Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88


June 8, 2017

COMMENT: What do Farouk A. Peru, a much younger man at least a few decades apart chronologically speaking, and I (78 years old last May) have in common? Well for starters, we are Facebook pals; we  love to read and pen our thoughts in print; we appreciate culture and the arts and all things of beauty; we are unafraid to express our views openly and critically; we are Muslims; we are Malaysians and we enjoyed reading ZEN.

We admire Singapore’s Pak Othman  Wok, and Robert Prisig who wrote Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (first published  in 1974 and that was when I read it). Both men have since died, and May God Bless their souls.

I stumbled upon Farouk’s article  on Prisig’s magnum opus and also learned of his passing in The Malay Mail this evening (see below).

Like Farouk, I recommend the Zen book (which is subtitled An Inquiry into Values) to my young readers. It is tough reading at first, but it gets easier as you go along with the help of a good English dictionary. But to assist you, I would recommend The Guide Book  To ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Ronald L. DiSanto, Ph.d and Thomas J. Steele, S.J., Ph.d (New York: William Morrow, 1990). I congratulate Farouk for reading the book and for his article.–Din Merican

Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance author Robert Pirsig has died at the age of 88. Pairing motorcycles with philosophy, Pirsig was responsible for inspiring countless motorcycle journeys and road trips.

The book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” sits on bookshelves all over the world. It’s by no means a book about Zen, nor is it a book that tackles the mechanics of motorcycles – it’s a story about a father and son journey aboard a motorcycle that takes them across the western United States. It’s not necessarily a road trip book either. In fact, it’s hard to classify exactly what the book is, but that doesn’t matter – and that’s the beauty of it. It was a book that appealed (and still appeals) to audiences over the world, and is an essential book for any motorcyclist. If you’ve ever been drawn to the road, you and Pirsig would have a lot in common.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence authot Robert Persig

Robert Pirsig: 1928 – 2017

An announcement by Peter Hubbard, the Executive Editor of William Morrow & Co, recently announced the death of one of our favorite authors. Robert Persig passed away on April 24th 2017, “after a period of ill health.”

Zen was first published back in 1974. Pirsig had been rejected by more than 100 publishers before the iconic, semi-autobiographical book ever hit the stores. Despite the difficulty finding a publisher, Zen became a best seller. Pirsig described the nature of the book as an effort to “set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.”

Robert and Chris Pirsig

Born in Minneapolis, Robert Pirsig was very well educated and went on to earn a degree in Philosophy, working as a technical writer and English teacher before suffering from mental illness. His battle with mental illness resulted in a motorcycle trip with this son Christopher in 1968 through the western United States, which would become the inspiration for his story.

The preface to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the best way to sum up his iconic book: “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

Robert Pirsig and his motorcycle

If you haven’t read it, we urge you to pick up a copy and enjoy Pirsig’s journey along with him and his son. It’s a great American story and should be celebrated – and a fantastic read for all of those who appreciate the liberty and freedom associated with the open road.

Here’s to you Robert Pirsig, and thanks for your wonderful insights. You will be missed.

Robert Pirsig

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility, it’s right. If it disturbs you, it’s wrong, until either the machine or your mind is changed.” – Robert Pirsig 1928 – 2017

Read Robert Prisig’s ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENCE

By Farouk A. Peru (April 28, 2017)

Not one but two writers whose works made an impact on me died. It seems that 2017 is doing to authors what 2016 did to artistes! I had written about the death of Othman Wok and now I find out Robert Pirsig has died.

Often at times, authors or film-makers are defined by a single work but that work is a true magnum opus. They never again replicate the sheer tremor of these works but they do not have to. The deed is done; they have imprinted their names in the annals of literary history.

In the case of Robert Pirsig, that work is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (henceforth, Zen, first published in 1974 ). This narrative has been available in Malaysian bookshops since my own childhood, as I remember.  However, it was only in the early 90s when I picked up my first copy. It was after my SRP and the bookshop was the MPH in Section 14 which has long since closed down.

It was in the New Age/spirituality/philosophy section and I needed something completely different from the boring schoolwork I had been ingesting since the beginning of 1991.

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Zen was not about actual Zen (the Buddhist originated tradition), as I found out on the bus home. Rather it was about a journey undertaken across the American north from Minnesota to California by the unnamed narrator and his son, accompanied by their friends for the first half of their journey.

It was set in the 60s or early 70s. What attracted me to it at first was the journey itself. I loved narratives of long-forgotten places. America, being the gigantic nation that it is, has plenty of places which are unknown even to Americans themselves.

One could liken the geography and culture to the milieu found in Annie Proulx’s works and the visuals akin to the film Brokeback Mountain. Of course, the tagline of Zen being “An Inquiry into Values”, one would rightly expect a philosophical discussion.

One would not be disappointed either but Pirsig delivers it so surreptitiously that readers would feel as if they had “gone under” in surgery and woken up with some philosophical knowledge!

Pirsig ingeniously used the literary device of a third person, thought to be the alter ego of the narrator. He named him Phaedrus who, like the Phaedrus coined by Plato in his dialogues, was an interlocutor, midwifing the truth for readers through his own experiences.

Phaedrus had mental health issues like Pirsig himself but was a child prodigy. These similarities are obviously telling us who Phaedrus represents.

Rereading this book in 2014 (I had found a milestone edition with an introduction by Pirsig himself), I found that Pirsig may have oversimplified philosophy just a little.  His East/West dichotomy saying Eastern is more intuitive and the West more rational had become too simplistic for my liking. Perhaps if he meant dominant trends in each tradition, I would have been more amenable to his view.

To me, philosophy as a subject cannot be extricated into several self-containing traditions. Rather it is a complex network of ideas which feed off its own nodes which we may not even be aware of.  Plato, for example, may have derived his ideas from Egyptian thought, thus undermining the very idea of Western philosophy!

Be that as it may, I would still highly recommend Zen to anyone who is looking for a digestible story while at the same time expand his philosophical mind. The book has, after all, sold five million copies. No small feat for a manuscript rejected 121 times before finally getting published!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

 http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/farouk-a.-peru/article/why-you-should-read-zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance#sthash.5FDvKLu7.dpuf

The Passing of America’s Sweetheart of the ’50s: Debbie “Tammy” Reynolds


December 29, 2016

The Passing of America’s Sweetheart of the ’50s: Debbie “Tammy” Reynolds

http://www.bbc.com

Image result for Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds, who starred opposite Gene Kelly in the 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain, has died a day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

The US actress, 84, had been rushed to hospital with a suspected stroke.Her son, Todd Fisher, said the stress of his sister’s death had been too much for her and in her last words, she had said she wanted to be with Carrie.

US actress Bette Midler said Reynolds was “devoted to her craft” and that her death was “too hard to comprehend”.

Actress Debra Messing said Reynolds, her on-screen mother in sitcom Will and Grace, had been an “inspiration”.”A legend of course,” she wrote in a statement. “The epitome of clean-cut American optimism, dancing with Gene Kelly as an equal, a warrior woman who never stopped working.”

Actor Rip Torn, who worked with Reynolds in her Las Vegas stage show, said: “I was blessed to work with this remarkable woman for 45 almost 50 years. That makes for a very rare bond and unique relationship.

“She was generous to a fault, never caring who got the laugh from the audience. I will always love her.” Veteran comic actress Carol Channing agreed: “She was beautiful and generous. It seems like only yesterday she was having lunch here at the house and we were discussing the possibility of working together in a new show.”

For Star Trek actor William Shatner, Reynolds was one of the last of the Hollywood royalty. “It breaks my heart that she is gone,” he wrote. “I’d hoped that my grieving was done for 2016.

Image result for debbie reynolds carrie fisher

Reynolds had been at her son’s house in Beverly Hills – apparently discussing the arrangements for Carrie Fisher’s funeral – when she was taken ill.

She was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre suffering from breathing difficulties and her death was confirmed a few hours later. It is thought she suffered a stroke.

Carrie Fisher, renowned for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars series, had died aged 60 the day before, after spending three days in a Los Angeles hospital.

She never regained consciousness after suffering a massive heart attack on board a flight from London to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.

Image result for Todd Fisher
Carrie and Todd Fisher
Speaking to the Associated Press news agency about his mother, Todd said: “She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken.”

Celebrity news site TMZ reported that Reynolds cracked while discussing plans for Carrie’s funeral with her son, telling him: “I miss her so much; I want to be with Carrie.”

Image result for debbie reynolds young

Reynolds married singer Eddie Fisher in 1955 and had two children, Carrie and Todd. The couple divorced in 1959 after news emerged of his affair with movie star Elizabeth Taylor.Reynolds married twice more.

Image result for Debbie Reynolds

The actress has a sometimes strained relationship with her actress daughter, who wrote about it in her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge. The pair stopped speaking to each other for many years but became closer later in life.

In an interview last month with US radio network NPR, Fisher said her mother was “an immensely powerful woman” whom she admired “very much”.

Image result for walk of fame

As people gathered to pay their respects to the actress at Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, one couple, Jose and Daniela Barrera, appeared to speak for many after a year marked by celebrity deaths.

“It’s just, you know, a sad time I guess,” Jose told the Reuters news agency. “With the closing of the year and so many deaths in the year, it’s just sad.”

“It was so sad,” added Daniela. “It was a shocker. I mean, what were the odds of this happening? It was incredible finding out, sad.”


What is your reaction to the passing of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher just one day apart? Have you been affected by any of the issues raised in this article? You can share your experience via haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

Malaysia Airlines:What Mueller could not do


April 28, 2016

Malaysia Airlines:What Mueller could not do

by Marion Tharsis

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Khazanah Nasional Berhad probably expected too much from Christoph Mueller when it hired him to work his charm on MAS. Despite his glorious past, the turnaround expert probably didn’t count on the work culture and ethics and, most of all, the political environment in a government-linked company.

Mueller made all the obvious moves. He trimmed the work force, removed unwanted suppliers and closed unprofitable routes. What he could not do was remove political control. He probably learned soon enough that it would be futile to continue with his work, with so many hands pulling him from all sides to do their bidding.

Another person may try his or her hand at making MAS profitable again, but the same pressures will reduce the CEO’s position to that of a puppet to be manipulated.

So our once glorious airline is back to square one. The competition is overwhelming. Other carriers, including our very own AirAsia, are always looking into ways to make their companies more profitable through innovation.

We should not expect too much from the incoming CEO. He or she may be prevented from cleaning up certain kinds of mess. For example, he or she might not get a free hand to select a management team that would be capable of taking MAS on the path of good and solid governance.

An airline cannot run effectively merely on superficial changes. It needs an operating system that is smooth, unhampered, cohesive, innovative, customer focused, and competitive. Only then can it stay afloat in a tight and narrow market and play on a field that keeps re-inventing itself.

An airline that is subject to too much political control will keep failing and continue to be an embarrassment.

Marion Tharsis is a  FMT reader.

 

 

The Fascination with a certain Dr Zakir


April 19, 2016

The Fascination with a certain Dr Zakir

by Zaid Ibrahim

Dr Zakir Naik is a well-known preacher who has been preaching to sell-out crowds around the world. He is the Muslim version of Billy Graham and other famous Christian evangelists.

The Police first cancelled his forum in Terengganu but the Home Minister himself later allowed proceedings to go ahead in Melaka, with a change of topic from the original “Similarities between Hinduism and Islam”. Now Perlis wants him too. I was amongst the earliest to congratulate the Police for cancelling the permit.

Malays are generally attracted to anything religious, even if remotely so. They are easily fascinated with religious preachers, which explains why Dr Naik has been coming here so very often. Islamic resurgence  has contributed  to  the rise of many successful preachers  in this country, as you can see  from the success of Ustaz Azhar Idrus, and many others on TV .  Now  they  bring in English speaking preacher from India Zakri naik.  How times change. When I was growing up it was  Elvis and the Beatles  that filled the airwaves and the halls  ; now the preachers.

I wish the Malays are  more fascinated  with more worldly  matters , like what is  a bond Issue , or what is  off shore banking, or  a government guarantee. It would help them understand how 1MDB was conceived  and the process by which the  grand theft took place. Tan Sri Muhiyuddin was telling us how difficult  it was for UMNO members to understand 1MDB. I can understand why, with the kind of educational system we give to the Malays. If the Ministers in the Cabinet are having difficulty coming to terms with the subject, how much understanding can we expect from  ordinary intellectually challenged Malays.

Why are the Malays fascinated with religious preachers? Because preachers need not have any  real knowledge, except what they described as divine knowledge. No  understanding is required  from the listeners  of  what they say ; they only need to stir up the emotions. Understanding  1MDB is more ardours;  one needs to understand a little about economics, about banking, about how government works., and how the Prime Minister operates in this country.

I believe the Police made the right decision. There is nothing useful that can be obtained  from  having an “understanding”  of different religions  if the main purpose is to convert the listener . Zakri Naik is proud to be described as a Muslim preacher who has converted many unbelievers to Islam.  When you start talking of how great your religion is , you would in the same breadth put down some aspects of the other religions; otherwise how do you score points?  We do not need more religious rivalry than we already have.

Out of the woodwork came the liberal writers  and the defenders of freedom of speech decrying the decision of the Police. Some of them were quoting Voltaire about defending a person’s right to say whatever he or she wanted without agreeing with him. I tell them wake up. Do they  really think Zakir Naik is here  as an academic ?  No, he is a preacher, a converter,  and is  more likely  to be a  religious mission to convert as many non believers as possible . The law may allow this, but its effects on peace and harmony are matters which the Police must be concerned  with.

Would the government grant the same freedom to Christian and Hindu evangelists  from India  and elsewhere ? I doubt it. The less preaching we have in the country, the better it is for peace and harmony.

I am also for freedom of speech,  and I see the benefit of debates and intellectual exchange—but on more suitable subjects. There is nothing intellectually stimulating  discussing religion;  it only will generate  controversy. Talking about other people’s religion  will only  end up  with  heated  exchange and none of the participants will come out of it the wiser.

If the proponents of free speech want to keep themselves  intellectually busy, they should hold forums, debates, exchanges and discussions on science, history or philosophy. Have debates on public policy—on benefit of  off  shore tax havens , for example—or the future of public health. Talk about gravity or interstellar travel for all I care, because these subjects do not lead to fistfights or Molotov cocktails being thrown at offices.

They should know that in Malaysia religious forums are permitted only in a controlled environment, and some religions have more leeway than others.

So stop kidding yourselves that your rights to intellectual discourse or freedom of speech are being denied just because a preacher—who has described Osama bin Ladin as a “Soldier of Islam” and has said that Jews are permanent enemies—is denied the space to continue with his ceramah.

Singapore: Getting Around with Technology


November 9, 2015

Singapore: Getting Around with Technology

by Surekha A. Yadav

getting_around_-_singapore.htm_txt_js_singapore_title_photo

Not everyone has noticed but Singaporeans are living through a revolution right now. An old and arbitrary tyranny is falling around us for a new, better order driven by technology.

Taxi apps are revolutinising our transport space and that’s a pretty big deal.Taxis and the weakness of the Singapore cab system have long been a personal bugbear.And I am not alone.

Often you had to wait more than an hour to get a cab at many points in the city and getting a taxi in the suburbs was well near impossible every weekday morning — crippling facts of daily life for many Singaporeans.

Yet now just months after I last penned my lament on the state of taxi affairs, the situation has turned on its head. Waiting for a cab to get to work in the morning, I’m honestly spoiled for choice. I could use Grab taxi, Hailo or of course, Uber.

At one glance (and a few swipes) I can see what my options are, know which cabs are in the vicinity, get an idea of how much my journey will cost and manage the whole process while scrolling my Facebook feed. I don’t need to make so much as a phone call, let alone walk out onto the street and stand at the corner soliciting stony-faced taxi uncles.

This brave new world is an amazing demonstration of how technology really can change lives and alter the fabric of daily life. Thousands of vehicle owners and drivers are clearly using the technology to such an extent that the triumvirate of traditional taxi companies Trans-Cab, Comfort and SMRT appear to be struggling to find drivers and maintain fleet levels.

Taxi Service in Singapore

These days, you don’t have to fret about not being able to get a taxi in Singapore… taxi apps to the rescue! So far (traditional cab companies aside) it seems to be a clear win-win with drivers getting better terms such as higher revenues or lower overheads and app users getting a faster and more reliable service.

What’s even more striking is that regulators have stepped in broadly to support the city’s taxi transformation. Government legislation is often the bane of innovation. And as taxi apps moved from being a novelty to becoming a regular means of transportation, legislation became inevitable.

There were cries by taxi companies and drivers affiliated with them to outlaw or severely restrict the scope of app-driven hire services. Their argument being that the low overheads and limited legal restrictions in the online space give these apps an unfair competitive advantage.

Basically, the old operators wanted to freeze the taxi eco system and preserve their market share. However, the Bill passed this week does not lock us into the ancient regime. Rather it broadly empowers what it terms Third-Party Taxi Booking Service Providers while ensuring they stick to basic legal parameters.

Uber cars cannot pick customers off the street like regular cabs, and the apps can’t compel you to provide your final destination in advance — lest drivers begin adopting the behaviour of regular taxi drivers and reject customers for going somewhere out of the way.

With a few safeguards in place, it’s really a positive piece of legislation and it’s clear in this case that the government is moving with technology and not impeding it. What this means is the taxi revolution has succeeded and become the new status quo with legislation, users and providers all lined up behind a new world.

Viva la revolution!

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/surekha-a-yadav/article/a-taxi-revolution-in-singapore#sthash.RYS8n4iF.dpuf

Cambodia: the Path to Something Profound


May 17, 2015

In Cambodia, Along the Path to Something Profound

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/travel/in-cambodia-along-the-path-to-something-profound.html?emc=edit_th_20150517&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=48162952&_r=0#

I tiptoed across the wood planks of a wobbly orange boat heading from the riverside town Kampot to the Gulf of Thailand. I burned my bare feet on the shiny outdoor tiles surrounding a Buddhist stupa at Udong, the old capital of Cambodia. Across the country, at the 11th-century ruins of Phnom Banan, I spelunked through deep, damp caverns steeped in legends of magic and superstition. All the way, I followed a Frenchman named Henri. For 16 years and more than 20 trips, he has led me through the heart of this beautiful but knotty country.

If only we had met — or even lived in the same century. Henri Mouhot, an explorer and naturalist, was born in 1826 in eastern France. He had a passion for learning and travel, beginning with Russia, where he spent time as a young man. But his name is most associated with the Angkor ruins, which he made famous in Europe after first encountering those remnants of the Khmer empire in 1860.

17FOOTSTEPS2-superJumboAs a diarist, Mouhot (pronounced moo-HOE) could be cantankerous (“the present state of Cambodia is deplorable and its future menacing”) and condescending (“this miserable people”), but he also revered nature (“I have never been more happy”) and loved exploring (“in truth, this life is happiness to me”). His diaries from Siam (now Thailand), Cambodia, Laos (where he is buried) and Annam (now central Vietnam), between 1858 and 1861, endure as some of the most prescient, insightful literature on the region.

More than 150 years ago, the French explorer Henri Mouhot was one of the first Europeans to see the ancient Khmer ruins that today form the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia.

Our odyssey together began in 1998, the year I spent in Phnom Penh, the capital, working at a newspaper; I’ve returned to Cambodia nearly every year since. I first read Mouhot for background, and quickly found parallels to the country I was experiencing. The diaries contain a black-and-white drawing based on one of his sketches of a thatch hut on wooden stilts with a longboat on shore. The image could have been sketched today. And that cantankerous comment? Sadly, it could easily apply to more recent phases of the country’s history.

The tourist scene at Angkor Wat is another story. Yet when I most recently approached it — on the back of a motorcycle, amid hundreds of other visitors — I felt the same awe he described from another age: “At first view, one is filled with profound admiration, and cannot but ask what has become of this powerful race, so civilised, so enlightened, the authors of these gigantic works?” The same questions propel me through the country year after year.

Map of CambodiaMy latest trip, last April, took me south, to Kampot (or Komput, as Mouhot spelled it). When Mouhot visited, this was Cambodia’s bustling port town. “Six or seven ships loading at one time,” he wrote. “Chinese and European vessels may be constantly seen going up and down the stream.”

Today, the main port has moved west to Sihanoukville; gone are Kampot’s ships. Gone, too, is the public debauchery Mouhot depicted: “Almost every vice seemed prevalent at Kompot — pride, insolence, cheating, cowardice, servility, excessive idleness.” It now boasts a reputation of beauty and calm and is a favorite among both locals and tourists who like a slower pace of life.

Mouhot arrived 150 years too early to stay at the lovely Mea Culpa, where, in rooms costing just $25, French doors open onto a patio with river views. He didn’t clutch a cup of coffee while watching the daily parade of fishing boats heading to sea, as I did. And he didn’t spend a morning with a boatman named Math Ly.

We set out on his flame-colored longboat at 7:30 a.m. The river was mostly empty, fishermen having already gone to sea. Only a long line of skiffs sat tethered to shore. As we headed south, rows of metal shacks gave way to mangroves in a faint, salty breeze. The river widened, and the horizon opened to distant islands dotting the gulf. Water and sky were both the hazy teal of sand-etched sea glass.

Mouhot spent time in this cacophonous town, where traders sold all manner of goods. “The dealers in fish and vegetables, and the Chinese restaurateurs, dispute the street with pigs, hungry dogs, and children of all ages.” The Kampot market today still feels clamorous and claustrophobic — a maze of low-ceilinged stalls seemingly selling everything: mangoes, rice, cabbage, watermelon, pickles, shrimp, fermented fish, flowering chives, laundry soaps and toothbrushes. But though there are children, dogs are scarce, and any pigs you encounter will be of the fried variety.

The King, in Kampot at the time of Mouhot’s visit, advised him to escape the clamor: “Go to Udong; go about.” Udong (or Oudong, as it is also spelled) was then the capital, about 100 miles north, beyond modern-day Phnom Penh. “An eight-days’ journey travelling with oxen or buffaloes,” Mouhot wrote. “With elephants you can accomplish it in half the time.”

Phnom PenhPhnom Penh Today

My journey out of Kampot, by air-conditioned bus, took me first to Phnom Penh (or Penom-Peuh, as Mouhot spelled it), less than four hours on a paved highway (no elephants). Today’s capital of 2.2 million people, at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, was known to Mouhot as “the Great Bazaar.”

Phnom Penh is the seat of modern-day power. Though travelers aren’t accorded the royal audience Mouhot had, tourists can glimpse the high life with a visit to the Royal Palace. In contrast to the city around it, the compound has well-tamed gardens and an open-air gallery painted with Buddhist and Hindu legends depicting tigers, monkeys, sailors, warriors and intricate tales of honor and loss. The king’s quarters are roped off, but visitors can peek inside the Throne Hall and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, with its floor of solid silver tiles.

From Phnom Penh, it’s an hour’s drive to Udong through congestion, then a green belt of rice farms. Mouhot wrote of cottages with fruit gardens and country houses for the aristocracy “who come here in the evening for the sake of breathing a purer air than they can find in the city.” Except Phnom Penh was just a market town, and “the city” was Udong, a spirited place of mandarins, chiefs and noisy courts of justice. “How do you like my city?” a second king asked Mouhot. (Cambodia had a first and second king at the time.)

A tourist takes photos inside the Bayon temple in Angkor Archaeological Park. Credit Jerry Redfern for The New York Times

“Sire, it is splendid, and presents an appearance such as I have never seen elsewhere.”

Little of that remains. The royals left in 1866 when the king chose Phnom Penh as a new capital. Udong suffered through decades of subsequent war, though today the remnants are slowly being rebuilt. Pilgrims now brave a constant heat to climb steps to a series of hilltop temples and shrines.

Children clung to my legs, attempting to sell me bracelets or cool me with hand-held fans. Elderly and disabled beggars lined the steps, each with a plate onto which more fortunate visitors drop 100 riel notes (less than 3 cents).

At a giant golden Buddha with ruby lips and a golden sash, children occupied the entryway, guarding visitors’ shoes for tips. This temple, once in shambles, has a new roof. A child monk sat among burning incense, taking offerings and dispensing blessings. I stood in an open window, soaking in a welcome breeze and gazing upon the paddies below. A few incongruous factories are scattered among the fields, but mostly it’s a green landscape that stretches to the broad waters of the Tonle Sap River.

That river is the artery of Cambodia. It is, as Mouhot wrote, the “grand and beautiful” gateway to the lake of the same name, which swells in the rains and drains each dry season. It connects the lake to the Mekong, switching directions as those waters rise and fall. “The river becomes wider and wider until at last it is four or five miles in breadth; and then you enter the immense sheet of water,” Mouhot wrote.

I rented a wood cruise boat and burbled up the river, hoping for a picturesque sunset. But Phnom Penh’s ever-expanding skyline only dimmed in a thickening haze, atypical of the dazzling reds and pinks that often cascade across the river as the sun falls.

Mouhot found his light at Angkor Wat (Ongcor), “the most beautiful and best preserved of all the remains,” in Siem Reap. It is still the world’s largest religious structure, encompassing 401 acres — so commanding that a traveler forgets “all the fatigues of the journey.”

Visitors climb out of one of the caves beneath Phnom Banan. Credit Jerry Redfern for The New York Times

Late in the day, I sought solitude. Most crowds flock to the top of Phnom Bakheng, an ancient hilltop temple, for a sunset view over Angkor Wat, but I headed instead to Ta Prohm, the overgrown temple famous for the tenacious trees that smother its stone. It was nearly closing time, and almost no one was there. There is no sunset to be viewed in these tree-wrapped grounds, as twilight is heard more than seen. The light fades, and the ruins erupt in a riot of birdsong — mynas, parrots and a hornbill with swooshing wings.

The Angkorian ruins extend far beyond Siem Reap. In the 12th century, under King Suryavarman II, the empire reached its apex, stretching into modern-day Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. A few sites endure, in various states of dilapidation and looting, between Siem Reap and the Thai border.

Phnom Banan (Banone), a mountaintop temple, is about 13 miles from the city Battambang, a pleasant jaunt through the countryside. It’s a near-vertical climb up laterite steps to the ruins above undulating hills. In Mouhot’s day, the temple still had eight towers connected by galleries of “fine workmanship, and great taste and skill in construction.” Now, only portions of towers remain.

What I wanted most to see was down the steps, at the mountain’s base. A sandy path led to a “magic cave,” as tourists call it today, a deep cavern of stalactites in the limestone rock. “The water dropping from these is considered sacred” by pilgrims who say it can impart “knowledge of the past, present, and future,” Mouhot wrote.

The cave is cool and dark, the soothing yin to the scorching yang outside. Inside is a maze of psychedelic rock formations. One looks like an elephant. A guide named Phuoc Ran took me to an inner room where a Buddha statue sat amid candles. Nearby, water squeezed through ceiling cracks and plopped over smooth, rounded rocks, caught by buckets and cups.

Statue of King SihanoukThe Statue of King Norodom Sihanouk in Phnom Penh

Take the water, he said, and “you will know the past, present and future.” I instead listened to Phuoc Ran, who was born in Saigon but fled to the Thai border during wartime. He told me he knows about New Mexico, where I live, because the American soldiers he met during the war watched movies full of Southwestern cowboys.

Mouhot, Phuoc Ran, me — we keep treading ground here because we keep finding stories to tell. That’s how we learn about past, present and future.

Mouhot understood the capacity for travel to enhance insight; he devoted his life to these gifts. Before he died — brutally, from malaria — in Laos at 35, he wrote to his sister-in-law about his passions. “Seeing so much that is beautiful, grand, and new,” he wrote. “From these I draw my contentment.”