Cambodia


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Bangkok to Battambang Photos should be restored by 7/20/2010

Several days this entry: At last, Cambodia. This trip really started in 1981 when Leslie and I began our work with Cambodian refugees - we were at it seven days a week, every waking minute when we were not working at our regular jobs. Cambodian refugees were our life from 1981-1986 - an astonishing & very difficult time - and the first time I understood the bedrock reality of God (when I realized I/myself could not possibly be doing what I was doing). Anyway, I am overwhelmed to be here now. And it is so much sweeter with David here (how I wish Leslie was here, too).

Today went like this. Up at 0500, pack, eat breakfast, catch taxi to Bangkok's northern station, buy ticket for ~175 baht to Aranyaprathet (the bus leaving right now - threw packs on moving bus), ride to Aran with water dripping from vent onto David the whole way (used khrama to catch it), and by a miracle, they turned off TV about 15 minutes into trip. Saw signs to Sa Kaeo, which sent chills over me as many refugees had bad times there. Catch local bus (10 baht) to border, get all mixed up with immigration, finally get it straight, car to Battambang, secure room at Hotel Angkor ($13 USD for 3 beds), jump across street to meet Chharvy (lovely lady) at KCT Internet Caffe, go to White Rose Restaurant next door for a great meal (fried pork with chillis, chicken & onion, curry, spring rolls, mango shake, & lots of water). Long day, but good traveling. Photo above: Angkor Hotel taken from Chharvy's place next door to the White Rose Restaurant

We're deep into Asia now - exactly where I want to be.

Hotel is pretty good & pretty clean. Peter Lorre's Chinese incarnation is manager - kind of creeping around all the time. Our room is on the so-called 3rd floor (actually the 4th, so it is [yet another] uphill trudge to the room), bathroom, cool water (but who needs hot?), countless geckos, balcony running around two sides of hotel, veranda overlooking Sangkar River (Stung Sankar). From veranda look down on street beside river & see mostly foot and motorcycle traffic, people bathing in river, life unfolding. One very nice detail is that motorcycles here are 4-stroke vs. 2-stroke, so much quieter.

Many beggars around. Some seem very poor and desperate. On Monday morning watched the boss of the beggars sweep through to intimidate his workers. A very unpleasant fellow.

Monday we had breakfast at the White Rose (coffee, toast, and omelet on top of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers - David also had pineapple shake). Met the men we talked with yesterday re motorcycle trip into countryside: Panya is a refined man 28 years old, goes to English school and hopes to become a primary teacher. Thony is in mid 30s and a veteran of 1990s war with Khmer Rouge. He wants to get married but his father wants him to become a monk for about 5 years - serious conflict! Photo: Shopping with Chharvy

David rode with Thony and I with Panya and Jeff rode alone. Eventually I was very grateful that I did not try to ride alone as it rained some and the unpaved roads were a true challenge. This was the first tour I've ever taken and it was wonderful. We really did see the countryside.

First stop was a wat at the top of Phnom Sam Peau. We left the motorcycles at the bottom of the hill and took a good long trudge to the top. The reward was a breathtaking view of Battambang Province. From there we walked to another part of the mountain where there were caves where some thousands of people had been murdered - smashed or stabbed and thrown into the caves. There were cords strung about with little pieces of cloth from the clothes of the people killed. David and I prayed at one of the stacks of bones and skulls. To me, sadder than the bones were stacks of clothing from the dead. Jews, Cambodians, Kurds - so many killed in our time. Photo: Killing caves

We met a former Khmer Rouge, now living at the temple. Later I

thought what better place to seek redemption - but his eyes seemed dead - talk about soul loss! I thought about the old proverb, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." Seems like he's doing the hardest time imaginable and much more to come.

From the mountain we could see several rain storms across the land. I lost my first pair of glasses somewhere up there - my favorite dollar store glasses - good place to lose them (one down, three to go).

Had lunch at bottom of mountain - new meaning to chicken with many many bones. Along with the bones were vegetables likened by Jeff to "what they put under your fingernails." The soup was okay, but also many many bones.

Rode through countryside to Wat Banon. Thoughout the day the rides were just wonderful. Rural Cambodia is beautiful and the people are beautiful - to me, the best looking in the world - men and women and the children, well, you know, so pretty it makes my heart ache. Another wonderful thing was seeing many new schools along the roads - monuments of hope and the future. My friend Lance built a wood school over here about 10 years ago - named for his Mom, Elizabeth. What joy for him to see a new stucco school take the place of the Elizabeth School. Good work, mate.

Everywhere we go, people are interested in David. They recognize him instantly as Khmer and are puzzled that he does not speak Khmer. But everyone is gracious and there has been none of the intrusiveness we've experienced several times in the past. Interesting that Cambodian farmers would have better manners than some people who consider themselves special - "blessed" and all that. Photo: Steps to Wat Banon

Next stop was Wat Banan, an 11th Century wat at (where else) the top of a small mountain. The steps to the wat were very steep and what you would expect after about a 1000 years of close to no maintenance. Wat Banan is like a very small Angkor Wat, falling down to some extent and beautiful - many linga and yoni around. David was first to the top, of course, and he met a monk who showed him how to enter the chambers and what to do inside. Temple boys are little boys whose family cannot feed them. There was a temple boy with this monk - sweetest boy - touched that I wanted to take his photograph. Three children went with us from bottom to top and back down. One boy about five years old just hurtled down, making me a little sick to my stomach - one misstep and he's hurt bad or dead. 10 year old girl that went with us was named Savann. I asked and asked Thony, the guide to ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. Chauvinist that he is, he kept saying what he thought she wanted to be, like married. Finally he really asked and in the smallest voice she said, "teacher." This truly is a high time for me. Photo below: I want to be a teacher

We went

to a wat where there were countless huge fruit bats in the trees, some long boats, and what have you. Boring to me, so I walked down the road. Stopped and said hello to a grandmother. Her neightbor saw me and burst out laughing at my beard. So I took my hat off so she could see my bald head and she literally fell over laughing. Good times. Walked down to the river (late afternoon by now) and watched people bathing, cleaning horsecart, and so on. The beauty of what I was seeing was amplified by a woman singing a beautiful haunting song somewhere along the river. Met a girl named Ieng sitting on a platform in a little thatched lean-to. I have no idea what she was doing there.

We took off for the "bamboo train" and along the way I asked to stop to see some pineapple plants. We were looking at the plants and a woman walked up the path from the house and invited us to see her house. So we're sitting in the open part of her poor farmer's house (photo below) with several more women around, a man, 5-6 children (one little girl terrified of the foreigners) talking via the guides. The woman tells us that one of the women is sick with a problem in her breast. I'm thinking I was committed to not get involved in health-related things, but this is too much that (1) we stop at this house, (2) the woman invites us to see her house, and (3) there was a sick woman there who maybe - if the problem is an infection - I can help. I tell them I know a little bit about these things and ask if she would like for me to take a look. The answer is yes, and in the meantime her husband brings out the medicine she is taking. Tamoxifen! I'm astonished. We're on a country road in Cambodia and this woman is taking the right medicine for breast cancer. But she looks bad. No mass in her breast. Though not cachectic, still, haggard, like she is dying. I tell her this is good medicine, keep taking it, and I will pray for her. They tell us she got it free from the "Holy Hospital" and the guides tell us it is run by Italians. Holy Hospital, indeed. Where else.

At the end of the day we get to the "bamboo train," a platform set on wheels formerly used on tank treads. First they set the axles/wheels on the track, then set the platform on top, then a small engine is conn

ected, and finally the three motorcycles, two guides, assorted people, and David, Jeff, and I. Start the engine and away we go. Great trip, flying down the track almost to Battambang. When we get to the stopping place we unload motorcycles and people, turn the platform around, and we go back to town while the "train" goes back to where we started. Photo: The train runs on these tracks

What a wonderful day.

Battambang

This is our last day in Battambang. Tomorrow we take a boat to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat. Sorry about no photos. No way that I've found here to get them from camera to computer. Maybe in SR.

Battambang is a very laid back provincial city. Many buildings dating from French colonial days, so a pretty place & very lush at this time of year when monsoon starting. One of the most striking things about BB is the quiet and very civilized traffic. There seems to be no real rules, but almost everyone is very accomodating of one another. Seldom see a driver with something to prove. We spend a fair amount of time on the 4th floor veranda of hotel watching the traffic moving along, merging - most people we've seen on one moto is 5, though possibly there was a baby stuck in there to make 6.

Experiencing slight GI action, but so far, nothing of consequence. There is a theory about that it makes little difference to eat peeled fruit, etc. vs. just eat whatever. So far, the latter working okay. But nobody gets out of here without some action, so we'll see how cocky I am when I'm sick.

I'm like Seinfeld on tour. Monday it was a woman somewhere in the countryside cracking up over my beard, then falling over in hysterics when I took my hat off to let her see my bald head. Yesterday, I stopped on a corner to have some satay and shredded papaya. The lady gave me a tiny plas

tic stool to sit on and when I sat down, the stool broke & I went sprawling on my back on the sidewalk (can you dig Cambodian sidewalks?) sending everyone but the woman grilling the meat into great gales of laughter
- me too - ridiculous.

Yesterday met a young Canadian woman in the White Rose who started out 6 months ago to travel around SE Asia and has never gotten out of Cambodia - caught up in the magic, beauty, mystery, darkness, and all of Cambodia. I understand. If no Vietnam visa time restriction, would likely stay here longer. There is a two story French colonial villa all mouldering and wonderful looking across the river from the hotel. I walked across the bridge to look at it up close - Oh Yeah. Hey Leslie, are you ready?

Mixed fruit salad today: durian, dragonfruit, longan, jackfruit, pineapple, rambutan, banana (definitely not Dole!), papaya, and apple. Cost 2500 Riel - about $.65 USD.

Took another moto tour today - mostly just riding around countryside. Visited a 200 year old temple. Was desecrated by Khmer Rouge, who used it as jail and execution site. Now shuttered and no longer in use (too many ghosts, we were told). Old crematory nearby. Disturbing. Photo below: We are in Cambodia.

Then a little further up the road the strangest thing happened. We met an American man living in the countryside on a couple of hectares. He (and his Khmer wife) is living somewhat as a Cambodian farmer except organically and with all sorts of innovations. His house is on very high stilts in the middle of a small deep lake (aprox 50 meters diam except irregular shape). The house is all thatch, with a door, or rather opening shaped like a heart. A very small partially underwater bridge made of single boards and a palm trunk leads to a floating platform. We spent about an hour on the platform talking - so peaceful and cool with gentle breeze rocking us ever so slightly. To get to the house (we did not go), he unmoors the platform and pulls it to the house and climbs up the ladder. He took us through his garden, which was just grand. He is growing every kind of fruit imaginable and, check this out, rice. For vegetables and fruits he uses banana trees to shade the young plants, e.g., pineapple as they are getting started, then transplants the bananas to the next field to continue the process. His pond is loaded with fish who eat the mosquito larvae and he is "inoculating" neighbor's ponds with fish. All in all, an extraordinary place.

Tomorrow Angkor Wat.


Battambang to Siem Reap & Angkor

What a day. Started at 0600 with moto ride to another hotel to buy boat ticket. Got to "Port of Battambang" about 0630. To get to boat walked down fairly steep steel steps maybe 100 -120 feet (with spaces between - carrying large backpack) to the boat we would take to Siem Reap. We climbed aboard the semi-crowded boat and waited for 0700. Shortly before then a police officer and someone else came down to ask to see our tickets. We were on the wrong boat. We moved to the next boat, which had a higher awning/roof - a very good thing. Plus, we were the only passengers! Off we went down the river and though we picked up a few passengers, we were never crowded. The boat was a "rooster tail" boat with propeller that stuck way out behind and when the speed picked up, there was a large plume of water about 10 feet high. Photo above: On the boat

The river was fascinating. High banks most of the way, brown water all the way, and people on the shores most of the way. We cruised (so to say) though the backs of river people's homes, some of which were boats, some hooches on stilts, some floating homes like on rafts, and some pretty nice. People were bathing in the river, fixing breakfast, fishing, and in general, carrying on with life. Children would run to the shore or stand on their boat homes and wave, shouting "HELLO". One little boy about 3 years old ran to the shore, shouting and when we waved and shouted back, got all consternated and went stumbling backwards. We saw a great mud slide running from the top of the bank to the river and tiny brown boys hurtling naked and laughing down the the mud into the river. Reminded me of Chris and David when they were little, playing in the mud in our back yard. Photo: On the river

As we got closer to Tonle Sap, the great lake and source of food in Cambodia, the river widened and the banks became less steep. Many river people along this section and more and more lotuses or some aquatic plants growing in the water. At several points they covered the entire river and there was nothing to do but fire on through. Jeff looked back and said, "Man, we were jammin' through them plants. It looked like a vegetarian with diarrhea." (brown and green rooster tail)

Finally we broke on through to the other side - to Tonle Sap. What a sight - huge brown lake with the shores out of sight (on one side of the boat, Leslie - were never out of sight of land). David and I were both deeply touched as the lake is so central to the life and well-being of Cambodia. 

Got to dropping off point and took a moto with a little trailer attached up the most amazing rutted road to Siem Reap. The ride was really bad - especially after a 5 hour boat ride - though David found the boat nothing but enjoyable. Got two rooms at Two Dragons Guest House. Very nice, very clean. $23 USD for a twin and single room with AC together first night, then went out and checked other places and negotiated down to $18 USD for the two rooms. Took off to Angkor Wat to see the sunset. The place to see the sunset was up seriously deteriorated and steep steps, but not bad for a millenium of use. When we got to the top, there was a second summit with an ancient temple on top. The steps up the temple were 12-16 inch risers with about 5-6 inch steps. It had just rained and was still sprinkling, so another interesting climb. The reward was immense, however. Again, David and I were deeply deeply touched. Photo: Tonle Sap

Tomorrow we  head out at 0500 to watch sunrise. More later.

Leslie, I love you.

Siem Reap & Angkor

We're staying at the Two Dragons GH, down a small dirt (muddy) lane off a side street in SR. There is no traffic and the people around are friendly. The GH is run by an American ex-pat who is out of town at the moment. Two Dragons is very clean, food excellent - but expensive, like $2.75 USD for pat si ew, and there are great photos on the walls. All in all a nice place.

We got some little battery-operated speakers in HK that are attached to portable CD or MP3 players. So here we are in this clean, AC room listening to Robert Earl Keen, Van Morrison, Willie, U2, Beethoven, Bach, and so on. It's good, all right.

Except I had a long night with multiple multiple trips to bathroom. Still feeling bad in the morning, but, onward.

We got up at 0430 for an 0500 pickup by tuk-tuk to see sunrise over Angkor Wat.
- Angkor = the entire temple complex.
- Angkor Wat = most commonly pictured temple - 12th century - 5 towers on an elevated platform 1025x800 meters with towers and so on representing the universe.
- Bayon = Buddhist and Hindu ruin with huge faces set into the towers - most faces of the Boddhisatva Avaloketshivara (not sure spelling name).

Sunrise was beautiful. There were probably more than a 100 people there for sunrise, but no problem at all finding places where they were not. David and I walked up the long stone walkway across the moat through to the central building and on through to the other side. Stunning views in every direction. Walked past Angkor Wat to a smaller building same era and then through a cool and kind of eerie forest (though I sweated through my trousers - like the Hotel California guy) and back around to the front. By now the long night was catching up to me. Photo above: on the river; below: Sunrise Angkor Wat

We went to one of the open air restaurants near the temple to use the restroom and have something to eat. The restroom, such as it was, was interesting. The water tank for use cleaning and flushing was shared by the two stalls. Made me think of the Seinfeld when Elaine was in the restroom and couldn't get the woman next to her to pass over any toilet paper. In this case, however, the dipper was passed.

Bayon (Photo below) was next - a huge pile of ruins, with multiple towers, each with large faces carved into the blocks of stone. Many small corridors, cool and dark and nobody around.

By now I was weakening: + abd pain, dehydrated - so I went back to the GH and lay in the bed in a stupor - except of course, for those fast trips to ... The overhead fan has an irregular clicking sound and I kept dreaming that David was standing outside the room at the door, knocking with a quarter. David and Jeff got back around 1pm. By then I was better, especially after David turned on the AC. DK and I talked for awhile and he fell asleep, as did I.

The rain started about 4pm. This is my 3rd monsoon and I am so happy to be in it - though I hope it is not as heavy as the 2nd, when water covered everything but the highest points and I got trench foot such that my feet were like two gross pink cantalopes & I had to crawl everywhere for a week.

So yeah, let it rain. LET IT RAIN. To be here with my son i

s a blessing beyond belief.

In Siem Reap

The past few days have been a true highlight of my life, despite the gastrointestinal issues: Traveling down the river to the Tonle Sap, being on the great lake itself, and now for the past three days, being in Angkor - and all with my son and my best friend. Photo: Angkor Wat

Angkor is breathtaking. For 25 years (since we first began our work with Cambodian refugees) I have wanted to see this and had begun to think, maybe I would not. So, to walk in and around Angkor has been like a dream - I mean it really felt like a dream - especially walking up the long roads leading to the structures and for most, hearing a drum in the distance and as we got closer, the sounds of other traditional Khmer instruments. Outside of most temples there is a group of 3-6 musicians sitting on a mat playing traditional music. All these musicians are disabled in some way, many from landmines - no legs, blind, arm gone - playing this haunting true trance music.

I
watched them at weddings and ceremonies in Dallas over the years. The way it works is they
come into the place where they will play, sit on a mat with their instruments, light incense, offer (to the muse?) cigarettes and whiskey, and begin to tune. And as they tune, they begin to come together and in a while, take off all together. Photo: walking around behind temples/buildings

So we're slow-walking through 1000 year old temples, monastaries, funerary structures, and the like, going deeper and deeper until the sounds of the Japanese and Korean tourists are gone and there are only the sounds of the forest and our own occasional conversations. It's hot here, but not bad in the shade and we're slow-walking for sure through series of doorways through the centers of the structures, through narrow dark corridors, across jumbled piles of large sandstone blocks at the edges, and along dirt paths through the forest outside. And coming back, as we near the entrance, again, the sounds of the music. Photo: Playin' in the Band

Oh! I feel so good, so right


in my heart
in my life
in my soul

In Phnom Penh

Arrived Phnom Penh yesterday. Bus trip was okay - a little uncomfortable and a few unusual things, but not much of note. Arrival PP was insane. We were truly mobbed by tuk-tuk, moto, etc. drivers. Found okay guest house (Narin 2) on dirt street - are dirt streets a pattern for us?

Today we took a tuk-tuk to Chhoeun Ek (Photo below), commonly called the killing fields - though all of Cambodia was a killing field in the bad times. At Chhoeun Ek many thousands of people have been exhumed from mass graves. At the entrance is a shrine with stacks of exhumed skulls and dead people's clothing. Past this there are about 30 pits, most about 12 feet in diameter. Pieces of cloth and bone stick up out of the pits and the pathways between them. People (mostly young western backpacker types) wander about quietly. I was overwhelmed. When we left, the lady who passes out incense at the shrine looked at me and I at her and I could not speak. Lady, I will not forget your face in my prayers.

Next was Tuol Sleng, a
former high school turned into a place where people were tortured -and all taken to Chhoeun Ek to be killed. First there were torture rooms, each with an iron bed, shackles, and some torture instruments: torture rooms, shackles, cells, gibbets, instruments, barbed wire - photographs of the tortured and killed, before and after in some cases. There was a room with photographs of Khmer rouge guards and fighters with their biographies and the old story of, "I did it because I had to" most common. The banality of evil right there for us to see.
Photo: At Tuol Sleng - Children about to be killed

For me this like closes a circle ("like" because, hey man, this circle doesn't really close, does it). Twenty years ago the Dalai Lama reached out and took my hands in his, looked me in the eye and said, "Keep doing this work." So today I rededicated myself to the work. Many miles to go before I sleep. I invite you to click the following link to some evocative writing on a return visit to Tuol Sleng

After Vietnam, Return to Phnom Penh

David and I are back in Phnom Penh and Jeff is in Hoi An (then Bangkok). From here Dave and I will go to northern Thailand and meet Jeff in Bangkok for a few days (fruit shake guy, I'm on the way!) then all head back to Hong Kong and to U.S.

This written on the bus from Vietnam border to Phnom Penh: 42/43 years ago I was on the road out West, hitch-hiking through Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, etc. for about a year; climbing in the El Dorado Canyon, Arches Natl Monument, Rocky Mtn Natl Park, and so on - looking for America. Now I'm on the road again - not the same, but it is the road - looking for Cambodia? This time, headed across Cambodia (again), retracing previous route from Phnom Penh to Saigon. The bus is packed with backpackers and a few Cambodians. As on a previous ride, there is water dripping from overheads, but not on my head.

Cambodia!

I'm glad to be back. The rains have started and the land that was dusty and brown a few weeks ago is now green. Many more people working in the fields. It gives me joy to see.

So far the bus has stopped for a pig, cows, water buffalo, goats, to pick up passengers, let off passengers, check on the cause of the dripping water (not found), and to get on a ferry.

It's raining in Phnom Penh and appreciably cooler this time. We're staying at the Indochine I on the river near the confluence of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong. My plan is to swim in the Mekong before we leave. How could I not? The neighborhood is nicer than where our previous guesthouse was, but more expensive. Many beggars, amputees, and children selling books, etc. Photo: From our hotel across from river at confluence of Tonle and Mekong - river life

This

morning we went to the "Russian" market - why they call it that I don't know. Of course there are a good many beggars at all the markets. Several times since we were first in Phnom Penh Jeff and I have talked about our biggest problem with beggars: They always seem to appear when you don't have any appropriate-sized currency handy and stopping to dig the right denominations out guarantees a crowd, so often we just keep moving. The discussion was prompted by a man with a horribly burned face - a visage from hell, all scarred and running with exudate. Hands with deep burn scars too. When he appeared on our first time in Phnom Penh we were just stunned and said no and walked away. His face stayed with me ... wondering how he looked and what his life was like before the burn.

As we left the market today I gave some riel to several women carrying infants with reddish hair (= malnutrition) and as I turned to leave, there was the man with the burned face! I wonder how often anyone is happy to see him? I was. I stopped and gave him a nice gift and a blessing - for you too.

How long to sing this song?

This afternoon I saw a manifestation of the dark side of the culture that produced and nurtured the Khmer Rouge. (You didn't think these bad people simply came along from nowhere so filled with hate that they killed millions, did you? No. The reason Pol Pot enjoyed significant support [at least early on] from people from all walks of life in Cambodia was that he presented himself and his ideology as an answer to the pervasive and casual brutality, corruption, and injustice that ran through Khmer culture like the silt through the Tonle Sap. Not that that justifies it, but the idea that the KR came from nowhere to blight a happy innocent society is naive.) Anyway, my analysis aside, we were sitting in a restaurant (Happy Herb's Pizza) and from the restaurant next door (The Pink Elephant) a woman came out and used a thin bamboo cane to whip, hard, a 5-6 year-old child trying to sell books to customers sitting at tables on the sidewalk. Truly an ugly scene. The child left, crying, and came back in about 15 minutes. The woman did it again. I went out and gave him some riel and told him to leave, which he did. I had a pointless discussion with some European louts sitting there drinking beer and watch

ing the show, apparently unmoved. I say European louts because, hey, they were the ones who brought nationality into the discussion. I have been pronounced a crazy American. And I'm proud of it and the beating stopped.

Yonder stands your orphan with his gun.

Later that evening we were walking along the sidewalk and came face to face with a girl, maybe 11 or 12 who had been one of the children trying to sell books at the Pink Elephant.
"Ï remember you."
"I remember you, too."
"Baby brother over there" - pointing down a dark street. We held hands for just a moment and I walked on. Photo: Torture bed/rack

Yeah, Phnom Penh is a tough place, the toughest place I've ever been - outside of combat. Tomorrow we're headed to a little town outside of the city (the reason we are here again). Here are some more photos of Cambodia on Worldisround (Battambang, Siem Reap/Angkor Wat, and Phnom Penh) - use back arrow to come back here OR head on to Vietnam