31 March 2013

Brothers in alms

I would have expected to have seen more monks today. It was surprising. I am still in Siam Reap and Temples abound here. There should be saffron robes everywhere. When I asked a guide at my hotel where all the Cambodian monks were he told that they were the primary victims of the Khmer Rouge party during their reign of terror in the 1970's. He told me that Pol Pot tried to wipe Buddhism out of Cambodia and he very nearly succeeded.

The Cambodian people are predominantly followers of Therevada Buddhism. Monks from local monasteries in Cambodia collect alms once daily from their local communities. Alms are food and the daily feeding of the monks is called Pindacara in Cambodia. The English refer to alms as money or food that is given to poor people.

From 1975 until 1979 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge party slaughtered every Cambodian monk and religious intellectual they could get their hands on. Some monks managed to escape across borders into neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. Groups of monks even donned weapons and fought back against Pol Pot's troops. There were small bands of resistance monks with machine guns. The Khmer Rouge overwhelmed them in numbers and weaponry though and they annihilated them. Then they blew up the wats.

Pol Pot destroyed temples and ancient Buddhist libraries that were more than a thousand years old. Hundreds of thousands of sacred Buddhist icons and artifacts were lost and holy scriptures and teachings were burnt to cinders. Whole temples were razed to the ground. 

It must have been devastating.

It did not surprise me when I read that the US government had supported the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The Americans helped arm and train them through the CIA. The CIA is an acronym for the Central Intelligence Agency. I believe this acronym is also an oxymoron for history tells us that there is barely a shred of intelligence in any of the action taken by this Agency.

The US government have interfered in other countries politics many times before and they still do. They have both funded wars and aided the wrong sides. We need only look at Suharto in Indonesia and Mobutu in Zaire. The Americans also trained and funded Al Qaeda in Afghanistan as well.

Here is a picture of some monks with some guns.

The guide at my hotel told me that there are now less than 3000 Buddhist monks in Cambodia however he said that their number are slowly but steadily rising.

Here are some pictures I took of some of the wats in Siam Reap. They are ancient and they are stunning. 

They really are.

In most of the wats that surround Siam Reap there is a battle going on between stone and wood. Giant trees are slowly growing through the temple rock constructions that have stood for more than ten centuries. Many of the trees look like they are merged with the stone blocks of the walls and the ceilings of the temples. They are not merged but the trees and their roots are pulling the wats apart. Wood is winning.

I knew that the Angkor wat complex was big but I had no idea just how big it is. It is humungous. Temple buildings go on and on and they are enormous. The stone carvings of lotus flowers and Buddhas and other deities are intricate and they are beautiful. They are incredible. My guide informed me that 6000 elephants, 10,000 horses and 300,000 men were used in the construction of the Angkor wat and it took thirty five years to build.

That's how big it is.

On my drive to the temples of Angkor Wat today my driver Johnny asked if I was interested in shooting some guns or blowing some things up whilst I was in Cambodia. I told him that I hadn't given the matter any thought but I wasn't really into guns or bombs. 

I have never fired a gun before nor have I blown anything up.

Johnny assured me that shooting guns was very popular for western visitors to Cambodia and he could easily arrange for me to shoot an AK47 if I wanted. This is a type of machine gun. He also said that he could get me hand grenades to throw if I wanted. Real ones. Johnny told me that it would be very simple for him to organize for me to also shoot a rocket launcher into the jungle and that he had done it many times before. The going rocket launcher shooting rates are one shot for a hundred dollars or three for two hundred dollars. This is in US currency and payment is by cash only. Johhny told me that there was a good discount rate available for multiple launchings.

I asked Johnny if he thought whether it would be possible for me to be able to drive a tank and shoot from it into the jungle. Johnny told me that he would have to ask his brother Rambo - but he didn't think that it would be a problem. He told me that he thought that they could quite easily sort it out for me.

I am struggling a little with the appropriateness of driving tanks and throwing hand grenades and firing rocket launchers in Cambodia as it is a place where such weapons and violence has caused so much death and destruction.

However I have never driven a tank before nor have I blown anything up and I am not sure if I will get another opportunity to do this. I told Johhny that I would not want to shoot or blow up buildings or animals or monks but I would perhaps like to do some harmless bombing and shooting of plants. The idea is certainly beginning to appeal. Three shots of a rocket launcher for two hundred dollars too seems like a bargain basement price and I guess I would be supporting the local economy.

Here is a picture of a rocket launcher.

I think I would be crazy to let such a chance pass by.

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