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issue 8, january 2013

Sacred waters, Darren Wilch

the siem reader


14040km - Carolyn Canetti Jealous (I wish I were a seahorse) - Steve Mojica A love story. The gift of being let go. - Leigh Morlock For Richie - Jacki Patterson The Ghost House - Chhaly Vann The Prayer Wheel - Cassandra Naji Soup Buddhas - David Seth Fink Untitled - Emma Thomas Journey Inside - Calindra Home Sounds - Ajaya Haikerwal

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Welcome to Issue 8 of The Siem Reader! As we usher in the new year, we’re feeling reflective this issue with our contributors musing on home, happiness and matters of the heart. Feeling inspired? Our next deadline is Friday 1 March, and it’s our second birthday issue! Get your creative juices flowing and don’t forget to send your writing, photos and artworks to Editors: Megan Smith, Clementina Velasco, Deb Schaap & Leigh Morlock. Cover image: The high flyer, Darren Wilch Inside cover: Sacred waters, Darren Wilch (Selected images on display at Angkor Bodhi Tree Riverside Cafe, or search for Cambodia-Images on Facebook) Inside back cover: Ohn, Dave Davies ( Submissions, feedback and advertising enquiries: Facebook: Issuu: The views expressed in this publication are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Siem Reader.


carolyn canetti

They said it was good I was leaving before I was ready, better to leave on someone else’s terms before the town stopped being a place to learn from and became a place of resentment and stagnancy. Manhattan was grey. Where were the pajamas? Americans looked like goofy cartoons; the faces of diversity were strange. Cattle commuting for two hours a day, sitting at a desk watching the sun rise and set, never seeing neighbors. This is what people are supposed to do in America. I checked Orbitz. Kayak. Priceline. What was I running back for? I get to see my family every day, my friends. I drive to different states, go to concerts, wear boots and scarves. I have the luxury of clean water and good doctors. Sushi. But, I have dreams. Srey Kouch, pulling my hand to play soccer with Grade Seven girls. I wake up reciting Khmer. I find myself incessantly talking about Kampot pepper and the staple spices of a Khmer meal. I spew out facts to anyone who will listen. Out of the blue, I’m transported back to the river road, biking for the sake of the balmy air and sleepy river views. “Barbara Streisand” brings back blurry memories of Angkor What?! Any small nondescript sign can remind me that I would run to Angkor Wat just to buy sticky rice. “Ja” is part of my English vocabulary. A year went by in a foreign land with foreign people. In Cambodia, I wasn’t Paul or Justin’s sister. No one knew Westchester County. I had 4

the power to become anyone and do anything in Siem Reap, and I have never been happier with the person I was in Cambodia. The combination of a job worth waking up for and friends to wind down with in the evening; life made sense, and it was a life I had built entirely on my own. And so I’ve come back because I had to.

jealous (i wish i were a seahorse) steve mojica

I’m a man. I love women. Over the years most likely many if not most of my good friends have been women. My best friend is a woman. I have two wonderful daughters who are women. Yet I am extremely jealous of women. I’m jealous because I can not have the experience of knowing a living human is growing inside me. What a feeling that must be for anyone. Especially knowing you helped create this person. How fascinating it must be to watch your body slowly grow, knowing you are responsible for the baby’s growth. What an experience it must be to feel the very first flutter of activity inside you. And as the baby grows the activity and strength of the movements increase, that must be amazing. And then to be able to watch your body, your belly have ripples, sometimes large, I can’t imagine those feelings. It seems to me it could be emotionally overwhelming. To wake up every day for several months with the thoughts of your baby, it must be the first thought as you wake as well as when you fall asleep. As you go through your daily routines thoughts of the baby growing bigger and stronger must be with you always. Then the anticipation, the excitement as you approach full term. The feelings must be incredibly intense and like no others. And when the baby is ready to enter the world outside of you, I want to know what that feels like. What does it feel like when you realize that very soon you will be holding the human being of your flesh and 6

blood. To know you will finally be able to hold the baby you have been nurturing all those months. And then to finally see the baby, watch the baby breathe, hear the baby’s first sounds, smell the baby’s scent, touch the baby’s warm body for the first time outside your body. I imagine as you hold this miracle in your arms you can feel his or her essence in that moment. And now, as you have done for nine months, you can feed your baby and only you can give her the best of what she needs. Yes, I am unbelievably jealous and in awe of women. I have felt this way for a long time. Perhaps it started when the mom of my first child became pregnant. I know some of the challenges of a woman being pregnant. Yes, of course I know it’s not all a bed of roses, I know it can be and often is very difficult. I have seen my three children enter the world. And I have seen their moms go through labor and give birth. Yes, I would love to know the feelings of being pregnant, however the labor and birth process I’m not sure I’m up for. True, I’m a coward when pregnancy comes to that point. Give me about 39 weeks or so, then can someone take over? That’s one of the reasons I admire and am in awe of women, especially women who give birth to more than one child. The strength, the courage, the memory loss is amazing. If men had to labor and give birth, my guess is we would not have to be concerned with a population explosion and there would be many single child families.

a love story. the gift of being let go. leigh morlock

Intense attraction led me to you, despite myself. Magnetic forces pushed me and pulled you. We met under duress, adrenaline pumping. Survivor instincts surfacing. The idea of you, of us, was alluring. I dived in, full-body and full-heart, while you swam in the shallow end, hesitant. While you hedged, I met your every need and whim. Attentive to annoyance. Aware that danger lurked ahead, we kept going. I forced us forward. Tussling. Fighting and making up. Renegotiating. Halting and starting again. Honesty mixed with ultimatums. Challenges were thrown down only to be picked back up. We circled each other warily. We bended and buckled. The road was fraught. When I was ready, you were present in body, but not heart. When I vacationed across the world, you were ready. The timing was never right. Until I returned from holiday. You met me at my apartment the day I landed. We spent two days wrapped up in each other. Twisted and tangled. Hearts full. Finally, we were together. I should have known the moment would be fleeting. You were dangerous from the start. Or, I was willing to endanger myself for you. I 8

was willing to allow bits of me to disappear to be with you. As you backed away, I reached out. I would have given up me for you. Until, I found myself flipped on my axis, simultaneously repulsed by and in need of you. In that moment, my heart had cleaved. You recognized that I would have split myself to be with you. I would have deluded and deceived myself into believing I was happy and we were true. Instead you cut me off. You said no, which wrenched me open. While I was broken open, I could still be mended. Your gift was to save me from myself. To push me away while there was still a chance that I could be threaded back together. Reprinted from

for richie

jacki patterson

they moved halfway across the world in the eternal quest for happiness. as if happiness could be found on a small patch of land covered with frost and concrete. and when of course they found none (for when did real-estate ever prove fertile soil for happiness?) she organised to moved halfway back again. alone. then of course as she had before she found happiness in the most unlikely of places. in herself. and eventually with time and patience and breath and air he found happiness in the most unlikely of places. in himself.


and she thinks to herself as he waffles away on the other end of the line isn’t this how it always works? we make it so complex. we move towns countries continents hemispheres searching for what we all want. but given time and space and breath and patience what we really want is of course in ourselves and on the other end of the line.

Untitled, Steve Mojica

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the ghost house

chhaly vann

Do you believe that this world has ghosts, really? This is my own real story that made me believe in ghosts. In October 2003, I moved from my hometown to Siem Reap because I needed to continue my schooling. I needed to rent a room to stay because my homeland was far from town. It was very lucky that my uncle who was living in Siem Reap had free land so I could stay for free. It was a little way from town, but that was ok. The land was big with an old-style house that was surrounded by mango trees. It was quiet and a good place for us to study. After the place was ready, we started cooked and shared a meal with the seven of us staying in the house. That night I couldn’t sleep well, because it was still new place for me to stay. At midnight I still couldn’t sleep, and I tried to force myself to sleep many times. I was nearly asleep when I heard crying outside the house. I tried to listen for a minute. “Who’s there?”, I asked myself and opened the front door. I was surprised to see nothing outside. I tried to turn around and go inside but I was stopped. I turned my head and heard, “Help me! Help me!” “Yes!” I said, as I saw a shadow of a girl standing, staring at me without a 14

word. I did try to ask her, “Who are you? Why are you here?” There was no answer. Instead she cried and blood was flowing from her eyes. I shouted loudly and without sense. I woke up my friends around me. “What happened?”, a friend asked. “I saw a ghost.” All of them looked at me with wonder. I told them what happened to me. They listened and were afraid. We went to meet the landlord and told him about the ghost. The landlord asked us to pray to the spirit because she was the owner of the house. So we needed to pray to her and ask if we could stay there. We came back and prayed to the ghost. We told her that we were there to study. After that, I could sleep well. Nothing was heard again.

the prayer wheel

cassandra naji

Swallowing, he laid the spoon on the iron desk. The dregs in the bottom of the bowl thickened immediately, petrified by cold. A man knocked then entered, stamping his felted boots. ‘Sir,’ he saluted. ‘The men say they can’t today.’ ‘What do you mean, “they can’t”?’ asked the Captain, keeping his eyes on the whitened fat. The subordinate shuffled from foot to foot. ‘Because of the cold. They say it’s too cold to take their gloves off. And they can’t pull the triggers properly wearing gloves.’ As if to reinforce the soldiers’ refusal the subordinate blew vigorously on his own gloved hands. The Captain stood, swore at the subordinate and walked out of the tin hut. Wild dogs snapping at imaginary snowflakes filled the monastery grounds, driven mad by cold and the ever-unfulfilled hope of scraps. The Captain cursed the dogs too and stamped towards what had once been the temple. Inside, the cold was so profound as to scald his naked cheeks; the cunning of true cold, which tempts dead men to lie down in beds of snow and fall asleep. In the centre of the darkness, where the Buddha had stood, a pile of robes lay gathered. The Captain moved closer. He leaned towards the robes. Perhaps the monk was already dead. He lowered his face to the stone ground. He held his breath. And then he felt it. A fragment of living air trickling out of the robes, freezing and expiring on the Captain’s beard. He 16

straightened, swept the ice from his cheek and carefully removed his left glove. The blood immediately congealed in his hand, the knuckles stiffening and a cadaverous whiteness pricking the stubs of his fingers. He replaced his glove and gave the man on the floor an experimental kick. The frozen stubble of head made no sound. The Captain turned sharply. As he passed through the gilt doorway his hand reached out and, without his noticing it, spun the golden prayer wheel once.

soup buddhas

david seth fink

Thank god, they complain. Better yet, they listen when someone else complains. They know how to relax about being born a natural, inevitable wreck. Eventually, they make something: sometimes a book, a child, a cafe or moment of hope. Sometimes they make soup when someone else feels bad. Warm, simple Buddha soup.



emma thomas

Cambodia can be a big mess between the Lexuses, the land, the logging. And then out of the chaos a surprisingly coordinated bunch of situations can lead you to Laughter. Frustration when asking a simple question and listening to a circuitous stream of language that may never contain an answer. Anger at the bus that drove so fast and so close to your bike that you felt the sound shake your body. Intrigue at how many people survive each day without being able to read or write and still make a wage. Angst at being so small in such a huge place. But lately there has been a calm. Like a huge boulder thrown into water and watching the crash the swell the surge the waves the current the ripples and the glittering movement cease. The calm has come. In the middle of Siem Reap, in the town where I live, all the normal things happen, as they usually do. I ride my bike around to the places I need to go to and to the places I want to go to. When the motorbike works, I like to ride that. 19

Lately the great wall of divide between Cambodia and me has been falling. It’s not at all as dramatic as the Berlin Wall falling, nor can it be seen so clearly, but it is a wall nonetheless. That wall is the divide I feel between them and us. My kin and me; the expats, missionaries and the other people whoever we are and whatever we are doing here and the people of this land, whom we live amongst. With whom we are here to know; at times we’re here to help, teach, train, motivate and bring witness to unbelievable lives. The distance of this well-established wall can be long and far reaching. Not as thick or high or long as the Great Wall in China, but a wall nonetheless, and a decent one. Snaking through terrain that I didn’t even know existed in my life or my heart. Quite the journey it has been. And surprisingly and suddenly the wall is eroding, falling gently, crumbling carefully, piece by piece with the natural element of time. This space between me and them reducing; when I start to realise that with quiet unlayered listening, the other layers they have can shed and truth can show her emotions, her thoughts, her stories, her heart. She is just like me. No better. No worse. No less than. No more than.


journey inside


Certainties The comforting security of the known Daily routine in a reassuring environment I left behind Now I am here In front of my naked self I am in pain when I look within And see that I have no power Misinterpretation Mistake Misunderstanding I packed my bag to travel in space A journey inside was awaiting me And I was unaware My weapons are too weak Insecurity paralyzes me I have to fight And I struggle A new self is taking shape Is this the new me? Will I like it? Will I be liked? Questions bear no meaning Because on the process I have no control.


home sounds

ajaya haikerwal

This morning I was lying in my bed, listening to the sounds of daily Cambodian life. The toots, beeps, honks and blasts of a variety of horns; friends calling out to each other across the street; the ever-present drone of the fading in and out of motorbikes; the squeaky man; a car driving around with a new remix of ‘Gangnam Style’ on full blast... part of me craves the blissful sounds of home- a train in the distance; the swish of cars down a smooth, tarmac road; the chatter of so many birds or the patter of rain against a tin roof; and in the hush the calming sounds of the ocean. The other part of me is undecided. These sounds have become part of me, and leaving them behind is leaving behind a part of the ‘me’ I have grown into over my stay. Maybe, back at ‘home’, I will crave these sounds; the sounds of Cambodia. My Cambodia.


Ohn, Dave Davies

Ponheary Ly Foundation Siem Reap, Cambodia • Austin, Texas

Issue 8 - January 2013  

Welcome to Issue 8 of The Siem Reader! As we usher in the new year, we’re feeling reflective this issue with our contributors musing on home...