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Seeing Space Ships in Cambodia

Seeing Space Ships in Cambodia

Day One- October 17, 2012

“I am in a surprisingly good mood despite the current situation. I have never been the one who likes to wait, especially in heat and overcrowding, but here I think I can make an exception.  Which is laughable, because even without my mental exception I have no choice.”

a clustered line of vans waiting for the ferry

The above is a journal excerpt from my trip to Cambodia.  After 3 hours of driving through the Cambodian countryside on a journey to Phnom Penh, our bus was halted by a massive line of tuk tuks and mini vans filled with people.  They were all waiting for a pair of rotating ferry boats to cross the Mekong River.  At that moment, I could only think of the number of frustrating layovers I have experienced with airlines, angry because I felt I didn’t get what I paid for.  This situation was different, I wasn’t sitting in any mundane airport forced to watch subtitles on CNN while I listened to John Mayer over the loud speaker (no offense to John Mayer or CNN).  I was in Cambodia: wandering the streets during an unplanned stop, waving at smiling locals, watching water-buffalo graze in the distance, or reading Joel Brinkley’s exceptional book, Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land.  Life was good.

"clown cars" full of Cambodians traveling over holiday and waiting for the ferry

Before coming to Southeast Asia, I pictured Cambodia as a paradise.  I was ignorant, and to be honest, any foreign country sounded like a paradise to me.  In reality, Cambodia does have a wonderful landscape, but it also has had a long history of war and economic struggles.  What is most surprising about my lack of knowledge on Cambodia, is that the conflict and genocide tied to the Khmer Rouge take over happened while my parents and grandparents were alive.  I suppose these events could have been overshadowed by the Vietnam War and issues that directly impacted the United States, or even the fact I had never taken a Southeast Asian class until this semester.  The trip to Phnom Penh was exciting and emotional.

1) Our group visited Toeul Slang Highshool and the Killing Fields (also a movie), both sites of mass killings during the late 1970’s by the Khmer Rouge.

victims of the Toeul Slang High School killings
classrooms turned prison cells at Toeul Slang High School
bracelets left in memory of mother and child victims at the Killing Fields

2) We were given a lecture by a Cambodian economist who essentially spoke of more struggles than successes on the current political and economic state in Cambodia.

3) Visited the Peace Cafe, run by Center of the Dove ( a Jesuit Org.) that teaches life skills to those who are shut in and disabled in Cambodia ( Besides selling coffee and hand made goods, the Center is also the leading producer of wheelchairs in the country.  These chairs are stable enough to last on gravel roads.

Peace Cafe
homemade furniture at the Peace Cafe

4. Our trip to Cambodia occurred during the mourning period and funeral for the late King, Norodom Sihanouk, who recently died in Bangkok.  On our first night in the city, we witnessed many Cambodian’s praying and lighting incense in front of the palace in his honor.  Black ribbons were worn across the country in remembrance.

palace in Phnom Penh lit to commemorate the late king
lighting incense to honor the king

Day Three- October 19, 2012

“Again, I am in a surprisingly good mood despite the current situation.  After all, I just saw a space ship.”

a "space ship"

The above is also a journal excerpt from the Cambodia trip.  Surprisingly, our second bus, to Siem Reap, was delayed.  This time the bus broke down.  For two hours our group explored a village 1 and 1/2 hours outside of the city.  The space ship was located in a park, and I was more than willing to imagine the children on their way to the moon. It was sunset, and we took in the view while watching a man fish off of the bridge.  At 9 pm we made it to our hotel, ate, and rested for the long day ahead.

Cambodia has many tropical wetlands. Most homes are built elevated from the ground. All stairs also must be built in odd number due to religious superstition.

“I almost wonder how this place looked 9 centuries ago,” Jack said to me on our excursion to Angkor Wat and surrounding temples.  It was a time warp.  Everything was handmade and carved from stone.  The magnitude and beauty of the Hindu and Buddhist temples were unreal.  It was a perfect fusion of nature and man.  I will include photos in their own post (you won’t believe the trees I saw!)

The trip to Cambodia is something that makes the Vietnam program exceptional, and for some, could possibly be a reason to join the program at all. As our coordinator Chris shared, no group experience to Cambodia is the same.  So if any of you go in the future, I am sure it will exceed any expectation I have set now.

The days are counting down, I am off to choose my classes for the Spring!

Xin Chao,


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