Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy 3 month anniversary, South East Asia! Thoughts on Cambodia....

....(On 01.01.2011) In front of Angkor Wat, Sarit (mama and my tour guide) opened up about Khmer Rouge times and his experience - how he was separated from his parents. He showed us the palm trees with saw-sharp ridges that were used as torture devices. It was a somber moment. It was exactly what I feared when coming to Cambodia. At that point (on the 1st of January) I was still very much in Thai-land and was having a hard time adjusting to walking and driving on the right side of the road (funny how impactvul 2 months can be), and when I arrived in Cambodia I could feel an immense sadness. The Khmer Rouge era was just 30 years ago, the people are still recovering. It is a part of them in everyway - who knows what Cambodia would be like if this huge step backwards hadn't been taken?
The Khmer Rouge is something every Cambodia of a certain age has brought up in my conversations with them. It is still on their tongue. No one wears black - outfits are often ridiculously bright colored in reaction to the all-black everyone wore for 3 years, 8 months, 20 days. About 3 million were killed. Between 25-30% of the population. Monsters.
And so all of thisscared me, I guess. I'd just never been in a place that suffered so much so recently. And Thailand was the opposite. Cambodia was coloniyed be the French - there are baguettes and French style houses everywhere! Thailand has avoided Western invasion. Cambodians (or Khmer people) talk about their sad Khmer Rouge memories and their poverty. Thais avoid emotional conversations.
I think I expected sadness everywhere, but that wasn't the case. The poor, begging children were really bad in Angkor Wat and left a bad taste in my mouth, but once out of Siem Reap, the Khmer-Barang (thats what they call foreigners in Cambodia. Farang in Thailand) relationship changed: children wave hi and run up to you because you're different, not because you have money; adults smile at you; you are not harassed and so you are more likely to give at a temple or cafe or anywhere.

I have gone from feeling nervous and scared and sad about Cambodia to really loving it here, and marveling at the strength and resilience of the people, as well as the beauty of the rice fields, small mountains, and orange dirt roads. Even two weeks ago I did not think I would come back to this country, but just today I was dreaming of coming here to volunteer - and there seem to be opportunities everywhere to volunteer, donate, or to shop at a store that has items made by street kids, or to eat at a cafe run by disabled or deaf people. It's kind of amaying. The entire country seems to run on donations - schools donated by Japan, Angkor Wat ruins restored by the Japanese, Vietnamese, French, and Italians, water fountains in a village donated by a couple from the U.S., and the list goes on. I feel likemany different people and other nations have reached out an great amount to this wonderful country. It's never enough of course, but it really amazes me.

Last Cambodian sunset.
At the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.

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