Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"The Beauty of Compassion" - New article at Matador Travel

The Beauty of Compassion is a profile of a grassroots NGO in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It's my first contribution to, an online community of passionate travelers.

"The Beauty of Compassion"

A muscular man without legs drags himself down a beach. He stops to rest in the shade of a beach umbrella and lights a cigarette from a pack of Marlboros, using messily amputated fingers.

Behind the beggar, a young woman in a red bikini reclines on a pillowed beach chair, sipping from a tall draft of Anchor beer. Before long she finishes her beer, gets up, walks past the legless man, goes into a shed with computers and types out an e-mail to her friend back home. “Cambodia is wonderful,“ she writes. “We’re all having the BEST time!”

Welcome to “Snookyville,” Cambodia’s beach boom town, where sex is cheap, beer is cheaper and property values have sky-rocketed in the past few years. Most people come to Sihanoukville for one of two reasons – to relax and have a good time, or to make money. Doing either of these things well in a country as lawless as Cambodia necessitates - how shall I put this - a certain tunnel vision.

To fully appreciate Sihanoukville’s sunny skies, mango smoothies, cheap drugs, twinkling blue waters, fresh seafood or teenage prostitutes requires the remarkable ability to tune out desperate poverty and social injustice. Unless you’re one of the poor people, of course, in which case you’re no doubt preoccupied with trying to feed your family and send your kids to school.

But wait. There’s a catch.

The thing is, the young woman typing that e-mail was right – Cambodia really is a place of wonders. Focus too hard on the ugliness, and you risk succumbing to an equally dangerous form of tunnel vision, going numb to the possibility of beauty.

Continue Reading "The Beauty of Compassion



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