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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

sunny 38 °C
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Day 34-35 - May 20-21

I knew something was wrong as soon as landed.

It was a Wednesday, it was 9pm, and as the doors to the plane opened a rolling fog of thick air flowed into the cabin. Phnom Penh is too hot to be inhabited by humans.

Despite the 6-lane chaos where neither right-hand nor left-hand right of way seems to dominate, despite the depressive pall of 20th century genocide, despite the massive disparity between locals and ex-pats (Range Rovers vs. 5 shoeless friends to a moped), and despite the outrageous heat (39C with 80% humidity), the people of Cambodia are lovely, kind, and graciously hospitable.

I had to adapt the standard itinerary presented by my driver Phoong, as I have a daily tolerance limit for the sickeningly shocking and depressing. The Killing Fields were somber, the Genocide Museum at S-21 was blood curdling, the National Museum was ancient and serene, the Royal Palaces were beautiful, and the military-run shooting range where you could fire a rocket-propelled grenade... was bizarre.

Neither Phoong nor the infrantrymen in the military compound seemed to understand my reticence to fire a weapon only 500m from the site of a mass genocide that occured within my generation.

If it ever was present the realization of this irony had long since been lost to the song of the US dollar. A similar glimmer of dark irony was also absent in the bird sellers at Wat Phnom, who encourage tourists to buy the freedom of birds from overcrowded cages... not far across the city from the S-21 Khmer Rouge prison.

I suppose it is easier to be sentimental when you're not concerned about feeding your family day by day. Never before have I considered introspection to be a luxury for those with time.

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Posted by evancampbell 07:45 Archived in Cambodia

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