Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Day Two, Angkor, Cambodia – on Temples, Killing Fields, and Landmines

New  friends, ancient trees, temples, and haunted spaces in Cambodia.

Today more temples, better than yesterday, explains our guide early in the morning on our second full day. Small but better, from the 10th to the 12th century.

“The tree is life,” he posits, looking around, passing buildings with tin rooves, huts in the woods.
“No tree, no water.”

Visiting Cambodia, we thought we were there to visit temples, but the real feeling that lingers is the legacy of bombings, interventions, landmines, colonial escapades, cold war calculations, civil war, and genocide.  US bombs and interventions would destabilize the country leaving a void filled by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and a genocide taking 1/4th of the population of eight million.
Looking at rice fields we saw killing fields.

Its always there in our strolls,
Conversations about landmines,
Wars, and lingering memoires.

The first stop is Pre Rup
 a Hindu temple at Angkor, Cambodia, built as the state temple of Khmer king in 962.
 Combined brick,
meaning "turn the body".
Built for three Hindu gods, Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.
They used lava stone.
Its function was cremation of the royal family.
Their last viewings.
The poor had their bodies thrown out into the woods.
Our guide is right, it feels even more majestic, if that is possible.

Onto Banteay Srei, second stop,
 a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

The buildings inspire.
Associations everywhere.
Shiva destruction Khmer Rouge.
A man who wrote about the killings was himself killed recently.
Three years, eight months, 20 days.
2.5 million killed, starved to death, worked into the ground.
No schools.
No friends.
No talking.
Only working.
Sleeping with no walls.
Walls with no roof.
Roof with no walls.
That was housing under Pol Pot.
All anyone ate was porridge.
Now I’can’t remember my brother’s name.
Both parents killed.
Pray to the Buddha.
Pray for democracy.

Temple number three
Banteay Temple.
Built 968
For Shiva,
Water buffalo in the distance,
Near the hills of Phom.
Pink stone.
Brahma creator.

The French found it in 1914
Restored in 1932.

Walls crumbling.

“This is our nation’s soul.
But they chose not to conserve it.”

“See the rice field.
No rain.
It’s a drought.”

Off to Landmine Museum.
Stories of bombs we brought.
That the Khmer planted in the soil,
In the roads.
Robbing the innocent of limbs.
Pol Pot’s ultimate soldier.
No need for food or sleep.
Horrifying to recall the history.
Looking at the fields we walk that afternoon,
The drought, water low, looking like the Killing Fields where
It was just not too long ago.
Deep poverty and inequality remains.
Kids in foster care.
Moms with no husbands or kids left.
Just memories.
Beggars with no limbs.

Temple Four
Preah Khan Temp.
Holy Sword.
Buddhist temple from the 12th century.

First we see the leaves,
Then the trump grasping, hugging the crumbling walls.
The tree looks like an elephant.

Temple Five
Neak Pean Temple
12th Century.
Buddhist temple.
1925 the French cut down the Banyon tree in the middle.
Discovering and missing something implicit.
Something sublime.
Not the first time.

To Som Temple.
Late 12th century.
Dedicated to the king’s parents
Looks abandoned.
Showing the light of the Buddha.

Off to the pool
To submerge ourselves in the magic.
Wondering about the Killing Fields.

Our last stop before making our way to the airport is to Angkor National Museum,
 an archaeological museum of Angkorian artifacts,
the art and culture of Khmer civilization, with collections mainly dated from Khmer Empire's Angkor period circa 9th to 14th-century.
968 Vithei, Charles De Gaulle, Krong Siem Reap.

With stories of Buddhas and the Ankgor kingdom, its bittersweet.
Outside the heat, its easier to makes sense of things.
But the sorry of the place is everywhere.

There are no fruit sellers, hoping to make even or earn more than their two dollars a day, before their fruit goes bad, usually in a day or two.
Little of the money here goes to the people, notes our tuktuk driver.
There is so much poverty and so little justice here.
Forty years since the fall of Pol Pot,
The same one party is in power.
There has been no Trial of Nuremberg.
No Truth of Reconciliation Commission to help the people to learn what happened.
Or acknowledge the pain.
As Mandela advised.

Instead memories and collective traumas of a would, a genocide,
Born from US bombs destabilizing,
Before the country imploded.
A totalitarian regime took over,
The country,
Descending into hell on  earth.
And  we still don’t know what happened.
I’m glad we got to get here to see this.
I never thought I would be able to.
Yet the world is open to Cambodia just as Cambodia is open to the world.
I hope it stays this way and the people get a little peace and justice. 


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