Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cambodia Journal--Soil Rouge and Ruin with Smile

It takes no time of our van to be off the paved road, and I realized that I am truly in Indochina. The red soil, easily turned muddy after rain, is extending toward the horizon. It is a strong color for one to step on, it gives you heavy steps.


It is the land connecting by blood in history with people that are depicted in The Quiet American. It is the land where the undying Robert Capa stepped on a landmine. It is the land despaired time and again by war. It is called Indochina in the recent historical term.


Khmer Rouge, as late as 1998, still running free and rule with ruthlessness and brutality in the jungle west of Siem Reap. They swang the hands with blood while they walk.


Before the trip, Angela suggested that we visit an orphanage with gifts. I feel surprised with the idea of putting an orhangage in our travel itenary. I feel a bit self conscious of being condesending--do they really need the good will of naive tourists of Ankor Wat, who come and go like the rain in the wet season.


They don't need our good will, they gave us theirs, by letting us see their life.

They live in 6 different bamboo houses built 1.5 meters above ground, typical Cambodia style, for the monsoon season, I guess. They were all in a room watching some old western on an old TV set. Their little slippers scattered around outside the door.

In their houses, beside clothes, some book and matt for the night, they do not have much of anything else. It is a clean and simple life, not sorrow, not greed, with dignity and a little but true smile.


Their soccer uniforms hang dry after an afternoon games, I can hear they laughters, running bare footed on the playground, red mud on their foot.



I also took this photo of their drawings, I notice there are lot of green in them, the color they know well. Through the window below, is their kitchen. 58 kids with 12 staff, they built up a little quiet home a little north of the city of Siem Reap.



What do you need most? We asked the shy girl who received us and showed us the place. She said: Rice. And of course, one of the most important producers of Rice can not afford it anymore. Not to say this little orphanage.

We were ready to see some sad sitautions, but we saw only traquility and honesty with life that lies ahead. I somehow feel ashamed for myself, for my inner restlessness, by their calmness. Something in me settled down slowly, finding its right places. I turned my head toward the endless rice paddies outside the little compound, watching water buffalos chewing.


Instead of rice, we brought toys and water color drawing pens. They will be able to draw more red and the green, they will be able to draw what their little dream can tell them.

Those brilliance that they know once exists, in Marco Polo's time, their forefathers have built these temples with art and architecture skill of highest ranking.

From what I read, the Mekong river delta and the great lake near Siem Reap, cultivated the great cilvilzation of the Khmer. Enriched with their rice output and enormous output of freshwater fish, their life thrived. And their king become God king, who can summon the labor force to build city-like temples, sometime hosting 1,000 students, studying in the temple libraries.

Bayon is at the center of the royal city Ankor Thom. The most accurate record of Ankor Thom is left by a Chinese traveller, who visited the golden city around 11th century.

There is no more gold left today. Today the ruin of Bayon is dark, and consumed, covered in some cases by green moss. Many rooms have collapsed over the time, as Jungle taking over the towers.

But the remaining thirty-seven face towers, each with four faces of the God king, is still stunning. There is a sure silence while you stand among them, looking up, but meanwhile the sound of the silence is echoing through the towers.

My eyes are filled with tears of awe and feeling of assurance. Big rocks hoisted together to form that tranquil smile, yet its brokeness only makes it more real and powerful.


His face is alive, as if listening to the steps of the marching army that is going off to fight with the Chams from the river, as if enjoying the hums of music accompaning the dancers who always wore exquisite head piece and carried lotus flowers, with light steps but ample and wavy bodies, or he is just quietly happy.

You see them when you turned a corner, or look through a corridor, you see them under different light, from different angle, with different perpective. They all smile with a little mystery, little satire. One moment they look the same, the next, they seem to have a thousand expressions.



This has to be my favorite of the Ankor Wat Temples, I told myself, even if I have barely started.


You just know. Or it is because of the contrast, how what we see in the kids and the country side, and then the ruins, amplified and verified each other.


I don't know whether God indeed create people after their own image, or we carve the image of God after our own, the latter seems to be true here--in this sacred smile that stands against 100o years of jungle, heat, war, I believe I know why their people can still smile the best, from their heart, with fire burns that ruined their faces, with no parents to go to, no modern necessities of any sort. It did not change for all these years.


Through the impossible presence of extreme poverty and beauty, happiness find its little foothold and I am so privileged to get a glimpse of it.

1 comment:

meawmeaw said...

There is no incident on earth, everything happens for a reason. We only might be able to tell what's actually being connected much later. For sure the Siam Reap trip had great impact on us, but the true mission of this trip in our lives will only be reviewed in ... no time ... maybe... Angela.