Cambodia, for reasons known and mysterious, was where I left most of my heart in Southeast Asia.
Centuries of religious history, combined with recent years of genocide and struggle, beautiful Cambodia, if devastated, has an unwarranted spirit of utmost inspiration, sincerity and truth. The entire country (the people, cities, ‘burbs and villages) is in total redevelopment after the late 70′s reign of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime, under which a terrorizing genocide wiped out a third of the population.
Perhaps the “Bod” (as Two Girls, 1 Backpack would rather refer it) is high in my heart because of its heavy and careful concern with children and education. Since these youngins are the first generation in a long while to see any sign of health and fortune- an extreme opposite from what their parents had ever seen- proper education is imperative, and it’s instilled by not only the Cambodian government but by organizations and initiatives of other caring nations (the US included) as well.
Cambodia is also home to Angkor Wat, one of the 7 man-made wonders of the world. The undisputed wonder is 37 square kilometers of lush forest, with more than 315 temples (some hidden and some of preposterous, obvious form) weaved throughout its denseness. The first temples were constructed — in less than 37 years, and with the help of 40,000 elephants— in the 12th century, under the sovereignty of Hindu king Suryvavarman (don’t worry, the Bods can barely pronounce his name, let alone spell it, either). In the coming centuries, the temple grounds see-sawed between Hindu and Buddhist control, but in the 16th century, Buddhists permanently imprinted their feet and Angkor Wat has been of such religion since. Practitioners of all form, however, respect and bow in its grandiose and powerful presence, and revel in its symbolism and spirituality. Monks, especially, spend hours in the temples of Angkor Wat— worshipping, studying and answering question after question from tourist after tourist. Amen their patience, I’d probably kill myself.
One Monk in particular was collecting donations (very common), so Beth and I threw in some petty change. In return, the Monk tied a red, braided thread around both of our left wrists.
I’m sure you’ve seen them, they’re rather trendy, and in varying religions, they have varying representations. In Buddhist practice, the red thread signifies strength and protection.
I was super excited about my new bracelet, as most travelers would have been. Travelers, they love their bracelets. They stack them on their wrists for bragging rights, the more you got, the more places you been, of course. I had my fair share when I got back stateside, so many that a
jerk friend took the opportunity— between my hidden wrist and disheveled, hippie hair— to crack a few at me. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, I muttered (to myself)…
Plus, I was fresh off my backpack and it felt totally me –the no makeup, the barely finger-combed hair – regardless of his bashings. Moving to New York a week later, though, I knew had to shed some of that flower child and unravel my stacked arm. I left two thin bracelets to be worn – one my friend Gus had made me with a shell attached from the beaches of Southern Thailand and second, the red one the Monk had given me at Angkor Wat.
Until yesterday morning.
I saw it coming. It had been thinning and thinning over the past few weeks, but I still cried when it snapped off my wrist as I changed out of my pajamas. I’m lucky, though, that it fell off within my reach, that I didn’t look down at my wrist to notice its sudden disappearance, and that I still have it for keepsake.
I know, I sound crazy and dramatic. It’s a flipping bracelet. But [continue to] hear me out.
That bracelet was my last close connection to the greatest experience of my life (thus far). All of Asia’s imparted wisdom was interlaced in its braid, and it reminded me of that abundantly spiritual world I loved to wallow in. I’d graze over it with my other hand, and through its touch, I’d feel exactly what its purpose intended- I’d feel strong and protected.
Ain’t no secret these days that I’m “struggling” with what’s next. The glamorous hippie in me wants to jet set to a less-pathed road, but the downtown girl in me has a a few heels to wither and a few hours to work for a new pair, or seven. That bracelet, however, in both thoughts, grounded me. I was happy to hold my over-served vodka water lime in the hand that wore it, but I was also happy to wear it hiking over unending heart-to-hearts.
I’ve been trying to make some sort of symbolism out of it. Like…
Welp, wrist is bare, gotta head back for something Asian-fancy to cover it.
Okay, let’s get down to business girl (slash woman), you’ve got nothing hippie-esque left (so long as you brush your hair), so get goin’ to the real world.
Or perhaps, but doubtful…
It’s a bracelet, you’re a freak. Tie another red string ‘round your arm if you’re that upside down about it and call it a day.
So much to contemplate, but I’m taking a leave of grieving absence, and therefore excuse myself for not coming to any immediate conclusions…and I’m, of course, open to any alternative hypothesis’…