I arrived at Angkor Wat a little after 5 am. It was still pitch dark and there were not many tourists. I secretly felt relieved, which was ridiculous because only a few minutes later I heard a flock of Chinese tourists chattering in their dialects and laughing, getting noisier as they neared where I sat. I tried to ignore them, but how could it be possible? At least half the crowd waiting to see the sunrise was Chinese, most of whom middle-aged or older and loud. They certainly broke the morning darkness before the sun got a chance. I saw a few white European faces frowning with disgust and I felt ashamed for my fellow Chinese citizens, when an Indian woman sat down by my side and stroke up a conversation with me.
“Where are you from?” She asked.
“Eh, China,” I replied. And with embarrassment and a little sarcasm, I added, “We Chinese have certainly invaded, occupied and insulted this holy place, haven’t we?”
A man in his thirties turned to me and smiled. I bet he was really disgusted by the loud middle-aged Chinese tourists surrounding him and his girlfriend or wife or lover. I smiled back to him and said, “And I am Chinese!” With that, I hit my forehead with my left palm and sniggered.
The crowd got bigger as the morning started to break. A flock of Koreans joined the Chinese to add their noisy excitement. Soon everyone (except me, a professional photographer) was holding their cell phone or ipad to take photos of themselves and of Angkor Wat, which probably looked all the same. A white man in his late forties or fifties tried to have his photo taken by the pond in front of Angkor Wat, but could hardly find a spot. He was surrounded by a group of middle-aged Chinese women, who were shouting to the bank in their dialects, “take a picture of me!” Or those standing at the bank shouting at them, “Turn around, wave high, I am taking a photo of you!” I could imagine that she could only be found in the photo with the guide of her hand sticking out above a crowd of heads. The White European man turned 360 degree, snuggled left and right, then back and forth, and finally found his spot. He made a V sign and smiled a big but fake smile toward the bank, where his wife or girlfriend was holding a camera, but a Chinese woman bumped him by accident and he lost balance. He grimaced. Photo taken unsuccessfully. He tried again, but found himself buried by the Chinese middle-aged women again. With more snuggling, he bent forward, held a V sign and squeezed out that big and fake smile again. Success! He waved to his wife, who jumped down to join him. They tried at least five times to settle themselves for their photo taken. Sometimes someone bumped into them from beside or behind. Sometimes someone walked right in front of them. It was one of the most difficult things in the world have a photo taken in front of Angkor Wat, particularly during sunrise. Think about the much bigger crowds during the hot season in Angkor Wat! But somehow it was amusing and entertaining to watch them fighting to have their photos taken. It has brought the devil out of me.
As people surrounding me were busy escaping our fellow tourists and fighting to have their photos taken, the Indian woman and I were having a conversation about tourism. She had been to many different countries and she has been to see all those famous sunrises, Kausani of India, Pokhara of Nepal, Mt. Bromo of Indonesia, Mt. Batur of Bali……
“I’ve always wanted to go to Bali,” I said.
“It was really nice.”
“Do you know that book, Eat, Pray, Love? Who is the author? Elizabeth something? The love part happens in Bali, I think.”
“I can never understand why that book got such a hit,” she said.
“I know. I read about half of it and couldn’t continue. All her personal stuff. Come on, I don’t care about your privacy.”
“Yeah, I really can’t understand how that book got such a hit,” The Indian woman repeated.
“Welcome to the world of crowd wisdom!” I said, “it is actually not the worst. I am sure you know about Fifty Shades of Grey. Also a big hit. I read the first page and was too bored and too shocked to turn to page 2. I shamelessly thought I, a foreign speaker, could write better English sentences than those in the book. But you know what, it was made into a movie! And everybody, all the news media and social media, really the whole world was talking about it. At least Eat, Pray, Love author writes skillfully and with a little humor. But honestly, I don’t understand why they got such a hit, either.”
The Indian woman chuckled agreeably, as if this was a conversation between two close friends. The truth was that we didn’t even bother to ask each other’s name.
“You know, when I was a young student in China, we were taught to have faith in the people’s wisdom, people, really mean the crowds, I think. The communists tell us to have faith in crowds. Crowds have wisdom, individuals are weak and selfish, bla, bla, bla. So we only have crowd’s wisdom, but not democracy. ” I was surprised that I was so comfortable talking so much with a stranger from India, whose name I didn’t bother to know, and I got almost excited talking with her, “Crowds’ wisdom! Think about the cultural revolution in from 1960s and 1970s! Now look at this crowd!”
The Indian woman chuckled again.
“And so sorry that I am part of this crowd!” I made a face, and changed the topic, “hope we get to see the sunrise.”
“It is funny I usually missed the sunrise. Each time it was clouded…”She laughed with a little embarrassment, as if she would bring her bad luck to the famous Angkor Wat sunrise.
“Maybe I can share my good luck with you and we will see the sunrise,” I said.
In fact, as we talked, the clouds gathered behind Angkor Wat and the sky got brighter without showing the sun. Obviously we had missed the sunrise. The Indian woman turned to me with a guilty smile, “my bad luck.”
“Don’t.” I said, “I don’t really care that much about sunrise.” I immediately realized how ridiculous I sounded – I was admitting it was her bad luck to keep us from seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat. I smiled awkwardly and guiltily, and added, “secretly I am glad that the sunrise didn’t happen. The crowd must be disappointed, ha!” Again this was stupid. Didn’t this Indian woman and I both get up really early to see the famous sunrise? And weren’t we part of this crowd?
Still the evil side of me was enjoying some revengeful victory – ha, they, I mean we, didn’t get to see the famous Angkor Wat sunrise!