Friday, August 9, 2019

From Hanoi to Siem Reap, Cambodia, beyond the movies

Friends in Hanoi.
 Just arrived. Welcome to Cambodia!

I can’t  say that I know much more about Cambodia than I’ve learned from the movies.
The first I ever even heard about the place was from the Killing Fields, a 1984 drama about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, going to see it with some friends at a shopping mall Dallas in 1984.
I thought we were going to see something like The Breakfast Club
But it turned out to be a horrific story about a modern genocide, one that took place when I was a child in the USA.
We didn’t make final plans to come until a few weeks ago.
To get ready for this trip we watched a few other films about the place, some documentaries, parts of Swimming to Cambodia, Spalding Gray’s story about working on the Killing Fields.   
Angkor Awakens, a 2017 documentary that traced stories of people reflecting on the genocide created by the Rhmer Rouge.
Without truth or reconciliation and members of the regime still in power, healing is anything but simple.
The US bombed this place, destabilizing, and creating the conditions for their ascent.
Yet the world seems to have forgotten.

We walked around Hanoi for one final stroll, saying goodbye to our friends in the restaurants and some of the shops and hotel, snapping a few more shots, before we departed.
Rare to find a city so alive with its own character, so full of characters.
A surprise we had no idea was coming, Hanoi opened something for us.
A sense of calm and care and connection with the world and history and beauty.
Yet, Angkor beckoned.
I’d heard about it since I was a kid.
My parents visited before the whole Khmer fiasco.

We made our way to the airport early,
Getting through security in a flash,
With photos for visas and US cash ready for when we arrived.
The whole visa process feels like a bit of a scam.
So be it.

Part of travel is the actual moving from one place to another, hotel to airport to hotel or wherever.
Breaks in the middle.
Have a beer with Tony,
Who is always with us when we travel.
He always advises a pint instead of stress at an airport.
Hurry up and wait, flight  delay.
Cheesy shops of stuff you could have gotten for half the price outside. 
The bored looks of the workers.
And a quick flight  to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The  little one was bubbly with laughter on the  flight.
Caroline slept.
We wrote.
We giggled.
And  made our way. 
Arriving, the sky was expansive, seemingly greeting us.
A Buddha in the airport was a first.
Visa no problem.
Didn’t even need the photos.
But the line through security, two men handling the 22 people in our queue,  a Spanish family ahead of us, an Aussie behind us.

Nothing happens for a half hour.
But the line to our left is moving.
The one women there is cranking people through.

We turn around.
The Aussie has moved to the other line.
We follow chatting him up for the next half hour.
And we’re through.
Ahead of the Spanish family.
In a cab on our way to Siem Reap,
a small town in northwestern Cambodia,
a step away from the
ruins of Angkor, the seat of the Khmer kingdom a thousand years ago.
It looks like Costa Rica outside, buildings with metal rooves.
And Buddhas everywhere.
History beckons.
The horrors of the past are still here.
But so is the beauty.
What will this place become?
What has it become?
We’ll see. 

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