Photo Journal: The Local Faces of Siem Reap, Cambodia
It’s always frustrating when you’ve scouted out the perfect wide-angle vantage point, waited until the light is just right and are just about to take that shot of the [insert viewfinder scene here] when… throngs of loudly-dressed tourists scamper in like frenzied ants looking for a sugar hill.
Over the years, I’ve managed to maneuver my shots to exclude people in my photos altogether. And if they’re unavoidable, I might use a bit of Photoshop magic to poof poof poof — make them disappear.
But in Siem Reap, I was captivated by the faces of local life. As we trekked through over a dozen of Angkor’s temples, we were greeted with bright, beautiful eyes full of innocent youth and unabashed hope. Eyes belonging to children no older than 8 — but with a lifetime’s worth of hardship of their country’s tainted past.
For a country that defended against Spanish, Portuguese, Thai conquests, French Colonial rule, Japanese occupation, Vietnamese invasion, the Cambodian people battled with its independence and identity for hundreds of years. And after establishing its own Democratic Kampuchea government in the 1970’s under the Khmer Rouge, the new ruling party then caused another devastating period when it redistributed its wealth and expelled all things foreign. During this period, schools, hospitals, cultural centers and foreign establishments were destroyed and the Cambodian people were forced into agricultural work. The country’s social elite, intellectuals and minorities were identified and executed.
With nearly two million deaths from diseases, starvation, execution, or landmine explosions, this period under the Democratic Kampuchea is documented as one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century. Even decades later, the war-ravaged nation is still plagued by poverty, lack of social programs, poor infrastructure. However schools have slowly opened, families have reunited and rebuilt homes — pushing the country forward beyond the deeply-etched memories of civil war.
While it was hard to relate to life in a country whose past and present are so different to my own, seeing the beautiful faces of the local Cambodian children took me back to the same simple days of childhood, when playing until dusk and making new friends were more than enough to keep me happy.
Vithei Charles de Gaulle
Khum Svay Dang Kum
1010 – SIEM REAP
(+855) 63 964600
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