Recently I had the very fortunate opportunity of visiting south east Asia. More specifically I was staying in Cambodia which was where my parents used to reside before leaving as refugees over 20 years ago. What was originally intended to be a short visit of a few weeks turned out to be a 4 month stay in total. During that time I tried my best to keep a regular journal and its only now in hindsight that parts of it seem all the more relevant whilst exploring certain notions of hypocrisy and bigotry. As ever I'd be the first to admit that I'm a hypocrite and have never denied it, since there is nobody that isn't a hypocrite. However  the kind of hypocrisy I normally engage in hopefully generally doesn't have anything to do with the unwarranted disrespect of others if I can help it and usually revolves around certain matters and choices that affect my own life.

I've got to say that even I naively went there thinking that I might come away with a stronger sense of identity, which in a way I have but maybe not quite in the way you might typically expect. Do I feel more Cambodian? No. Did I want to feel more Cambodian? I think before setting off yeah on some level, however in the end it made me realize more that I'm actually quite comfortable in not necessarily belonging at that level in order to pin down my notion of self identity. By saying that I'm not trying to say I'm above it all either, as there was a long period of trying to figure out "who I was" against the wider context of society and culture. It wasn't that I was made to feel like I didn't belong either as I think I've been very fortunate to encounter many good people and friends in my 30 year lifetime during my stay so far, but there always seemed to be this looming question mark that was never quite answerable.

Cambodia itself is quite a friendly place, but having said that I think it very much so depends on the type of affiliation you have with the place and maybe your ability to understand the language if not actually speak it. I was constantly told by my mother to be careful what I say as words can't be taken back in relation to certain personal circumstances as if it was something I wasn't aware of. But at the same time its unfortunate that an entire Cambodian population couldn't heed the same advice themselves. 

My stay there also made me realize how muddled the notion of Cambodian identity is in its more traditional context. So much so that I don't even think so called passionate patriots even understand their own claimed heritage poor and wealthy alike. There seems to be a notion of trying to preserve a Khmer culture which for the most part seems to be steeped tradition of which I have no desire to identify with or actually engage in on any deep level. Which is not to say that there is anything wrong with it, but in all honesty much of Khmer youth culture (the stuff that isn't actually imported) pretty much replicates the stuff from over 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years ago which are all heavily entwined with all the more ancient traditions of Khmer culture. Sure cultural heritage is important but is it ok for it to be part of the mainstream when trying to modernize Cambodia in any genuine way? 
 As far as I can see they don't have their own evolved culture to call their own. Technically a countries overall culture is also determined by how the vast majority of the population live. The UK has the means to provide a minimum standard of living that allows people to have decent minimum quality of life. Meaning that poverty in any extreme sense for the vast majority is an option of sorts in such places. Where as poverty and extreme poverty in Cambodia is not an option for the vast majority. Sure go ahead, by all means have your upper and middle sections. But really, what right do you have to be telling the vast majority of people what their culture is and should be when the only culture they know is poverty. That must mean that Cambodia's culture as a country is poverty. Is that something to be proud of? At the same time technological progress is also restricted for fear of losing so called cultural identity. I would have thought peoples actual ability to live above the poverty line would be more important then that. After which people might have more of a mind to focus on some sort of extended "enriching" culture but I could be wrong.

At the same time I'm trying not to be too scathing as there were many everyday cultural practices that I thought we're either a hindrance or a potential compounding cause for certain unspoken of social problems but that’s a whole other debate. 

Despite all he's done many hardcore Cambodian nationalist agree with Pol-Pot on one front. That they believe that Cambodia should be for Cambodian people to unashamedly be quite vocal about such xenophobic views if outside the country. Symbolically the temples of Cambodia are seen to be a main focal point in pinning down their national identity too as well as being a focal point of Pol-Pots propaganda in something that should be preserved and taken back whilst he was alive and exerting his influence.  The Cambodian temples themselves were built by Cambodian Kings who followed the Hindu belief system. Hinduism during that period basically meant that if you followed that belief you were pretty much subject to the cast system. Meaning you were born into a class and you could not move from it. People could also only marry within the same cast. The temples were built by slaves at a time when there was no social mobility of any kind. In essence these temples symbolize all that Pol-Pot was against along with the hordes of poor people that assisted him in culling millions of people for their so called intellect that was apparently keeping them suppressed. 

Even Buddhism in Cambodia has been watered down to accommodate more multi-god Hindu centric leanings instead of the break away way of thinking its meant to be. Buddhism was born in India with a Hindu princes disillusionment when he began to wonder why there was so much inequality within his kingdom and the world around him. In protest he pretty much gave up his life of opulence and his future role as king to live amongst the poor meditating instead. I'm not sure I could do that so rather him then me I guess. Also Buddhism doesn't ascribe to the notion of there being a god.

I guess its ironic that these temples are now helping to generate one of Cambodia's main sources of income via tourism . 

Then to top it all off I've often been accused of being racist for not taking enough interest in Cambodian or oriental looking girls even to this day. But I don't see how this could be true since I don't feel any kind of hatred or disgust toward Cambodian or oriental looking girls of any kind in the purely superficial sense. The way I see it, its like how some prefer blondes and others prefer brunettes. Even I know a beautiful south East Asian/oriental looking girl when I see one. Its just strange that many so called Cambodian patriots have a deep hatred towards the Vietnamese who in effect are oriental in appearance too but yet these Cambodians still have the nerve to call or consider me racist. The problem is I don't actually have any problems with Vietnamese people in general. In light of all of this do I actually want to be Cambodian?

I was in awe of the temples, I enjoyed many of the wonderful sights, I liked many of the people I met and I liked the warmth of the place. I'd even go so far as to say I might even love my Cambodian wife in several contexts despite not really being ready to (It might even be that I'm in fact confusing courtship love with selfish possessiveness). But calling myself Cambodian or saying I love the place after all I've seen and heard? No, I can't really say I can which in a sense could be a good thing as it could only make me less biased. If anything I feel pity for the place although it often seemed miss-placed in gauging constant verbal opinion but in this instance I’d very much say actions and the actual reality in sight speaks louder then words in this particular context. But equally words can be as equally notable. I hope I don't run out of reason to actually care because of this.



The unseen 7 day funeral (RIP Gramps)
 
It only seemed like the other day when I spoke to the fella whilst out there. Ultimately it's extremely simple in process and inevitable, but its still weird how something thats so complex with perceived infinite continuity (despite the reality) can just one day instantly just vanish with such finality with no kind of reprieve. A seemingly firm reality of life itself that hangs on a very delicate thread at all times. Its been a while since something like this seemed so stark in terms of my awareness of its gravity as far as thought goes.