BEHIND THE MARKET

On a dusty road, on a small mountain in Cambodia, a family tends their market. The children looking on.

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When we drove back a few hours later they were gone. Their village was a few hundred meters into the jungle. Perhaps off to enjoy the afternoon like these children.

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A simpler life.

PHNOM KULEN, A LONG DRIVE

While in Siem Reap we decided to head to the mountain region of Phnom Kulen – a drive that we thought would take 90 minutes turned into 3 hours each way.

Pot holed roads, a lack of infrastructure coupled with a heavy rain the night before meant 20km/hr top speed. A long drive. As we clawed our way up the mountain we came across this small stand filled with bananas. I have never seen a red banana before? (Config: Canon 5D Mark III with 28-70mm f/2.8)

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A small bicycle shop.

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As you wind your way up the mountain (asking yourself, will it ever end?), you occasionally peak out on the countryside.

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The reason why you travel to the top of this mountain is for the waterfall and these runes. Thousands, carved into the river bank as a tribute to their gods and royalty.

The site is known for its carvings representing fertility and its waters which hold special significance to Hindus. Just 5 cm under the water’s surface over 1000 small carvings are etched into the sandstone riverbed. The waters are regarded as holy, given that Jayavarman II chose to bathe in the river, and had the river diverted so that the stone bed could be carved. Carvings include a stone representation of the Hindu god Vishnu lying on his serpent Ananta, with his wife Lakshmi at his feet.[6] A lotus flower protrudes from his navel bearing the god Brahma.

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Harder to see due to the higher water level.

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Just past the runes is a temple with a large reclining Buddha. As you would expect there is a market selling worshipers (and tourists) flowers and other items. It also appears to be the central market for the village.

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There was nothing to explain why the Buddha at Preah Ang Thom is reclining. Carved out of rock and painted gold, it is massive.

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At the temples I understand the incense, but I need to research the symbolism of the lotus flower petals in the water.

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Last shot from the mountain .. the waterfall.

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Which is a rather treacherous climb to get to.

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Another interesting stop.

VIETNAM: A REFLECTION

After our tour of Siem Reap, Cambodia we headed to Ho Chi Minh city. I have always wanted to visit Vietnam and this was our first time.

I think this shot best describes the city. A large city with roughly 9M people and according to different sources, 5-6M scooters. I was warned, keep your camera on your neck because thieves on scooters love to whip by tourists and take their cameras.

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Crazy. Scooters were everywhere. According to one of our guides, they put heavy taxes on cars (doubling the cost) where the price of a scooter is much more affordable for the people.

The country suffers the same ills as Cambodia – lots of corruption, no real social net to catch people and a low average income. According to this article, the average wage has “risen” to $185 per month. Ironically, it seems like Canada and many European countries are closer to the ideals of Marxism than most communist countries with regard to social balance and fairness. In these counties, it seems like it is survival of the fittest -  far from the ideals of communism.

All of this starts with leadership and unfortunately, many of these country’s leaders only know the survival to grab power mentality. One guide told me that his family was forced to relocate from their multi-generational home to make way for a canal. His family was given $1200 for their home – their neighbor, the police chief, was given $10,000. Interesting observation from the BBC:

But the disparity in wealth between urban and rural Vietnam is wide and some Communist Party leaders worry that too much economic liberalization will weaken their power base.

Despite pursuing economic reform, the ruling Communist Party shows little willingness to give up its monopoly on political power.

In the end, these countries are only held back by one thing: their leaders.

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To make the point, look at the Vietnam war museum in Ho Chi Minh. It is a tribute to the terrible and well known war torn history of the country. The contents of the museum were very familiar to me as I have read a lot about the Vietnamese wars. What struck me most about the museum is that it stands in stark contrast to the current political system in Vietnam – the museum is a voice of freedom in a not-so-free country.

How so? Inside the museum is a section dedicated to American photographers who stood against the war and is sponsored by a US organization from Kentucky, USA. It was also published by Random House, USA.

It is the ultimate testimony to the strength of a democracy to see such a public display of criticism not only tolerated but existing as a key part of the political system.

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Now compare and contrast the political situation in Vietnam (again from the BBC):

The human rights advocacy group Amnesty International says in a 2011 report that ”more than a dozen activists were convicted in faulty trials simply because they had peacefully voiced criticism of government policies”. A new wave of subversion trials began in 2013.

Do any sites exist to criticize the Vietnam government? Apparently not. Criticize too loudly and you go to jail. I am sure that in this type of political system Jon Stewart would be behind bars.

The War Museum in Ho Chi Minh city stands as an ironic testimony to the greatness of democracy. In the US (or other solid democracy) a leader’s quest for monopolistic power is thwarted by process and the strength of a political system that empowers the people to constantly rebalance the system.

Ironic.

Make no mistake that the photos are a stark reminder of the terrible impact of war on a country that should never have happened. But in the end I left thinking that it also stands as a testimony to true democracy, strength of political process and openness; flaws and all. I say “flaws and all” because no one in the US is tearing this museum down and the political system saw those who supported the war removed, and the US pulled out – but after it happened, not before it happened.

Interesting experience.

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A few final shots of the War Remnants museum.

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Love when a place leaves me pondering.

BAYON TEMPLE, CAMBODIA

One last temple in Cambodia to finish out the “big 3” of Siem Reap – Bayon, or the temple with 4 faces.

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The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces on the many towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.[2] The temple is known also for two impressive sets ofbas-reliefs, which present an unusual combination of mythological, historical, and mundane scenes. The current main conservatory body, the Japanese Government Team for the Safeguarding of Angkor (the JSA) has described the temple as "the most striking expression of the baroque style" of Khmer architecture, as contrasted with the classical style ofAngkor Wat.[3]

A few shots from around the temple. The faces of Buddha faced each direction on every tower.

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As with the other temples the walls were adorned with depictions of battles, gods and life.2013 11 24 Bayon Temple_-26

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An offering at the end of the hall.

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So ends out time in Siem Reap. In retrospect I think the guide had it right, if you hit the 3 temples (Angkor, Bayon and Tah Prohm) you get a diverse view of the Cambodian culture.

Great experience.

SARAY COLLECTIVE, CAMBODIA

Our destination was a women’s collective that dries water hyacinths and weaves them into mats and other products. You can read more about the Saray collective here and how their efforts are employing 30 local women.

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We had lunch at their local restaurant and spent time with the women, learning to weave. They are very fast.

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What I did not know is that the water hyacinth is highly invasive and quite a problem … once I learned that I started to look around and notice, it was everywhere.

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After lunch and the weaving we headed out on canoes to visit around the village. Our first stop was where they process the fish. It was amazing to see – they all worked in a cadence, the pounding of knives as they cut the fish.

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The fish on the way for processing.

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As we pulled into the next stop this little fellow was happy. As soon as he saw the nurses waiting to give him his vaccine (an ambush), his demeanor changed considerably. It took a few of the women to get him to the nurses.

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After a few more stops around the village we jumped back in the boat and headed home, with one last visit. Our boat captain stopped off at a home (family, friends or a business partner) to pick up a few 5 gallon drums of processed fish. We were greeted by the family dog (what is it like to be a dog who lives in a floating house?)

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They processed the fish so fast. 3 knife strokes per fish.

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Fish loaded, we pulled away – the day complete.

A very different, insightful and educational experience. If you are in Siem Reap, highly recommended. Thanks for dropping by.

FLOATING VILLAGES OF TONLE SAP LAKE, CAMBODIA

As mentioned in the previous post, the boat picked up speed and we headed to the next village. One of the first boats we saw as we entered the main village was this floating restaurant, looking for customers.

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The lake will rise and fall 9-10M in a year and the people will float from location to location, following the water. It is a bit unfathomable to live your entire life .. floating.

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Moored into the trees or to each other, the homes at mid/high-tide. At low tide, those trees will be 20m high.

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The village delivery system … gas, fruit, you name it.

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Everyone drives a boat. No matter how old.

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Some boats with motors.

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Many boats with only a paddle.

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Of course, there is a phone store.

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A completely different way of life. Thanks for dropping by.