A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

In India I’m Madam, In Thailand I’m Miss, In Cambodia I’m a Lady

In Thailand if you stopped in the middle of a road, cars would line up behind you and wait without honking. In Cambodia if you are naïve enough to pause across the street from a vendor, an entire family will run over and present you with freshly cut fruit, bamboo flutes, woven bracelets, postcards, and any tschochke you would never need while calling out: “Lady! You buy something!” In the whole of Cambodia there are no set prices. You bargain everything from entry visas to bus fares, and there’s generally a two-tier system, which we called the Khmer price and the Whitey Tax. Since Cambodia uses US dollars (and their riel as change instead of coins), most Whitey Tax prices start at $1. Where a Whitey Tax meal costs $3, the same Khmer meal is twenty-five cents. The ‘they-need-the-money’ argument is certainly valid: there’s a complete lack of infrastructure (a friend: “they sweep garbage to the side like snow”) and industry outside of some sweat shops (check the Made In ___ label on that Gap top). And there’s the fact that Pol Pot’s regime murdered a third of the country’s population with a focus on the most educated, and that he came into power when people were mad at the previous democratic government for allowing the US to build bases there during the Vietnam War. We settled on rewarding less annoying behavior and buying from enterprising selling swarms of children with whom we had conversations like this:

“You know the capital of Burkina Faso?”
“No.”
“I tell you, you buy!”
“Can you point to Burkina Faso on a map?”
Guilty smile. “No. You know the capital of Madagascar? I tell you, you buy!”

And just when feeling like not a person but a purse was starting to overwhelm, suddenly we were riding old beaters of bicycles for less than $1 a day through the Korean Friendship forest and into Angkor Wat, a surreal human feat I can only imagine rivals the pyramids in its impressive scale, attention to detail, and quad-religious symbolism (Hinduism, Buddhism, animism and ancestor worship). The temples of the largest pre-industrial civilization are amazingly well preserved, and as a UN World Heritage site, there’s a concerted effort to repair them. Pick a country, and it’s sponsored a restoration project (the Indians, French, Chinese and Japanese seemed very on top of it, while at the US site a few laborers were lounging in hammocks; I wonder who’s rebudgeted). Biking and hiking and wandering around temples and the rice patty-ful countryside (careful to remain on roads: there are landmines about!), we snacked jack fruit chips, unripe mango, massively sticky rice and beans cooked inside a chute of bamboo, and wowed locals with Laughing Cow cheese and gnawing on raw carrots. Khmer cuisine was similar to Thai, only with less spice and more msg. Though in all fairness, I only tried it once during our daily dinner dance of trying to find a restaurant that understood “I am allergic to msg.” Cambodians don’t understand the idea of allergies. In Khmer, you say, “I don’t know how to eat msg,” but attempts at cultural sensitivity fail when you don’t know the term for what you don’t know how to eat. And eating yogurt, fruit and hard-boiled egg is preferable to making yourself throw up an msg-laden meal.


Back in Bangkok I paid $15 and spent a day a the Indian embassy to make sure I could get back into the country for just enough time to say some goodbyes, meet with my boss and pack before landing in the fanciest airport ever, aka Dubai (oil money, like drug money, will buy you some niiice things), and finally in Durban. Describing Angkor Wat is like trying to type out a rainbow bursting through a sunset over elands and zebra grazing on an African savanna...oh wait, that’s my next entry. Stay tuned.

Posted byValerie at 11:18 AM  

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