossom on my tree. I can't wait until I can taste these incredibly sweet pomegranates again.
Pomegranate Blossoms 1
Pomegranate Blossoms 2
Pomegranate Blossoms 3
For your viewing pleasure, Garden Updates are now all cataloged and sorted with a list of what flower, fruit, or vegetable pictures can be found in each post. Enjoy! ***** 1 year ago today, a discussion on "authenticity" during lunch at Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen - Orange.

Monday, April 14, 2008

World's Smallest Mangoes?

I was at my second-youngest uncle's house recently when his wife gave me some mangoes to take home. I think they may quite possibly be the world's smallest mangoes? Ignore my fat fingers for a minute, but aren't the mangoes so very cute? I think they're champagne mangoes.
World's Smallest Mangoes 1
World's Smallest Mangoes 2
World's Smallest Mangoes 3
Look at the skinny seed! My aunt kept giggling every time she ate one and got to the center with the oh-so-thin seed.
World's Smallest Mangoes 4
She bought a whole case of them. Second-youngest uncle said they were more work, but I guess he just doesn't appreciate the absurdity like we did. :) ***** 1 year ago today, my oldest uncle's wife's nem nuong (Vietnamese grilled pork patties). And mine too!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Peanut Butter and White Chocolate DrizzleCorn

Last Thanksgiving, my brother brought me a bag of peanut butter and white chocolate drizzled popcorn from Dale and Thomas. I had completely forgotten about it until now.
Peanut Butter and White Chocolate DrizzleCorn 1
It doesn't look like much...
Peanut Butter and White Chocolate DrizzleCorn 2
...until you look closer. See the drizzles of peanut butter and white chocolate? Mmm.
Peanut Butter and White Chocolate DrizzleCorn 3
They were a little stale after having sat around for six months, but my brother says that's how they normally taste. I think my brother said he bought it from Whole Foods. I'm not a huge popcorn fan so I've always been satisfied with a $1 bag of freshly popped kettle corn from the farmers' market in Alhambra. After typing up this post, I now have such a craving for Garrett's buttery caramel popcorn. I hope my Chicago readers will eat some for me! ***** 1 year ago today, my second-youngest uncle's wife's bun rieu (Vietnamese shrimp and crab noodle soup), packed to go.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Southern Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes with Cream Gravy Redux

Mashed Potatoes and Southern Fried Chicken

"Who just wakes up and decides to make homemade fried chicken?" asked my cousin's cousin's daughter who was over that day. Evidently, I do.

Later on when their mom came to pick them up, my cousin's cousin's son said, "Mom, she even makes her own gravy." They sounded so perplexed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Calbee Seaweed and Salt Potato Chips

They look like sour cream and onion potato chips, but they're not.
Calbee Seaweed and Salt Potato Chips 1
Seaweed and salt potato chips from Calbee, the same company that brought you shrimp-flavored chips. If you like eating strips of toasted seaweed, then you'll like these. Yes, there were bigger chips in the bag, but *burp* I ate them all before I remembered to take photos. :P The "new BBQ" flavor actually tasted like Chicken in a Bisket, remember those? Not bad but at $1.89 for a 2.8-oz bag, once for the novelty factor was enough.
Calbee Seaweed and Salt Potato Chips 2
Care to see other wacky "fun food"? It's now all categorized! San Gabriel Superstore 1635 San Gabriel Blvd. San Gabriel, CA 91776 626-280-9998 ***** 1 year ago today, oh how the mighty have fallen. One of my favorite dim sum restaurants is now lackluster at best - NBC Seafood Restaurant in Monterey Park.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ta Prohm - Cambodia

Ta Prohm 1

This was my favorite. Here's a map to Angkor Archeological Park again so you can get an idea of where Ta Prohm is in relation to other buildings.

Ta Prohm (ancestor Brahma) was built by King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Previously called Rajavihara (royal temple), Ta Prohm was built in 1186 as the first in a series of public works constructions when the king ascended the throne.

The French decided to leave the trees alone in order to retain the romantic feel of Ta Prohm when they began conserving the temples of Angkor at the beginning of the 20th century. The two trees are the silk cotton and strangler fig. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Angkor Thom: Victory Gate, Bayon Temple, Prasats Suor Prat, Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, and Phimeanakas - Cambodia

So after our very early morning exploring Angkor Wat, we went back to the hotel for breakfast and a nap. Then it was onto to Angkor Thom (great city). Here's a map to Angkor Archeological Park so you can get an idea of where buildings are in relation to each other. And this is a close-up map of Angkor Thom grounds. Again according to Wikipedia, Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring Khmer capital. It was built in the 12th century by king Jayavarman VII. Former state temples Baphuon and Phimeanakas, built centuries earlier on the site, were incorporated into the Royal Palace. Statues on the bridge to the Victory Gate entrance into Angkor Thom.

Angkor Thom 1

The statues appear to be engaged in a tug of war, perhaps a recreation of the Churning of the Sea of Milk? If you notice, the statue in front appears well-preserved. Too well-preserved. Throughout the years, many of the original heads have been stolen and sold on the black market.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Angkor Wat - Cambodia

Angkor Wat 1

Angkor was the capital of the Cambodian/Khmer empire from the 9th to 15th century, according to Wikipedia. The word Angkor comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (city). The Angkorian period began in 802 AD, when Jayavarman II declared himself "god-king" of Cambodia, and ended in 1431, when the capital was sacked by the Siamese. Apsara dancers, priests, and artisans were carted off. The Khmers then abandoned Angkor and moved the capital to Phnom Penh.

Today, the Angkor Archaeological Park administers about a hundred major temples and other buildings in an area 15 miles wide by 5 miles long, but also includes sites 30 miles away such as Kbal Spean. There were an estimated 1,000 buildings, but many of them are lost to the jungle or reduced to rubble. During Angkorian times, the area around the temples was approximately 1,150 square miles (3,000 square kilometers), about the size of Los Angeles, making it the largest pre-industrial complex of its kind. For comparison, the next largest sprawling complex is the 50-square mile Mayan city of Tikal. At its height, Angkor had a population of 1 million people. Again for comparison, at the time Paris only had 50,000 inhabitants.

Since it's pretty much impossible to sum up everything into one post, I'd encourage you to read the History of Cambodia for a better understanding of the pre-Angkorian civilizations of Funan and Chenla, and post-Angkorian history including French colonialism and the Khmer Rouge era. For more descriptive details about each building, The Angkor Guide is a translation of Maurice Glaize's 1944 guide. The buildings were built with a combination of brick, sandstone, and laterite, which you can read more about in architecture of Cambodia for a discussion of building materials, techniques, and styles. I hope the quick summary gives you a glimpse into the importance and majesty of Angkor.

In trying to write about my trip, I found it really hard to describe the immense scale of the whole complex and how the buildings related to each other. I took a couple of pictures of illustrations from the May 1982 and August 2000 issues of National Geographic so you can get a better idea of what I'm talking about. To sustain such a massive population in the pre-industrial world, the Angkorians built countless canals that redirected water from nearby Tonle Sap Lake. The Western and Eastern Barays were man-made reservoirs with temples in the center that can only be visited by boat. The Eastern Baray, which once held 50 million cubic meters of water, is now dry, but the Western Baray is still intact. The bottom square in the illustration below is Angkor Wat. The square in the middle is Angkor Thom, which I'll get to in the next post. Driving around, I can remember seeing water everywhere. Despite the crowds of tourists, the fact that this was all man-made more than a thousand years ago, and seeing that it yet still survives today was simply awe-inspiring.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Khmer Classical Dance at Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia

I'm not sure when I first heard of Angkor Wat. I think it was probably an issue of National Geographic from the early 80s. I remember an article about various conservation efforts. Different temples were doled out to different countries, or was it the other way around? One country merely flecked off weeds and roots, cleaning the surface but removing fine details of temple faces along the way.
Angkor Wat National Geographics
Years later when I lived in London, the BBC aired a documentary featuring the temples of Angkor with computer recreations of what the ancient city might have looked like at its peak. Reality is that by the time Cambodia was safe enough for me to travel, it was also safe enough for tons of other tourists as well. My inner Indiana Jones had to contend with crowds of obnoxiously loud tour groups. Still, that was a minor annoyance in order to explore ancient ruins I'd been anticipating for years. My friends and I only had a weekend free so we tried to pack in as much as we reasonably could. We flew from Saigon to Siem Reap on a Friday in the late afternoon and left on Sunday. After very long lines to get our landing visas processed and checking into the hotel, our tour guide suggested a buffet dinner and show of Cambodian classical and folk dance. The 2005 price for dinner and show at Koulen Restaurant was $10 USD. The food was unremarkable, but most people weren't there for the food. This was prior to blogging so I didn't take pictures of the unremarkable food anyway. According to Wikipedia, Khmer classical dance, is also referred to as royal ballet and court dance because during French colonization it was mainly performed by concubines, relatives, and attendants of the palace. The dancers are called apsaras. Khmer classical dance goes back as far as the 7th century. Apsaras can be seen on various Angkor temple walls. (Keep this in mind because I'll be pointing this out in the next post.) Temple dancers served as entertainers and messengers to the divinities. During the 15th century, the dancers, priests, and artisans were taken away when Angkor fell to the Siamese (Thai) kingdom of Ayutthaya. But the worst blow was between 1975 to 1979 when the Khmer Rouge killed 90% of all classical artists because dance was thought of as aristocratic. Survivors somehow managed to find each other to keep alive this ancient tradition. (I'll interject here for a little bit in regards to my previous post. I realize that when traveling some people don't want their enjoyment marred by reminders of human cruelty. While that's understandable, for me, sometimes there is no separation. Take for instance the above paragraph. I'm sure for many of the tourists there that night, all they saw were pretty costumes. What I saw was a ancient art form that had to struggle to even survive. Knowing that, did I enjoy the show more than the other tourists? I don't know. But I do know that I appreciated the dancers for more than their pretty costumes.) Apsaras use elaborate gestures and movements in order to tell a story. I think (?) they're performing the Reamker or Ramakerti, the Khmer version of the Ramayana (an ancient Sanskrit epic that's part of the Hindu canon).
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 1
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 2
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 3
I think this was a dance about the beauty of flowers and maidens?
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 4
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 5
Look at how the girl in the center has bent her fingers way back. That kind of flexibility means she has to have been dancing since she was very, very young.
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 6
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 7
Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia 8
The show also included a folk dance where the dancers wove in and out of bamboo poles.
Koulen Restaurant Sivatha Street, Svay Dangkum Commune, Siem Reap District Siem Reap Cambodia (855) 063 964 324 I suggest reading my Cambodia series in this order: Dith Pran and the Killing Fields Memorial in Siem Reap - Cambodia Khmer Classical Dance at Koulen Restaurant - Siem Reap - Cambodia Angkor Wat Angkor Thom: Victory Gate, Bayon Temple, Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Prasats Suor Prat, and Phimeanakas Ta Prohm Chong Kneas Floating Village - Tonle Sap (Great Lake) - Cambodia For a related post on Cambodian food: Battambang Seafood Restaurant - San Gabriel ***** 1 year ago today, lil' sis made star-shaped cupcakes.