|Whatever I or any of us write about Cambodia needs to be taken in the context of the recent history of this country.
I'm glad that I didn't get around to writing my logs on Cambodia until after I'd travelled through the north east of the country and had a chance to visit and experience Phnom Penh and in particular the Killing Fields and the S-21 prison. Because only when you look at the devastating events that took place 30 or so years ago do you get a sense for the people and this country.
If the people look poorer , less happy, less welcoming, or seem less well educated in English than their South East Asian neighbours, they have a good excuse. Just thirty four years ago, when I was twelve, Pol Pot and his regime instigated one of the most brutal purges in history. Some one to two million people died. Many were marched into the countryside to undertake forced labour, and died from malnutrition or disease. 17,000 were sent to the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, tortured, interrogated and then sent to the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh where they were executed.
If I had lived in Phnom Penh rather than England, my parents, grand parents and perhaps I and my brother and sister would now be dead. So while I and most of the rest of the world were happily enjoying the 70s, Cambodia was losing a whole generation (I read that 50% or 60% of the current population is under 16). And suffering the associated physical and psychological traumas that still remain today.
When I came to Cambodia some ten days ago my first impression was of poverty (I entered in the north east of country). Of a people who were not overly friendly – at least not when compared to Laos or Thailand. Of poorer service and English skills than elsewhere in South East Asia. Now, after I've travelled through more of Cambodia, and spent time in the capital Phnom Penh, I feel a sense of guilt at my initial observations. Thirty years isn't that long ago. Cambodia is recovering, rebuilding, still remembering and grieving(I saw this first hand when I visited the Killing Fields). In this context the people are doing a remarkable job, and I'll remember this as I continue my travels and each time I meet and speak with Cambodians.