One Last Day in Siem Reap

So, have you ever done this? Have you ever been convinced that your flight or train was at a certain time, but it terns out you were about 12 hours off? Funny story. I was sure that my flight left at about noon. I could have checked my itinerary. I should have. But there was this thing with a migraine last night and this other thing with me being certain, anyway, I didn’t check. So I checked out of my hotel, got in my cab and went to the airport. Which is where I discovered that I was about 12 hours early. OK so let me just say this – why haven’t Americans caught on to using 24-hour time yet? Because if my itinerary had said 23:25 I really wouldn’t have been confused. But OK, enough of that.
Obviously, I wasn’t going to sit around in the Siem Reap airport for 12 hours. If you haven’t been here, the terminal before entering security is the size of…say a medium-sized train station. There is a coffee stand. So, I went back outside, walked over to the arrivals section, and booked myself a taxi for the day. Off to see Siem Reap that isn’t the temples.
I didn’t get to hangout at the Night Market last night, so downtown Siem Reap was my first stop. My driver, Khen, (no, I do to normally name people here, but he would like publicity), dropped me off at the Blue Pumpkin, gave me his card with phone and email, and assured me he’d be back with my luggage when I called.
I did a lot of walking around. I bought a couple more things. I got another foot massage. This one was more intense. Ultimately relaxing, but intense. And, as with most things here, next-to-no money. Except I still managed to spend a fair bit of money while I was here. Part of it is the poverty. I tipped often, and I knowingly overpaid for things because I know that so many folks here have nothing. People here buy shampoo in little packets – like sample packets, because it’s too expensive for them to buy whole bottles. That kind of poverty. There are no fat people. In part because there’s very little processed and fast food here, and in part because people have to work so hard – physically – all the time. There isn’t a lot of rich food. That kind of poverty.
I didn’t see any old people either. My driver said its because most of them are dead, and the ones who aren’t are at home being cared for by their children.
Speaking of children, many children just go to work with their parents. There is no daycare for poor people. Families appear to be very loving.
I did buy some baby formula for a woman on the street. I don’t know how much she needed it, but I do know the baby was drinking water, and if she was desperate enough to beg min the first place, I know I’m already better off than she.
But people make it work here. I saw sad things today, and our own horrible legacy (I’ll be getting to that) but also many wonderful things.
I stopped in to the Artisans of Angkor. These are the folks who are, among other things, working on the temple restorations. They are making copies of the original works in soapstone and wood. Beautiful work.
After walking around for a while, I called Khen to pick me up, and he took me to the war museum. We had been talking about the bands that play at many of the temples. They’re made up of victims of landlines, and there is a landline museum, but he thought the war museum might be a little better – and much closer.
This is where I came face-to-face with our own legacy. Yes, it was the French who colonized Southeast Asia, but our own involvement in the Vietnam Nam war has continuing consequences in the region. I saw all manner of killing machines, including anti-aircraft missiles that look very much like what was used to bring down the Malaysian jet in The Ukraine. And landmines. All sorts of landmines. My guide is, himself, a landmine amputee. He counts himself as fortunate, because he was forced to fight, and losing his leg meant getting out.
We need to clean up the mines. We need to stop using them. Period. There is no except for. They are sinful. They are murder. This is important.
This, however, wasn’t the best way to leave Siem Reap. So next we went to the silk farm.
The silk farm reminded me in some ways of a vineyard, because it was the complete process from beginning to finished products. They grow the mulberries that feed the silkworms. They use the berries to make jam.
They breed and grow the worms. Then they spin the silk. This is interesting – I’d always thought that raw silk was just unprocessed silk. Nope. Raw silk is from the outside of the cocoon. Fine silk is from the inside. It’s all one strand, though. Cool, huh?
It goes through many stages – spinning, bleaching, dying, special dying in a pattern for batik, weaving, all by hand. It takes days to make a single scarf. That’s why even in Cambodia, the handmade silk is still a bit pricey. Not as pricey as in the US, but not $2.00 either. I was very restrained. Really. Very.
A little more driving around and dinner, and we talked about politics and corruption, and opportunities in Cambodia.
People do seem to talk freely, but they don’t rally trust the government. They complain about the corruption.
They like tourism but they don’t particularly care for Korean tourists. They bring their own guides and drivers, and most of the money goes back to Korea – not a lot of opportunity for locals to make any money. All the fees for tickets and such pretty much go to the government, so the people never see it.
Looks like I’m about to board, so I guess that’s my mite!

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