Sunday, January 15, 2012

Same same but different

I am a fairly non-violent person. The only people I ever want to harm or, at the very least, maim are the vegetarians – the ‘by choice’ idiots, not the my-God-says-so ones. But after backpacking through Cambodia, I wanted to bludgeon every communist in the world to death.

In high school the only thing I made of communism was that all commies had hammers and sickles for hands, ate the same boiled oats, wore the same grey pinafores and jute bras fashioned from gunnysacks, were all named Lenin or Svetlana. They were convinced that man did not deserve the luxury of choice or opinion. Commies had sex only when they ran out of Lenins to work in the field. Chess was their only vice.  

There was this other brand of communism that I was unaware of, active in Cambodia in the late 70’s. It involved a retarded man deciding that everyone in his country should be marched to the countryside to dig holes. If you protested, and were lucky, you were shot immediately. If not, you were specimen B for some grim experiment at a concentration camp. You did not attempt to escape the country for you would be blown to bits by one of the ten million landmines that this communist genius dotted his own country with. 10 million mines for 7 million people. In four years of communist regime, the population of Phnom Penh fell from 850,000 to a mind-numbing seven (not thousand).

Not just the commies. A visit to Cambodia and you would want to personally decapitate Henry Kissinger, the most astute diplomat since the guy who tried to come up with a partition plan for India. At his behest, just under 3 million tons of bombs were sneakily dropped across southern Cambodia in an attempt to kill Vietnamese guerilla forces that might have taken shelter there. 3 million tons of artillery as a ‘just in case’ seems fair enough, right?

I am not a fan of the rest of America either. Especially the sixty year old, pot bellied, sun tanned, ignorant pricks who travel to Asia looking for true love in the form of an underage, Asian, budget prostitute. I say Asian and not Cambodian, Thai or Vietnamese, because to an American they’re all the same – Thai.

“If you're a previously unemployable ex-convenience store clerk from Leeds or Tulsa, a guy with no conscience and no chance of ever knowing the love of an un-intoxicated woman, then Cambodia can be a paradise.”

– A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain

This ‘paradise’ leaves you a depressed traveler. You’re not sure what to make of the bus load of Cambodians laughing away at an inane TV skit only a fraction as funny as the Teletubbies. How pained does one have to be to find even this funny? Or the swarms of kids who surround you asking for a dollar for every knickknack you relieve them of. Or the prostitute who promises to love you long time. You cannot help but wonder if it’s allegorical that the biggest club in Phnom Penh is called the Heart of Darkness?

In a country playing catch up with the rest of Asia, however, it’s of some consolation to meet Hak, the 23 year old backpacker lodge owner who will give you the best room in the world that 5 dollars can buy. Serai, the 20 year old hawker who takes your email-id ‘just in case’ she learns how to use a computer in the future or Seah, a twenty something waitress at a rundown shack who wants to learn English so she can be my tour guide the next time I visit Cambodia.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be a next time Seah.