Tag Archives: Poverty

Cambodia: Beauty & Brutality

These were my thoughts as I left the charming Cambodia. I'll be writing a separate post for the sightseeing, food tripping, and travel tipping!

During my final hours in Cambodia, I found myself in awe of both its beauty and brutality.

My first impressions, along with a bit of my ignorance, were buried a wee bit deeper with each day in the country, particularly in the tourist driven city of Siem Reap.

I don’t think you can blame me for the rough start.. Stepping out of the airport to a herd of tuktuk drivers was taxing, even for a Filipina used to the chaos of Metro Manila. I am thankful for the airport taxi booth – the beacon of order amid the chaos!

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Chilling inside Angkor Wat
Beyond the buzzing of the tuktuk drivers and the grumpy “customs” officers, everyone else seemed warm and genuinely friendly. And their country’s history… now, that is some story to tell!

As our taxi driver in Phnom Penh told us, quite insightfully, “It’s hard to explain our history because, in some ways, our civilization is very old. But because of the Khmer Rouge, we are also very young.”

The Beauty of the Khmer Empire’s Ancient Cities3_Fotor

Siem Reap is the jumping point to exploring the great number of ancient temples built by the Khmer Empire from the 800s to the 1200s CE.

I wish I had more time prior to the trip to read up on their ancient history, but even with the limited information on the Triposo app, I was easily moved by just being there.

Exploring the ancient cities of the Khmer Empire is, without a doubt, one of the most awesome things I’ve done in my life!

4_FotorSeeing the sun rise then set from atop archaic stone constructs were magical moments! I would highly recommend this magnificent Cambodian adventure to anyone. (Add it to your bucket list!)

For some reason, my favorite temple was Bayon. I can’t quite explain why. But as I stared up at it from the outside, I was deeply moved, I may have teared.

6_Fotor_FotorWas it the craggy look? The fallen stones? The pillars? The non-existent ceilings and unveiled halls?

I’m not sure; but I loved it. It was the temple that ultimately made me feel like I was staring into the past.

The Brutal Khmer Rouge

8_Fotor_FotorThere’s the lovely Siem Reap then there’s the grit, the poverty, the lakes filled with plastic garbage, markets with umbrellas coated with pale orange dust, rough roads for expressways, the beggars, the homeless, the hopeless…

All this I saw as I made my way, by bus, to the capital of Cambodia – Phnom Penh – to visit the killing fields.

Going on this journey and learning about the dark period in Cambodia’s history isn’t for everyone. Indeed, many tourists opt not to visit the more depressing sites, just as many would rather not read stories about the holocaust or the more recent cruelties under ISIS.

9_FotorBut if I was going to explore Cambodia, immerse myself in the culture, and attempt to realize its identity, I knew I had to learn the horrific story of the Khmer Rouge and its brutal murders.

The Cheong Ek Killing Field in Phnom Penh is only one of several killing fields across the country and is believed to be the largest.

The audio guide paints the gruesome picture… I let my imagination do the rest.

I imagined dark nights lit by fluorescent lamps with a number of areas, each with a crowd. Each crowd was split into two – young soldiers and shackled prisoners awaiting their gruesome execution.

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ditches where mutilated bodies were dumped
Deafening revolutionary music masked most of the screams and howls as soldiers used whatever cheap tool they could find to hack at their victims. Bullets were too expensive; a wooden stick, bamboo chute, hammer, sickle, or hoe would have to do.

11_FotorChildren, babies were not spared. They were swung from their feet til their skull met the killing tree as mothers screamed helplessly and waited, even welcomed the end of their suffering.

Mauled bodies were tossed into ditches then poisoned with DDT to finish the half-assed executions and drown out the stench.

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careful not to step on human bones and tattered clothes
Around 17,000 people were murdered in Cheong Ek alone. And 3 million people died as a result of Pol Pot’s extremism and paranoia. Anyone with an education, anyone who would speak out, anyone who might defy the heinous rule of the Khmer Rouge – gone.

And there I was, walking atop their execution sites, trying not to step on pieces of human bone.

The Struggling Young Nation

10_FotorIt’s as if Cambodia’s evolution happened in reverse – from sophisticated water systems and magnificent buildings in Angkor to the inhumane genocide from 1975 to 79.

What’s left is a nation struggling to educate itself without intellectuals, struggling to rebuild without resources, and struggling to remember a culture lost to a repulsive regime.

Currently under a bogus democracy, only time will tell how Cambodia will get back on its feet.

But with such a rich history and incorruptible reminders of their ancient glory, I am hopeful to find a more prosperous and developed nation, should I ever have the chance to return.

My experience in Cheong Ek took my breath away. It took words away, too. I suppose it was a similar experience to the Bayon temple, except at the opposite end of the spectrum.

3 million people lost their lives for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s ideology of “agricultural socialism”. The entire nation suffered and continues to grieve because of an idea that cast aside humanity and basic rights.

How can people so easily resort to violence? How can people so easily forsake life?

Is it so easy to detach from other people’s suffering for as long as you’re ok, as Pol Pot and his generals were?

1_Fotor_FotorWe have to stop and wonder, though, what did someone else have to lose for me to be in this position? What did someone give up so that I could enjoy a bar of chocolate? Did a child have to forego an education to harvest the cacao plant for my candy bar? What did someone have to go through to produce the jeans I wear? Did a woman have to work in a dusty, hot, stinky, cramped, disaster-waiting-to-happen factory?

While enjoying freedom – to speak, to be educated, to go on the internet, to choose what to clothes to wear, to decide who to marry and when… perhaps we should stop to think of the many people in the world do not have these basic joys.

There is so much injustice in this world, it’s overwhelming. But, I suppose, the first step to a better world is to acknowledge that these injustices exist.

The next step, though, is a whole lot tougher.

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“This is madness.”

One of the most wonderful people I know, Misha, suggested I watch this documentary by BBC. It’s about a bus driver from London who goes to Manila with a challenge to become a jeepney driver by the end of the trip – DRIVE A JEEP ALONE IN MANILA (Siya pa nanunukli)! He lives with Rogelio (a jeepney driver) and his family and learns, firsthand, how tough it is to live in our country.

I cried. And cried again. The world is anything but fair. I urge you, if you have a little less than an hour, to watch the docu below – The Toughest Place To Be A Bus Driver. You can watch it now or later. But I assure you, it is not a waste of time. My thoughts and frustrations are below.

I will write about 2 things. You may read one and not the other. Or not read at all. But I’m hoping you read both! :p

Road Rage

I, too, drive through the streets of Metro Manila. I confess that I do scream, curse, and lash-out (in the confines of my car) at pedestrians and other drivers on the road, most specially jeepney and bus drivers. In these moments, I feel I live in a place that is the epitome of inconsideration. And, against all my better judgment, I get sucked into the bandwagon.

Inconsideration, in my opinion, is an extremely huge problem in our society. I’ve always believed that if people were more considerate of each other, lines would move faster, traffic would ease up, mall-wide sales wouldn’t give me a migraine, and stress levels of most everyone when outside the confines of their home would decrease.

But where does this come from? Why can’t most people think of anyone but themselves?

I guess the true questions is, “How can one be considerate when one’s mind is on survival mode? Can I feed my family today?”

Inconsideration stems from this dog-eat-dog world, the reality of day-to-day survival.

What happens to my road rage now? It’s so much easier to be angry, curse at faceless strangers and not care. But how can you be angry knowing what these people come home to? … Knowing they’re stuck in a vicious cycle of suffering they can never get out of?

Rage turns to sorrow.

Life. To live. It is more than just physical survival.

To understand this rant, you’ll have to watch the documentary… Or just keep in mind that millions of Filipinos live in the slums, in their makeshift homes. Many are young married couples with 12-13 children.

How can one truly value life but accept the condition in which so many Filipinos are living?

How can one value life and accept that people eat recooked rotting food from the trash if they eat anything at all?

How can one that values life be OK with bringing a new life into this world only to starve, suffer, and have nothing but survival in mind?

How can one value truth but withhold readily available information, that is common knowledge to most educated people, from the less fortunate with less access?

How can one be against the RH Bill? I really CANNOT understand. What are you afraid of?

More abortion cases? Please explain to me how this happens with less cases of unwanted pregnancy.

Are you afraid that our country will have a problem of underpopulation like other developed countries? Oh my goodness. Do you really think that it’s as easy as the simplest cause-effect equation? There are so many factors that will contribute to that future possibility. Besides, if you have people that value having a family, this will not happen. I am aware of most all methods of contraception but I still want to have my own children one day… When I can actually sustain them financially and emotionally. Values formation and valuing the family as the basic unit of society can be taught and developed.

Please help me understand… Because my brain can’t seem to wrap itself around this.

What kind of person would think that a young married woman living in a makeshift box with 13 (THIRTEEN!) children and barely anything to eat is wrong for taking measures to prevent any more pregnancies?

Would you condemn her to hell? Isn’t she already living there?