29. The Woman Who Could Not Forget by Ying Ying Cheng is a very moving book in which the mother of iris Chang(author of The Rape of Shanghai) attempts to come to an understanding of why she killed herself. You listed this as one of the last three books you read. Please tell us a bit about your reaction to the life and death of Ms. Chang.
I was deeply saddened by the death of Iris Chang, who worked so hard to tell a story that badly needed to be more widely known. Her hard won education, children and work were all signs of a life lived well, but mental illness can strike anyone at any time. It is a terrible thing that people can be struck down by happenstance and their accomplishments reduced to ashes in their own minds. I have never suffered from depression, but it frightens me that we are all potentially vulnerable to the same fate.
30. Do you think that the undeniable fact that the Cambodian experience, the actions of the Japanese in China during W W Ii are much less talked about or even known than European events like the Irish famines of the 1800s or the Nazi Holocausts evidence of a deep seated racism?
I think that in many cases apathy causes much of the under-reporting of other countries and cultures. People often prefer stories about people similar to themselves and the media caters to that desire, because their business is only to sell advertising space. It was also the case in Cambodia that all outside communication was shut down, and by the time more information was widely available it was far too late. Having said that, it certainly seems to be true that the lives of others are deemed to be worth less, the further away they live and the more different their skin colour. It should not matter and we should not ask for whom the bell tolled, but we are imperfect creatures. When we take the time to think about it though, and then deny that others laugh, love and mourn their dead just as we do, then we have forgotten what it is to be human.
31. Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodian from 1941 to 1951 and 1993 to 2004 was for a time the puppet head of state for the Khmer Rouge. He effectively ruled from 1951 to 1970 as dictator. He claimed many of the troops of the Khmer Rouge were falsely told they were fighting to restore his rule. Big question is was he an opportunistic self serving person who went however the wind was blowing or did he try to mitigate the horrors of the Khmer Rouge as he claimed?
Sihanouk may not have meant for the horrors that befell Cambodia to occur, but he lent the Khmer Rouge support when their numbers were small and this helped to vastly multiply their forces. His obsession with regaining his power meant that he placed his needs ahead of the people of Cambodia. He appeared to place his own welfare ahead of his people, and death and destruction was the result. I think that a King worthy of the title would live and die with his people, serving them and not himself.
32. Were you mesmerized as I was by the great mural carvings at Angor Wat?
The carvings are extraordinary not only for their sheer scale and detail, but also the impression of depth. I recall one battle scene where a warrior on an elephant is frozen in the act of falling from his mount; a small thing but this was carved from stone hundreds of years ago. The humour captured in that moment tells me that the artist was not so different from me. I watched the sun rise over the temples and was able to climb to the top sections of the Wat. I think visitors are no longer permitted in those areas for their own safety, due to the fact that the ancients thought that if one would approach the gods, then the journey should be difficult, with the stairs very steep and their tread very narrow. I hope that the temples are preserved for future generations to see.