As the sun went down a high-pitched scream slowly rose from the jungle like a sound-effect from a horror movie. As the ancient ruin darkened, and the scream filled the night, the moist night air felt thick with ghosts.
As I rode my mountain bike back to town, I turned off the road into a rice field to record the sound. In the distance, a khmer flute began to play.
This is what it sounded like.
Some trips cannot be separated from the circumstances under which they took place. My trip to the ancient city of Angkor was one of them.
Three years before I visited Angkor Wat, I moved from home from Tainan, Taiwan back to Canada when my father nearly died from heart problems. Eventually, he got better. Then, just when I was ready to move back to Taiwan, my girlfriend’s sister was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, so, instead, we moved to California to help care for her.
Two very difficult and grief stricken years later, my girlfriend and I broke up. No longer having any reason to stay in North America, I decided to return home to South East Asia. I put all my things in a storage locker, packed my bags, and one month later I was laying on a hard bed under a fan in a guesthouse room in Siem Reap that I’d rented for 10 days.
Gaining distance from the events of the preceding years gave me opportunity to reflect on them.
It was probably a bit of both.
Death is inevitable, and therefore not worth worrying about. And, although it may sometimes feel that way, the inevitability of death doesn’t remove the meaning from life.
The jungle consumes all. With enough time, it will devour the greatest city in the world, but that doesn’t mean the city isn’t worth building. The act itself is a thing of beauty. And, if it’s built well, it will be remembered and appreciated for a long time.
There is only one worthwhile thing we can do in life: build temples to the people and ideas that we love.
The jungle consumes all, and it will consume me. The best I can do is leave behind my own slowly eroding, root-choked temples.
If I’ve built them well, then it will mean two things:
First, it will mean that I lived a purposeful life and stayed true to those things that mattered most.
Second, it will mean that, just maybe, my temples will be appreciated and remembered…for a while at least.
The jungle will eventually consume them too, but that matters not, for the act of creating them was a thing of beauty, and that is something not even the jungle can erase.