Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Legacy of Pol Pot: Skulls & Silence

Buddhist stupa (shrine) Wat Thiem, Siem Reap, Cambodia: skulls of the many victims of the Khmer Rouge found by the Buddhist monks at this temple 

Some people say they can't sleep in Cambodia. I must say I slept pretty well but had very strange dreams. It must be all the souls who died violently flitting about the edges of consciousness. I can't help feeling I am now on the Asian conveyor belt whirlwind tour and am beginning to resent being a tourist. My next trip will not follow a tourist route. Although it is fantastic to see these places I am beginning to be overwhelmed by the 'Asian Miracle'. How can you travel to one of the poorest countries in Asia with such a tragic and violent past and concentrate on seeing fantastic temples, even those with World Heritage accreditation while always in the background are the Cambodian people looking for crumbs from tourists and their own government. I read in the paper on the flight out of Cambodia that the government are trying to get the malnourishment statistics down from 50% to 30% by 2012. That means that half of the population are officially starving. Meanwhile hordes of tourists bypass all the ugliness staying in air-conditioned hotels, shifted about in air-conditioned cars, unaware of the more recent - if less magnificent - history. A two day ticket to visit Angkor Wat and the other temples is $60. Over three quarters of a million people visited the temples last month - do the figures, this is not a small amount the government are making. Where is the money going? Why are the people starving? Why are such huge numbers of Cambodian women and children being trafficked for sex, mostly to western men? It seems to me part of this 'Asian Miracle' is the elevation of money as the new god, at the expense of peoples lives.
Buddhist alter at Wat Thiem, Siem Reap
Detail of skulls

Wat Thmei, Siem Reap, Cambodia: The Buddha Dreams

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