by the Rev. Robert H. Tucker
March 18, 2002
Samplings from Southeast Asia
Traveling for a month in Southeast Asia, visiting Singapore, Cambodia,
Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, was the result of a desire to visit omy younger
son, who is working as an epidemiologist in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
- In my mind, geographically, I had that part of the world scrunched
together. I was taken aback when I realized that one–third of the trip from
Houston to Singapore was the flight from Tokyo to Singapore.
- In Singapore, the massive Chinese New Year parade had each ethnic
group with a float, band or dance group, including a San Francisco group.
- The streets of Phnom Penh were a sea of motorbikes with occasional
island of an auto. With so few traffic lights, turning left, for example,
presented an interesting challenge.
- Visiting the ‘Killing Fields’ and S-21 (the school turned into
a prison, torture chamber and slaughter house) produced a mind–numbing state
of horror. It was awesome to find oneself unable to find ground to walk on
that did not contain embedded scraps of clothing and bones. Our son says that
everyone he has met lost at least one family member during the Khmer Rouge
years. One of every eight persons was killed.
- Filling out the entry form for entering Vietnam, there was the
warning, “It is prohibited to bring in children’s toys that have a detrimental
effect on the psychological development of children.”
- Hanoi was a surprise. I didn’t know what to expect, but what I
did find was a delightful surprise. I noticed a lack of animosity toward
Americans, partly due, I was told, to the fact that half the population was
born after the American bombing of the country. In a hole–in–the–wall eating
place (only one item on the menu: pork noodle soup, which was absolutely
delicious), I suddenly found myself in a conversation with a Vietnamese woman,
originally from Ho Chi Minh City, who had worked at NASA in the Houston area
and is currently retired in California.
- Siem Reap, Cambodia, contains the magnificent Angkor Wat temple.
There are dozens of other temples as well, but Angkor Wat is the crown jewel.
I found myself immersed in a history for which my education had left me unprepared.
As in Europe, kingdoms rose and fell and, while in power, left magnificent
- Upcountry in Laos, in the sleepy town of Luang Prabang (pop. 30,000),
numerous Buddhist temples are found. With ranks and ranks of statues of the
Buddha, I found myself getting 'Buddhaed out' (a feeling similar to visiting
numerous cathedrals in Europe). Even in this out–of–the way place, there were
seven ‘internet cafes,’ places that had four to ten computers hooked up to
the internet. All along the trip, I received and sent e–mails.
- On Lao Airlines (we used seven different airlines during the trip),
an airline that UN and NGO groups do not allow their workers to fly, white
clouds suddenly poured out of the vents (vapors like those in a car when the
AC freezes). The hardy travelers began to laugh and some stood and took video
- The four weeks between Singapore and Bangkok—visiting Cambodia,
Vietnam and Laos—we saw not one MacDonalds.
- At the end, we all went to an upscale restaurant in Bangkok—“Cabbages
and Condoms.” Some of the profit from the restaurant and gift store is given
to the public health sector of Thailand. Instead of a mint accompanying the
bill, each person received a packaged condom.
Americans, for being such a monolingual culture, are truly fortunate
when traveling. So many citizens of other countries, even those not well–educated,
are learning English. In addition, when young travelers from Denmark, France,
South Africa and Japan want to talk with each other, they find English to
be the common language.
The world is delightfully fascinating.
--Robert H. Tucker
18 March 2002
© Robert H. Tucker, 2002.
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