A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia - sweet sorrow

sunny 35 °C

I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in Siem Reap. The weather, as always, is 35 degrees and muggy. It is 11 o'clock Thursday morning and I am wondering if it is too early to have a beer. Probably not.

We arrived in the area 4 days ago. Within hours of arrival Kat and I had both expressed our joy at being here and our mutual wish to stay longer. I have to say that our planned trip to India now looks like it might fall by the wayside to make room for more time in Cambodia and Vietnam. I'd also like us to visit Singapore again if I can work it. This is all direct result of a very brief exposure to Cambodia. A desire that has not waned with further experience.

We have kept busy(ish) visiting temples and getting to know the region of Angkor, as well as the tourist center of Siem Reap. I find it, hard, to describe my feelings for this place. Heck, I find it hard to figure out what they might be.

The temples are beautiful and certainly impressive. They speak of the might of vision and of what can be accomplished with determination (with a bit of wealth and power thrown in). It seems to me that religion was integral to a powerful kingdom. People need unity and faith in their leaders as well as a hesitancy to question what is required of them, if a an Oligarchical society is to perform effectively. It seems this was accomplished through the promotion of religion in the peoples lives. Additional tactics seem to be labeling your leader/s as a conduit for communication with/interpretation of God/s and their will. You can also deify your mights leader and subsequently fill your people with a sense of righteousness.

Sorry - got a bit sidetracked there.

Temples. Amazing. Built by hand. Hewn from rock (usually sandstone) that was quarried, again by hand, then transported large distances to the sites and then precision laid, one upon another, to a complex and meaningful design. A lot of lines, well, line up. Anchor Wat alone is made up of 300 million tonnes of sandstone, all meticulously carved. Then there are the water features.

Water was completely integrated throughout the temple complexes. Not just within the temple. Each temple was part of a larger system of irrigation for the kingdom. This system comprised of moats, lakes, ponds, pools, water features and rivers. For the most part these were man made and all very specifically designed to fit within the larger patten.

Just staggering.

But this is not what stays with me.

You hear tales of the Khmer Rouge and their brutal reign. Not in some history book but from a young man standing in front of you explaining, calmly, about the death of their parents, then the later death of their brother and then their subsequent disillusionment with the military. Not much you can do to prepare for that conversation. I just stood on the spot, listened and mourned for this strangers family and his life.

Then there are the children. They are enchanting creatures. Full of life and energy and seemingly fearless. I just watch them and smile.

Then they try to sell you stuff. At length. They are very effective. A young boy, missing a leg (presumably from 'just' another land mine incident) hobbles cheerily up to where Kat and I are eating lunch and delivers some friendliest, most casually impressive patter I have ever heard. Then sells us stuff. Saying no is very, very hard.

Yesterday, after visiting a temple (I forget which one) I am approached by a gorgeous young child. She must be about 12. Almost a woman. She remembers me passing earlier and my promise to 'maybe' look at the goods in her store on the way out of the temple. I had remembered my responsibility and purchased a bottle of water from what I thought was her stand. I was informed in no uncertain terms that this was not her stand and I should have brought the picture, rolled up in my hand, from her stall and not the one in the temple. I expressed regret but explained that I had already spent too much money and didn't need anything else.

The next few minutes an education. She asked many questions to which I had no answer for. The girl went from hopeful and empowered, to negotiating, then wheedling, on to anger, despair, she became vicious and then back to despair. She fled. Sobbing. Wishing that Kat and I would break up and that she hadn't known that all Australians were so mean, so deliberately unkind.

Kat was almost in tears and I wasn't far behind. This incident was not alone.

This country is, confronting.
I am confronted.

Matt

Posted by sarchasm1 21:10 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking

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