BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Saturday, June 30, 2007

for Asian and non-Asian souls

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - The minute the plane touched the runway here, I thought I was in Batanes.

The wide expanse of greenery surrounding the airport and the eerie silence of the countryside reminded me of that isolated yet soulful island on the northernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago.

I soon realized, however, that Cambodia is different. It is a city still struggling to embrace the modern world, to be a major part of the Southeast Asian fold, to survive and develop but most of all, to forget its past.

Cambodians, my guide here says, have huge gaps in their stories. There are long silences when one remembers the time of Pol Pot.

"He eliminated the powerful, those with knowledge and education of the outside world," says my guide as we go around the city on his tuk-tuk. He is unable to conceal his sadness.

To this day, he says, every Cambodian is struggling to earn a living while forgetting their bitter past.

I look around. School-age girls are everywhere, selling scarves and bags for a dollar or two. In Phnom Penh, my guide says, it is worst.

The girls sell themselves for two dollars or more in stinking brothels and in dark corners, my guide says. It's sad.

But despite its bitter past during the time of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is very much a charming place. Asian and non-Asian souls can easily find their place here. The people are friendly and the smiles are warm.

The food is good, with a mixture of Asian spices and Western influence.

These days, people earn a living from the hordes of tourists that flock everyday to have a taste of this Southeast Asian country.

The age-old temples of Angkor Wat are one of the favorite tourist spots. I look forward to my visit there.