Posts Tagged Cambodia
As the year 2013 is drawing to a close, I am thinking of the previous years. Last year, for me, the highlight was the visit to the floating village in Cambodia, on the shores of Lake Tonle Sap, near Siem Riep.
The visit generated many conflicting emotions. Gawking at the people, as they went about their daily lives, seemed voyeuristic and clearly an invasion of their privacy. We could also see the power of water and rudimentary and creative ways that people adapt to dealing with sometimes destructive force of nature. In most of rural Cambodia, houses are frequently built on stilts, so the homes can survive the rising waters of intense Camodian monsoons. And people have hammocks tied to the roofs and there are hammock bars as well. Nice way to relax and stay dry, if needed. In the floating village, however, the houses are often on riverboats and they actually float and the entire village moves depending on the ebb and flow of the waters.
While the abject poverty of the people living on the water and living off of whatever the water provides, was heart-wrenching, it seemed strange to buy junk food from mothers at highly inflated prices and donate it to their kids. The village mainly subsists on fishing and fish farming and there is a community market, a school, a general store, small clinic and dispensary, a Catholic church and a Buddhist church. Sometimes it seems that the Government uses the poverty of the people to generate tourism and it does not seem to be at the greatest advantage of the people. Neesha (my sweet child and my loveliest travel companion) and I were glad to visit an orphanage where children were happy and smiling, and make donation there.
Visit to Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields (seeing rows upon rows of skulls neatly lined up) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum with cells, interrogation paraphernalia etc., was a gut wrenching, soul searching, thought provoking, tear streaked, heart rending experience. Why do people do horrible things to people; brother to sister; child to mother? Out of about 7M population at the time, Cambodia lost close to 4M people; due to war, rebellion, man-made famine, genocide, and politicide, including over 2M in mass murder by Khmer Rouge. Every family perhaps had someone who was killed and someone who was responsible in some way, for the killings. It was extremely sad, solemn visit.
Temples and Palaces of Cambodia
The temple complex of Angkor Wat was the main reason I wanted to visit Cambodia. Ever since I learned about Angkor Wat in 6th grade, I wanted to visit the temple. Angkor Wat was first a Hindu, and then a Buddhist temple complex in the country and it is the largest religious monument in the world. The temple was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II, in the early 12th century. He broke from the Savism tradition of the previous kings, and dedicated the temple of Angkor Wat to Lord Vishnu. The temple is beautifully preserved. There are more than 1000 temples built between 9th and 13th centuries. We also visited the temple where The Tomb Raider and Indian Jones Temple of Doom were filmed. It was a mystery as to how the huge stones used to built the temples were moved there but researchers have now solved the mystery and declared that the stones were brought there through a network of hundreds of canals.
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, consists of a set of buildings which serve as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia, whose full name is a mouthful. It is Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol. This has been a primary residence of the kings of Cambodia since 1860s. But it was noticeably unoccupied during the turbulent times of the Khmer rouge reign. The palace faces East and serves as an allusion to Lord Brhama. It is absolutely gorgeous structure with Throne Wall, Moonlight Pavilion, Silver Pagoda, impressive Temple of Emerald Buddha, and more. It covers almost 175,000 meters.
Syria has presented an interesting conundrum for the US. For over 2 years, charming Syrian dictator who is also a ruthless murderer, Bashar al Assad has laid siege upon his own people and has systematically massacred over 100,000 civilians, and millions have become refuges. World watches helplessly. What is a US president to do? Welcome to the 21st century, where American mindset will prove lacking, unless we embrace complexity and uncertainty.
We in the US, like clear problems that have clear solutions. We do not like shades of gray. We like our leaders to be decisive, not reflective. And we just do not understand the complexities that exist in many parts of the world, except in a perfunctory manner. For instance, we can rattle off statistics about how many languages are spoken in certain parts of the world; we can talk about gender differences in parts of the world; we can speak about class dynamics. What we do not understand are the underlying reasons that make it so; the stakeholders who want to preserve the status quo and why; those who clamor for change and how they are in no way different from any of us in the US, in terms of their tech savvyness, their English speaking skills, and who may be more savvy in terms of their cultural insights.
President Obama has been criticized for the “zig-zag” nature of his policy, in response to Syria. I will however, go out on a limb, and say that this is exactly what we need from our leader in the new, global, multicultural world fraught with enormous complexities and serious challenges; a world that does not present clear problems and one that is much less ready for clear, decisive solutions. This is not a world where one sentence rhetoric that says, let us capture Bin Laden “dead or alive” will work.
In fact just to make my point with clarity that the Americans so love, I am going to quote some Bushisms below.
“Removing Saddam Hussein was the right decision early in my presidency, it is the right decision now, and it will be the right decision ever.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., March 12, 2008
“Wait a minute. What did you just say? You’re predicting $4-a-gallon gas? … That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Feb. 28, 2008
“Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.” — George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., June 2, 2008
“Oftentimes people ask me, ‘Why is it that you’re so focused on helping the hungry and diseased in strange parts of the world?'” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., April 18, 2008
The thing is that world is not so strange to a lot of people who not only have stepped out of their homes and their comfort zones and traveled places and mingled with people vastly different from them. Additionally, with technology people can make little google guy on street view walk and go places for them and people do research on wikipedia and they use skype, telepresene, go to meeting, webex and other technologies to bring the world closer and there are no far-away, “strange” places. The thing is that removing any dictator or an abuser of human rights is neither a fully right decision and nor is it a completely wrong one.
Consider the competing priorities that the President of the US must manage. In this new world, the US cannot act as a cop and neither can the US remain a helpless bystander. The US President, commander-in-chief of the armed forces cannot simply ignore Assad’s blatant refusal to follow the rules previously agreed upon by 190 odd countries, regarding the ban of chemical weapons. But neither can the President of the US ignore the fact that Americans are tired with war and they do not want their leader calling them to make sacrifices, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. The US cannot ignore the moral imperative to intervene; if the US does not escort the moderates now than it is less likely we will find them later. Nor can the US ignore the national interest argument of Assad gone mad and his people pouring into the neighboring regions; more countries and groups may stockpile such weapons and use them and someday they could be used against the US.
President Obama’s considered response – actually responses, his willingness to come forth and present the argument to the American people, his reluctance to jump into war, his willingness to get support from the Congress, his flexibility to change the course of military action, all this is precisely what we need in a leader who must weigh the competing complexities, not just once, but on a daily and hourly basis. And despite this, the President is neither waffling, nor has run out of options.
President Obama has warned the Syrian dictator, over and over that the world is watching and keeping track of his human rights abuses. Assad was warned regarding the use of chemical weapons. The president has gone and discussed with the world leaders; though the countries do not want to intervene, there is tremendous tacit support in the world, and huge disapproval of Assad’s actions. The president has gotten solid evidence of use of chemical weapons by Assad, has sought approval from the Congress for military strike, and the president has explained to American people and ensured us that there will be no boots on the ground, that we will not be called upon to make significant sacrifices, when we have our own priorities and challenges to deal with. And now, another dictator, Vladimir Putin has come forth, to help the process of negotiation and Mr. Obama has also entertained that. At this point Mr. Obama has built the most solid case that if he uses military might, it will only be after he has tried every other option and the objective will be to strike strategically Assad’s control and command posts, with an objective to weaken him, without putting boots on the ground.
Now let us also answer those who say that military strike to weaken Assad is an action that is too little, too late. Middle East is a complex region. There are many voices, many stakeholders; there are many who suffer deeply and there are many who bestow deep suffering onto others. Going into that region with an idea to fix something, to take a dictator out, to support a friend, to hurt a foe, to broker a peace, will never have intended consequence because every action from outside, generates equal and opposite reaction from inside. However, what we can do is to give a blow to anyone flaunting violating an agreed upon treaty, a few precise air strikes that send a strong message that you can get away with only so much before the world will take notice of your actions and send a punishing message. This action, while conveying a message to Assad, also would convey a message to the rebels that if they stay focused and disciplined than the world will not completely forget them and they have friends outside who are committed to seeing the atrocities stopped. It is nice to have moderate friends in that region. It would give a psychological boost to the rebels and we would hope that some of them are moderate. Strategically, it would keep the situation from spiraling completely out of balance, a situation where Assad’s side could get so powerful that they may completely wipe out the other side from every raising its head.
We know what happens in situations that spiral out of balance. The examples are many and they are heartbreaking – Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, after World War I; rape of Nanking, China, by the Japanese in 1937; atrocities against the Jews in Nazi Germany, before the end of world war II; civil war that wiped out its entire educated population, in Cambodia, in 1970s by Pol Pot led Khmer Rouge; Muslim genocide in Kosovo in 1990s, under the leadership of all too powerful Slobodan Milosevic; genocide and slaughter of the Tutsis by the powerful Hutus in Rawanda, in mid-1990s. Atrocities committed by Assad regime are nearing that kind of epic proportions. And he has one chance now to deliver and destroy his chemical weapons.
Vladimir Putin has also made a mockery of human rights in Russia. And now he has an opportunity to emerge as a politician of some stature, not just by sending in an op-ed piece, obviously written by someone else; but by bringing value to the table in getting Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stockpiles over to the international community. Syria, better pay heed, that the country that cherishes democracy, seeks to stop human rights abuses, embraces the weak, and the children, is not soft at its core; it has mettle and is committed to its principles and it will not sit idly watching this ruthless man massacre innocent children. And as for us, to operate more effectively in the complex, smaller, new world, we better learn to become comfortable with lack of certainty, fuzziness and shades of gray; we’d better learn some flexibility and adaptability; and we’d better understand that we live in a global community. If TB and Bird Flu can travel across countries with great speed, so can chemical and biological weapons, and there is a reason that most of the world has made a pact to banish such weapons of mass destruction.
For me, a big theme this year has been water. Hurricane Sandy once again reminded us of the destructive power of water. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, (http://bit.ly/XizQZL) a challenging water movie, depicting life sustained in and by water, was a treat for the senses at every level. And to borrow a water metaphor, if our eminent leaders (in the so called free world), do not quickly resolve the fiscal cliff, then there is a chance we will all fall of the cliff, and drown in high taxes. I loved reunion with my college buddies, near the ocean in Orlando, and yearly visit with my mother, in India, despite the monsoons.
For me, the highlight of the year was visiting the floating village in Cambodia, on the shores of Lake Tonle Sap (http://bit.ly/TPGLE2), near Siem Riep. The visit generated many conflicting emotions. Gawking at the people, as they went about their daily lives, seemed voyeuristic and clearly an invasion of their privacy. While the abject poverty of the people living on the water and living off of whatever the water provides, was heart-wrenching, it seemed strange to buy junk food from mothers at highly inflated prices and donate it to their kids. Neesha (my sweet child and my loveliest travel companion) and I were glad to visit an orphanage where children were happy and smiling, and make donation there. Visit to Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields (seeing rows upon rows of skulls neatly lined up) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum with cells, interrogation paraphernalia etc., was a gut wrenching, soul searching, thought provoking, tear streaked, heart rending experience. Why do people do horrible things to people; brother to sister; child to mother? Out of about 7M population at the time, Cambodia lost close to 4M people; due to war, rebellion, man-made famine, genocide, and politicide, including over 2M in mass murder by Khmer Rouge. Every family perhaps had someone who was killed and someone who was responsible in some way, for the killings.
And speaking of the horrors, people in Syria have been suffering at the hands of the brutal dictator, for too long, now. By now, almost 50K are presumed killed and close to 30K, reported missing, and over a million Syrians are displaced, as the world watches, helplessly. It was a year of loss as well as a small victory in the UN, for the people of Palestine. Many Israeli and Palestinian people are rooting for peace in the region and we hope these voices will prevail. Jeremy Lin and Ganganam style dance were overnight sensations as twitter went abuzz with them. Big Bird, Bunch of malarcky, and Binders full of women were the big buzz words of fiercely fought, US 2012 elections. UK was a grand host and young Olympians, including Gabby Douglas, Katie-Ledecky, Missy Franklin and many other amazing athletes made the games, memorable and interesting. As we get ready to celebrate X’mas, the Sandy Hook gun violence makes me and my children, infinitely sad. In loving memory of the slained, precious children, I am sharing two of my poems, http://bit.ly/QZOh2a & http://bit.ly/TlaQN2 . Taliban were not able to silence or separate the brave young girl #Malala from her books, by shooting at her. #DelhiVictim #Nirbhaya after being brutally gang raped & sodomized and after loosing all of her intestines, is fiercely fighting to survive and here is my poem honoring her fierce spirit http://bit.ly/WyY4zf .
Life continues to offer me many blessings, with my children being the hugest, best blessings. My mother is becoming increasingly frail, but every night she ends my call with “Best of Luck”, – her way of bestowing blessings on her daughter, living in a foreign land. I love my work, both recruitment for medical device and biotech companies http://bit.ly/VT2TNP and training in diversity and inclusion http://bit.ly/W33tZ2, both here in the US, and in India. My blog www.darshanavnadkarni.wordpress.com , is increasingly being read, worldwide :). The stats indicate, 18,991 total views, with 1040 people following my blog. My reviews e.g. http://bit.ly/MWhMPl helped Shady Shakespeare Theater Company win a spot on the @greatnonprofits 2012 Top-Rated List! So life’s been fun, exciting, sometimes sad, and always full of blessings.
Wishing you health and happiness, peace and prosperity in 2013.