Angkor Thom, 2013

After our sunrise photoshoot, we met up with the rest of our group by the parking lot to head over to Angkor Thom [“thom” meaning “big”, so the larger of the Angkor temples and the capital of Jayavarman VII’s empire].

women cooking by Angkor Wat

A tent was already setup by the trees by local women, who tossed fresh vegetables sizzling in fiery woks and stirred soup bubbling in cast iron pots.

our tuk tuk

Our tuk tuks were embroidered with a tapestry of kaleidoscope fabrics.

We set out on the dirt road, bouncing along to the beat of the rocks underneath our wheels. The lake we passed was blooming with pink waterlilies; how I wish I could join the women taking pictures!

women by waterlilies

Those opting for a better view traveled via elephant carriage.

travel by elephant carriage

We hopped off at Bayon, which sits at the center of the capital, the official state temple. Stone faces on the towers smiled gently down at us from, literally, every corner. A friendly reminder that the gods were always watching.

bayon architecture

There are 216 of these faces in Bayon, and it is hypothesized that they depict Jayavarman II himself. The other hypothesis is that the faces are of the bodhisattva of compassion, Lokesvara. Either explanation would fit, given that Khmer monarch traditionally saw themselves as a devaraja [“god-king”].

Sandstone friezes depicting everyday life in Angkor streamed across the walls. Most typical was a procession scene of elephants, mothers and children, and festivities or armies.

my mom and i having some fun at bayon

Kissed by the gods!

Bayon, with its rusting exterior and crumbling corners, is a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. There is a haunting other-worldliness that transcends the hustle and bustle of clicking cameras, waving tour flags, and bobbing visors.

Pieces of Bayon

The Comforts of Home

end of route 66 in santa monicaIt’s strange to think of home as somewhere I travel to now, as opposed to returning to. No longer can I count on being home for the holidays–I must first find my way back by way of hours of ticket price comparison, scheduling around work, and allocating vacation days.

I was told before graduating from college that wherever my job is, is where I’ll end up. For the foreseeable forever. And as much as I’ve tried to make Boston familiar to me, it remains wholly unfamiliar. To be frustratingly out of step and not in rhythm; not too unlike my uncoordinated self exasperatingly stomping on the arrows in DDR [dance dance revolution–I think I’m just dating myself here] because, I just…can’t…get this right?!

Perhaps it’s graduation goggles–I had been waiting to escape the West Coast all my pubescent life, and getting into Tufts was a blessing–or perhaps I have finally come to appreciate what was once mine and is no longer. It’s likely both. The clichés write themselves.

the borders of LA from above

Is it odd that butterflies fill my stomach and I hold my breath in heavy anticipation for all of the 6 hour flight, to somewhere I already know so intimately? I love descending upon the 30-mile galaxy of street lights, traffic stops, and the glow of suburbia.

I miss the 4-lane freeways, single homes, the sight of Chinese billboards selling McDonald’s meals. The traffic will forever be atrocious.

To be home is to sip from a hot cup of nostalgia and wear over-sized sweats from high school PE. To roll out of bed and spend the next half hour sinking into the soft, white carpet, staring mindlessly at the patchwork quilt of postcards, tchotchkes, and ticket stubs haphazardly taped onto walls.

souvenir timeline

I miss thumbing through my bookcase, which has everything including a volume of Rurouni Kenshin manga–in Chinese, because my parents didn’t allow anime or manga growing up and I sneakily bought one when they were browsing a Chinese bookstore back in 6th grade–and  the progression of ever darker literature from required reading lists. A copy of Good Omens sits perpendicular to the lineup, the newcomer. I finished that on last year’s flight home.


To play jenga with foodstuffs in the fridge: frozen mochi bread from Taiwan; a box of white grape chocolate from Hokkaido; a palette of jams from Kona; the jungle of reused butter, yogurt, and takeout containers that typically contain no butter, yogurt, or takeout. Eat mom’s cooking. Go pick a juicy kumquat from our tree by the front door.

I miss the sound of chatterbox Taiwanese talk show hosts and salivating at the food being showcased, which always come from “the best scallion pancake place in Taipei ever!!!”. I miss being able to walk around the corner and buy stinky tofu from the 99 Ranch food court, eat a casual meal at Din Tai Fung, and slurp through a bowl of 八寶冰 [ba bao bing, or “Eight Treasure Shaved Ice”].

food at home

Home is family, decades-long friendships, food. Home is the every day beauty of mai tai sunsets against the purple majesty of the San Gabriel Mountains. Home is where I dust off old memories, and leave new ones behind to look back on, this time next year.