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naked communism: second degree burn in a third world country

CAMBODIA | Friday, 4 July 2008 | Views [232]

He came to me in the night. I never knew if he was dressed properly in black- sleep hooded my eyes as i stumbled to the clacking chorus of the window and slid the errant lock into place. I thought for a moment about how strange it was; I hadn't noticed the window nor opened it before. I dulcetly closed the drapes that led directly to the courtyard outside and retreated to dreamland.

I am usually so much more pragmatic than that. My only excuse is my surrender into the softness of friendship and trust that I had let into my life for the past two weeks.

When I awoke, the damage was minimal. Obviously my unlover had grabbed the first item that was not strewn about the room in wake of the detonation of landmine emily- my compression sac of dirty laundry.

Thankful for the curse that turned blessing- my constant disorganization, I only lost most of my clothing and a few spare dollars secreted away in my squirreling patches for emergency cash.
Mostly I was just shocked and in disbelief.

I went to the front desk to report the incident. An officer of empathy joined me in my perplexion and told me there would be no problem, nothing to worry about- told me not to cancel my cooking class and they would search the hotel.
When it came time to leave, however, i was detained by the hotel manager- tardily projecting upon the scenario that the occurance was obviously my own fault as I had not locked the window properly the night before. There would be no help or admitting of fault from that department, she dutifully informed. The officer of empathy then escorted me to the police station in effort to get a report for insurance claim.
As we made our lumbering way (they would not even let me store my backpack behind the front desk at the hotel while i went to the police station!) the communist camerades of ambilalence were hardly set to budge from the soap operas entertaining their morning nap. They told me i was not important enough to merit a report and turned me back to the hotel, which again emphasized that this was not a problem, it was just my clothing and it was completely my own fault. They would help me if it was a real problem but it was no problem so they could do nothing for me. URGH!
Never one to be obtuse, I grasped at their subtle point. This was a case of Communism at its best. Even Marx would be proud at how docilely I surrendered my belongings for the common good.
On with the holiday or bust!
Newly minted as the freak in town, I arrived at the best cooking class I have taken yet. In a class of 1, I got all the attention lavished on me that my mother used to give at home. I felt a sympathetic ear, I compassionate shoulder. And boy, can I cook some decent vietnamese yummies now!
On my way back to the hotel on my speedy motorbike ride, I hastily abandoned my good sense in my awkward hurry to dismount and burned my calf like a cow marked by Yamaha branding.
Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!
I met with my new group, a merry little band of 4, and then excused myself from dinner (what, you didn't really expect my lovingly social acts to continue, did you? i am still emily no matter what brainwashing the british empire may be capable of!) and set about finding myself a replacement wardrobe.
the choicest apparel to fit someone as humongous as I am: nike, adidas, and puma tennis shirts. you can now call me anna kornikova. if only i could hit a ball!

Suited out right, if a bit tight about the edges, I said my final goodbyes to Saigon in the silence of my own wandering salutes. Goodbye, river. Goodbye, hotel that didn't rob me! Goodbye, Uncle Ho! In the darkness of the night i could feel the warm arms of the city soothe my bad day. The bats and I were both set to fly away from the constant buzz of humanity and they proceeded my parade with a ballyhoo of kamakazi flight patterns, helpfully clearing the chatter of the motorbike and cyclo drivers trying to distract me from my way.

Onward! The six hour bus ride was a torture of new dimensions as I got to know my new companions more intimately. The first conversation I had with the Canadian girl of a squalling 18 was how the people in countries like this are the shame of humanity, preferring to stay poor beggars instead of applying themselves and working hard to be something better. I nearly died when she pulled out the "they are all trying to rip me off" laments. (Save me, God, save me!)
Not even my pitiful cd collection could take the edge off that hideous whine!
I now spend every moment of meal times watching the seconds click by until my precious release arrives in the form of the bill. i have taken a monk's vow of silence.


We arrived at Tuc Doc, the vietnamese border town made of dirt and just as seedy as any border town I have ever met, just in time for a quick shop before our motorcycle farewell to Vietnam sundowning excursion.

The Vietnamese people on the outskirts of tourism have a healthy distrust of foreigners, I have found. I was stared at again like a leper victim (I swear, it was not just the tennis shirts and wimbleton) and laughed at when I tried to buy the local boa that have sustained me as I skip meal after meal.

I am impervious to their scepticism as i am blooming with love for this country of open hearted adventure. I boarded my motorcycle and held on tight to the leathery man taking my life into his hands. We raced through the mountain road passing farm after farm of rice fields and fishing ponds. The mountaintop was a hammocked haven filled with beer of any man's desire. As I swayed with the mountain winds whispering songs of Vietnamese fortune, I knew that the only way to collect my fortune was to leave it behind and search out new horizons. Off to Cambodia!

Our six hour speed boat ride was loud enough to drown the dead, I happily caught up on my writing.

The Vietnamese border was a hectic crush of children all trying to earn another dollar while the Cambodian side was a sleepy slug of canine and human sloth. When we finally arrived in Phenom Phen, we were welcomed to the bustle of a sprawling urbanity of cosmpolitan growth much bigger and more cemented than what I had expected.

Our hotel was a bit far from town, no lazy strolls about the town for us. We took a quick cyclo tour to the main sights: the royal palace a glittering with gold arched rooftops, the riverside whith its faux Miami funk, the independance monument- a phallically proud papa of civil rest after the decades of wars on all sides. Then we all piled into a tuk-tuk together and took to the road for an invited dinner at the house of our guide's family- who run a school for children to learn english.

We came armed with gifts of notebooks and fancy pens, they came packed with burning curiosity about our world. I spoke for an hour with two teenage girls of 17 (who looked all of 12)- who I wished I could hold in under my wings until they are safe from the many dangers that face them in the next few years. They were very proper at first, asking only the questions from their books "where are you from, what is the weather like, how do you like Cambodia, where else will you travel?" then we quickly dissolved into "do you have a boyfriend, why aren't you married, what will you do for the rest of your life, do you think we are pretty?" a real exchange of girlhood questions that youth is usually too afraid to ask the people that they hold in high esteem.

After our english exchange, we ate dinner with the master of the household, a fount of historical information about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime told through the eyes of someone who has lived a million lifetimes in the span of fifty years. I was enthralled by his experiences and optimism.

Our plethora of food was an insurmountable mountain of gluttony- but the treat to write home to mom about was the dessert of deep fried tarantula!

My cohorts were aghast and disgusted I would even consider partaking, but I have come here to experience everything life has to offer, no matter how many legs it has! I must admit to being a bit squeamish in picking it up, telling myself to stop being so stupid, it was not alive to bite me anymore. The first leg went down like a crispy french fry at the bottom of the pack. The next seven seemed safe enough. But when time came to bite the bullet of the thorax, I had to make a bet with the Irishman and go all in, double or nothing or risk losing my resolve. Suprisingly, the manibles were the best part. And with that, i am feeling a bit grossed out by myself so I will just move on.....

The next day we toured the Killing Fields and Tuel Slang Prison. The somber tone of subject matter was dragged to eternity by our guide and the perky yellow cement walls were declared liars by the bloodstains marking the floor almost thirty years after their owner's demise. I found myself engaged in a direct parallel with the images before me and the ones portrayed in the Cambodian genocide book I am reading "First they killed my father".

Many people, including some of the brightest and most interesting, gloss over the unsavory parts of a country's history in an effort to remain happy and light as they travel on holiday. I find that I am drawn to it. I feel that I am provoked to face just how cruel and merciless man can be when he loses his sense of boundary. The utopian vision that instigates mass genocide fascinates the amateur psychologist in my mind. I understand the desire to return to a simpler time. Pol Pot was remarkably similar to Aldolphus Huxley's Brave New World- taking children away from their parents, living a completely communist dream. And I understand an adoration of the pure life found in an agregarian society, but to take that sentimental meandering and turn it into a vehicle to murder thousands of men, women, and children, that I cannot fathom.

Telling people of Phenom Phen that the Americans will bomb their homes, effectively evacuating the city. Then once the cities are all ghost towns, setting about exterminating anyone who would be educated enough to rise against- the evidence of evil was astounding in the thousands of human skulls piled thirty feet high. Battered and broken, they stared creepily out of the stupa memorial surrounded by field after field of unmarked graves. The people were not even killed in a detached manner as civil as the nazis, they were beaten to death, starved, and tortured until they had no will to resist. Every soldier who followed the commands killed with blood on his hands, not with poisonous gas chambers or bullets.

I spent the night wandering alone, unwilling to let the ignorance of those in my group (who had not even heard mention of pol pot's name before this morning and certainly had no tact or sympathy for the people in question) taint the braided reflections in my mind.

We boarded a flight to Siem Reap early the next morning. Arriving at the small town with borders it would take mere hours to circumference, we went together to a silk farm to experience the rural bliss for ourselves. The farm was a nirvana of greenery and a landscaper's dream. The ladies who lunched had left us clues to piece together the production process and after a quick tour of worms and weaving, I separated myself from the group and headed out to make my first impressions of Angkor Wat my own.

Spectator to a sunset that reverberated back to the time of the dinosaurs, I found myself in the midst of one of those moments that is perfect only in its imperfection (i think this is my Cambodian theme, as much as friendship and community was my Vietnamese one). I drank my angkor beer in the shadows of the temple amid the thousand legged millipede made by tourists lining up to see the show. And just about the time the sky turned pink with the promise of twilight's arrival, the Buddhist monks swaggered suavely upon the scene. I could not help but laugh aloud as their arrival set the disney-fied camera toters to sprinting across the grassy fields in order to capture that elusive monk in front of temple ruins at sunet picture that would embody the happiness of their entire visit.

Ah the simplicity of their quest!

Today was a twelve hour day of temple packing as I pulled my group along as they all wilted from the heat. The canadian didn't last past lunch time and as soon as she disappeared into the hotel bound bus, our group suddenly became one of laughter, bonding, and cultural exchange. We visited eight temples: each completely different from the last and in its own way a treasure that shines brighter even robbed of all its lusterous gems. The carving artistry, the massive scale of design, the colors of the lichens redecorating to the tune of nature's theme. It was a day the camera could not hope to capture, but that stopped none of us from trying.

And as our sunset horizon faded into a scouring cleansing rain, we followed the young temple urchin into the tiny little Buddah guarded cave at the top of the apex of the stairs. After lighting an inscense to give Buddah all my love, our fortitude was rewarded with a completely arching rainbow painted across the sky. And when our guide brought us gigantic umbrellas to shield us from the shower, we stood in awe that the sun can set the jungle completely aflame amidst the challenging gauntlet thrown in by the rain. A moment perfect in its imperfection.

more on the angkor temples later, I know some of you have asked but i think it needs its own hour's time to write.
love, peace, and visions of decidedly non-utopian wonderlands, emily

Tags: cambodia, emily predny, phenom phen, predny, saigon, siem riep, tuc doc

 

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