on the road again, tho’ this time it’s a runway

Cambodia has been an interesting series of opposites: darkness overcome by light, religion bolstered by faith, poor always smiling, super rich stalled in traffic even more than the less fortunate (a scooter is much more agile than a Lexus SUV, come to think of it, I’m more agile than any Lexus!!).

There are many more temples than Angkor Wat and while it is spectacular, others are more intriguing. Each king tried to outdo the one before, especially in the size of their swimming pools. And in many cases the temple wasn’t fully completed before the king died. How all this has been figured out has required the “jigsaw solving” minds of archaeologists who’s patience, let alone IQ is well north of mine…

A sidebar to all this is the power of nature. In several sites there are trees over three hundred (300) years old and their root systems are massive. In some cases the tree has completely engulfed the wall or has knocked over a building. There are instances where the people have simply left the tree as a testament to why renovations have ended.

While it is barely at the beginning of the “high season”, there already are quite a few visiting these sites. Luckily our guide has known how to go in back entrances and beat the line-ups — it has facilitated ST’s picture-taking too (which will be evident once get home and I’m able to transfer some to this site).

But perhaps, like ST, you are “templed out”. So let me conclude with some other perspectives. Cambodia is working hard, often through the help of NGO’s, to get the poor and disabled into the economy. We visited two (2) such places in Siem Reap: the first is an institute that teaches masonry and stone carving; the second is involved with silk culture and production. the masonry school already has graduated over fifteen hundred (1,500) adults and now does most of the restoration work at the various temples. Many are working back closer to their villages if there are restoration projects there. The silk centre is amazing as it is involved in growing the mulberry bushes as well as the silk worms, processing the silk (both raw and fine), and weaving different products. While this institution has a very good graduation rate, fewer of them get to stay in the silk business. Instead they move to agricultural jobs or clothing factories. China’s silk production systems are so massive/cheap that they are flooding the marketplace.

By the way, almost forgot to mention that at one (1) temple we were able to visit inside an ancient crematorium. The Cambodians (as opposed to India) did not have a burning desire to cremate the wife at the same time as the husband.

There were two (2) evening cultural events we attended. The first evening it was the Aspara Dancers. How they are able to bend their fingers and stand for lengthy moments on one (1) foot, simply reinforced my long-standing view that I am not a dancer. (Of course I would also fail on another count — these young people, both guys and women, and extremely good looking!!)

The second evening was a drama put on by students from a privately funded (European $$) school in a rural area. There was little dialogue, but it wasn’t needed. Cirque de Soleil could recruit these students, incredibly flexible and very demonstrative, they portrayed a young girl’s journey through the Khmer Rouge days to adulthood. At times very dark, other times buoyant and effervescent it kept the audience spellbound for over an hour. There was a young artist doing paintings to accompany certain eras and two (2) others were musicians who played a multitude of instruments. All was original — everything done by students. It helped clarify how Cambodia is rising from the ashes of Pol Pot, and will be an economic engine of some significant magnitude in the coming decade — the youth are determined and they are talented and in their schooling, English is now compulsory.

As we board the plane for Laos, I am reminded that I came here to learn more about the Killing Fields but am leaving with a much broader appreciation on the richness of Cambodia’s past and how that, along with a newfound desire for a freer, more democratic and capitalistic economy, is making Cambodia a wonderful place to live, let alone visit.