Siem Reap

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We arrived in Siem Reap last night and arranged for an early visit to Angkor Wat where I setup to capture the sunrise. The temples of Angkor, built by the Khmer civilization between 802 and 1220 AD, constitute the  largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 400 acres.  The structures one sees at Angkor today, more than 100 stone temples in all, are the surviving remains of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings – palaces, public buildings, and houses – were built of wood and have long since decayed and disappeared.

At any given time of day, hundreds of the thousands of daily visitors can be found taking the iconic picture of the temple with its reflection in one of two ponds.

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I normally take great pains to exclude tourists from my photographs and arriving early in the day is the best formula for success but does constrain which views will be best lit. I also tend to shy away from selfies but am not immune to taking a few.

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Monks make for great photographic elements and I was constantly on the lookout for opportunities to include them in my photographs.

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Unlike other temples at Angkor, Ta Prohm has been left as it was found, preserved as an example of what a tropical forest will do to an architectural monument when the protective hands of humans are withdrawn. Ta Prohm’s walls, roofs, chambers and courtyards have been sufficiently repaired to stop further deterioration, and the inner sanctuary has been cleared of bushes and thick undergrowth, but the temple has been left in the stranglehold of trees.

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During half-millennia of Khmer occupation, the city of Angkor became a pilgrimage destination of importance throughout Southeastern Asia. Sacked by the Thais in 1431 and abandoned in 1432, Angkor was forgotten for a few centuries. Wandering Buddhist monks, passing through the dense jungles, occasionally came upon the awesome ruins. Recognizing the sacred nature of the temples but ignorant of their origins, they invented fables about the mysterious sanctuaries, saying they had been built by the gods in a far ancient time. Centuries passed, these fables became legends, and pilgrims from the distant reaches of Asia sought out the mystic city of the gods. A few adventurous European travelers knew of the ruins and stories circulated in antiquarian circles of a strange city lost in the jungles. Most people believed the stories to be nothing more than legend, however, until the French explorer Henri Mouhot brought Angkor to the world’s attention in 1860. The French people were enchanted with the ancient city and beginning in 1908 funded and superbly managed an extensive restoration project.

Angkor Thom was built as a square, the sides of which run exactly north to south and east to west. Standing in the exact center of the walled city, Bayon Temple represents the intersection of heaven and earth. Bayon is known for its huge stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, with one facing outward and keeping watch at each compass point. The curious smiling image, thought by many to be a portrait of Jayavarman himself, has been dubbed by some the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia.” There are 51 smaller towers surrounding Bayon, each with four faces of its own.

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Baphuon was erected in the reign of Udayadityavarman II, who ruled from 1050-1066. It served as the state temple of Yasodharapura, the capital city of the Khmer empire in the 11th century.

As with Angkor Wat, the Baphuon was converted to a Buddhist temple in the 16th century. This involved the demolition of the outer galleries, causeway stones, and other structures to reuse the material for construction of an enormous reclining Buddha statue on the west side of the temple. The work was never completed, however, and the half-finished Buddha is only barely distinguishable.

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The Terrace of the Elephant King is an 8 foot tall terrace that stretches a thousand feet through the core of Angkor Thom.  It is considered to be the magnum opus of King Jayavarman VII’s kingship, and perhaps the grandest royal terrace in Cambodia.

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Chinatown

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We connected with Kyle again today for a stroll through the Chinatown area of Bangkok. We were highly focused on food as we searched for a nice place to have lunch. As usual we looked to Jeanine to make the final choice and as usual we were not disappointed.

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With an afternoon flight to Cambodia we said goodbye to Chinatown, returned to our hotel to collect our baggage and bid Kyle farewell. We will see him again in less than a week when he joins us in Vietnam for the weekend.

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Bangkok

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Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is the oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It is home to more Buddha images than any other Bangkok temple and it shelters the largest Buddha in Thailand, the gold plated Reclining Buddha (150 feet long and 50 feet high.) What Pho is also considered the birthplace of Thai massage. Jeanine and I started the day here while Kyle was still sleeping.

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At noon we rendezvoused with Kyle at the entrance to The Grand Palace. In addition to the palace, the 54 acre complex contains the  Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

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After a nice lunch we walked to Wat Saket, popularly known as the Golden Mount.  It is a low hill crowned with a gleaming gold chedi. The temple grounds feature mature trees and typical Buddhist structures including a main chapel, ordination hall and library. Its origins can be traced back to the Ayutthaya period (1350- 1767 AD).

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We bypassed some amazing looking street food for a highly recommended restaurant which lived up to its reputation. After dinner Kyle returned to his apartment while Jeanine and I made a long walk to have a peek at the infamous Red Light district for which Bangkok has much fame.

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Thailand

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The primary motivator for our visit to Thailand was to visit with Kyle who is stationed here for three months. His demanding 2pm to 2am work day is timed to worldwide financial markets and consistent with the long hours expected at a start up. He joined us for breakfast and then gave us a tour of his nearby apartment before heading to work on the back of a MotoTaxi.

Jeanine and I spent the rest of the day visiting some of the sights including a stroll through Lumpini Park where we encountered a five foot long monitor lizard out looking for lunch.

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We then walked on to the Jim Thompson House which includes beautiful gardens and an eclectic art collection housed in a complex of six traditional Thai-style houses made of teak. Thompson, gained great wealth by developing the Thai silk industry. He disappeared while trekking in the Malaysian jungle and to this day much mystery surrounds his death. Photography is not permitted within the complex but I did get a photo of two Thai dancers that were performing in the courtyard.

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Bangkok features many canals which support water taxis of all manner.  There is scarcely room for two to pass each other and yet they do so at incredible speeds sending waves spilling over the banks of the narrow waterways. The canal shown below is directly behind the Jim Thompson house.

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We then hopped into a “tuk-tuk” (three wheeled motorcycle with covered seating for two passengers) which took us to the Chao Phraya River where we hired a “long-tail” boat (long narrow boat with a pivoting V8 engine connected to a long shaft with a propellor at the end) for a tour of the canals and passage to the Wat Arun temple.

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There are over 31,200 Buddhist temples spread around Thailand. Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn, is named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn and is regarded as one of the most striking riverside landmarks of Thailand. It is an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In the mythology of Tibetan Buddhism, Mount Meru is a place that simultaneously represents the center of the universe and the single-pointedness of mind sought by adepts. Thousands of miles in height, Meru is located somewhere beyond the physical plane of reality, in a realm of perfection and transcendence. The four-corner prang of Wat Arun, which house images of the guardian gods of the four directions, reinforces this mystical symbolism.

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After completing our boat tour we walked past the Ministry of Defense before returning to our hotel by taxi.

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Continental Divide

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Our 26 hour journey to Bangkok took us from Boston to San Francisco to Hong Kong before reaching Thailand.  We were originally booked to fly through Chicago but changed our routing when inclement weather in the Windy City caused many flights to be delayed or cancelled.  Pictured here is the Continental Divide viewed from 35,000 feet.

Stress Relief

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A visit to my cardiologist this morning to review the results from my recent nuclear stress test proved a great relief.  Although I have an EKG pattern that is indicative of coronary artery disease, the nuclear test revealed that my high stress arterial circulation is the same as my resting circulation indicating no constrictions.  My cholesterol numbers are higher than they should be and I will need to make some dietary adjustments to bring them down.

In other news related to stress reduction, I have stepped down as the head of engineering and operations at Markforged and will now serve as a management consultant to the company.  My boss and I enjoy the most productive conversations when we are not arguing about schedules.  Less stress for both of us and an amicable outcome all around.

I leave for Thailand early tomorrow morning with a light and happy heart.  I will try to post updates from the road (perhaps temporarily without photos) but it could also be a few weeks before I can catch up.

Why the picture of a horse?  It just makes me smile and I have much to smile about today.

Sexy Shoulder

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This is an x-ray of my left shoulder.  During a visit to my orthopedist I learned that my rotator cuff is NOT torn as suspected by my chiropractor.  I have a bone spur which is rubbing on an inflamed tendon which keeps it from healing and the cycle never ends.  The original inflammation was caused when I replaced a bunch of storm windows and overused the joint.  I received my first of three shots of cortisone which will be administered over the course of 12 weeks.  If the inflammation can be reduced then the cycle will be broken.  If not, a minor surgery will be needed to remove the bone spur (much less invasive than rotator cuff repair).  All-in-all I am happy with this outcome.  Now I just need to get through my cardiologist appointment tomorrow morning.

Chef Johnny

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I hope the older of my two sisters is keeping up with this blog and taking note of the fine cook her son Johnny has become.  Each week his Sunday dinners just seem to be getting better and better. Jeanine provides a modicum of advice but it will not be too long before the roles will be reversed.

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Visa Photos

Passport PhotoJeanine and I spent a good part of the day finalizing our travel plans for our upcoming trip to southeast Asia.  We leave Wednesday for Thailand where we will connect with Kyle through the weekend. Our next stop will be Cambodia and then on to Vietnam before returning to the southern part of Thailand.  It speeds things up if you bring passport type photos with you for the various visas that are prepared as you enter each country.  Here are the shots we will be using.

Absentee Ballot

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Jeanine and I will be travelling out of the country during the Primary Elections in Massachusetts.  We generally support the same candidates but this year our votes will only serve to cancel each other out.  Had neither one of us voted we could have saved the postage.  Still, there is something about participating in the democratic process that feels empowering and uplifting.

Cake Torture

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I think we can agree that this cake looks extremely yummy.  Being asked to photograph it by your wife before she takes it away for other people to eat, therefore, would be seen by many as cruel and unusual punishment. Such was the case this evening as Jeanine prepared another recipe from her memoir cookbook for external beta testing. The things I endure for love.

Full disclosure: Jeanine returned from her party hours later having saved a small piece for her photographer.

Snow Bunnies

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Timed perfectly for a break in the arctic cold we have been experiencing, Maya and a pair of her friends climbed 3,166 ft. Mount Monadnock today. I still remember, as though it were yesterday, when Maya and I climbed this mountain and camped overnight at its base some five years ago.  I cannot express with words how happy it makes me that all three of our children share their parents love of the great outdoors.

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It’s Official

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Kyle’s diploma from Santa Clara University arrived in the mail today. We will safeguard it for him until he returns from Thailand where he is having what can only be described as a grand adventure and  unique learning experience.  Jeanine and I are very proud of Kyle and can’t wait to see him next week when we travel there to visit with him.

Sweet Valentine

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Confident, smart and beautiful, Maya is the best Valentine’s Day present Jeanine has ever given me. The pair left for upstate New York this morning where Maya will tour Union College, my undergraduate alma mater on Monday.

On a Pedestal

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This shot may or may not be used at work but it is what I envisioned when building the black printer pedestal.  I spent the morning doing more photography for work while Jeanine and Maya had the cracked windshield on the Audi replaced.

Mark Two

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I left work a little early to photograph our new Mark Two printer.  The project proved quite challenging because I had to avoid reflections in the plexiglass visor and deal with specular highlights all over the place.  It took several hours but I finally got an image that I liked.