Returning this week, dear reader, to Cambodia, not that I’ve traveled back, but only because there is more to tell of this story. Or thoughts anyway, not that there will be a tidy end.
When we last left off, Sakari, our tour guide had been reunited with her family after 5 years in internal exile as her country raced toward the bottom at the hands of misguided leaders seeking an agrarian utopia.
When she returned, the country was missing half of its citizens and the country was left to rebuild under the guidance, it seems, of millions of the traumatized and malnourished survivors, and all the leading captors and guards and militia and minders who escaped prosecution for war crimes. That means everyone. To date, there have been exactly two leaders of the Khmer Rouge who have been brought to justice.
The rest of them sort of melted back into the community to breed and live their lives again. And the country is regrowing without any sort of moral compass. This is a lawless land and it is a tempting place for many. Natural beauty. Ancient mysteries, cheap living. Ready access to pharmaceuticals. Limited enforcement of,… well…lots of most laws. Local and international.
And that attracts people who want to bend the rules or live on the edge. People who trade in animal parts or children or ancient artifacts.
I heard time after time about how wonderful the place is, but if you get into trouble, no one is going to help you. An expat drawn to Phnom Penh had settled into life and was working as a bartender. On his way home one night, per CCTV, he swerved to avoid a weaving car and was thrown from his motorbike. Within a minute of lying in a ditch, a man walked by, stooped down, rifled through his pockets, took his phone and his wallet and rode off on his motorbike into the night. The man was reported deceased the next morning.
One of the main rules that visitors are told is, don’t shoot the bazooka. However this is apparently a top thing to do in Phomh Penh. I gotta admit, the idea has some appeal. But the super-egos among us have assessed that this is not the best idea as most of the munitions they use are 70s era and often picked up off the jungle floor and there is a large risk that thing might explode on your shoulder.
But, shoot the bazooka they do. And at least most of the time, things go off without a hitch. Enough of the time that here, whether it’s the spirits, or the mystery or the openness of the people, newcomers let their guard down. Two tourists not too long ago were sitting at an outside restaurant when someone walked up and hand them two pills and said, “if you want a good time, take these!”
And so they did! And the following day one of them was dead!
Who would take random pills from strangers? You wouldn’t do that in New York City. Why would you do that anywhere else? Don’t take candy from strangers! It’s one of the first lessons we learn when we go out into the world as children.
After dinner, like you, we shake our head in amazement and guffaw! And then we stroll out to catch a tuk tuk back to our hotel. The driver pulls up and accepts our ride! He looks a little young and his voice hasn’t changed yet. But it seems safe enough. And off we rode into the night.