Monday, March 16, 2015

A Sad Day In The Neighborhood

16 March 2015

 We've been exploring our neighborhood, and found several nice places to eat or grab a cup of coffee or tea.  

We also found the local market nearby.  Crazy, hectic, crowded, a jumble of color and action - markets are always exciting!  I liked the hammocks all twisted up into braids of color, all piled up and looking like curls of paint.  Love it!  There was also one section for beautification - women in tiny shops and stalls having their hair done, or manicures, pedicures, facials, massages - all in the middle of the market!!!

And then we found the chocolate store.  The Chocolate Shop.  Really, that's the name of the place.  With wonderful, incredible, fabulous chocolate, made right there.  SO good!  I had a few pieces of dark chocolate, the best being the cacao pod shaped dark ganache - just very dark, with a thin layer of cocoa nib stuff in the center of the bittersweet ganache, covered in bittersweet couverture.  Richard, the milk chocolate guy, had a couple of pure chocolate dinosaurs.  Yes, chocolate animals.  He picked the dinosaurs, because he said the koalas were too cute to eat.

Anyway, this is THE chocolate place in Phnom Penh.  Definitely wonderful chocolate!  They have a few locations in the city - here's their website: 

Okay, I can't get the spacing to do what I want, so I apologize for the weird gaps.  Sometimes the website just won't cooperate.  Or something.

Anyway, we're in what might be an older part of the city.  Not really old, because the major temple and monuments and the palace aren't nearby.   But there are fancy homes with huge gates, and I find the over-the-top ornamentation just wonderful.  Pillars topped with princely crowns, gates covered in gilded grates and curliques.  Just so overly decorated, the epitome of nouveau riche kitsch.  Love it!

Plus we have this painting in our hotel lobby, what I think of as a modern-day Buddha.  Seriously, the face is straight off one of the temples, just that serene and placid face of eternity.  On a modern body, in suit and tie.  How else to interpret it?

Among all this beauty (and overdone beauty), and all this interesting bliss and Nirvana, the mundane intrudes.  Or not even the mundane, those with evil intentions.

I was happily walking down the street, taking photos, chatting with Richard.  He crossed the street, I paused to take a photo.  I gathered my stuff and started walking.  Now, to keep things simple, I carry a small clutch bag with a wrist strap - a wristlet.  Easy to keep track of, always attached to me, small enough to not be in the way, large enough for wallet, camera, notebook, tissues, glasses.  So as I start walking, I suddenly feel a hand slide between my body and the bag, I yelp as a motorcycle accelerates, and I feel my bag start to move out of my hand.  It occurs to me that someone is trying to snatch my purse, and it is still currently on my wrist, with the strap pulling.  Well, I don't get scared in these situations, I just get pissed!  So I yanked back on the strap and watched as my bag slipped out of the guy's hand and back into mine, as the two young men on a scooter zoomed off down the road.  As Richard said, they didn't know who they were messing with!  I'm glad I have my stuff, but my wrist and thumb are a bit swollen and bruised, despite our icing my hand as soon as we got back to our hotel.  And yes, I'm still a little jumpy today (this happened yesterday) - but I'm glad I have my purse and wallet, and don't need to replace all my stuff long distance.  (One of those worst case scenarios when travelling.) 

 So, we visited the killing fields.  If you are at all sensitive or get nightmares, please stop reading now.  The story is too sad, too depressing.  Really, you don't need to read this part.

If, on the other hand, you are a history junkie or expect the worst from humans, please continue.

There are killing fields all over Cambodia.  These are the areas where the Khmer Rouge took their prisoners after torturing them, and very systematically killed the people and buried the bodies in mass graves.  The largest was here, about 15 km (10 or so miles) outside Phnom Penh.  

It started out interesting but sad.  There are audio sets everyone gets as part of the admission fee, in the language of your choice.  You click the number of the sign and the recording tells all about the events, the site, what went on where.  I was okay with the abstract history.  But then things became too graphic, the numbers of those killed was appalling (an estimated 20 million people killed), and the personal stories just got to me.  Plus displays of bones, skulls, personal belongings that were dug up when the graves were uncovered - after a while I couldn't take any more.  There are some musical selections on the audio thing, so I just listened to that and walked around.

I think what is most appalling is that the Khmer Rouge were deliberately targeting anyone educated.  They wanted to rebuild a "better society" of farmers and laborers, and thus wanted to eliminate anyone with a college degree, or who spoke a foreign language, or any of a list of attributes or careers.  The talented, the intelligent, the ambitious were all killed.  So that no one would be willing to challenge Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge.

Again, if you really like history, this place is for you.  If you don't mind learning about how horrible people can be to each other, fine.  If you find places like Auschwitz interesting, you'll be okay with the killing fields.  

If all those things move you to tears, wreak havoc with your stomach, or give you nightmares, then give it a miss.  Or walk through and enjoy the flowers, the bird songs, the children's voices from the school down the road.  

All life-affirming sights and sounds that help lift me back out of despair.

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