Today I closed out of Phenom Phen today and rode on a Chinese airline, of Euro Manufacture (Airbus 320), to Seim Reap, the home of famed Angkor Wat. Some from the West might wonder why the Chinese are operating in Cambodia? I’d say, ‘Check the map’; why wouldn’t they be in their own back yard. You know your not in Kansas anymore when a major city boulevard is named in honor of Mao Ste Toung. One of the local and popular markets is known as the “Russian Market”, named so for all the Russians that used to frequent there in the 80s. Today’s Phenom Phen Cambodia Blog captures some of the thoughts and adventures in Cambodia’s Capital.
The US and US influence is far away. By incident I walked by the US Embassy the other day and thought how out of place it looked. Later than night I had the good fortune to eat dinner with a group of Ex-pats that work with NGOs throughout Asia. One of the latecomers to the diner was from the local embassy, he worked in Public Relations. This was the same day our government shut itself down and furloughed its fellow employees. But, he was an ‘essential’ employee, so didn’t get the nervous luxury of a 72 hour back paid break. I joked with him that I didn’t envy his job having to explain to the local Cambodians that we had their back….when we didn’t even have our own.
The world’s turned into a very strange place. Over here our influence is always tainted with our local memory; that of having dropped mines all over their eastern provinces during our war in neighboring Viet Nam. They still do not appreciate that we left them with a generation of legless and armless children. Our efforts to sometimes help them clean it up, with strings attached, is thought to be craven and ironic. Somehow, this part of the world seems to operate without even without our interventions. But, as a Patriot, I like to think it also doesn’t operate as well…..
But, the local history isn’t pure nor free from it’s own homegrown wickedness. One of the sites I said I would not visit, but was glad I did, was the ‘Killing Fields’ Museum and the Genocide Museum (aka S-21 Prison). I thought I didn’t need another Auschwitz visit, one with a Cambodian flair. After having seen it, like everybody else says, it’s a ‘must’ if you ever come to Cambodia. The base and guttural horror that was the Khmer Rouge regime should never go unnoticed or bypassed. Humanity’s vulgar treatment of its brothers and sisters deserves study. Humanity should compliment the current Cambodian government for not sweeping this ugly past under the rug even though it is a national tumor on the Cambodian consciences.
If your intrigued by my comments because your not familiar with it, I’d encourage you to rent the 80’s movie ‘The Killing Fields’. (no, I don’t have an affiliate account, it’s just a very insightful movie) You will not be the same. It’s good to rake one’s soul over such horrid remembrances, or we may be inclined to minimize them and think we could never relive them. Unfortunately, history has proven over and over again that we humans have a deep, base character that’s capable of the most incredulous depravities inflicted upon each other. It’s best we keep that thought in the back of our mind.
For those that wont look it up, the short take on this episode of Cambodian history is that Paul Pot came to power in Cambodia in the 70s at the head of a nightmarish, Marxist army of children and peasants. At the end of his 4 year reign, his Khmers had brutally murdered one quarter of its own population. First targeted on the list of victims were the intelligentsia, artists, people with glasses (they were believed to be smart) and then they worked their way down through the ranks until the children of peasants were murdering their parents. The museums are very graphic and very sobering.
On a lighter note is my current fascination with Tuk-Tuks; the principal means of transportation in Cambodia, other than the motorcycle. It comes in many forms but the most common is a simple cart ingeniously attached to a small motorcycle or moped. This cart can be designed to carry people, materials, supplies, equipment or serve as a food stand. In most all cases, particularly the ones that have cabins, or roofs, they serve as social centers and beds. They are an easy answer to a growing transportation need in a sometimes expanding economy.
The varieties may be interesting but what is most delightful are the drivers. They’re all comedians, all intensive businessmen and all gifted at the art of manipulation and social engineering. Everywhere, and I mean everywhere you go a tuk-tuk driver will be on your tail asking how they can help you, where they can drive you or what they can get for you. They’re very, very industrious. Their social engineering skills are raised to art form.
Many know not to just ask if you want a ride, but they’ll sneak their way under your protective shields by asking simple questions about you. Where are you from? Then compliment your home. Why are you here? then tell you what a good idea it was. They’ll persist on making small talk….even when your striding away from them saying ‘No, No, No tuk-tuk today!’.
When it comes to the point where they ask if you need a ride, today, or tomorrow, or next week? They’ll know it’s hard to turn them down because it’s like turning down a long lost friend. They’re clever and witty and funny. The strangest honesty and observations comes from their mouths. Clearly, all of them would make excellent intelligence sources for what ever business or agency would employ them. They sleep in the streets, are part of the background and see everything. I guess they are like the white blood cells in the capillaries of this city!
Upon arriving in Cambodia I noticed and immediate similarity with Thailand, its neighboring country. After a short while, I began to notice that it wasn’t quite the same, something was different. It took a few days and I only figured it out after visiting the museums and learning recent Cambodian history where the Khmers tried to destroy any modernity. What’s different is that Cambodia was part of Indochina, a French colony that included Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. As such, the colonial influence was everywhere,,,,but it was hidden.
As I noted the Khmers tried as best as they could to eradicate anything foreign in the country. The more you look, the more you find the influence in the architecture, the foods, and the manners. On occasions, one can still hear older folks use the the term ‘Madam’ in that French way when addressing a woman of a higher social status. I’m not sure what my point was, but it took me a while to figure out what wasn’t the same from the country I grew up in, even though they’re right next door to each other. I think this is it.
Tonight I’m in Siem Reap preparing myself for the visit to Angkor Wat and its surrounding Wats. As I noted earlier, my interest to visit sparked back in the early 70s (before the Khmer regime) when my parents visited. It’s been over 40 years of a constant desire to see the Wat, tomorrow I will. I rented a bike and off I will go at 0445 to see the sun rise over the ruins of Angkor, then zip about on my bike trying to get ahead of the thousands of other tourists to the other sites, just so I can have them all to myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Again, thanks for bearing through these atrocious typos, grammatical errors and poor sentence structure. It’s either post them now, like the are, or wait until I’m long gone and have the time for editing. I’ll re-edit when I get home.
For a VLog (21:34) of the adventure to Cambodia, enjoy this link
Link here to jump to the first entry of this blog.
Cambodia and Angkor Park Photo Gallery
Angkor Park theme T-shirt designed by the ‘Cottage’ check out this link
Care to comment on the Blog or Adventure? Jot down your comments in the form below – thanks