Country Bus To The Capitol City
Time for a six hour bus trip through the country side. This will bring me from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the capitol city of Cambodia. Phnom Penh is where the American Embassy is and where US passports get renewed. That is this week’s mission. Most countries require that your passport have at least six months left before it's expiration date, or they won't let you into their country. Mine is close to that six-month line, and it will soon be time to travel. The winter season of highs only in the low 90s is nearly over in Cambodia. Lordee knows how hot it's going to get after that! As I understand it, the same stifling humidity sticks around but the temperatures go up.
I Have To Stop Smoking That Stuff For Breakfast!
Do you want to hear a funny story? It won't seem funny for a page or two, but the punchline is hilarious!
The trip to Phnom Penh starts with the usual Southeast Asian tweaks. My ride is scheduled on a big bus with a bathroom in it. That costs twelve dollars instead of the nine dollars that the regular bus would have cost.
Shuttles to the bus station pick folks up at certain hotels, but not at apartments like mine. I take a tuk-tuk to the bus station and am told by the friendly desk lady that the bus will be around in forty minutes. An hour later, a van shows up. Turns out that we are at an auxiliary bus station and the van is taking us to the main station three miles away. Upon arrival at the real bus station there is another van waiting for us. I ask where the big bus with the bathroom is and am told by the receptionist that it is broken. They brought the van to replace it. There are exactly eleven passengers waiting and exactly eleven passenger seats in the van. There is no crowd of travelers waiting disappointedly for the big bus. I have obviously been sold a ticket for passage on a vehicle that never existed. Now my nearly seventy-year-old kidneys are packed in a van like sardines along with eleven other full-sized humans (including driver). The option is to wait twelve hours for the next scheduled fully equipped full-size bus, which is certainly not guaranteed to be one! I hop on board while giving the customer service person a ration of shit, and immediately feel bad about that. Snapping at folks on the job is something I rarely do and am never proud of. No matter how screwed you get by a company, getting nasty with an employee rarely helps.
Within twenty minutes of leaving town, the trip improves a bit. Lower population in the outlying villages accounts for a slight improvement in both air quality and the amount of trash scattered everywhere. There are more bicycles than motorbikes in rural Cambodia, and only a few tuk-tuks in the two or three larger towns between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
The landscape is not really jungle. It is more like rice paddies and savannah. It looks like Central Florida in the US, as well as much of Africa as seen on National Geographic. Most of the houses are built on stilts as protection against flooding that often results from monsoon rains. A lot of fields, big cows, horned bulls, and water buffalo are surrounded by bushes and trees. The animals graze in the wide open fields where rice must grow at certain times of year. There is very little sign of a crop now and no apparent cultivation going on. The massive amount of food growing in the wild may delete the need for much cultivation of other crops. There are no tractors or other mechanized farm equipment around. If there is any plowing done, the water buffalo must do it. Cattle are everywhere! They are in the front yards of houses, in the fields, and on the road. They seem to think they own the place. Several short van stops are necessary to allow horned behemoths to shuffle across the road at their own pace in front of us.
More shops than logic would dictate a need for line both sides of the road, but they aren’t shops as a Westerner knows them. They are handmade tables and shelves constructed of tree branches tied together with twine. These are shielded from the sun by giant beach umbrellas. They hold everything from fruit and clothing to gasoline for motorbikes that is sold in old quart whiskey bottles. There are a few temples scattered throughout the country side, but rural Cambodia seems nowhere near as thick with them as Siem Reap.
Many countries are represented by the passengers in our van including Germany, Ireland, Australia, and several Asian countries. I sit next to and speak with a lovely couple in their fifties from Denmark. They have several reasonable questions to ask an American. “What is with all the guns?” “How do intelligent people vote for someone like Donald Trump?” “What is going to happen there?” Susanna and Kurt voice more concern than scorn for the US.
We finally arrive in Phnom Penh. The Embassy is already closed for the day. After check-in at the hotel, there is still time to go find the vitamin store I had researched. As is the practice, I give the tuk-tuk driver the address and phone number of the target destination. He proceeds to get us lost for an hour and a half in a city that is much bigger, more polluted, and filthier than even Siem Reap’s worst neighborhoods. He actually drives around one particular block five times and calls the vitamin store four times. In spite of getting instructions from them during all four calls, the search continues. We finally find the place, only to discover that it was falsely advertised as a vitamin store and has nothing but protein powders in it.
The next day’s Embassy procedure is even more frustrating than the vitamin trip! Turns out they don't actually renew passports in country but send them to America for processing, after which they get mailed back to Cambodia. This process is supposed to take two weeks. It could take much longer, and either way would include another unpleasant, expensive round-trip into a city that is way too big for my liking. It is February. My passport expires in October. I can still linger a month or two and have the necessary six months of passport left that is required to get into another country. It seems smarter to do that, and then deal with the passport renewal in a place where the process is simpler and things are more organized. I walk out of the embassy in the middle of the process, again feeling a frustrated irritability that, as a rule, is completely out of character.
Other tweaks, too many and minor to mention, happen in Phnom Penh. Siem Reap may have some problems but there are no folks standing on a main street in downtown with their pants around their ankles and junk to the breeze, staring blankly into space. Whatever happened to this poor guy seems to have also happened, at least in some small part, to the entire city. I have had enough of this place and figure to treat myself to a plane ride back to Siem Reap instead of taking that van bus again. My last night in the big city is used for a boring rest in the hotel room and making a plane reservation on the computer.
But the SNAFUs aren't over yet! Ready to fly in the morning, I go to the check-in counter at the airport to discover that someone on the other end of the computer screwed up my reservation last night. I don't have one, and they don't sell tickets at the check-in counter. The check-in counter folks direct me to the purchase counter at the other end of the airport. I haul over there to discover that the one person on that desk is out to lunch and won't be back until after my flight leaves. At this point, pissed-off has overtaken logic. I’m co-bitching to and with other travelers having problems, as well as everyone else within earshot.
This is rarely a good thing. Anytime I react badly to temporary external shit instead of dwelling in the eternal internal shinola, I immediately don't like who I have become. But in this case, irritability pays off. An innocent bystander overhears the tirade and reports on a flight leaving one hour later on a different airline. I go to that airline’s sales counter.
The ticket costs three times as much as the other ticket would have, due to buying it so close to flight time. The guy I buy it from takes half an hour to put it together, pretty much listening to me alternate between barking at him and apologizing for my attitude. He finally gives me a typed piece of paper with only a flight number and time on it. There is no receipt to show proof of ticket purchase, nor any other information on the paper. Luckily there is a thick plastic window between us. It protects me from another bad reaction, and protects him from me. I strongly request an actual receipt and further instructions. He gives them.
Here’s The Punch Line
Everyone has to show a passport at the gate in order to finally board the plane. My eyes haphazardly drop into focus on the information in front as I hand mine to the boarding crew. I (please excuse the expression) about shit myself—then start laughing too loudly. Luckily, I am already in the tunnel going to the plane. If anyone in authority was able to see me, it would have appeared that a lunatic was laughing like a hyena at nothing. They surely would have called the men in the white coats to take me away.
The expiration date on the passport is indeed October, but not the October I thought it was. There is a little over a year and a half left until expiration, not just a half year. That October expiration is for 2021, not 2020.
This is all very funny, but also very embarrassing for me. I’m the guy who is always telling people how important paying real attention is. I am suffering a series of expensive and very aggravating malfunctions due to not paying attention to a simple and clearly printed detail. My eyes had seen, but not registered, that detail at least a dozen times during the past week.
It is even more embarrassing for me as the guy who always tells people that anger is pointless and accomplishes nothing. I have snapped at several people and made an actual asshole out of myself more than once during the past few days. Whether some of those people deserved it or not is no excuse for doing it. The heat, pollution, humidity, dietary variations, and the lack of ability to communicate are taking an obvious mental toll. In spite of all its good points, it seems that I need to get out of Cambodia soon.
There is another factor. I may have to stop smoking weed for breakfast, at least until I get away from this foggy brown stuff and back to the more clarifying green weed. Maybe that will improve the odds of making lucid observations and the better decisions that come with them. Now that it is over, my brainfart provided a good, long laugh—but not good enough to ever want to repeat such mental clumsiness, or the ordeals that result from it.
The Largest Temple Ever Built On Earth
Angkor Wat is the largest temple ever built on Earth. It is actually an ancient city tied together by a complex of temples. It was built by Emperor Suryavarman The Second almost a thousand years ago as the state temple and political center of his empire. “Angkor” means “capitol city” in the Cambodian language. “Wat” means “temple.” It was rediscovered in the 1840s by French explorer Henri Mouhot. He said that the site was “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”
The temple’s design represents Mount Meru, the home of the gods according to some adherents of both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Angkor Wat’s five towers are intended to recreate the five peaks of Mount Meru. The walls and moat below honor the surrounding mountain ranges and the sea. The tower above the main shrine is Angkor Wat’s highest point at nearly seventy feet in the air.
There is a Buddhist/Hindu fusion in Angkor Wat that seems to pay the two schools of thought an equal respect. There are Shiva Lingas and Buddha images within the same building!
A fifteen foot high wall and a wide moat protected the city, temple and residents of Angkor—but not always successfully. Much of that wall still stands. Inside this wall, Angkor Wat covers two hundred acres. It seems this area included the city, the temple structure, and also the emperor’s palace, which was just north of the temple.
The libraries, temples, and other buildings are all decorated with thousands of stone figures carved into their rock walls. These represent deities and heroic figures, many from the Hindu and Buddhist religions. They include soldiers, gods, and demons that are most often involved in warfare.
In 1992, Angkor Wat was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chhum Chhaiya is my guide for this tour. He is also my waiter at the rare farm-to-table restaurant in the area, an English language student, and my friend. He also does volunteer work as tour guide for high school students from all over Cambodia that come to see their national treasure in Siem Reap.
Chhum tells me that the entire complex was built entirely by free labor—but not slave labor. Chhum makes his best effort at English language to explain that it was “believe labor.” Thousands of folks worked without pay for decades in the belief that the most noble way to spend life was in dedication and service to Buddha, Vishnu, their king, countrymen, and empire.
According to Chhum, giant stones were hauled by elephants from quarries many miles away. The elephants were able to pull these massive rocks because the rocks lay on bamboo rollers. Do you know how to make bamboo hold up to a several ton stone? Do you know how to pick that stone up and put it perfectly in place, once it gets where it is going? It seems the ancients did.
The area is, of course, too big to walk around—even if it wasn’t ninety-six degrees with the humidity nearly as high. Tourists hire a tuk-tuk for the day to drive them from individual site to individual site. The tuk-tuk waits outside each area while tourists climb through ancient structures.
This two hundred acres is very different from its cosmopolitan host city of Siem Reap. There is almost no trash by the side of the road. The air has a consecrated freshness to it. There are lakes, jungle, and monkeys. Angkor Wat it is considered sacred ground, and is treated as such by locals and tourists alike.
If this attitude was carried over into the city, the nation, and the planet, life on Earth would be much different for all of us. Unfortunately, precious little in any location on Earth is treated with the reverence that the ruins of Angkor Wat enjoy. My brother-from-another-mother Joe Fort (artist for the Fearless Puppy book cover) recently wrote to me, forlorn about the current state of the world. He compared our politicians and industrialists to biker bullies armed with chains, on the verge of beating a relatively innocent public to death. He hoped that people, especially American people, would arm themselves by casting future votes with increased heart and intelligence.
I do so hate giving bad news to good people! But it seems that we are past the point where arming ourselves with votes, or any other make-believe electoral effort, will help. You can't beat a system that someone else owns from balls to bone. The owners may afford us the grand illusion that we are in control of the system we live within, but we have no power to influence any actual physical control mechanisms. Media, food, water, etc. are regulated outside of public domain. In addition, the owners and the system are co-involved in the process of killing themselves quickly—and unfortunately, perhaps taking most of the planet with them. Putting cooperative, much less combative, energy into the last gasp of a failing, suicidal empire seems like a misuse of potential. It seems that our energies are better spent putting together sensible focus and function in life. Actively building common sense always seems to work better than destroying evil. Results are more pleasant and last longer if achieved through positive means.
I know we'd all like to think that our votes count, but results are scripted long before we get to the polls. This has been true since at least as far back as 1963 and in an almost-as-real sense, as far back as 1776 and beyond. It is not at all a strictly American problem! It was Hermann Goebbels of the short-lived Nazi empire who said, “It doesn’t matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes.” Political action on behalf of humane function is a noble effort, but the only chance of averting the seemingly inevitable collapse of humanity is a massive awakening among the majority of individuals that compose the human community. The most intelligent and historically successful method to fuel an awakening in Consciousness that accomplishes social progress is nonviolent noncooperation with oppressive forces. This requires generous, altruistic, and in places sacrificially heroic character strength by billions of individuals—not only all at once, but also one at a time. This is not going to happen. Very few people would even give up a cell phone to cancel their support of the demons that own the towers. Very few will ever stop watching manufactured traumas on TV, although these cause continuous adrenaline and cortisol rushes that shock the mind and central nervous system into a fear-based, defensive way of life. The greater contributions to personal mental health or the public good by our largely “selfie” oriented culture seem even more unlikely. I don't mean to be pessimistic, but unless some massive tipping point in our way of life, sparked by a big change in consciousness, is reached by billions of individual humans within the next few years, it seems we are very much in a "smoke em if you got em" situation.
It won't be the first time! Look at Angkor Wat! Look at the pyramids of Egypt! Even our present-day geniuses don't know how ancient technology accomplished much of what it accomplished! Many civilizations that enjoyed a deeper intelligence and a stronger congruence with the rest of life on Earth have disappeared. They took most of their wisdom with them. There are a lot of empty libraries in Angkor Wat.
As Relates To America
Do you remember this paragraph from the beginning of the book? “Several friends who have been abroad lately tell me that there is no place else on Earth as morally bankrupt, lacking integrity, crumbling apart from the inside, and as intimidating and repulsive to its neighbors as America. There is plenty of evidence to support their claims but I still don't like to believe them. I have to go see for myself. If it is true that no place sucks quite as badly as America does, I want to find out why. What are other places doing that we would benefit from doing ourselves? And more importantly, why are we not doing those things? What things are the other places doing that don’t work for them? Why aren’t they fixing their own messes? What are the ways people keep smiling, laughing, and loving life while fighting to repair a world that is mentally as well as physically ill, often disturbing if not disgusting, and may very well have a more severe terminal illness than I do? How do folks keep the fun happening in the midst of all the tragedy?”
I almost forgot it altogether! The present tense is always the place to be. After only three months on the road, America and that paragraph already seem like distant memories from a past lifetime. But since it is one of the reasons for traveling overseas, here is a comparison of America to Southeast Asia as I have experienced it so far.
America is more technologically and materially advanced, cleaner, and its citizens have more choice of and access to food, clothing, and shelter by far than here in Cambodia. The folks here work harder, put in longer hours, and yet many get paid so much less that their families don’t have enough to eat every day. Many cannot afford to send their children to elementary school for basic literacy. There is no free schooling here. There are many other factors, such as the brutal heat and humidity, that make life difficult in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, Cambodians are happier, kinder, friendlier, in many ways healthier, and seem to enjoy life more than the average American. If I had to choose between living the rest of my life in Cambodia or America, I would choose Cambodia.
There is a feeling of camaraderie among the people here. Families are very close and the entire nation is something of an extended family. America does this at times, but it always seems to spring from an aggressive, combative motivation. Cambodians are not that angry or scared. Their motivation is constructive, not destructive. Cambodia is on the way up, not the way down. It can sometimes seem as if the nation is stumbling in the dark, bumping into things while trying to find its way—but it is moving forward. They are like Americans must have been during the pioneer days, before we became such spoiled little people.
We Americans often take our thoughts and emotions so seriously that meaningless episodes become big dramatic events. Cambodians have the ability to know that shit happens and everything is temporary. They know that very few things are actually important enough to get upset about. More importantly, they know that getting upset under any circumstances usually results in more harm than good. Cambodians work seriously at living well, but don’t take themselves seriously in the way that makes life a trial or burden. They have a sense of the tragic but know that life is generally to be celebrated, not mourned. Southeast Asians have a much better sense of perspective as far as knowing that the world doesn't revolve around their individual desires. The misguided, artificially manufactured sense of entitlement that America suffers, and makes the rest of the world suffer, is not present here.
Cambodians also seem to have less animosity towards any specific group than the people in many other countries do. They may get irritable with foreigners on occasion and overcharge foreigners regularly, but they don't seem to have any particular prejudice against Muslims, Americans, Africans, Chinese, or anyone else. The little bit of animosity that I hear directed toward foreigners is directed toward all of them, or at an individual tourist who acts like enough of a jackass to earn an irritable response.
“There is a bondage (humans have) to the Earth, and a release (from it). You don't have to be quit of your bondage to experience the release. The two go together. This is a great mystical experience, where the individual no longer identifies with the history of his carnal body but rather identifies with the consciousness that informs that body. When you are identified with the consciousness rather than the vehicle, the suffering of the vehicle has nothing to do with the consciousness. You are free in bondage! Mythologically, the shackles fall off without leaving your wrists. (This makes one capable of ) joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You can't eliminate the sorrows of the world! Time involves sorrow. And if you are in the field of time, that is the experience of the carnal body. But that which is participating in this has another dimension, the eternal dimension—and it can joyfully affirm this.” Joseph Campbell
Let’s paraphrase and try to simplify this quote a little. We are all symbolically hanging on the cross where life meets time. Everyone alive deals with times of illness, difficulty, loss, trauma, suffering, and eventual death. When we can embrace the inevitable processes of life-and-time, and do it courageously with a smile and eyes open, we accomplish the clarity and grace that are spoken of by nearly all the world’s spiritual messengers. When we realize that in spite of all the bumps in the road, we can hit that road with an affirmative, positive attitude, the life we live takes on a dimension that is heroic. We become capable of joyful participation in our world, although fully aware of the inevitable suffering and death it entails.
“When the ego is capable of taking part in this crucifixion, then you are really in the Imitatio Christi and have achieved, I would say, the goal of the Christian message.” JC
Joseph Campbell spent almost his whole life in America. There are very few people in Cambodia familiar with him, or with the history or even the definition of crucifixion. Yet, so many people in Southeast Asia have a better grasp of Campbell's message than most Americans do. Why? Is it the severe living conditions that color the Southeast Asian attitude? the Buddhism?
Maybe both. But there is more. The quality of attention paid by a student is in many ways more important than who the teacher is. It may be more important than any other aspect of learning. Maybe as Americans we just have too many distractions available to draw our quality attention away from our better teachers. So many brilliant minds with readily available wisdom and valuable knowledge are ignored. Even Nature itself often takes a back seat to some very meaningless, and in some cases very unnatural, habits and hobbies.
Technology and material advantage have helped humanity accomplish some wonderful things. Unfortunately, they have in many cases become fatal attractions. The addiction to them, as well as the all too frequent overdoses of them, often negate their potential advantage. We Americans so often watch other people living, working, loving, traveling, and so on in our movies and on our TV shows without doing any of that living, working, loving, and traveling ourselves. We recognize life as a fine restaurant but eat the menu instead of the food.The technology that was designed to enhance life has in many cases kidnapped and restrained it.
We are, in addition, distracted from our simple goodness and ability to focus on and enjoy a meaningful life by so much more than technology. Multitasking and stress have never been an accepted part of life in Southeast Asia. Many folks in the materially developed world think that if a person is not stressed out, they aren't doing anything important. If a person is stressed out all the time in Cambodia, they are thought to be mentally ill, or an asshole, or need a nap. People here work hard, sleep well, and smile often. Neither the sedentary nor pressured lifestyles that often foster mental as well as physical disease have taken a hold here yet.
There is more natural environment and less artificially manufactured phenomena in materially deprived countries than in materially developed ones. In materially developed countries, Nature gives way to concrete and steel in a psychological as well as a literal sense. Concrete and steel are hard, sharp-edged, cold, and dead. Nature is usually softer, curved, warm, alive and welcoming. It is receptive to a human connection with it.
Maybe we Americans are too materially affluent and carnally happy to pay attention to much else besides being materially affluent and carnally happy? Does all that attention we pay to trivial byproducts of material affluence draw quality attention away from our emotional, psychological, and spiritual affluence? Has this all happened at the expense of the happiness we thought it would buy?
I wish I could see the look on the face of that first person who unearths a cell phone, TV, or computer in an archaeological dig of the year 5021. Will they ever figure out our gadgets—or how dearly we paid for them?
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) or the several other sections available and would like to see them, go to the Puppy website blog section, or send an email request to email@example.com, or check out fearlesspuppy at Wordpress. This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse! I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about either!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info