Monthly Archives: May 2013

Main story

I am often surprised by the type of stories that fill our media. Petty scandals, local incidents, elections without choice – all this noise crowds out entirely the things that really matter. I think the main story of our time, the story for which we do not know the ending, or even the way it will develop until its climax, is the story of the climate change. That’s the main story.

Quite a few of my friends adhere to a rather surprising belief, one that says that humanity is bound to find some sort of a technological solution to the climate change. As if the humanity simply cannot lose. To me, this sounds a bit like magical thinking. We are so used to stories that are told in the movies, where we enter unimaginable difficulties only to miraculously come out on top at the end, that we cannot help but project the same narrative onto our common reality, where the major difficulty actually is coming up. I do believe that humanity’s creativity and inventiveness are amazing, and therefore that we will see various ways of combating climate change that we cannot imagine today. However I am also rather pessimistic about humanity’s ability to be altruistic and to abandon the narrow interests of particular groups in favour of the common good. I think that type of reaction only kicks in in view of an imminent danger. But the climate change may provide opportunities to deny this danger for a long while. And as we remember from the famous analogy, the frog will boil provided you increase the temperature only gradually.

That is not to say that this is the only challenge that the humanity is facing, only that it is the single one that characterises our times. There are major global issues that are not however unique to our time. One such challenge is clearly the food crisis, which refers to the fact that a major part of the world’s population is starving, all the while the richest countries consume endlessly. I also think that the major antagonism in the world is between the rich and the poor, and the difference has never been more acute – including within the richest countries.

Another challenge is of course that the natural resources of the planet are limited. In particular there is certainly a limit to fossil fuels, although in the light of climate change that perhaps is not such a bad thing. In any case, the research for alternative sources of energy will only really take off once there is a real need for them and the players opposing these new alternatives lose the enormous political influence they have today, controlling politically the United States, Russia and the Gulf.

I do think that at a certain moment the whole global economic model built upon ever increasing consumption and so-called GDP growth will come to a halt, as it is simply impossible to endlessly grow population while also growing the consumption per capita. Unfortunately this may come in a violent way, as the current paradigm simply does not foresee an exit strategy.

Cambodia part 5: two experiences

As a rule, at the gates of every Phnom Penh hotel an army of tuk tuk drivers is waiting. A tourist exiting the hotel is met with a chorus of voices: “Tuk tuk, sir? Tuk tuk?” On average a tuk tuk driver earns 4 dollars a day, therefore a single trip with a tourist – a price of which will be at least one dollar – can be quite interesting. Nevertheless it is quite tiring to argue endlessly with them about the just price. I befriended one driver who did not argue with the just price that I named and therefore got all the business from me, to the jealousy of others. On my last morning we were discussing the various tourist attractions. I had visited all the usual suspects with which he was trying to seduce me. Finally he reached a strange place called “Sooting Rage”. Sooting rage? Only after a couple of minutes of deciphering I understood that he meant a shooting range. I couldn’t miss that.

The range is found close to the international airport, and it takes 30-40 minutes by tuk tuk to reach it from the centre of Phnom Penh. The gates are guarded by two rather lonely looking armoured personal carriers. An instructor in military uniform greets you at the entrance and hands you a menu, quite like in a restaurant. Each page of the menu contains a description of some new type of weapon, which one can try, as well as the number of shots and the price. Judging by the appearances, the whole attraction is controlled directly by the army. The very first item is Kalashnikov, though I had the impression that it was of Chinese make. It costs $40 for 25 shots. The American semiautomatic weapons are more expensive: from $40 to 50 to 100. The revolver is priced at $25 for 6 shots. One can throw a hand grenade ($100 for 1), shoot from a grenade launcher (also $100). For $350 one can shoot from a hand held anti-tank grenade launcher (which is kind of shocking considering we are in the vicinity of the airport).

I have never held an assault rifle in my hands. Thus the first shot from AK47 gave some adrenalin to my blood. I had sound blocking ear sets, so could only hear a muffled sounds, and of course the rifle’s inertia gives a slight hit to the shoulder. At a certain moment the instructor switched the rifle from semi automatic to automatic regime. At this point you have to hold the rifle very strongly, as the inertia is so strong that the gun turns upwards very easily. The whole thing was quite indescribable.

Of course remembering the just seen scenes of mass murder, this attraction leaves a very strange impression. Cambodians, to a European eye, look like children. This instructor, who explained to me the details of functioning of this killing machine with a certain tiredness, looked like a child who grew up too early. The Khmer Rouge and their victim in the Genocide Museum had the same look.

The entrance to the shooting range. The instructor sits behind the computer, the ticket window is to the right.

Continue reading Cambodia part 5: two experiences

Cambodia part 4: Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, this very name evokes the exotic temples lost in the jungle. For most tourists, it is the main reason for visiting Cambodia. Angkor Wat is a huge temple complex, which occupies many square kilometres in each direction, and is surrounded by several other groups of temples lost in the jungle a bit further away.

Angkor Wat strictly speaking is the name of the huge temple in the middle of the complex, however by all means there are many more temples to see. For example the temple city of Angkor Thom is to the North of Angkor Wat and includes a number of temples all united by a single wall. Taken together these temples are even more impressive than Angkor Wat itself.

Like many ancient Khmer temples, Angkor Wat represented Mount Meru, the centre of the world, where the gods lived, according to Hindu myths. Only gods had the privilege of living in stone edifices, therefore only the temples remain of the Khmers’ imperial capital – the kings’ palaces and other buildings were built of wood, and nothing remains.

From the practical point Angkor Wat really is lost in the jungle. The distance from Phnom Penh by bus is around 6-7 hours, and due to the constant flow of tourist a village Siem Reap close to Angkor Wat has by now grown to be second biggest city in Cambodia. The city has all the tourist infrastructure, even an international airport, thus in principle it is possible to fly here from Bangkok or Phnom Penh. From Siem Reap to Angkor Wat it is around 7 kilometres.

The traditional tour of Angkor Wat starts before dawn (i.e. around 5 in the morning). At that hour in looks like this (note the other tourist’s camera, of which there are endless numbers of all directions even at that hour in the hot season):

Continue reading Cambodia part 4: Angkor Wat