Siem Reap, Cambodia – Leaving town early in the morning, I pedaled swiftly along the road, inhaling fumes as cars whizzed dangerously close by. For some reason, I thought that riding a bike was a good idea, despite almost hitting a cyclist on the bus ride into town the day before. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the traffic was already dense. Thousands of people were vying to get the best seats for watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, and I was one of them. The sweat poured from my body, soaking my shirt in the morning heat. I passed through the compound gates and continued, feverishly pedaling toward the temple. After locking my bike to a rack, I joined the throngs of people heading toward the temple, its towering pinnacles stretching to the sky. As the sun rose, I remember being somewhat disappointed with the event. Whether it was the thousands of people surrounding me or the cloudless sky, I don’t know, but it didn’t feel special.
While people started walking back to their cars, looking forward to getting back to their hotels for breakfast, I continued my exploration around the giant stone structure. On the west side of the complex, shaded from the sun, a staircase rose sharply from the ground, extending up toward a giant doorway. An old woman sat on the giant steps in silence. This was the special moment that I was looking for. I stood back through a couple doorways so as not to disturb, and fired off a few photos. Feeling somewhat euphoric, I continued my walk around the ruins, but I never shot anything else that made me as happy.
I find it a little funny that the old woman will never know that she played an integral role in shaping my future, but I like it that way. It makes me realize how easy it is to effect those around us and how sometimes we help others when we’re not even expecting to.