Sunday, July 31, 2005

I love the smell of napalm in the morning

Crossing the border into Cambodia was a complete relief. Vietnam was gone, and there is no way that I will be going back. A certain Israeli quote (not from Ori, I might add - he is far too diplomatic) was "damn Americans didn't finish the job". I can see his point. It was a shit-hole of a country, and for the prime reason of the people. Even before Ori had his bag stolen and had to bribe the police and others to get it back, the people were still horrendous. No matter what deal was struck, they always wanted more. Everything was a scam, and everyone was out to rip you off. Besides that, they were just plain mean, and that's tiring. So, yes, no love for Vietnam from me.

We did meet one guy who did love it. He was an American who claimed to have left the country because of the election. For a start, I have no time for "political exiles" such as this - if you are so disappointed with the state of your country, stay and do something, become politically active, rather than just upping sticks. Of course, the real reason might have had much more to do with economics or personal reasons, and that's fair enough as well. Anyways, he was doing the usual US bashing that people are so quick and happy to take part in, myself included (but I'm allowed to; I have a degree in American Studies - I'm a qualified US basher), when it occured to me: this was a guy who had moved to a country where he wasn't even allowed to express such opinions, or rather, the general population weren't allowed to express such opinions. What was up with that? Ironic, no?

Enough with the Nam bashing. Cambodia is a dream. The people are amazing - strikingly beautiful, as well as generous and lovely. Phnom Penh is a great city - wide boulevards, a river, actual sites such as the Royal Palace, and a nice little backpacker enclave beside the lake. Lodging is cheap, but it is back to Thai guesthouse standards, rather than the fancy hotels we have been used to. Still, we have a great chill out area over looking the lake, and as many movies as we want to watch, which is good, because it rains a lot.

Cambodia has already provided amazing experiences. The Royal Palace was great for monk chat - I got hit on by a group of 6 young monks (not quite monklings though), and then we spent about a half hour talking to a monk who studied international relations and was fascinated by Islamic Fundamentalism, which of course Ori was able to chat on. We also went to S-21, a school that was transformed into a high security prison and torture ground under the Pol Pot regime. It was chilling, eerie, fascinating, gruesome and amazing. After that, we went to the Killing Fields, where the mass graves of over 8,000 victims were found. What is so incredible is that Pol Pot fell in 1979, the Khmer Rouge continued to fight until 1991, and so there has only been peace in the country for 15 years, and yet there is such maturity, such hope, such development. It is incredible. All around you is evidence of the war; Cambodia is a nation of amputees, and everyone over the age of 40 will have had some experience of the civil war, but this is a truly modernizing city. Furthermore, to be able to turn their history into a economic resource, and that's what it is - millions of tourists come to the Killing Fields, and yet to have maintained its dignity, is a testament to the strength of the people here. Where Vietnam is bitter and angry, Cambodia is strong and hopeful. An amazing country.

Talking of peace, I heard about IRA declaration of ceasefire from CNN the other night. It is interesting to learn of such news in a place so far removed - your reaction is almosr more true from having nothing else to bounce off. And in all honesty, my immediate reaction was "what's new?". There has supposed to have been a ceasefire since 1997. I feel a cynic, but until I see something to prove otherwise...

I meet my little sister in 10 days time. I can't wait. It's so exciting to be able to show her another place, and it will be great to see a face from home. I'm at the stage where I fantasize about home things: magazines, foods, radio1. Ha ha.


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