Visiting the temples of Angkor (near the town of Siem Reap) is an amazing experience. It is one of these experiences that will be engraved in my memory for the rest of my life. I might wonder about from time to time: How did they manage to build all that? How could they, without all the technology we have available now, manage to build such impressive and captivating structures?
All of it is impressive. The architecture, the impressive structures, the incredible amount of detail carved into the sandstones, and the amount of temples in a relatively small area, especially considering that these structures were constructed over a period of four hundred years, between 800 and 1200, while they also fought wars.
It was built to last. Even though some of the most photogenic sites are the ones where the buildings slowly blend with the jungle, where trees grow around and on top of the structures, sometimes leading to the collapse of walls and ceilings, other times supporting structures from collapsing. Cliché, but true, here, it looks like walking through scenes from an Indiana Jones movie.
These are also the places where you become aware of the force of nature. As much as we try to control it, or even try to master it, in places like these, I admire its strength and capacity to adapt and recover and grow back when left alone.
The whole compels respect, for everyone who was involved in the construction. And it makes me wonder how life and society was organized then. Was it through slavery, devotion to kings and religion, or was there another organising force to give people such discipline to leave behind such an impressive constructions?
While marveling, all this makes me think of what our generation will leave behind. Seeing the quality of the buildings, the way we deal with nature, the innumerable wars and atrocities ongoing daily, no different than before, the waste that we jointly produce and dump partly illegally and certainly not safely, I come no further in my conclusions than a lot selfies with monuments of the past, stacks of self-help books how to live in a society focused on consuming more, economic growth, happiness and the eradication of dissidents (not much different than before), and an impressive amount digital data and technology. I am optimistic though and think we will have at least managed to solve our waste problem in the long term. But I still I wonder how they look at us a century from now, how they will contemplate us and if they will admire what we left behind.
Ultimately it’s all about life here on earth, and we take nothing with us. Whatever we do, gather, make or waste, we leave behind. So if you look at it, there is no reason to focus on status, money and material things. What is important is to think about is what you leave or what you use, how you live and interact. And if we do manage to maintain what was built and has grown in previous centuries, there is enough for generations to come to admire.
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