Thursday, October 11, 2012
A Day in Cambodia
I am now in Cambodia and although I visited Anghor Wat yesterday, one of the seven wonders of the man-made world,I feel overwhelmed by the massive nature of the experience and also feel totally disinclined to think about religion, history or art today.
Fortunately I was able to visit Siem Reap's central market place today, from where the pictures I am posting were taken. Typical for me, while the other tour participants sought an area to buy souvenirs, fake silk garments, and suspiciously "authentic" jewelry, I slinked off in a totally different direction, where, as fortune would have it, I found a public market situated in a covered area down a narrow lane. Such a place is paradise if you want to get a "whiff" of average people and their food. This discovery proved to be no exception.
Inside I saw vendors selling dried eel and assorted fish along with sausages made from who knows what. Hanging from strings and looking like deflated balloons, these delectables produced a strange looking odiferous,edible curtain. I did my best to listen in as customers asked about quantity and quality in a melodic Cambodian tone devoid of shouting or arguing. There were stalls selling such a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, seafood, poultry, duck eggs and other foods you might consider exotic like snake, spiders and crickets. This was the Cambodia I was looking for, something that is missed when staying within the confines of a four star hotel. I began to interact with various sellers including some girls who were sorting fish. One even let me draw her. It created somewhat of a crowd and a great deal of laughter since my finished product lacked even the slightest resemblance. One person said that the sketch more likely resembled her brother!
It is strange, having grown up during the Viet Nam War era, I know that I had developed a guarded and negative attitude about Cambodia and Cambodians. I thought of dangerous people who were high on drugs and of Communists lurking in the underbrush. My biggest surprise is that, so far, I find the Cambodians to be a wonderful, handsome people. I feel safer walking through Siem Reap's relatively clean streets than in any country I have ever visited. I rarely see police and or soldiers. There are no indigents on the street nor unsavory characters hassling people. Maybe the government does not tolerate friction in this town, which is dependent financially on the multitude of tourists from all over the world who are here to visit Angkor Wat. The people drive slowly and somewhat sensibly considering it is Asia and I only occasionally hear a horn blare. Perhaps there is a strong desire for peace considering that the effects of the Killing Fields of 1978. I don't know. Maybe there is just something in the character of this nation and in its culture, as it seemed to be in Thailand, which fosters gentleness, refinement and a smile. I won't be here long enough to find out for sure. I only hope it is true.