Friday, January 31, 2014

Photos of Sketches (AND VIDEO!!!) from Siem Reap Sketch Trip!

It's been over 2 weeks since I returned from Siem Reap on a sketchpacking trip with my Urban Sketcher friends, and it was a whirlwind of an experience! We practically hit the ground running, and it was all "go, go, go" during our short 6-day stay. That is, until I came down with fever and diarrhoea. But that's another story.

I will scan and post my sketches over the coming long weekend (it's the Lunar New Year!), but here are some photos I took of my sketches. I must really thank Parka for lending me his camera, because mine died on the morning of the second day into the trip and refused to be revived.

Edric sketching on the plane

Floating petrol station at
Chong Kneas Floating Village at Tonle Sap Lake

Lunch place at Chong Kneas Floating Village area

Kompong Khleang

Miss Wong Cocktail Bar
(it even has a skull in the toilet!)

Bayon Temple. This was the 2nd sketch I did from the outside
because I wasn't satisfied with the first watercolour one (below).

Faces of Bayon

Ta Prohm. Made famous by the Tomb Raider movie.

David and Dalis, a brother-sister pair I met at Ta Prohm.
Dalis later helped me pick colours for my sketch. She started
by pointing to my Opera (neon pink) pan. I used the colours she picked
for the clothing of the people in the sketch. The result is below.

Ta Prohm sketch #2, coloured with the help of Dalis.

Ta Prohm sketch #1

Phimeanakas in Angkor Thom.
Legend had it that the king had to ascend every night for a
tryst with a serpent spirit in the form of a woman.

One of the 12 towers of Prasat Suor Prat.
Said to be used to settle disputes by divine judgement.

Reliefs on the wall of the Leper King Terrace

Garuda relief along the walls of the Elephant Terrace

One of our only show-and-tells of our trip!

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Bas relief of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk at Angkor Wat

One of the inner "libraries" inside Angkor Wat

Preah Khan

And finally, the moment you have been waiting for - Parka's video of our sketch trip! Just to note, the shots are not in chronological order. Enjoy!

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Glimpse of Ancient Angkor - Required Reading

In the last 2 months, I've had at least 4 (groups of) friends who visited Siem Reap. But it won't be long till I get to see the magnificence of Angkor with my own eyes. There are many books on the ancient city, and I have borrowed not a few travel guides from the library over the months. The most significant book, however, is one I borrowed from one of my to-be travel mates, who at one point taught Cambodian art history in a local school as part of his curriculum. This book is none other than Zhou Daguan's A Record of Cambodia: The Land and its People.

What makes this volume so special? It is the only surviving eyewitness account of Angkor while it was still an inhabited and thriving city. Written by a Chinese emissary on a diplomatic mission to Angkor in the 13th century, the account describes life as it was back at the height of the kingdom's glory. While the record is only a short 8000 characters long and possibly fragmented in its preservation, and while it may be biased with an educated Chinese foreigner's perspective, it nevertheless gives a rare glimpse into the lives of the Angkorians as it used to be and the splendour of the buildings before the city was mysteriously abandoned to the jungle. For an artist intending to sketch the ruins of the ancient Khmer empire, the descriptions in the book give me the material to imagine what they might have once looked like - towers, bridges and statues of gold; tiles of clay and lead; a statue of reclining Buddha with water flowing from its navel; private pools at every house or every few houses. What is now a barren structure swarming with tourists was once a living, breathing city with people, markets, kings and noblemen, slaves and merchants - one of (if not) the greatest kingdoms in Southeast Asia.

Yet even the greatest kingdoms may be laid low. From Zhou's account, we see not only the spendour, but the less flattering aspects of Khmer life. Some customs are unimaginable to us, such as the ritual of "zhentan". Another account describes how ill-equipped and disorganized the army was (they wore no armour, had no projectiles, and no strategy). One can speculate about what caused the Khmers to abandon their great city to the jungle and move southeast, eventually making their capital in Phnom Penh, but until more light is shed, we cannot be entirely sure. Most likely the abandonment of Angkor was due to a combination of factors, not the least of which was Siamese aggression. Ironical, though, since Angkor is just north of Siem Reap (Khmer for "Siam's Defeat").

The documentary below gives a good starting point for a look into Angkor in its heyday, but if you are a history buff planning for a trip to Angkor, I would highly recommend getting Zhou Daguan's book translated by Peter Harris. This recent English translation was not translated from the earlier French translations, but directly from the original Chinese text. It is full of helpful notes and very readable, and will certainly make your visit richer.