Siem Reap, Cambodia


Greetings from Cambodia. I recently spent a few weeks in Bangkok, the bustling capital city of Thailand. I did exactly what most single males do in this crazy city… I spent most of my time working on a spreadsheet to summarize my 2006 tax records for my accountant back home. Boy, do I know how to paint the town red or what?

Right now I am in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which is a small city about fifteen minutes away from the temples of Angkor Wat, the most amazing religious structure ever built. I have been here for the past five days exploring Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom and Angkor This and Angkor That. The powerful rulers of the Khmer Empire built these monumental projects almost 1,000 years ago. Words cannot describe the scale, complexity and detail of these beautiful temples, which is why I have included some pictures for you below (and lots of words, of course.)

My favorite temple here is Ta Prohm, which is famous and popular because of the massive jungle trees and root systems that have somehow managed to grow into, over and through these marvelous structures. I remember seeing an article on Ta Prohm in a travel magazine at a friend’s house about three years ago, which basically stunned me. I had never seen anything like that before, and I knew that I had to go see it in person at some point. Well, here I am. Actually, right now I’m typing this and drinking great coffee in an internet cafe, but you know what I mean.

My good friend Danny Spitler (from Phoenix) and his wife Pam have been helping to support an elementary school near Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Danny and Pam have been working with their local friend Sarin to help build new classrooms and buildings at the school, as well as to help provide books and supplies for the young students. Before the Spitler School, the majority of these children stayed at home all day. Almost all of them come from extremely poor families, where education is not easily available or feasible (many times the children have to work to help support the family.) There are now over 200 students and 8 full-time teachers at the school, and it looks like the school will continue to grow successfully.

On the day of my visit the new sliding board was being installed, and the children were already enjoying the new see-saws and swingset. The children sang songs and recited their ABC’s in English for me and said, “Hello Mister Alex.” I played soccer (aka football) with some of the boys at recess. They kicked my butt! I will attempt to write more about the Spitler School Project later. If you wish to help some very dis-advantaged but extremely precious Cambodian children, please consider joining me to support the school through Danny Spitler’s non-profit Spitler School organization. Danny can be reached at [email protected] , or you can contact me and I”ll do my best to help. Your donation may be tax-deductible, and I can assure you that a little bit of money can go a long way in a small Cambodian village. Thank you Danny, Pam and Sarin for all your efforts, love and support for these children and the school.

Visiting the Beng Mealea temple outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia.  This temple is over an hour outside of the city, so most of the lazy tourists don't make it out here.  Sure, I'm lazy, but when there's moss and 1,000 year-old jungle ruins to explore... count me in!  Unlike most of the congested tourist temples around the Angkor Wat area, Beng Mealea was VERY quiet while I was there.  I felt like Indiana Jones, without the dorky safari hat and shirt.

Visiting the Beng Mealea temple outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. This temple is over an hour outside of the city, so most of the lazy tourists don't make it out here. Sure, I'm lazy, but when there's moss and 1,000 year-old jungle ruins to explore... count me in! Unlike most of the congested tourist temples around the Angkor Wat area, Beng Mealea was VERY quiet while I was there. I felt like Indiana Jones, without the dorky safari hat and shirt.

Beautiful children at Beng Mealea

Beautiful children at Beng Mealea

Standing inside the massive tree roots at Ta Prohm

Standing inside the massive tree roots at Ta Prohm

A Buddhist monk enjoying the sunset at Angkor Wat

A Buddhist monk enjoying the sunset at Angkor Wat

Photo of the kindergarten children at the Spitler School in Siem Reap.

Photo of the kindergarten children at the Spitler School in Siem Reap.

Photo of the second graders at the Spitler School in Siem Reap.

Photo of the second graders at the Spitler School in Siem Reap.

With Sarin (next to me) and two of the teachers at the Spitler School

With Sarin (next to me) and two of the teachers at the Spitler School

Enjoying the brand new see-saw at recess

Enjoying the brand new see-saw at recess

OK, back to the countdown… The other night I was sitting in an Irish pub called Molly Malone’s in Siem Reap with my friends from Sweden and Norway, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with some cold Guinness. In traditional Irish-Cambodian fashion, we bought some fried crickets, roaches, and beetles from a street vendor. Believe it or not, these fried critters are really popular snacks with the locals. I would say that they tasted like chicken, but they didn’t… they tasted like roaches. I have yet to eat rat or dog on this trip, but I’m sure at some point along the way it will show up on the menu. There’s actually a restaurant here in Siem Reap with a sign out front that says, and I’m not making this up, “we don’t serve dog cat rat or worm”. Apparently they don’t believe in punctuation either, but that’s a different issue. My question is… are they trying to attract customers or scare them away? “What, no dog on the menu? Well I’ll just take my business elsewhere. Where can a guy go to get some good cat in this town? Tell me now!”

I spent two nights in Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) before heading up to Siem Reap. I really love Phnom Penh. It’s easily one of my favorite cities I have ever visited, simply because it’s so raw and vibrant and interesting. Cambodia is still one of the worlds poorest countries (ranked as #162 out of 184 countries recently), but after enduring many years of civil war, invasions, and a brutal, genocidal Khmer Rouge regime lead by Pol Pot (in which at least 1.5 million Cambodians died), the resilient people of this great country are wholeheartedly embracing their new freedoms and opportunities. It’s very sad, but during the course of the Vietnam and other wars, approximately six million land mines were planted throughout the Cambodian countryside, and FIVE MILLION of them are still active. So get this… even though these wars have been over and Cambodia has officially been “at peace” for many years, each day, somewhere in the country, someone steps on a land mine while working in the rice fields, walking their dog, or coming home from school. Every single day. It’s a tragedy, really. I have been treated very well by the Cambodian people, and I would love to explore some of the more remote parts of the country and the jungle here, but I must move on.

I will be in Cambodia for a few more days, then back to Thailand to catch a flight to the Philippines for a few weeks. I’m not sure where I’m going after that, but I still want to visit Burma, Laos and Vietnam before I head back up to India to dork around in the Himalayas again for a few months. I’m just making this up as I go along, if you didn’t notice.

In other “making this up as we go along” news, Rockbox, one of the coolest and nicest men to ever walk around on this planet, will be retiring at the end of this month. Rockbox, AKA Andy Latkovski (my father), has been “practicing” his retirement for many years, going fishing and traveling around the world and calling in sick to play golf or to take his grandchildren to the zoo. My family and friends will be hosting a party for Rockbox on his last day at the office. He will be walking out of his office for the last time on Friday, March 30th and driving straight to his big retirement party. My guess is that he won’t get much done at work that day. Not that anyone would notice (ouch!)

Congratulations on your retirement, Rockbox. You deserve it.

And now that you mention it, I recently celebrated two years without having a job. I successfully pre-tired a few years ago, and I’m working hard to make sure I do it right. But unlike Rockbox, I got ripped off… no one threw a pre-tirement party for me. No one gave me a gold watch or a big plaque or a subscription to the “Sausage of the Month Club” or a crappy paperweight for all my years of hard work and amazing contributions. Maybe it was because nobody knew that I actually did anything for a living. Maybe it was because after I sold my car, gave away my two black dogs to a good friend, and moved out of my house, I went to live at a Zen Monastery in the mountains of southern California for a year. Then I left on my worldwide adventures. Actually, I don’t know. But when I get home, maybe I’ll get a job again so that I can then pre-tire again and have a massive pre-tirement party. I got ripped off, I tell you. More about this later.

I’m really starting to miss Kentucky, Arizona and my family, friends, and loved ones. And I miss reliable hot showers, card nights with the boys, coffee with Rockbox and Pat (“The Mayor”) Macdonald at Breadworks in the mornings, tasty sushi dinners twice a week, clean sheets, air conditioning, and “Family Guy.” So I’m thinking about going home for a month or two around the holidays this year to spend time with my family and friends. And to wash my socks and put on some new deodorant. Then I’ll hit the road again.

I guess what I’m saying is that I really like pancakes. There, I said it!

And I’m happy to report that my alma mater, Vanderbilt, has made it into the Sweet 16 of the men’s NCAA college hoops tournament. Go Dores! Wish I could be there. (OK, I wrote some of this a few days ago, and Vandy was still alive at the time. I just read on the web that they lost on a last second shot in a very close and exciting game against Georgetown last night. Bummer!)

And on a lighter note:

I’ve always been pretty good at math, but for some reason, I’ve always had a tough time with probability and statistics. Even in college, where math was one of my majors, no matter how hard I studied, I just couldn’t get the hang of statistics. But at least I didn’t feel alone. By my estimate, 23 out of the 4 students in my class were also having a hard time.

One of the reasons I keep moving quickly from one place to the next is so that people don’t notice that I’m wearing the same shirt every day. “Same shirt, different day” has been my motto for a while. I just bought another t-shirt today, which should get me through the next few months. Watch for it in future photos.

The other day someone told me I was ignorant and apathetic. I don’t know what they meant by that, and I don’t care!

OK, gotta run. I have included one of my favorite poems below for your enjoyment. I recently re-discovered it and want to share it with you. And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

Thank you all for your support and friendship. And thank you for all your emails. Especially the funny ones.

Peace & love,

Lex Latkovski

Vice President in Charge of Amorphous Extended Adventures
Director of the Little Hill People
Ruler of the Hinterlands
Inventor of the Calf Muscle

“Love After Love”

The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.

By Derek Walcott

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