Friday, 4/25/14; Siem Reap, Cambodia
Today, Marvin talked me into getting on the oxcart, (used by the local farmers) for a 20-minute ride through a sandy trail in the country-side. The ride was two colleagues to a cart, so of 12 carts, we were the second cart in line. Marvin faced oxen butts pulling our cart. It was fun to watch the oxen team walking behind us with their long horns, large bodies and steady hooves on this bumpy trail. I pulled my feet in when the horns got a little too close for comfort. Strangely, I had a big smile on my face the whole way even as my freshly showered body was getting covered in clouds of dust. Maybe it was actually a grimace. Folks in the carts behind us had to be eating dust. (Wet wipes on board the bus saved me.)
We took a riverboat tour on Tonle Sap Lake in the heart of Cambodia to visit a fishing village. It was an eye opener, a visual of the sights and sounds of river life in this war torn country. It’s one thing to see this in movies and another when it is up close and personal. Living conditions of the river people seemed miserable to me. They live in floating houses, floating if the water is high (rainy season starts in May), stuck in the muck if the water is low which is their current condition. Property prices have gone up from $60/sq ft to $300, -so said our guide. There were several nice large homes. Speculators, astute investors and/or carpetbaggers. Probably all three. One cannot own the land here. All land is government owned. However you do own what you build on the leased land. Gov't can take the land, although they will pay you for your property on the land.
The River Existence: Sanitation? Near non-existent. Food? Limited. They fish, bathe and swim in the dirty water surrounding them. Vendors float by selling vegetables. The children? Happily-naked. Privacy? None, as we could see right through their homes. This experience was most disturbing and begged the question of how to help them. Would it be the NGO’s? Would it be the Cambodian government? If the government moves them off the river, what will be their new normal?
Lastly, the National Museum was a pleasant surprise. It was designed and orchestrated beautifully… nearly unbelievable after such a harsh visual of life on the Lake in the morning. The Siem Reap National Museum had to have cost millions!
(This just in per wiki: The museum is owned and operated by Thai Vilailuck International Holdings, based in Bangkok. It is currently displaying archaeological objects borrowed from the Cambodian National Museum in Phnom Penh. The name of the museum and its ownership has drawn controversy and criticism; that it is foreign-owned by Thai enterprise and suspected primarily interested in turning a profit instead of a genuine cultural institution.)
By 5 pm, we were in flight (1 hour) to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). More on Saigon in the next post.