The Dragon Royal Apartments have recently been renamed La Lune (The Moon) Angkor Condominiums. Everyone still calls the seven story building “The Dragon.” I am The Dragon’s newest resident in Room 310.
The Dragon is in the village of Treang. “Village” here does not mean the same thing as it does in New England or India. There are many so-called villages that are part of the city of Siem Reap. Most of us would more likely refer to these as urban neighborhoods.
Things are about to improve drastically on the health and relaxation fronts now that I have moved into The Dragon. There is less traffic, noise, and air pollution here than in downtown. What there is of it has a chance to dissipate a bit before it gets to the third floor. Treang Village has a narrow river running through it. The river runs right in front of the apartment building. It is just wide enough to foster tree growth. Trees are a great complement to human respiratory systems. They eat carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Hot air brings that oxygen from the top of the second floor, where much of the tree canopy is, up to my third-floor window.
From the seventh floor roof top swimming pool, the view makes it obvious that there are more trees in this neighborhood than the main downtown has seen in at least fifty years. I finally find a market where lettuce, tomatoes, and red bell peppers are available. There is hot water in the building.
In general, more things work in this neighborhood than in the short-term tourist area. Folks here rent by the month and often stay for years. They are less likely to be satisfied with amenities that aren't amenities than someone in a hurry to see Angkor Wat for the last time before rushing to catch a plane back to Europe.
Looking out my new kitchen window from the angle I'm sitting at, all I can see is thick green jungle, half a stucco house, its red ceramic roof tiles, and hundreds of dragonflies zipping around in helter-skelter patterns while they snap small bugs out of the air. Their organized chaos reminds me of Grand Central Station. Their flight patterns may look schizophrenic to the casual observer, but these guys know where they are going and what they are doing.
My First Full Day In The Dragon Neighborhood
Early Morning Exercise On The Dragon Roof
In early morning the breeze is still cool enough to send the dragonflies scurrying for sunny spots. Days will average eighty-five to ninety-five degrees for the next three months of “cool” season, but nights occasionally get down to what seems like a very chilly sixty.
There is a bustling city beneath and on all sides that came to life hours ago, but that is hard to tell from this angle. From this birds eye view, trees varying from ten to fifty feet high seem to make parts of the city disappear under dense jungle. Several pagoda shaped roofs manage to poke their curved tiles and pointy spires through the lush vegetation. Some are houses. Some are schools. Others are businesses and temples. A few radio towers join them. A loudspeaker to the left blares lilting Asian music. Straight ahead are the voices of fifty or so young school children chanting a recitation in unity. The traffic noise is apparent, as are clouds of smoke from the trash burns.
The new neighborhood’s Main Street is called River Road and aptly runs on either side of the Siem Reap River. The river is narrow, shallow, and muddy with stone bridges about thirty yards in length running across it. The bridges are about a quarter mile apart from each other. Some are very ornately carved on either flank in the shape of a singular red cobra or dragon that runs for their entire length! Some are plain off-white concrete structures.
One of the cleanest and most beautiful bits of jungle in the neighborhood is the Peace Café. It sits about a half mile up the road and across the river from The Dragon. The restaurant is set back off the street a bit and composed of seating areas on either side of the concrete walkway that runs through it. The walkway is defined by a row of thirty foot tall palm trees on either side of it. The right side seating area is Asian style, with two foot elevated platforms and four comfy looking cushions around a table elevated two feet higher than, and sitting centered on, the platform. The left side seating area has standard comfortable Western tables and chairs. Gorgeous exotic fresh flowers of various purples and oranges grace each table. The place is spotless and the servers are in uniforms. As soon as a customer sits down, the server arrives with a smiling face and a cold, wet, mentholated towel to refresh that customer.
The food is some of the best in Southeast Asia or anywhere else. The Peace Café it strictly vegetarian. They don't even use eggs. But they can make a vegetable dish taste like anything, including a version of the nationally famous Amok fish that rivals the original. They also offer meditation classes.
If this sounds more like a fancy uptown restaurant than an ordinary mom-and-pop place, you are right. The prices reflect it. But that only means that a two dollar meal costs four dollars. It is worth it. Their atmosphere, as well as their food, reflect the value of the place.
There is a card displaying a wisdom saying on each table at the Peace Café. Here is a sampling.
If you are depressed, you are a living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
If you want peace, stop fighting. If you want peace of mind, stop fighting with your thought.
Death Defying Dragon Drivers
I grew up in New York City and have since been in major metropolitan areas all over the world. Cambodian drivers are by far and away the craziest and bravest I have ever seen. The fact that half the population doesn't die daily in traffic accidents is a miracle. Tuk-tuks, motorbikes, some cars and the occasional truck weave in and out of each other with a very reckless abandon. It is common to see someone driving on the wrong side of the road as if it is their personal one-way street and the opposing traffic is part of a video game obstacle course. Like Grand Theft Auto, they seem to treat the driving process as a serious form of entertainment as opposed to a potentially dangerous form of transportation. Rules are fluid. Folks have no trouble bending them. I have seen tuk-tuks going north while motorbikes go south in the same lane as a car tries to use the same space to go from east to west. The situation is comparatively tame but still prevalent in the urban neighborhood I have just moved into. Downtown is flat-out batshit crazy. Looking both ways before crossing may not be enough.
A few blocks walk from the Peace Café is a free standing hut restaurant with seventy-five cent coconuts. They chop the top off and stick a straw in one for me. A few blocks past that is a stand with a dozen kinds of natural juices, Half of them are made from fruits I have never heard of before. I get the Aloe Vera.
Downing both juices gives a vitamin rush.
I have been taking heavy vitamins and supplements for decades and am concerned about not being able to continue them. Again, all the money in the world doesn't help if you are in a place that doesn't stock what you want to buy. But it is becoming obvious that there's almost no reason for concern. Much of the (unfried) food here is medicine. There is a lot of turmeric to substitute for my usual Curcumin. There are fruit drinks with giant chunks of Aloe Vera in them that will not only substitute for but improve upon the spoonfuls of it I was taking daily in America from plastic bottles. Many other mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables with medicinal effects are a regular part of the Khmer diet. Everything grows all the time. Freshness is not a problem. After a little more local education, I should be able to stop looking far afield for things that are right under my nose.
On a side street several blocks past the Peace Café, I spy a thirty foot tall, ornately carved, stone gateway. This is usually a sign that there is a temple, probably with an elementary school attached to it, behind that gateway. Getting closer affords a view of three orange-robed monks walking in the distance behind a hundred screaming children at play in a schoolyard. The gate itself is an incredible piece of art containing a lot of carved scroll work as well as figures of goddesses, elephants, and crocodiles. If a singular craftsman of his day did this, it may have taken a whole lifetime to finish.
I wander past a hectic schoolyard full of the sweet, noisy chaos of happy children into the serene silence of the temple/monk residence section. Wandering into a small side temple gives a big surprise. Half of it is cordoned off into sections of orange robes hung over rope lines acting as room dividers. Three or four monks are actually living in this shrine!
The main temple was bigger but still spotless and beautiful, as most are. It is considered a blessing to clean the temple. Monks and locals alike take care of the area. After a half hour of meditating and assorted mind wandering in the temple, I go back to the school area to write up some notes. There are a few stone steps behind a woman selling ice cream from a cart. She has a crying three-year-old daughter with her.
Many times, all that children need is to be distracted from their crying for just a minute in order to completely forget what they were crying about in the first place. (It can work with whining adults too.) I stroke the child's hand while giggling and smiling at her. She starts giggling back. Giggles turn into uproarious laughter and the kid is on a roll. I'm ready to play and start laughing and smiling right back at her. A half-dozen kids waiting for ice cream think this is hilarious. They start laughing along with us. This goes on for a full twenty minutes while I sit on the steps making notes. Every few minutes the baby takes break. As soon as she catches her breath and starts laughing again, I give her a big smile and laugh back, and whoever is waiting for ice cream breaks into laughter as well.
At six feet and two inches tall, I may be the biggest, whitest thing this kid has ever seen. She may be one of the sweetest people I have ever met.
The local neighborhood market is a miniature version of the downtown Night Market, but with a very noticeable lack of bars and massage parlors. There is a lot more concentration on food, clothing, and cosmetics. Cosmetics are a big thing in Cambodia.
This is a neighborhood venue that caters to some long-term tourists, but mostly to locals with families. It is only a few blocks from the school. Very fresh produce, meat, and live fish are available. The live fish sit on wet tables until someone buys them. At one of these fish tables, two live ones jump off the table and onto the floor right in front of me—and start walking down the floor! I shit you not. The fish has feet! There are no toes but where a dog or cat’s front legs would be, there are flipper/feet type appendages that allow the fish to actually walk.
After my short trip through the market for some footless fish, noodles, and greens, a tuk-tuk takes me back to The Dragon. I pull the former tenant’s sealing tape off the window and open it for some air circulation. Through the open window I hear a familiar chanting. There are orange robes hanging on a clothesline a few buildings away. The way the streets curve and squirrel around in this neighborhood, it may take a while to find the place, but it seems there may be a temple near my back yard.
Up On The Roof
I have been sitting next to the swimming pool on the roof, looking out over the jungle while writing up today's happenings. I can’t fuggin believe how gorgeous everything is! It can be dirty, strange, polluted, hotter than the devil’s nut sack, and certainly not for the faint of heart—but it is absolutely beautiful and the people are wonderful.
I am drinking my first pumpkin juice. It’s a real thing here! I’m up on the roof watching a beautiful red sunset. The sun spreads crimson through the trees on one side of the sky as the full moon glows on the already darker side. The sun is losing ground to the city lights below. It is understandably tired. It shed a lot of light today.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED SO FAR
This trip has, so far, brought me almost exactly half way around the world from where I started. It has been great fun, adventure, experience, and offered wonderful insights into different cultures. But it hasn't taught me much about humanity that I didn't already know. It has confirmed a lot that I already suspected.
People everywhere and anywhere are a lot more similar than different. Most are trying to be decent and happy, but all have different definitions of what “decent” and “happy” mean. There are a small number of seriously self-centered assholes, but even they are also just hunting happiness in their own warped fashion.
The nice people can be awfully cruel at times. Cruel people are occasionally nice.
No one gets out alive but most folks act as if death only happens to other people. There is very little real consciousness of mortality going on.
Actually, there is precious little consciousness going on at all. Folks seem to do a lot of life habitually and without any deep awareness of their thoughts or actions. Very few realize how many choices they have. Many folks seem busier strangling life's opportunities with irrelevant and often inaccurate historical misinformation than are actually taking advantage of those opportunities. They don’t realize that a lot of what is called tradition turns out to be no more than peer pressure from dead people, and that it lacks any valuable or even real substance. They seem swept away by the current of life, like a body trapped in the current of a wide river. They don't realize that there are banks on both sides of any river that we can swim to, climb ashore, and find golden new possibilities waiting for us.
Most people have been hypnotized by the commercial, religious, and political nuances of their culture into believing that their remedy is somewhere outside of themselves. Those misleading nuances, like the people themselves, are more similar than different no matter what culture they travel through.
Many folks get trapped for a lifetime in these external pursuits of well-being. Few realize that all solutions are within. Many are aware that there is something wrong but just can't figure out what that something is.
The historical Buddha is often misquoted as having said that “Life is suffering.” But the word “dukkha” that he used is more accurately translated as “dislocated” or “out of joint,” in the manner of a dislocated shoulder or collarbone. Many folks give lip service to the well-known fact that love is the answer. They mouth it often. They feel it a little more on Sundays and at Christmas, but have trouble putting it into consistent application during the rest of their week—and the rest of their living. They know where the best stuff is but are disjointed, dislocated from it.
Pain will happen in life but suffering is often optional, or at least adjustable. Reconnecting with The Bigger Thing eliminates the dislocation from it. That re-established connection often supersedes and modifies the previous connection to suffering. It doesn’t matter whether one tags the “Bigger Thing” as Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Xenon the Invader, The Field, The Force, or Self. Drive any car you want that will get you to the destination. Regardless of which teacher or system is used, the quality of attention paid by the student is a good deal more important than who the teacher is. Consciousness needs to be intentionally tuned in to and is therefore, on several levels, self-consciousness.
More people every day are starting to realize that we are at a crucial point in history. They can figure out later that those tag systems were almost all symbolic and very little was literal. They can wait just a bit to come to grips with the fact that they have to do the internal work in order to enjoy more humane qualities, not wait for someone or something supernatural to do it for them. But Earth is very near immediate-crisis mode. Even paying serious attention to a truly positive “belief” can do nicely as a vehicle on the road to improving life right now, saving the environment as soon as possible, and an objectively sound wisdom in the future.
That wisdom in the future will include the courage to simply say, “I don't know.” Admitting that we don’t know a lot of things will eliminate the need for blindly believing in unfounded, unrealistic stories that dead people made up a long time ago. Believing in fairytales can give us a false sense of an actually nonexistent security. It disfigures objective reality.
Many of these stories were control devices designed to tame and civilize, or intimidate and rule, unruly populations. Others may well have been meant symbolically and are still brilliant metaphorical lessons. But history shows that over a period of centuries, a lot of material that was meant to be metaphorical got concretized, bent to individual purposes, and sloppily translated. Look what happens in three minutes to a message running through a chain of ten kids playing Telephone! Give that process a couple of dozen centuries, or even months, and what fragments of the original message remain may no longer have any resemblance to the actual original message. It gets even worse in some cases. Add a narcissistic monarch of the world’s biggest empire to a sexual identity crisis accompanying a bad attitude toward women, multiplied by millennia of elapsed time since the original message. One has to wonder how much of the actual spirit of the Judeo and especially the Christian message King James got into his bible translation.
The good part is that everybody wants to get love and life right, even if they are not consciously aware of it. That desire may see very little practical application in the modern world at times, but an increasing number of folks are realizing that they do want to be improved, happier, nicer versions of themselves. Many are searching. There is hope.
Every day, I see more people waking up. But also every day, another poor jackass is born and hypnotized from birth to think his life is so important that yours doesn’t matter at all. These are the guys who manufacture the separations that keep humanity from becoming itself. Things like sexual, religious, national, and ethnic differences are given such great importance in the physical/material world! There is nothing, in mundane existence, wrong with the pleasures that these differences afford. There is not much wrong with the limited feeling of inclusion that these little clubs we belong to can give us—as long as they're not at the expense and degradation of any other little club. But these likes, dislikes, preferences, accidents of birth, and so on have no place in the world of consciousness, and it is insane to let them overpower the total inclusiveness that pure consciousness entails.
I have seen a lot of human inconsistency everywhere while traveling around the world. There doesn't seem any sense in being an optimist or a pessimist. I’m a realist. It appears that we can go either way. Everything can work out just fine or humanity can become extinct in short order. Most folks are nice. Everything depends on whether those nice folks can muster the inspiration, power, and intelligence to make the few nastier people see reason. That’s going to take some doing because in order to help anyone else do that job efficiently, the nice folks will first have to do a version of it on themselves. The mechanics of The Bigger Thing dictate that things work the way Gandhi did.
A mother came to The Mahatma and asked him to get her sugar-addicted child off the sugar. Gandhi told her to come back in two weeks with the boy. She did. Mahatma talked to the boy and the child stopped eating sugar from that day on. The mother asked, “Why did you have me wait two weeks?” Gandhi answered, “Two weeks ago, I was on sugar!”
The nice folks will also have to be careful to not become just like those nasty people. It happens sometimes. People have often killed tyrants and then become tyrants. Revolution, by dictionary definition, means you end up back where you started from. Evolution, on the other hand, puts your way of living somewhere else.”Somewhere else” would, in almost every nonphysical sense, be a good place for all of humanity to move to—especially that nastier fraction of humanity.
We are a unit. Whether you are basically nice or nasty, like man or woman ass, are born black or white, or are from the Eastern or Western hemisphere, we now have no functional choice but to realize the depth of what the American patriot Patrick Henry said in the 1770s. Regarding action against England, he advised his compatriots that “we must hang together or we will surely hang separately.” Now that we are facing the extinction of the human species on so many fronts—environmental, warrior/political/nuclear, a potentially fatal overpopulation and draining of resources, and more, Patrick Henry's words are more important to live by than ever.
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) and would like to see it, go to the Puppy website blog section, or Wordpress, or send an email request to email@example.com This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info