Side saddle in Siem Reap

How do they do it, Cambodian women riding side saddle? They carefreely drape their legs over the side of the bike gripping neither bike nor boyfriend.

I took one moto-taxi ride and vowed never again.

It was all I could do to keep from hugging my driver round his waist. Instead, I rested my hands on his shoulders and tried not to think about my brains plastering the pavement in Phnom Penh.

Oh Cambodia.
I’m so grateful to have had the chance to see you, if only for a week.

What is it about SE Asia? Maybe it’s that people here have so much less than we do that puts our problems in proper perspective; or perhaps the sweltering weather makes any effort toward appearance utterly useless; or it could be that riding a rusty bike down a dusty road gives childlike pleasure.

I thought one week would be plenty of time to see the ancient ruins. Noooo. Four days was barely enough to see the major temples of Angkor Wat. Two days in Phnom Penh were too brief, though long enough to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek, one of Cambodia’s largest killing field. Still there is more to see in these two towns as well as the rest of the countryside, including the Mekong delta and the Sihanoukville beach town. Alas.

Visiting Phnom Penh
What struck me about the devastation of the Pol Pot regime was how much education was a factor in effectively oppressing Cambodians. First, Pol Pot killed professors, teachers and the educated. Next, he closed down schools. Imagine if this educated, creative class were alive in Cambodia today. They would be elder statespeople in their 60s, in leadership positions, contributing to their communities and their country. And they would have had families and passed down their ideas and opinions. Instead, these critical thinkers were killed, and psychologists speculate ~80% of the country continues to suffer from depression.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum tells stories.
Roughly 3,000,000 Cambodians died under Pol Pot’s regime, and that number is hard to wrap your head around. I mean, how many people fit in Kenan Stadium, 60,000? How many people were in your graduating class, 300? How can you begin to think about 3,000,000 million people? Tuol Sleng focuses on the individual people who were brought to the high school-turned detention center and never seen again by their families.

I was struck by the museum staff’s efforts to return the museum to its original purpose of education. The high school-turned-detention center lacks educational programs for citizens and visitors, and I left thinking, “if Jim Goodnight or Jim Goodmon visited this museum, surely, they’d make a personal gift of $10,000.” Imagine the technology a donation this small could buy…

I am grateful to have experienced Cambodia.

Visiting Bayon was amazing with its egofantastic “Buddha” (King Jayavarman VII) faces.

Eating dinner in open-air restaurants showed me at last why SE Asian beer fails at beer fests–it only tastes good in sweltering weather with 90% humidity.

Looking tuk-tuk drivers and touts in the eyes, and saying “no thank you,” I realized, was far superior to the Korean brush-off.

And getting a three-dollar haircut in Phnom Penh was a fail, but giving blood at the Angkor  Children’s Hospital, supported by our USAID, was a definite win.

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