Special Report from Cambodia

Cambodia is moving forward. The city of Phnom Penh still has the temples, the streets crammed with bicycles, motorcycles with entire families hanging on, and trucks with entire school grades crammed into the back. But, on the northern edge of town across the bridge something new is happening. New modern and expensive condominium /townhome projects are being built, right beside old wooden stilt built traditional shacks.

Drive up the highway and other contrasts are emerging. The old, dirty, kilns for making bricks spew out black smoke, and cover the land with broken brick, while young people are working the jungles and small villages doing “recycling” projects, to help the environment.

Again and again we see traditional dirty, pollutive, greed bound business practices, while young idealists and an emerging educated class of people are pressing for cleaner environment, better health care, and more social responsible ways of developing the nation.

In years past, when the deep lush forests proved to be desirable, a few corrupt generals and politicians simply took big “contributions” and allowed thousands of acres of land to be “deforested” in Northern Cambodia. Now, all logging is banned, and only a few operators sneak past authorities, by cutting and hauling logs at night, so they cannot be easily seen.

The great Mekong River, feeds Cambodia. It is under pressure. Every year the fish catch is lower, and the average size of the fish that are caught is smaller. Cambodia has responded by instituting laws with strict “fishing seasons”. But, the Mekong River is in peril of survival. China has already built one dam on this river and secretly has plans for 16 more dams on the river, to irrigate China’s farming industry.

What will happen to Cambodia’s farm industry? Is it simply a disposable nation, with its millions of farmers to be thrown out, because of China’s voracious greed and growth? And Cambodia, which produces enough food to feed its people, would be a disaster, without the rich rice harvest that has been a staple of the diet there. The Cambodian people do not have the money to “pay” for Chinese rice, if they cannot produce on Cambodian farmlands.

But Cambodia has an emerging generation of intelligent, educated people, who do not believe in the traditional corruption of the past. They can, if given the opportunity, develop positive opportunities for this nation.

Cambodia is the home of some of the world’s most important cultural and religious treasures. These religious centers, housed Khmer, Hindu, Buddhist, and distinctly Cambodian intellectual and cultural concepts. For a time, Cambodia was a powerful, organized, and very wealthy center of Asia. It is interesting that the intricate society and irrigation system that brought wealth and power to Cambodia, over 1000 years ago, was brought down then, when they “deforested” and the farm lands and irrigation channels silted in. Now in 2007, the people of Cambodia seem to have learned the lessons of past history. Perhaps there is still a seed of from the past that will develop again, bringing Cambodia into a new modern greatness.

While in Cambodia, it was an honor to attend a traditional 4 day wedding in the jungles, and then to explore some of the deep, obscure temples that often are not accessible. Attending a wedding, a ceremony of love, is not too far removed from the great architectural and religious riches of Cambodia.

There is deep history, and mysterious awe about those cultures that were so sophisticated and successful over 1000 years ago, in what is now, deep, almost impenetrable jungles. One of my favorite spots in Cambodia is the Ta Prohm, Temple, the site built by a king to honor a beautiful woman that he loved, and later married. She was such a talent that he had her dance before thousands of people and had her image carved into the temple walls.