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Sunday, January 31, 2010

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT VIETNAM AND CAMBODIA*



Our local tour guide provided an interesting perspective comparing the three countries of this region. He said that the French, when they colonized Indochine, felt that:

1. The Vietnamese were hard workers.

2. Cambodians were hard watchers.

3. Laotians were hard sleepers.

Well, anyway, I'm now in Chiang Mai (Thailand) and left the land of 300 temples and 2 million land mines: Cambodia. However, just for completeness, I have a final top ten to share:

1. The most aid to Cambodia comes from Japan, with the USA at #2, but the greatest number of tourists comes from South Korea, with Japan as #2, CHINA #3 and the USA #4.

2. Why the Cambodians think so relatively highly of Americans is mystifying, as our B52s rained so much hell on this country to eliminate the Viet Cong that there were about a million civilian Cambodian deaths. Compare this with 58,000 American military casualties.

3. About those Wats (Khmer for temples), both the Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong holed out in all those 300 temples, for they were never bombed, thanks, apparently, to a plea from Jackie Kennedy, who spent three days in 1963 touring the same Angkor Wat and adjacent sites I visited.

4. Buildings in Siem Reap cannot be higher than 65 meters, the height of the tallest Angkor Wat temple.

5. They've done a smart thing about their temples. Countries have volunteered to restore specific sites. For example, Germany is responsible for Angkor Wat and India for Ta Prohm. Regarding her tree at this location, Angelina Jolie was made an honorary citizen of Cambodia in 2005 for her environmental and charitable work.

6. Best as I can tell, gasoline costs about $3.50/gallon and electricity 5 cents/kWh in Viet Nam and Cambodia.

7. While the genocidal ethnic cleansing Chinese policies have been adjusted to now generally tolerating the existence of the existing local population, there remains an attempt to promote emigration of Chinese Han into certain regions, such as Tibet. Thus, over the next few centuries (decades?), much of the region around China will naturally evolve into provinces of China. Pol Pot, incidentally, died a natural death in 1998 at the age of 74.

8. The Khmer Rouge (totalitarian communist ruling party of Cambodia), and mortal enemies of the masses, in 1998, apologized for their genocidal campaign, surrendered, and went on to become much of the national military for Cambodia, in a transition similar to Viet Nam.

9. What happened to the Viet Cong? Many of them died during that Tet attack earlier reported. The survivors became normal citizens, some even to America.

10. That ignominious American Viet Nam defeat in 1975? Some historians now report that our orchestrated action incurred the favor of China, forcing the Soviet Union to waste their resources in Viet Nam, contributing to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Oh, if you are worried about Peak Oil and Global Warming being responsible for an imminent doomsday, according to an Angkor Wat prophecy, the real doomsday will occur in 12,500 years.


Today was a visit to the Doi Suthep Temple, a must stop for visitors. I took a hundred photos and clips, but I'll only bother you with an outside scene, plus a pure jade Buddha (the dark one). It was about a foot or two tall. I can't remember how big it really was.





Below, I'm about to ride a pink water buffalo:














Well, actually, tomorrow I'll be on an elephant, for an hour. Yes, I'm over my ailment.


Dinner at the Chiang Mai Four Seasons Terrace (an Italian restaurant) with George and Linda Galeener (California and Missouri):


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Welcome country #132:

YEMEN POPULATION: 23,013,376



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Background
North Yemen became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The British, who had set up a protectorate area around the southern port of Aden in the 19th century, withdrew in 1967 from what became South Yemen. Three years later, the southern government adopted a Marxist orientation. The massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis from the south to the north contributed to two decades of hostility between the states. The two countries were formally unified as the Republic of Yemen in 1990. A southern secessionist movement in 1994 was quickly subdued. In 2000, Saudi Arabia and Yemen agreed to a delimitation of their border.

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About the flag, the French version is a vertical blue, white and red. I'll soon be reporting on Yemen, for this now appears to be a terrorist training hotspot of interest. VISITOR FROM YEMEN: WHO ARE YOU? Tell me something about your country.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE KNOWN ABOUT CAMBODIA




Most of you already know that Angelina Jolie in 2002 adopted Maddox in Cambodia. He is now 8 years old. She made Tomb Raiders here and a tree at Ta Prom has been given both the movie's and her name.


Many of you are familiar with King Norodom Sihanouk, Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. I’ve never quite understood what was happening in Cambodia, but you need to be there to get closer to the truth. Those Wikipedia and BBC articles don't quite report the reality. The following is my analysis of what affected the state of affairs in this part of the world. I don’t remember ever reading much of the following, most coming from the mouths of the people here.



The Cambodian people don’t trust Viet Nam, China and Russia. They “like” America. If this doesn't floor you, the rest will.


The Cambodian government is essentially communism, about the same as Viet Nam. They vote, and there are 30 parties, but the winners are always as dictated. Keep in mind that we are talking about two totally different points of view: the official party position and the hearts/minds of the masses.


Here is the difficult part to accept. They (meaning the people) believe there was a Chinese conspiracy to take over Asia, although, with the end of the Cold War, this might not today be true.


Pol Pot was, ethnically, a Chinese Han, something rarely mentioned in any article. How he gained authority in Cambodia, his birth country, is incredible. However, according to local beliefs, he eagerly took on the leadership role, orchestrated by China, to eliminate Cambodians, thus, the Killing Fields. This was a first step (yes, there was a domino plan), for China to replace the population of Indochina (not including Indonesia, for the present), with Chinese Han, as an initial step to take over the world. What is happening in western China is just another example of this strategy.


Let me stop here, for I've said a lot. Let the above the sink in and appreciate what happened in Cambodia over the past few decades, for there has been a kind of resurrection, in that some element of stability has actually occurred in this society. If you always wondered why a Pol Pot could so maliciously eliminate millions (anywhere from 200,000 to 3 million, depending on who you ask--hint, it is, really, on the higher end), now, you can barely comprehend the reason.


In a way, this hypothetical Chinese strategy (again, not necessarily today, but you got to wonder), is not much different from America to democratize the world, for my chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity, courtesy of Professor Rudy Rummel, reported that, over the past two centuries, no two democracies have ever fought a major war against each other. Thus a possible Chinese strategy to have only Chinese was, certainly, one way to attain world peace.


The world has changed, and such a monumental and irrational policy cannot today be real. However, much of the above reasonably well explains what happened in Cambodia over the past few decades. Amen.


In passing, Ta Prohm was my favorite temple (over Angkor Wat) and Bayon was okay. Tomorrow, the Chiang Mai Four Seasons, an oasis compared to the Raffles in Siem Reap. Oh, I should also add that they accept the US dollar in Cambodia, so don't bother exchanging money. I found my visit to Cambodia fascinating!


At Raffles Le Grande, dinner with Steve (former political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley) and Patricia Weiner, with Curtis Lee and a bottle of Chateau Margaux.








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Read the right column for the Dow Jones Industrials and price of oil, which is sliding awfully close to $70/barrel.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

SCENES FROM ANGKOR WAT




Angkor Wat was built around 900 years ago when the country was Hindu. Thus the temple is dedicated to god Vishnu. Buddhism has since taken over (90% of Cambodian population) that the site today is a fusion of both religions. Vishnu, on the left, for example, is clothed in a buddhist robe, and of equal importance, is Buddha on the right, a more recent addition.


Angkor Wat means city temple, and is only a ten minute ride from the Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap. The first European observer was Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk, but was popularized by French explorer Henry Mahout in the mid 1800s. You can read the details by clicking on the link above.

How important is Angkor Wat? It is depicted on their national flag:

Frankly, I expected the experience to be overwhelming, with my first view as dramatic. It was okay and worth a visit, but less than spectacular. You might enjoy a few photos:





























Some of my tour friends:


Eileen and Nicholas Lane of Pittsburg, PA.













Ray and Patricia Potts of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.





















Claudia Taden of Santa Barbara, California























Shep and Carole Goldstein of Boston, Massachusetts, Patricia and Stephen Weiner of Piedmont, California in the background.




Lynda and Steve Fox of Saratoga, California.








Howard and Janice Kaplan of West Palm Beach, Florida.


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David and Jean Mclaughlin of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.



























Janice and Ron Kaplan of Aiken, South Carolina.






























Resident of Angkor Wat














Angkor Wat approaching sunset.



Angkor Wat at sunset.













Chuck Olmsted at sunset. Note the reflection on the left balanced by Buddhist monk on the right.


The evening was culminated with an elaborate barbecue featuring booths for Indian, Mongolian, Khymer, and assorted other specialties


followed by native Cambodian dances.














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Economic and oil info on the right.


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Thursday, January 28, 2010

SCENES FROM SAI GON



David Marder (the ultimate sports fanatic, from Woodland Hills, California) and Karen Gichon-Marder, with Chuck Olmsted, Tauck Tour Director, at Binh Thay Market, the largest in Sai Gon.








Chuck pointing to that noxious fruit, durian. I went back to buy a slipper, taking a taxi from the Sheraton, because it cost all of $1.10, and crossing streets here is definitely hazardous. However, the return cab ride cost $10+, I noticed in the meter, so I asked to be dropped off where Sheraton parking people open doors for incoming traffic. He refused, so I gave him 20,000 dong ($1.10) and walked out. He just said nothing. I guess you need to be careful in Sai Gon to observe the meter when you get in the taxi.

















The obligatory photo of Reunification Palace, where the official handover of power to the Communist took palace in 1975. A few interesting stories, but largely boring. If the guided tour lasted three minutes instead of an hour I would have been a lot happier.





Everyone goes to see the Sai Gon Central Post Office, built in the late 1800's by none other than Gustav Eiffel, of tower fame. It looks like a train station. Gloria and Ira Slutzky (Port Washington, New York) posing for this photo. Below, the Post Office with Stephen and Patricia Weiner (Piedmont, California). Across the street on the right (above) is the Notre Dame Cathedral, built in 1877, and only allows certified Catholics to enter.








Finally, Mark and Barb Kuhlmann (Kirkwood, Missouri) at the Opera House. It actually became the Assembly House of South Vietnam in 1955, but has since been returned to entertainment status.



Today, we leave for Cambodia, Angkor Wat and more.

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The Dow Jones Industrials sunk 116 to 10,120, markets in the Orient finally went positive after nine days of decline, and Europe largely fell. Gold did not change and oil pretty much remained under $74/barrel.

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There remain three tropical storms around Australia.

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