of my favorite things about living and working in China is the
abundance of lengthy holidays we have. China has a controversial
system where people are required to work on some weekends around
major holidays in order to add a few extra days to the holiday
period, stretching it out to give people time for big trips.
who can, get out of the country for the biggest, longest holidays
like National Week in October or the Chinese New Year, since travel
in the country becomes rather intense and difficult.
than the entire population of the U.S. will be on major trips at the
same time in China during some of their national holidays, making it
the largest mass exodus in the history of the world. During the last
National Week, we escaped to Siem Reap, Cambodia for what became one
of my favorite trips.
was far more beautiful and hospitable than we imagined. It also has
many lessons that people in the West would do well to learn. But
first, a travel tip: If you come to Siem Reap, the rich historical
area with breathtaking archeological sites like Angkor Wat, Angkor
Thom, Banteay Srei, Ba Kong, etc., I recommend that you arrange for
an English-speaking tour guide with a car to take you around.
extremely knowledgeable tour guide gave us 3.5 days of service and
insight for just $160 (though we also bought meals for him and added
a tip). I can give you our guide's contact information if you are
planning a trip (email me at jeff at jefflindsay dot com).
was able to explain much more of the art and the history than we were
able to absorb, but any time we had a question, we could get great
information. It added so much to the visit.
we would have just been dazzled by all the buildings without
appreciating the cosmological symbolism and the meaning of the many
mythological scenes we encountered, including interesting parallels
to other temple paradigms of interest to Latter-day Saints.
I especially appreciated was hearing his stories of life during the
dark years of the Khmer Rouge, the big government forces that used
unlimited force to solve all of society's problems and make everybody
happy, like it or not.
stories fit well with the accounts in a book that I read while here
in Cambodia, Cambodia: Year Zero by Francois Ponchaud, a
Frenchman and Jesuit priest who was in Phnom Penh when the city was
"liberated" by the Khmer Rouge armies and gradually lost
his socialist optimism for the revolution as the evidence of
brutality and mass murder mounted.
to warn the West
of the genocide that was erupting, and his book was one of the first
records published documenting the horror unfolding in Cambodia.
left the book in my hotel room here at the wonderful Skyway Hotel
($26 a night, with a great breakfast included, and such friendly
service and remarkably clean and spacious — wow!), so I took
the opportunity to read it during occasional down time. Sobering. But
also a frustrating, meandering book.
Khmer Rouge gained power during the course of their armed uprising
and civil war with the promise of equality and prosperity for the
common people. But as we learn in Orwell's Animal Farm, some
people are more equal than others.
their regime, the common people had a form of equality: equally poor,
and equally compelled to go and do whatever their elites wanted, even
if that meant being separated from family for years.
were also equally subject to seizure of all their goods, and equally
subject to murder on the spot if they showed any signs of critical
thinking or overt criticism of their liberators. And they had their
own version of government-provided healthcare, which for many meant
being free to dig up whatever roots they wanted to make their own
elites, the Khmer Rouge and their families and cronies, had good
health care available, plus rich bounties of food, their pick of the
best places to live, and so on, while hundreds of thousands in that
small nation, once the breadbasket of Asia (a major exporter of
rice), would starve as a result of their disastrous policies.
story of the many victims of the Khmer Rouge should remind us that
when government becomes powerful enough to solve all your problems
and "take care" of all aspects of your life, the taking
part gets most of the emphasis while the care can be
wise our Founding Fathers were to recognize that danger and give us a
government meant to be shackled permanently with checks, balances,
and ironclad restraints in what it could do. How I wish more of those
original restraints were still there.
lesson from the days of starvation in Cambodia is this: the power to
tax is the power to destroy. In their case, the rice produced by the
common people was taxed at such a high rate (nearly 100% in many
cases), that many starved.
government, always there to take care of every need, provided food
for the people in return for their forced labor — or rather,
for their enthusiastic volunteer service to push the revolution
forward — but the food provided was not enough. For those who
didn't work hard due to illness, age, or other factors, the food
rations were cut.
care in effect meant working no matter how ill you were because your
rations would be cut and you'd die for sure.
course, much of the illness was caused by the government as it
marched people out of their homes in the cities to live in unsanitary
conditions and in the deep forest where malaria was abundant, forced
to use water in polluted areas where cholera was spreading.
of the illness was caused by the inadequate nutrition and excessive
fatigue caused by government-imposed conditions. Health care was
certainly not enhanced by the government's failure to bury or
incinerate the corpses of the hundreds of thousands of victims of
government anger and paranoia. The smell was horrific in many parts
of the land.
preparation tip: in addition to food and water, be sure to store
a good supply of materials for cleaning and disinfecting. When war
and long-term disaster strike, disease and poor sanitation often
causes more death than lack of food and water.
soaps, garbage bags, paper towels, rags, towels, pans, buckets, and
fuel for fire can be used to keep things more sanitary and save
lives. But make sure you've got food, too.
trouble strikes, the supply chains that keep grocery store resupplied
every day can break down overnight and leave you in a load of trouble
if not prepared. Stay ready to feed your family (and as many others
as you reasonably can).
tour guide came close to starving during the five years of Khmer
Rouge terror. He is amazed that he lived and knows he was fortunate
to have survived. After five years of being separated from his
family, he was fortunate to find most of them again.
he did not find his sister and her family. She had been a teacher, an
educated person, and was therefore a threat to the regime. For the
crime of having an education, she was targeted and killed.
in line with standard operating procedures for the thugs known as the
Khmer Rouge, they didn't just kill her, but also her husband and her
children. Everyone. They were tainted.
merchants, lawyers, engineers, and other educated persons were all
targeted and killed as threats. The government initially asked them
to come forward to help work together to rebuilt the country, and
once they were identified, they were taken away to "rebuild"
and never seen again.
apparent weak spot in the government's healthcare program for the
common people is that anyone who was known to be a doctor would be
killed. Not to nitpick, but in retrospect, most of us can see that
killing all the doctors was not the most efficient way to strengthen
I think doctors providing care for government officials were spared,
so there were some bright spots in the Khmer Rouge healthcare
Ponchaud's eyewitness account of Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge took
over revealed that one of the first visible acts of the new regime
directly involved the hospitals. It was as if the first official big
action they took in the capital city started in the hospitals, where
all the patients were driven out and into the countryside.
was a pathetic scene, watching ill patients limping away from the
hospital, some being carried by family with their IV still attached,
others barely able to move being forced out to the countryside to
learn how to be real Cambodians, free from the reactionary influences
of the big city.
man, a double amputee, was crawling away from the hospital, dragging
his little daughter on a cloth behind him. He asked the author if he
could stay with him in his French hotel, but the author had to
decline, one of the hardest things he ever did, he said. He already
had three boys he was caring for and he had no more room or means to
care for more.
young boys would soon be sent away to the north into the country side
by the Khmer Rouge, crying, knowing that their mother was being sent
away to the south, and that they might never see her again.
the hospitals were emptied at gunpoint, the rest of the city was
next. Everyone was told they had to evacuate for just a few days
since the Americans were going to bomb the city. No need to take all
your stuff, the army will protect everything and it will be fine
until you come back.
course, the whole city was looted then. The people would not be able
to come back until after the regime fell five years later. The
elites, of course, would have their pick of everything and live in
the nicest homes, while enjoying the best healthcare available.
government officials aren't willing to abide by the systems and
taxation they force on the rest of the nation, you can start to
wonder if they are really all about serving and representing the
people. Just a thought from Cambodia's past.
the many promises of the big government folks in Cambodia's past with
the results they achieved, I think it's fair for me to continue my
innate skepticism of politicians and their promises. The less they
can do to help me and take care of my every need, the better I sleep
and the brighter our future.
in their lexicon, "take care" is simply the long form of
tragedy may seem remote, but the kind of people who would wreck the
lives of others for their own personal and political gain are never
in short supply, in every party and every state. Vigilance and
constant restraint on government power are essential for liberty.
we keep that liberty that we still have, and may we regain some of
what we have lost.
are some photos from the Siem Reap area. Hope you'll come to visit
and to learn. Cambodia has many lessons for us. It also now has
enough religious freedom that there are missionaries here. We saw
some while driving through town. Wonderful!
Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his
LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on
the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton,
Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra.
He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.
He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent
Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.
Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering
Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US
patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications.
Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.