Monday, February 14, 2011

February 15, 2011

It is about 1:30 pm here in Siem Reap.  I am taking the afternoon off and Deb just left to visit an elementary school.  I think she is going somewhere out in the country this afternoon.

We had a full morning leaving the hotel at 7:00.  We first went to Angkor Thom and then to Angkor Wat.  Each is a walled compound surrounded by a moat of at least a quarter mile.  I am not sure about the acreage inside the walls but I would guess at least 1000 acres.  So you see, these are massive compounds.

Angkor Thom contains numerous temples and residences built by or for the king in power at the time.  We visited one temple and I will post some photos of that. Afterward, we were treated to a ride on an elephant around the temple.  Check out the photos of Deb on an elephant with one of our guides.

We then went to Angkor Wat which was exclusively a place of worship.  It is built on three levels and your access to the levels was determined by your status in society.

Both of the places we visited are showing their age.  They were built with primarily sandstone and the elements have taken their toll over the years.  There are multiple international efforts ongoing to stabilize the
stone or to restore it.  Also, there has been vandalism and looting over the years.  And finally, on the facade of Angkor Wat, you can see bullet holes from the time the Khmer Rouge was holed up there.

Angkor Wat interestingly enough started off as a place to worship a Hindu god.  Then it became a Buddhist
temple since the next king was of that persuasion.

I was told that this is not the high season for visitors.  If that be case, I do not want to be there then.  Both complexes were swarming with tourists of every persuasion.  Tourism is this area seems to be the number one industry.

One of my interests in coming to Cambodia was to hear first hand from someone about the effects of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in the 1970s.  It is, of course, a sad chapter not only in the history of this country but the entire world.   When the Khmer Rouge came to power, they killed two million people to eradicate any opposition.

  I found my man today as our local guide today was a victim of the Khmer Rouge.  He was sixteen years old in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came to power.  He should have been killed as the Khmer Rouge executed everyone who had more than ten years education.  He was instead imprisoned for three years and made to work.  His father and older brother were killed. He says the psychological toll on this country is still present many years after the Khmer Rouge were over thrown.

Now to a more pleasant topic.  We are staying at the Grand Hotel D'Angkor.  And grand it is.  I am not sure when it was built but I would guess some time in the 30s.  It ceased to be a hotel during the Khmer Rouge years since no one came to Cambodia and later was a youth hostel.  Now, it has been restored to its original glory.  Service here is impeccable.  By way of example, we had the same waiter at breakfast as we did last night.  I arrived at the table first and he asked me if "Miss Debbie"  was going to be joining me.  And random staff people greet me in the hallway and say "Good afternoon, Mr. Gaskins/"  Try for that in the States.

We leave tomorrow for China for three nights, two of which will be in the province of Tibet.  Time to take the high altitude medicine again.  I am not sure how good the internet will be in China, so hang with me.

On the afternoon of February 15, Debbie visited a primary school in Siem Reap.  It was an eye-opening experience.  To give you an example of the lack of infrastructure of the school, the school bell is a bomb casing found behind the school which is hit with a metal rod.  The "corridors" of the school are unpaved; the rooms have concrete floors, so the children take off their shoes before entering the school rooms.  The student-teacher ratio is 50 or more to one teacher with no aides or assistants.  We visited several classrooms, and without exception the children were well behaved and rapt with attention.  There was no air conditioning in the school so it was hot as hades in the classrooms.  The children in all public schools wear uniforms:  white shirts and navy pants or skirts for the girls.  The principal greeted us--interesting that he could not speak English even though the children learn English.  Having been a former teacher, I was especially fascinated with what I saw.   These children want to receive an education and it shows in their behavior and motivation.  One class sang a song for us.   In a 6th grade class, one female student came up to me and, as the class listened, asked me "What is your name?"  I answered, "Debbie", and showed her my National Geographic name tag.  She then asked, "How did you get here?"  My answer:  "By airplane".  Her next question:  "Where are you staying?"  Answer:  "Grand Hotel d'Angkor".  Next question:  "How old are you?"  I whispered a truthful answer to her and then put my finger up to my lip to show that I didn't want her to tell my answer.  She responded, "Wow!"

The school library had a dirt floor and the school needs $500.00 to pave it.  The Rotary Club has given $200.00.   Our Nat'l Geog group gave $100.00.  A couple of us visitors made private donations so they're farther on their way to meeting their financial goal for paving the library.   There are no tables and chairs in the library and the next goal is to buy plastic chairs and tables so the children can sit while they read.  The few books they had in the library were paperbacks donated by some organization in the US and were not very good books as several of us checked them out.

Sorry to sound like a curmudgeon, but if a fraction of the school kids in the US tried as hard and took school as seriously as these kids, our country would be a much better one.  These Cambodian school kids know they're lucky to be going to school as there is no compulsory school attendance in Cambodia.  Their parents have to sacrifice to buy their uniforms.  They go to school either from 7 AM to 11 AM or from 1 PM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday so they can be home helping their parents sell stuff to tourists or work in the fields.  I was misty-eyed all the time I was at the school.

Then I went down the Siem Reap River to visit the floating villages.  The river is highly polluted as raw sewage and everything else goes into it.  The people who live on it drink it untreated and don't die or get sick.  They swim in it--we saw children swimming in it.   If we drank it we would die.  The houses, churches, mechanics' shops, and other shops are on floating platforms.  Everything looks poor and quite dirty.  Beggars are rampant on the river.  Displaced Vietnamese (who have lighter skin than Cambodians) are all over the river in canoes with their whole families.  These people go up in the hills beside the river and get pythons--huge pythons; and put them around their children's necks.  They want tourists to take photos of them so they can hop on the boats carrying tourists and take extract money from the tourists.  Children hop on the tourists boats from the canoes peddling soft drinks.  They look pitiful, dirty, and sad.  I though I had seen poverty in Guatemala but this Cambodian poverty was much worse.    Even the drive to and from the river was sobering.    Most of the houses are shacks with thatched roofs falling in.  But you will occasionally see a nicer stucco house right beside a series of impoverished shacks.   And everybody peddles something from the front of his or her shack.   We saw fish drying in the sun which is exported as it's too expensive for the locals to buy.

1 comment:

  1. What an eye-opening and sobering account, Debbie, but we need to know, don't we. It's hard to imagine where to begin. Thanks for sharing this.