The flight to Phenom Penh is a short one from Bangkok, the airport functional but undistinguished and the entry process painless and efficient. The later gave me my first opportunity to experience the graciousness of Cambodians. After I had supplied the man behind the counter with 1,200 Baht and a picture, he told me to stand to one side rather than get on the next line. He then went to the people beside him behind the counter, got my visa and brought it to me. Nowhere in the world has this happened to me. How incredibly kind.
Exiting the airport, I found a line of ATMs as promised but had to work my way through three before I found one that would accept my card. I now had two one hundred dollar US bills, a bill I am so visually unfamiliar with that it always looks like play money to me. I picked up a piece of paper for a $15 taxi into town, but couldn’t imagine the taxi would have change for a hundred dollar bill. The taxi dispatcher was dubious about my chances of getting change. I went into a fast food restaurant five steps away. The young man at the cash register cheerfully supplied me with twenties. Graciousness again.
Cambodia does have its own money but it operates on the dollar and that is what you get from an ATM. Cambodian money is used to make change for anything under a dollar.
It is a long ride into town through the usual SE Asia urban airport disorder, well; let’s revise that to, the post-airport disorder endemic in the modern world. The only thing different is that everything is new. There were a few empty shops gathering road dust but generally there is a bustling sense of prosperity.
The FCC, the Foreign Correspondents Club, where I stayed is on the river, the Tonlé Sap, but between hotel and river is a road intoning a monotone roar of traffic of all varieties—top end: Mercedes and Rolls Royce, the later an obscenity in a country this poor; mid-level: cars of all nationalities, trucks, vans, tour buses but not a lot; low end: tuk-tuks of different kinds, cyclos but not many, motorcycles, motorcycles pulling all kinds of carts, scooters, bicycles.
The pollution is bad but the view of the river spotted with small islets of water hyacinth floating on it is lovely. My room had a fair-sized balcony facing a four-story building with verandas. I had lunch on their bottom floor and felt as though I was being gassed. It was a nice crab salad, however. I wrote in my journal naively, “I suspect it will be noisy later.”
The FCC is pleasantly old. My room was large with a big bed, a big bathroom, and both aircon and a ceiling fan. I love ceiling fans. A desk lamp would have been nice.
Buying postcards from of wizened woman in glasses in a wheelchair, I didn’t notice until far too late that they were not photos but rather smeary paintings of Phenom Penh.
That night I found that the River Crown, where I had had lunch, is a party venue with competing sound systems on each verandah. Thank God I had excellent earplugs. I could shut it out completely, well; the baseline had a tendency to thrum in one’s dreams. But still no mean feat.
The next morning at 6:30 the view from my balcony was pale with dawn and quiet, a few joggers, but by 7:30 the world was too much with us with constant traffic, although no horns.
The Phenom Penh I knew 28 years ago is completely erased, not entirely a bad thing.
My friend in Phenom Penh is C; we met in Pakistan on November 7th or 8th in Gilgit in 2001. She had just been hired for a job in Afghanistan, which was cancelled a week later, while she was walking on a glacier and knew nothing about 9/11. I was headed up to the Chinese border to go to Kashgar with four Czech men and one French young woman. I learned a little about events in the Pakistani border town.
As I got off the vehicle I had thumbed on the highway outside of Gulmit, a heavenly town in the Hindu Kush, a young European woman came up to me and said, “Do you know?” These are words you never want to hear while traveling. I said, “No. You’d better tell me.”
“You can watch it on TV tonight but you won’t understand what they are saying because it’s in Urdu, of course. Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. That’s all we know.”
People talk about suspension of disbelief. I experienced suspension of belief. Seeing the clips on TV, which as all say, looked like a disaster movie sequence, only made it worse. How could you believe in this? But in the middle of the night in my grotty room I sat bolt upright thinking, “This is real. This is going to change my life forever.”
The Czechs, the French woman and I went on into China. That border crossing is one of the most interesting in the world since it is largely uninhabited and wild. I saw Bactrian camels near the checkpoint. We had a lovely time in Kashgar at the market where all varieties of livestock are sold. When we came back to the hotel the young Chinese woman at the desk said to us, “You were planning to go back to Pakistan tomorrow?”
“Yes,” we all replied.
“Well, you can’t they’ve closed both sides of the border.” She seemed to take a personal satisfaction in announcing this.
We went to a café to decide what to do. My companions all needed to leave on schedule because they had jobs to return to. I thought that probably if I gave it three days the border would open again but staying alone in a not nice Chinese hotel for 3 days did not appeal. I decided to go with them.
We found a sleeper bus to Urumchi with bunks in it, two people two a bunk. This in a culture where you may not see your girl friend’s face but you can certainly see her bottom when she squats by the roadside. Urumchi was great because I got to see the mummies of Urumchi in the local museum. (I can tell about this if you are interested but I am already on a lengthy digression.) We then flew on to Beijing where I stayed for five days or so. I learned to dislike it very quickly, although the people are nice. It’s ugly, huge and soulless.
Around six pm C and her daughter M, age six and the image of her mother, came by the FCC. I met their tuk-tuk driver, John. Gracious is again the right word. We ate in the hotel restaurant, which has a selection of cats who circulate under the tables. Of course, there are the old Western men with young Cambodian women. Earlier I saw in a café, a grey, super-fat, waddler with a girl in her mid-teens. “Yech” as Rudi would say of things other than duck noodles. However, the one in the restaurant was not fat, was quite nice looking and his companion was not underage. He talked with hardly a breath between paragraphs while she smiled and listened.
The next morning I had breakfast on the verandah under fans turning in the best SE Asian lazy fashion while I watched the boats. The breakfast is enormous—a slightly bready croissant, eggs, a slice of ham, stir fried tomatoes, mushrooms and greens and what I very much suspect, from the after taste, is instant coffee. At eight am I was alone except for an Anglo-Asian couple.
John, C’s tuk-tuk driver who was on loan to me, picked me up for a tourist day. We went to two wats, Langka and Montrei, both new and not very interesting. At one a monk called out, John translated, “If you are Chinese, I am not saying hello.”
The Lonely Planet lists the Prayuvong Buddhist Factory as worth seeing. They manufacture Buddhas, gaudily painted, and spirit houses. Unless you have never seen such a place, it is not worth seeing. But it is tucked up a green and leafy little alley that has a neighborhood feeling. It was also fun watching John find it.
The Russian Market was a dead loss for me. It is constructed like most SE Asian Markets as a sort of ramshakled roofed-over area with long narrow aisles between stalls where you suffocate from the heat. There were lots of silver boxes but I think, all plate, not real silver. The clothes were polyester, nylon and rayon with a few pieces of Indian cotton. Near there was a very nice coffee shop where I had a cappuccino and a meringue.
Outside the Russian market, around its edge were more interesting stores. One had three paintings on glass but I was not inspired to buy, as they were very crude. There was a dress shop with interesting designs but all executed in poly.
John brought me back to the hotel about two. I dawdled over lunch, a pleasant fish curry, thinking I had lots of time but as I came down stairs there was Helen Jarvis. My Australian friend Kathy had connected us. We got into Helen and Allan’s car and drove through quite heavy traffic over the new bridge across the Tonlé Sap with the old one under repair next to it. This let us onto a highway from which we turned onto a concrete road between the usual concrete houses. When that ended in a dirt road the houses also changed. They were traditional wooden ones up on stilts. Their house on the right is very long containing rooms for three groups of people. They have one large room with an ensuite Khmer tiled bathroom, a couple with whom they are friends have another large room and bath and the third room has a Western tile bath and was inhabited by a Cambodian woman who has now moved further up country. There is a big kitchen-dinning room. The verandah runs all around the house. They have superb vistas of the Mekong and an island in it.
To my consternation I found that the trials of Pol Pot´s leaders had occurred. I had heard nothing about this, although I had known the trial was pending and that there were difficulties around it. If I have my facts straight there were five people charged, two of whom never reached the trial stage. One died and the other, a woman was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. She also died shortly thereafter. All those sentenced received life imprisonment. There is no capital punishment in Cambodia.
From my muddled notes: The UN in participating in the trial had three requirements:
1) That there was evidence of the crimes
2) That there were suspects and witnesses.
3) That the country be able, I think from the point of view of jurisprudence, to try the case.
The answer to the third was, “No.” I remember that in 1990 there was only one judge who had survived the Pol Pot purges. The judges, therefore, were a hybrid of Cambodians and international judges.
Helen told me that the people in the villages wanted to know if, since Pol Pot was dead, his children could be tried instead, or if his bones could be tried. I totally sympathize with this thinking.
The final judgment was in 2013. I have no memory of seeing this in the press. Those sentenced appealed but lost their appeal.
Issues, not examined before, came up in the trial such as forced marriages, the forced consummation of these marriages. It is easy to spy on people from under their houses in this part of the world. If a marriage was not consummated the woman might have been raped by the KR.
Helen and Allan have bought land across the road from their main house and erected three wooden houses, which they rent through Air B & B. At the moment they have four mysterious young Chinese men who originally booked for three nights, stayed a week and are now negotiating for a month in another of the houses. The son of one man is coming to stay. The man is planning to get a puppy for him, although the boy will only be there for a week. Allan suggested that they might eat it. That would be a more merciful fate than what otherwise is likely to be its lot.
Allan and Helen kindly sent me home with their driver after a dinner of fish curry, a good fish curry, my second as I had had one for lunch. They have two lovely cats who obviously think well of themselves.
The next day John picked me up at 10 after a repeat of the lovely breakfast of croissant, scrambled eggs with ham, fried mushrooms, tomatoes and greens. The only fly in the ointment is the, probably Nescafe, coffee.
We went to Wat Phenom, well worth the visit since the wat itself is up on a knoll and it is fun to look down terrace by terrace through the trees. There was a ceremony going on with music—one drummer with three drums, two Asian xylophones—rather than being straight they are sway-backed—two of the crescent shaped gong “xylophones.” I loved it, didn’t want to leave. The images and paintings are better than in the other wats.
We drove to Mekong Quilts, P’s NGO, on Street 240. I bought a quilt with multi-colored fish for a friend’s unborn son. I also met P’s Cambodian ”daughter” Channy who runs the shop. The quilts are made by Vietnamese women, I think, and they have shops in Vietnam and Cambodia. They are not particularly cheap but the money goes to the women. While we waited for Channy, one of the girls told me she wanted to travel. We talked about that and how to travel as a woman alone.
Meanwhile the rain was pouring down and John had zipped up his tuk-tuk curtains. We went to the Central Market as the rain eased off and then disappeared. It is architecturally interesting with a big dome in the center but still it houses mostly polyester and the kind of Asian jewelry that terrifies me because everything glitters so much I can’t believe it is real.
From there, where I bought nothing, we went to the East-West Travel Agency on Street 57 north of Boung Keng Kang Market where two shy, defensive youngsters sold me a round trip ticket to Siem Reap. Their enthusiasm for the glitter of the town unsold me on staying there. But they explained the tuk-tuk guide system.
John got me to an okay, but not terrific, French restaurant where in its cool and quiet arches I had a lamb brochette and a lemon tea. The only other inhabitants were two couples, one of which was French.
The final stop, irony intended, was Tuol Sleng. I would present John with a list of places I wanted to go to in the morning and he would decide on the order in which we would go to them. Helen had told me that it has been enlarged and improved. They have organized it in a much more logical way.
The rooms full of photos are still for me the most heart rending and poignant—the fear, the despair, the madness, the incomprehension and the children. The photos of the children throw me into a rage. As was true last time, I feel I must look into the eyes in each photo as the only recognition I have to give.
Now the survivors have told their stories; you can read them; other stories you listen to. There are more cells open to be viewed, some are of wood. I mention this because, inexplicably, I found the cells of wood less terrifying than those of brick. These were closed last time, only the brick ones that I remember with horror, were open. There are the torture rooms with metal beds that would conduct electricity.
They have made pleasant places to sit in the grounds where doves call to each other and a peacock sweeps the grass with his tail. They remind you that you don’t have to look and read if you don’t want to. Places are offered for meditation and prayer.
Tuol Sleng effects me like the Snow Queen’s Mirror but does not caused in me what that Mirror caused in Kay. I find days afterward I have shards of emotion, half-formed thoughts, slivers of rage, broken reflections of sadness.
Thursday I was on my own. I went to the National Museum, which I have happy memories of. Now it has far more objects in it, too many, particularly the small stuff. Small stuff in museums is exhausting. The building needs to be enlarged and refurbished. The signage for the smalls is done on pieces of semi-transparent plastic making it, at least for old eyes, difficult to read. Among the smalls, my favorite things are the lamps. Half opened flowers on tall, leaved stems, are cupped to hold oil and a wick.
The big statues I quickly remembered, although I had forgotten the horse-headed god. Seeing him brought back murals in caves in Tibet where he also appears, frequently sitting in the lotus position. These statues are imposing. They were my first indication of what to expect in Angkor in 1990 but the galleries were less crowded, and therefore, the impact of a broken armed Shiva, a headless Lakshmi was greater. The result of that former spaciousness was interesting.
I was looking for a particular bronze, I think a Shiva (I have to admit to not having read his label because I was so entranced by him) that I remembered with electric clarity because of his face, the grace of his arms and the openness caused by his shattered state.
When I found him he was about a tenth the size he had been in my memory. I had enlarged him hugely. Also, as I approached him with the happiness of reunion I saw, to my horror and rage, a Chinese man reach out and knock on him with his knuckles. I suppose to find out it he was metal or papier-mâché. I shook a teacherly finger at the Chinese man’s face and said, “No, no. Don’t touch.” He recoiled but I could tell from his body language that if I moved away he would do it again out of defiance. So I stood guard until he and his wife moved on.
The exhibits now go up to the 20th century, including gold woven fabrics, looms, and the carved cabin of a boat. There’s a charmer of a monkey, one of Hanuman’s crowd, giving his human girl friend an open-mouthed love bite on her cheek. In the grounds there is a fine Ganesh who holds the end of his trunk in the palm of his hand, an interesting gesture.
I had an adequate lunch in the museum café and then, without thinking, went to the University of Fine Arts. I was supposed to see Proeng Cheng at three but I forgot that. I got to the University about two pm. I waited for him. They called him from the gate, and that was fine.
There are sculptures by the students scattered about the campus. But only one interesting one, it was of hands grasping each other’s wrists and ending with a skyward pointing finger.
I recognized Proeng as he came down the path. I don’t know if he recalled me. We found plenty to talk about. He’s been minister of Culture several times and has the usual complaints about lack of money and interest in the arts.
To my astonishment he told me he received his postgraduate education to be a stage manager in Pyongyang, North Korea. Having been to North Korea and seen the spectacles they put on, it would be a good place to study for that job. He returned to Phenom Penh in 1978. That was the year it became safe, more or less, to be in Cambodia, always excluding land mines. I came twelve years later and it felt to me as though the KR had left a month before. He married late but has one son who is his colleague at the University.
He told me Ouk Chea died around 1996 making me sad as I have such memories of Ouk as a good, extremely intelligent person who would have been a great help to his country.
IN MEMORIUM: OUK CHEA
When Ouk knew that Pol Pot was coming into Phenom Penh, he destroyed all his family´s documents, threw away his glasses and told his children that, no matter what the situation, they must tell anyone who asked that he had been a pedicab driver. Pol Pot’s soldiers asked to see his hands. They were, of course, soft. The soldiers tried to bribe his children with food. Everyone was hungry in Cambodia. He saw his youngest daughter die of starvation. When I knew him he was Minister of Cultural Monuments.
On Friday the 26th I made the short flight up to Angkor uneventfully. Here and in Phenom Penh for the first time in years I had to figure out what to do on arrival. I have been traveling known routes for many years. You get a tuk-tuk for $29 and are driven wherever you want. Mr. Pheap took me to the ticket office where for $37 I bought a ticket with my picture on it for Angkor. We drove through Siem Reap, which looks like a never-ending strip mall punctuated by grandiose hotels. I don’t remember anything about Siem Reap twenty-eight years ago. I had also forgotten how enormous Angkor Wat is. Without disrespect, it is typical of dictatorship architecture. Its goal, as is true of the Forbidden City, is to overwhelm and let you know how small you are. The temperature was in the 30’s Celsius. I carried water but it was a tough day of over ten kilometers.
In the first set of buildings there was 28 years ago a decapitated Buddha. Pol Pot had ordered his soldiers to decapitate all the Buddhas of Angkor. Now most of the statues are whole. The complex dates from 1010 to 1220. I found the corridor that has the bas-relief of the battle from the Mahaburata, it’s wonderful, but not the one with the men pulling on the snake, nor did I make it to the third set of buildings. If I did this again I would spend one day in Angkor Wat. Since it opens at six am one should start as close to that time as possible and quit for the day after lunch. A walking stick would be useful for balance on the uneven stones and a flashlight would be handy.
There were lots of people, plenty of Mainlanders. But the Chinese problem is not the tourists but those who are coming to stay and buy land as has happened in Burma. John says they are now 60% of the population of Phenom Penh. The number of people makes things a bit difficult but more annoying is the number of people asking to be your guide or trying to sell you guide books or picture books.
There are people of all nationalities. I heard someone speaking Spanish. It turned out to be a father and son from Barcelona. The son was amiable but the father had his nose in the air. The funniest incident occurred as I waited for Pheap after walking around. A round-faced Chinese woman with round glasses asked generally among the waiting drivers, while slowly, carefully outlining of the letters with her forefinger, “WC?” They were immediately helpful.
Next Pheap took me to Ta Prohm which I had never been to but which I immediately fell for, not because of the tree eating its main tower, although that’s pretty spectacular, but because of the delicacy of its carvings and its feeling, even with a milling crowd of Columbians, of tranquility. Its stone has a reddish cast to it. It was off limits in 1990.
We went to Bayon next which is smaller than I remember. You are allowed all over it. This wasn’t true in 1990. There were a lot of Mainlanders taking pictures of themselves, a thing they could have done in their own kitchens. It is difficult to find your way about. The steps are often tumbled and uneven. Sometimes you are in short corridors that are dark.
Coming around a corner in a puzzled state I came upon a boy. He helped me find my way and before I knew it I was engaged and he was saying, “I am a student.” This is a usual scam opening line. But he lead me in and out of chambers, up and down stairs, lending a hand when necessary before whipping out a plastic encased statement about a fund for students. I gave him $10 and he disappeared as if by magic.
In Bayon, it occurred to me, among those smiling stone faces, that this is the smile Pol Pot was trying to imitate.
Pheap then took me to a place for lunch. It was lousy but in a more or less air-conditioned space. I had a petrified chicken leg with rice and a watery ginger drink, not very cold.
It was only two and I didn’t need to get to the airport until 5:30 so I asked Pheap to take me to another temple. We went to a small, isolated one, Baksei Chamkrong. It is just a single tower with narrow steps straight up. There was a photo shoot taking place in front of a man and woman in brilliant blue, Cambodian period costume. I watched that for a while and then walked around the temple finding two groups of big black ants marching in double file through the grass. I stepped over them.
I ran into two Europeans here. The first was a nice Dutchman who immediately climbed to the top, while I climbed a bit and contemplated the narrowness and slipperiness of the steps. Then a young woman appeared. We got into conversation. She lives in New York City, is in the hotel, hospitality management business but is originally from Macedonia. I gave her my email but unfortunately have not heard from her.
I decided not to climb to the top because I was fearful of coming down in a heap.
My driver then took me to the airport where I hung about for several hours with Mainlanders who had been on a buying spree in Siem Reap. When I arrived in Phenom Penh John and I had great difficulty finding each other but did and I got back to the FCC to put in my earplugs and go to sleep.
Errata: While the women in all Angkor sculptures are bare breasted, none of them have nipples. Was this some sort of censorship? Puritanism? On the other hand, all of the nagas have nostrils. No snake has a nose since they smell with their tongues.
C is a big Halloween person, so I was taken by John to someone’s apartment full of women and children—all races represented. The children were the most wondrous potpourri, or perhaps, salmagundi, of possibilities. The children were watching a ghastly kids show with awful music and dancing which was a well diluted combination of Indian Bollywood and American music video. C had organized the costume theme that had to do with some Net Flics show I, of course, have never heard of about a sci-fi monster. One of the mothers was the monster and wore a suffocating mask that resembled a purple Venus Fly Trap. C, equally suffocating, was in a prim polyester buttoned to the neck and wrist blouse and glasses she couldn’t see out of as the female scientist, victim of the monster.
Children and parents in tuk-tuks go around to prearranged stops in the ex-pat cum international community neighborhood. The receiving houses are given donations of candy to help out. It was great fun.
One little boy clung to his mother until she put his hat, a white cylinder whose significance I never figured out, on his head, whereupon he became quite his own man. There were pirates, a thumb sucking ghost, a number of cats, mostly tailless, various monsters, many witches, and ghouls with lipstick blood at the corners of their mouths. Royalty seems to be unfashionable, although there was one princess. One of my favorites was a mite of a girl in cave girl dress and a pearl necklace who suddenly had a spontaneous melt down.
It was well organized. We had fun going up and down the leafy lanes, following the list of addresses, clambering in and out of the tuk-tuk. It seemed to me that the local people in the street and standing in front of their houses enjoyed watching the foreigners in dress up.
When I went back to the hotel I found I had a new leak in my bathroom. I had had for days one that ran down the wall. I pointed it out to the adorably pretty chambermaids who responded, “We mop.” But now I found that the toilet paper roll on the shelf above the toilet was sodden. The new leak was from the ceiling. When I reported this to the woman at the desk, she said that they would not be able to fix it until the day after tomorrow, the day I was leaving. I turned down the offer of another room. It seemed like too much trouble.
Sunday John took me to the PO to mail my eternal postcards. Across the street I found a nice shop that sold silk, not just the thin stuff I have been seeing in shops around town, or the gauzy that is used for blouses, but fabric by the meter. Interestingly however, it is all of a solid color. There are no woven patterns. However I bought four yards of heavy orange and yellow silk. I think next time I will have to spend more time looking about for silk.
That afternoon after four we went out on the river—C, her daughter M, T, and Mi with her daughter about M’s age and Charlie who is maybe four. Immediately upon getting on the boat Charlie loudly decided that he was going to drown. Indeed that the entire purpose of the outing was a plot to drown him. Later M, when the boat rolled the tiniest bit went into panic. I told her it was what boats do; it was all right. She calmed down. Also with us was T an interesting man who has a company and who, as C puts it, “Just lives here.”
Everyone but me had brought dips—babaganosh, potato chips. T is an environmentalist, knows Helen and therefore, is aware of what is going on in ways most people are not. We went up river, around and island and then back down, passing other boats, among them the long ones carrying sand. This export of sand is causing environmental problems up river.
People live on some of the small boats, not many. T says the government is trying to force them out of their way of life both here and in Vietnam. Boat people in south Asia are like the nomads of Tibet to the Chinese, an uncontrolled population that they feel they must either eradicate or some how get under their thumb.
Getting off the boat was more of an adventure than getting on since in the dark we had to walk a two- plank walkway to the shore. This took serious concentration. John picked up C and me, dropping me off at the FCC
I flew the short flight back to Bangkok and got right into my life—went to the gym, saw the dressmaker, had a facial, a manicure, a pedicure, and got help for my computer from the landlady’s son which involved buying a memory stick.
I had been kindly invited to go out to the ISB, the International School of Bangkok, in Nonthaburi to talk about poetry to a class of six sixteen year olds. The town is an expat town full of blond women with babies whose only knowledge of Thais is their maid and the man who serves them lunch in the restaurant. I find this sort of thing horrifying. It is done, however, all the time in Spain by the Brits who build a town of their own next to a Spanish town and then never fraternize, but hire maids from the Spanish town. I am told it started as an enclave for Chevron employees. The thought that you might learn from another culture doesn’t occur because, of course, you know everything.
But the girls were a mix—Thai, Taiwanese and Thai, Chinese, Chinese and Thai, American, European—and all intelligent. Their teacher was an enthusiastic American, bubbling over with ideas. I enjoyed them enormously. We read poems I had asked to be printed out by Elizabeth Bishop, Carol Ann Duffy, Evan Boland, Audrey Lord and me.
Saturday I had my last lunch with W and T, which made me sad. They are off to Japan with their older relatives for a week. T chose the restaurant, which W didn’t know, although it is near his old high school. A simple place with Formica tables it serves interesting things—crab stir fried with vegetables, a clear soup with tofu and clumps of scrambled eggs, a night blooming flower with ground pork, delectable, a green chicken curry with, beside the usual eggplant, the shoot front the coconut tree, absolute heaven, another curry with shrimp, green shoots of some kind that was so hot I couldn’t do it. For dessert we had coconut ice cream made from the juice of the coconut. Yumm.
Sunday I went to the Royal Sports Club for dim sum lunch with Mond and Johnnie. When we had eaten we went down stairs to the open-air coffee shop for cappuccino and to watch the last horse race in Bangkok for a while. The new taxes are so high that they can’t afford to hold the races any more. The stands were full. We were not 20 feet from the track. It was thrilling to watch the bright dots of color that were the jockey’s silks, hear the horses pounding toward us and the finish line. And that seems an appropriate finish line for this year’s Asian blog.