The Killing Fields

I have told you about Rocky my Tuk Tuk driver and now friend in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Rocky is an independent businessman with the same hopes and dreams of any entrepreneur. He is also extremely proud of his country and its beauty and importance in world rice production and coffee as well as many other things. He was born at the end of Pol Pots Rein, however his family was heavily impacted by Pol Pot. They are still adversely effected by it today, but that is his story to tell. I was 30 and had heard of it but really didn’t understand it  Rather than try to explain something I can’t understand, I again defer to Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian_genocide  .

Getting to the killing fields via Tuk Tuk is a trip through back roads and residential neighborhoods. There were no freeways to put it near conveniently and as with the dozens of other horror venues this one was selected because it was out of the way, near an old Chinese cemetery. Pol Pot and his henchmen did not want people to know about these sites much less what was going on there. As we arrived there today we rounded a bend, so to speak, in front of us was a large unpaved open area that appeared to be a parking lot. At the far side was a solid fence and an entry way. In the distance past the gate there was a tall building. There was no sign that I saw identifying the place at all. I think it may have been intended that when an individual comes upon it today that you not know what it is unless you intend to be there, It is not something you want to bebop into.

I opted .for the recorded guided tour and suggest that you do if you go there. As you start the tour the first thing you see and the only real “thing” is the very tall stupa. The tour itself is to different locations which describe what was there, such as the truck stop and the detention building, the offices and the store room. Every other stop is a mass grave or many graves, now sunken by time, and discussions of the findings. There are many other killing fields, dozens if not hundreds. Pol Pot did not want people to know what was happening. For years people would just disappear and loved ones thought maybe they were in jail or a labor camp or who knows. If everyone knew what was really happening there might have been more resistance.

This is a somber place. It is a quiet walk around the sunken mass graves of thousands of people. This one location is the main one so that people will never forget what was done here. It is a memorial to mans inhumanity to man. It is in short a warning to all people of all nations of what can happen when a government goes out of control. It is far from the only genocide in history – the one we think of most is the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews, but there are others also.  This one memorial of  what happened in Cambodia is far from the only one here. Pol Pot had them all around the country. The others that have been found all have some sort of memorial or marker and there are others that have been referred to that have never been found because they are in the deep jungle or were too well hidden.

The photos of the killing tree for children is my worst nightmare. Often they would bash the child against the tree with its mother watching and then kill her and put them both in the pit. The fence surrounds the mass burial area. The thousands of wrist ties around the tree and fences are tributes from people visiting who were as shocked as I.

If you have the opportunity to travel I highly recommend Cambodia and this is one of the reasons why. Please don’t judge Cambodia based on this horrible chapter. It is an example of what can happen anywhere. People in America in 2017 are calling for the deaths of others because a charismatic leader told them that A is good and B is bad, death of a people has happened again and again because of lies and deceit. Good people everywhere may disagree about this or that in their political situation but this is a reminder that a powerful or simply charismatic leader can cause good people to do horrible things to their neighbors. I spent far longer at  this place than I thought I would and I thank Rocky for suggesting it. A note: This place and writing this blog brought tears to my eyes. It is more than one stop of many. it is life changing. Angkor Wat is incredible and I loved it, but it did not change my life. The killing fields did.

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Angkor Wat

Although I have visited many temples in Thailand I was ignorant of Angkor Wat. Although people have told me “go to Cambodia, all the temples are covered in gold” etc. I have ignored them. Partially because, even last year, I was told there are bandits that hold up the buses and the Cambodian people don’t like westerners. Possibly it’s true if you enter from Thailand and I came on a bus from Vietnam. (Which I highly recommend.)  I have already mentioned Rocky and his Tuk Tuk and the killing fields but it was a great experience. Siem Reap is even better. I am not going to try to explain, describe or otherwise tell you of the temple. Google it for pictures and history. Here is the link to wikipedia     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat .  I will tell you of my/the experience itself. Angkor Wat was originally created in the 12th century  as a temple for the  Indian God Vishnu. It was later rededicated to Buddha and became a Buddhist Temple. The main building is massive in itself but the temple grounds encompass just over 400 acres which is overwhelming on first entry.  

I was told to go early and be at the ticket office  before 5 AM. I got there at 4:40. I was about 18th in line at window 23 of 40 windows! They take US dollars or credit cards. I left at 5:15 with my golden ticket.  I returned to my Tuk Tuk Driver who headed for the main temple. The entire process reminded me of Disneyland, except here if you try to pass off a fake ticket you are fined $100.00 US on the spot and turned over to the police for defrauding a national treasure. There are signs telling you this so be warned. Enroute we were stopped three times and my ticket checked. It must be TODAYS ticket and they take your picture and print it on the ticket. Use someone else’s ticket, off to jail. Sweat on it so the picture is unclear ticket voided now invalid, buy a new one. No messing around. I saw someone arguing with a ticket issuer and a guard came up and the person shut up. Its their country not yours.

Angkor Wat is incredible and worth the trip, the ticket and the hassle. It is the lynchpin to a number of temples and other sites and your ticket covers all. There are 2 day and 3 day tickets for the hearty. these come with additional requirements and warnings but the windows are marked and there were a number of 3 day ticket windows with a lot of people waiting in line. I believe the 3 day ticket can be used 3 times over a 10 day period and it is laminated because of rain, sweat and if damaged it is invalid.

My pedometer said 8700 steps before I gave in to heat and exhaustion, I am sure at least half of those steps were up and down stone stairs or wooden ones where there was an incline that did not have actual steps.. This is the off season because the heat is brutal and it may rain. there were lots of backpackers and children so I assume they  were there because of school break  instead of it being the brightest time to be there. If you have trouble walking around the block this is not for you, but then again I did it with two bad knees and a bad back and the antiquity was worth the pain.

inside selfie

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Rocky’s Tuk Tuk and Guide Service

Odd how things happen. Originally I was going to fly from Manila to Siem Reap for the express purpose of seeing Angkor Wat. Then I decided to go to Vietnam first and fly from Saigon to Siem Reap, skipping Phnom Penh (big city who needs it). Then I thought – why not take the buss and see the country side. THEN I thought ’12 hours on a bus in one sitting’ so I booked a stop in Phnom Penh.

I took the Giant ibis – that’s all I’ll say right now but DO IT. As we got deposited in the entertainment district of Phnom Penh, bags laid out in the office, I heard “do you have a hotel sir”, “do you need a tuk tuk sir”, “can I help you sir”. I am an independent old goat but I was tired and I had no idea where I was and where I  was going, so I said sure. (I usually book a room ahead on Agoda so I am not in this situation but all the rooms I saw were $100.00 a night and up.} First he said “do you need Money?” I said yes, I don’t have any Cambodian Riel. He said, no riel, everyone uses dollars, I will take you to a dollar ATM. He did. Being a bit cautious I punched in 200 and out came 2 crisp current series Benjamin Franklins!

He then took me to a hotel, said it was not great, but OK and reasonably priced. Both true. I dumped my bags and said “Rocky, I am hungry, take me to a good place to eat”. He took me to a great place called “The Mekong Bar and Grill” where I was introduced to  Angkor Beer and Cambodian food. Both wonderful. As he dropped me off  at the hotel, he said “would you like me to take you to some places tomorrow”. YUP

Rocky took me to WAT  PHNOM where the admission fee was one us dollar. A wonderful historic temple positioned perfectly for casual tourists or those in a rush. Easy to get to from the entertainment district. From there to the Cambodian Museum for Buddhist and Hindu religious artifacts. Another great Cambodian meal and off to the Presidents Palace. Have I mentioned that it is HOT and MUGGY? There is a reason it is the low tourist season. IT IS HOT. I told Rocky I had enough and needed a nap and cool down. He said great, do you like kick boxing. I do. ‘I will pick you up at 5 O’clock.

There were a total of 5 bouts, three pretty good undercard matches, a teen aged bout and then the Thai vs Cambodian main event. This was in a large venue at the TV station with a massive ring, sponsored by Red Bull. There were TV cameras and all the hub-bub of a Vegas fight except they didn’t charge to get in!  It was obvious the audience was the people. No cigar smoking big shots, no diamond encrusted girl friends. No hollywood just the people that loved to watch the fight – and war drums. When the bell sounded to start the round the war drums started. The big shake the building drums that let you know there is something going on! Man was that fun.

Rocky read me – he made perfect selections, he carted me around. He took care of me.  I sure am glad I was flexible in my planning so I could meet Rocky and discover Phnom Penh.

The Next morning he took me to the killing fields early so I could take my time in peace. Again spot on, and it gets its own page. The killing fields is something one should not miss.

Thank You Rocky  –  Rockys real name is Sin Oul – he said no westerners could pronounce it so a Canadian started calling him Rocky. Great choice.

Rocky

 

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CEBU – ila puti

[A note to anyone that actually reads this thing. This particular piece on ila puti was overlooked and I ate there and wrote this a few months ago, and it was still dry season.]

Drum Roll  – 72 years old and counting and traveling and experiencing. NOT DEAD YET.

In order to give my derriere a break I decided to stop in CEBU for a few days en route to my next assignment. I normally use agoda.com to book rooms in Southeast Asia and as it was short notice. I ended up at the Cebu Grand Hotel. Nice hotel and I rated it on agoda. The upshot is that it is located next to AXIS/Vibro Place.

Wandering around looking for a late dinner I passed a packed Starbucks and an oversized and very busy Burger King. I began to wonder if I had time/space traveled to my old home. Then I came to ila puti. A small restaurant with a young couple playing guitars and singing inside (they were great).  I was snagged by a waiter that said they had what I was looking for. They did! This gem of a small restaurant with great service was enough to kick me back into blogging.

Any gourmand from New York or San Francisco would be in heaven here. The restaurant is named after the chef who is nothing less that a creative genius. The portions are just right, the ingredients fresh and incredibly well matched.

With Japanese, Korean, Fusion and Lechon to pick from, all three of my nights in Cebu were spent at ila puti . You will Love it. The Philippines are not known for their cuisine as are Thailand and Japan.The Philippines are about practical food such as Adobo and lots of fish and rice. Restaurants like ila puti might start a National trend. GOOGLE them, pictures of some dishes and menus on line (this is their second location).

To give the Philippines its due, there are mega malls in the big cities and most host a very wide selection of restaurants that represent most popular epicurean delights such as Japanese, Thai, Indian, Italian, Mediterranean, and most popular American fast foods. A mall I ate Japanese from tonight I walked around and counted 52 restaurants and probably missed some.

 

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Wet is Wet

The Weather people are calling it a tropical depression or a cyclone. The locals in the bars are calling it a typhoon. I call it damned wet. My 3 ½ hour trip from Calbayog to Manila (1;03 TO Cebu, I hour ground for plane change 1:10 to Manila) became 12 wet and wild (and a bit bouncy). It made me remember that I got to Vietnam in the rainy season, 8 days from now it will be 50 years ago. That was a muddy miserable welcome. I am sure that my sons SCUBA trip 3 weeks ago and my last trip on the ferry from Cebu to Samar would NOT have been so great this weekend.

I am not complaining as I am now in a dry hotel room and there are lots of people in the second story of their house or on the roof because the water is so deep. I suppose one would have to be a bit ignorant no to understand that an archipelago situated between the Pacific Ocean and the South China sea on the pacific typhoon track might have weather that some call bizarre.

Portions of Manilla are below sea level. I am on the 11th floor and as I look at the weather map I am grateful. In fact looking at that map (and being on the 11th floor), I may sleep under the bed rather on top of it. I do not take lightly the plight of the millions of people that do not share the luxuries I am blessed with.

There is another aspect to the wet here even when it is not raining. HUMIDITY. For the second time in 4 months I have some fluid in my lungs, hence the trip to the doctor mentioned in a previous ‘blog’. When I went to the third doctor 2 days ago he asked me where I was from. When I said Arizona he smiled and asked what part. I said the Valley of the Sun, Tempe to be exact and he said he had a brother-in-law in Chandler (neighbors). He also talked about how much hotter it is there than here in the Philippines.

Then he said, “and much dryer”. He further discussed the problem people from dry climates have adjusting to the humidity, not just because the “wet bulb” factor makes it seem hotter than it is, but because the lungs have trouble adjusting to getting rid of the moisture that comes in with the air. It made me curious so I looked up the difference for August. In the valley it is 23%. In Manila where I am this week it is 73%. It speaks for itself. It may not be as hot here but the weather is oppressive and when you add all the diesel smoke it is deadly.

As I head for Vietnam and Cambodia it will still be the rainy season but hopefully not on the same Typhoon track.

That being said, I am still in Southeast Asia and it is the rainy season and WET is WET.

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Pinball Wizard

This a blog not a travelogue so from time to time I get to run off into some pretty esoteric areas. Today is one of those days.

This morning during the buffet breakfast at the hotel I am in I ran into and spent hours talking to a Anthropology Professor from an (I shall not name) Southern California University. He spends his research time living with indigenous Filipino Families on a small island (also I shall not name).  He spends months at a time recording on his trusty laptop all of their daily actions, stories and the complexity of the lives of extremely poor people in a virtually closed environment. As I listened to some of his stories I was amazed at some things I heard and learned about a country I have visited 14 times since 1994.

He is a skilled observer, a published author and in general a very interesting fellow. As I was doing my morning walk (trying to keep from getting fatter and more crippled) I reflected on his success and determination vs my 23 jobs in 22 cities and for a few minutes started to look down upon myself. My life has been similar to that steel ball in a pinball machine. Smashing about seemingly aimlessly causing all sorts of mayhem along the way. Certainly there are paths I might have trod much differently, however, I am the one who is most fortunate. I am no pinball wizard but my path has gifted me with doctors, lawyers and the salt of the earth. I have more friends than many people have acquaintances and I have learned from all of them.  I have Good friends that are high school dropouts and a few that are arguably “over educated”.

One of my best friends is an Indian, a REAL native American, and three Mexicans whose families were here before my home state was a state. I have close friends that were in the military and one that was part of the group that burned the draft cards in DC during Vietnam.  I may be the luckiest person in the world to have met these wonderful people and it never would have happened but for my incomprehensible bouncing around the country. Now as I travel around other countries I am meeting more people and learning more about more things.

So why this diatribe? Because I was foolish enough to waste even a little bit of time on overlooking all the blessings I have called friends and the route I have taken to acquire them. In reality and particularly at my age friends are all that really matter.

So, if you can travel (even in your 70’s) I highly recommend it and if you can’t then when you are standing in line at Starbucks or the grocery store, start talking to people around you. Some will be arseholes, ignore them, and concentrate on the nuggets like the Professor I met this morning or the Surgeon from Hong Kong I met a few years ago in a bar or the the truck driver I met from the Northwest Territories in Canada or…. You get the idea.

Bon Voyage

 

 

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A Visit To The Doctor

My bodies reaction to the difference between the high desert climate of my home and the tropical climate of my current abode is to revisit my old friend, walking pneumonia. A bit of a rattle when breathing made me decide it was time to get it treated. New location equals new experiences.

The hospital in town has signage that makes it obvious that most  of its clientele is pregnant or bringing in a new papoose  – I fit neither category.  I presented myself  to the reception desk and was given a form to fill out, which I did. A little later a nurse came out and looked at the form. Ten minutes later she came out and took my blood pressure 120/80 and left. A few minutes later she came out again and told me I needed to see a respiratory specialist, “go to the corner, one block to the left and then left again, back a half block”.

The Doctors office was rather worn and had benches inside and outside in the entry way. No frills that the patients need to support. There was a single receptionist and a lot of people waiting. The doctor was due shortly and I was number 11 on the list. I went back out to the benches in the patio and waited. There was an earthquake 2 weeks before and the power was intermittent while repairs to the power grid were made.  We were in an off stage so there was no fans on or lights. The office did not appear to have air conditioning even if we had power so the benches in the hall were a good choice anyway since they were the closest to fresh air.

As I awaited my turn I observed the other clients/patients. I was one of the better dressed in shorts, a polo shirt and canvas shoes. Most were in pants, tee shirts and flip flops. It is a commentary on economics not individuals. One lady appeared to be older than I and she had a tattered dress and no shoes. she was so frail I prepared to catch her if she fell in my vicinity.  There was one gentleman in what looked like new jeans, nicely polished shoes and a button shirt, two ladies were dressed as if working in an office or about to go out on the town. We seemed to represent a cross section of the populace. I was the only white person in a sea of various shades of brown. I am also a foot taller that most here so I really stand out. Glaringly and grotesquely stand out. So be it. Every person stopped at the desk and gave the receptionist some money as they went out.

My turn with the Doctor eventually came and I found my way back to a nook where he sat behind a small desk with a weak light illuminating his desk. It appeared to be battery energised. He was very nicely dressed and had an open shirt with a gold crucifix. He reminded me of a young Ricky Riccardo (that dates me). He greeted me politely and in perfect english asked me to describe my problem. As I did so he made a few notes and asked a few questions. He then stood up and listened to my chest. As he sat down he said my left lung was clear and I had no breathing sounds in my right lung. He said I had what was commonly called walking pneumonia. He gave me a detailed discussion of what he thought and wrote a prescription for three medications, describing in detail how to take them. He said if my breathing got worse in the next week or if it was not cleared up after the medication was completed  to come back and he would send me for a chest x-ray. We parted and as I left I stopped at the desk and paid for the visit. It was 250 pesos, which at the current exchange rate is 5 dollars, yes $5.00.

I took my prescriptions to the pharmacy and got an antibiotic for respiratory infections, an anti-mucolytic to help clear the lungs and a powder to mix with water to help with the throat irritation. The total cost of the three drugs was 1450 pesos. The total cost in Dollars was just under $30.00. No copay, no insurance and no hassle.

In the US I would have waited hours to see the ER doctor and had to pay the $75.00 co-pay up front before they would see me. The visit would have been much more expensive and mounds of paperwork involved. In the US health care is a very big, very profitable enterprise with great expense to the tax payer and some individuals. In the Philippines it is simply a way to fix sick people and keep others healthy.

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