After six long winter months of teaching at an all-boys school in remote China, Richard Collins and his friend Isaac arrived in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, looking for a backpacker’s beach paradise. As it turned out, finding paradise wasn’t as easy as they’d imagined.
Unkempt little bodies jump from stone to stone. Lithe and agile. Darting now towards, then away from the never-ending stream of tourists flowing over the raised wooden causeways of Beng Mealea. They claim the messy jumble of unrestored stones of this temple, 40 kilometres east of Angkor, on the ancient royal way, as their playground. Nearly nine centuries of heat and humidity have played havoc with the precise placement of the blue sandstone blocks. Gone is the former wealth and glory of the mighty Khmer Empire. In its place poverty reigns.
At each consecutive temple I visit they keep buzzing around me in swarms. Irritating little mosquitoes. Sometimes noisy and persistent, other times quiet and watchful. Even if I try, I cannot seem to avoid their persistent onslaught. “Lady! Lady!” Dirty little hands push tacky souvenirs I don’t want in my direction. I am determined not to make eye contact. I don’t want to see them. “Only one dolla!” I hasten my pace, and keep my face stern. I focus on the beauty and splendour of the temple in front of me. They give up, and turn their attention to their next victim.
by B.J. Stolbov
Today, in a shop in the public market of Siem Reap, Cambodia, I bought myself a wedding ring.
I had a wedding ring already, which I had bought last August in a jewelry shop in the Philippines on one of the hottest days of the year. My hands had been sweaty and swollen when I made the purchase. But as the days cooled, and my hands dried and shrank, it became obvious that the ring was too big. I would often find it dangling at the end of my finger, barely hanging on by a nail, only one intense instant away from eternal loss. I'd catch it and push it back on again.
I didn’t bring the ring to Siem Reap. It just didn’t fit.
It also didn’t fit because I wasn’t sure that I wanted it to fit. I had been married for 20 years and single for more than 10 years. I had slid easily into relationships and had slid easily out of relationships. Until Grace.
words + photos by Don Mankin
Our narrow wooden boat churns upstream powered by what looks like a motor from a small lawn mower. The wide, almost empty river is straight out of “Apocalypse Now.” I feel vaguely like Martin Sheen looking for Colonel Kurtz as I scan the sparsely populated river banks. The small boat has barely enough room for the four of us -- my wife Katherine, our guide, the operator and me.
We are heading to a small, isolated village buried in the jungle about 45 minutes up a tributary of the Mekong River, deep in the heart of Ratanakiri province, a mountainous region in the far northeastern corner of Cambodia. This is as far away from our home in Los Angeles as you can get in this world -- geographically, culturally, and in pretty much any other way you can imagine.
The village we are visiting is home to the ethnic minority people known as the Tompuon, one of the most isolated groups of people I have ever seen – no TV, internet, electricity, or modern sanitation. They survive by cutting timber, growing rice, raising pigs and chickens, and selling trinkets to the few tourists who come their way.