Tag Archives: cambodia

monks pause in phnom penh

Robes in Season

Monks in saffron,
though cliche,
are rare here.
Instead they wear robes the colour of navel-oranges
that have something of the look
of polyester.

Or,
a little less often,
the colour of red grapes –
of wine grapes –
deeper
and more self-aware.

Then today I saw one
the colour of pink grapefruit
on the back of a motorbike in thick traffic.
He did not look very transcendent,
but then, nor did he look polyester.
He flamed, incandescent, in the grey of that Phnom Penh street.

2014-12-06-07h29m51.jpg

Unfortunately I didn’t manage a photo of the monk in the pink-grapefruit robe, my hands and mind being taken up with riding my own motorbike at the time. But he was like no other monk I’d ever seen, and I wish I could have got a snapshot. 

Out of Season

It’s unseasonably wet, and Sihanoukville is quiet –
the tourists are staying
indoors,
or just
away.

At the beach
vendors of sea-shell necklaces,
coconuts,
and skewered prawns,
play with their children,
eat rice porridge,
or just stare at the half-full tour boats.

Painted in reds and teals,
they putter
back
and forth,
on the iron grey sea
that bleeds into the silver sky,
so that the more distant islands
drift
                    on the
                               breeze
                 that
           ripples
                       the horizon

Cambodia Is

Cambodia is a white cow in a green rice field,
framed by palm trees
and towering white thunderheads.

Cambodia is dozens of gilded roofs
of temples
and monks in bright orange, walking in the heat.

Cambodia is a nine-year-old girl
pulling a cart of rubbish behind her,
while her little sister plays amongst the cans and bottles.

Cambodia is a huge black Lexus
slowly forcing its way through a sea of little black motorcycles.

Cambodia is a textured oil painting of Angkor Wat
in the dim corridors of Russian Market,
rolled and sold to a tourist.

Cambodia is the cool breeze off the Gulf of Thailand
piling up clouds on Bokor Mountain.

Cambodia is a street-vendor selling pork and rice each morning,
who knows her customers’ orders
even if not their names.

Cambodia is the killing fields,
and genocide,
and corruption, still the corruption, always the corruption.

Cambodia is a homeless woman drugging her baby
to beg more money
from good-hearted, ignorant tourists.

Cambodia is afternoon rain,
and evening thunder,
and hot airless nights.

Cambodia is a red, white and blue flag,
a gold palace,
green money,
red earth and black water.

Cambodia is a fleet of fishing boats in the dying light,
thud-thud-thudding their way down the Kampot river
to the sea.

Cambodia is a slum built on a creek full of rubbish,
that floods in the wet season,
sweeping away houses,
and sometimes children.

Cambodia is making do.

Cambodia is people moving to Phnom Penh for work,
renting a tiny room,
and sending their wages back home.

Cambodia is a cool breeze that breaks the heat
and brings neighbours to their front doors
to breathe and sigh and laugh.

Cambodia is the Mekong River,
wider than my dreams,
and as slow as real change.

During Hot Season

The sun
has been pressing down on us
for weeks,
its two thousand trillion
trillion
tonnes
driving us to the ground,
sealing up lungs
and minds.

In the market, the brown-dirt ground burns white,
the bananas turn brown,
the flies swarm.

The buzz of motorcycles rises
and falls
and leaves behind only
heat.

There is sweat on my face, under my shirt, on my skin,
running down my chest, my arms.

In the afternoon the sky falls slowly
pushing down harder
threatening and promising rain
that does not come.

Finally the sun sets,
taking its weight from us,
and the earth and our homes
leak out the heat
so the night thickens with it.

And fans whir and buzz
and the sweat rises from our bodies or sinks into our sheets,
until the sun
rises again.

Soft Grey Morning

I woke when the sun cleared the horizon enough
to wake the people sleeping in hammocks under the house,
and they began talking. Their voices
rose through the gaps in the floor-boards,
and I sat up,
feeling the aches of a night spent on a wooden floor.

The light came in through the open front door,
so soft that the world was almost black and white,
and bodies, curled under sheets,
or sleeping in their clothes,
cast huddled shadows like a pride tumbled together through the night time.

At the top of the stairs,
holding the door frame and blinking,
I stared for a while at the Mekong,
feeling the first hints of the heat of the day
drifting, and building.

The click and hiss of my gas stove,
and the clank and rattle and bubble and huff of my espresso pot
died away
leaving the smell of coffee
which was one familiar thing.

I walked across to the edge of the low cliff opposite the house,
the coffee scorching my tongue just right,
and stood watching the river.
There had been a dead dog floating in it the evening before,
bloated.
Our host had pushed at it with a pole
until it drifted away
as we tried to keep our children’s eyes averted.

Now the water ran silver-grey in the brief cool,
indifferent,
running down from mythology
toward the far-away sea.

Lullaby

The
sun
settled
in fire
behind the mountain
perhaps twenty minutes before,
and now the world is pink calm
and darkening shadow,
the distant thud-thud-thud-thud
of a fishing boat,
a fish breaking the rippling surface close by.
The smell of a cigarette carries to me
from another foreigner
sitting a little way upstream.

How strange that the word for
“different”
in this language is also the word for
“wrong”,
but the words for “true” and “the same” are
different.
How strange that the word for
“French”
can also mean “foreigner”,
but there is a
different
word for “foreigner”
that does not mean “French”.

In the trees behind me
a gecko calls its own name,
piercing the evening like the chime of a clock.
And the foreigner with the cigarette
begins to sing softly
in French,
her voice soft, cracked,
lovely,
as the dusk
turns purple and night rises up from the river.

 

Dusk on Kampot River

Passing Through Prey Thea

or
ពេលខ្ញុំ​ឆ្លងភូមីព្រៃទា

The road is torn by rain and heat and trucks
whose drivers barrel on. The damage sucks
more life from dirty, ragged streets
where women sit on plastic seats
and watch as no one comes.
The factories watch the slums
now growing grey,
the slow decay,
the rust
and dust.

I stand on sandy soil where trees once grew,
my camera up, and wonder who
to shoot. I take a few
then go. And you
will too.​

Prey Thea is a community that we are pretty involved with, made up mostly of garment factories and very basic facilities for garment-factory workers. It’s kind of a mess, and has been for some time. It feels like it has declined even in the time we’ve been here, but whether that’s actually true, or we’re just seeing the downward-side of a cyclical process I don’t know yet.