Island Escape!

Trip Start Jan 12, 2013
Trip End Feb 27, 2013

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

I left the island of Koh Rong today and two things struck me that  I feel compelled to write about. 

First, I returned to Sihanoukville, booked a room and ticket to Kampot for tomorrow and then went to find food.  No problem.  Found a place, sat down, enjoyed my food and promptly tried to walk off without my shoes.  Apparently, in approximately 4-5 days I completely disavowed any knowledge or use of shoes.  Clearly this is a result of being on the island where shoes weren't really used.   Similarly, I used the bathroom in my room and found myself searching for the 50 gallon barrel of water with which to flush the toilet.  There wasn't one there.  Confused, I thought for a brief moment, 'Well, how the heck am I supposed to flush the toilet??!!'  It hit me then that this was a self-flushing toilet.  In more amazement than I would have expected, I pressed the lever and presto!  Down went the contents!  Amazing--and loud.   It's shocking what we can become accustomed to in such a short period of time.   In fact, I am finding  I am really starting to like these 'all-in-one' bathrooms in which the shower is next to the toilet and sink with no actual 'shower stall'.   Everything can be sprayed so there's no worries of 'oh no, the shower curtain is open and water is going on te floor!'  Nope, just spray wherever you wish.  Heck, I wash down the toilets and floors sometimes just to get a nice 'fresh' feeling. 

On to my next subject of tonight's blog...a decidedly more serious and sad topic.  I got a Lonely Planet book for Cambodia and the book 'Stay Alive My Son' from my friend Dave.  I began reading 'Stay Alive My Son' this afternoon and it details the true story of a man who lived through the Khmer Rouge ruling period.  Now, this book would be tragic if read not in Cambodia, but to read it on the beach of Cambodia while looking up to see the silouhettes and faces of older Cambodians who experienced this genocide, it is almost overwhelming.  Coupled with the offensive presence of hedonistic tourists intent on exploiting the beaches with no thought of what these people have endured is quite off-putting for me.  When the beggars with no legs came up to me while I was reading in my rattan chair on the beach, I almost started crying.  I asked him about his legs, but I already knew the answer, land mines.  The limbless Cambodians you see begging for money because they have no other means to survive are all almost exclusively a result of land mines placed during the fighting.  With an estimated 2 million people exterminated out of a population of 7.3 million people total in 4 years, the Khmer Rouge affected almost every single person in the country.  In my book alone, this man lost 17  of the 18 family members he started out with in only two years--him being the sole survivor!  That's why when I took stock of the Cambodians around me and noticed anyone over the age of 50, I could be almost certain that they were scarred by the Khmer Rouge.  Even today the population balance is quite skewed with significantly fewer males than females, especially in the older generations.   I found it so odd to be at the juxtaposition between emerging development and Westernization--aka, carefree boozing tourists--while still confronted with the realities of the sad sad past.  It is obvious the people want to move on---they smile freely and are generally open--but the 1970's were not so long ago.

This probably wasn't the greatest book to read after leaving your travel buddies behind.  I left everybody on the island and headed back to mainland to get going with my next travels, but now I think I shall try to forget the haunted faces of the Cambodians.  Great vacation.  Just great.
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Jonathan on

On Part 1: It sounds like you are being a good little pooper. Spending plenty of time in washrooms.
On Part 2: I think being grounded in reality and having respect for a people, especially those that have survived such tragedy is actually a healthy thing; keeps us close to humanity. I admire you for actually talking to a paraplegic Cambodian as opposed to ignoring or dismissing him/her. Sad as it is, I'm glad you got to read that book while there. I'm proud of you.

Linda on

I agree with Jon. It was probably the most appropriate place to read the book and see and feel the impact on this group of people and the horror of genocide. Since the population of Cambodia is so young, most don't even remember the Khmer Rouge era, and they only began teaching it in their school history in 2009, and as far as I know tribunals are still be held for war crimes of leaders of the Khmer Rouge as they find them. I am sorry for the sadness on your trip. I think this is what happens when you travel abroad and actually see not only the beauty but also the sorrow. Your eyes are open.

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