…or Sue’s Excellent Adventure!
Most of what I am doing here in Cambodia is teaching workshops, working with kids and organising Writing Through. But I also wanted to do some research for my next novel. I had read about some villages on the top of Phnom Kulen, a mountain near to Siem Reap. i had been there before. There is a beautiful waterfall, a reclining Buddha and a lake full of submerged Lingas. But I wanted to go up further and see the villages. I had an idea that they might provide a good setting for a part of my next Cambodian novel.
On Sunday, my friend/guest house owner/tour guide and I went to Kulen mountain. We parked the car, and instead of walking through the market stalls selling everything from grilled chicken, grilled wild boar sausage, fresh coconuts, carved Buddhas and I Love Cambodia t-shirts and then onto the waterfall, we turned right and approached a line of motorbikes (motos). He got on the back of one. I got on the back of another, and off we went, up the mountain. I held on for dear life, reminding myself that this was not going to be the way I die and composing this blog in my head to distract myself. For over an hour we road over what no one would mistake as a road. They were small dirt paths strewn with obstacles like tree roots and rocks. There was the occasional wooden bridge (i.e. 4 wooden planks laid over a stream). My arms ached from holding on and my back got sore from the pounding. But…..then the forest of lychee trees cleared and we were in groves of cashew nuts trees. The air was cool and fresh and the top of the forest  looked like so many small shrubs.
On top of Kulen there is one primary school, a monastery, and five villages — groups of wooden huts where families have lived for generations. Only now that some people have motos do they occasionally go down the mountain, but very rarely into Siem Reap or any other towns. They live as they have always lived, namely hunting, picking fruit from the trees, growing whatever crops they can. I asked about their lives and histories. Interestingly, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge posed no threat for them. Of course he left them alone. They were already living the sorts of basic agrarian lives that he wanted every Khmer to live. But the danger for them came when the Vietnamese arrived to ‘liberate’ the Khmer. There was a great deal of fighting and most families needed to take refuge in the forest. We spoke with one 85-year-old woman who had lost three children and her arm in that war (I didn’t take her photo).
This was doing research the old-fashioned way – not on the internet, not even in books. But getting on whatever transport you can find and going out into the world to meet and talk to the people themselves. it was an incredible experience for me. And since all of this year’s workshops so far have been on the theme of ‘Taking Risks’, it seems only appropriate.

This reads 'Kgom', 'Don't' - don't cut this tree, spirits live here. A left over from ancient animism.

This reads ‘Kgom’, ‘Don’t’ – don’t cut this tree, spirits live here. A left over from ancient animism.

An 80-year old woman and her pig

An 80-year old woman and her pig