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Temples. Temples. Temples. Siem Reap, Cambodia.

12 Dec

December 2, 2010

No tour of Cambodia is complete without seeing, touching, climbing and tasting the temples at Siem Reap.  For those history buffs, the city of Siem Reap is home to the Angkor Wat –one of the temples in Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider movie.  Sure you saw it.  Fab acting…

Instead of verbal vomit of the temples, I opted for a biz-zillion pictures.  Click on the icon on the side of this blog labeled Temples.  And, you can see the amazing temples discovered in this area. Pictures are much better than words here.

I mean, I could tell you how the bike guide of our group tried to convince us that Pol Pot was not that bad.  Or, how my seat was stuck and I looked like a clown in a circus act riding thru temple land.  Or, how I ripped my black H&M leggings.

Or, how the Siem Reap restaurants suck and street food is golden.  Or, how the govt. gave all of Angkor Wat to a Vietnamese business man, in return for ‘free” gas.  Or, how you pay $40 for a ticket to the temples, knowing 90% goes to this  V-nam business man’s homes, cars and women… Or, how “water view” at a Cambodian hotel means looking at a concrete water tower.

Or, how all the old lion statutes don’t have balls, and the new lion statutes do have balls. Or, how the monks cruising thru temple-land smoke cigs.  Or, how the female statues either have their head or boobs chopped off.  Or, how Hindu and Buddhism gods play happily in temple-land.  Or, how the Khmer Rouge shot up the temples, trying to kill the monks.

Or, how I ran into Anastasia and Collin from the Trans-Siberian train journey while temple touring.  Or, how I woke at 4:30 am to see the sun come up over Angkor Wat with two thousand other Chinese tourists. Or, how I found BLEACH in a Cambodia grocery store and socked the shit out of my clothes.  Or, how I met a really hot boy from Sweden.  Or, how I splurged and bought a fancy silk scarf, but still have no underwear.

But why bother with words?    The story is in the pictures… Enjoy! (Click on the photo icon to the right of this blog)

Chet’s Story. Cambodia.

12 Dec

Boy with No Bottoms Riding down Village Road.

December 2, 2010

Before we go into Chet’s life and surviving the Khmer Rouge, I want to share what I learned about Cambodia’s education system.  I found it fascinating, to say the least…

First, kids go to school Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Thursdays they go to school to clean. Schools are so poor that they don’t have janitors that have placed cleaning as part of the curriculum… Think about it…Our kids don’t like cleaning their room.  Try cleaning the entire school!

There are two school day shifts. Young kids go from 7 am to 11 am. And, the older kids go from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. This way, the older kids can work in the fields, slaughter pigs or help sell pineapple or shampoo at their family’s shop. Life is much harder on girls than boys. By the age of seven or eight, the little girl is cooking for the family, washing clothes and raising the younger brothers or sisters. According to Chet, boys are lazy. They have limited chores, compared to girls. In the city, it is worse for boys. No farms, means boys play on the streets… Not good for Cambodia.

About grades: To make a good grade or pass a class, the child brings the teacher money everyday. Teachers are poor. Wages are very, very low. If you miss a day, then you don’t pass the test or are punted from school activities. Talk about learning corruption at an early age! Got to “pay to play.”

If you are rich and want to go to University, you buy the entrance exam from teachers.  If you are poor, then you have to study. Higher the test score means you get a better scholarship.  So, rich kids get more scholarship than poor kids.

Rich don’t study.  Drive nice cars. Pay teachers to graduate.  Many do meth or other drugs, like opium.  Can buy meth behind hospitals.  Pay cops if busted…Not good for Cambodia…

Chet’s Story begins in late 1980’s.

Background: Below is his story about fleeing Cambodia, navigating land mines and learning to farm in a small village. Before April 17, 1975, Chet’s family lived in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia.

Chet had one older brother and five sisters. His dad was an engineer, per se, and worked for the Cambodia military, under General Lon Nol, who was seen as a US puppet. From what Chet told me, his father helped the US military and South Vietnamese in their fight against Ho Chi.

Chet’s Mom and Dad were originally from Southern Vietnam and fled to Cambodia in the 1960’s when Ho Chi was kicking things up into high gear.

All of his brothers and sisters were born in Cambodia. Cambodians and Vietnamese look very similar, and it is hard to differentiate the two. Meaning, he/she is “true” Cambodian or “true” Vietnamese.

Also, one thing to point out, even though the Vietnamese army overthrew Pol Pot in 1978/1979, the Khmer Rouge political party/regime maintained power during the 80s and 90s. I tell you this because his story gets confusing.  Well, confusing for me for I assumed when Pol Pot was kicked-to-the curb, then the country was stable again.  Not true.

After 1979, Khmer Rouge changed their name to the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea and actually grew in power by focusing  their conflict on the Vietnamese, an ethnic conflict that has existed for over 500 years.

Moving forward, the KR announcements were prefaced with the fact no one would rest until all Vietnamese and/or Cambodian Vietnamese supporters were eliminated.   This fear led to a civil war between the KR supporters and the new government regime, imposed by Vietnam.

The civil war displaced another 600,000+ Cambodians to refugee camps along the Thai border and the planting over 4 million mines to kill the traitors (Cambodians) or encroaching Vietnamese.

Chet’s Story.

It was 1988/1989. Civil war in Cambodia.  Khmer Rouge very powerful.

I was ten. Had to carry my sister to the Thai border. She was barely two. I’m now the only son.

Brother killed by KR. Sister starved to death. Family goes to refugee camp in Thailand.  Heard if we make it to Thailand, we safe. New life.


You ask how it started?  Ok…. On April 17, 1975,  family left Phnom Penh for countryside with rest of city people. Pol Pot and KR tells all people must leave homes.  Leave capital city and go to countryside.  Everyone leaves.  Everyone believes Pol Pot’s lie that Americans will bomb city.  We flee.

My mom takes kids. We go one way.  Dad goes other way.  He knew bad things will happen.  Dad no want to live near us for fear KR found out he military and civil servant.

KR stop him one day on road.  Asked if he capitalist, he said “no.  I farmer.” They looked at is hands. His hands have callous. His hands look like farmer’s hands. They let him go. Let him live because of callous. If Khmer Rouge found out he military, they would kill him and find us to kill too.  Kill us because one day, when we older, Khmer Rouge fear of revenge.  So, always kill whole family.

Mom and my brothers and sisters go to a small village. Mom was school teacher, now she harvest rice for Khmer Rouge everyday. People harvest rice to sell to China.

If farmers found eating rice, then KR would kill them and family. Rice only for China. Mom sewed a pocket inside her shirt. She would put little rice in there everyday. At night. Very late, she cook rice for her me. Not enough food. At this time, I was three. I had older sisters and one older brother.

My brother very hungry. One day, he stole a potato from a farm. Khmer Rouge found out. Wanted to make an example. They took my brother. Brought him to center of village in front of all the people. And, took out his stomach in front of all the people. He was alive. Much screaming by my brother. KR wanted to show the people that stealing his bad. KR will kill if you steal. KR will kill children if you steal. Brother died.

My sister was very hungry. She cried a lot. She had no food. Got real sick. Died too from starvation. Mom could not find enough food for her. I was the only one left. That is why she stole rice. To feed me. She did not want me to die too. After brother and sister died, I now was oldest. Mom had more children. I got four sisters.


Fast forward….

In 1989, we have civil war.  For last 10 years, Vietnamese ruled Cambodia.  Cambodia people tired.  Vietnamese military leave in 1989.  We now have new government.  But, KR said new Cambodian government is run by Vietnamese.  KR now has a new enemy. The enemy is government.  Now, KR wages a war with its own people.  It gets bad.  Cambodian people frightening each other.

Mom and Dad want to leave Cambodia.  We want to go to Thailand.  We can be free there.  Thai border open, if you can get there, and we can be free. But, need to get through land mines first.

Dad hire a guide to take family to Thai border. Guide knows where mines are. Knows where not to walk. Can gets us to Thai border. This is when I carry my little sister. She cries a lot. Other people in our group wants to kill her because she is loud. She cries. If KR finds us in jungle with guide, they will kill us. We don’t kill my sister.

We pay $1,000 in gold to guide to take family. A lot of money. We only carry gold. We have gold made into rings and swallow them when KR comes to village. Only way to have money. To survive. Gold goes to poo in 2 days. You can see it very easy.

We walked for days and days. Hungry. It is hot in jungle.  We look for roots to eat. Poison in roots. We get sick. Vomit. Diarrhea. We eat wrong things. We walk for one week. It rained. Flooded in jungle. No can see in jungle. We close to border. But, Thai people want no more Cambodia people. They open the damn and it floods the border jungle area. Guide now confused where mines are. We ran out of food.

It was midnight. Guide said he knows new way. We walk through field. Guide blows up in front of us. He walk on mine. He dies. We stuck. We had to turn back and run fast. Loud noise will alert KR and police. If find us, we die.

We go to a new village. Mom and Dad very upset. New village people don’t like us. We are new. They want to kill us. We tell them we are farmers. KR Military people in village say we are rich because we have light skin. But, Dad has a friend in village that saves us. Said, no we are poor and farmers.

We build a house. Roof. No walls. We start a new life in new village. I find job and look after cows. I fish for food for village. Every night, KR comes to village to bomb and kill people. They kill my teacher one night. Put her on fire.

We build a bunker that is 4 by 4 meters under house. We sleep there every night. During rainy season, we sleep on roof or in trees.

One day, KR comes to cow field. I work. They ask about situation in village. They ask if my family is “Vietnamese, Chinese or a Capitalist?” I tell them none. Just a farmer. I tell them that village is good. They give me candy, medicine and food. They come and help my family with the rice harvest. They like us. Give my family milk too. Now, I have four sisters. Big family.


When walk from village to village, you see many dead people on road. Burn people. Everyday. Behind our house and around village, KR planted mines. Cows died. Friend from school died because he play in cow field one day. When people die, we are happy. They go to good place. Next life will be better. People are very sad when have children. Can’t provide for children. Many parents kill children. This is not a good world. Poor people believe in magic. Voodoo. We use this to protect us. And, to put bad spirits on KR.

KR kept killing people in our village until mid 1990s until United Nations comes to Cambodia. They give KR amnesty – soldiers money, house and everything to stop killing. Many KR soldiers take amnesty others go to jungle to kill more.

I did not feel safe until I was 16 or 17.


My parents divorced only few years ago. I think seven years. They went through soo much. One day, my mom lost motor-bike. Dad very mad. Dad beat her. Dad kicked her out. She left her family. Fled to a Thai camp. Met a new man. And, went to live in Southern Vietnam. She farmer in Vietnam.

Dad very violent. He was solider. Now, he has new wife. Young. She wants to take my family’s property. Me and my sisters’ property. I don’t trust new wife. Dad has more children by new wife. He is nice to children. His children don’t work. They watch TV and eat candy. I get very mad.

My father beat us. One day, he tried to kill us with an AK47. We went to house to talk about property. He said we disturb him. He was very drunk. He grabbed gun and started shooting me and my sisters. We ran to pond and jumped in. Hid in the water. People in the village just watched. He is evil. And, will not talk to that animal.


I learn English from UN. When UN came, we had teachers. I work very hard. I want to leave village and work. I help UN find mines. I help UN. I get scholarship and go to college. I still take classes in marketing at night. I read a lot. Want to learn. Feel like I need to know more.

I got married. My wife is an accountant. We have two girls. They learn English. I put in private school now. I become guide six years ago. Money is good in tourist season.

In not tourist season, I do other jobs. I buy warehouses, repair them, and sell them. I buy old cars, repair them, sell them. I started a computer repair business, but went bankrupt. I gave money to company in US to help me – Company run by Cambodians. They took all my money. I saved $15,000. Lost everything. Had to start over. It’s ok. I learn about contracts.  I now have contracts.  No more shaking hands.

I want better life for my girls. But, this government is very corrupt. Very corrupt. We have problems with drugs. Rich people do opium. Everyone else does meth. Meth comes from Thailand and China. Twain big supplier of drugs to China too.  It is easy to make. We have problem with human trafficking and sex. Moms sell daughters for $100 per night. If Virgin, then can get up to $2,500 for the weekend. A broker will take daughter. They go see doctor to check for Aids and disease and to make sure she is Virgin. She stays with man. Mom gets the money. Mom sells boys too.  Gay is big business too with small boys.  Mom can get a lot of money.

Many Cambodia women see Chinese and foreigner as way out. See money. They have sex for money. You see a lot in capital city.

Normally, old man comes to Phnom Penh and rents apartment for $160 per month. He is retired. Stays here and has sex with women for a few months – until money gone. Then, goes home.  Girl is happy.  She has food, bed and nice clothes for few months.


Our elections are in 2013. Very corrupt. Party buys votes. There are 11 parties in Cambodia. In 1998, election corrupt and we had bombs. Kill people. Government can’t trust. Can’t trust police. They take bribes.

I have hope.  Cambodia come far since killings.  Very far.  Our people need education.  To learn.  We build.  I have hope for my daughters…They will have better Cambodia than me…

PP… Cambodia.

12 Dec

December 1, 2010

I wanted to share a different view of Cambodia thru the eyes of my tour guide in Phnon Pheom, Cambodia. Chet is 40ish. And, endured Pol Pot’s reign of terror.

By accident, I taped our conversation when I asked him a zillion questions about Mr. P. Pot.  The next thing I know he is telling me in detail about his brother being brutally murdered and his sister starving to death…and almost being blown up by land mines…

Cambodia’s wounds are fresh. Open.  And, sore.  They don’t like scratching the open sore.  In fact, it’s hard to get people to go into detail about “what happened” in the 70’s and 80’s.  I was blessed for Chet said, “ask me anything…and I tell you all.”

The blog below is Chet’s version of how Pol Pot came to power, not Wikipedias.  The next blog gives detail about his family trying to escape the terror of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot’s political party).


Let me tell you about Pol Pot.

He was poor. His sister was a dancer. The king noticed his sister and wanted her to live at the Royal Palace. Pol Pot’s family moved to the palace. Pol Pot was young. He saw many things. Many bad things.

His sister was forced to have sex with the king. His sister very young. Sister forced to dance naked for the king. And, king’s friends. His sister not happy. Pol Pot became angry. He saw the King and his friends were very happy. Had a lot of food. Always laughing. In the countryside, people were starving.  Not happy. Countryside people were dying everyday. Struggle everyday. Not the king.  Pol Pot became more angry.

Pol Pot compared life of the people to life of the palace. He saw unfairness. He grew up thinking he must kill all capitalist. Kill all civil servants.  All friends of the King.  He read a lot. Wanted to learn more. He got a scholarship to Cambodia university in 1949. Then, he got scholarship to study in Paris. Remember, France was occupier.  He learned French. Learned about communism. He joined the French communist party with his friend, Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) .  They studied Lenin, Mao, Tito…

French sent Pol Pot back home ten months before Cambodia claims independence from France. He works with Cambodia govt to kick out French. Pol Pot becomes a high school teacher, teaching French and Math. He joins the IndoChina Communist Party (Cambodia’s Communist Party) led by Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi called Pol Pot is brother number one. Younger brother. They best friends. Everyone knows it.

In 1961, Ho Chi assigns Pol Pot to be a spy for Cambodia.  To spy on Cambodia govt and King.  Pol Pot becomes leader of Communist Party of Cambodia. Ho Chi still communist leader of all V-nam, Cambodia and Laos — He in charge of IndoChina Communist Party.  Pol Pot works for Ho Chi. Everyone in Cambodia calls Pol Pot, “Brother Number One.” Ho Chi gives him $400,000 in weapons. Not enough to take over country, yet.

At this time, Pol Pot’s followers were the intellectuals who studied with him in Paris. Now these people are in government – ruling party. Pol Pot told them, “Don’t use the government $$ in wrong way. Put $$ to good use. Help the poor. Help the people…” They did not listen. King Sihanouck found out Pol Pot had supporters in government, and he threw them all in jail.  King started kill Pol Pot’s people too.

King Sihanouck was in bad place. Ho Chi ask King and King said yes to allow Viet Cong troops go inside Cambodia.  Viet Cong use Cambodia for safety and to kill S. Vietnamese near Saigon.  King said “yes” for he certain S. Vietnam would loose civil war.  And, certain America would leave.  Certain communist win.  King want be on side of winner.

More bombs come to Cambodia during Vietnam War because more Viet Cong fighting in Southern Cambodia, near border.   Now, King wanted Viet Cong out.  Too many bombs.  No longer trust Ho Chi.

King ask Americans to help throw out Viet Cong and Ho Chi people.  Cambodia People mad that Vietnamese in Cambodia. Cambodia has long history of hating and fighting with Vietnamese.  We no like them.  Our people went to streets. Protesting. Fighting. Want America and Vietnam out.  King scared.  He fled country to live in Moscow in 1970.

Coup happens, since King gone.  General Lon Nol new leader. Americans like him. He puppet for Americans.

Pol Pot happy.  Cambodians hate American puppet more than Vietnamese.  See General as another occupier.  Tired of being occupied.  Pol Pot knows this.

Pol Pot calls King.  He tells King to tell Cambodia people to go with his party, Khmer Rouge. If King tell people, people listen.   If King does this, then he can come home to rule country.   King cared about getting new General out of power.  King agreed to Pol Pot.   King and King party (Royalists) now part of Khmer Rouge.  Together, they kick out the  General.

Royalist soldiers (ruling party of King) joined Khmer Rouge.   KR said all soldiers get amnesty. Broken promise. All  Royal soldiers killed. Viet Cong stays in S. Cambodia. Ho Chi tells Pol Pot if Viet Cong stays, then Pol Pot can have Saigon. It was a “thank you.”  Ho Chi lied to Pol Pot.

After General overthrown, people feel better. No more fighting. On April 17, 1975, Khmer Rouge drive into Phnon Phem, capital. People hold white flags outside door. Surrender. They are very happy General is gone. Americans are gone. Cambodia is free. Independent from occupier. Now by ourselves. Can rule ourselves. See Pol Pot as good. He is friends with King.

Pol Pot went on TV. Said, “Brother, Sister, Grandparents…civil servants, military….ask you move to suburb. Leave city. Americans may bomb city. I want to protect you…Only for three days. Don’t take much. Be back after America leaves…Everyone must leave city in three hours… Walk on streets to leave…safer… ”

All a lie. America not bomb the city. Pol Pot used America.  And, War in Vietnam to throw people out of homes.  After three days, Pol Pot back on TV with new message, “You need to walk to countryside… Can’t move home… After 15 days, you can move anywhere in countryside…Learn to farm…”

This was 1975. No one moved back to capital city until 1979.

Khmer Rouge had check points in route to country side. Wanted to know who was a capitalist…civil servant…military. Said they wanted these people to work in new government.  To help.

All lie. They sent people to prison. Four prisons. Used high schools as prisons. Tortured them. Made them talk and tell on friends.  Pol Pot thinks can’t control smart people. Can’t control capitalist.  So, kill them.  Easy to control poor people.  And farmers.  Have nothing already.


Our people in countryside tell many bad things. People take breast milk from dead mothers for drink. Starvation. Have baby is very sad for family.  People no want babies.  Can’t feed babies.  They think dying is good.  Much better than life here.  Next life is much better…

Pol Pot closed all borders.  Khmer Rouge military put in mines so no one can leave Cambodia.  Or, Vietnamese can’t come in. KR kill all foreigners.  Journalists.  Tourists.  Anyone walking on roads and not farmer, taken to prison and killed.

Prison first, then Killing Fields.  They say over 300 Killing Fields in Cambodia.  Bullets too expensive.  People dig own grave.  Big grave.  Line people up.  Bash over head with sticks.  Or stab them.  Or, put acid on them.  Or, poison with gas.  Or, tortured them. After, they throw in grave.  Bury people alive too when lazy.

Children killed too.  Soldiers grabbed feet of children and hit them on tree until skulls broke.  Then, threw in big hole.

Changed high schools into prisons.  Tortured people — men, women and children.  Made them talk.  If not, then more torture.  Starvation.  If not die in prison, then go to Killing Fields.  Only way to leave prison is to die.

I have friend — nurse – who worked at a prison.  She’s ok now.  But, tells of bad stories.  Had no choice.  Had to work for KR or die.  She force to marry a solider.  KR tell people who to marry to help their race.  Force you to have babies too.  She still married.  Has her own babies. Life is better now.

After KR killed all capitalist, then killed all middle class. After killed all middle class, Pol Pot started killing his own military.

When kill his own military at Killing Fields, then many soldiers fled to Vietnam. Vietnam not happy. Former Khmer Soldiers and Vietnam troops come to Cambodia and took over. They send Pol Pot away in 1978/1979. Vietnam occupies Cambodia for 10 years.  Until 1989/1990.


People say Pol Pot killed to keep power, build new people and build a better race. He wanted everyone to be farmer to grow rice.   Grow rice for China.  He saw Cambodia as poor and only way to become rich is to grow rice.  Be farmer.  We only ate few spoons of porridge a day. We skinny. Very skinny people. Fat is good for Cambodia — even today.

Now, our people start over. Need to study. Our Prime Minister today never finish high school.  No schools back then.  Only farmer.  Our people need to study very hard. Khmer Rouge killed the capitalist.  Killed smart people.  Killed civil servants. I think killed more than 2 million.  I think killed many more– many more living in jungle and small villages.  And, killed many babies.  Babies with no record of birth because people scared.  Many more killed than UN says…

KR still here today.  Many still follow KR teaches.  Very poor.  Live in jungle.  Makes me mad.  Government fault.  Need to build more schools.  More teachers.  Need to educate its people of right ways, not wrong ways.  I get mad at poor people for not sending kids to school.  Only chance for Cambodia is education.  Our people are good people.  We must be better people.  One day… I have hope…

Pictures help tell Chet’s story..

Tour thru Mass Graves. Cambodia.

12 Dec

November 27, 2010

As we dance our way into the sexy topics of mass graves and genocide – something I’m sure you’ve been breathlessly anticipating – we need to take a step back and do a quick 411 on  Mr. Pol Pot, the man responsible for exterminating 1.7 to 2 million – or  1/4th of the Cambodian population in the 70’s and 80’s.

Quick Soundbite: Mr. P. Pot and his four BFFers led Cambodia’s ruling communist party from 1975 to 1979, under the name of the Khmer Rouge (KR).   The dates answer the question of why there was not a global outcry for his “social engineering” policies.  You see,  it was prime time BOLTING from Vietnam time.    We were leaving as Mr. P. Pot was confiscating Cambodians and Mr. Ho Chi Chi was victimizing South Vietnamese.

More specifically, Mr. P Pot’s mission was to exterminate Cambodia’s intellectual class — capitalists, civil servants, city dwellers, educated…. Buddhist monks, former government officials, soldiers…ethnic minorities like Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams (Muslims), Thais…  Only the farmers and poor peasants were permitted to live.

Pol Pot’s “social engineering eradication”  is up there with the other “great” genocides. We have Stalin who starved over seven million Ukrainians  from 1932 to 1933 by confiscating their entire harvest.  And, then polished off around 30 to 40 million Russians who thought he was ugly.

Then there is Turkey who purged over 1.5 million Armenian Christians – more than half their population – and seized 90% of their land.  In the US, we hear a lot about the 6 million Jews who perished at the the hands of the Nazis from 1938 to 1945. But eliminating the Jews, gypsies, gays and any other misfits were just one part of Hitler’s plan to create a more secure, ethnically homogeneous state.

Hitler removed and transplanted about 12 million Germans. Those that survived, resettled in Eastern Europe, Russia…. After WWII, Poland, Czech, Hungry, Romania and Yugoslavia booted all Germans.  Estimates say over 2.1 million Germans died from hunger, cold, disease…after WWII…in route back to Germany.

We can go on and on for we’ve haven’t even touched Mao’s golden touch in China or the continent of Africa.  I say this because while Cambodia is gruesome and tragic, this people purging is not new or novel. Fascist, nationalist megalomaniacs or religious zealots have ethnically cleansed, removed or transferred groups of people since the Middle Ages, if not before. We did it to the Native Americans.

What I struggle with is why don’t we learn. Why do we commit the same atrocities. Using the same tactics. Same justifications. Same rationale. Why?

While in Israel, I toured the Holocaust museum with my East German friend. We were in the room detailing how Nazi’s confined, starved and killed Polish Jews.  She said, “Just change the word Warsaw Ghetto to Palestinian Ghetto and that’s the West Bank today…Don’t you see that?  I mean, come on….”

At Auschwitz in Poland, I toured the concentration camp with over 100  Israeli soldiers.  God placed them there. I felt it. I was so angry at Israel that I could not even write about her – publicly – after my visit in August. And, I had to giggle, for only weeks later, I’m touring a concentration camp with her military protectors.  I knew what it meant.

I followed the soldiers. Observed. And, wondered what they were thinking when touring the chambers where Nazis forced the Jews, gypsies, gays – for being born into the “wrong” group – to stand for days at at time. Or, were shoved in small cells in solitary confinement. Or, given only one small meal a day….

From what I have read, Israeli prisons employ the same type of tactics today.  So, what were they thinking? I mean, were they justifying treatment of the Palestinians with the same nationalistic zeal as the Nazis? I  don’t know. I just don’t know… Again, history continues to repeat herself…

I write this and ask.  Ok.  So, what can we do?  What we CAN do is one thing.  What we DO, do is another.  If history is any predictor of the future, then here’s the deal.

We stand back.  Let others deal.  We watch.  And, we wait.  We wait twenty or thirty years for the Palestinian, Iraqi or Guantanamo Bay prison museum to open.  We wait for the historians to tell us what “really happened.”  We pay our $5 to walk thru mass graves.  To tour killing chambers.   And, to be shocked by the torture.  Appalled by the death.  And, vow never to let something like “this” happen again.

But, for now we just wait.

I’ve got my $5 ready, do you?

Verbal Vomit Update of Vietnam & Cambodia

11 Dec

Get ready for massive verbal vomit. This is not a dry heave, we’re talking massive expulsion of words, thoughts, verbs, pictures and adjectives about Vietnam and Cambodia.

Now, let me give you some direction for the slow readers or skimmers.  For those who have not even read about Thailand excursions, I recommend starting with Bangkok by Night blog and work your way up.  All of Thailand was written in November, so if you go to the button under “recent posts” and click on November,  all the fun, filled and exciting Thai tales ranging from dildos to Tiger Woods will be before your bright eyes.

As for Vietnam, I had a few challenges.  The blog started off chronicling my journey into “adventure, outdoorsy” travel – with massive biking, trekking and kayaking.  Then, it turns a 90-degrees when I had my identity stolen.  Yep, passport, Visa, credit cards, $$ stolen in a country we terrorized 30+ years ago.  Try that one for size.

The stolen identity tales all have the title “Stolen Identity.”  Please start with the first one labeled “Stolen Identity,” and then move up to Day of Reckoning and end with Snowballing in Halong Bay.

I’m well aware that violence, crime and sex sell, so many will want to start with Stolen Identity.  But, don’t forget to read about dead bodies, Ho Chi, pelvis pain, marriage proposals and the Vietnamese DAY tribe tales starting with the blog called Good Morning Vietnam, Hanoi…

If it were me, I would start with Good AM Vietnam and work my way up to get the full story for the adventure travel and stolen identity are all wrapped together.  But, that is me — I lived it.

Cambodia takes a bleaker tone.  I went Cambodia primarily to understand Israel.  Sounds strange, I know.  Trust me.  I know.. The Cambodia story is told through Chet, my guide.  He survived the Khmer Rouge’s terror in the 70s, 80s and 90s.  And, his story is powerful and haunting.

While in Cambodia, I did hit temple-land.  Check out the pics in the pic section.  Much better than the words.

Again, thank you for your comments, questions and random thoughts about my journey. Keep them coming.

Everyday, presents itself with a new gift. And, finding the world is a very small place… Enjoy the ride…

Stampede. Wine. Flowy Pants. Phnon Phem, Cambodia

11 Dec

I’m on wine glass number two. Perched at the Foreign Correspondence Club hotel bar in Phnon Phem, capital of Cambodia. Outside bar. Overlooking river front. Just had dinner. Something called fish run Amok. Just realized the “cool” bar is on the roof top, not where I am.
A hottie just passed by heading to the rooftop bar – tall, tan and messy hair. Tan. Wait, I already said tan. No ring. Need to take a closer look.

A pasty, pissed single dude, sitting next to me, just bolted for the roof top bar. He looks Russian. I’m on wine number two, getting’ ready to order my third. And, thinking I look kind of cute. Can’t waste this cuteness on the Russian.

What am I wearing? Well, I’m glad you asked. My $3, red “linen,” breezy, no-fitting blouse… My black breezy, hippie skirt with a coconut clasp and elastic waist. My hair has the frizzy, humid, bangs-are-growing out look. My eyes are bright after sixteen drops of Visine. And, if you look closely, mascara residue from this morning’s Cambodia customs graces my lashes. Yep, looking hot in Cambodia. Must do something with this super hotness.

I flew into to PP from Vietnam around lunch time, the day after 400+ died in a stampede only 1,500 feet from my hotel. The Cambodian people are shocked. Walking around lightening incense. Crying. The men in orange sheets – the monks – are walking the river front. Praying. Sitting. Staring. The energy is below low. It’s non existent. Outrage and anger has not set in yet. They are focused on counting the dead and creating conspiracies.

After I checked in, I slowly walked the waterfront to orient myself and capture this moment. Let me step back. Cambodians from all over the country came to PP to celebrate the Festival of Lights. The purpose is to celebrate a good harvest. It is three days of festivities from food, rides, selling goods, parties… All culminating in the last night of fireworks, which was the night of the stampede.

I signed up for a 2 day tour of PP – it included airport pick-up and “tour” of the Killing Fields. Chet was my guide these next two days. In route to my hotel, he gave me his version of last night’s stampede. Chet first said he had a premonition something bad was going to happened. His Italian clients (tourists) insisted on going to the waterfront – by the island – to see the fireworks.

He said, “No. I will not go there– too many people…especially by the island…island is new….just opened…too many people…” Italians don’t like being told “no” and reported him to his agency. It was only a few hours later, more than 400 young kids are trampled to death crossing the bridge to get off the island.

Chet said he went to the hospital this morning. He wanted to help people. Give them money. Buy them caskets. Anything. He said, there are no more caskets left in the country. And, the hospitals are full. People who are alive, can’t find their loved ones.

He heard a story where a woman called the hospital inquiring about her son, the hospital said, “he’s dead.” She had a heart attack on the phone. Died.

Chet said, the story on the street is some kids yelled “Fire! Fire! Fire!” into the crowd as a joke. There was NO fire. But, the people did not know it. There are only two bridges – one going to the island and one leaving. The island is “new” in that some developer – sister of the current Prime Minister – has built a casino, entertainment area, the works. People go to the island for concerts, celebrate birthdays or get married. Weddings are a BIG business in Cambodia. The opening of the “entertainment” island has been heavily promoted on TV, radio, newspaper. Those traveling from the countryside wanted to experience it first hand.

Chet said, the night of the stampede, about 1 million people gathered for the fireworks. Let me put this in perspective. It’s like a million crammed on Park Avenue in Winter Park. We’re talking only six or seven blocks. And, a small bridge to a an island the size of a super Wal-Mart.

When the stampede occurred, it was around 11:00 pm – or teen time. Meaning, the families with small kids and elderly had left for the evening. According to Chet, when they heard “fire,” they panicked. Teens crossing the bridge pushed, shoved and trampled each other. Some jumped into the river, but the water is very shallow and they died on impact. Others jumped by accident into electrical wires. The police were there, but did nothing – to direct crowds before, during or after.

It has taken only a day, and the conspiracy theories are out. After spending some time here, I found Cambodia to be conspiracy capital. Also found out, the conspiracies later turned out to be right. This conspiracy said the incident was planned. One of the Khomer Rouge’s tactics in its killing hey-day, was to gas/poison people. The stampede survivors said around 11 pm, it was really hard to breathe by the bridge. People panicked – and that is why even more people died. They were gassed. Could not move. “They” are blaming the wedding businesses. That’s right. Weddings… The island has taken a very lucrative profit stream from wedding planners, wedding halls, wedding caterers…. Reasoning is if “something bad happens” then the island would loose business, and money would roll back in to these other wedding folks.

The other theories have to do with the corrupt Prime Minister. His sister owns the island – given to her brother. The Bank of Canada wrote the loans. Somehow, Canada and the PM family is involved in this – or people are trying to get back at them.

In this morning’s paper, the Prime Minister equated the stampede to the killings by the Khomer Rouge political party … Now, that is going on a limb for KR and their leader, Pol Pot, killed over 1.2 million in three years. Bad comparison buddy. And, bad politics… KR political party is still around. They must have ticked off the PM earlier in the week for him to say something so stupid.

On November 25 the government declared is the national day of mourning. I will still be here. Very interesting. Interesting that God placed me here. Why? By the way, is that Thanksgiving? When is Thanksgiving?

Also, the government said it is giving a couple hundred dollars to each family to help pay for funeral costs. Talk on the street is it is “hush” money. The other talk is the people will never see it and government officials will pocket it. Which one do you believe? Survey says, number Two – embezzling the money.

I’m now listening to the guys next to me. Why do foreigners have to smoke. Gosh, this guy is HOT and then whips out a cig. Buzz kill. They are talking about number dead. They think it is closer to 500. CNN said it is 300, but CNN has it wrong. Imagine that…

I noticed some guy “ogling” me out of the corner of my eye. FREAK alert. Some old man. Wearing hot red, flowy pants. And, a white flowy shirt. Big belly. Grey hair. Smiling at me. I can see him. I’m ignoring him. Pretending I’m working. Typing faster.

Damn, I can tell he wants to talk to me. NOOOOO. I want to go to the third floor. I now want the Russian…. WHY do the freaks have the confidence and NOT the hotties.

Please stop. Tell him to go away. Someone. I will take small, petite smoker dude over guy in red flowy pants. I think I’m going to get my check soon. Go upstairs. I’m getting my check. FUUUUUUUUU.

He just walked over to my table. He just asked me what wine is best – REALLY? We are in Cambodia, not France.

He said, “Anything but Chardonnay…I’m from Austria… From the wine country and I don’t drink Chardonnay…” Well, my response? “I”m drinking the $2.45 wine. And, it’s chardonnay…I like it.. It works..”

He said he will try the wine and invited me to sit at his table. I could NOT say NO. I should have followed the Russian. I bet Red flowy pants will buy me a glass of the $2.45 wine? What do YOU think? OK. Let’s see what he has to say…I’m upgrading on the vino. Going for the $5.00… UGH…

Blog Housekeeping

26 Nov

You have asked, “where’s your blog about Bhutan? Weren’t you in Thailand? Have you posted anything about Vietnam?” I know. I know. It’s in the pipeline people. Let me give you a verbal vomit status update.

Bhutan blog is coming. I’m editing it in route to South Africa. I believe I have a 20+ hour transport agenda on December 4th and December 5th. Meaning, I have time to kill if the flight doesn’t kill me first. Expect Verbal Vomit of Bhutan posted the second week of December, while I’m in Johannesburg. I’ve scheduled a safari for 4 days. Then, I have 3 extra days in Johannesburg. Considering it is one of the more dangerous places in the world, I will be hunkered down editing and posting from the confines of a J-berg hotel room or lobby. Let’s just hope WiFi works..

After Bhutan, I traversed to Thailand – my place to take a nap. To re-energize. Try yoga. Eat healthy. And, work on amassing more freckles and age spots.

My friend Mary from London sent me an email saying, “You are the ONLY person I know who takes a holiday from a holiday?” She’s right. But, quite frankly, I was in need of some R&R after the Russian sighs, Mongolian sunshine, Chinese confusion and Bhutanese Buddhism. Thailand blogs will be short, even though I could have written a book about the place.

After tranquil, tame Thailand, I popped on over to Vietnam and Cambodia, where chaos befell and the “true” travel experiences were achieved.   So, expect many blog entries or, as I refer to them as, TallGirl Verbal Vomit to delight your day.    Off the races…