Amazing Cambodia

Cambodia

We flew via Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The monsoon season was currently on, making the humidity infernal as well as the heat.
The locals spoke passable English, but we got a ride to our hotel without any hassle.
The hotel was located about 5 km from the buzz of the city. In a way that was good, because it was nice and quiet. The pool shimmered invitingly and the room was set up beautifully with floral decorations. I loved the tuk tuk rides, seeing all the action on the streets, as well as experiencing all the scents in the air blowing with the wind. We whirred along with everyone else on the awkward dirt roads without mentionable traffic rules. It’s strange how everyone just flows in one way and another, without any crashes.
On the first days we went to see the sights, the temples. In an area the size of Paris, there are about 70 larger and smaller temples. We drove 3 h into the jungle to see a Cambodian pyramid, which was an experience in itself. It’s incomprehensible how all the temples have been built back in the day in the middle of the rainforests and the water areas surrounding them have been dug by hand.
Orange-clad monks were present in many of the sights, both young and old. The Angkor Wat temple ruins have been voted as the most popular tourist attraction of 2018 according to TripAdvisor. There were plenty of tourists there. Exquisite engravings on the walls and each and every piece of stone carved by hand, apparently by using chisels.
Earthquakes had destroyed most of the temples but Angkor Wat had stayed intact due to its construction design. The pieces of brick and stone were not symmetrical, making it almost impossible to topple over during a quake.
On the second day, we got to know a tuk tuk driver named Sin. He came up on the street and asked in a friendly manner if we needed a ride. We then drove around with him for the whole week.
We visited the Floating Village, which was a town built out of boats. Each family lived in a boat. There were shops, a church, a temple and even a service station made on top of boat decks. We were told that about 2000 people live in the village. The air smelled of exhaust from the old boats as well as different types of grilled seafood. The village was located on a local lake which was huge. I didn’t find out what the name of the lake was.
We took a sack of rice to some children in an orphanage/school, only to hear later that it wasn’t even a Cambodian children’s’ home but rather a hoax run by the Vietnamese, where the sack of rice is returned to the orphanage shop for the next tourist to buy it. Well, at least we tried to help and the kids didn’t look like they were starving or otherwise unwell.
The land mine museum was touching. It was enlightening to read the stories and see both mines and bombs. It’s unbelievable how much suffering this nation has had to experience. And I didn’t even know that the USA had bombed Cambodia for 10 years, trying to stop the North Vietnamese from travelling south through Cambodia during the Vietnam war. Moving from a socialist to a communist country was the reason for that war, to my understanding. In any case, 540 000 TONS was the amount of mines and bombs that America dropped in the country, killing and wounding innocent children and civilians. On the same day that Ho Chi Minh City submitted to communist rule, they began to evacuate people from the cities to forced labor camps. In total, during the mass murders (Killing Fields of Cambodia) a third of the population was killed which means about 2 to 2.5 million people. This is what Sin’s father told us.
The museum had been founded by a person named Aki Ra, who had been turned into a soldier already as child, fighting for different sides killing this way and that, depending on who’s side he was on at any given time. He had suffered from hunger and pain for years. When the war ended in ’93, he decided to collect mines, dismantling them to pieces, into the museum, away from the terrain. He helped wounded children and orphans he found in deserted villages while on his trips searching for mines. This home had now been turned into a museum and they collected money to continue the demining efforts. Children are still in the house and the wounded of today are brought there to recuperate. Aki Ra has collected honorable merits in many different nominations around the world. There is still a countless amount of mines in the Cambodian ground and every year hundreds are apparently injured by them. They have been found in people’s backyards, in parks, on roadsides, at police stations, in schoolyards etc. We donated a bit to this activity and a woman without legs happily accepted our donation.
We listened to Sin’s stories and life while travelling with him and in the end he invited us to meet his family in the countryside. That trip was enlightening. His father and mother were over 70 years old, survivors of the mass murders. The toothless mother wore a wide smile when the tuk tuk swerved into the yard through a puddle of mud. The house was a two-story hovel. There was the room upstairs, covering the whole area of the house, where everyone slept. No doors or separate rooms, the mattresses were rolled up against the wall for the day. Downstairs had a dirt floor, with hammocks and mats made of bamboo sticks. The fireplace and water buckets along with cups and dishes formed the kitchen area. In the backyard, there were fruit trees, herbs and other edible plants, appearing like a jungle to me.
The mother hugged and welcomed us. The women began cooking frogs and fish and chicken in a grey broth. The rice was cooked slowly in a pot and we got to see the land during that.
The food smelled good. There were dried ants as seasoning, stuffed frogs with a fruit dip, a grey soup with apparently chicken and a fish head smiling happily at me. We ate rice and tasted these mentioned delicacies while the family watched. Aunts, cousins, their children, neighbors, and everyone began collecting at the house. Everyone wanted to meet us.
We got to visit the rice fields in a cow-drawn cart. I wanted to understand how much work a bowl of rice demands. I eagerly questioned Sin’s father about rice with Sin interpreting. Apparently one stalk of rice has about 70-100 rice grains. The rice is grown by hand, with one grain in an area of 20 times 20 cm in a water field. The grain grows 7-10 new stalks which are picked by hand. A bunch grows in the field for 3 to 5 months, depending on the quality of the rice and the soil.
During the war, his parents were ordered to work in the fields for 12 h shifts. The rice was separated from the stalks by having cows walk on them, crushing the stalks. The rice was then collected from the ground. Nowadays rice is picked mechanically in many places, but many villages still keep up the traditions and employ locals.

As slave work, the rice was carried into one place, from which it was sent elsewhere, but the slaves themselves were only given the water used for boiling the rice as food, with maybe a couple grains floating around in int.
The enslaved people worked either for the army or on the fields, starving every day. Hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation or bullets, including Sin’s relatives.
The father told us they had been in camps. Every morning urged into forced labor. “If you don’t go to the field, I will shoot you” was a daily threat, with a rifle pointed at one’s face. He had seen a lot of death. There were not given a days off let alone a proper meal for years. The heat is infernal during the summer and they weren’t offered drinking water, so they drunk water from the fields. He said with a wide smile, “we ate like pigs”, meaning that the ate anything from the ground that they could find, from banana leaves to grains and insects.
He told us about the fate of babies, how they were dropped from the roofs of houses onto their necks on the ground. People were killed by beating them with wooden sticks to avoid wasting bullets. Children and adults, all were killed systematically, without any mercy. With the one and only purpose of getting a communist society.
We decided to surprise Sin during the day by telling him with his family present that we will pay for the education of his two children. He burst out crying tears of joy and was visibly extremely relieved. He told us that his biggest fear had been that his children would grow up without an education and end up as beggars on the streets.
The next day, we visited the Western School, which follows an American international schooling program. The children are taught Chinese and English.
The school costs about 800 € per year for one child. This includes educational material and school uniforms.
It made us feel good to be able to really help a person in need. I have never believed in organizations, seeing their yearly income and hearing that the activities of many of them are built on very feeble bases. We will pay the school directly and therefore the children will have a better future through us in a changing Cambodia.
The trip was all in all wonderful. The jungle, the temple ruins, the local people, and the best day spent with Sin’s family left a permanent mark in my heart. We now have family in Cambodia as well and we will return soon. Thank you and see you soon. With love, Sini and Stuart.
Sin shopping frogs n chicken for dinner

Rice field tour

Chicken soup with some frogs 

Angkor Wat 

Cow cab to rice fields 

Family in their living room 

Backyard garden 

Sin at his family house

Sin's dad n mum nursing Penny 


Translated from the original Finnish text by Stiina Rasimus-Sahari.

In collaboration with:
www.disturb.fi
www.suomikasino.fi
www.honkajoenpanimo.fi
www.muotiputiikkihelmi.fi
www.daddysgirl.fi
www.amadastore.fi

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