Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Siem Reap

Picking up where I last left off, Elizabeth and I spent our second day in the town of Siem Reap rather than visiting the temples.  In the morning, we took a Khmer cooking class.  I learned how to cook mango salad and chicken amok.  Mango salad is made from unripe mangoes that are grated together with carrots and bean sprouts.  It's pretty spicy due to the large amount of chilies that are added, and is topped off with a peanut/fish sauce.  The chicken amok is a traditional Khmer dish made with chicken cooked in a banana leaf with a delicious coconut sauce.  The most fun part of cooking the chicken was preparing all the spices - we had to chop up all sorts of different spices like ginger and turmeric and then pound them all together in a huge wooden mortar and pestle!  Overall the class was really fun and we got to eat our work at the end.  We also got to wear fun cooking hats that looked kind of like pioneer bonnets.  I didn't take pictures, but I'll post some if Elizabeth sends them to me (if you're reading this, Elizabeth, can you please send me your pics?  The world needs more pictures of me in dorky hats!).

After lunch we took a (free!) shuttle bus out to visit a working silk farm.  They took us on a very good tour, which showed us the silk process from beginning to end.  We started with the silk worms:
Then we saw how the silk worm cocoons are collected before they are unraveled.
Once the silkworms have spun their cocoons, they are boiled to kill the worm inside, and the cocoons are unraveled.
At this point, our tour guide plucked a dead silk worm out of the pot of boiling water and challenged someone on the tour to eat it.  I didn't, but one of the other guys on the tour did.  He said that it tasted "like an almond".  Once the thread was unraveled from the cocoon, it goes through a series of machines designed to spin several threads together.  These machines were so cool!  They were huge and old-timey and used smart engineering instead of the digital tricks used by most modern technology.
Finally, the silk threads are dyed and woven together to form things like scarves and ties.
Then, the finished products are sold to tourists at extremely high prices!  We successfully resisted the guilt that comes with a free tour and didn't buy anything at the end.  I appreciated the very well done tour, but that wasn't worth the price of a $25 scarf.

Later that evening, we watched a free traditional Khmer dancing show at the restaurant where we ate dinner.  The schedule for the night's entertainment was very strict:
First, we heard some traditional Khmer music.
Then came the dancing.  The coconut dance was a Khmer folk dance in which the dancers clicked together coconut half-shells to accompany their dance.  All I could think of during this number was Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Next was the Apsara dance, a typical example of classical Khmer dancing:
I learned about this dance from a Fulbrighter at the conference I attended in Manila in March.  She lives in Phnom Penh and studies classical Khmer dance as part of her Fulbright project.  She told me that the apsaras are heavenly nymphs.  All the movements in the dance are very slow and deliberate and are supposed to mimic the movement of the apsaras.  The most important is to "look like you have detached your ribcage from your spine", as she put it.  This is supposed to give the impression of a heavenly/otherworldly being.  The dancers also do the cool thing where they are able to bend their fingers waaaaay back towards the back of their hand.

So, that was day two.  Again, it's late, so day three will wait for another time.

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