Friday, January 20, 2006

oohh ahhhh Cambodia

Most of the time travelling around different places it's easy to remain in your little bubble. checking in here, checking out there. Comparing the red curry here to the green curry there. The more you travel the more desensitised you become. After a while some guy riding on a moped with 6 others ceases to look strange. But sometimes you see something that absolutely shakes the little travel bubble that you have built around yourself. Yesterday whilst enjoying a nice cold coke we noticed a boy who could be barely 5 years old cross a very busy street with his 3 month old sister. She was like a rag doll in his arms. He came over and sat near our table and laid her down at his feet playing with her like she was some kind of toy. For about an hour he sat there begging and playing with his baby sister. Far too young to understand the fragility of the 3 month old at his feet, and the world of the adults stepping over him. At one point he left the baby on the cement ground crying as he wandered off to get himself a drink of water, whilst we sat there ordering 4 dollar beers. What mother would leave a 3 month old baby in the hands of a 5 year old boy? The answer is a desperate one and there seems to be plenty of those around here in Phnom Penh. Despite travel in Africa and Asia, I've never seen behaviour and hopelessness like this anywhere. At the same time you have Expats sucking down beers and bragging that they have more prostitutes than drug dealers in their mobile phone address books. Life is cheap here.
Corruption, coupd'etat, invasion, bombing by the U.S. during the Vietnam war, and years of civil war are only a backdrop for the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and liberation by Viet Nam in 1979. During this period the Khmers attempted to establish an agrarian egalitarian society of ignorant and illiterate peasants all working in fields. This meant that anyone with any education or other skill who could contribute to society was to be eliminated by execution. During this era an estimated two million people, 25% of the population, died from execution, torture, starvation and disease. Cities were emptied, schools, hospitals, and factories were closed and destroyed. The ruthless hunt for intellectuals and enemies of the regime along with each individual's struggle for physical survival created a society devoid of any moral conscience. Cambodia has only emerged from this dark period in the last 10 years and most of the people have known very little of what living in a normal world is all aboutThe level of corruption here is staggering and even if you have a good education and speak English it is virtually impossible to get ahead unless you have a wad of US dollars or you have connections in the police or the Cambodian Peoples Party. The rich are getting extremely rich and the poor remain very poor. The Government still seems to believe it's perfectly legitimate to arrest anyone criticizing it and with the huge amounts of western aid being poured in, very little seems to be be filtering down to the poor people who need it. Landmines still remain a tragedy. More than 40,000 cambodians have suffered amputations due to landmines since 1979. ( thats pretty much 40 victims a week for 20 years). Although the Khmer Rouge was responsible for laying most of the mines it's interesting to know that the United States and China supplied most of these silent killers. As a backpacker it's a challenging place to visit. We enter their world and spend in a week enough to put someone through their entire university education. In Siam Reap tourists jet in from Paris and New York spending 3000 US a night on some accommodation stepping over legless land mine victims in the process. The fact that Bar st looks like something out of a wallpaper magazine or Vanity fair advertisement is enough to make you sick. But then again tourism brings money. It's just that's it's so in your face here. Maybe we need to clone Angelina Jolie and send a million of them over here to Cambodia.

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