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Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Cambodian Dream...

I started dreaming in Cambodia.

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed a dreamless sleep. While I've heard tales of friends, family and foes waking with a start because of a bad dream that they had, I have never experienced it.

Most of the people who know me envy me my dreamless slumber. And it was something I took for granted for the past several years. But the short trip to Cambodia changed all that.

I don't think it was jetlag. The flight from Singapore was really too short for that. I also don't think it was the Hotel. Casa Angkor was a qualint, colonial place that was comfortably furnished and clean. The staff was friendly and the ambience soothing. I really don't think it was the work I was doing there. Our shoot went off very well, with almost no glitches.

But it could have been the people. Especially the children. Even in the abysmal depths of poverty, the continued to smile. Even when suffering from gross malnourishment, they attempted to wave a hand at us. Even though covered in sores and scabs, they grinned at the camera in all their innocence.

It could also have been the mothers. They were tired from the long walk to the hospital. They were weak from hunger as all available food was diverted to the children. They were hot and were being bothered by the flies. But they smiled beautifully. With their hearts, welcoming us for a glimpse into their lives.

It might have been the city itself. Siem Reap today has not fully recovered from the whirlwind of development that whirred through it in the late 90's. Scores of hotels are still being built for the projected rush of tourists. The airport is being upgraded to accomodate the millions who will flock in. Malls, arcades and cineplexes are being planned to cater to their entertainment needs. But for now, only bars, lodges and brothels are doing brisk business.

It could have been the dichotomy. While on the one hand, families debated whether the four dollar taxi ride to the children's hospital was worth it, even when the debate centred around saving their child's life, middle-aged, pot-bellied caucasians 'bought' and 'enjoyed' sex with girls young enough to be their granddaughters.

While scores of people depended on the charity of strangers to give their their daily rice gruel, sex-tourists frequented glitzy night spots to guzzle foreign liquor, devour exotic fauna and paw scantily-clad teenagers with wild abandon.

And the cripples, the infirm and the weak watched helplessly, without the counsel of the wise, for the old had been 'cleansed' from the land during Pol Pot's time.

I think I know why I started dreaming in Cambodia. Reality was just too stark to digest.


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