spoilt broth

One hundred and fifty thousand tons of bombs softened Cambodian hearts enough to cause an army, even that army that the bombs were meant to destroy, to merely stroll into Phnom Penh and take over. Next, two million people were consumed by genocide and the four years in which the killings happened plucked out any spirit that persisted in ten million people who've never known self-determination. Theirs is now a land into which missionaries and NGOs and every stripe of do-gooder have trooped in from France and America, and from Japan and Germany and Australia. It is also the cheap place for vagabonders to sit at cafes on Sisowath Boulevard and gaze endlessly at the Mekong. My driver was proud to tell me that the National Route Number Four on which we went to Sihanoukville was built by the French. The children are happy to beg in any tongue of the tourist—to beg that they buy a guidebook or the krama or the bangles. Sihanouk loves and lives in China; it was from there that he asked kids to go join the Khmer Rouge. The clique of the Khmer Rouge learnt communism in Paris and the art of warring for it from the Chinese. The guide who took me and some Europeans on a tour of a pagoda looked at me each time he said Gautama Buddha was born in India. A couple of times he corrected himself, that Lumbini is a wee bit out of India, in Nepal. Before the murals of the battles of Lanka and Kurukshetra an American asked the guide at Angkor Wat to tell him the Mahabharata in a few sentences; after the guide completed the bold attempt the massive man said he found it great that Cambodians know their heritage.