I wanted to write a post about the Russian Market but unfortunately the regular shops close before we get home from school. To make things even more difficult I didn’t bring my camera the one time we went to eat there at night so I have zero pictures of the place. The good news is two of my housemates, Stephanie and Sean, had their cameras when we went there for dinner and snapped some pictures that are now posted on their blog. So if you are interested, check out their site to read about and see the Russian Market. They also have an earlier post with pictures of the house we are living in. Here is the link: http://ss-abroad.blogspot.com/
Last week we spent most of our time at a local university in class from 9am – 5:30pm. Some of the things we are learning are interesting and will definitely come in handy when we actually start to teach but some things are just plain tedious, repetitive and boring. We get a good amount of breaks during the school day but by 5:30 we are pretty exhausted. But we usually rally by nighttime and have had a bunch of fun nights exploring Phnom Penh.
This past weekend we took a six-hour bus ride to Siem Reap, which is in northern Cambodia. The bus was the tiniest and jankiest thing you’ve ever seen and I’m still amazed that we fit over 20 people in there. Needless to say the bus ride was long and uncomfortable, but it was totally worth it. Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world and is definitely the most beautiful, massive and impressive place I have ever been. We spent the whole day exploring all of the different temples spanning the complex. One of the temples is the location where they shot “Tomb Raider”! As we walked through the grounds I couldn’t get over how much manpower it must have took to build these structures. EVERYTHING is made out of stone and the temples were built in the late 12th century when they obviously did not have the technology we have today. Furthermore, almost all of the temple walls are carved with detailed relief depicting religious figures/events, wars, celebrations and everyday activities. It’s really an unbelievable sight and it’s something that I hope all of you can go see for yourself one day.
On our way back from Siem Reap we stopped at a less touristy temple which was equally, if not more, awesome. We didn’t have an official guide with us so I don’t really know much about the history of the temple, but many stones have fallen and accumulated within the temple walls. Basically, the place was a giant jungle gym. We spent the afternoon crawling around the rocks and exploring the grounds. My friend Dana and I ran into a couple Khmer kids while inside the temple and they acted as our tour guides. Khmer children are seriously the cutest kids ever.
I only have a few more days left in Phnom Penh and I am actually really sad to leave. Cambodia is such an amazing country. It is definitely overlooked by the rest of the world in a number of different ways. I don’t think people realize how beautiful the natural land is and how many mind blowing buildings were erected in the past. The people here are also the most down to earth, friendly, happy and good natured people you will ever meet. Every day I look forward to riding the tuk tuk to school and watching people go about their daily routines. In many ways, life here is much simpler than in the U.S. People here don’t obsess over material goods or constantly worry about if what they are doing is hygienic or safe. Little kids don’t have rooms full of toys and videogames. Instead they chase each other around in the streets. To me, it seems like most people here just make do with what they have and are happy about it.
What amazes me the most is that people here can be so happy even though they are still suffering the consequences of what happened to their country not even thirty years ago. When you visit Cambodia or even Laos, you notice that there is a huge age group that is underrepresented. You see tons of people in their twenties and thirties but there are substantially less people in their forties and fifties. This is because during the 1970s there was a massive genocide in the country that wiped out about a quarter of the population. Today I visited Tuol Sleng (also known as S-21), which is a former high school turned prison, where the Khmer Rouge kept people for interrogation, torture and execution. Walking around the site was extremely haunting because they have kept everything intact since the time the prison was discovered. There is still barbed wire hanging over all the windows and terraces that was put up to prevent people from committing suicide. You can go inside the cells where prisoners were kept and there are even visible blood stains left on the floors. There is also a huge photographic exhibit where they have pictures of all of the victims and it was hard for me to view because I wanted to look at each face, but it was literally impossible because there are too many photographs. The prison operated for a little over three years and it is estimated that over 20,000 people died at S-21. When the Vietnamese army finally came to rescue the prisoners there were only seven left alive. It was a very somber experience walking around but I think it is so important that I went. I knew that there was genocide in Cambodia but I definitely did not realize to what extent it had happened. People in the Western world seem to overlook the genocide in Cambodia and I wish that more people knew about what happened here.
It’s hard to jump back into the swing of things here after visiting S-21, but our busy schedules definitely help with that. We have a jam-packed week including a booze cruise tomorrow night, send off party on Thursday and trip to the beach over the weekend. I leave for Vietnam on Sunday and although I am sad to be leaving Cambodia, I’m very excited to get to Vietnam. I definitely want to live in Vietnam for a period of time, but I have such strong feelings toward Cambodia that I am highly considering moving here before going back to the States. But I guess only time will tell. I didn’t want this entry to be a debbie downer so I’ll leave you guys with some pictures to look at. Pictures take a bajillion years to load on my old-ass computer so I’m only gonna post a few here. To see the full collection of them go look on my facebook. I just made an album entitled Siem Reap. Lots of love from Cambodia!