Why we are the way we are

I have five children. When people are having a party, for a birthday or another celebration, always they invite all their family. Many people around them. I have no one to invite to my party. I lost my whole family to the Khmer Rouge. That’s why I have many children now, so they will never have to be alone like me.

guide, Kampot 

The Hells, on the lower registers, are pictured in greater detail than the Heavens above.

East section of the south gallery bas-reliefs, Angkor Wat

Photo by Annie Eagleton

Mostly the bas-reliefs carved on Angkor Wat and Bayon are of battles. Pandavas killing Kauravas, monkeys killing demons, Khmers killing Chams, Khmers killing Khmers.

The huge scenes are composed with such bewildering energy, realised with such individuality and skill – and love, in even the smallest details; maybe most of all in the small details tucked around the edges of all the kings and gods and demons and armies fighting to keep the world going or bring it to a halt: the vignettes of ordinary people going about their ordinary business of living. Building and playing, buying and selling, hunting and cooking, making love and music and jokes and babies.

Among all the ancient temples, today’s ordinary people are going about their ordinary business: planting rice and leading their cows home and playing volleyball and begging one-armed, one-legged; trying aged six to sell postcards to tourists.

Over it all the sun is setting plush and sultry, reflected in puddles and paddy fields with perfect fidelity. Rice grows upside-down in a glowing sky, Heaven on Earth or Earth in Heaven.

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