Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cambodia



Angkor Wat is amazing, with miles and miles of beautiful temples and ruins. It is especially lovely at sunset, when the sun sinks below the horizon in a huge, red ball. As a whole, though, I have found Cambodia a bit of a depressing place. It's a bit unfair to the country as a whole, but my perceptions are partly colored by the experience I had in getting here. I think also a part of this is the way the tragic past of the killing fields and the Khmer Rouge permeates the atmosphere.

Unlike China, where the past is kept quiet and history is rewritten, in Cambodia the past is held up for all to see, with documentaries playing daily in guest houses, photographic displays in museums and TV shows, and adults and children everywhere selling documentary books written by survivors (children who don't go to school but can count to ten in 7 or 8 different languages!). It is a good thing that the people can accept and talk about the past, but it also invites a lot of deep thought and sadness on my part, being in what seems to be a wounded and angry country.

I wonder what it is about communism, with it's impossible but idealistic goals of equality, that causes a country (China, USSR, Cambodia, and others) to turn so cruel and so ugly. Why does it attract such paranoia and totalitarianism in it's leadership? I suppose a part of it stems from the fact that with it's impossible ideals, it is a losing battle from the start-something the leadership must sense in it's desperate bid to force equality on all. Maybe it is the complete destruction of family ties and basic human values in a society that rewards ignorance and cruelty and punishes knowledge, kindness, and hard work. Maybe it comes from turning the tables and putting the normally disadvantaged on the top of society, a place many might be willing to do almost anything to retain. Or maybe it is just the bad side of human nature(and I believe there is a good side as well!). After all, throughout history many cruelties have been committed in the name of many things-from religion, to communism, imperialism, and governments of all kinds, to riches and resources.





I didn't take this photo; I posed for it.



One of Angkor's guards











There are lots of great breasts at Angkor!





Many monks visit Angkor Wat, often with their families









Getting around Angkor Wat is accomplished by hired Tuk Tuk, a easy and fun way to travel.



Some of Cambodia's people





Young monks talk to us through the window





"Ladeeeee, you want to buy from meeeee?"





A girl by the well



Here is a closer shot of that sweet little girl by the well.





Many monks live in these homes near some of the ruins.



A view from one of Cambodia's few hills. It is so flat, you can see the curve of the earth.

Thailand



I buzzed through Thailand pretty quickly on my way to Cambodia, but while I was here I visited an Elephant hospital and sanctuary for elephants that used to work in the logging industry. Now, logging with elephants is illegal in Thailand, so these working elephants are often abandoned here, where they have a good life doing shows in the morning for tourists. Several elephants in the hospital part had been injured by landmines. They have such huge legs that it seems to smother the landmine and they are able to survive.

The day started out with watching the elephants bathe, and then seeing a demonstration of them pulling logs, painting pictures, rolling over, and placing hats on peoples heads. Next we could feed them bananas, and finally I did a short elephant ride, getting sprayed with water when he stopped to drink and wet himself against the heat. The elephants are very intelligent and full of personality. They also have amazing motor skills using their trunks.

Photo above: The elephants lower themselves so that the handlers can mount and dismount.

Bathing





This elephant has an IV!




Here is a video of the elephant bathing and nearly drenching me with spray.

video

Laos



So far in SE Asia, Laos is my favorite country. It is very beautiful with rolling mountains and rich, green vegetation. Laos is very undeveloped and most people here, especially in the villages, live a subsistence lifestyle with very little money. But still the people are very laid back, cheerful, soft spoken, and love to have fun, taking their leisure time very seriously! Fortunately, with the excellent climate and good soils (and much of the rain forest still intact!) a wide variety of good food is fairly easy to grow, giving plenty of time for afternoon siestas and late night parties. It is the type of subsistence that makes it easy to get utopian, idealistic ideas of returning to such a lifestyle. But of course, not all is as immediately meets the eye. Health care is almost non-existent, especially for those that cannot afford to go into the few towns that have clinics, schools do not seem to be very widespread, and opportunities for getting ahead are pretty slim. And of course, everyone wants money! In some villages the people flat out ask for it, and for pens and bon bons, while in others people try to sell handicrafts of various qualities from seed jewelry to nicely embroidered traditional style hats. There are also a few old women who will pull bags of hashish and maybe even opium (I never saw this) out of their shirts for sale as well. Some villages are better off than others, and one I visited was full of children all clothed in the exact same stained, torn up shirts, obviously a long ago donation, and no pants either.

While here, I spent four days in a bungalow about 8 km from Muan Sing in the North of Laos and surrounded by several small villages. During this time, I made friends with several of the children from the neighboring village, who I don't think go to school but spent their time helping with the animals, hauling water and wood, and of course, playing around and trying to sell their seed bracelets to any foreigners around. The children with whom I made friends toured me throughout their village, taking me into their homes, and giving me gifts such as seed bracelets, peanuts, and flowers with a sweet smell, which they climbed the trees to pick. After a while they also encouraged me to photograph freely, rather than the normal refrain "photo, money, photo, money."

On my third day they took me throughout the village on another sort of tour, a tour of the sick and injured, and considering that most of these maladies are left untreated except by various herbal remedies, it was another reminder to me of the blessings of the modern lifestyle I have at home. There was a girl who had fallen out of a tree and had probably broken bones in her shoulder or arm, a boy who had fallen off of a motor bike and was missing a two inch square hunk of flesh (this village has a few motor bikes and being near the road is a little better off than some), and a baby with a welt like rash spread across her body. It was sad for me, knowing that there was not much I could do. This village is only 8 km from a medical clinic, but still the people do not go, even though transport is available here, presumably preferring to spend what little money they do have on other things and necessities of life.

I tried to show a couple of these girls where I am from on the world map I carry, but they stared at it blankly and uninterestedly, making me believe that they have never actually seen a map of the world; pretty shocking in this day and age! It made me think that us westerners and where we come from must be really a mystery to them, especially in the areas off the road without television. We just show up in their villages with our strange looks, strange clothing, tons of money (at least to them), and cameras, snapping shots as if we were strolling through a human zoo. It must be very frustrating for them. Still, I think we could learn a lot from the people here about having a more laid back and less stressful lifestyle. I really envy them that!


The children in this village near Luang Namtha are lucky to have a village school. (Also photo above)





Booba, my favorite of the village children, is very pretty and shy.



The kids all unload the pickup and restock the village store



Homes in the villages are built on stilts out of bamboo and other plentiful woods



Animals such as pigs, dogs, and chickens roam freely around the village



Another village near Luang Namtha



The villagers run towards us with bracelets hammered from old coins to sell. The kids often run around without pants and also come to ask for pens and bon bons. I honestly do not think it is cute to teach children to beg for candy, even if it is in French!



Ahka woman with baby on her back



A small boy rides the ox home every evening



Most things are carried on peoples backs



A Yao women removing the kernels from the corn. The Yao women have long, covered hair like the Yao in China, but they dress differently, in black coats with big red collars.



Afternoon siesta!



Monks riding their bicycles near Muan Sing



The early morning market in Muag Sing. by 10:00 it is closed down and people are back to their farms or other jobs

Friday, January 18, 2008

Images of China: The Southwest

From Snowcap Peaks to Tropics

Yengshou county

Unfortunately, with the thick fog I was unable to get good photos of the beautiful karst mountain scenery. You will have to settle for this black and white.



Drying corn and caligraphy are both comman sites in China.



Colorful peels drying in a window



Xingping market. The more money you have, the more chickens you cart off.





Hiking near Xingping with Mr. Kim

Give me that. You give me that! I'm hungry!



Fooood? Is that foooooooooooood?



Commorants. These birds are used for night fishing





Bamboo boats are comman, although many are now made with plastic bamboo!



Dali, Yunnan Province





Lijiang Old City









A Lijiang man enjoys a smoke



A Naxi woman on her loom



Some of China's people are still proud to wear the old Red Guard armband



Lijiang market









Chicken feet are a popular delicacy



A Chinese pig roast





The Naxi orchestra in Lijiang. The instrument styles and music have been handed down through the generations and preserve some of China's oldest music. During the cultural revolution many of the musicians saved their instruments by burying them





This sign was in a Lijiang cafe restroom



Tiger leaping gorge



Luxurious hiking from lodge to lodge!











The Gardens of tropical SW China