I have been in Cambodia now for about 5 days, rested well, eaten well (more on the food later), walked more than my poor feet can handle, and seen the most amazing things.
Cambodia is a charming Naga (snake). Totally enchanting, beautifully elegant, yet with a wrong turn here or there, can be dirty, dangerous and sometimes downright vicious city. It is much less chaotic than Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), The people are exponentially more cheerful and happy but there is a deep unrest which can be felt simmering just below the surface. (more on that later).
Here are just a few highlights from the last few days….
**Terrorist Moped’s and the Tuk Tuk’s**
In Cambodia it is possible to balance: 2 adults, 4 children, 2 dogs and groceries on a moped and dart in and out of traffic at 40mph. Dad’s driving, baby is asleep on the tank, mom’s sitting side saddle with the dogs on her lap, 2 kids squished between them and one on the cargo carrier on the back holding onto the groceries. None wearing a helmet, and no one holding on… Except of course the driver with one hand, while he points which direction he is turning with the other…. and he is being safe.
Most of the women/girls with skirts sit side saddle, and are doing something other than holding on while the driver is darting in and out of traffic, around cars, and sometimes into the ‘wrong’ lane (wrong in quotes because there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to which side of the street is ‘right’)
It is scary.
I have pretty much resigned to walk everywhere because just looking at the driving skills gives me anxiety…
While walking along the streets one night, I saw what looked to be a pig on a spit…. upon further investigation, it had a tail…. I almost lost my dinner upon my realization that it was in fact a dog. Yes, good ol’ Fido…. *gag*. I have seen a lot of interesting food being hawked by the street vendors, including deep fried spiders, fried frog skins, roast beetles, you name it. These charming Cambodians will eat anything. Yes… if it moves, it is fair game.
Took a tour the other day of the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and saw the Jade Buddha (encrusted with over 2000 diamonds). It was cool… touristy, but cool to see. And I would love to share my opinion on all the local touristy things, but if you buy any Cambodian Tour Guide book they will tell you the same thing…. and yes, it is all the same.
The peace of the Temples
I have found the most interesting and awesome things are where the locals hang out, the temples which they pray in, make offerings to the Buddha (or other deities) and really get a feel for the energy, holiness and reverence of their deep faith and charming culture. After a few wrong turns and getting ‘lost’ a few times in the last few days, I have found these hidden Temples to be gems and my favorite thing so far about Cambodia.
Yesterday on the way to Udon to see a Temple (built by the king about 50 years ago), I got lost on the back side of the hill the temple sits on, only to find myself at a Monastery. After my shoes and hat were removed I joined the locals in kneeling and praying with the local monk, receiving a blessing of prosperity and good luck for the coming year (including getting showered by jasmine water, and having a monk tie a bracelet around my wrist). The locals were giggling as they were showing me how to kneel, how to pray, where to sit, and how to hold out my arm for the blessing from the monk. The temple was so beautiful, each wall and ceiling were covered in beautiful murals, the pillars looked as though they were made of gold, there were flags, fabrics, decorations, plants and flowers throughout the building. This, by far was the best of Cambodia. By far.
One wrong turn….. into the Killing Fields
As you walk along the streets of Phnom Penh, you are asked every half block “Madame, you need Tuk Tuk?” which is fine, but then the next question is usually… “you want to see killing fields?” That question alone makes my heart hurt.
No – I do not want to see the fields where thousands of innocent Cambodians were brutally murdered for no reason. No, I do not want to hear their screams on the wind, and walk on the earth where the innocent blood was spilled. No, I have no desire to ‘tour’ a site (or many sites, as I have learned) where the total annihilation of an entire people took place.
But, as I learned, even if I don’t want to see it, one wrong turn out of a Temple will lead to a glass enclosed memorial with over 20 skulls ‘recovered’ from one of these fields.
As my senses captured what I stood in front of, I was overwhelmed with the deep deep sadness of it all. My heart hurt, my brain couldn’t even fathom the atrocities these people have suffered through.
The paradox of it all, is these people are happy. Truly deeply and completely happy. There isn’t one person who hasn’t waved, smiled or cheerfully said hello when I passed.
The paradox gives me hope.
For if these people, living in what could best be described as total poverty, could be so completely and totally fulfilled and happy, then why can’t everyone else in the world be so happy… with so much more.
I love this country, and really don’t want to leave. I have shared my email address with a few of the local children who are taking classes at the English school, and am really hoping to hear from them. They are all so proud to know English and practice every day with foreigners. They are definitely the best local ‘tour guides’ trying to earn money to pay for their education. (Which after inquiring, learned that it costs them $10 a month to go to a private English primary/secondary school, and about $400 a year to attend University). I am hoping they keep in touch, and keep to their studies, because if they do, I would happily pay for them to go to University.
I’m planning to leave Phnom Penh tomorrow and head north to Siem Reap and see the (touristy) temples of Angkor Wat. Also hoping to find some local blessings I found here in the city.
I hope you are enjoying these posts from SE Asia, if there is something specific you want me to write about or share, please shoot me a note, or leave a comment.