The Many Faces of Inspiration in Cambodia and Vietnam

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Have you ever wondered where inspiration comes from?

Personally, I’ve long carried a bias that inspiration comes from the means of expression; a painter’s inspiration must be visual, like pretty things and landscapes. A writer’s must be words and phrases, poetry and beautifully constructed sentences singing like music. A performer must be inspired by the audience.

But not really.

Inspirational is the only way I can describe my recent three-week family vacation to Cambodia and Vietnam. Yes, it was pretty, sometimes even ugly, at times musical and mostly captioned in a foreign language I don’t understand. Yet, I returned home not just inspired to paint and create but ultimately to live.

So if it wasn’t just the visual feast of Southeast Asia – what worked to inspire me? For me, inspiration always comes from family and the times we explore living together.  I love this time more than any in my life. When we travel together we become a closer family, and the more deeply seated in and in touch with life I become.But there is so much more to the roots of inspiration.It also comes from seeing other families living and loving from cultures that feel so foreign yet familiar. The babies swaddled and cuddled on motor scooters.  The families rushing to catch a bus.  The kids splashing in the pool yelping and screaming.

It comes from the many ways of life.  The shrines and monks who clutter the streets and temples of the Buddhas.  The land mine survivors who serenade the holy places.  Women swatting at their baskets of blacked tarantulas for sale in the humidity and heat.

It comes from beauty and its many forms.  The artful movement of Apsara dancers. The ancient architecture of Hindu buildings and Chinese inspired pagodas. The sunrise caressing the Angkor towers.

It comes from exploring and being in nature. The majestic and unique islands of Halong Bay. The views from Ba Na’s Golden Bridge. The fields of lotus flowers.  Getting to know the rescued animals of the Cambodia.

It comes from surprises. The unexpected smiles and sounds like the early morning Latin dancing on the streets of Hanoi.  The hike away from crowded Monkey beach up lava peaks to the most amazing views.

It comes from the senses.  From the taste of the most exquisite curry ever. The rich riot of seeds in dragon fruit soaked in an amazing sangria. The lemongrass scents of incense smoked rooms. The feel of raw silk. An ultra-rich and thick Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk.

It comes from new faces.  The ones that joyfully greet or stare unabashedly. The old ones streaked with lines and crevices like elephant skin. The young ones  wiped golden with newness.

It comes from language. Learning to say new foreign words comically, bravely, poorly. Watching people interact with deference and loud kindness.

It comes from history.  The commitment of the Khmer dynasty to produce the most amazing city of temples. The young population of terror-streaked and war-torn countries rebuilding their identity and cities.

It comes from the thrill of adventure.  Climbing Butterfly Valley of Cat Ba island and deep water soloing for the first time ever. Kayaking islands and caves, swimming in water warmer than the air and exploring hills and fields of foreign lives.

It comes from experience and the thrill of finally doing something you always wanted to do. The temples of Angkor Wat, exploring Halong Bay, deep water soloing, walking with elephants, being blessed by monk, visiting Vietnam and Cambodia.

Artful living inspires art making and for me, a fantastic vacation is a precious piece of art.  I’m so excited to discover how this experience reveal themselves in my painting and my life.

And I hope it inspires you too.

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