Friday, March 27, 2009

Re: Blog Pictorial Cheat

From: writersblok@hotmail.com
To: andrewcleahey@XXX.com

Andrew,

Man, I know email makes long distance communication like nothing. That’s all good, sailors in the Persian Gulf watching realtime videos of the children they didn’t see before shipping out and such. There is the lack of folded paper and moth holes and all but, well, I’ve said it a lot and I’ll say it a bunch more and people will just get tired of it so I won’t say it here. Instead, I’ll tell you what else I’m thinking regarding email correspondence, then get frivolous.

Being in touch with loved ones all the time is good, but having it available every day does have a way of building momentum. Instead of having a week or even a month to let something simmer before putting it down in ink and sending it off on the ankle of a carrier pigeon or in a bag on a freighter puffing across the South China Sea, you got the love of home Like Right Now, whenever you want more or less, and that love is good but when you’re over seas and haven’t actually seen someone for months and months you kinda want to be profound or at least deeply felt in each communiqué and that’s just real hard to do if you’re reading and responding every other day.

(As an aside: in Saigon there is, in the center of a serious roundabout whizzing with cars and motorbikes, a tall statue of the man who introduced the carrier pigeon to the Viet people. He is wearing a hat that, to me, whipping around it only once or twice on the back of a moto, looks very much like a medieval gnome’s hat, a kind of pointy-ended, floppy-sack hat that makes me think of straw roofs and guilds, and his mouth is a joyous shout, like a serious, passionate belt, because off the end of his hand a bird, presumably the pigeon, is flapping up into history to....to what? Deliver mail, I guess. Is this the Vietnamese Pony Express, Teaspoon from The Young Riders? I have no idea the significance of it, why this guy gets one of the only statues not of Uncle Ho. The books only say, “There’s a statue of the man who introduced the carrier pigeon.” It’s strange, it’s odd; did the carrier pigeon particularly advance their society? Did it carry messages that helped finally whup the Chinese? It’s like you go to Lubbock and the only thing you read about the Buddy Holly statue is, “In the town square there is a statue of a man playing guitar.”)

Phew. Okay. This was going to be my Get-Out-of-Jail-Free letter, my pictorial cheat, and it’s becoming D.F. Wallace-ian. D.F. Wallacious.... It was a low few weeks there. Now it’s all... Snappy! I’m having coffee after abstaining for about two weeks and, boom, I’ma eat the spoon, man!

Okay, my point on the communication tip: you want to have something to say when you write because isn’t there more than enough unavoidable talk that doesn’t say a damn thing? and that same principle applies to these letters we’re putting out there. If you’re gonna put something down you got to make it worth the energy and time and, man, sometimes it takes a long-ass time to get to that. To make it: Deeply....Felt. But then this week, I’ve dropped the ball a few weeks, this week I think, “Ah, we have this form. Yeah, Shannon’s brilliance,” and such, me originally thinking constraints make new things happen and that’s certainly true, but constraints can also be....a Free Pass.

So Big Realness takes a break. Wanna hear something cool and check out some pictures? Yeah, you do.

Savuth, the monk we teach with/learn with/hang out with, always invites us to wat events and such. So we ended up waking at six last Saturday morning to attend what Savuth called “The Gratitude Festival,” a two-day celebration of the man who wrote the first Khmer dictionary and translated the books of the dharma from Balay (apparently an Asian equivalent of Latin) into Khmer. “How long ago did he live?” I ask. “Oh, I think maybe a long time ago,” Savuth answers. A holiday honoring an ancient man of learning? Sweet. “Maybe fifty years, a hundred years,” Savuth says. “Oh, well…”

We show up to the wat and it’s a madhouse. There is a parade and Shannon and I are to march in it but there’s this crush of bodies, monks and laypeople, the largest collection of old, shaved-headed women I’ve ever seen, occasionally a big cauldron of bubbling strew discovered as we wind our way through the mass. The monks know us, we’re the only barang around, so by enough pointed fingers we eventually find Savuth (his buddies calling him simply “Vut,” which I dig) and we’re in the parade, different schools and such represented just like a parade at home, Shannon and I with Build Bright University, the uni where Savuth now studies things like Public Administration and Economics which, I promise you, coming from within Cambodia sounds as normal as attending Sleepy Gulch High, Smoky Mountains, TN and taking a class in Aeronautics Engineering and Black Magic. This is the group behind us:

Whenever Celebrated Monk of Learning was

alive, they got a photo of him, because there he is.

As with any parade, no one reeally knows what’s going on and the people in charge are kind of flipping out because, I think, it’s just really hard to accept that getting this many people to walk in some sort of regimented way is something of a lost cause, unless you’ve been broken and rebuilt at boot camp or Catholic school. But ya gotta try, and after fits and starts and Savuth making repeated cell phone calls, some groups behind us start moving past, including this bunch of school kids. The teacher is obviously one of those noble souls in charge.


Apparently, a Japanese organization funds a music program at this school. And what are they playing?

Hooters, man!, hooters like the instrument that inspired the band name, their tune, “And we danced...like a wave on the ocean, romanced...da da da....we were liars in love and we danced!,”etc. Eric Brazilian and the other guy from Philly, Rob something, those dudes knew composition. They wrote and played everything on Cyndi Lauper’s first album, did you know?, which is damn good album. They played Desmond Child to Jon Bon Jovi on a solo album too, if you care. Which you totally do.


So these kids are playing and they’re cute a hell, though this guy doesn’t seem
to think so...


....and I take a picture of Savuth.


I like this picture because he seems to think that Buddhist modesty must prevent him from smiling for

cameras, except when he’s really jazzed and can’t help it. I also like this picture...


...because the guy’s a good teacher and he looks it here.


And then, “Oooh,” he says, “can I take.” And he snaps our photo and then calmly wanders off with our camera, snapping away, handing off to another monk when he has to regulate, and your immediate instinct is to say, “Umm, hey dud

e?” but, well, he’s a monk, and you know he’s not gonna bust it, though if he did you’d be S.O.L. because, well, he’s a poor monk, so....

He comes back to us when the battery’s dead, having taken dozens of photos, including this one, which gives a sense of how long this thing was. We never saw the beginning nor the end even though we wrapped around both sides of the river and could see thousands of people stretched along each one.


And then there's this, which proves that women can totally rock the non-dyed, no-nonsense look if they so choose,...



....and this, of Gong, a nineteen-year-old monk who is way into asking me my opinions on the relationship between man’s imperfect nature and the requirements of a life of Deeper Consciousness, and then...



...this dude, whom neither Shannon nor myself nor Savuth have ever seen before but who obviously knows how to represent.

Let’s stop for a minute and really appreciate this guy...

Okay.

Here we are, the three of us, me with the Cambodia national flag and Shannon with the Buddhist flag, and all of us just melting, man, so incredibly hot, down into the pavement. I ask Savuth if the robes are hot, and the man who seems to start every other sentence with “maybe” says, “I do not think maybe.”

Savuth is very worried we are going to delete his pictures. We assure him to the contrary. He has a computer but no way to get the pix from camera to ‘puter, so we say we’ll charge the battery and bring the cord when we teach on Monday and he seems relieved, though still nervous. Monday comes, and while the kids are in partnered groups working on pronunciation through a simulated job interview, I step out onto the porch and get this shot through the window:

I think these windows are so cool. After the class we teach and then the class where we are taught, Savuth says we can come to his room. This is unprecedented. Seriously, and Shannon?, a chick going into a monk’s room?!, this should be in the paper. I’m super psyched, this is a real present and I was going to go into it more but this has turned into a long letter. I Am Jason; I Am Long. (Shannon says I’m an idea person and she’s a narrative person, which may well be true, and which I like at first thought, though I need to ruminate on it more.)

So, you leave your shoes at the bottom of the step and you tread up good, solid wood steps to a wooden (everything is wooden) covered porch and it’s just after dark and there are dogs around and some music and chanting off in the dark and it’s peaceful, just lovely, and I think of Boyscout camp, though Boyscout camp could not really be called peaceful, though maybe just wooden porches and dogs and the nighttime are peaceful, which I’ll ruminate on too when I’m done with the idea guy vs. narrative gal bit, and Vut opens the door and, man, it was just perfect.

This small but ample room, a dry erase board covered with scrawl, books stacked up next to and around a sizable cot with a pink mosquito net hanging above, a cardboard tray of two dozen cans of coke in one corner, a glowing computer on a desk cluttered with more books, nestled into a corner next to the dry erase, and I tell Savuth how cool this is, and he laughs, says, “Ah, you say so cool but it is hot,” turning on a little fan that’s above a small shelf where a Radio Shack radio sits. And he pulls a sliding bolt I hadn’t even noticed before on the wall and the top bit of a horizontally-split door swings open into the nighttime jungle and I just love that I’m here, even just once, just to see how new something relatively familiar can be, how familiar something so totally foreign can be, and just, just because.

And now, finally, we come to this. I plug the camera into the computer and wait to see what’ll fly. Behind me, six monks have filed into the room, offered Shannon a seat and stare at me to see what will happen. I type up a folder name and there’s a collective “oooo” from the monks. What’s the deal? Ahh, I see, it’s the typing. The guys kinda bug out, and they want me to type, just type. I’ve got the ten-finger typing game down, man, because Mom made me take typing Freshman year at Tucker, and so I go to town, bang out “Today at the school we taught all of the lovely children to say dirty words. No, not really. We taught them good words,” and I may as well have juggled with my feet, everyone was so excited.

Well, the computer's taking a while to figure out what those new files are, and I gotta take a picture, man, even though I can’t get the whole room, and so I get this:

Oh, I love it; it’s like the guys are planning a serious heist or something. And then I snap this, where Savuth’s neck is so thick he’s obviously the Tough in Charge.


The camera finally loads, all is well, and I want to give the monks something back. “Do you guys know the wacky photo routine?”

No, they do not. “You do the Very Normal Photo and then you do the Wacky Photo. Here, Savuth, take our picture.” He takes us at Very Normal:


“No, no, don’t give it back. Here, take it again, take the Wacky Photo.” He takes this:

They all screech with laughter. It’s fantastic.

But we have to go eat dinner now, “gnyam aha pay-lin-yay,” and we head toward the door. “You know what you are, Savuth? You are a scholar. You know scholar?” He does not. I write it on the dry erase board.

“A life-long student,” Shannon says.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What You See Is What You Get

Dear Maureen,

Being a foreigner in Cambodia often feels like one big web of miscommunication. At the most basic level, of course, this usually has to do with my minimal Khmer vocabulary. Even when I can find the right words, there’s a good chance I’ll mangle them beyond recognition, and likewise, I hate seeing the shattered look on a Khmer person’s face when he thinks he is speaking English to me and I cannot, for the life of me, understand a single word. But the missed connections are more than just a problem of language. Even when someone speaks English well, there are still dozens of cultural potholes that we can fall into.

Here’s one that comes up all the time: Khmer people exist in a world in which everything is taken very literally. Sometimes this manifests itself as funny little cultural quirks. (You want an ice cream sandwich in Cambodia? It’s a baguette with some little scoops of sorbet stuffed inside.) But I didn’t realize how compelled Westerners are to turn everything into an abstraction until I saw their ideas constantly being lost in translation, and that can be utterly maddening for everyone involved. An American friend of mine was tearing her hair from her scalp one night, because, in trying to explain to a Khmer employee why something he did was unprofessional, she made the grave error of turning to analogy. Spinning out a reversed scenario, she asked, “How would you like it if I did that to you?”

He was completely baffled. “You didn’t do that to me,” he said.

“That’s not the point. What if I did?”

“But you didn’t.” This, in various forms, was repeated ad nauseam, until, nerves frayed, both parties resorted to dark looks and chain smoking.

At the Buddhist school where Jason and I teach an English class full of teenagers a few times each week, our attempts to recreate Western education techniques fail miserably. Pictionary seemed like a grand idea, but the students were easily frustrated because they didn’t understand the concept of drawing anything besides a very literal rendering of the word. Given the word “party,” a Westerner might draw a cocktail glass or a disco ball, party hats or a birthday cake. Our Khmer student drew four people sitting at a table—that is, after all, what parties often look like. When trying to get her teammates to guess “teacher,” another student drew a picture of a monk, at which point her team guessed “monk” repeatedly. We suggested adding something to the picture, but she was confused—why would she draw an apple or a chalkboard or a pencil when the word was “teacher”?

If Pictionary was arduous, Twenty Questions was a complete catastrophe. The class seemed perplexed by the notion of “guessing what we were thinking.” (Why would they do that? Why couldn’t we just tell them?) When we convinced them to start asking questions, the queries tended to be hesitant and completely unrelated. “Is it pizza?” one girl asked hopefully. “Is it a duck?” asked the next student.

Even after we corrected this habit of asking about single items and provided them with some hints, the game limped along pathetically. “Okay,” I said. “So remember, it’s not served hot and it’s something round. What could it be?”

“Is it soup?” one student asked innocently, at which point I had to restrain an urge to hurl an eraser at him. The lesson had ceased to be about English at all—it had become an exercise in abstract thinking and logic. On days when we give up and teach by rote, the students are relieved, cheerfully repeating our monotone pronunciations. If this happened in a Western classroom full of seventeen-year-olds, one would conclude that surely learning disabilities were to blame. But on the contrary, our Khmer students are very bright, picking up and remembering vocabulary and grammar rules quickly. It does not have anything to do with intelligence level. But what does it have to do with? At first I thought the explanation would involve complicated notions of Eastern thought and perspectives, and perhaps it does, but I think that the more likely answer is that most Khmer people can’t think abstractly because nobody bothered to teach them how.

Skills like creative thinking and basic logic feel innate to me, like an inborn part of my personality, but I’m beginning to realize that they’re probably not—I was taught them just like so many other things, at school, from my family, and in my backyard, playing with you. The reason that this letter is to you, even though we have long been out of touch and there is only the most miniscule possibility that you will read this, is because playtime with you when we were very little girls is the first time I remember learning that an abstract imagined world and a real world could coexist. “I am Maureen,” you said to me when you first came to my porch. “Do you want to see my magic tree?” And for the next few years, summer vacations were full of magic trees and blue whales swimming in the back yard, of royal tea parties and dastardly villains lurking in the basement.

In a country razed to nothingness just a generation ago, my Khmer students have never been taught to pay attention to anything other than the very real and pressing world around them. Maybe it is a little like America in its infancy—I used to dread when early American literature was assigned in high school, all those texts of Thomas Payne and John Smith and Cotton Mather that speak of much passion and hard work but little imagination or whimsy. They were men who were busy inventing a nation, and they had no time to invent anything else. I see echoes of this in Cambodia. Paintings by Khmer artists, for instance, are not valued for originality of content or technique, but rather for their careful precision in replicating a few standard designs. They can recreate a temple backlit by a sunset perfectly, but would they ever be able to translate their inner life onto the canvas?

It makes me painfully aware that a life like mine, one dedicated to thought and art and invention, could only have been hatched in a handful of very fortunate countries. On the one hand, it makes me newly appreciative of the country of my birth and desperately grateful for that blue whale that was sparked into existence in a landlocked Midwestern town. But it is both a heady and terrible realization to know that those deepest and most private parts of the mind, the mental pathways that serve as the foundation of one’s self, are yet one more sign of the privilege that I did nothing to deserve.

And so I hope that wherever you are, you have managed to make good on our lucky beginnings. I hope you still have the sense to have a magic tree.

With love,
Shannon

Friday, March 6, 2009

Re: Sex is Everywhere, Sex is Nowhere

From: writersblok@hotmail.com
To: rachel_gussman@XXXX.com

Dear Rae,

I read today in the Phnom Penh Post that a prominent opposition politician and human rights spokeswoman in Malaysia has resigned because nude photos of her have been making the rounds of the country’s cell phones. She’s not posing for the camera in these photos; she’s not caught in any act. She’s simply asleep in bed. “I wish to state that I am not ashamed of my sexuality as a woman and a single person,” Elizabeth Wong is quoted. “I have broken no laws. I stand by the fundamental principle in a democracy that everyone has a right to privacy.”

Malaysia is very Muslim and very conservative. Ms. Wong had a broad base of support among a number of ethnic groups and Malaysia’s women. “She is a single person,” a government official is quoted as saying. “How can she allow a man into her room when they are not married?"

I read it and could perfectly imagine a constipated man with angry, angry eyes shaking an index finger. Viciously conservative Muslims are pretty much as the viciously conservative American Christians would have you believe, with the additional fact that they are more similar to each other than is comfortable to admit. It’s not hard to conjure up the glee behind Malaysian government doors, the handshake, cash, and position handed with a wink to the boyfriend who sold himself, to the stranger whose warmth won Ms. Wong over. Sex as a weapon, sex as a wand, sex with eyes open and sex with eyes shut. In Cambodia and, it seems, in most of Southeast Asia, sex is the world’s warming winters, the outsourcing of interrogation, the 15-year-old that everyone at the Thanksgiving table knows is sleeping with her boyfriend. It is the thing glaring and loud but still largely ignored, the thing berated but given permission, forbidden to all but acceptable for some, denied its very existence yet made a foundation of society and the economy. Sex is everywhere and nowhere.

If you take the red dirt road outside our gate fifteen yards to the right and then make another right onto a different red dirt road and follow that out into the open country, in ten walking minutes you’ll come to Bakheng Entertainment. Bakheng is a Khmer disco but looks more like a set piece from Scarface the morning after, a cross between new money Miami and Disneyworld’s Frontier Land. The neon sign that hangs over the road, a pink swirl of a moon in the black night, gives a pretty good visual foundation. Just add to your mental image an open courtyard with wagon wheels bedecked with Christmas lights atop the surrounding walls, thatch-roofed bungalows going to seed in the brush where the courtyard’s tiles end, and young men careening in and out of the front gate stacked two or four to a motorbike, their motors whining off into the fields.

You go to open the door and suddenly it is opened for you, three or four eager men in suit jackets buzzing around the entrance, arms swept wide, “come in, come in,” and you walk into an entranceway lined with women in short skirts and prom dresses, dozens packed shoulder to shoulder against the wall, one after the other after the other until you realize you have dozens of women, thirty or forty girls, from which to choose. The DJ is crushingly loud and another tier of women, these in waiters’ slacks and high white collars, swarm around you waving cardboard tokens with pictures of beer, “To drink, sir? To drink, sir?,” and there’s machine-made fog and cheap green lasers like Def Leppard used in ‘88 and it’s all so much, all so much like sailing smack-dab into a school of luminescent fish that rush around and below and above you, that you can’t get it all arranged in your head, that you have to make it to the safety of a high stool with someone’s beer token in your hand and wait to see what you’re brought and what you’ll pay and just what the scope of all of this is.

Bakheng isn’t a whorehouse. The DJ spins English-language hip hop and the dance floor is packed, bodies clipped in blacklight, heads and arms and feet, and you think, “Man, those kids are really good” until you stare for a little longer and realize, no, they’re not good dancers, not really good dancers at all, just nineteen-, twenty-one-, twenty-five-year-olds clustered in single-sex groups and hopping up and down like happy rabbits, girls touching their girlfriends, boys touching their mates, nothing co-ed at all, no dance floor sophistication or flirtation, no moves, just kids bouncing like embarrassed kids under the momentarily-deceptive pulse of light and fog. The odd girl you see trying out some of what she’s learned from hip hop or karaoke videos looks out to lunch, her attempts at the slinky waist groove or a grinding pelvis a gag, something that breaks her and her girlfriends into immediate giggle fits. Even freed from adult supervision, these folks take no steps toward carnality.

This isn’t just the hesitation of the inexperienced or the reserve of the culturally-shy. A friend of ours, a native New Yorker who owns a shop that employs a few Khmer men, told us one afternoon of the conversations she’d been having. One of her guys was using her computer to watch porn and she started asking him about sex in Cambodia. Blow jobs come up and it turns out her guy and his friends thought such a thing was pure fiction, akin to citizens of Mumbai breaking into dramatic choreography in the middle of a Bollywood film. When she explains that oral sex is a regular part of most Westerners’ sex lives, the men just stare at her dumbfounded. “Jason, it was just beyond, Beyond, BEYOND them,” she says. She asks them how often they have sex with their wives and the say about once a month. When she asks them if they masturbate to make it from one month to the next, they have no idea what she’s talking about. A little sheepishly she uses the phrase jerk off and they nod sagely and say, “Oh, you mean being silly.” They have heard tourists use the phrase as an epithet. “No,” she says, “you know, like what you did when you were a kid and just figuring it out.” The guys have no clue what she’s talking about. So she takes a banana and, again rather sheepishly, tries to give them the sense of things. “And Jason,” she says, “they fucking FREAKED THE FUCK OUT! They were just screaming with laughter and they said, ‘Why would you do that to yourself?’ and I said, ‘Well, because somebody else isn’t doing it for you,’ and they were rolling on the floor."

All of these guys had at least a few sexual relationships before getting married, almost certainly with prostitutes or one of the bar girls that trade sex for a man’s patronage of the bar where she works, and my New York buddy asks if any of these woman have given them blow jobs. They shake their heads. When she asks them if would feel comfortable suggesting it to their wives, they fall back into fits of laughter. What a ludicrous suggestion. Wives would never, ever, ever do that, uhmm-uhmmm. When my friend treads lightly into the topic of the men giving oral sex to their spouses, their eyes screw up suspiciously. “What do you mean?” When she suggests that women have orgasms – “What happens to the man during sex can happen to the woman, just differently” – they sit back with wide eyes and shake their heads. And foreplay?, forget about it. That’s just something a ‘massage girl’ sells to paying customers.

“So when you have sex with your wife,” my friend asks, “how long does it usually last? I mean, all of it?”

“Oooh,” one of the men replies, considering his answer. “About two minutes.”

“And what does your wife do?”

“She looks up at the ceiling.”

All of this is not just a different cultural experience of sexuality. The kinds of things we consider relatively open aspects of sexuality are denied to both the individual and to partnerships. Surely the French passed on a little knowledge in their 80-odd years here, but that too has been lost to decades of civil war. These sex acts aren’t so much forbidden as they are fantastic impossibilities, things being conception. It reminds me of a story told by another friend in Siem Reap, a Texan who has worked in the Middle East for the past thirty years. “Men and women are kept completely apart in Saudia Arabia until the day they are married,” he says. “So boys, to deal with their natural urges, they have sex with their buddies, have sex with animals. It’s not uncommon at all for a husband to come storming into a clinic dragging his wife behind him and angrily shout that his wife will not bear him any sons. So the doctors separate the couple and ask them questions and pretty soon they find out that the husband has been putting it in the wrong place because that’s all he knows and no one has told him any different. It’s a different planet, man, it really, really is. That’s why I call it Sodomy Arabia.”

The Texan is also the person who has told me that the only source of blow jobs from a Khmer is from the ladyboys, the transvestite prostitutes that stand casually in the town’s royal gardens until late into the night, waiting for a john. But the ladyboys, they work the end of Pub Street too, grabbing at the arm of a Western man while the cops yawn and look on. And at Bakeng, the DJ stops spinning every half hour or so to make way for a five piece band and a handful of karaoke singers whose eyes are dead tackle as they sing Khmer pop songs. These girls cost one hundred dollars a night, a Khmer friend tells me. “Very expensive.” How much for the girls lining the entranceway? “Maybe twenty dollars.” And those two men who take turns amongst the female karaoke singers? “Oh, many hundreds of dollars.” At the end of the live music set, once the DJ is back and the awkward teens are again packed onto the floor, the singers join the girls working the doors in small rooms that dot the walls of the place, disappear behind doors with a man or a boy and return in short order.

The kids dancing know this. The wives in the country know this. The government and the monks and everybody else with their feet on this ground for more than a couple of days knows this. Dozens of door fronts across Siem Reap are lit red every night, the girls sitting out for the casual passerby to assess. Everyone is aware and everyone is participating in some way yet nobody shares what they do or don’t know. Everyone is playing a game that no one knows the rules of. Men get sex ed from prostitutes and both the prostitutes and wives get their sex from lying on the backs and waiting to see what happens. The blind lead the blind and a country decimated in every conceivable way, a country full of sadness and anger and loss, adds sexual frustration to the list of burdens that are ready to make a person blow his or her top. And across the country, serious money trades hands every night, people and their confusion with themselves and their partners supporting a large slice of the national economy.

My initial instinct is to be disgusted by the hypocrisies in all of this, and then to try to understand those hypocrisies as they are in the social order, and then I end up reminded of home and the cultural duality of our own American culture. You can find many American movies over here and the other day, flipping through the stack, I passed The Bratz Movie, the adult glamour and anorexic skulls and pouty lips and cocked hips of the characters and the dolls that inspired them just adult sexuality and pathology rouged up for pre-adolescents. Those toys are popular, man. Parents buy them for their little girls, the ever-present sex in pop culture aiming for a younger and younger audience. And what that says to me – after the initial conclusion that most people will bite down on just about anything waved under their noses – is that even as grown-ups and parents that allure is too much to resist, that somehow sexuality is so fundamental and all encompassing that many of us instinctively process it as a ‘given’ for kids that have yet to reach puberty, even when we don’t know we’re doing so.

Sex is that fundamental, right? We do ourselves no favors by reserving its faintest echoes, its vaguest acknowledgment, for those only of a certain age or secured safely in classrooms or the family kitchen. But we do do all of that and we deny that elemental quality even as we cannot help but acknowledge it by the toys we buy and the movies we show to our kids. “Get a load of this, check out how fun this is,” we seem to say. “But don’t let us see you enjoying yourself.”

And that’s Cambodian sex in a nutshell as well, the cultural arrangement that keeps men and women from public touching but which sends all of the men to those very-public brothels. So the similarity between our American Evangelicals and Malaysia’s Conservative Muslims is not an isolated similarity. Our sex may not be the same as Cambodia’s, but the two share a certain psychology, a certain psychosis suffered by our families and their families. It comes down to Doublespeak that says of something that hurts, “This feels good,” and says of something comforting, “This feels bad.” And so I'm writing to you because it's good to know someone else with the incite to say, "Now wait just a goddamn minute here..."

Love,
Jay