Entry #26: Thanksgiving in Cambodia

Well, It turns out that my mother’s "nail technician" might be actually be clairvoyant after all (she told my mom that I would die in cambodia if I went.)  I landed in Cambodia and headed straight for the ruins of Angkor Wat. Immediately I saw a pack of monkeys being photographed by a horde of tourists.  Not wanting to miss the opportunity to photograph monkeys, I tell my moto-bike driver (who I hired for $15 for 3 days--that is $5 for a 12 hour day of work...and he is paid well by Cambodian standards...your job doesn't look so bad now does it?) to pull over so I can take a picture.  I disembark from the bike and walk over to the monkeys and crouch down to snap a photo. Suddenly, one of the monkeys charges me with an angry hissing noise, with lips pulled back to show his fangs!  I stumble backwards and retreat as fast as I can to avoid the rabid beast! After about 10 feet he ended his pursuit, giving the crowd a chuckle as I scramble for my life.

Near-death experience #2 occurred when I arrived back at my hotel. I opened my first aid kit to find I had created a Weapon of Mass Destruction.  No kidding.  I had chlorine bleach tablets for purifying water and this "after bite" medication, which, as it turns out, is made of pure ammonia, in the same box.  The mixture of ammonia and bleach creates a noxious gas--you may have heard about it as it was used in WWI and by Saddam Hussein to exterminate some of his more problematic citizens. Luckily, the room was well ventilated and I was able to clean it up without dying. So ha! mom’s nail technician! Take that!

Near death experiences aside, Angkor Wat is a temple complex that covers 26 square miles.  It's huge; some of it has been restored, while other sections are as they were when the complex was rediscovered after being abandoned for 500 years.  You can see how the jungle has taken over the place and huge trees are growing right up through the temples.  As you walk around you feel like your walking through an Indiana Jones movie or a Tomb Raider movie, both actually diid shoot on location here.  It is pretty cool.  

Some Cambodian cultural oddities that I noticed is that people often write stuff down on their hands rather than use paper.  I was talking with a few Buddhist monks and since my name is foreign to them they wanted me to write it down so they could understand. They had me write it on their hand instead of paper. I'm not sure if that is to save the environment or if paper is expensive or just a cultural difference.  

Also, the Monks I met seemed like curious 8 year old boys, who would ask me various questions about my life, particularly about my relationship status, and would giggle after every question.

The people around Angkor Wat who sell souvenir stuff are not very good negotiators--they are really just looking to get anything they can from you.  As you approach them they first offer you a pack of post cards for $2, but before you can counter them, they immediately interject,"I can give it to you for $1, Ok, mister, How about 2 for $1, OK, How about 3 for $1!” On and on, until they get to 9 for $1.

At the end of this “negotiating” they all had a look that seemed to say, “Just give me a dollar. You make that on your bathroom break at your job, and that is probably the only thing I'll get while I sit out here in 95 degree weather with 95% humidity.”  And the kids have mastered the puppy dog look and the whining that pierces your heart and makes you want to dole out all your money to them for all their trinkets, until you look up and see another 3,000 kids right behind them.

After only one day in Cambodia I have a new appreciation about how "rich" I really am, not only financially, but rich with my health, opportunity, hope, and family.  I know its a cliché, and on some level we all know this, but this trip to Cambodia has given the thought new meaning.

But I want to make it clear too that while many here are poor financially, they have also carved out their happiness and are living a rich life.  Money is in short supply, but happiness is abundant. It's just that my life has been easier by far than many here.  I don't think I'll take it for granted as much any more.  Thanksgiving has come early for me.

This guy lost his arm when he was 14 while playing in the woods with some friends to a land mine of a war long gone past. Land mines don't expire. He has since struggled to find employment in a country with a 25% unemployment rate. He makes his money by selling batteries and film to tourists. There are no government social programs which will help him get by if he can't make enough to eat. Thank the God you believe in that it's him and not you that struggles everyday to eat. And make no mistake about it, this guy works his ass off more than you can imagine. Check out one.org or mercycorps.org to give a little of what you have to others.

Next stop Burma...or Myanamar, depending on your politics.

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