This guy I was travelling with in Cambodia had a portable games console. He had just about everything actually, in a backpack that weighed twice as much as he did. Unloading off a boat in Phnom Penh, the baggage guy dropped the whole thing in the Mehkong. Fortunately the console survived.
We toured Angkor Wat together, and almost at the top of the central temple we got chatting to a group of monks. They wanted us to read to them from an English book of Buddhist teachings. I’d read that it was culturally insensitive to hand anything directly to a monk – you’re supposed to lay it on the floor for them to collect. However by the way they reached over and helped themselves to our cigarettes, I decided that the guidebook may have got that wrong.
Then my companion pulled out his console. The monks lost interest in the book as he queued up a bout on Mortal Kombat and handed it over. One of the younger monks took charge, while the others gathered round to watch.
Now if you don’t know Mortal Kombat, it’s an arcade style fighting game, known for its high levels of bloody violence. One particularly vicious feature is the ‘Fatality’ whereby the winning player gets to execute the loser in one of a number of sadistic methods. It takes a good knowledge of the game, and a complex combination of button presses to perform. I was never able to do it.
When the monk’s game finished, I heard a strange sound. The scary computer voice announced ‘Friendship’ and I was just in time to see the monk’s character handing his opponent a present. This feature requires a one in a million combination of button presses.
Or perhaps just an enlightened soul.
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The recent demolition of India’s Hampi bazaar didn’t receive a lot of press coverage. I was only aware of it through my quarterly newsletter from the Hampi Children’s trust, requesting all donations be suspended until the former residents of the bazaar are relocated by the government.
Until last week the orphaned kids who visit the trust for schooling and meals were living and working with relatives in and around the bazaar, selling trinkets to tourists and taking unofficial tours with their fledgling English. Three years ago I spent a couple of weeks building the world’s shonkiest playground in the yard of a bookshop on the bazaar. I cleared a few centuries of rubbish, lashed a plank over a medieval foundation stone to make a seesaw, clambered across the makeshift corrugated roofs to hang a swing from a languorous tree and encouraged the kids to daub the ancient walls with brightly coloured powder. It would not have passed an inspection by Greenwich Borough Council.
A 16th Century stone walkway leading up to a UNESCO protected Virupaksha temple, Hampi bazaar was a thriving integration of modern India’s entrepreneurial spirit and its religious heritage. Recently the Indian government decided that the market stalls, barber shops and hotels that had settled in the 500-year-old stone pavilions were detrimental to the preservation of the buildings – structurally speaking I’m sure they were right. A decision was made to protect the area by turning it into a private site, chargeable for admission, with plans for a sound and light show to entertain bus loads of day trippers brought in by tour companies. The 326 residents of the bazaar were evicted, and shortly after three bulldozers arrived with instructions to level the shops and return the site to its 16th Century best. Sadly the overzealous and poorly briefed drivers took a fair portion of the ancient stone pavilions with them.
I don’t know for sure if they took the bookshop. It was home to a great man and a fine collection of spiritual books, but its sacred walls were covered in little coloured handprints and some idiot had made a right mess of the yard. I’m more concerned about the families, who’ve been promised 130,000 Rps each (about £1,500) and a patch of barren land 4km away, far from the tourist trade. The trust itself still stands, and for now the children are still attending. They will have to spend more time working now their living heritage has been destroyed.