HCMC, Vietnam...and Cambodia

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Cambodia Letter

On our tour of Angkor Wat, our tour guide pointed off to the side of the temples and referred to a set of buildings as the only working temple in the complex. Since I had already visited Angkor Wat that morning, I wandered away from the group to see what existed. I am so glad I did. I was first approached by several young boys, each of which wanted to know my name and where I was from. They then instructed me to take off my shoes and led me inside a temple. They instructed me to kneel on the ground, and one little boy brought me an incense that he lit from the candle up front. They told me to bow three times and then to pray. They then instructed me to walk up to the giant Buddha, kneel, and put my incense down to burn. After I did this, I looked to them for my next instruction; they then waved goodbye.

I walked out of the temple and followed the sound of music. I saw a larger temple in the background, with several buildings in the backdrop, clotheslines covered in saffron robes. Weary to enter the temple or area around it, as I was the only foreigner in site, I started to wander. It was then that I was approached by a little girl who spoke perfect English to me. She went on to inform me all about my country, the capital, the population and random facts about the 50 states. She even knew there was a university in Boulder, a city right by the capitol of Colorado, which is Denver. While speaking to this girl for several minutes, many more children began to gather. They were all very talkative and wanted to know all about my country and what I thought of theirs. One of the little boys noticed my journal in my pocket, and asked if he could have a piece of paper. I gave all the children a piece, and Heany, the girl I had been talking to, asked to borrow my pen and journal. So that she could write me a letter.

She then asked me if she could introduce me to her teacher. She brought me into the large temple filled with music, which consisted of many people praying, and monks on the stage eating. Her teacher told me about his being orphaned by the genocide and civil war and his "godfather", a man from California who had taken him to America where he lived and learned English. I asked him why he had come back. He laughed and told me of all the smiling faces in Cambodia. Although they live in such poverty, they are the happiest people in the world. He now volunteers with the children, most of which have been orphaned by parents with AIDS, or parents who were unable to care for them due to HIV. He said they were his family now, and he is directing the program to teach the children English, Japanese and Korean, along with their native language of Khmer. He took me outside to show me the school. It was an outdoor concrete slab with a couple tables and a small roof with one whiteboard. That was where these amazing, brilliant children study everyday without pens and paper.

Stealing a line from the movie Blood Diamond, "it is hard to go back to drinking lattes and talking about interest rates after seeing how the rest of the world lives."

Alexandra Corti -- University of Colorado, Boulder
Leadville, CO