Different world just weeks ago

STEPHEN SCOURFIELD, stuck at home, muses on Siem Reap

In my isolation, quarantined from the usual-me who comfortably strolls the world, and as if in a dream sequence, I drift back to the magical temples of Angkor. In my mind, I am again the streets of Siem Reap, in Cambodia. Was it really just a few weeks ago, when our world seemed so different?

sweet release

Hundreds of small birds are crammed together in cages, tiny wings spread-eagled against the bars.

Two women sit with them, under umbrellas.

And then a couple with a young son hand the women the equivalent of a few cents, and one reaches into a cage, takes out a bird, cupped in her hands, and passes it to the father. With the bird in the bowl of his palms, he closes his eyes and prays, and then gently swings forwards, opens his hands and releases the bird.

The tradition of releasing “merit birds” is rooted in Buddhist belief — give life to another being, and by giving life, make merit for yourself. But there are dozens of cages and catching wild birds for release is a business.

I know it’s not a solution, and probably contributes to more captures, but there, next to Preah Angchorm temple, by the Royal Gardens in Siem Reap, I give the woman quite a lot of US dollars, the sky is peppered with birds, and my heart is set free. (I know, “stupid tourist”.)

Buddhist belief: Giving life is the best gift you can give.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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