Fred and Olga had a holiday in Cambodia in October 2013. Here are Fred’s thoughts on returning back to the UK.
I have just returned from a visit to Cambodia and Vietnam and would like to share some experiences and thoughts with you. These are beautiful countries and I met friendly people everywhere but I was overwhelmed (as were other visitors I met), not only by the poverty of Cambodia, but also by the historical suffering of both places. I am not one who adopts the idea that everything 3rd world (‘ethnic’) is intrinsically good and the advanced (white) world is the root of all evil. However, I do think that meddling by the superpowers and their ideological conflict and competition are massively responsible and continue to be so in, for example, in the Middle East.
In Cambodia, I saw the killing fields of the Khymer Rouge and their torture chambers, where the sadism far exceeded any boggle factor. Some visitors feel physically ill at this point and have to leave. Of some 10,000 prisoners passing through one camp, only 7 survived, and 2 are still alive. We had the honour to meet one of these. To get ideological purity, all the cities were evacuated and the population forced into the countryside, and 1/3 of the population, including ‘politically-tainted’ young children, was killed in 4 years. This Mao-supported nightmare came in the wake of the Vietnam War, in which the superpowers displayed their muscles.
In Vietnam my wife and I were taken on our hands-and-knees along the tunnels used by the Viet-Cong to escape the bombing. Although we had a guide and went only as far as the first exit, and there were no B-52s dropping bombs from above, I was uncomfortable, scared and greatly relieved to get out. Yet in the war people ate, slept and were treated ‘surgically’ down there. We saw the craters left by the bombs dropped from the air, still deep after nearly 50 years. Particularly devilish were the traps set for American soldiers that we were shown in the jungle. Covered in leaves, they were quite hidden (coded marks on the trees told the Vietnamese where they were located). But if a GI stepped on it, a door would swing open and he would fall through into a narrow hole lined with spikes. These pointed downwards at about 45 degrees, so trying get out only made things worse. These were American kids fresh out of high school and probably (for many) having little idea as to why they were there.
In Asia, superpower conflict and competition continues to bring misery. Learned helplessness might seem like a logical reaction to all this. In their thirst for material growth, the Chinese have built dams, which deny the Vietnamese their normal water supply. Of course, hydroelectric power is good in principle provided that local ecology is considered.
The Philippines has just been subject to what is probably the worst storm ever. Although, of course, we cannot do a controlled experimental study, I (believing informed scientific opinion) have little doubt that man-made climate change is implicated. The Philippine delegate to the current climate change conference in Warsaw stated “When will the world stop this madness” and has vowed to starve for the duration of the conference. Presumably, unless we produce a typhoon-like response, the Philippines will just slowly drift off our TV screens, just as happened with Burma and Bangladesh. Our politicians still think short-term but need to be pestered day and night to adopt green policies, such as building sustainable energy sources and favouring public transport. We can follow the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and reject mass consumption, particularly in the run-up to Christmas.
On the way back, in Singapore, I saw a CNN news report in which a (doubtless well-intentioned) presenter said of the advancing storm “We can only hope our friends in the Philippines are safely at home behind closed doors.” A ‘closed door’ there often means a bit of canvas or cloth pulled over a gap between thin bits of plywood, revealing the lack of insight by even an influential person. In the hotel, I read a message “Save the world. Try to use your towels more than once.” Yes – of course – wise advice, yet Singapore could make a massive contribution by setting the thermostats higher on their air conditioning in public places. I was shivering sometimes even in the tropical heat! I learned of people taking blankets with them to the theatre.
OK – yes – I need now to do some carbon offsetting myself to compensate for the flight but I hope these insights might prove useful.
Fred (apologies for any double posting to Facebook friends)