Cambodia

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in Travel, Uncategorized | 0 comments

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We are officially traveling now. I am recovering from a cold and Angela has some sort of a stomach bug. SE Asia is known as the land of rice, temples and stomach bugs, but who knew they had colds here? In Phnom Penh, Cambodia of all places. Wake up, shower, sweat until showering again Phnom Penh. Be grateful its the cool dry season (88 degrees, 70 percent humidity) Phnom Penh. These are also places of contradiction and irony, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

We are here with our dear friend Erin, her daughter Una, and her partner Carston. She has lived for ten years working with human rights, education, the arts and the Khmer people. As always, it is a delight to be with her. Her time here is bringing new light to our experiences, perceptions and reflections on SE Asia.

Phnom Penh is the fasted growing city in SE Asia. In the wake of the horrific effects of the Vietnam war and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime, it is the capital of a nation striving to put itself together. The many NGOs and multinational investment and aid (China, Japan, Vietnam, USA, etc.) are fueling the growth. It has only been in the last decade that they started to allow building taller structures than the Buddhist Wats (temples), which are still the heart of the community and city. We have spent our days here seeing the people and the city’s markets, temples, museums and alleyways via foot and in tuk-tuks (moto cabs). While sharing many of the qualities of most large Asian cities (densely populated, frenetic, communal) it has flavors which are distinctly Cambodian. Particularly the playfulness of the people in almost all interactions.

We arrived in Phnom Penh from Siem Reap. Siem Reap was the center of a vast kingdom and civilization which culminated in the building of Angkor Wat from 1100-1300 CE. Angkor Wat is a anthropological, cultural and architectural wonder second to none. When london was home to 50,000 people, the Angkor civilization had over 1,000,000. The remains are a series of sandstone temples, libraries, walls, water reservoirs and channels. They used an elaborate water system to regulate and sanitize the water during the ebb and flow of wet and dry seasons. The structures all feature intricate and refined carving depicting Hindu and Buddhist mythology, angkorian history and culture, and scenes of daily life.

What was once a thriving civilization is now a thriving tourist destination. Sadly, due to it inability to administer Angkor Wat tourism, the Cambodian government has leased its rights to a Vietnamese petrol company for 37 years. Precious little of the revenue is reinvested into the province, which is the poorest on Cambodia. All of this leaves the place with an energy of hunger. Tourists hunger for experience, Cambodians hunger for livelihood and sustenance, and the foreign corporations hunger for profit. This is certainly not unique to Cambodia, but the size and scale are remarkable.

Visiting places with so much history, I cannot help but wonder, what will be our legacy? What will the anthropologists of the future unearth? What will the tourists of the future marvel upon? What will the museum of the future house? As we move from the industrial to global-digital-information age, what will endure generations, let alone millennia?

While it is certainly human nature to hunger, it is also within our capacity to be sated. This is one of the essential truths Buddhism and Yoga speak to. What we spend our lives and travel the world seeking, has always been within us.

We will leave Monday for a few days in the Cambodian country side, then onto Myanmar. As they say here “same same, but different”.
Til next time,

Be bold. Be conscious. Be well,
Ben

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