Saturday, 12 February 2011

Love You Long Time ...

Bay of Bengal (get to India, turn right and its the first sea on the left (... and right)), 35,000 feet up.  Its Friday.

We left Cambodia yesterday (travelling by bus through Thailand to Bangkok).  As usual I am confused. I loved the country and its people.  If I stop and think, I wonder whether it touched me more than I normally allow myself to be touched by land and strangers (that sounds a bit wrong, doesn’t it?)

I talked to a good number of locals about their past and their future; about their issues and their views.  Its easy for a daft Scotsman with spectacles to make skewed judgements based on minimal research ... but I always try and take the easy option. 

The agriculture is so labour intensive, its scary.  Most will work from dusk till dawn in a body position that homosapiens are really only designed to be in for short periods.  Time and effort are cheap here. There is so little money in it, success isn’t judged on profit or loss but malnutrition or health. The marvels of mechanisation ... of innovation ... of the power of the mind rather than simply the hands ... fall into a wondrous clarity in Cambodia. The examples are less complex, less forgotten and thus more compelling than in the UK.

You realise that breakthroughs in production methods are led by individuals for private gain ... yet whole communities and countries and continents benefit.  Innovation grows from need ... desperation even.  Innovation comes mostly from those with a contrasting rather than corresponding story to the traditional farming system. Innovation is a dish best served by the disadvantaged.  

We travelled through Thailand yesterday in 30 degrees of heat and you sensed a coldness compared to Cambodia.  There were far less smiles, a scarcity of laughter that I had become used to from the Khmer people.  You realise how vital smiles and jokes are in communication when normal communication is difficult.  I felt safe in Cambodia.  Phnom Penh wasn’t intimidating and I’ve felt a lot more threatened in Edinburgh.  British people seem angry compared to Cambodians, yet in comparison we don’t have much to be angry about. 

Despite being effectively a dictatorship ... it feels more free ... there is a refreshing lack of regulation and restriction.  Driving for example consists of buying a car, getting a family member to show you how to drive for a couple of hours, then off you go. You can get a licence but this seems optional. You drive on the right though this is definitely optional.  The spatial awareness of how your bumper might interact with another moving object feels like it comes from a special gene in Khmers that has been highly developed under the strict principles of Darwinism.  Back home (and even whilst away) I have just been through a prime example (SRDP grant applications) of how well meaning rules can become ever decreasing circles of restriction as they multiply and dig a deeper and deeper hole until you strike pettiness and stupidity (not that I’m sore about it, you understand).

Back in the UK we feel empowered ... in Cambodia they feel powerless.  Our public’s opinion carries weight in the minds of our political leaders ... in Cambodia those in power treat their people lightly.  Yet we are bound by regulation, rules and tied tight by bureaucracy.  In Cambodia a public with no voice and no money still have a strange freedom about them.

Goodbye Cambodia, even though we might never meet again ... I will always be your friend.

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