We had a wonderful visit to Cambodia and one of the stops was Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. This ancient Hindu/Buddhist temple is one of the most famous landmarks in this part of the world… an amazing monument of history, craftsmanship and art. It is impossible to take a bad photo while visiting these beautiful ruins. Walking around the grounds were many visitors and tour groups and a few of them had guides. Sometimes I would eavesdrop on the English commentary.

There was one comment which caught my attention more than once. The guides were telling the visitors about the history and also current affairs in Cambodia and they mentioned that ‘Cambodians do not like the Vietnamese.’ It was not news to me since I had already heard it from some colleagues. I was just surprised that this was such a ‘common knowledge’ even shared with foreigners.

One of the common things I experience – in most places around the world people can very quickly identify who they ‘don’t like.’ Very often it is the neighboring nations as we remember the history shared between us. Sometimes it is a recent history, event or current situation. Other times it is very ancient history but ‘the embers are still glowing.’

Ask many Thais and they point to Burmese; ask Chinese and they point to Japanese; ask Burmese and they point to Chinese; ask Armenians and they point to Turks; ask Indians and they point to Pakistan; ask Ukrainians and they point to Russians; ask the Russians and they point to Americans…

Not everyone has ‘bad’ history with their neighbors. Maybe places like Canada and Norway and Switzerland and others ?… well, I have not asked them yet.

I was talking with a guy whose wife is from Finland. When I asked about Finland’s relations across borders, he said that in Finland he gets the feeling that many people simply ignore the fact that the eastern border is with Russia. He said, “There is this big country to the east that gets ignored. The Finns try not to think about this big neighbor.” One of the reasons not to look east is to look at the land, towns and villages that Finland lost because of the Winter War in 1939-40.

I thought to myself, “I can relate to that.” Many Latvians act and talk the same way. As if we stand with our backs to Russia. We cannot choose our neighbors but we can try to ignore them, right? Until it gets to a point where you cannot ignore each other…

Suddenly you realize that this neighbor is occupying so much of your thoughts, conversations and attention. It is practically living in your ‘living room.’ Some people react with fear; others with anger and hatred and aggression; others with confusion or indifference. I can understand these feelings and reactions but they are not good guides while reaching for better or restored relationship.

What are the guiding signs toward reconciliation and the bridge building tools we need? Join the conversation…

26

Bridge crossing from Thailand to Myanmar

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