Closing in on Closing Time

But First… More Temples, S-21, Monkeys, Kids, Buddhas, and Finishing up with Some Good.


A few hours from now we head back to Vientiane for an overnight and then the long journey home commences in earnest. Our last full tour day brought forth some of the most rewarding moments of our trip. It was commensurate with similar experiences we have encountered other places and, as usual, has a random act to thank for it.

A one hour drive through dusty roadwork was required to arrive at our last Temple Mount.

If you were worried about a dearth of mosques, worry no more.

A medium sized thoroughfare was being widened and expanded to handle increased anticipated traffic. Apparently government regulations surrounding expropriation are different here than home. In Montreal, fair market value is determined and the person being dispossessed of their property receives fair compensation. Here you are told that you are moving, your land is taken, and you get resettled where the government chooses. In this case, valuable street front properties, which usually had the family business in front and sleeping quarters upstairs or at the rear, were replaced by shacks that give any respectable shanty town a bad name.

Within a kilometre of Phnom Penh’s equivalent of District 6 is a beautiful and massive temple. The temple is inhabited by a few monks; but with some modest renovation could likely house the entire relocated population. The unfortunates live without electricity, running water, etc, The monks have Hi-Def 59″ TV’s.1080 Om. The temple is financed by the wretched souls who populate the slums nearby.

Our tour guide carries a wad of small bills when visiting this particular locale. The reason his mom nicknamed him Lucky was because after the Khmer came and arrested his father, older brother and older sister, eventually disposing of them in a nameless pit, his mom had a couple of hours to escape and ultimately managed to hide, shelterless in the jungle for two years until the Khmer Rouge nightmare ended.

Some of the thousands of children killed by Khmer Rouge.
Note the barbed wire. It was installed to prevent desperate prisoners from ending the torture by jumping out of the top floors to commit suicide.

Still haunted to this day, she feels lucky to have survived the ordeal with at least a few of her children. Based on relative experience, luck is a very subjective thing.

Sao ( tour guide) and one of the children.

Two of the kids hung on Lori and me as we ascended.

Lots of stairs


Like all waifs, they were dirty faced, badly clad, virtually shoeless with bright beautiful eyes shining a mix of content and hope.

On the way to the temple we were scheduled to visit a silversmith village, populated by orphans and the like, hammering out trinkets to be sold to the tourists. Behind us a full bus load of Indian tourists were following us into the encampment. I feel a visceral revulsion to displays and set ups as these. Parading the underprivileged before fat, rich tourists to tweak the heartstrings of charity is revolting, invasive, intrusive and exploitative. I instructed the driver to get us the hell out of there immediately and was able to breathe again upon leaving.

The two kids we met at the temple were orphaned cousins.

They walked with us and we spoke about school. They each attend a half day of primary that would have to increase its educational ratings tenfold just to be considered merely substandard. These and millions of other poor children in Cambodia have no fucking chance.

Further conversation led to an invite, We were asked to come visit the children’s homes! The driver, the guide, Lori and I were accompanied by the kids as we squished into the 4×4. It was their first time in a car.

We drove through a series of back roads and arrived at their village. Homes are built on stilts to protect against monsoon rains and to provide shade and shelter during sweltering summer heat. The two boys had both lost their fathers. Dead dads seem to be the rule here rather than the exception. Mom works in a sweat shop, an hour away in Phnom Penh and is home only rarely. Grandma takes care of the brood. The village had never received visitors. We were their guests in their homes, not interloping tourists gawking at the poor. The moment will never be lost on either party.

View into the back yard.
This litt girl, had she been born in Hollywood would have had a very different life.

A random visit left indelible memories on both sides. Notice a tinge of blond in the hair of some of the children.


When we were walking near the temple, our guide pointed to what looked like a recently constructed water catch basin. It contained fish, garbage, was green and brackish, and supplied drinking water and usable water to the nearby villages. The guide mentioned that the water reservoir never went dry.

Back in the hotel I was bothered by the streaks of blonde hair that many of the children displayed.

These kids often go to school hungry, so saving up money for the latest do didn’t seem likely. Mining my expansive mental reservoir, I remembered something about vitamin deficiency and blond hair [insert your favourite blond joke here]. Lori looked up on line and there exists a condition called arsenicosis, which turns hair partially blond, and also causes cancer, renal failure, skin lesions and other wonderful symptoms. Can this magic, never ending supply of nearby water either be leaching arsenic from nearby soil, or perhaps the source is one of those heinous Bhopal/Dow Chem-like situations? The cynical, jaded mind wonders.

The driver and our guide were hugely taken by this family. I am hoping that we can engage him enough to keep an eye on the village and do what he can to clean up and improve their lives from no chance to long shot. Tikun Olam, baby.


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