Things I Have Learned In Cambodia

Things I Have Learned In Cambodia

“If you smile at me, i will understand because that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language,” Crosby Stills Nash and Young

The Kingdom of Cambodia is located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula in South East Asia. It is bordered by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand.

Khmer or Cambodian is the language of the Khmer people and the official language of Cambodia.

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In Cambodia, greeting is formally done by joining both the palms together in front of each other and then bowing. This is called Sompeah and is usually initiated by the younger or lower rank of people.

Electricity in Cambodia is in pressing need in the rural areas. It is supplied in the evening only from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM while the business establishments and hotels rely more on generators. It is not uncommon to receive notes in your hotel about power outtages..

The infamous tyrant leader Pol Pot, who took control of Cambodia in 1975, was considered  the most notorious war criminal of modern times.

Over one and a half million people died during the regime of the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot. The exact number is not known . It could be a lot more. One-fifth of Cambodia’s population was killed. They were mostly educated people, priests, and monks. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot wanted all educated Cambodians dead so that nobody would oppose their rule. You don’t see many old people.

Americans do not learn Asian History in school unless it directly affects us. Cambodia is still a traumatized country from the time of the Khmer Rouge and it is good to read about it. I read First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers  written by Loung Ung, a Cambodian author and survivor of the Pol Pot regime – or watch the Killing Fields before you go.

UNESCO has listed Cambodia as the third most landmined country in the world. More than 4 million landmines are still strewn across the country causing a high amount of casualties. It is estimated that it will take a decade before all the land mines are cleared up.

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Cambodia has the highest per-capita percentage of amputees in the world. Each month there are between 300 and 700 amputations due to land-mine injuries.

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Cambodia has the largest inland lake in South East Asia called the Tonle Sap.

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Cambodia has the least Chinese influences among all the other Mainland Southeast Asian nations.

Cows are a part of life in an agrarian economy and you see them all around Cambodia. Often you see children entrusted with the responsibility of walking with them.

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Since motorbikes are cheaper than cars in Cambodia is not unusual to see whole families on one bike.

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Rice is ubiquitous in Cambodian meals. It is served in many forms that include fried, steamed, noodles or dessert. (rice field)

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The relationship between water buffalo and humans in Cambodia is integral to their agricultural way of life. They have no fear of us. I was very close.  He was like “just take the photo already”.

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The official religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism which is practiced by 95% of the Cambodian population.

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Tarantula kebabs are a popular delicacy in Cambodia. Spiders are another delicacy or necessity served in Cambodia,

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Prahok is a national ingredient in Cambodia, and is made of fermented fish.

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Cambodian food is a complex mix of local dishes and various influences such as Thai, French, and Sino-Vietnamese and is really tasty. (amok and morning glory)

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Cambodia’s motto is “Nation, Religion, King.

The Temples of Angor are a great place to take wedding photos.

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The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is an outgrowth of the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kampuchea (PRPK), which through the 1980s served as the single party, providing discipline and leadership for the socialist state. It is not clear to what extent the transition to a multiparty democracy has taken place. There is a lot of corruption in the political system.

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Many people in Siem Reap speak English because “the people who know more teach the people who know less.” School is in the morning or the afternoon. Now most of the kids you see working in Siem Reap do it before or after school.

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Hammocks are a lifestyle  in Viet Nam and even more in Cambodia. Maybe it is the heat but they are everywhere.

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Garment export and tourism are two of the main industries that generate revenue for the economy of Cambodia. (I’m hoping garment export doesn’t mean factories with underpaid workers)

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Half of Cambodia’s current population is younger than 15 years old.

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Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated in Cambodia. Older people might not even know their birthdays.

In Cambodia, the head is regarded as the highest part of the body and shouldn’t be touched even in the nicest way.

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The Cambodian flag is the only national flag that has an image of a building – the Angkor Wat.

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Cambodia is home to the emblematic Angkor Wat temple, which is a silent testimony to how resourceful and artistically brilliant its people are.

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Fly safe,

JAZ

 

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

“Now without the bombs and gun shots, people can have a better sleep.“ from someone in the Mekong Delta.

The Mekong River has its origins in the mountains of Tibet, and it traverses six countries and 4500 km before spilling out into the Mekong Delta region of Viet Nam.

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After the rainy season, the water is brown from the silt that has been washed into it upstream.

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During the dry season the river becomes blue-green in color. There are many boats of different sizes and shapes traveling in all directions, including cargo boats, fishing boats, ferries, tourist boats and house boats.

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Everything happens on the river including the floating market of Cai Bei.

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All along the river, small huts are perched precariously on stilts so that the water at high tide does no more than wet the floor.

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Some are in good shape, but most are ramshackle, and one wonders how they manage to survive.

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During the Viet Nam War there was there was fighting there between the Viet Cong and the US Navy boats. After the war the Khmer Rouge attacked Viet Nam to reclaim the Delta area. This campaign precipitated the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and later downfall of the Khmer Rouge.

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The Mekong Delta is called the Rice Bowl of Viet Nam because most of the countries rice production comes from the Delta. They also have most of the country’s fisheries.

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The towns along the river are fun to explore by foot or bicycle.

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You will find French colonial architecture and delicious fruits and vegetables.

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The Mekong Lodge is an interesting place to stay on the Delta.

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It is reachable by boat and a good location for exploring the nearby villages and floating market. They are socially and environmentally responsible using eco-friendly materials for the bungalows, solar energy, rainwater, local ingredients and local employees. There is not a lot of English but it adds to the charm. Hand motions are the universal language and I am fluent in them.

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I had a great foot massage in a bamboo chair outside of my room overlooking beautiful gardens and fruit orchards of longan, rambutan, mango, durian trees and flowers. http://mekonglodge.com

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Another option are local guesthouses where you can stay with a lovely family on the Mekong.

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I spent some time at Muoi Huong Tourist Garden (070 3859992) with their lovely family and highly recommend it for a wonderful local experience. (Binh Hoa Phuoc Island, Long Ho District, Vinh Long, Viet Nam).

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I had a chance to talk to people in the Mekong Delta. What I noticed throughout Vietnam was some of the nicest friendliest people I met came from the Mekong Delta.

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There is an interconnectedness that all Vietnamese have with past generations that we do not have. Every home has an altar to their ancestors with photos and their favorite things on it. The smell of incense used for prayer permeates the country (not so good for me because I am allergic to it). But I love the idea of it – how the smoke rises up to connect them with their ancestors.

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They worship at communal houses.

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They work hard. They are underpaid and they do not complain.

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They have been helped by the efforts, work and suffering of previous generations and ancestors.

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Now they are part of the present, with each other, working toward a future when others will pray and thank them.

Special thanks to my tour guide in Saigon and the Mekong Delta Mr. Nguyen Dinh Thanh. Thanh is smart, funny, intuitive, helpful and very knowledgeable about everything related to Viet Nam. I had the best time exploring the Delta with him and highly recommend him as a tour guide.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Land Mines In Cambodia

Land Mines In Cambodia

“When elephants fight, ants get killed.” Cambodian Proverb

Everywhere you go in Siem Reap you will see disabled beggars. They are victims of war – victims of landmines.

The landmines in Cambodia were placed by different fighting groups (the Khmer Rouge, the Heng Samrin and Hun Sen regimes) during the Civil War in Cambodia in the 1970s. They were put in the whole territory of the country. One of the problems that Cambodia faces is that the people who placed the mines do not remember where they put them.

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Cambodia is still a very poor traumatized country from the cruel years of the Khmer Rouge. Almost every family has lost at least one family member and faced unbearable situations during that time. Most of the adults remember starvation. There are many terrible stories.

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The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may still be as many as four to six million mines. It will take at least ten more years to clear most of them out. They have 40,000 amputees. It is the largest number in the world which makes it the most disabled country.

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Even now about 250 people a year still step on land mines – most of them children. The hospitals are too far away and many of them die. The ones that don’t usually lose a limb.

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Traditionally in Khmer society the person who stepped on a mine was viewed as unlucky, their own bad karma having sentenced them to a life of misery. It was assumed, furthermore, that those with only one leg or one arm could not be productive members of society. This attitude of discrimination is changing and there are now some organizations to help the disabled.

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Some of the organizations have music groups that you will see around Cambodia especially in Angor Wat and the other temples. They sell their CDs and play traditional Khmer music.

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There are many organizations you can give to in Cambodia and in the US to help as well. Unicef, Cambodian Children’s Charity and Land Mine Survivors Cambodia are a few in the US. The American dollar goes a much longer way in Cambodia and even a small amount will help.

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The country is recovering slowly. They are determined to build and succeed, heal the wounded, forgive the unforgivable and have better lives.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

 

 

 

Ten Reasons To Go To Southeast Asia

Ten Reasons To Go To Southeast Asia

“What we think, we become.”- Buddha

  1. Angkor Wat –the largest temple in the world is a big bucket list item for me.
  2. Best quality fakes.
  3. I like seeing monks walking around and not just at temples – at the airport, on their cell phones, shopping, in the mall, on public transportation etc.
  4. Street Food. I wish that I was as adventurous as my food hero Anthony Bourdain, but if it’s cooked, or has a thick skin like mangos and someone else eats it first, I will try it.
  5. I like condensed milk in my coffee.
  6. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are in Southeast Asia, and since the beach season never ends, you can live in a state of perpetual summer (like Los Angeles where I’m from)
  7. Chaos – crowded cities with motorbikes and skyscrapers.  Contrasts – people working in triangle hats in green rice paddies.
  8. Amazing Asian photo opportunities for my new Asian camera.
  9. Culture and History – different Eastern traditions, lifestyles, fashion, beliefs , languages, ancient temples, the Vietnam War and the terror of the Khmer Rouge.
  10. Buddhism was recently voted the best religion in the world International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS) Joanna Hult, Director of Research for ICARUS said “It wasn’t a surprise to me that Buddhism won Best Religion in the World, because we could find literally not one single instance of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, in contrast to every other religion that seems to keep a gun in the closet just in case God makes a mistake’” I love Buddhist countries. The best part of the story is they can’t find a Buddhist to accept the award because “The Buddhist nature is in everyone.”

 

Fly Safe,

JAZ