Sunday, March 18, 2012

Scenes From a Temple Complex

Just off the path towards the north gate of Angkor Wat, a monkey suddenly darts for the bag of a Japanese tourist.


"Yes, lady, you buy some books from me, you get the best price, you get the morning price!"

"I don't want anything," you reply.

"Are you Chinese? You look Chinese."

"No," you reply.

"You really look Chinese. You speak Chinese?"

"No," you reply.

"You sure, lady? You look like a Chinese."

"Fuck it," you sigh. "Ni Hao."

"All I can see is the damn scaffolding," the Australian complains.

"I thought there were some dirty sculptures here too," someone mutters in English behind you. "Weren't there supposed to be some dirty sculptures? Didn't The Lonely Planet list that in their guidebook?"


"Oh, I am so tired of waiting for him," pouts the French woman to the other French woman. "This heat! If he doesn't come soon, I will murder him myself."

"He is buying souvenirs over there, I think," the other woman replies.

"From those vendors? Then he is already being murdered."



"Lady," says the Cambodian boy from behind the pile of stones. "You want to buy a temple rubbing?"

"No, thank you," you reply.

"You want to see the big spider?"

"No, thank you, I don't really like spiders, I OH! OH! OH! OH MY GOD! THAT IS A REALLY BIG SPIDER!!!"

"Lady, you want to see the big snake?"




"Whatever we see," mutters the French woman to her husband, "I just hope there aren't any monkeys."



"I mean," says the 60 year-old American tourist to his friend as they hobble down the stone steps, "can you imagine having to be the Minister of Tourism here? What a nightmare that would be? I mean, talk about an image problem this country has. Especially the restaurants."


In the jungle just behind Angkor Wat, two young white men with dreadlocks are strolling, one of them idly strumming a guitar, the other reading out loud from his notebook.



"I think you pay too much for your tour," the Chinese tourist says, in English, to the Japanese tourist sitting beside her in front of Angkor Wat. "Twenty-five dollars for the short route is too much. Our hotel pays in advance: we get the tuk tuk for thirteen dollars, the whole day."

"It is a good price," the Japanese tourist replies. He sits on his knees, watching the sun finish rising. He doesn't look at the Chinese woman but concentrates on the temple.

"What?" she asks.

"I said it is a good price," he repeats.

"What?" she asks again.

"Very cheap!" he says loudly.

She smiles. "Now," she says. "How much do you pay for your hotel?"



The French tourist leans into the stone window ledge. Because he heard you asking his tour guide a question in French, he tells you now, in French, about the tree growing into the stone. "It covers a face," he says. "The face of a god."

"Which one?" you ask.

He shrugs. "The face of the god we see in every temple."



Russian tour guide: "Russian. Russian Russian Russian Russian."

Russian tourist: "Russian Russian Russian?"

Tour guide: "Aha! Russian Russian Russian Russian!"

Tourists: "Ha ha ha ha!"


"I'd be more inclined to be Buddhist if I didn't always have to pay for every joss stick," grumbles the British woman.


"Lady, you want to buy a cold drink from me?"

"No, thank you."

The vendor squints, tilts her head as she looks at you.

"Lady," she asks suspiciously. "You Chinese?"


"When will it end?" asks the American tourist, collapsing on the steps in the shade. His wife, ignoring him, glares at her camera as she flips through the recorded photos.

"Nothing ever comes out the way I really see it," she complains.


Around the corner of another temple come the two dread-locked men again, the guitar- wielding one still strumming and singing. "Oh," the Australian woman next to you sighs. "I'd really hoped the monkeys had gotten the two of them."


"Lady!" cries the young female vendor, holding up a row of checked scarves. "You want one? They are very popular in America!"

"I'm Chinese," you say, brushing--as politely as possible--past her.


An elephant covered in a red and gold blanket trundles past; on its back, two grinning female tourists.

"They look like morons," hisses the middle- aged Canadian man with the enormous red maple leaf stitched on his hat, his backpack, his back shorts' pocket. "I mean, don't they know they look ridiculous?"

His companion, wearing a matching maple leaf cap and shirt, shrugs.


Red dust kicked up from the passing motorbikes and groups of tourists. The smell of stagnant water, cooking smells, something like exhaust and honeysuckle. Even the vendors have stopped selling now, having moved off to sleep in the hammocks strung up between the trees. One by one, you all head home. You watch yourselves, gathered in lines for the tuk tuks and buses, sway--like elephants--on your feet.




  1. Ni hao! Love this signature Paisley-voiced antidote to the incredible photos of Angkor Wat à la Manet's haystacks & Rouen cathedral.

  2. Paisley:

    I just wanted you to know I have posted a review of Animal Eye on my blog:

    I hope you like it and I hope it does justice to your wonderful poems.


  3. Thank you again, Justin! So kind and generous of you to review the book! Hope to see you in Utah when I swing through Wendover on my way home someday...