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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Carving A Piece Of Cambodia - Page 4

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After so many years of being in the trade, it is still the immense pride for his country's architectural achievements that keeps his love for stone carving going. "It is my skill, and I want to continue the Khmer culture. Just like the people who make all the temples, I want to do the same thing as them," he says softly.


After Angkor Wat I visit Bayon Temple in the late evening, renowned for its 216 charmingly smiling stone faces of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara carved into every side of its 54 towers. Each massive face projects a serene display of absolute composure, as though nothing could possibly disrupt their sublimely tranquil state of being. "The gods smile for the people, so the people can live in peace and happiness," explains Bunthy, pointing towards the sky.


As I stare up at their comfortingly upward curved lips and closed, thick eyelids, for a moment I understand what he means. Wherever I roam in the temple, it feels like the eyes of every stone face, each facing a different direction of north, south, east and west, are trailing me. Ever omnipresent, these larger-than-life gentle giants live quietly among the citizens of Cambodia, hiding in plain sight, but watching over them from afar. They are the secret guardians of the city; waiting, protecting. 


I finally lay down my chisel after close to three hours of carving. A beautifully shaped Romdoul flower stone candle holder, with a small circular yellow lily candle placed in its hole, lies before me. "You okay?" Khet asks quizzingly, looking at my flushed face. "Hard work right?"


Indeed. Fragments of stone and dust envelope the surface of the work table, like a mini excavation site. "But you do good, you faster than other tourists," he adds. I ask him how long it takes for him to carve the same flower from sandstone. "Too fast," he laughs sheepishly. "An hour and a half." 


For something which took a copious amount of effort and time, it is barely the size of my palm, measuring merely nine by nine centimetres. Yet what follows is an overwhelmingly indescribable feeling- almost surreal- as my fingers slowly close upon the now washed and polished stone flower, tracing every painstakingly carved defined contour, curve and swirl. It hits me then: I made this. 


I leave the workshop carrying my precious homemade memento close to me, grateful that I have a piece of Cambodia to take home. 



©Paige Lim


If You Go:

Backstreet Academy is a social enterprise which offers unique and authentic activities for tourists hosted by locals. To attend the stone-carving workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia, book a session through


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Last modified on Friday, 01 May 2015

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