(post by Kayla Innis)
For my post, I’m going to type one of my journal entries. When we crossed the Thailand/Cambodia border I was in a narrative mood, and I wrote the following:
The Cambodian countryside isn’t anything like I had anticipated. In high school I read the book “A Rumor of War,” which is a soldier’s memoir of the Vietnam War. I had always imagined southeast Asia just as the author had described in his book: a mountainous region, covered with dense, lush forests that were home to countless types of insects and animals. While this description is probably accurate of the author’s experience, Western Cambodia doesn’t match it like I had expected.
I look out the window at very flat, golden fields that are neatly divided into squares and rectangles. There are some green trees, but these harvested rice fields are mostly golden. In the distance I see a random rise in the ground–like a large hill or very small mountain. My mind struggles to synthesize the two images in my mind: the perception I had of Cambodia before I came, and the reality before my eyes.
Suddenly, the scene before me changes. A thick, green forest has replaced the flat, golden canvas. Hidden in the trees are makeshift houses, made of anything and everything. Along the road, people sell goods at their stands. Just as quickly as the scene had come, it vanishes, and the golden fields return. Behind me, the sun starts to call it a day, and the fading rays cast an ethereal light on the fields. The fields are accompanied by small ponds and water buffalos, and some people live in tents. There is a small pile of junk at the edge of the tent. Well, to me it appears as junk. To the Cambodian living there, that small pile could be their treasured belongings.
I move up the bus and sit next to Jenny. “What do you think about all of this?” I ask. “Well,” she replies, “It seems like you either work in the little field or in the little stand, or you work in the little field and bring your goods to the little stand.” I nod in agreement. The golden fields change to a striking kelly green. These are also rice fields, I remember Prof Dornbos saying. They are lush because the Cambodians overwater the crops to prevent weed growth.
The scene before me changes again when a beautiful hotel appears out of nowhere. Compared to the flat landscape and surrounding poverty, the magnificent, sparkling tourist hotel embodies foreign influence. We pass the hotel, and the poverty immediately returns. “It’s so weird and wrong that one of those hotel rooms, where a person stays for a night, is bigger than one of those house-tents, where people live their whole lives.” “Yeah, and I bet those hotels will one day kick the Cambodians off their land in order to build a bigger hotel, or to rid the image of poverty so that visitors can enjoy the scenery,” I add.
For more information on the many juxtapositions of Cambodia, refer to Joel Betts’ entry above!