Friday, May 15, 2009

The People Will Rise!

Phnom Penh (PP) is hot, humid, and dirty and most of it smells. That's the first thing you notice about it. You get used to the smell after a while; it becomes a minor irritation at the back of your mind that only pops up once in a while when you're in the poorer parts of the city. I think it arises from the fact that the drainage system is almost nonexistent, apparently when the government put out a tender for a company to do the drainage system, the prospective companies engaged in a bidding war and the winner realised that it was going to be impossible to do a proper job for the amount they had quoted. Their solution was to dig a bunch of holes several feet deep where the water would collect. As a result most streets flood every time it rains and you have to wade through ankle high water and sometimes worse. The heat and humidity can't be helped; it's a climate thing, light clothing is key, it's actually quite common to see the Cambodian boys and men topless in the afternoons playing with water hoses (the boys of course), I wish I could partake. I was anxious to sample the food and my first meal of the staple noodles and beef disappointed me. I was dripping in the sweltering heat by this point and proceeded to ask for a glass of the coldest water, the waitress brought me a glassful of ice and a jug of hot water! I could not express my disbelief due to the language barrier but considering the state of the establishment it was the best they could do. I poured the water over the ice and waited for it to cool. I had a couple of delicious meals later on from more respectable establishments the best of which was Mi Char, the classic noodles with beef which was lovely. The food is cheap though, the Mi Char set me back $1.95 and this was at one of the nicer places that even had air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Dollars are actually the currency of choice because the Riel is {insert fancy economic term here; I can't be bothered to think it up now}. The 'Russian Market' which is 10 meters from where I was staying is a one stop point for everything, and it's bloody cheap. Having been on a shoestring budget, my plan was to have all my meals there and purchase anything I needed there. I figured I could spend at most $3 on food per day and I would be covered for a good 4 months. Other wares range from the latest Hollywood blockbusters to Buddha statuettes. The clothes are all designer because all the damn factories are here so a pair of GAP jeans costs about $10 and a pair of good sandals will set you back $5. Next time I come, I will pack two pairs of jeans and one of shoes and buy everything else here.

The first Sunday I was here I went exploring with two of my classmates; Niall Crotty and Ray Frost. We went up to the Boeng Kak lakeside in the northern part of PP and gradually made our way to the Tonle Sap riverside in the east to celebrate Amy's (classmate) birthday at the Foreign Correspondents Centre (FCC). It was my third day in PP and I got the chance to me see and meet the people. Cambodians are a lovely people, warm with smiling faces and very patient. They will do their best to try and understand you and it's up to you to try and get your message across. They were constantly amused by me, I guess because I'm a big black chap and I smile a lot. There is an alarming level of poverty, there are many beggars on the street and many of them are young kids who should by all rights be in school. It's hard to come to terms with it because if you are the kind of person who can't say 'no' then you'll give all you have away until there is nothing left. I was constantly plagued by this feeling. Then there are survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, many of them disfigured or without limbs, how do you say no to them? On our way to the FCC, we met Peter, a 'Tuk Tuk' driver who told us how he was once rich and prosperous until the KR came. He lost friends and family and now tries to support those he has left by driving a 'Tuk Tuk' which was donated to him by a tourist couple from Denmark or Netherlands.

The story of the Khmer Rouge is one of mankind at his worst and I cannot delve into it here, but a quick Google search should give you an idea. The whole mess can be blamed on America and the French. Out of nothing else but sheer greed, these western powers looked to have an influence in this part of the world, the reason, chaps were finding oil all over the place so hey, why not grab a chunk of land here or there. It was obviously not as simple as that but suffice it to say that the wars in S.E. Asia which eventually led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge would not have ocurred but for the presence of the the French and the Americans and why were they there in the first place? "Because of vast Dutch oil discoveries in nearby Indonesia, first the French, then the Americans, wanted to explore the broad Vietnamese continental shelf." Of course in retrospect most monumental events can be linked by a chain of events to one cause and I bet if you went further you would come to the conclusion that we shouldn't exist at all because we as human beings are capable of the most atrocious acts. We delight in destroying and subjugating each other and there is no other animal on earth that behaves like we do. Anyway, my favourite humour site ( lays most of last century's wars if not all at the feet of that Austrian dude whose bumping off sparked WW1, apparently with utter disregard for his life he just had to visit his buddies in the hospital right after a failed attempt on his life, his hapless driver got so lost that they ended up passing by a cafe where the main guy who had planned the assasination was having a consolation sandwich, he just couldn't believe his luck.

When the KR came to power, it set about enforcing its ideologies on the nation. The intellectuals and anyone who so much as showed an inclination towards acquiring knowledge were quickly done away with along with anyone who had ties to the former government. Urban dwellers were accused of "economic sabotage" due to their lack of agricultural ability. All ties to the outside world were cut off as the KR decided that Cambodia would become a self sufficient nation of peasant farmers. The year 1975 was declared year zero.

It is hard to believe that to this day most of the perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice, in fact as a testament to the ability of these people to forgive, some live among them as if nothing had ever happened. They are kind, warm, gentle and forgiving but they can only take so much. The current government is utterly corrupt down to the very last police dog. The people are unhappy and one of these days they will realise where the power truly lies. Incidentally Cambodia is on some sort of international list of countries that could experience a revolution soon. I pray that it is peaceful, but yes the people will rise. I have come to hate the city because of some damned disease but I love these people. Rise up!


lulu said...

wow you are a writer, l loved this. will google

Elle B said...

That's some sad stuff. Its hard to whine about Uganda's situation when you write about Cambodia like that. Peaceful uprising, I think not but as long as the results set them on a better path, it should o on and happen.

Elle B said...

Its official;I'm slow. It occurs to me that you tagged me last month. But in my defence, you called it Honest Scrap thingee so I didn't understand even more than usual. Which causes me to ask. Do tags have an expiry date?

PS: That guy with the skulls. Is it a real pic that you took?

Rhino said...

@Elle B why am I not surprised, confusion is a family trait. Nope I didn't take the snap but got it off Google. Didn't get the chance to see "The Killing Fields" but definitely next time. I don't think these people can handle any sort of revolution that is not peaceful, they've seen too much.