A Romanian saying goes something like this: "The man makes the place holy." (literal translation). It's what kept coming to mind while being in Cambodia. Cambodia is not a particularly pretty country, geographically speaking: all flat, extremely dry during the dry season and all flooded during the rainy season. In addition to that, it's one of the poorest countries in the world, which has recently gone through one of the most horrific genocides known to mankind. And still, its people are all smiles, all the time. They are full of optimism, positive energy, kind words. They have perfect brown skin, crowned by huge white smiles. I want to hug them all. Angelina knew where it's at - maybe one day I'll adopt my own cute Cambodian baby!
At the Museum of National History in Phnom Penh I got surrounded by a group of 15 year old kids, who came with their English teacher from a small town to the big city. It was March 8th, Mother's day, and the schools had the day off. To celebrate this day, the teacher took the kids to the museum. When they saw me, the kids asked if they can practice their English with me. Then we took a lot of photos, with me and each of them in turn.
Another shocking thing about Phnom Penh was the white grampa & young Cambodian lady combo. Apparently, a lot of older white males comes here for sex tourism. They either get a different lady every night, or they have one lady, with whom they walk around on the streets hand in hand, they feed, and obviously f*** at night. If they can... haha! One night, Daniel and I were walking on these alleys trying to find a massage parlor where all the masseurs are blind people. We stumbled onto this alley that was lined up with girlie bars. Sexy 16 to 20 year old girls were lined up in front of every bar, blowing kisses at passers by and trying to get them to come to their bar. Some of the bars had one or two older white men sitting at a table outside. One girl on the lap, another girl giving him a shoulder massage. All of these guys have white hair, a big belly and for the most part look disgusting. All of the girls are extremely young, skinny and wear the tiniest miniskirts. I later saw a grandpa who could barely walk. He might've been 70. A 17 year old girl helped him get out of a tuk tuk, and then they held hands like a couple in love. I couldn't help myself, so I turned around and yelled: "She could be your granddaughter."
The Killing Fields (about the genocide in Cambodia - really good movie; I strongly recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.) I couldn't finish it, as it started getting grittier and I was by myself, in a windowless hotel room in Cambodia, afraid of having nightmares. That night I felt a little bit like Richard on Khao San Road.
Khmer Rouge rule, from 1975 to 1979. After taking power, the Khmer Rouge set out to immediately revamp Cambodian society. Their first step was to rusticate the cities, so that city people could be reformed through hard labor. These reformed subjects could then contribute to the new agrarian economy focused primarily on massive increases of rice production. Khmer Rouge transformed Cambodia into a rural, classless society in which there are no rich, no poor, and no exploitation. To accomplish this, they abolished money, free markets, normal schooling, private property, foreign clothing style, religious practices and traditional Khmer culture. The national bank was destroyed. Public schools, hospitals, pagodas, mosques, churches, universities and government buildings were shut or turned into prisons, stables, reeducation camps and granaries. There was no public or private transportation.
I have never been to Auschwitz, but this place in Cambodia made me think of it. Above, clothes found on the bodies that were dug out of the mass graves. Like any genocide act in history, its cruelty seems so absurd, so unthinkable and unimaginable, that I often wonder how the human race is capable of such a thing. In total, around 3,000,000 people were killed in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge rule. I'm not going to go into detail about this, as there are plenty of resources online. How I feel about it? I am glad to have been in that place in person, to have stepped on the same soil where only 35 years ago, many ended their lives in an absurd, violent manner. Visiting "The Killing Fields" was one piece in the big puzzle of global awareness that each of us should have.
Ta Prohm, the temple where Tomb Rider was filmed. It was built in the 12th century and unlike the other temples in the Angkor area, it was left almost the same as it was when found: jungle and massive trees took over, growing on top of the walls and through the walls. The synergy between the huge trees and the ancient stones makes this temple one of the most spectacular in the area. Here, I copied a great description of the place, found via Wikipedia: "On every side, in fantastic over-scale, the trunks of the silk-cotton trees soar skywards under a shadowy green canopy, their long spreading skirts trailing the ground and their endless roots coiling more like reptiles than plants." (Maurice Glaize, Angkor scholar.)
Strolling around the streets of Siem Riep at night I discovered a cool little art store on a tiny alley. It's called Art Deli, it's creatively decorated, especially on the upper floor, and it has some nice prints, posters and art for sale. The owners were what seemed to be Cambodian hipsters, probably the only ones I saw during my stay there.
Tonle Sap, the biggest lake in Southeast Asia. All the houses in the village (just like many other areas in Cambodia), are built on extremely tall stilts. This protects the houses from the floods, when the Tonle Sap lake overflows during the rainy season. During the dry season, most houses have temporary kitchens and hangout areas build in the shade underneath the stilts. When it starts raining, the makeshift kitchens are disassembled and moved upstairs.
There used to be crocodiles here in this waters, but not anymore. They've been fished to extinction. This boat was not tied properly, so it went across the river, almost blocking the passage of other boats. Instead of trying to re-tie it, boatmen were just going around it, sometimes getting their boats stuck in the muddy shallow shores.