It all was once a flourishing land, a beautiful and grand abode, a place of worship, a place of refuge….a place where the heavenly Gods resided. And today, these temples and courtyards, these long corridors, these altars, these very same walls carry with them both memories and horrors. Memories of the glorious past, of colorful festivities and horrors of war, destruction and battles won and lost. Whether it was the battle between kingdoms or war amongst countries and its own people, it has left a deep scar on the soul of many. Have their wounds healed? Hard to say. When you are struggling to have the basics such as food, shelter and clothing, it is hard to focus on the wounds caused by any kind of tragedy. The best way to survive and grow is to forget about these deep wounds and to adapt….for your own sake and for the sake of your future generations. And that is what many Cambodians have done – adapt and move on.
Since the growth of tourism industry in Cambodia, these temple ruins and museums have become a major attraction. And Cambodians have adapted to this increase very well. If you go to Siem Reap, the Old Market has hundreds of small shops selling souvenirs, street food and handicrafts. And they also have a “Pub Street” specially for the tourists….a street full of bars, pubs and restaurants selling western food and drinks. Ironically it is easier to find a pizza place than find a restaurant selling good local food. The compounds of Angkor Wat and other temples are full of women and children trying to make a living by selling handicrafts. Can you imagine your five year old selling things on the street after few hours of school to help out his/her family?? It is heartbreaking to think about it much less witness it. But for Cambodians….it is adapting to the increasing growth with the hope that it will improve their quality of life. Many of us will think this is completely wrong but when you cannot have basic needs met in a society that is completely driven by money, there is a thin line between right and wrong.
We spent days in Cambodia visiting these temples and museums and those were the toughest days for both of us. What the people have gone thru specially due to internal and external war is outrageous. And what is more ridiculous is that the horrors of their past are still lingering on….there are thousands of landmines still existing, and the efforts to remove them are slow due to lack of resources. There are still cases where children in villages unexpectedly come across a landmine and are disabled for life due to its explosion! How can you expect a country to grow and heal when their environment is poisoned with the past???? Sad thing is that these present and future generations have to deal with this on their own while rest of the world and developed nations worry about their rising stocks and falling shares. It’s like their fate was written for them long before they were even born.
For all the things that have happened in Cambodia due to external war, if all the nations pull together a fraction of their resources, they will be able clean up the mess they created in this country….with only a fraction of their resources. And the impact of this will last for generations. We talk about taking responsibility for our actions at an individual level. How about countries all over the world take responsibilities for their actions for a change!