Pursuit of Percipience

the blog that nobody reads which I write to silence the voices in my head

Tag: Cambodia

From Siam to Suez ~ Angkor

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Photo caption: THE MAD PRIEST OF ANGKOR AND THE AUTHOR – N.B. The author is on the right.

From Siam to Suez is a rare old book written by James Saxon Childers (1899-1965) detailing his journey from China to Egypt in the early 20th century. Childers was an American writer and traveller who wrote several fiction books as well as travel books. His fiction did not do too well, but his travel books were popular.

Here I’m sharing chapter two of the book where Childers visits Angkor. I have been to Angkor several times and it never ceases to amaze me. I agree with Childers though: Angkor is a foreign mystery to the westerner — cut off from our history, culture, and religion.

Chapter II, From Siam to Suez by James Saxon Childers (Public Domain Book)

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The towers of Angkor Wat temple

DEAR OCTAVUS ROY COHEN: You asked me to write to you about the ruins of Angkor. I’m sorry you did; for I’ve been in Angkor a week, yet can find out nothing about it. At night I prowl through the temple and in the day I ride elephants through the town, but the stones are only stones and I hear nothing.

In Athens I can see Socrates in his ragged old coat, forever talking, forever making his soul as good as possible. In Rome I hear the tramp of the legions and Cato shout, “Delenda est.” In Paris I see Villon staggering, staggering just a little as he searches for the snows of yesteryear. In the streets of London, Doctor Johnson shambles along with Boswell at his side. I hear him say: “Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” But Angkor is silent. The lips of the four-faced god are mute; even the spirit of his devotees has gone into the awful jungle.

I would not have you feel that Angkor prompted me to ask Cleopatra’s famous question: “Is this the mighty ocean? Is this all?” In a way, I have not been disappointed in Angkor, but the place has not set me on fire; I have not felt as I did when looking at the Great Wall of China, or at the Parthenon, or at the Forum: Genghis Khan never stormed these gates, Phidias never worshipped in this temple, Cæsar never walked these streets…

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I arrived at Angkor after a week’s visit to Saigon, the real capital of Indo-China, a French city set in a jungle. The French own Saigon: they dominate it; one sees the native only as a servant, or as a soldier in the troupes coloniales. The architecture of Saigon is French. The paved boulevards are French. The big shops are French. There is a Hôtel de Ville, a Théâtre Municipal, a Musée, a Jardin Botanique. Saigon in its buildings, parks, and streets is definitely a counterpart of Paris, but the buildings are merely masquerade; even a transient detects a noxious decadence in the lives of the haggard officers of the Foreign Legion, of the white-faced government employees, of the red-faced rubber planters–Frenchmen forced to live in daily contact with the jungle and its diseases, the heat and its diseases, the sullen hatred of the natives, opium, the nostalgic realization of exile, and the insidious enervation of the Orient.

After a week’s visit in Saigon–seven days of ghastly heat and of torment from mosquitoes, seven nights of tennis and absinthe frappés, of late dinners and champagnes and brandies, of visits to opium houses and to other houses where depravity in its most vicious form is commonplace–I was glad to hire an automobile for the two-hundred-mile ride over the jungle road to the ruins of Angkor.

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Three times he spoke his name and three times I tried to repeat it. He laughed as I stumbled through the confusion of syllables, and when at last I called him Rollo, he didn’t seem to object. He was a white-haired old man of eighty-four years, and his entire international vocabulary was this: “Angkor Thom,” “Angkor Vat” (pronounced Angkor Wot), “Buddha,” “Vishnu,” “soldat,” “le roi,” “madame le roi,” “Naga,” and “all right.” For a week we talked with each other daily, and we used no other words than these. A stranger might have been puzzled had he seen us in conversation, for he might not have comprehended the gestures of our arms, the contortions of our bodies, and the significant grimaces by which we discussed history, art, and curious practices.

I found Rollo late one afternoon squatting on his haunches, chewing betel nut, and spitting the blood-red juice upon the stone causeway that leads to the temple of Angkor.

“You speak English?” I asked.

Rollo stood, bowed to me, raised his arm and swept it before him, encompassing by his gesture the entire façade of the mighty temple.

“Angkor Vat,” he said.

“Yes, I know, but do you speak English, and could you tell me where I could find a guide?”

Again the inclusive gesture and again: “Angkor Vat?”

“Good, but you speak French peut-être? Oui? Vous parlez français?

But the habit was on him: once more I learned that at the distant limit of the great arc described by his hand stood the temple of Angkor.

“Righto, old chap.” I nodded and smiled to him. “Merci bien.

I started along the causeway. Rollo trotted beside me, his little wooden clogs tap tapping upon the stones.

“Where are you going?” I demanded.

“Angk–”

“So I gather, but why are you following me?”

He looked at me and smiled. Absurdly enough I thought of wrinkled copper.

“All right,” he said, and startled me by his linguistic versatility. He struck his chest, touched my arm, and, clasping his hands, showed that we were friends.
Afterward he pointed ahead at the temple. Crouching low, peering all about him, he stood on tiptoe, gazing with keenest interest. Finally, with two forefingers ever moving one before the other, he signalled our advance.

“But, see here, you don’t speak any language I understand. How can you–”

Already he was tap-tapping toward the temple. I could only follow. And so, led by this venerable Cambodian, this graybearded ancient of infinite gentleness, of wisdom to leap the barrier of language, I began a tour of architectural wonders wrought more than a thousand years ago.

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Cambodia is a kingdom in French Indo-China, and in the center of Cambodia are the famous ruins of Angkor, once capital of the most powerful nation of Asia. Angkor was built by a people called the Khmers–whence they came nobody knows, where they went nobody knows, but at one time more than a million men lived in Angkor; and its grandeur shamed the Rome of Augustus, the Athens of Pericles, and the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar. To-day there is nothing except the shell of the mighty city and a silent temple of infinite majesty–a city and a temple, gray stone ghosts in a jungle of green.

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Ta Prohm temple

Some writers have declared that the Khmers were driven from their capital after a war in which their enemies combined against them. Others believe the Khmers were blotted out by a swift plague. French scholars who have spent years studying the ruins and their inscriptions contend that in the fourteenth century the slaves of Angkor suddenly fell upon their masters and destroyed them. Chaos followed. Gradually the slaves reverted to savagery, and gradually the savages degenerated into the decayed peoples who live their shabby lives near the ruins to-day.

“Angkor Vat,” said Rollo, pausing at the entrance of the famous temple, then leading me into the outer corridor. “Vishnu,” he said, pointing at a giant figure with hundreds of arms. Upon the wall was an unbroken bas-relief depicting wars, battles, and fearful exploits of wondrous men. “Soldats,” Rollo explained.

“And a bloodthirsty lot–eh, Rollo?”

“Soldats,” he answered, solemnly.

We turned a corner and the subject of the bas-relief changed to tortures used by the Khmers. One man’s eyes were being plucked out by vultures. Another writhed between two stones that were slowly pushed together. A third was hacked in pieces with great axes. One miserable wretch was surrounded by a number of ladies who cut tidbits from his body.

Whenever we arrived opposite a particularly gruesome carving, Rollo demonstrated. I shall always remember his graphic depiction of a disemboweled man whose entrails were used as a skipping rope–Rollo danced about with the happy abandon of a child whirling a daisy chain. In the middle of his danse macabre I caught his little white jacket and pulled at it, stopping him. He bowed, and, hurrying past the other torture scenes, led me around the great square, more than a mile in length.

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Angkor was built with gray sandstone that takes a polish almost like marble. In the middle of the twelfth century when the temple was built by the architect Visvakarman, thousands of tons of this stone were brought in huge blocks from quarries nineteen miles away. The outer gallery and inner gallery are connected by a stone causeway thirty-six feet wide. In the center of the temple are five huge domes, the middle one thrusting its rude splendour six hundred feet into the air. The walls, columns, entablatures, and pilasters are all marvelously decorated with carvings of the heavenly dancers, the monkey gods, and the divine tevadas with lotus flowers in their hands. When the moon touches them with silver, the carvings look like lace lying lightly upon stone.

The temple now is deserted save for Buddhist priests and sightseers, and millions of bats that defile the floor and pollute the air with the gagging smell of their bodies–besides these, there is nothing alive in a temple where once a million men bowed before their gods.

“Angkor Thom,” said Rollo on the second morning of my visit, as he made signs for me to mount one of the two elephants he had hired to take us to “The Great Capital,” the deserted city that lies one mile from the temple. We could have gone in automobiles, but Rollo insisted I ride as rulers had ridden, and because of his insistence I climbed to the howdah where I watched the mahout kick the elephant and strike it with an iron hook until at last the great beast heaved itself toward Angkor Thom.

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Elephant ride from the entrance gate of Angkor Thom to the Bayon Temple

The boundaries of the old city are marked by a wall, its massive stone gates arching high in primitive splendor above the roadway. Within the boundaries are the remains of a dozen buildings with enormous square towers still standing, each side of each tower cut as a huge Brahmanic face. In all parts of the city are terraces adorned with figures of startling beauty, treasures of sculpture.

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My son at the Bayon Temple (the temple of the Brahmanic faces)

The time may come when I forget the towers and the terraces and the carvings, but I shall never forget the dreadful silence of that dead city. In Angkor Thom, “The Great Capital,” one hears only the occasional call of a bird; the awful stillness sings the saga of departed pomp and power.

A thousand years ago the jungle was cut away and Angkor Thom was built. To-day the jungle is taking back its own, crumbling and swallowing proud buildings erected by proud men. Seeds dropped by birds have grown into trees and their roots have split the heads of the ancient gods. Other trees send their roots above ground and over all barriers more than a hundred feet to wrap about blocks of stone and tear them from their moorings. Myriads of small plants, the jungle’s infantry, advance in almost solid formation. A thousand years the jungle has waited, watching the aspiration of man. Then man died. The living jungle crawled in to blot out the scar of civilization.

I am writing you this letter, Roy, in the modern hotel built by the French at Angkor. I have just returned from wandering through the temple alone. Far back in the inner sanctum, I heard the liquid notes of the bamboo xylophone, played in the native village, join with the low chant of the Buddhist priests and come softly over the lake. The great temple stretched away from me, its stones silver in the moonlight, its shadows hiding the brooding souls of millions of men dead for centuries. . . . Long I sat listening to the xylophone and to the chanting. Long I peered at the ancient stones. And yet when I left the temple at midnight, the souls of the builders were still hidden in shadows.

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A wedding at the Angkor Wat courtyard

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White Privilege, SJWs, and Missions

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Never leave home without it.

Every once and a while I come across a bizarre negative attitude towards the white western missionary. I’m not referring to atheists or multiculturalists criticizing western missions; that’s to be expected. Rather, I am talking about missionaries criticizing other missionaries.

I’ll read or hear terms such as “white privilege” and “cultural appropriation” being used by missionaries to criticize white missionaries and accuse them of things they are simply not guilty of: colonialism, white supremacy, and negative paternalism. They get upset at the fact that white missionaries will presume to teach, rather than learn, in non-western nations. They lament at how white missionaries don’t seek to empower the local peoples. In most cases, these accusations are are all unfounded.

Western missionaries have access to resources which non-western nations simply don’t have yet. Western Christianity is also older and more experienced. Of course westerners will come as teachers. That does not mean they don’t respect the native culture, are unwilling to learn, or are unwilling to empower local people.

The terms “white privilege” and “cultural appropriation” did not evolve in the common market of language and ideas. They come straight out of the minds of leftist, Marxist university professors. And they certainly have no place on the mission field.

I like this definition of “white privilege” from the Urban Dictionary:

The racist idea that simply being white benefits people in some unexplainable way, and that discriminating against white people is not only okay, but enlightened and necessary. The excuse some extremists use to justify pretty much any level of racism, as long as it is coming from people of color. A young American woman died because in college she was brainwashed into believing that her white privilege would protect her from being run over by a bulldozer.

I understand, and agree with, the idea that missions is not about introducing western culture into non-western nations. There are few things I dislike more that hearing Hillsong music being sung by locals in their own language, when there own native music is so much more beautiful. But, I’ve met many missionaries, and I’ve never met one who was trying to push western culture into their host nation. (In fact, when I do hear the Hillsong music, it’s because the youth in the church wanted it – Hey you guys! Stop trying to appropriate sub-standard Australian worship music!) Many new missionaries come with western ideas, which they try to implement, but they soon learn what doesn’t work and they adapt. This whole idea of “white privilege,” “white supremacy,” and neo-colonialism is, in most cases, not true. (By the way, western culture is indeed moving in on Asian nations, but it’s anything but the missionary’s fault. Blame Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, or Ariana Grande.)

So first, let’s address the “white privilege” claim. All who live in the west are privileged – the rich and the poor – the natives and the immigrants. No other culture in human history provides the opportunities, safety, and freedom that the west provides. And this privilege did not fall from the sky. It is the result of centuries of hard work by all the men and women who built the western nations. It is the result of Christianity (which is really the elephant in the room when it comes to white privilege). Historically, the western nations have been predominantly white, and although that’s still true, it is changing now.

I live in Cambodia, but spent most of my life in Canada. There are many races and cultures in Canada, and all of them are privileged to be there. Many first generation immigrants do very well for themselves. That’s true today and it’s true historically. Good culture creates privilege. It’s nothing negative and it’s nothing to feel guilty about. Yes, privileged people can use their advantages to oppress others, but is that what white missionaries are doing? Do western missionaries misunderstand the host culture simply because of their privilege? That’s strange reasoning. Is a doctor only fit to heal people if he himself has suffered their sickness?

Where you start in life is not necessarily where you’ll end up. The decisions you make today determine where you’ll be tomorrow. Snapshot views of cultures are meaningless if you ignore the past and the future. Missionaries, white and brown, enter into other cultures, and bring their privilege with them, to create new opportunities for the native peoples – opportunities which include both the spiritual and the physical. When Jesus said, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more,” was He trying to make His listeners feel guilty? Or, was He telling them to use their “privilege” to the benefit of others?

Western privilege is a direct result of Christianity. What would you expect to happen to a culture which adopts the Christian faith and submits to Jesus? Poverty and war? The missionary’s job is to expand that culture to the nations. Yes, some cultures really are better than others.

As for “cultural appropriation”, I’ll start by posting this video to show how stupid that idea is…

In the video the black girl is angry because the white guy has dreadlocks, which is a black hairstyle. It’s obviously stupid and the girl is just being a bully. This is an extreme example, but extreme examples best illustrate how stupid some ideas really are.

If I see a Cambodian wearing jeans and a t-shirt, should I be upset that he’s trying to appropriate western culture? If I learn the Khmer language and dress in Cambodian traditional clothes at a wedding, am I wrongfully trying to appropriate the culture? I though we were supposed to learn to understand the culture. What if I marry a Cambodian woman? I did, by the way. And have kids who are half white and half Asian? Which we did. Now I’m really confused.

Ideas like cultural appropriation only work to divide rather than unite. Just like calling racism where there is none. Just like labelling privilege as negative and something to feel guilty about. Like using broad meaningless terms such as “systemic racism” or “white supremacy”.

frostIf we are going to combat things like racism, we can’t just use broad terms like “systemic racism”. Which systems are racist? Who, in those systems, are making them racist?

Protestors often don’t have the answers to those questions. They just know that racism is everywhere, and it has to be stopped, and it is the result of white privilege. But when asked where specifically the racism is, they don’t know.

When I saw this picture, posted by Christian author Michael Frost on Facebook, someone in the comments posted a picture of the KKK in a church with a banner saying, “Jesus Saves,” in the background. So, a decades old photo of white racists is an example of systemic racism today? Can we have a more recent example? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but you can’t fight your enemy if you don’t know where he is.

I sincerely hope that the leftist, Marxist ideology which is corrupting much of western culture today doesn’t find a home in the mission field. We are above racial distinctions out here. Our racial differences are merely a background reality – it’s not a forefront issue. Don’t make it one. We work together, missionaries and locals, to build the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

My article here is far from perfect, and as I think about the issue more, I’ll probably add more. For now I’ll just publish it as it is (no one reads this blog anyway).

August 27, 2016 ~ A Brief Addition…

Something else came to mind that I wanted to add.

I think it is apparent to all now that the center of Christianity is shifting away from the west and toward the south and the east. If you need statistical evidence of that you can read Philip Jenkins’ work The Next Christendom. Here’s a quote from the first couple of pages of that book:

We are currently living through one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide. Over the last five centuries, the story of Christianity has been extricably bound up with that of Europe and Europe-derived civilizations overseas, above all in North America. Until recently, the overwhelming majority of Christians have lived in white nations, allowing some thinkers to speak of ‘European Christian’ civilization…

Over the last century, however, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward, to Africa and Latin America. Today, the largest Christian communities on the planet are to be found in those regions. If we want visualize a ‘typical’ contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria, or in a Brazilian favela. In parts of Asia too, churches are growing rapidly, in numbers and self-confidence. As Kenyan scholar John Mbiti has observed, ‘the centers of the church’s universality [are] no longer in Geneva, Rome, Athens, Paris, London, New York, but Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila.’ Whatever Europeans or North Americans may believe, Christianity is doing very well indeed in the global south — not just surviving but expanding.

This doesn’t mean that western Christianity is doomed to destruction; perhaps we’ll see a revival sooner than we think. But, I believe it’s safe to say that Christianity will grow much more in the south and east before it makes a comeback in the west.

Perhaps in the future, Asian missionaries will travel to the west and do the very same things western missionaries do today, but better. They will have matured in the Christian faith far beyond where we’re at today and they will be greater teachers as a result.

Poipet Through the Ages

When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in the ’70s they destroyed much infrastructure, including the railroad. And as Cambodia has been rebuilding, the railroad is coming back.

Poipet is the main crossing point between Cambodia and Thailand. As the railroad is being rebuilt, it will eventually link Bangkok to Phnom Penh. That railroad will run right through Poipet.

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Just as you enter into Poipet from Thailand, there is a roundabout (Kbal Spean Circle in above picture) which then leads on to the main road through the city. The train will come straight through that roundabout (the busiest road in town) and then run south of the main road through the current slum area.

I don’t even want to think of how busy that border crossing area is going to be when the rail is finished and the train is running.

Here are some photos of that border crossing over the years….

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1) I don’t know how old this photo is, but it’s quite old I think. If you took this photo, your back would be towards Thailand, and you would be looking into the beginnings of Poipet and Cambodia. That’s a big idol standing in the middle of a roundabout. All dirt roads.

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2) This photo is well over ten years old. Now we are looking towards Thailand while standing on the road of the round-about. That big idol is standing just off camera to the right. The first photo was taken from straight ahead of the view of this photo. That arch-way being constructed is the start of an entrance to a new casino.

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3) This photo is taken from inside Poipet looking out towards Thailand (probably taken around 2006/2007 or so). The idol can be seen, but now we are seeing the reverse side from what we see in the first photo. The red brick pillar seen on the far right of this photo (centered from top to bottom) is the archway under construction in the last photo. Now we see the casinos are dominating the scene.

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4) Now we are looking into Poipet again with Thailand at our back. Now we see there are lots of buildings, and the roads are paved. This is pretty much what Poipet looks like today, except that big idol is gone. The new railway is going to run straight through this roundabout.

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5) Here is the track being constructed. This photo was taken just a few days ago (May, 2016). The track is running right through where the roundabout used to be. Notice that the red brick archway from photos #2 and #3 has been torn down to make room for the train. Also notice the crane on the left is still there (from photo #3). I think that crane has become a permanent fixture.

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6) A closer look. The casino builders knew the train would eventually come which is why they built the walkways up above the road to connect their buildings.

Sources…

Photo #1 is from Cambodia.com

Photo #2 is from this website.

The Great Cambodian Exodus

I took these photos this morning at the Cambodian/Thailand border crossing in Poipet. Thousands of Cambodians are leaving Thailand because of the military coup there. They’re coming over by the truck load.

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The Morning Bike Ride

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The heat in Poipet these days is so intense that it penetrates everything. I put my hand on my laptop and worry about the heat it’s giving off, but then put my hand on the desk’s surface to discover it’s radiating the same amount of heat. The brick walls project heat. The feverish wooden doors. Lying on the couch is like dipping into a sauna. My pillow feels like bread freshly taken from the oven. Heated toilet seats are overrated.

So, the favorite part of my day has become the early morning just after the sun comes up and hasn’t had a chance to infiltrate anything yet. This is when I can jump on my mountain bike and hit some trails before our students start showing up for school at 6:30.

I live on the northern edge of the city so I don’t have to go far to be in the bush. Once the rainy season really kicks in I’ll probably be forced to head south onto the city’s pavement. But as long as it stays dry I’ll keep riding on what was not too long ago Khmer Rouge mine fields.

Here are some pictures…

Once a mine field, this land is now cleared and is sectioned off for future sale. Soon it will be full of houses and shops.

Once a mine field, this land is now cleared and is sectioned off for future sale. Soon it will be full of houses and shops.

Once off the roads, it’s easy to find some small trails used by the locals on their motorbikes.

Once off the roads, it’s easy to find some small trails used by the locals on their motorbikes.

No shortage of cellular towers in this country. Cambodia is the first nation in the world to have more cell phones than land-line phones.

No shortage of cellular towers in this country. Cambodia is the first nation in the world to have more cell phones than land-line phones.

It’s beautiful and peaceful.

It’s beautiful and peaceful.

I carry a retractable baton with me. Not to use on people, but on dogs. It’s not unusual to be riding along and have four or five dogs spring out of the bush with teeth flaring. They usually stay back, but if they do get too close I have the means to put the fear of man into them.

I carry a retractable baton with me. Not to use on people, but on dogs. It’s not unusual to be riding along and have four or five dogs spring out of the bush with teeth flaring. They usually stay back, but if they do get too close I have the means to put the fear of man into them.