Cambodia…or Living Heart and Grace

this post is about my travel to Cambodia in early 2016

While in Cambodia, I spent all of our time in Siem Reap. The best way for me to describe how I feel about Siem Reap and what I learned about Cambodia while there is that i think it’s a place and people with heart and grace.

I saw more prostitution than I wished I had while in Siem Reap, and at times, those glimpses that I caught took stage in front of whatever else I was experiencing. The duos of overweight Western men with local women were abundant. It wasn’t as prevalent as what I saw in Bangkok, but that could just be because there are more people in Bangkok. I have a lot of empathy for the women that have to do sex work to make a living. Their conditions are not fair and ultimately, the drive for self-preservation might just be the strongest one that we all have. Most of these women are trying to make ends meet, for either just themselves or their family units.

The people with whom I am deeply disappointed is the men who enable this industry. There are other ways to empower the women of Cambodia and fulfill your own sexual needs that don’t reduce the integrity of others. I understand that sexuality is complicated, and that these men might not even think that they are being derogatory or they might be too wrapped up in their own personal state to even consider the impact they might be having on others, but their psychic state does not absolve them in my eyes. They are doing something terrible by engaging in sex tourism. Prostitution is usually a last resort profession for those in poverty.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world (it ranks in the bottom 80, many countries at the bottom are tied to each other) and among the very poorest in East Asia (on a per capita basis). Much of its poverty can be explained by its recent history. The Khmer Rouge ran the country from the 1970’s through 1997. the leader of that dictatorship was Pol Pot, who subjugated the people of Cambodia through systematic and ruthless killings. He killed anyone that he felt was too intellectual, too skilled, too outspoken, etc. and that could be a threat to him and his vision for Cambodia. Pol Pot wanted everyone in Cambodia to become a farmer and live through the land. Some estimate that he killed nearly a quarter for the Cambodian people. He supposedly passed away in his sleep due to heart failure, which seems too soft a death for someone so cruel. It is almost poetic that he died of heart failure as it is clear that he failed to ever use his heart when he was alive.

It is incredible that the people of Cambodia are where they are after enduring a generation of genocide. 1997 was also the year that my family permanently settled in the United States. In some  ways, we are still in a period of adjustment. I am so impressed that the Cambodian people have progressed to the extent that they have over the same time period. And, that it is a relatively peaceful country with low rates of crime. According to the UN’s Office of Drugs and Crime, Cambodia has an intentional murder rate of 6.5 / 100K (which is less than the Americas (~16), Africa (13) and just about the world average of 6.2), which is high for Asia (~3) but still not bad, all things considered. And, they’re persevering with such grace.
Some pictures from the highlights of the trip below:

 

we went to see the angkor wat complex at sunrise- very ancient and grand
We went to see the angkor wat complex at sunrise- very ancient and grand
a view from within the main courtyard
A view from within the main courtyard
A sunrise almost too soft and pink against this jagged structure
A sunrise almost too soft and pink against this jagged structure
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The yard at the back of the complex.. Angkor Wat is the largest religious site across all faiths, in the world
My favorite picture from this trip. I found this pretty amusing. but I'm sure the monks were not amused by my amusement.
My favorite picture from this trip. I found this pretty amusing. but I’m not sure the monks were amused by my amusement.
The night market in Siem Reap is quite vibrant-- though the selection is quite limited. Most vendors sell the *exact same* things and there is little room for price arbitrage. I wonder whether they pool their earnings as they can maximize individual earnings if they do not compete and instead, pool
The night market in Siem Reap is quite vibrant– though the selection is quite limited. Most vendors sell the *exact same* things and there is little room for price arbitrage. I wonder whether they pool their earnings as they can maximize individual earnings if they do not compete and instead, pool
One of the out of commission helicopters used by the Khmer Rouge at the war museum of Cambodia. This museum was an incredible institution. It was very tiny, but absolutely a must-go to learn more about the country and I encourage all visitors to support its work. They employ ex-soldiers and those displaced/hurt/affected by the Khmer Rouge in their facilities.
One of the out of commission helicopters used by the Khmer Rouge at the war museum of Cambodia. This museum was an incredible institution. It was very tiny, but absolutely a must-go to learn more about the country and I encourage all visitors to support its work. They employ ex-soldiers and those displaced/hurt/affected by the Khmer Rouge in their facilities.

 

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