Our small caravan drove through the town, arrived at the dock, joining the line of assorted vehicles and people waiting to cross the river by ferry. Getting out of our cars, waves of vendors swelled around us and due to the dubious distinction of being the only foreigners, we were the beneficiaries of all their attention. Jean Paul, never one to miss an opportunity to mix with the locals, started speaking to them in his own form of Khmer, which they must understand as he always makes them laugh. Donald took photos while Eddie maintained vigilance, not allowing anyone to touch the trike. Leaving the throngs behind, I walked down to the dock and looking across the river, began to reflect upon Neak Luong”s wartime experiences. In May 1970, the city fell to Khmer Rouge control but with the help of the South Vietnamese Army, Cambodian government forces were able to regain control. Being anti-Communist and Lon Nol government supporters, the people must have wondered in horror why the Americans were bombing them. Once again, the axis of reason was crushed by violence but they gathered their lives up from the ruins and began again. In early 1975, the Khmer Rouge opened an all out offensive against Neak Luong with daily rocket attacks and artillery barrages . By April 1, the Khmer Rouge were in control of the city. The battle ended with hand to hand combat and 6,000 KR troops killed off 4,000 government defenders. This major strategic victory had psychological effects as the government”s last outpost had fallen. The Khmer Rouge now controlled the river crossing and the road to Phnom Penh. Sixteen days later, the Khmer Rouge would take Phnom Penh, signaling their final victory. Today, parts of the country are crying out for accountability, while others, who may have had a dual role as both perpetrator and victim, choose to remain quiet and have not passed the information of the recent past down to the next generation. Today”s older adults lost their childhood and death became as banal as life itself. But looking into the faces of the young people who crowded around me, they were not interested in processing anger and grief. Commerce was the theme coursing through their lives; all they wanted was to sell me something.
THE LAST DAYS IN PHNOM PENH
Donald and I checked back into the Le Royal Hotel and even though Phnom Penh is its own catalyst promising us new experiences, we were happy to luxuriate in the sense of the familiar. We contacted our tut-tut driver, Sammy, not his Khmer name, but one we can easily pronounce and returned to our favorite places. Once again, we had an excellent dinner at the French restaurant, Van. Many insist this is a mafia run operation but nevertheless, the chef, Henri, is from France, the foie gras, shipped in daily on Air France and the lamb chops, arriving from New Zealand, leaving us to marvel once again that some of the best food we have ever enjoyed has been in Phnom Penh.
OUR TIME IS UP
We left Cambodia wondering what would happen to Eddie, the plane, and the permission to fly. When Donald and I left, the plane was fixed. Eddie had not made the phone call to the Apsara Authorities and all was left in the limbo in which it began. Donald and I plan to return again next year to spend time with Tuit in Siem Reap and to spend a month in an apartment hotel in Phnom Penh. As you can imagine, all reservations have already been made and the days are being counted down.
THE PRESENT HAS ARRIVED: JANUARY 2011
As per my first journal entry, Donald and I returned to Phnom Penh on January 2, 2011, after spending a shortened New Years stay in Hong Kong. On January 6, we hired a driver and once again made the journey up National Highway 6 to arrive in Siem Reap. We checked into our same hotel, the Bophar Angkor. Stepping into our same room, ready to begin our 9th year there, it once again felt as if we had never left. We planned to remain in Siem Reap until the end of January and then go to Phnom Penh where we would check into the Himawari Hotel and spend the month of February.
February 1 arrived and we hired another driver, went back down National Highway 6 and checked into the hotel as planned. We are now in Phnom Penh. As promised, we do have the full view of the river. Right below our window is the Tonle Sap River and in the distance, we can see the Mekong River. From our vantage point, we can see where the two rivers meet. The river is teeming with activity, all of which will be described later. But what happened to us in Siem Reap? What is Eddie doing and how is Tuit? I know the end of those stories. Allow me to share them with you.
TO BE CONTINUED