Destiny is calling and once again, it is time to move on. Cambodia has proven to be a remarkable country in which to spread my wings. Each of the destinations inside this destination played a worthy hand in a highly spirited game of discover the hidden mojo. But beyond the emotive temples and past the scenic serenity, the poignant charm of Cambodia is carefully concealed within the subtle grace of her people.
Born post Khemer Rouge, the fantastic glow emanating from the young adults with whom I interacted radiates hopes and dreams. Perhaps it is borne from the repression their parents endured. Out of the darkness and into a life, ever-marked by the unspeakable acts of which man is capable. Does the balance grow under the light of freedom found on the other side? I don’t know. What I am certain of is that there is tangible purity in these children.
The surge in tourism is viewed as a blessing, creating jobs, enhancing the standard of living and bringing to their doorstep, vicarious journeys as experienced through the eyes of visiting guests. The concept of traveling themselves as foreign as the thousands pouring through temple gates, for now, they still find it exciting to be a part a different world, if just for a moment
As a personal practice, optimism generally prevails over pessimism. But with one foot firmly rooted in reality, I have no choice but to add a large dose of pragmatism here. I wish to wrap my arms around these kids as to perpetually protect their innocence. In addition to catalyzing economic development, rapid growth can also pave the way for an influx of interested visitors that do not always have the best interest of a country, it’s people or the environment, at heart.
From Ubud to Uluwatu, I imagine Indonesians originally shared such positive notions about the impact of tourism. If you asked now, I wonder if the Balinese would tell a different story. The island, is at this moment, surging to capacity yet the building continues. Expansion more profitable than zoning, hotels, resorts, restaurants and shops are rapidly replacing what is left of the rice terraces and farmland. Retail space is becoming too expensive for locals to rent; more and more Western shops are moving in. Much of the remaining agricultural parcels are being sold off as the quality of life becomes less valuable than the property. The prohibitive cost of living pushes families further and further from the tourist hubs, all but evicting sacred vibes of the island. Bliss is now pedaled as the hot commodity. What has it cost?
One Western toilet flushes more water than the average Indonesian consumes in one day. Yet the building continues. Heavy smog permeates the cities, road congestion clogs the streets and water pollution is killing the fish. The building continues. Deforestation and habitat destruction is devastating the wildlife on the island. When is enough, enough?
There is a window of opportunity after which everything changes. Cambodia is now in that window. Consider this my written plea to the almighty gods of tourism: Please, please, please, let’s not make the same mistakes again. Cambodians are proud of their land and of their perseverance. They still care about the happiness of visitors and possess a desire for us to find their home worthy. They possess an innocence I no longer do.
Live. Learn. Lend your voice.
~ by Christine Fowle