Angkor Wat Day 2 – sunrise at Angkor Wat, a standard thing all tourists do.
I woke up at 4:45am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Since Angkor Wat is quite far from the hotel, it took us around 30 mins by car to get there. It was still dark when we arrived at Angkor Wat. After all, it was ‘winter’ in Cambodia. The tour guide didn’t come but it was very easy to find the way – just followed the crowd. It seemed to me that they all knew the place very well, somehow. The crowd stopped at the pool where we all waited for the sunrise. I was very lucky cos I was able to squeeze myself into the crowd and stand in front of all the people to see the sunrise.
Despite the crowd, the whole place was very quiet. As the sky began to change its colour, the crowd began to move and I started to hear the sound of the cameras and the voices of people admiring the beauty of the place.
Leaving Banteay Srei, we headed to Landmine Museum. I found a leaflet about this museum in the hotel so I asked the driver to take us there.
It’s worth going there. One gets to know the modern history of this country here after learning its glory in ancient times. As suggested by its name, it displays different kinds of landmines in the museum. The founder of this museum is a Cambodian. He is the living history of Cambodia.
He doesn’t know his own name and he doesn’t even know when he was born. He was an orphan and was taken to the army at the age of 5 and there he was trained to lay mines. That’s how he learnt about mines. At that time, he didn’t know what he was doing. Well, after all, he was only a kid.
He started to know the danger of mines when he saw many of his friends die in the battlefields. When the UN came over, they hired him to clear landmines. Because he knew so much about mines – the structures and the functions – he did it very quickly without the help of any technology.
‘I had never seen a hotel. I didn’t know what a hotel was like…’ he said in the video played in the open area of the museum. This sounds like my Cambodian student from the village who at one stage wanted to work in a hotel but had never seen or been to the hotel. Check out my student’s story here and an article written by her here. I believe this is quite common for people living in villages.
In the same video, he said he had been interviewed by a lot of reporters from all over the world. He started to get sick of recalling the past. With the support of his friends and family, he started up this museum. He recorded this video so that he didn’t need to repeat his story.
Since he didn’t know his own name, the reporters gave him different ones. One of them was Akira, given by a Japanese reporter. He liked it so he adopted it and now everyone calls him Akira.
All the mines displayed here in this museum are deactivated so it’s very safe.
But the scars of wars stay in the minds of many people. In 2019, I went to Phnom Penh and visited the Genocide Museum and Killing Field with my students and the others (check out my blog ‘You Don’t Want History To Repeat Itself’ here). Those adults who have gone through the war couldn’t stop crying while recalling the loss of their loved ones. It was a very emotional moment.
Is that what we really want?
East Mebon is situated in East Baray. The word ‘Baray’ means sea / lake / ocean / reservoir. In the past, the land that we can see now was a lake and East Mebon was built in the middle of this lake. People came here by ferry (that’s also how they transported the bricks to build this temple) and therefore there was no need to build any steps at the entrance of this temple. As the water dried up, the foundation and the structure of this temple appeared as you can see in the photo.
I was told that these children all had problems at home. Either their parents were divorced or they had drinking problems. Some of these kids were orphans. I asked them some questions like what they wanted to be when they grew up (que sera sera… whatever will be, will be…) 🙂 One of them told me his brother wanted to be the prime minister. Wow! What a big dream! And the reason? A few fortune tellers told him he would become one. 😀 Another said he wanted to be a builder. Then the rest of the kids laughed. I then said, ‘that is a very honourable thing to do. You can build many schools like this one.’ All the kids then stopped laughing and they started to nod. That little kid started to feel proud of his dream.
The tour guide passed me a leaflet of a cello concert. The concert was only held on Thursdays and Saturdays. Just happened it was Thursday today. It was performed by a doctor (Dr. Beat Richner) from Switzerland. He is the founder of Children’s Hospital which is again another NGO organization. He raised money through organizing this kind of concert. However, there weren’t many of us that night and so he said, ‘I didn’t expect to see this. I tried my best to distribute the promotional leaflets but it didn’t work. I can’t play the cello to this few number of people so I changed my plan. I will play a video instead. This video is in French and you can also see the prime minister of Switzerland. She came to visit this hospital…’ I was quite disappointed but then after playing the video, he played two pieces of music.
It was good that I got to watch that video as I knew nothing about the work of the Children’s Hospital before I went to this concert.
This doctor first went to Cambodia with Red Cross. He went through the wars and treated many patients during those years. Back then, he had a dream. He wanted to build a hospital for the children in Cambodia.
His dream was realized several years later. One after another, he has built at least 3 Children’s Hospitals in Cambodia. The one in Siem Reap is one of them.
The name, ‘Children’s Hospital’ in Siem Reap is also followed by the words ‘Jayavarman VII’. At first I didn’t understand why the hospital was named after this king. After I visited the National Museum on my last day, I knew a bit more about this king. He was a great king and he was very kind to his people. One of the many good things he did for his people was the construction of hospitals.
The doctor emphasized that there was no corruption in the hospital and the hospital pays reasonable wages to all workers, including the cleaners. When he mentioned the word ‘corruption’, I could feel how much he resented it and how frustrated he was.
His big heart deserved a standing ovation.
11 October 2008
P.S. Corruption still exists in Cambodia. Corruption is not only confined to bribery but also the corrupted behaviour of the staff in some organisations as I later learnt while I was there in 2019.
P.S. In 2019, the Children’s Hospital was still in Siem Reap. I remember seeing a poster about the concert in a market. If you go to Siem Reap, maybe you can check out the concert.