All the same in the end

At the top of Angkor Wat, at the very center of it, is Tha Bakan, which, our guide tells us, was reserved for the holiest of monks and special hermits.

It is now a tourist spot, and now, apparently, the private space of Mike Chang*, who carved his name on one of the walls. I remember seeing it, and saying “Mike Chang**, what an asshole.”

But, really, he was not the first to attempt to piggyback onto immortality by carving his name on the largest Hindu temple complex in the world. Walking into Angkor Wat (through the gate designated for royals, “but today, it is for you,” our guide says), the pillars have names of people who did the same thing in the 1920s and 1940s.

Detail on a pillar at the entrance to Angkor Wat.  Photo by Petra Magno.

They’re long dead by now, but they probably carved their names into the stone so a part of them will live on forever. If you think about it, the very existence of Angkor Wat is an attempt at the same thing, except writ large.

Except there is no such thing, really.

Angkor Wat is how it is only because of massive restoration funded by foreign countries. And what restoration has been done cannot even come close to what the original looked like. “Nobody knows how to do that anymore,” our guide says sadly. Left to itself, it will eventually crumble into nothing. Already, conservators need to pump rainwater away from the royal pools in the temple complex because they soften the foundations.

More instructive to people like Mike Chang***, and Jayavarman II, and everyone else dreaming of immortality is Ta Prohm several minutes away by tuktuk.

Ta Prohm temple ruins. Photo by Petra Magno.

None of that shit matters, in the long run.  You may be a god-king today, but you’ll die too, eventually and with you, whatever glory and grandeur you manage to accumulate along the way. That does not make Mike Chang**** any less of an asshole, though.

*Not his real name, but it was a Western Name + Chinese Name. I regret not taking his actual name down, but I was busy being awestruck at being there.

**Not his real name but if anyone can tell me the actual name carved there, I’d be much obliged.

***Not his real name

****Not his real name


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