Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thinking back for a moment

I'm remembering moments and glimpses now of the last several days and weeks. The bell boy who picked me up on his bike in Phnom Penh, who was so friendly and generous with his time. He showed me a lot and if I return I'd ask him perhaps to take me around to take photogrphs in places I shouldn't go alone.
He took me to Martinis, a bar in some neighborhood you enter into a courtyard, past the begging of a dreadfully deformed dwarf who spoke disconcertingly good English. In the courtyard were tables and chairs and some vague music in the background, with a light crowd. At a glance it seemed like a pleasant place and then he took me into another space off the courtyard, dark, a bar clearly, throbbing hip hop music, strobing light somewhere and girls standing around that seemed to suddenly start dancing as we appeared. The girls seemed to be all remarkably young, mostly quite pretty by western standards and many of them looking in my direction. We bought beer. After a time some western men came in accompanied by other females. Then, in the dark, with the trobbing beat I hesitate to call music, it became dreadfully clear that this was quite literally a meat market with buyers drifitng in to view the goods. I've heard about this, read about this, never seen it. I feel like the character in The Mission, who represents the Vatican and who comes to South America to decree that they will abandon the mission in the jungle they established to keep the natives free from the slavery of the plantations. During the first part of the film he is impassive and imperious in his decisions. When after he has been pleaded with by his young Jesuits to not give up on what they began he brushes them aside. A blood bath ensues with total destruction of the civilizing aspects they had brought with them as the natives go to war against the Spanish and Portugese. At the end the Vatican emissary sees what his decision has wrought, he is horrofied and beyond chagrin and how wrong was his decision. I feel like that man viewing this crowd of girls I could have been in high school with at another time in my life and I see the horror, the "heart of darkness" here in these predatory circling men, middle aged, unshaven, in shorts and tee shirts and sandals as they prepare to buy their choice prime for the evening. As we leave I cannot pass the deformed dwarf and his pleading again. I stop and give him all the Cambodian currency I have. By the way the only way you end up with this currency is as change for your dollars. Hence you never receive anything but less than a dollar in change as they try to make all purchases in round dollars. I gave him my "change" a pathetic offering to this bright faced, determined survivor, begging at the door of what I see now is a brothel, he looks up at me with infinite gratitude and thanks me profusely for my nearly nonexistent gift. I want to cry.
Later I'm taken to another bar, a little less harsh for my taste and I am serenaded by The Monkees singing Daydream believer. In this part of the world it seems so hard to excape some of the worst of America. I guess like so many, we keep the best for ourselves at home. That's not what I'm traveling to see though.
The next day he took me to a stretch along the river where there are obviously a string of western style restraunts and he chooses one where we sit. A pleasant looking Caucasian girl is at the next table alone. I smile and she smiles back. I speak and she speaks, so we sit with her. It is so nice to hear my language and be understood and listen to someone elses perceptions.
She lives in Taiwan with her boyfriend teaching English, she came to Cambodia alone because her boyfriend had been and didn't want to return. We discuss the fact of how neither of us likes traveling alone and how important companionship in the experience. We trade stories of our backgrounds, she of Ukranian extraction grew up near Toronto, went to college, things where I live in the states is paradise and has a sister in northern California. I talk about myself too much and can see she is feeling weary. She admits to getting sick and feeling the weight of being a female traveling alone. She came not for vacation but to volunteer for ten days at an orphanage. There is a great deal of presence of agancies revolving around children here, pediatric hospitals and groups of orphans taken in by a single person. I met such a group at Angor, a wizened old man with one tooth in front and a dozen or more small children in tow. He had found them all in the street and was trying to care for them with donations. I took pictures and he gave me his card. The young woman and I part after the tree of us share a meal and I am taken on to see another piece of Phnom Penh nightlife as well as the facinating view of the city at night from the back of a motorcycle.

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