Too often I hear the joke, ‘why is history important, if it’s already in the past’. I believe that to fully embrace an entirely new culture in all its context, you must look backwards to the events that have crucially shaped everything that now comes before you.
I am focusing on my month long trip to Cambodia, where I have lived out in the rural Takeo province and travelled up and down from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville. I feel assured in stating that I have made the most of my time here and have learned a gianormous amount about Cambodian culture. Yet only during my last day have I taken it upon myself to visit the S21 prison museum in Phnom Penh. the museum focuses on the horrendous atrocities during the 70’s conducted by the Khmer Rouge communists regime. In this time there is a stomach turning estimation that every 1 in 5 Cambodian citizen was systematically murdered. Aso depressing as it was I believe this experienced was a vital part of my trip and I only wish I had embraced this tour at an earlier date, and here’s my reasoning as to why.
Firstly, to understand more indepth the lasting impact history
Before setting off and seeing a lot of Cambodia, visiting the memorial sites such as S21 or the killing fields would of provided a far better understanding than my quick pre-google search before arriving. When you travel you see first hand the developments and changes that have come from the past in each individual country which is often the most exciting part of exploring new cultures. This is even more true when travelling a country which has so recently experienced such a devastingly brutal impact and often these significant changes will be missed on an individual who does not know much about the history.After the guided tour of S21 I can now only look back and reflect on what I have experienced this last month with this new knowledge I have gained. But this is just not the same as being attentive to details and full of context in every moment of the trip. Although it is still better than not knowing at all.
To have a better appreciate of the current day to day life and people’s attitudes.
One thing I have known to most definitely be true about Cambodian citizens is they are genuinely lovely and super friendly, you can’t cross the street without kids and adults all shouting hello and beaming with smiles. Yet I feel like I didn’t appreciate this authentic happiness and their wonderful attitudes in full. This is because it only really dawned on me properly today that these individuals I have met have either first hand experienced the regime’s devasting genocide or personally know close family members and friends effected dramatically by this tragedy, many even killed. Cambodian’s who are just my age (20 years old), would therefore know their fathers, mothers, uncles, aunties, grandparents and so many more have lived and suffered though the brutal past. And yet despite it all and only 30 years later here is a country full of happiness and enthusiasm for the future to come. They do not dawn on the sadness of before, they look forward to brightness of tomorrow. This has been so unbelievably evident all along and yet I only feel like I’ve just cottoned on. At the beginning I visited a live performing arts show put together by a school who were determined to change the global perception of Cambodia by highlighting the wonders to be found in the countries art forms and draw focus away from the horrors of war and totalitarianism.
To feel less like an obnoxious tourist
I know I am definitely guilty of being this at times especially when I am abroad on a week holiday. But when you set out to live and embrace a country in all its glory then a need for as much indepth knowledge about said country is just crucial. You don’t want to go to a country and know less about it than a quick Google search can tell you. Embrace everything is the only essential bit of advice when travelling. You will leave a more open minded, globally educated and understanding individual. So if the opportunity to go for a tour around a museum or significant site presents itself than embrace it over that lie in and a nice lunch. You will remember a lot of the information and effect a museum has on you in years to your surprise probably. Gaining knowledge is never a negative and how often do you get to gain said knowledge outside of a text book! This first hand experience within the country will be so worth it and you will feel more connected to the land you are temporarily staying in than ever before.
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