Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cambodian Culture, Chinese-Style



After a couple of days in Angkor there comes a moment when just the thought of looking at another temple ruin is exhausting. But, fortunately, Siem Reap has other attractions to offer. For example the Cambodian Cultural Village. Here the discerning traveler can learn a lot, though not necessarily about Cambodian culture.

Typical buildings for each region, in Disney-esque pseudo-villages, are grouped around stages where, twice a day, young women in traditional, candy colored Lycra costumes perform traditional folk dances to traditional music, which sounds suspiciously like Schubert’s Trout Quintet performed on Chinese instruments.

There is also an educational section, in form of a little museum. The labels tell it all, and so they should: Chinese is first, Khmer second. English only here and there, after all, they are still around, those tedious English-speakers.
And, always my favorite, historical scenes in wax. Here there is even a Westerner: a touching tableau in which a huge, hulking, white UN soldier is dancing cheek to cheek with a chunky, excessively made-up Khmer girl. This takes up so much space that the (Chinese-supported) Khmer Rouge sadly had to be left out altogether.

One scene I found especially fascinating: an old gentleman, resplendent in a white, medal-decorated uniform, is sitting at a huge writing-desk in the process of signing an important document. Stretched out at his feet is an obviously murdered servant. Who is that? Why did he kill the poor flunkey? And how? With that ornate gold letter-opener? Suddenly, the supposed murder victim began to snore softly. It was one of the guards holding his lunchtime siesta.

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