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Is there a country richer in culture?This is a treasure chest of history and culture. - Cambodia

 

   
 
   
 

“Eo-kkun jji-ran.” means “Thank you very much” in Cambodian. These words were spoken very often during my trip to Cambodia.  This story is about that trip.

Cambodia is located in the Southwestern part of the Indochina peninsula.  Our group of eighteen Donggukians arrived this summer. As soon as we stepped out of the airplane, we saw many Cambodian people welcoming us with glowing smiles. We were in an unfamiliar land and our hearts were beating fast with excitement and anxiety. These were feelings we had felt before, but not quite like this. Our memories of this trip have remained vivid and will be lasting forever. 

This summer we traveled to the City of Siem-Reap. Siem-Reap is located in Northwestern part of Cambodia. Today it is a major tourist hub with a large number of hotels and restaurants. In spite of its international influences, Siem-Reap and its people have preserved much of its town's culture and traditions. Cambodia is a nation abundant in culture. The Kingdom of Cambodia was colonized by France in 1863 and got independent from France in 1954. Natural resources are plentiful. Siem-Reap has been the center of sightseeing in Cambodia since the mid 1990’s. With great curiosity and expectations, we began our first day’s schedule. It took only about fifteen minutes on one of Cambodia’s streets before we got impressed by the scenery.

From our bus windows we could see endless roads and stores with opened doors. Children played with balls in the alley ways and in the vast plains beyond the city.  Our bus finally reached its destination, which was the ‘Rolous Group’ of temples.These temples were some of the earliest permanent structures built by Khmer. Three major temples composed the site: Bakong, Lolei and PreahKo. My first impressions were that the sizes of the temples were smaller than I had imagined but the feelings of awe within me were stronger.

Next, we visited the temple of Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei was built largely of red sandstones. This temple has been extremely popular with tourists, and has been widely praised as the 'jewel of Khmer art'. Kim Ji-hye (Dept. of Sculpture) said, “Cambodian culture is a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism. This is unique when compared to other cultures. The sculptures in the temples are decorated with amazing details and are exquisite to behold.” The first day passed in a flash and we were shocked by many exotic experiences. We were all very exhausted.

When the second day began we got the news that we were leaving for Angkor Wat. It was a hot and muggy day, but we were excited for what awaited us. Angkor Wat is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  In 1992, Angkor Wat was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Angkor Wat’s total size is half to the size of Yeoido, in Seoul, but for one single building, it was enormous. Outside of the temple, like in other places in Cambodia, small children were selling bracelets, fans and hats. “Just one dollar,” they would tell us. From there, we entered Angkor Wat. It took a workforce of 30,000 people about thirty years to finish building the temple in the early 12th century. This is remarkable when you consider their limited engineering and construction skills. We took a commemorative photograph at the Angkor Wat entrance’s huge, magnificent door.

A student Lee Sang-min (Dept. of Management) said, “This is marvelous. Even after all these years it still remains unchanged. And the way it is surrounded with nature and all of its beauty is  truly wonderful  to behold, beyond description really.” On the 1st floor, the gallery walls stood out conspicuously. The number of details on the sculptured walls seemed almost too real. What was more surprising is that these walls depicted Cambodia’s religion, myths, social aspects and the phases of history. They were not just for decoration. It was like looking at a Cambodian history book.

Yoon Sung-hoon (Dept. of Electronic Engineering) said "I was surprised to see that the gods were fighting each other the same way that humans do each other. I guess it means that greed exists in all worlds, even in the heavens." The second floor’s corridor walls remained unfinished. This place was for mediation. Here people could pay their respect to the gods. The long sloping thin stairway served as a pathway that connected the terrestrial world and the world of the gods. Angkor Wat was a magical place and its ambience captivated us. It felt as though time had stopped while we were there. Even if we had not taken pictures, my memories of this place would last forever in my mind. 

The next spot we visited is the place you might have seen in the movie ‘Tomb Raider’.  This was Ta Prohm. Here old trees grow out of the ruins and the jungle surrounds it making it one of Angkor Wat’s most popular temples with visitors. Oh Sol-ji (Dept. of Buddhism Art) said, "The more time goes by, the more old trees occupy the temple. It is fantastic and very impressive." Another temple we visited was the Bayon temple which is located in the middle of Angkor Thom. It was a magnificent Buddhist temple built in the late 12th century. The Bayon's most distinctive features are the massive stone faces with benevolent smiles set on its towers. Pictures of this temple appear on many guide book covers.

The last day of our Cambodia trip was difficult, for all of us knew things were coming to an end. No one wanted to admit it, because we were afraid to say goodbye to Cambodia. After eating our last breakfast, we left our beautiful hotel for our final stop Tonle Sap Lake. The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is an ecological hot spot that was designated as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997. When we got off the bus, a large red clay lake greeted us. Many people live in floating villages around the lake and work as fishermen. We took a boat trip and had a great time floating around the lake. Furthermore, we admired the distant scenery on the horizon.

“The journey is the thing” says Homer. I understand this now. It is all about the experience of the journey, not the final destination. We experience things with other people and these experiences bring us all closer together. Park Sang-jin (The Director of the Cooperative) said “This program helps to develop harmony between our members. It improves the welfare of our students, professors and the staff of Dongguk University. We are all better for it.” Also, Hwang Soon-il (Professor of Dept. of Hindu Philosophy) said “I was happy to have a meaningful time together with the various members of our school. We could share our knowledge so this trip was very fulfilling.” Lee Yun-ju (Dept. of Food Technology) said “Before arriving in Cambodia, my impression of the country was not good. 

But after touring Cambodia, I had more fun and experienced more beautiful things than I could ever have expected. In such a short time it is a surprise to see my expectations shattered.”The Dongguk University Cooperative is established for creating welfare facilities in the school. As part of Dongguk University’s cooperation’s program, we recruited members of 7th visitors for Cambodia’s historical sites from June 1st to the 9th. This program has helped to create harmony between the faculty, staff, and students. Yoo Jae-chun, a staff at Planning Finance Office of Cooperative, said: “We hope many people will be interested in Dongguk University Cooperative and will want to explore historic sites. In the future we hope to grow and make more progressive activities for our students.”

“Through meeting different cultures and people we learn more about ourselves. What else could be more important? We will not forget this experience.

 

Bang hye-jung  bhj9154@dongguk.edu

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