Asia | South East Asia | Cambodia | South West Cambodia | Sihanoukville – Day 20 – The dark side, Cambodia
Morning found the party pod from the preceding night already flowering like so many people-petals around a table on the patio dining area. The gang included Andrew of New York and Heidi of Switzerland, already introduced; and Dave of Salt Lake City, also already introduced, the Dave working on the documentary about land-mine survivors, but last seen in Phnom Penh a few days before. Also present were Sean, Dave’s film-team cohort, from Park City Utah; Sandy of Zimbabwe (but now living in Israel); and Julia of west-coast granola San Fran extraction.
Myself included, this was the gang that commanded a half-dozen or so moto drivers and buzzed down to Soka Beach. Soka is mid-level developed by current Sihanoukville beach standards meaning it has some thatched roof cabanas with wood-framed chairs. The chairs are clothed in cheap fabric, which acts as both seat and back, hammock style. There are a few food stalls back from the sand. Oh, the sand. It’s a crunchy cream grain but with the strangest property of emitting a squeak like wet fingers pinching newly washed china dishes, with each step on it.
One of those dark moments frissoned through us all at the beach this morning, but started quite idyllically with Sean, Julia and Sandy frolicking in the light waves with a delighted pack of naked children. Over the course of an hour or so, we all go into the act, splashing and tossing these gorgeous water- waifs. Someone commented how beautiful Cambodian children are and I had to concur. However, back up on the beach, overly-aggressive vendor-children had converged on our seating area, almost like pack animals. At first, they too were cute but with repeated refusals to purchase their chips and other junk food, they became more and more surly. An ugly caustic side emerged from them and left us a little out-of-sorts, feeling sorry for them, guilty at what tourism had already wrought among these kids, yet also wanting them to just leave us alone so that we could enjoy the beach. A very uncomfortable sensation, with enough ignoring they finally backed away.
Next, a couple of young boys suddenly started wailing away at each other, a real knock-up slam- gouge fight. I recognized one of them from the water-waifs. Andrew, all 6’3′ and 250lbs of him, separated them to the cries of one and the evil looks of the other but this only seemed to ripple the bad vibes further afield and soon several other violent outbreaks occurred. One clash even involved the use of fore-arm-sized sticks as weapons. Without language facility or context it was all bewildering. We definitely weren’t threatened but it was very disquieting. Where had the laughing gone? Some mothers appeared on the scene and seemed to have the authority we lacked to calm things down although there were still a couple of sucker punches and kicks delivered upon mom-restrained kids by their opportunistic enemies.
Then, just when matronly sanity seemed to be bringing and end to the violence, I followed my friends’ wide-eyed gasps, where 40 metres down the beach a mother was delivering what must have been at least the second full-force blow with a hunk of wood to a child’s head.
When things finally settled down, discussion brought out the realization that all the violence visited upon this society for decades couldn’t just disappear with the official end of hostilities, any more than energy of any other form just disappears. For the older generation which survived the depravity of this country’s recent history, it’s not as if there are gleaming office towers full of grief-and-crisis-management psychologists available near every rice paddy or thatched hut commune. People have had to cope with their own mind-scars, soul- slashes. Who knows what reverberates down to the next generation, the children? Perhaps we saw one example this day.
Speaking of the older generation, Sean asked if I had noticed the relative absence of older Cambodians. I hadn’t until she mentioned it. It’s true, I had seen very few elderly. Perhaps they just don’t go out very much or perhaps its the scourge of a developing country to have a short life-expectancy. But maybe it was a missing generation, another shadow of darkness cast by the recent past on the present. Estimates are that one of five Cambodians was murdered by the Khmer Rouge.