I took a moment the other day to look at the pond skaters living on the surface of the water. I should have been concentrating on the sun slowly rising over the ancient Angkorian temple but the Asperger Path often gets diverted. My Syndrome give me an ability to focus but also makes that focal point quite random.
I am, of course, digressing.
The pond skaters were there and I was pondering. I watched them whizzing about on the surface and creating magical patterns on the solemnly still waters of the pool. I was captivated and hadn’t even thought to look deeper. The fish were pointed out to me and then I saw them in the shadowy depths. Solid and sturdy, these creatures barely moved while above, their ethereal neighbours performed a showy cabaret.
Here in Cambodia I feel like a pond skater skimming the surface of a culture that is too deep for me to comprehend. Look at me I want to cry out I’m in the water! I have come to make a difference to the pond. As I skate around, making a big performance, real life carries on beneath me, oblivious and untouched by my presence. I am living on the surface. One day I will fly away from this kingdom but the fish will still be there quietly living and flourishing in the deep wonders of the Khmer culture.
The post started by asking when respect had disappeared. There has been an long exchange on the Siem Reap expats page of Facebook. An American has ranted about the noise of loudspeaker outside his room and the lack of respect in modern Khmer culture. I should have sympathy for him as not so long ago I was the victim of a Cambodian wedding’s speaker volume. However the exchange has brought much darker issues to the surface.
There is a man, a Swedish man, who is blaming the Cambodian people for the Khmer Rouge. He is coming to the defence of his American friend. Now I am not known for my pro USA leanings but I try not to blame any stray Americans who cross my path for the startling catalogue of dubious activity which that bastion of democracy has achieved. A people and their governments or regimes are not the same thing. Cambodia is not a perfect country and it has had a terrible recent history that will take years to recover from. I am lucky to be here and work as a teacher. I hope that the lives of the Cambodians I have met will continue to improve. Poverty and corruption are easy to find but so are happiness and laughter. Living abroad is a great gift and one that, when done through choice, is a gift that only the relatively privileged can afford.
Complaining about being disturbed by weddings, muttering about respect, and then randomly moving on to not wanting to be forced to get a work permit doesn’t sound like racism, that sounds like a petulant toddler who can’t have things just so. However hese two friends have shown, through their comments, that they regard themselves as intrinsically better than their hosts. Now, I don’t know what you think, but that does sound like rascism. These two men might be great people. I’ve never met them so I can this Facebook debacle is all I know of them and it has not parented them in a favourable light.
Living in a different culture is always a challenge. It brings both amazing rewards and unexpected problems. Being on the Asperger Path I know a lot about frustration and how cultural differences can put you off kilter. Dear reader, if I am ever racist or xenophobic while I write this travel blog please let me know. I hope that am respectful even in my most difficult moments.
She sat down on the bus and asked me if I had liked the town. She was Dutch and had spent a couple of nights in Battambang and was heading back to Siem Reap. She had done everything in Cambodia and was about to fly home but hoped to return to Asia next year. She politely enquired where I was headed next. I explained that I was working here for a while and would return tomorrow. She immediately asked if I felt comfortable working in a country that is so clearly not a democracy. My answer was a disappointment.
I cannot vote here and I live on a visa which needs regular renewal. I cannot claim total disinterest in the politics here but they do not really impact on me. Yes, I know there is corruption here but I teach English to children and so I spend my working life talking about teddies, dolls and lost pencil sharpeners. My new found travel companion wanted more outrage and less resignation. She was just passing through but surely I should be more aware. She had read a lot about the situation here and had come here now as there might be a war next year.
Culture and politics are not to be treated lightly especially in a country whose history is so tragic and complex . Both require an understanding and an investment of time. Saying please and thank you is a great thing to learn in a language but demonstrates nothing more than good manners. Culture and politics, like language, are nuanced and subtle and require years of study to truly understand their finer points. I realise that I understand mere fragments of the culture and language of the country I am living in. I am not submerged in Khmer culture, it happens around me more than to me. If anything, I am submerged in a culture of well read travellers who are ticking countries and cultures of a list.
By the time of the 2018 elections here in Cambodia I will be somewhere else . If there is war like my fellow traveller predicts I, like she, will be far away. I may stay more than a day or two but l have an itinerary too. I am a traveller and I am just passing through.