Monday, February 13, 2006

Dispatches 3: Cambodia: Poverty, Bikes and Offense

Phnom Phen is the capital of Cambodia yet you would not know it as you drove into town. I have only been in Bangkok and kanchanaburi in Thailand so far. Bangkok is full of contradictions, high rise buildings, massive shopping centres that put Dundrum to shame lie not far from shacks that are falling into the river. Kanchanaburi is so beautiful and full of tourist attractions that the poverty seems at bay. But Phom Phen, which apparently is only the tip of the ice berg in terms of poverty in this country, seems desolete to me. Buildings falling apart, children run around with no shoes or clothes. Kids selling stuff on the street, collecting water bottles of the few cent refund. During the day it seemed that no one had anywhere to be or do. On the side of the road Coke and Pepsi bottles were filled up with cheap gasoline in the hopes that someone will stop by. Then the night opens up. Everyone is on the streets they mood is lightened and there is a sense of excitement (I'm sure danger aswell). Still it feels that the city is based on the few tourists it has, its busier and cleaner then it was a few years back and people have more money, but thats hard to see when its your first time.

From my guest house I was standing on the roof looking down the five floors. There were a group of boys 12 or so playing hackie, a group of young kids climbing on top of each other, food stalls aplently and this one elliminated office where a man in a white shirt and tie sat at a desk behind a laptop having a meeting. I'm sure there are many more financial buildings and politicans making decisions for everyone else but this one "Cambodia First" building is right in the middle of the poverty as he leaned back on his leather chair and laughed.

One of the most amazing things is the amount of people they seem to fit on motorbikes and trucks. I thought I had seen it all in thailand with three on a bike and twenty people on the back of a truck. But here I have seen FIVE on a bike, sometimes as young as 1 but sometimes all adults its increduable. Everyone seems so relaxed and chilled out while piled on. Its mainly just men who are driving the bikes. And if there is just one or two women behind them, the women ride side saddle like old school horse riding. Their filp flops dangle off their feet just inches from the road but there is no panic that they might be lost.

Earlier today I went to the Royal Palace; yes Cambodia is a kingdom (so is Thailand). Its crazy to see this space, an empire if you will that at one time ruled much of south East Asia. There are very preCious about their kingdom, the king and of course Buddha. When you go into a temple or any Wat that houses a Buddah you much remove your shoes, you can't have you feet pointing at the Buddah while you sit and here espeically, you can't take photos. I was wondering around wondering why people thought that gold and silver coloured paint looked good when I saw this beautiful hill covered in trees and floweres, I climbed up to find a tiny little temple (not the right word, but a pointy structure only large enough to house a buddah and a few people making merit). It was great. Behind the buddah's head was a glowing halo type thing with red, yellow and organge. There were bright fabrics everywhere and really it looked like a buddist rave in there. The best part was the huge donation box that was full in front of it. I was standing a bit away from it but needed a photo. There was no sign like the other places that said no photo so I went right ahead. Unfortunatley because of the tree cover the flash went off. There were a few loud screams and everyone who had been worshiping/meditating/just hanging out turned towards me with a look of anger. There was no hiding I was the one white girl with pink hair in a sea of asians with black hair. I ran away quickly after apologing.

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