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September 22, 2004


After lunch we went out, back through the gates of Angkor Thom and found The 350m long "Terrace of the Elephants". The terrace was used both as a grandstand for public ceremonies and an audience hall for the king. With a little imagination the pomp and grandeur of the Khmer Empire at it's peak is bought back to life, with a noisy procession of infantry, cavalry, horse-drawn chariots and elephants parading across the central square, hoisting colourful flags and pennants aloft, watched proudly by the god-king, shaded by numerous parasols, dressed in the finest silk and surrounded by hand maidens and attendants (me and my big fat imagination).

Across the "Avenue of Victory" are the mysterious (and fairly ruined) 12 Towers of Prasat, who's true use/s are still unknown. Historians think that they might have been used for a public trial of sorts - if there was a dispute between two people they would be locked in the towers with the first to get sick being declared the guilty party (bring back the towers I say). Around all of the temples and monuments were a seething throng of food, drink and souvenir sellers all noisily competing for attention (and money). This was a lot more fun than when we encountered the same in Sri-Lanka, as here most of the vendors were small children (rather than drunken men) who being kids were willing to stop and play for a while before returning to their cries of "you buy from me". Being hustled by a five year old invokes mixed feelings; there is admiration for their sharp minds (there are good..... really really good), mixed with a touch of sadness knowing that the money is probably not going to the kids directly (although quite often it's the only way their parents can afford to send them to school). It's hard to know what to do when confronted by not only true poverty, but the victims of land-mines and war. It would take a hardened soul not to be touched by their plight, but I think just giving away money to every one with their hand out is not the answer. Tourists throwing cash around willy-nilly to make themselves feel better seems to breed a culture of expectation and dependance, encouraging capable people to take up begging for a living (some unfortunates have no choice) and leading to situations like the hiring of drugged babies to beggars (yes I'm afraid it does happen). We found that giving away food seemed to help separate the needy from the opportunists (tip: if a beggar looks pissed off when you give them bread or fruit they're probably not starving), this coupled with doing practical things like giving blood, left us with a feeling that we had done a little to help the people of this war-torn country.

Posted by Zach & Emily on September 22, 2004 10:17 PM
Category: CAMBODIA
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