Saturday, July 26, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam

Short post, but I wanted to make sure everyone wasn't freaking out. If anyone has been reading the newspaper or watching the news, some may have noticed that many are claiming that Cambodia and Thailand are in an "imminent state of war." This is due to the tensions between the two countries that resulted over the Preah Vihear temple, and this has resulted in both countries massing troops at the border. Personally, I think it's only government show-boating, and that Thailand will have a coup before a conflict occurs because the government is so unstable. All the ruckus is also due to the fact that Cambodia is about to have its elections tomorrow, and the reigning party is using it to push the nationalistic vote..

That being said, if a war breaks out or shots are fired, I'll probably be in Vietnam for a little bit longer. Since Siem Reap is right next to the Preah Vihear province, it would be bad news bears to be hanging out there.. I realized that I never put up a map of Cambodia to give you an idea of geography, so here it is:

Siem Reap is right above the Tonle Sap (the big lake) and the Preah Vihear province is east of it. I was in Phnom Penh the last two weeks, which is in the south. I've also been to Battambang (west of Siem Reap) and Sihanoukeville (on the coast in the south).

Anyways, in my professional opinion, nothing will happen, but you never know. Just wanted to give everyone a heads up.

We visited the ECCC, which was neat to see, but wasn't exactly that informative. They're still in the pre-trial stage, so nothing much was going on. I think I'll discuss it in a later blog.

The last night I was in Phnom Penh, my professor, Trudy, took our group on a tour of the sex districts in the city. Cambodia is one of the most popular places for sex tourism in southeast Asia, and though I have already seen a lot of it going on, it was really interesting to hear information from someone who is doing extensive research in the area. We all started at her apartment, where she gave us a mini-lecturette and *four bottles of wine* (guess what we were the most excited about? :). It's interesting to see what the different perceptions of "feminism" are between the U.S. and Cambodia. In Cambodia, the women (or, at least the women who work in the sex trade) consider that the opportunity to dress more revealing and have sex with many men as "liberating," even though they are essentially selling their bodies. In this country, the women are expected to be docile and meek, which our professor said is a large pull for the sex tourism community.

Then, we piled into tuk-tuks and headed to the Golden Boss, one of the "massage bars" in town. There, the girls are not exactly prostitutes, but they are expected to be "nice" to the men, sitting with them and rubbing their shoulders and legs, etc. It was a little awkward when our group walked into the place, because it was just full of couched booths and it was very very dark. I'm sure everyone could tell that we were there to just stare.. After that, we performed a "gender experiment." We drove to a street with a lot of bars of ill-repute, and the girls all went into one bar while all the guys went into another. Of course, we both got different reactions for our groups. Ours was extremely awkward because the men were cat-calling us, but the girls were really nice and talked to us. The one I was talking to was only about 20, and she had been working for about two months. We asked if she liked her job, and she grimaced and said "Well, I'm not very good at it yet..," meaning that she wasn't as good at being as flirty as her coworkers. The owner was a deaf and dumb woman who was her aunt and had invited her to come work there. What was interesting was that the son of one of the prince's daughters was there..whoa, scandal!

The boys had a very different experience, as you might imagine. They were all kind of shaken up when we got back in the tuk-tuks, haha..

Next, we traveled to a very run-down street where our professor said the cheaper sex worker walk, the ones who go with the non-foreigners. We weren't allowed to leave our tuk-tuks.

We drove by a couple of other seedy bars frequented by tourists. It is extremely sad and horrible what these girls go through.

In the end, we all went to Heart of Darkness, a dance club on the same street as many of these bars. You aren't "allowed" to go on one side of the club because that's where the government officials kids sit, but it was still a fun place to dance (and they played a little better music than the last club I went to!)

Despite the fact that Vietnam actually has decent internet, that's all I'm going to write for now. Everyone on the trip now has the same cold, and we're all just chilling out in our beds so that we don't get worse..We've eaten Vietnamese food, which is delicious, and seen the War Renmants Museum. It used to be called the "Museum of American War Atrocities" but they've milked it down for the tourists. It's full of pictures of war victims and napalm and other chemical weapons effects. They even had some babies in jars that had birth defects due to Agent Orange, which I found both wrong and disturbing.

Tomorrow, we're going to the Cu Chi tunnels, and I might even get the chance to fire an AK-47 and other guns - only a $1 a bullet. I figure it's good research, since I want to go into arms control..hhmm..

More to come. Make sure you watch the news! :)

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