Siem Reap, Cambodia – January 2015
We have tried on our trip to see as much as we can, both of sites and the landscape. We have seen and photographed many incredible things. When I found out about Backstreet Academy I was very excited, because it gave us a chance to try something different, other than following behind a guide and snapping pictures. We got to experience a little of the people and culture of Cambodia through Backstreet Academy. It is an agency that connects tourists with Cambodian locals who have skills and knowledge in the arts and culture through a class in which you get to observe and try the skill of the instructor. We all went to the Academy and tried our hand at a class. We enjoyed it so much that we went back for more classes a second and third time.
The first time we went, Len and I did a class together and Noah and Aurora did a class together.
Noah & Aurora made bamboo flutes. Noah is missing playing his violin and he has been collecting flutes from all over the world. He claims flutes are small and can easily fit in his backpack. I think we have sent home 5 or 6 flutes already, but he has never had the chance to make one until now.
Len and I did an art class that according to the Academy was invented by the artist who teaches it. The iron pencil sketching class was invented by the artist himself and involved burning the palm leaf canvas with hot iron “pencils”. In some ways it reminded me of the wood burning kits we all wanted when we were kids many many years ago. With the help of our instructor, Len and I both have beautiful pictures as keepsakes.
On our second trip to the Academy, Noah took a coconut carving workshop. He carved out three designs from coconut shells, polished them and put them on a key ring. In the end, he was a little disappointed he that didn’t get the opportunity to carve more intricate designs as the Academy advertised.
Len took the palm tree carving class where he made an awesome palm plate, fork and spoon that he is very proud of.
Aurora and I decided to try Aspara Dance. Aspara dance is considered one of the highest forms of art in Cambodia. This art was almost wiped out during the Khmer Rouge regime as the leader sought to destroy all art and culture, in order to purify the population. Wearing traditional Aspara dress we set out to learn this beautiful dance. Now I have to tell you that learning the few moves that we did was painstaking. It was not as easy as we thought it would be, nor were we as graceful as our instructors. We wrapped up our lesson by watching a group of young women dance for us. They danced so beautifully.
Len took the kids a third time because they had been begging us for days to try one more class from the Academy. While they went, I stayed back at home and booked flights and accommodations in the quiet of the villa. My own treat.
Aurora had her eye on the cement bag making class for weeks and we finally gave in and let her try it. This was the first time she ever used a sewing machine, and from the end product that you can see she made an awesome cement elephant bag. It’s called a cement bag because the material it is made from, is from old cement bags. What a perfect way to recycle and reuse.
After seeing Len’s palm plate, fork and spoon, Noah “had to” return to make his own palm plate too. He is so proud to have been able to use power tools to create his own plate, which is awesome. He also has already decided what the first meal on the plate will be back home. He is anxiously awaiting his opportunity to cook his Egg McMuffin and eat it off his new artwork.
Len took a woodcarving class and painstakingly chiseled out a masterpiece, of course with the assistance and steady hand of the instructor.
We enjoyed making and experiencing a little part of Cambodia. We are not only leaving with new and wonderful memories, but also with a few new skills. If you are in Siem Reap and looking for a break from visiting the temples we recommend enjoying a few hours learning a new skill. You will walk away with a greater appreciation for all the work that goes into making all the trinkets at the market.