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Ancient + modern: all mixed up

Location: Cambodia

Looking out my hotel window is much more fun than watching CNN. Here, two workers are having a comfy snooze on top of a speeding pile of bricks! Bricks are one of the few construction materials that can be produced locally, and have changed little since the days of Angkor.

The casino in my hotel that I have to walk through every morning on my way to breakfast. Thanks, but just crossing the street here is risk enough for me.

Hmmm, what should I wear to the genocide museum today? This blatent ignorance (disregard?) of local mores is all too common on the SE Asian backpacker trail. Note the display cases in the background; they contain skulls and are made from specially slatted cases that allow their spirits to come and go at will.

Portraits of a former Khmer Rouge cadre. One has been defaced by angry survivors ('Evil heart', 'Dog'). The other shows her today making merit. The issue of forgiveness and how it fits into Buddhism is one of the most fascinating aspects of the UN's ongoing Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

The hill by my office that gives Phnom Penh its name (phnom means 'hill' and Penh is the old woman who created it). Policed, homeless people sleeping on benches, littered, and a little scary to walk through in the morning; just like Dupont Circle!

This jackfruit tree grows on the playground of the former school. You can see a torture cell in the background sealed with barbed wire. There is a local superstition that hanging bricks in the tree will make the friut grow bigger. To my surprise, though, there's no prohibition against eating fruit from such a desecrated area.

A lovely old woman in a village near the Vietnamese border. Her house (it was a hut back then) was one of five left standing after an American bomb attack. Hard to guess by looking at her, but she's younger than my mom. As with many households in the village, four generations of women live under one roof.

At a bus stop on the way to the deep countryside. Yes, that's a bucket of live turantulas, and yes, that's a pile of fried turantulas for sale.

In the background are Angkor-era stone temples. In the foreground is a modern statue of the king that built them. It was paid for by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who claims to be a modern incarnation of the ancient ruler. Not surprisingly, the statue's face looks like Hun Sen, too.

Sony and Panasonic might want to raid the Vietnamese-Cambodian border sometime soon...

The village headman, a simple farmer, and his family. Nowadays few villagers come to him for help, which he attributes to general economic prosperity. He'd like to see a high ranking member of the KR go on trial, but thinks they're too powerful to get caught. Though happy to talk about the past, he said he never had with anyone before.

This monk couldn't tell me how old he is or where he was born. His brand new temple is part of Hun Sen's refurbishing of the area, and also includes a primary school. Actually, the prime minister wouldn't pay for it himself, a successful businessman would in his name. Critics say that this kind of 'scratch my back' relationship is what's holding Cambodia back.