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One Imagination empowers the current and next generation of leaders through written and oral expression. As a collective based in the Long Beach/South Bay area, we believe that through conscious artistic programming, community education and outreach, and leadership development, we can cultivate a world free of hatred, ignorance, injustice, inequality, and oppression.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Angkor What?

-Angkor WATT, yall! aka the Disneyland of Cambodia. Such a tragic location, once the beautiful symbol which held Khmer pride now turned into another large cultural commodity. Although it is still an icon to the indigenous of this land, it is only a fa├žade to hold on to what is left of the 90% of culture which has been lost. Landmine victims and street children still swarm the area, begging tourists to buy their products with a fast mind at calculating numbers. The entrance fee is a whopping $20 for non-Khmers and tuk tuk drivers compete for business by following tourists around, hoping that their transportation will be their day’s income which averages up to $3.

Marissa (my roommate) and I woke up on the third day of being in the capital Phnom Penh and said coincidentally, “Let’s go to Siem Riep!” So after having lunch with Ratha and two new friends from France who were ready to board back home that day, we bought a ticket and were on a bus less than fifteen minutes later to embark on a 6 hour ride towards Siem Riep, the city where Angkor Watt is located. After arriving, we were swarmed with tuktuk drivers and went with the first one who approached us. After trying four different locations we finally found one with an open room, which happened to be the same place I stayed at last year. Our tuktuk driver followed us inside and kept begging for our business, attempting to give us the guilt trip about how poor he is. It is difficult to shrug this type of thing off your shoulder; for even though you know he is poor it makes you think about every tuktuk driver you want to help. The Khmer people are only here to serve the tourists and will not have the luxuries to do what we do as travelers.

That night we walked on the main tourist streets, where I saw only European and light-skinned Asians probably from Korea, Japan, and China. Am I being too paranoid to say that I felt so out of place – with their stares as to why I was walking within their vicinity? Their gaze would only turn away once they heard English come from my tongue. Everything was overpriced and I felt I was being constantly cheated. The only signs of Khmer people were the workers at the restaurants, the tuktuk drivers, the prostitutes, and the landmine victims playing their instruments. –Culture as a commodity. You would never, EVER find them dining on this street.

The most widely sold beer here is called ANGKOR, “My country, my beer”. In both the Thai and Khmer language, “Watt” translates into ‘temple’. So to distribute this sacred and spiritual location onto an alcoholic product is subliminally exploiting Khmers.

The next day, Marissa and I rented bicycles ($1 per day!) and rode around Angkor Watt. The experience was like meditation, but with physical activity. As I watched tourists crowd into busses and tuk tuks, I wondered how much of a real connection they were getting with this place when they were enclosed within metal cages. We parked our bikes and walked into the temple, and as we stared at a tall stone sculpture a fifteen year old Khmer explained to us how it was Shiva. He ended up being our tour guide, because not only did his English excel but he was extremely knowledgeable about Angkor Watt. He was excited with every detail of temple and year in history he gave us. It turns out he wants to be a tour guide when he is older, but school costs $20. Without him asking, we gave him the money for school. As other children follow you with postcard, t-shirts, and bracelets, not many of them can answer your questions about Angkor Watt. He is Cambodia’s future in preserving the culture.

In the middle of the day, my friend Phanna (bboy peanut) picked us up with his cousins and we rode for hours on the motos around the countryside. It was nice to be away from the tourists and to finally eat affordable food. I went clubbing with them, too, and lost half of one of my toenails as I was leaving because someone stepped on my foot. (We’re real twins now, John! :D)
Everything here is exactly like Thailand, for Thailand was once one nation with Cambodia. Now they rival against each other, though the only real difference is language and pride, especially of which nation Angkor Watt belongs to.

Expensive condominiums are being built around Angkor Watt, highly unaffordable to the Khmers in the area. Also, shopping centers are springing up in the cities and not a single billboard has a Khmer face on it. Who gives a shit about Gucci and Coach here.

What will become of it?

Anyways, I’m back in the capital now, Phnom Penh.
Hope I didn’t bore any of you!

Until next time,



Rudy said...

"If we are good enough to work here in the resort, why aren't we good enough to live here?" - Lori Condinus (works at Disneyland)mentioned earlier last year to the Anaheim City Council.

Those images remind me of the gentrification going on in our cities back here in America. There's a lot of modernization going on (lofts being built, new [chain] business coming in etc) but the people that live around those downtowns can't afford it, not the "high end" (more expensive, same shit) restaurants or the new condos. At least there will be new jobs I guess...tho the bits of culture we have left are disappearing.

Just like that tour guide filled with his peoples history though, it is up to us to do the same here and fight for what we value.

Thank you June for updating us! I hope you continue to make new friends, and remember that your old ones miss you. x]

How are the kids btw?

guava said...

One day I will experience Cambodian culture. But, for now, I will have to rely on your words, June.

Do you have any pictures/video footage?

jmk said...

I do, but I don't know how to upload. To be honest, I haven't taken many pictures at all. It is the end of my second week stay and I am still on full with my battery. Strange, huh?