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Thursday, February 2, 2023

I can do ALL THINGS through Christ at Daily Cup and Cake on 1-31-23--Siem Reap copy

different numbers of ROSES mean on 2-2-23--Siem Reap copy

CURRY WALLA and KHMER CHEF on 2-2-23--Siem Reap copy

Peaceful Cambodia

As published at SubStack, 2/1/23:

[Siem Reap, 2/1/23]


Two days ago, I took an 8-hour bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Entering Cambodia at Poi Pet, I saw the blackened shells of the Grand Diamond City Casino, where a fire on 12/28/22 killed at least 27 people. Weird, the “at least,” so there may be unrecovered corpses still. The rest of Poi Pet looked lively, as usual.

Though Cambodia doesn’t allow its citizens to gamble, it has many casinos to attract stupid Thais, Vietnamese and Chinese. Of all the reasons for traveling, to lose loads in kitschy surroundings has to be the most idiotic.

Three days before my departure from Bangkok, I got off the wrong floor at my hotel and tried to enter the wrong room. Freaked out some woman. Reserving a room in Siem Reap, I also got the dates wrong. Finally on the bus, I started to rave to three people near me, two Germans and a Brit. I was a mess, man.

I’m just glad to be in tranquil Siem Reap. As the gateway to Angkor Wat, it’s a thriving, cosmopolitan city with all sorts of international restaurants. Yesterday, I had kofte and hummus for $4 at Eastanbul.

As is normal for Southeast Asia, there are small businesses everywhere. Typing this in Moonrise Coffee, I can see two more coffee houses, just across the street, plus Sneaker House, Diamond Nail and Spa, Lady Size Fashion, Olongpich Transport, a barbershop and several guesthouses. Leave people alone to earn a living. Only insane societies destroy mom and pops.

It’s my second time here. Yesterday, I hired a tuk-tuk driver to take me to his village, Phnom Krom. Just six miles from downtown Siem Reap, it’s a laid back oasis.

Hovering outside an elementary school, I watched kids play during recess. Nearly all were in neat uniforms though some were barefoot. One large boy subdued a smaller one. Two tiny girls marched together. Seeing the foreigner, two or three kids said “Hello,” but mostly, they ignored me. Noticing a dog pleading with his eyes to be allowed inside to play also, they opened the gate. Southeast Asia is casual like that, with borders between different realms and activities often ill-defined

In my collection, Fake House, there’s a story where I sketch this, “At school, during recess, we divide ourselves into gangs and try to kill each other. I have perfected a move: I feign a right jab, spin 360 degrees, and hit my opponent’s face—surprise!—with the back of my left fist as it swings around—whack! So far I’ve connected with three of my enemies. I hit this one kid, Hung, so hard he fell backward and bounced his head on the ground—booink! Ha, ha! Blood was squirting out of his nose. He was taken by cyclo to the hospital, where he was pronounced Dead On Arrival.”

From kindergarten to 12th grade, I went to at least a dozen schools in two countries. Such constant displacements shaped me. In third grade, I was late one morning, so rushed to my class, where I found a strange kid in my seat. Trying to dislodge him, I suddenly realized I was in the wrong class. As I entered the correct classroom, my teacher slapped my face, hard.

Orwell writes about the ordeals of childhood as well as anyone. Recalling his boarding school, he notes that “at almost every point some filthy detail obtrudes itself. For example, there were the pewter bowls out of which we had our porridge. They had overhanging rims, and under the rims there were accumulations of sour porridge, which could be flaked off in long strips. The porridge itself, too, contained more lumps, hair and unexplained black things than one would have thought possible, unless someone were putting them there on purpose.”

And, “It is not easy for me to think of my schooldays without seeming to breathe in a whiff of something cold and evil-smelling—a sort of compound of sweaty stockings, dirty towels, faecal smells blowing along corridors, forks with old food between the prongs, neck-of-mutton stew, and the banging doors of the lavatories and the echoing chamberpots in the dormitories.”

For Orwell, then, “boyhood is the age of disgust. After one has learned to differentiate, and before one has become hardened—between seven and eighteen, say—one seems always to be walking the tightrope over a cesspool.”

Forced daily into whatever school, children are subjugated and brainwashed, but during recess, they’re free to tickle, chase or clobber each other. Making so much noise, they become the envy of salivating dogs. At our best, we’re even capable of disinterested play. Preparing for adulthood, these angels learn to browbeat, bully and backstab, and when old enough, they blush, flirt and cop cheap feels. The increasing tyranny of their groins won’t let up until they’re nearly dead.

Many kids wandered out to buy sugary drinks or candies from a stand across the school gate. After I bought two cans of Cambodia Beer for $1.49, the proprietor gave me two hunks of watermelon to eat with my ale. Lying on his hammock, he stared at his smartphone. Just leave people alone, eh?

Leaving the school, I saw two girls with two cheap dolls they had just bought. One beamed with delight at her new toys. The other girl wore an orange blouse with yellow flames rising from the bottom. In Gothic script, “death” was written in English across her chest.

On the way back, I suggested to the tuk-tuk driver, Chea, that we stopped somewhere for a beer, but he said he had diabetes, so I bought him lunch instead. We talked.

“Your English is very good, man! Did you go to school?”

“No,” he smiled.

“That’s amazing!”

“I learn by talking to people.”

“Ah, but you must learn from the right people! If you talk to a Russian or a Pole, maybe their English isn’t so great. Maybe you’ll learn bad pronunciations from them!”

We laughed.

Chea never got past the 10th grade. A tuk-tuk driver for ten years, he has five children, aged 18, 15, 10, 7 and 2. The oldest has just entered college to study accounting. His wife sells snacks outside a school.

For seven people to survive on two modest incomes, they’re not packing their dwelling with electronics, that’s for sure, and rice and vegetables must make up the bulk of their calories, but let’s have some perspective here.

Reaching Cambodia in 1859, Henri Mouhot observes, “The poverty of the inhabitants of these miserable villages engenders a repulsive dirtiness: a strip of matting or an old filthy cushion thrown on the ground, and full of vermin, some basins of coarse Chinese porcelain, a sort of hatchet, and a piece of cotton, intended either for counterpane, scarf, or cloak, according to the season and time of day, are the usual contents of a Cambodian hut.”

There’s no furniture mentioned, and just one tool, “a sort of hatchet.”

As for their diet, “The mode of life of the Cambodians is similar to that of the Siamese: rice, as with the latter, is the chief part of their food: they eat it with vegetables, such as pumpkins or gourds, and wild potatoes. Those in better circumstances add to it fish, but rarely meat; and yet the country is as fertile as Lower Cochin-China, the soil of which yields so abundant a return for all that is put in the ground.”

Cochinchina is the southern third of Vietnam. When Mouhot wrote those lines, Saigon had just fallen to a combined force of French, Spanish and Filipino troops. With just 2,000 men, they couldn’t hold its vast fortress, so decided to blow it up. As for its stock of rice, they simply burnt it, a process that took months.

Mouhot, “The reports of the Chinese and Annamites [Vietnamese] who had seen the taking of the town of Saigou were not flattering to the pride of a Frenchman. I had not seen the glorious bulletins of our Admiral, but had the pain of hearing our enemies stigmatise us as barbarians, and, describing the burning of the market, and the conduct of the soldiery towards defenceless women, speak of it as ‘the behaviour of savages.’ Thus the evil deeds of a less civilized ally were visited upon us, and our whole nation judged of by isolated acts, all but inevitable in time of war, especially in a country where the soldier suffers from the climate and privations of all kinds.”

The “evil deeds” Mouhot attributes to the Spanish and Filipinos, but even if committed by Frenchmen, they were but “isolated acts, all but inevitable in time of war.” Similar excuses are made by all nations in all wars.

Every inch of land has been fought over countless times. Angkor was sacked by the Siamese in 1431, who themselves lost their capital of Ayutthaya to the Burmese in 1767. The Cham village of Baigaur became the Cambodian Prey Nokor, then, finally, the Vietnamese city of Saigon. That “finally” is only provisional, of course.

After that last sentence, I fell asleep. Waking up, I walked 2 1/2 blocks to have a bowl of rice gruel with pork, chitterlings, pig maw, pickled mustard greens, tofu and pig blood curd. If you’re not raised within the Chinese orbit, that comfort dish may sound disgusting, but that’s your problem. At the next table, there was much laughter among seven diners, but that’s typical in Oriental eateries. Sharing a meal should always be a celebration.

In Europe, there’s much distress, turmoil and the darkest forebodings, but in Southeast Asia, there’s calmness and peace. There hasn’t been a war here in decades, so no young men have been sacrificed to profit disgusting old men whose appetite for all sick pleasures is insatiable.

Across hell, though, this world teeters on a tight rope.

[Phnom Krom, 1/31/23]
[Phnom Krom, 1/31/23]
[Siem Reap, 11/19/22]

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Dog just outside Phnom Krom Suwon Primary School on 1-31-23--Phnom Krom copy

Recess at Phnom Krom Suwon Primary School. Seeing everybody having so much fun, dog clearly wanted to go inside, so the kids did open the gate to let him in.

Kids at snack stand outside Phnom Krom Suwon Primary School on 1-31-23--Phnom Krom 2 copy

I bought two cans of Cambodia Beer from this stand for 6,000 riels [$1.46] altogether. The young man gave me some watermelon to eat with the beer.

Phnom Krom is 6 miles from downtown Siem Reap. Although a pleasant village, it has no hotel, or I would stay here for a few days, at least. I might just rent a room from somebody.

Cambodia was supposed to be my last stop before returning to Vietnam, but it may not be possible for me to get a 5-year visa exemption, as planned, so I might linger in Cambodia for a while.

Little girl during recess at Phnom Krom Suwon Primary School on 1-31-23--Phnom Krom copy

Recess at Phnom Krom Suwon Primary School on 1-31-23--Phnom Krom 3 copy

Recess at Phnom Krom Suwon Primary School on 1-31-23--Phnom Krom 2 copy