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Beautiful Patterns, Common Threads


J'OOM REAB SOOR [Welcome in Khmer]

Part 1 Phnom Penh New as of April 14.
Part 2 New Year's in the Capital Four new images added April 23.
Part 3 Tonle Sap New as of April 23.
Part 4 Siem Reap New as of April 25.
Part 5 Angkor (part 1) New as of April 25.
Part 6 Angkor (part 2) New as of April 26.
Part 7 Around Siem Reap Province (part 1) New as of April 28.
Part 8 Around Siem Reap Province (part 2) New as of October 4, 1999.
Part 9 Around Phnom Penh New as of October 5, 1999
Part 10 Back in Phnom Penh New as of October 13, 1999
Read Avi's 4/27/99 diary entry from Saigon that discusses Phnom Penh.

Saturday April 24. Here is my reply to students in Tacoma, Washington:

Hi you guys! It's really great to get your message and questions. This is my last day in Cambodia (I'm heading into Vietnam by bus tomorrow morning), so I'm cleaning up some loose ends and trying to answer as much of my e-mail as I can. I'm glad you wrote! I met a couple of really interesting young people here who were born in Cambodia, moved to the U.S., then returned in the last couple of years. They seem to think things are really changing here for the better! If you'd like to write to them directly, let me know - we're still working on getting the e-mail connection together, but I think it will work out. So let me answer your questions!

Q. We are wondering if it is safe for you to travel in Cambodia now, what about land mines? Have you had any problems so far?

A. There is no question that land mines are still a BIG problem in the country. As soon as I got to Phnom Penh, I encountered MANY disabled people on the streets. They have come into Phnom Penh because they can no longer work effectively in the countryside, and they feel that being in Phnom Penh gives them an opportunity to survive. It's a very tough way to survive, I must tell you. But, there are a lot of projects going on to help out people who were disabled by mines. Keep watching the Cambodia section, and you'll read about one such project at Wat Than that teaches disabled people (mostly mine victims) in life skills, and provides job training that will help them provide for themselves. There are MANY other such projects. You may even want to help them in some way - let me know if you do! As far as my own travel goes, it's perfectly safe to travel anywhere that many people have gone before. That's pretty much anywhere -- on well-traveled roads, around areas that tourists go to, and so on. The dangerous places are those where you can't be sure people have walked in recent times, like in the middle of farmland. There are still mines there, and LOTS of them, so that people and animals unfortunately are still being injured and killed even though the warring has stopped. In fact, the area around Battambang (which I didn't get to visit), which used to be the "rice bowl" of Cambodia, is no longer producing much rice because people have stopped even going out into their fields for fear of the mines. There ARE groups like MAG (Mines Action Group, which will be profiled when we complete the Lao section) that are working to clear the fields, but it will take a long, long time to do so.

Q. How do you get and send your email?

A.You'd be surprised at how many internet cafes there are springing up all over the area! Right now I'm in a place called the KIDS Cafe. Sounds like it's run by kids, right? Well, sort of. The owners are college-age, which in Cambodia (where you don't grow up as fast, I think!) means you can call them "kids" still. KIDS stands for "Khmer Internet Development Services". (Does any of you know what "Khmer" means?) As telephone services, mostly by satellite connection for now, get better and better, the internet becomes more and more accessible, even in less wealthy countries. The biggest block sometimes comes from governments that worry about people being able to communicate with just ANYONE, around the world; but the only country I've been in so far where that's been a really big obstacle has been in Myanmar.

Q. Some of us are going to visit Viet Nam and Cambodia this summer. Will you still be there?

A. No, sorry, I'm coming back on May 31. But I'd sure LOVE to hear about your adventures! Will you write me while you're visiting? I'll even add your thoughts to the website if you want! Hey, here's an idea, too! Do you guys from Vietnam know exactly where your families are from? If you do, I could arrange my itinerary (if possible) to visit there and take some photos for you. What do you think? (I wish I could have done this for you from Cambodia, too, but...)

Q. Bye for now. Hien, Yoeum, Van, Neth, Jonathan, Mr. B and Mr. H.

A. See you guys! (Hey, you never actually told me what grade you're in -- what grade ARE you in?) Write again, OK?


April 12, Phnom Penh: Phnom Penh is COOL. From what I've seen so far, Cambodia is THE place to visit in Southeast Asia right now. We'll see if I still think so after I've actually been her for a while. It's EXPENSIVE to do email here; I may have to start typing the messages on my laptop and coming in here to just send them as attachments. We'll see. Anyway, I've got a great itinerary for Cambodia:

Planned Itinerary for Cambodia

Through April 16 -- Phnom Penh, for the New Year, including trips out of the city to Udong and, perhaps, Kompong Cham. Around the city seeing daily life, celebrations of the New Year in homes and at wats, reminders of the Khmer Rouge years, the "new Cambodia", etc.

April 17 -- bus to Kompong Chnnang, boat to Siem Reap along the Maekhong and on Tonle Sap, then afternoon and eve in Siem Reap town

April 18 to 20 -- all around Angkor, and out into the countryside to see village life in the northwest

April 21 -- if possible, to Battambang, the second largest city in the country

April 21 or 22 to 23 -- out to Ratanakiri province in the northeast to see life of the hill peoples and some unspoiled jungle

April 24 -- back to Phnom Penh, and then either on to Saigon OR a day to the ruins at Angkor Borei, if I get in touch with a friend who's working there and may be back in the country by that time (if the latter, into Vietnam on April 25)

April 10, Bangkok: Actually I'm not yet in Cambodia (still here in Bangkok). I flew from Laos to Bangkok to get my computer fixed before going to Cambodia. No air tickets out today 'cause everyone's leaving town for Songkran (the new year). By the way, a big Sur Sdey Chnam Thmey! [Happy New Year in Khmer] to you all, since I'll be in Cambodia for the New Year there and it's happening all over the north and western parts of the region. So, I'm here one more day before heading to Phnom Penh tomorrow morning. But here are my anticipatory thoughts about going to Cambodia:

From what I've seen and heard before, I expect to see things in Cambodia that reflect a history of great hardship over the last decades: its bombing during the "Vietnam" War; the years of the "Killing Fields"; floods of refugees leaving as a result. Yet, I also know a bit about Cambodia's longer history as a great center of culture in the region. I've seen some beautiful dance and heard wonderful music from there, and love the food, for example. I've heard that Angkor Wat is one of the great wonders of the ancient world.

I also expect to see some lasting influence from the years of French colonial dominance over Indochina. From a map, I see that Cambodia's coastline is relatively short, so I'd expect much of life there to revolve around rivers and mountains found in the interior-- and Tonle Sap, which looks like a pretty huge lake to me. And, I would think there's been influence from its neighbors with which it shares the longest borders, Thailand and Vietnam. But it also borders Laos and it is close to Malaysia, too. Finally, I hear in the news now of Cambodia's entering a period of peace and, hopefully, greater prosperity; I hope to see signs of its opening up to the world.

What would YOU expect to see?

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