Blog

Siem Reap
  • Sunrise at Angkor Wat

    I am wearing a light jacket. I wish it was made of fleece. Chugging along at 30 mph in a tuk tuk makes 15 degrees C seem much colder, The "RealFeel", as perceived temperature is referred to around here, seems to be around 11 C. It's dark. I'm in one of a long line of tuk tuks and buses making a predawn trek to Angkor Wat.

    I follow my photography guide—Eric de Vries—through the main gate. We fall in with the crowd for only a short while when he steps off the main path onto one lit only by moonlight. I follow him closely to avoid making a misstep. We are in stealth mode. We don't have a light, so the masses aren't likely to follow us to this off-the-beaten-path location.

    We are the first to arrive at a small pond on the right side of the Angkor complex. The complex is far enough away that I should be able to fit it all into one frame along with its reflection in the pond. I look at my camera's LCD. It is still too dark for an image to form.

    A few small groups join us at our site, but from the glow of flashlights I can see that the left side of Angkor has the large masses. I hear murmurs as we await the sunrise.

    The first bit of light starts to show. Eric instructs me not to use my tripod and instead use an ASA of 2500. While the sun is rising in the sky, he tells me I should decrease the ASA each minute to compensate for the increasing light. I'm skeptical about the no-tripod instruction. I hauled this thing more than 7,800 miles and now I'm not going to use it. But he's correct. The first image forms and looks great. I keep decreasing the ASA, and the images get even better.

    In my photos Angkor Wat is silhouetted against the sky. The technique Eric shared with me hides the large section of scaffolding that covers part of the temple. I look around and see that people using point-and-shoots or who are not adjusting their fancy cameras are getting ever brighter photos that show ugly tarps and the metal of the scaffold.

    We move to the crowded side. The temple is also lovely from this view, with the orange ball of the sun just now visible over the temple wall. There are so many people that it is almost impossible to get a shot of Angkor without also including part of the crowd. I stand on my tiptoes, hold my camera high over my head, aim as best I can, and click. After five or six tries, I succeed.

    I walk to one of the many outdoor restaurants next to the crowd. I warm my hands on a cup of hot, sweet coffee. It's an amazing start to the day.

  • Disrupting a School Day in Cambodia

    I just finished a picnic lunch in the countryside outside Siem Reap. I am sitting under a tree next to a Buddhist temple. Two sad, dirt covered dogs gaze at me while a puppy jumps playfully at the table hoping for some scraps. He gets them. My guide says, “There’s a school a short walk away. Let’s visit the classroom.”

    If I tried to pop into a classroom in the USA unannounced, I’d likely be arrested. So I am a little concerned. I say, “Are you sure we can just walk into a classroom?” He says, “Yes. They will love it.” So we walk on.

    As I approach the school yard, I notice that some children are outside, some inside. I hear excited murmurs. When we get to the classroom I don’t see a teacher anywhere. To my surprise, there are children seated at the desks.

     

    We enter and most of the children jump up and run towards us. They see cameras and want photos taken. Many keep flashing peace signs, so much so that it makes it difficult to get a good shot without having fingers in front of someone’s face. There is so much movement, it’s also difficult to focus. Clearly this is the highlight of their day.

    A few children sit at their place, looking shy and reserved. I take one of the shy girl’s photos. She smiles when I show her image to her. Other children surround me so they too can see her image. Now everyone wants to see their image in my camera.

    This goes on for at least ten minutes before the teacher arrives. We wish her a good day and leave, the children waving at us as we make a quiet getaway.

    There are schools all over the countryside. Most, but not all, children attend. It’s easy to see who attends by the fact the children wear uniforms. As I walk through other parts of this rural area, I see children who appear to be school age, but are helping tend livestock or work in the fields. The literacy rate in rural areas is about 74% compared to urban areas, which is about 90%.