Good day from Cambodia. After a day or two touring southern Laos, we have flown to Siem Reap. It seems that South East Asia and Europe have a commonality. After each war borders and allegiances change. As intriguing and insightful as my in depth analysis would be, I will spare you lucky readers the details. Broad strokes here goes. Five countries make up the thumb of SE Asia that we see on the map. One country is Commie – Laos. But they’ve loosened up the chains economically. Then there is Myanmar, formerly known as Burma and prior to that for you fans of The King and I and Twins – Siam. They are coming out of a 25 year nightmare, having been run by a military dictatorship. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Prize laureate and all around amazing lady is taking over the reins. Better days ahead but bad days between Laos and Siam that haven’t quite healed over the past 500 years or so.Then there is Thailand, with Bangkok as the regional super city. They call it New York on Steroids. I always thought New York was on steroids. Anyways, Thailand runs the show. Cambodia, in the running for all time winner in the SE Asia genocide derby with the stellar performance of the Khmer Rouge 1975-78,
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is trying to catch up but has a long way to go. Then there’s our old, OK new, friend Vietnam. Having obliterated the southern half of their own country in, as they put it, The War against American Aggression and having subsequently implemented a massively corrupt military regime that controls internet access [no Facebook in ‘Nam, could you just die?], Vietnam is the bully on the block.
They have financed the Khmer Rouge and fought side by side. Until the KR became too strong, so they changed teams and wiped them out. As souvenirs of various wars over the past few decades, with Cambodia and Laos, unexplored ordinance litter the borders. They also control governments in both Laos and Cambodia through huge under the table payoffs to the Big Boys. For example, the Cambodian working class hate their Prime Minister and their figurehead king for doing nothing to advance the cause of the middle class. Average wages here are $120 per month. There are over 2 million Vietnamese working in Cambodia, on work visas. But somehow, come Election Day, they all have voting cards. And so the story goes. Corruption, greed, underhanded deals and the poor get screwed. If it doesn’t work out for The Donald in November, I can offer him a selection of nations to rule more up his alley. ‘Nuff said.
Brief tour of the region. Pakse is in southern Laos. A 45 minute flight from Vientiane and we find ourselves on a longtail boat cruising down the Mekong. We pass a huge complex, three quarters completed. A large grey behemoth surrounded by what appear to be apartment buildings. The place was supposed to be a casino. All permits in place, work well underway and – presto-chango the new governor of the province decides that gambling ain’t for him and kills the project bankrupting the developer.
The next property is even larger. It is a Versailles-esque palace that is lived in by a wealthy coffee industrialist.
There are five family members in residence with three of them at school out of the country. Remember what I said about $120 per month average salary?I don’t think it applies here.
So, as I’m going around the bend, so is the boat. We come to the part of the river known as 4,000 islands. Take that, Ontario.
We head downstream for a few hours stopping at a temple known at Wat Phou. Which is exactly what I ask our guide. Turns out that the temple has a similar history to Machu Picchu in that it sat undiscovered for a very long time and what Hiram Bingham III did for MP, a French colonialist did for Wat Phou by stumbling over it in the late 1800’s. Like many other temples here, it has changed religion more times than Elizabeth Taylor had changed husbands. Built as a Hindu temple, ostensibly because of a 30 meter high rock at the summit in the shape of, as the Hindu say, lingham [hint if you’re a guy, look down],
it has been turned into a Buddhist shrine. All the linghams were removed and put into storage [nowadays it’s called marriage] and the pedestals were replaced with a bunch’a Buddhas. There are still several statues devoted to the three major Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
I am attempting to marry the interfaith aspect between Judaism and Hinduism in the same way that the Hindu-Buddhist amalgamation works. So far I’ve gotten as far as “Vishnu?” “Not much; Vishnu with you?” Any additional help will be appreciated.
Beautiful views and a happy ending to a magnificent heritage sight now on UNESCO’s hit list. Our pilgrimage took most of the day. I’ll talk about tomorrow tomorrow.