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    Observations from Cambodia

    So, how reliable are our memories? As the author says, ” Our memories have more potholes than an upcountry road in Cambodia. The rain gets in. We seek shelter in what we remember. ” Having very recently visited Cambodia and taken an upcountry trip, I can definitely vouch for the potholes. As expected, the brutality of the Khmer Rouge, and events to do with this reign of terror are well documented within the book. Killed, starved or death by disease the four year reign saw an estimated 1.7 to 3 million deaths. However, the book is about memory, and the authors memories of time spent in Cambodia. These are a few of my favourite highlights. I enjoyed the missing passport story. How could a passport that had been placed on the desk of the official suddenly vanish. Further more, how could it pave the way to an unlikely Aladdin’s cave. I feel that I might have gone into panic mode about the missing passport, but the author stayed cool and surveyed his area. I liked the quote that ” The effort to remember what happened when we weren’t paying attention is doomed to failure. ” Memories in 2006 of joining up and going in the field with UN-supported Cambodian landmine personnel. You would have thought that landmine clearing was stressful enough in itself. There was further stress in the form of jealous wives. How does that work? Well, landmine clearing comes with a sizable income by Cambodian standards. Lets just say, it’s enough to look after a mistress. Jealous wives taking it in turn to stand guard at the camp with a hidden weapon of choice is another fascinating story. If you have any difficulty in standing up and giving speeches, then check out the Happy Herb Pizza. Two dollars of extra happy and possibly a bit more will do wonders for that. I enjoyed the authors memories of putting together a team of writers for the book ” Phnom Penh Noir. ” The results were the unveiling of a talented group of writers with some of them having first hand experience of violence. Stories for the book were based on the noir period after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the same time of writing a story, one of the writers was involved in a real life noir situation which was even more noir based than the story they actually presented. A further story called Reunion, written by Christopher G. Moore was actually based on a lie. I remember this being one of my favourite’s in the book and I’d totally bought the story. I was well and truly down the ” what a terrible set of events to experience ” road, when the truth came out. The story took prime spot at foreign correspondent clubs and other speaking events. The story made enough of an impact on people’s memory in order for them to request it at any given opportunity. A lie honed and repeated so often had eventually seemed like the truth. I remember being distraught at the end. No, I thought, it’s surely not a lie. There’s some terrific images in the book. The set that captured my imagination most were the images of Phnom Penh Alley 136 Street Phnom Penh. The first image shows just the alley, the second image shows a lady walking through the alley, and the third image shows a man sleeping in the alley. This is where I’d want to head to immediately. I agree with the author, this is where you find the stories. Great images. ” Have you ever wanted to go back in time and replay a moment you remember from your past so that you can edit the content based on what you feel and know now? ” Yes, go back and turn Bill Clinton off. Sorry Bill, but I want to know about the story of the girl in the room. I want to know about her past and what she knows, feels and believes. Her opinion doesn’t usually matter to foreigners, but it’s the one I’d want to hear about. Oddly enough this reminded me of something. Having searched the files of my mind briefly, I pulled out a book called ” Bangkok Noir.” In the book is a short story by Pico Iyer called ” Thousand and One Nights. ” I remember now – they were just telling their stories. I enjoyed the book from start to finish. I was intrigued with the analytical look at memory and equally intrigued to learn more about Cambodia as a country. I was even more pleased to have the connection, and a fresh connection at that of recently visiting the country. I must admit that I could hardly put together a Memory Manifesto on my one time visit. At the moment though my memories are very fresh, and Cambodia’s a place that instantly grabs your attention. It won’t take long though before I myself have to pull the personal file in my mind marked ” the Cambodian trip. ” I have a feeling I’m better off pulling the documented file on the trip. That in turn should help jog my memory. The book is about more than just memories though. It’s about observations, being present, attention to detail, emotions, experiences, stories, and of course people. The author ticks all of these boxes and always gets you thinking.
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