In search of the lost Buddha

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Siem Reap, June 23, 1866.

“Garnier is seriously ill. Caught the fevers again. Not doing too good myself. It has taken us longer than expected from Phnomh-Penh. The river, the jungle, the unbearable heat… are taking their toll on the expedition. Carné and Delaporte seem to be all right. They take this expedition as an excursion to the Bois de Boulogne. Thorel, one of the doctors has dysentery. Not a good sign. Joubert, the other Doctor, attends us all. Gsell is watching over his camera and glass plates as the apple of his eye. Tonight we will sleep in the town of Siem Reap. A village rather. A few stilt houses set high above the unexpected floods of the Tonlé Sap. Buffaloes roam the rice fields. The little Khmer I learnt has proven very useful. No-one here speaks anything but. Tomorrow, if Garnier is better, we will go to the ruins. No horses. All died of fevers. I guess we will take buffalo-carts. The ruins are only one or two leagues away.”

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Siem Reap, January 2018

Flew in from Bangkok in the morning. Immigration at the airport was quite a show. All passports “confiscated”, passed on from one civil servant to the other, ending up in piles at the other end of the counter, while we stand in line to pay the 30 bucks and change per head for the visa. Don’t bring used bills to Cambodia. They will flat out refuse them. Our hotel is very nice and cozy, set on Avenue Charles de Gaulle. The main Avenue of Siem Reap. (Pronounce “Rayp”).

Half a century ago, I lived in Cambodia, as a child. My father worked for King Norodom. Better known as Sihanouk. I wonder whether my parents came to Siem Reap. Not sure.

We managed to hire a tuk-tuk for our entire stay. Who has never ridden a tuk-tuk is missing the scare of a lifetime. A modern version of the cycle rickshaw, it is driven at reckless speed (twenty miles an hour?), drivers clearly facing loss of face if they ever slow down or yield to another vehicle. The tuk-tuk cuts a nice breeze through the heat though.

Our driver took us to watch the sunset at Angkor-Wat. I am beginning to be impressed.

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Siem Reap, June 24, 1866.

Garnier is much better. Amazing how those fevers come and go. Though they tend to come back at night. He was shivering last night, and now is fine. We walked through Angkor Wat today. I have never seen anything like that. When one sees the current state of affairs in Norodom’s Kingdom, one wonders how and when those magnificent temples were built. And by whom? Indian Rajahs? The guides don’t know. They say the temples are dedicated to Buddha. But some of the bas-reliefs I have seen… look more Indian. I wish we had taken a historian with us.

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Siemp Reap, January 2018.

Rose at 4:00AM to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The sun rises behind the temple. All four sides of every temple face each cardinal point. We manage to grab a spot on the floor close to the small pond covered with lotus flowers, a symbol of purity and detachment. The night hides the crowds away a bit. Most visitors are quiet and… I might say… respectful. We are facing the temple, oriented to the East, and ever so slowly, light comes out behind the temples. (I am not a sunrise person. Too early!) Adjectives can be tricky. Shall I say a unique sight?

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Siem Reap, June 24, 1866.

Gsell has taken a photograph of the whole expedition. We had to put on our last best uniforms and suits. Most clothes are attacked by mold. He took a long shot with us sitting on the stairs of what our guides call “The terrace of elephants”. One can see the remnants of elephant statues. Though the jungle has taken over many of the buildings. It would take a lifetime to clear all that. (Make a note to Society of Geography) To-morrow we will go to Another temple. Angkor Thom. I am a bit tired of eating rice three times a day, but our guides say it is good for the “tummy”.

Angkor-Thom, January 2018.

As we walk among the apsaras, the divine dancers, and the smiling Buddhas, I again wonder about my parents. There are no photographs of Angkor in the family archives. We lived in Phnomh Penh then. It is a 5 hours drive today and the roads then were probably not that good. I do know my mother flew over Angkor. In a commercial plane, no less. A DC3. She was in the cockpit filming, (perks of being the boss’s wife) when the pilot said: “Hang on tight, I’m going to do a dive over Angkor Wat. Co-pilot: warn the passengers to fasten their seat belts. Tight.” He was a former Free French Forces pilot. Most of them were. The War was only 12 years away. And he did take a dive to the temple. I still have the film footage as evidence. A unique perspective. Pilot would be fired today.

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Angkor Thom is by far the most impressive sight so far. Hundreds of Buddhas placed four by four on turrets in the central courtyard of Le Bayon. (I need to copy my notes to another journal. As a safeguard. Even the paper is beginning to rot. Garnier has tried to count the Buddhas. Close to two hundred. All carved out in the same fashion. The peaceful Buddha. Eyes closed in meditation, the lips drawn in a wide smile. Garnier is shivering again. So am I. We will take a few days rest in Siem Reap while Gsell takes more photographs. The first ever taken of this beautiful place. I don’t know whether Garnier or I will make it alive from this expedition. But no matter what happens, we have seen Beauty.

(s) Capitaine de Corvette Doudart de la Grée, Siem Reap, June 25, 1866.

Doudart died in March 1868, in the mountains of Yunnan, of fevers and infection. Francis Garnier took over the command of the expedition, ending in Shanghai in June 1868. They had found the route to China. Garnier was eventually killed in Hanoï in 1873, by the Black Flag pirates.  Obviously, the above is but a fictional account of Doudart’s expedition. More on this in two other posts:

https://equinoxio21.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/time-patrol-angkor/

https://equinoxio21.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/time-patrol-angkor-cont-d/

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The Bayon, Angkor Thom, March 2019.

Beauty comes in many a guise. I have been fortunate to see much across the world. Whether it be at Nature’s or at Man’s hand, nothing compares to the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom. Those hundreds of faces of the smiling Buddha, rescued from the jungle, are Peace incarnate. I will go back one day. No sunrise or sunset. Direct to the Bayon. Just to sit there all day and watch the smile of the lost Buddha.

This is my first sketch, drawing, painting (with one exception) in the past 40 years. I’d been wanting to retake sketching and painting for a while. Lack of time as usual. Allow me to thank all of you who sketch and paint regularly  in your blogs. You’ve given me the example and inspiration to try drawing again. I was quite amazed at how the hand retains a memory of its own. A memory of the angles, the shadows, a memory of the strokes. And as your hand draws, your mind is cleansed. Peace comes with each stroke. Thank you all for those moments of peace.

 

 

 

 

103 thoughts on “In search of the lost Buddha

    • Kiitos Lumi. I’d been playing with the idea for a long time. And came out… naturally. So now I have no excuse not to keep on drawing. 🙂
      (When can I squeeze the piano lessons?)
      Bonne semaine et merci pour ta visite.

  1. That fiction is most realistic, and the facts fascinating.
    I was wondering if you were detailing a recent expedition and the same one taken in an earlier incarnation!
    It really is a shame that you have neglected sketching to that extent. It will be necessary to adopt a really nifty wrist-action to make up those 40 years.

    • The account of Doudart’s journey is fiction (reinvented) but based on facts. (and a bit of research)
      So the two accounts are “real”, and work in Parallel. 😉 It was fun to write. (Need to copy the post to Word…)
      Agree about the shame. But one can’t do everything can one? I will need to change pace to make up for lost time. Or bribe some high-ranking God for my next incarnation… (Can you bribe a God? Or is it illegal?)
      Thanks for the visit and comment Col.

    • Venant d’un maître, je suis touché. 🙂 Effectivement ce sont les différentes étapes. Le crayon (HB de préférence) a toujours été un de mes “instruments” préférés. Et j’ai trouvé sympa de photographier les différentes étapes. La prochaine fois je prendrai un Canson fort. En fait, je pensais faire une esquisse sur papier et passer au fort… But I got carried away.
      Bonne semaine Gilles.

      • “Maître” ? Alors un tout petit maître, un maître d’un centimètre ! Important à mes yeux est de dessiner souvent et libre, peu importe quoi, où, comment … et surtout sans volonté de “réussir”.
        Bonne journée, Brieuc.

      • “Réussir”? Hmmm. Je ne suis pas sûr ce que la réussite d’un dessin veut dire. (Ou d’une histoire) Je crois qu’il y a 2 plans. La réalisation, le processus. Et là j’étais ravi. Ça marchait à peu près tout seul. La mémoire de la main. 🙂
        et puis le résultat: A-t-on communiqué ce que l’on voulait? A-t-on transporté le “lecteur”? Sous la pluie, en haut d’une montagne ou dans un temple millénaire?
        Bonne soirée.

    • Dankie Dina. I made a living telling stories to clients in Marketing, Advertising and above all Market research. In any of those you have to tell a story. No matter if its numbers, percentages, sales results, a new campaign. Humans like stories. And it is a pleasure to tell them. Have a lovely week.

    • (Oh, and about story telling, I had a master. In Market research. He was a client. He’d review all my reports before the presentation, and edit and edit. “You can tell the story with half the words.” He was right. He also was a musician and a song writer. Wrote songs for Diana Ross. His name was Alden Shuman. (And a song has to tell a story in 2-3 minutes!) 🙂

      • He was a good teacher. And as a client, he was paying me! A good deal. (Though at the beginning I was a bit miffed when he started correcting MY writing. Then I realized he was right. One could tell the story in fewer words.)
        Night night Dina.

    • And I definitely wouldn’t call myself an artist! My mother painted very well. I’m way below her, though she did teach me a few good tricks. I think the idea is “Ok. Grab a pencil and take another angle at ‘representation’ of the world”. What you do with great talent and your camera. You re-present (present again) the world as you see it. 😉
      A pencil, a brush, or a camera are just tools.

  2. Love the name tuk-tuk! Not sure if I could brave the experience, though! So happy for you that you took up drawing again. When I draw I feel a spiritual connection with the subject. Nice work. -Rebecca

    • Welcome back! 🙂 You must be both.
      Glad you enjoyed the combination drawing/telling. As often, the story came on the wings of the drawing. The day before I posted I had not much idea of what I was gonna say. Then I thought of Doudart de la Grée and the story came down through my fingers.
      have a nice (restful) week-end Juanita. 😉

  3. Sometimes I see people, hunched somewhere in a corner, sketching a church, or a street scene (or Angkor Temples had I been there). I envy them immensely. Not just for their skill, which – no matter how hard I try, I don’t have – but because, to me, they seem to be ‘enjoying’ the place more, deeper, than me. Many thanks for both your story, your family’s and the apocryphal one of m’sieur Doudart. All these guys, and your parents, seemed to have lived quite a life. I don’t think it’s possible to have something like what they lived anymore.
    Fabrizio

    • No. it’s not possible anymore. I’ve seen the last days of a dying world. 🙂 I was fortunate. 🙂
      After this sketch I have been thinking of buying a moleskine book to take with me and draw instead of taking photographs. 🙂 (I need longer vacations!) And maybe go (back) to Angkor with a sketch book. Or just my eyes.
      have you been there?

      • I’ll probably buy it in Paris in July. And we’ll see how it goes.
        Singapore and Hanoï ain’t bad. (I loved Singapore, really did. Haven’t been to Hanoï yet. Saïgon six months but I was too little, don’t remember zip.)
        Next time you’re in Asia, anywhere, make a detour by cambodia. Angkor is worth several days of your life.
        Buona settimana Fabrizio.

  4. Been missing your stories so much, Brieuc! Conjecture kept me away from reading your posts ever since… May last year, I think. That’s bad. And I’m not very well right now either, hopefully this bad cold will pass in a week or so.

    Nice surprise that you took on drawing again after all those years. And you didn’t lose your touch either, which shows you do have the natural talent of an artist, regardless of you denying that in some comments above. 🙂

    Personally I prefer the last B/W version of this drawing, if I may. It seems to look more 3D-ish than the colored version. But do mind my slight fever and foggy glasses. 🙂

    Good luck ahead with both hand drawing and story telling! 😉

    • Man! So glad to see you here! 🙂 I have your last mail unanswered in my In-box. Where I keep all mails to be answered even after 3 months! Sorry about the fever. Hope you will get better. Get back to you soon. I visit from family at home, and very little time to check on most important messages. But will get back to you in due time!
      A bientôt mon ami! 🙂

      • Oh, don’t you ever worry about e-mails, there’s nothing critical there. With a “rich” life such as yours I even wonder how you find the time to post and reply to comments. 🙂
        A+

      • I wonder how “rich”. 🙂 Or shall we say the real “wealth” are just our experiences and exchanges. So a mail is but a small thread. It can stay there for a few months (at least how I handle it) and then the conversation starts again.
        Now posting and commenting and replying? I have found that to do it… properly my limit is 2 posts a week at the most. And even then I sometimes run late. 🙂
        A + aussi.
        (Where and how did you learn French? I think we may have mentioned it but I forgot)

      • Let me try to compact the answer, it’d be easier to follow up.

        The cold will go away, actually it’s only the cough that’s still bothering me, otherwise I’m almost fine. 🙂
        “The memory of the hand”… Sounds nice. Maybe a good title for an upcoming short story…? 🙄
        I’m glad we’re on the same page with the pencil version. However, it’s funny that I’ve always hated the pencil for a bunch of reasons. Most importantly, the sound it makes on the paper scratches my hearing and I can’t stand it. So I can appreciate a pencil drawing but I couldn’t resist standing near the artist while creating it. Weird me! 🙂

        Of course, when I said ‘rich’ life I meant all the events you have to face in a day, with the little one around and all that being part of a family means, then all the travels that need preparations, being away and maybe not having access to the Internet or a computer, and so on. All these may leave you little to no spare time and yet you’re still coming back here for us with good stories and pictures.
        The wealth of knowledge and experience is indeed the real wealth of a person. You are rich that way too. And we’re lucky to be around and receive your precious gifts. 😉

        Come to think of the old times when real mail was delivered by horse or carriage (or even by foot) and could take a very long time to reach its destination, I guess a few months is not that much for an e-mail. After all we always need something new and interesting to communicate to each other, otherwise we’d just be wasting envelope and stamp. 🙂

        My French is not what it seems. Along the way of life I’ve picked up words and phrases from songs, magazines, books and of course blog comments. 🙂 You know I always read all comments, get them all in my inbox even when I can’t open these pages. Some languages are very similar – as you already know – and one can get by through logical deduction. So it’s just bits and pieces that I sometimes use to spice up the conversations a little bit. 🙂

      • languages are all about logic (and exceptions) There is a dictionary, an inventory of sounds with accepted meaning and a structure (grammar). Once you recognize the structure (plural/singular, masculine/feminine) and the radicals, the root of words, you’re in good shape. And your French is a good example of that.
        Now “wealth” is nothing if it’s not shared. One thing I’ve learned on WP. 🙂
        And the memory of the hand, I think real musicians understand what I mean. (Already thinking – ahead – about a new drawing… hehe)
        Drink a lot of tea spiced with your national – explosive – beverage which name I forgot and your cold should be under control.
        Cheers Dragos.

      • Yeah well, good luck with Romanian solely on logic! 😆 But true: there is some structure everywhere, as much as there’s an order to chaos. 😉
        Indeed, that kind of wealth is useless if kept bottled inside one’s mind. Humanity’s real wealth is the knowledge we share – nothing else.
        I’m afraid to pick that guitar up again, my hand may not remember very well what it once knew. Such a long time…
        The cold is as good as gone. Tea doesn’t work on me, but a large cup of hot ţuică with unground pepper and a teaspooon of sugar works wonders. And it did. 🙂
        Cheers to you, Brieuc! 🙂

      • I know, I know. Some words are recognizable, but clearly Romanian has had many influences. You say “da” for yes, right?
        Pick the guitar. You may be rusty at first but I’m sure the hand will remember… 🙂
        And I’m glad your personal recipe seems to have worked. Cheers Dragos.

      • Yes, our language is a mix with a twist. Da = Yes, Nu = No, Poate = Maybe. 🙂

        Music needs a certain state of mind which I cannot seem to achieve lately. I can’t even listen to music anymore, let alone play it. No idea why that happened.

        That recipe is ancient and well-known across the country. It always works. 😉
        Good luck with pencil drawing, watercolor painting and new experiments (like charcoal) !

      • Poate? Sounds like Potato. How do you say beer? Cerveja or piva? That is the tell.
        As for frame of mind, don’t worry. Just grab your guitar, if the cats haven’t destroyed the strings, and start tuning it. Then strum. Anything. It should work.
        A bientôt.

      • ‘Poate’ is similar to peut-être (fr.), puodarsi/forse (it.). It’s a phonetic language, each letter is read as-is, no ’rounding’ or combining – much like Italian. 🙂
        Beer is simply bere (just like saying in Italian ‘voglio bere del’ acqua’ <=> ‘I wanna drink water’).

        Cats didn’t touch the guitar (yet) but it’s my mind who refuses to touch it. I’m weird like that. 🙂 Maybe someday, who knows…

        Alla prossima! 🙂

      • Yeah, I guess that’s the worst lie we tell to ourselves: “someday I will…” and we never get to do that. That’s because everything has its own timeslice when it really has a purpose to ourselves; outside that timeslice it becomes useless, out of place, maybe even hilarious to others. Ramona – my guitar – will most likely remain just a nice, sweet memory from the past.

        As for beer… let’s wait for the summer. Rainy spring days like today deserve stronger… spirits. Cheers! 🙂

    • So, back to the important. Sorry about your cold. I hope you will get over it soon. Don’t worry about the blogosphere, your witty and cultured comments are missed, but I’m glad you dropped by.
      Drawing? I’m the first surprised. I think it is training, technique and technique years ago. Then let the hand flow. The hand remembers better than the head. 🙂
      I do like the final pencil version too. Actually I scanned it to paint a scanned printed version. Pencil: you can screw up. Just erase and do it again. Painting, you can’t. So kept the pencil as is. (Then I may use another scan to ink it!) 😉
      Again get better soon. (And your last mail will be commented). Be good Dragos.

    • Thank you Inese. 🙂 You’re giving me ideas… About illustrating. (Cog wheels turning in the brain…) I will try something and let’s see how it goes. Cheers.

  5. This is in reference to the Paris piece you reblogged. For some reason, I can’t post it on that piece so I’ll try here.
    I also read the Paris blog. And have watched the uproar in Paris. But there’s a wide-spread uprising/roaring going on in the world: Venezuela, the U.S., Britain, Europe, Guatemala, probably parts of Africa, reeling in the uproars of our time. There’s income inequality; overreach by governments/tech companies.etc.In short, a sort of restructuring everything as we know it into something else, and a general unrest. We’ve no idea where any of this is headed and that’s also part of the unrest.

    I don’t know what to do about any of it except to be kind. To not blame or find fault. There’s so much to find fault with that it staggers the mind – so I watch, observe. And keep returning to Hegel’s theory that evolution is a spiral, ever widening, ever moving, twisting back on itself from time to time, but still, evolving.

    • Thank you for your comments Janet. I agree with you, This is wide-spread… Hubris is running Amok.
      Now, to be kind? That is a very interesting perspective. One I might be tempted to follow. But probably won’t. I’ve been living in the “South” for too long with hardly any progress in the past 30 years. Reasons? Culture, corruption, a very human tendency to abuse, and lack of law. (In a nutshell) The ultimate example of that is Venezuela. And honestly it p… me off. 😉
      Now France? The country is going down the drain. Variety of (different) factors. And that makes me sad. The diagnostic has been made 30 years ago: pension system broke, outrageous public spending, lack of vision. Many things that could have been avoided. And now, what will happen next? It will probably be ugly.
      At any rate, I have our tickets booked and paid for July-August, and will see waht goes on site.
      Thanks for the visit and comment as usual “Juanita”. I wish you a great week-end. Spring is officially on. 🙂

  6. That footage from the diving plane would be extraordianary, Brian. I love the fact the the 1866 expedition lamented: “I wish we had taken a historian with us.” I think that was the last time historians were in demand. Still, far fewer tourists in those days even if you were constantly ill!

    • have been working on solutions to digitalize those movies with quality. Stuck so far. But once it’s done, that (and other) footage will be available. It is quite a sight.
      You realize the “historian” part is a figment of my imagination right? Doudart de lagrée may or may not have said it. 😉
      And I suggest historians (such as you?) be hired soon to analyze the bl..dy mess we all are in…
      And indeed, there was nobody there at the time. A few monks maybe?
      Be good.

      • Not sure I’d call myself a historian these days, but still have an interest in all things ‘history’. In a, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” sort of way. Although I’d add, those who don’t care to remember the past. The world needs more historians perhaps.
        Would be amazing to see the video footage!

      • History is a much abandoned art. Though I probably have close to 15-20% history books in my library. In France it used to weigh a lot in Pre-Biz Classes Préparatoires. I don’t know if it still does.
        And I’m sure you still apply some of your historian background to your everyday work. 🙂
        Cheers.

  7. Great writing ~ living your travels is good enough, but your creativity in inviting Doudart and his writings along makes this magical. I’d give anything to experience the fly-by your mom experienced over Angkor Wat, wow…I’d love to see the footage. How do you know when you’ve had a good adventure? When you can write something like “I don’t know whether Garnier or I will make it alive from this expedition. But no matter what happens, we have seen Beauty.”

    Your drawing, watercolor, is fantastic. Recognized Bayon immediately from your drawing (you’ve got talent, my friend) and brought back great memories. I like your comment about how the hand remembers…very cool. There is another artist your work reminds me of – one of my favorites and whose work I could stare at forever (https://jotsfromasmallapt.wordpress.com/). Wish you a good weekend.

    • Thank you for your comments. (Blushing!) It is a pleasure to receive such feedback.
      About Beauty… isn’t that one of many things we wanderers seek? 🙂
      And thank you for the comment on the Bayon. It was a pleasure to draw. Working on something else now. Will let you know. have a great week.

    • Que la lumière soit indeed. And it is coming to yor neck of the woods. Must be quite a sight. Places with harsh winters have glorious Springs.
      And thanks for your… comments. 🙂 However simple a drawing may be, it does bring peace of the mind.
      Biz

      • Spring is right on time this year. Still some snow on the ground, but we had about a meter of base snow. You are so right that places with harsh winters have glorious springs. You’re welcome about the comments, mon pote. I was just catching up after my return from Bali.

      • As you came back fro Bali, and as you know from other places, it takes an effort for me to still imagine snow anywhere. 🙂 Sun and warmth have been gorgeous here since mid February. 😉
        Enjoy Spring then.

  8. I enjoyed reading this post tremendously, perhaps all the more so for having been there. Somehow knowing you were born there gives it all so much more meaning. I do love your sketch. I used to sketch all the time while travelling.. there is something about sketching that makes us notice details and places that is very different from taking a photograph I think. I have to start doing that again… but unlike you I find myself rather rusty after years of scant drawing…

    Peta

    • Well, born close by. You know how distances are in the South. I was also raised in Africa “East and West, and despite the distance, there is a lot of commonality between East, South or West Africa. I did live in Cambodia briefly.
      About drawing, just buy paper (regular printer paper at first to warm up, then upgrade) and let your hand do the work. It will come bak in no time.
      Question: i couldn’t find the follow button… 🙂

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