Friday, March 26, 2010

Phnom Penh: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Min Gi finds a missing piece of a temple outside the National Museum.

If Cambodia is a country of extremes, then Phnom Penh is an appropriate capitol. PP has some amazing riverside restaurants and awesome cultural sites (though they kind of pale in comparison to the Angkor sites), but it's also a very dirty city, full of in-your-face poverty. While dining, we were constantly approached by children selling things and beggars missing limbs. I had read about this before I came--often these children and disabled persons are serving an abusive boss who takes most of what tourists give them in exchange for (substandard) group housing. But bighearted Min Gi found it too difficult to resist giving something to the people. I do not begrudge him this, although I warned him we weren't really helping out that much and reinforcing the exploitation of these vulnerable populations.

The Royal Palace dominates the center of Phnom Penh's cityscape.

After our day of touring the sites in the city, we tried to visit the Apsara Arts Association, a nonprofit organization that trains street children in traditional Cambodian dance. However, when our tuktuk driver, Maak, took us out to the theater, they were closed until March! We were a bit disappointed, but then Maak suggested that we visit an orphanage instead. He took us to buy a 50 kg bag of rice for a donation, and we went to the National Action Culture Association (NACA) Orphanage to spend an hour or two with the children.

They were so eager to see us and perform some of the dances they were learning. The girls just loved touching my hair and skin and holding onto every available part of me. The boys fought each other to play rock, paper, scissors with Min Gi. Although it was a little strange visiting the orphanage as a "tourist" site, we felt much better after spending some time entertaining these very eager children. I did not feel comfortable taking pictures, since we were only spending one day there and not actually volunteering, but I won't ever forget those kids.

I encourage you all to consider donating or sponsoring a Cambodian orphan through the CamKids, the Cambodian Children's Charity. If you are going to be in Cambodia and would like to volunteer with NACA, you can e-mail the director: They are also looking for corporate sponsorship and to be picked up by a larger NGO if you are associated with such and looking for a good project.

An advertisement for the Korean pop group, SHINEE, performing in PP.

We had learned in Siem Reap that Korean tourism to Cambodia has increased dramatically in recent years. Apparently, the "Korean Wave" is real, but it only exists in SE Asia. Last year, in Vietnam, I heard a lot of WonderGirls. This year, Min Gi and I saw a bunch of young people dancing the "Sorry Sorry" dance in the main park in central PP. (Coincidentally, Brian has brought some Korea-Cambodia issues to light in his blog recently.)

I have elected to save the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum for their own post. Until then, enjoy the rest of our pictures from our last few days in Cambodia:

Phnom Penh

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