There once was a lady inside the ancient Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, who took small donations as she would light an incense for you as a prayer to Buddha or something thereof. She had a small corner set up with her urns and trays and sticks and pots to hold the ash and a collection tray for tips or donations. She was a small, thin, with weathered skin that told of the years that she saw through the history of Cambodian civil war and times of peace.
As I wandered the temple walls I noticed her tan browned sun kissed hue. She had sad eyes and a balding crown, and most would put her in the range of an octogenarian. She seemed to have such respect as I watched locals treat her with a bit of reverence, and there was usually another younger “aunty” coming and going helping her out and chatting.
As I got closer I saw that she lifted things in a peculiar grip. She smiled and waved me over and I saw that she had no hands. She pressed her stumps together to hold things and used already burning stems to light new ones. She was chatting in her native Khmer to locals here and there who wandered by and seemed happy. In the moment of seeing her situation I did not allow myself any pity, for I could feel she would not allow it.
Not wanting to focus too much on her situation and give away my thoughts I pulled out some local change in Cambodian Riels, a handful that was close to a US dollar. Seeing her cheerful did not allow me to be sad. I laughed and took off my wannabe safari-man hat, and showed her my shaved head while I motioned to hers. She chuckled and waved at me to lean in, and she rubbed my head with her nub and laughed aloud.
I dropped my change in her pot and and she scooted forward and I noticed that she was also sans feet. She did not allow me to reflect on my newfound information as she nudged me to make a prayer. She lives this, and I am nothing new in observation of this. She nodded it was Ok to take her photo and smiled. I didn’t right way as she got “busy”. I moved back to observe and tried to collect my thoughts.
A Sober Moment
After firing off a shot or two I wandered around doing the tourist looky loo that we all do at sites. I sat down on a small side wall or ledge that bordered the walkway to the entrance. Maybe an hour had passed and I finally tried to wrap my head around her circumstances. I knew about the Khmer Rouge revolution that threw the country into conflict and turmoil in the 70’s in which a said 2 million people lost their lives. Even babies killed like chickens in order not to grow into adults wanting revenge. Intellectuals killed to keep the resistance low. Wanton torture, slaughter, and destruction.
Seeing people missing legs and arms as a result of a land mine is quite common in Cambodia. Locals do their best to let you know where NOT to go, as fields are painstakingly being de-mined. I eventually had conversation with people who lived through the bad times. Many details I would never press them on. I sat there reflecting and my visage I am sure, was as heavy as my heart in that moment.
In that moment of reflection, I was looking down and I noticed someone bounding toward me in my upper periphery. I looked up and My Lady was moving quickly my way walking on the stumps of her feet which by now had been toughened by the years. She was grinning as wide as the world, on her way back inside the temple to her location. She waved at me back and forth with her “hands” as if to say goodbye, but also as if to say cheer up. I mean really, she was moving swiftly in a way that belied her age and her physical “impairment”.
What the hell did I have to complain about?
I laughed at myself as she forced a smile from me that I couldn’t get from myself.
A Hidden Power
Now that is a Beautiful Lady, I thought. A true Cambodian beauty. She won’t let anyone see her “sweat”. And she brings smiles to others. Even a big moping fool like me. She was a true beauty. The most Beautiful Lady I had ever met. She taught me quickly what first world problems were. Sure, there are those in every country that have reasons to ‘complain’ and don’t want or need our pity. This woman taught me that in spades. I will be eternally grateful for the lesson. It was the second time in as many days that my eyes seemed “dewy”. And it would not be my last as Cambodia had further lessons for me.
Sometimes I remember the American artist Prince’s song, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”. There was a video in which he put an advertisement out for everyday ladies to participate, not ‘models’ or video girls. I always wanted to tell him that he missed one.
Thanks for reading! If you are interested in traveling to Cambodia, check out a Lonely Planet guide!
Siem Reap, Cambodia, is easily accessible from all the other major Asian cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and more! See the flight box on this page and plan a trip somewhere for your next adventure!
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