The King Awakens-21st Century Commentary on Cambodia

Photo by: Willard Van De Bogart

The King Awakens

A social commentary on 21st Century Cambodia


Willard Van De Bogart

March 3, 2004

Language Center

Rajabhat Institute Nakhon Sawan, Thailand

A rumor began to spread throughout Cambodia in late January 2003 which was so controversial, and contained so many heated emotions that it resulted in a devastating act of social violence. When January 29th arrived the rumor had reached its climax resulting in the Royal Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh being completely burned and sacked. The rumor was about Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple belonging to neighboring Thailand and not to Cambodia.

Maybe the world just thought Cambodia had lost all of its people in the days of the Khmer Rouge. Maybe the "Killing Fields" reverberated the opinion that there were no more people left in Cambodia who could speak out publicly on social issues. Perhaps the world thought that Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, removed the voice of Cambodia forever. The truth is he almost did.

But then on one warm evening the capital of Cambodia came to life, and the world saw the Thai Embassy go up in flames. It was a spark that ignited a renewed interest in Cambodian history and Thai relations. This spark also awoke inside of me the thought that some greater force was at large in Cambodia that caused such an outbreak of social violence. One thing was for certain; the Cambodian people were not dead.

In July of 2002 I had gone to Cambodia to visit the ancient temple of Angkor Wat. I was extremely moved emotionally by what I saw. People had told me that Cambodia was safe to travel in so I made my first pilgrimage on a very dusty run down red dirt road from the border town of Poi Pet to Siem Reap.

I was going to Angkor Wat to research the "Churning of the Milky Ocean" bas-relief, and its relationship to the precession of the equinoxes. I was on a cosmological and divine quest to understand the workings of the universe. When I finally did arrive in Siem Reap I heard many stories of how fearful it was for people to live under Pol Pot's regime. From 1975, and well into the 1980's and even the early 1990's Cambodia was a very unsafe place to visit considering all the land mines which were planted in the surrounding countryside and in the ancient temple grounds.

Looking around Siem Reap I could easily see the scars of that period with so many men with lost limbs sitting near the temple grounds playing the sweet sounding stringed instrument called a Tro U. Somehow I got the distinct feeling that I was watching the rehabilitation of Cambodia's social order on a scale beyond my understanding or comprehension. Children by the dozens would run up to you asking for pencils or a drink of your Coca Cola. When I tried to talk to young people about the time Pol Pot was in power there usually was a moment of silence and then not much was said at all. A few would tell of stories of hiding under bushes listening to the sounds of gun fire as they were trying to either get rice or water to bring back to their homes.

When I would ask about the ancient history of the Khmer empire little if any knowledge of the Khmer civilization was known by these young people. I have heard said that the Cambodia of today is a "lost civilization" as well as having lost one of its greatest civilizations on earth; the ancient Khmer civilization.

Today the aged King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, speaking from his hospital bed in Beijing, tries to find a way to unite three political parties in his country to share power and govern the people. This attempt at power sharing between three political parties is tearing Cambodia apart once again.

In October 2003 shots were fired that silenced the angelic singing voice of Touch Sunnich, a 24 year old beautiful Cambodian pop singer, as well as killing her mother who was shot in the back. Touch Sunnich songs were included in the movie Raja Borei, a love story produced and directed by FUNCINPEC party chief Prince Norodom Ranariddh son of King Norodom. FUNCINPEC is one of the three political parties trying to share power. If my attention was drawn to Cambodia's political problem in January 2003 with the sacking of the Thai Embassy, then the October shooting of Touch Sunnich caused me to look more directly and more closely at what was going on in Cambodia.

Shortly after this latest shooting of Touch Sunnich a lengthy article appeared in the Bangkok Post on how the Khmers were still enslaved by their misfortunes. Then shortly after the editorial on Cambodia's misfortunes their appeared another editorial claiming Cambodia was moving successfully into the future.

Clearly these were two very different opinions on Cambodia's health as a nation. Between January 2002 through July 2003 I counted over 33 assassinations of political figures in Cambodia all of whom were affiliated with either the opposition party of Sam Rainsy or the Royalist party of FUNCINPEC. None of the assassinations were of figures from the Cambodian People's Party headed by Hen Sen who is the current Prime Minister of Cambodia.

All of these killings in Cambodia were eclipsed in the media by the American bombing of Afghanistan, and the "war on terror" both popularized by the American press after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. The war on Iraq during 2003 also diverted attention from the political struggles going on in Cambodia.

Then in January 2004 another shot rang out from Cambodia only this shot got the attention of the world press with unanimous condemnation from many heads of state all who verbally condemned the killing of Chea Vichea. President of the Cambodian Free Trade Union of Workers. Very quickly the assassin's photographs were released and then just as quickly rejected as a political stunt by the Cambodian Peoples Party.

Cambodian voices are still being silenced by a brutal mindset bent on keeping one political party in power. That party is the Cambodian Peoples Party headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The fact is nobody from the Cambodian Peoples Party has been killed by an assassin's bullet.

The "Killing Fields" are still going on, but this time behind the facade of politically correct jargon that appeases those who want to hear the proper response to these current acts of genocide so that investments will not be prevented from coming into Cambodia.

I am certain there are many people from around the world that are sick about hearing of atrocities and genocide. Unfortunately humans are periodically removed for the sake of maintaining control of existing political and financial interests. For anyone who pays close attention to Cambodian affairs they could readily witness how this transparency of maintaining control by, "means that do not justify the ends", is being implemented.

The survival of these last Khmer Rouge members depends on the elimination of anyone who thinks differently than they do, and Hun Sen is washing his hands of any complicity in these political killings. Hen Sen is apparently more interested in self gain rather than becoming a leader who cares about the well being of the Cambodian people. This story is all too familiar for countries without a strong representation of the interests of the people.

It also takes far too long for any international court to dole out justice to these perpetrators of acts against humanity. Most of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge have died of old age, and those that are alive who could testify are now stating to the media that they themselves were only trying to survive the brutalities of the times are were not guilty of any crimes against humanity.

The present day Khmers are the remnants of the once great Khmer Empire, which was as every bit as significant in its architectural grandeur as was the Maya or the Egyptians. Once the Khmer civilization slipped into oblivion the jungle crept over the entire empire and smothered and consumed most all vestiges of this remarkable kingdom. It was not until the mid 19th century that any rumor what so ever on the ancient Khmer kingdom began to seep into the European echelons of culture and civilization. The discovery shocked the world as nobody could believe anything so glorious could eclipse Egypt for its majestic feats of architecture.

But the culture officials were wrong and something did eclipse the pyramids, and today in the beginning of the 21st century the world is very slowly realizing the extent to which the Khmer Kings placed their kingdom on earth to mirror none other than the celestial workings of our universe.

However, wars and killings have been a terrible legacy for Cambodia. The ancient Khmer Kings were attacked from the south by Indonesians, in the east by the Vietnamese known as the Chams, and to the west by the kingdom of Siam. Today, the world is trying to piece together the history of Cambodia, and uncover who precisely the Khmers were.

At the same time this archaeological record is emerging there is a faction in Cambodia which is covertly killing off every voice that tries to bring peace and freedom to a land which holds the secrets to humankind being in harmony with the forces of the universe.

The Khmer Kings of long ago were devoted to the magnificent harmony which is created by the cycles of the sun, moon, and the movement of the planets and stars. All eyes need to be focused on the Cambodians of today for it is these Cambodians who can learn of their heritage, and once again become a country which can honor its sacred roots and tell the story of its ancient kings. It was Cambodia's ancient Khmer Kings who showed how the universe could be embodied in stone temples. These Kings who are carved in stone are now awakening from a millennium of silence. Historians, explorers, astronomers, archaeoastronomers, and spiritually guided people are telling the world, as the did the Chinese emissary Zhou Daguan in 1296AD, that there are celestial temples in the middle of a jungle pointing to the stars with thousands of beautiful dancing celestial nymphs praising their King.

To those of us who can hear the haunting melodies being recreated by the master musicians of Cambodia know that these melodies are finding a larger audience around the world. Once the deeper psyche of the Cambodian people is again set free, and not cowered into fear by politically motivated politicians, will Cambodia rise above the din of the voices of suppression and be able to share a very special kind of relationship that humankind can have with the universe.

The Khmer Kings can help all of us understand what it is we are looking for in the deepest corners of the universe. Locked in the symmetry and beauty of the ancient temples and libraries of Cambodia are secrets stored in stone which when become unlocked will be able to fulfill a destiny befitting all of humanity.

However, this grandiose future of a cultural awakening to preserve and protect what is left of the once great empire of the Khmers, is in direct competition with a rampant rush of mass consumption, market capitalism, and spiritual tourism. If the legacy of the ancient Khmers is not preserved, then Cambodia will be turned into a tourist attraction, and the silence which surrounds the temples of this once great empire will be lost. The constant influx of tour buses, and an army of tourist roaming over every last sacred site will trample the precious mystic mosses which muffles the harsh world of mechanization.

It is important to pay respect to the great Khmer Empire and allow the temples to reside in a space which is free from the encroaching tour industry. Agreement on these issues of saving the temples from pillaging and commercial encroachment is essential if humanity wishes to preserve the monuments which convey the celestial harmony the Khmer Kings left behind in stone. To many the remaining ruins of the Khmer Empire may be viewed as mountains of ruble scattered all over Cambodia. However, to those who have sensed the grandeur and magnificence, and the intent of the Khmer temples will be left the task of influencing commercial development to pay respect to something far more important than tourist dollars.

Whether this wedding of the sacred and secular can be achieved in Cambodia is currently under question as corporations around the world are poised to impose a modern infrastructure on a land that harbors an ancient infrastructure built to honor humankind's spiritual yearnings and not its material lust.

If all Cambodians could be as courageous as the women working for Britain's Mine Advisory Group (MAG), as reverent as HH Samdech Tep Vong, as creative as Marine Ky, and as brave as Chea Vichea then Cambodia will surely become one of the most empowered nations on earth. Today, Cambodian's are beginning to openly honor their fallen citizens, and praise the divine accomplishments of their ancient Kings without fear of retribution or guilt. A new dawning of the glories of ancient Cambodia is about to be heard, and a whole new country is about to be born.

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