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River of Nine Dragons

June 14, 2014

00: 15 This is the story of the Mekong River, as it crosses the countries of south-east Asia, a region full of legends and forgotten cities, lost empires whose remains have survived to the present day, and tribes hidden in the depths of the jungle. But it is also a land scarred by the horrors of human savagery.

05:48 The 5th of February the women are preparing the rice, in order to celebrate the new year. Then, they prepare special cakes and rice liqueur. They dye the rice red, green and yellow. Every home prepares this three-coloured rice, which will be offered to the family spirits.

08:39 In the afternoon, the men get together to play Delo, a game so ancient not even the players themselves know its origins. They only play Delo twice a year, during the new year celebrations, and when the first rice harvest is in.

11:28 60% of Laotians practice Theravada Buddhism, which was apparently introduced into the country at the end of the eighteenth century.

12:40 As the Mekong enters Laos, the first city it encounters is Luangprabang. It stands at an altitude of 700 metres, and is only now starting to come back to life, and entering the modern world, after several decades of wars and revolutions.

13:38 The Wats, or centres of prayer, are the most exquisite, refined architecture of Laos. Here, the young monks begin their Buddhist education, are taught to live in accordance with their monastic vows, to pray and meditate. Buddhism, more than a religion, is a philosophy or a path whose final and only aim to reach Nirvana, the negation of all causes of suffering, dissatisfaction and illness.

16:58 After crossing the territory of Laos, the waters of the Mekong enter a country plagued by violence and poverty, Cambodia.This is Angkor, “the city of the sleeping forest”, one of the most incredible architectural monuments on earth.

18:03 However, the origin of Angkor remains veiled in mystery. The only references we have come from the accounts of Chinese and Indian travellers, and the few surviving stone inscriptions. These inscriptions contain constant references to the worship of water.

22:08 In 1975, Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot, plunged his country into the most profound hell. While neighbouring Vietnam was fighting a bloody struggle against the American invader, Pol Pot founded the clandestine Kampuchea Workers Party, a movement first planned in the 1950s in the classrooms of the Sorbonne university in Paris, where Pol Pot had been given a grant to study.
In 1965, on a visit to China at the start of the Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot discovered radical politics.

30:42 On the fifteenth of April, 1998, Pol Pot died at the age of 70, in a small shack in the jungle of Thailand, where he had taken refuge along with the last Khmers Rouges. His death came at a very opportune moment. Bill Clinton had begun legal proceedings to have him captured brought to trial.

31:13 Physically at least, the survivors have overcome the horror of those years, but they still bear profound psychological scars. People literally paralysed by fear, family violence, juvenile delinquency, alcoholism and drugs these are just some of the terrible legacies of that bloody régime. But, hidden beneath the ground, throughout Cambodia, there remains yet another tragedy, which has already mutilated 35,000 people, two decades after the wars. Between 7 and 9 million anti-personnel mines still lie in waiting, for the next victim, and every day, ten more names are added to the terrible list of victims.

35:03 Enrique Figaredo is a jesuit from Asturias, in the north of Spain, and for eight years has been the head of the “Casa de las Palomas Blancas” (The House of the White Doves), a professional training school specialised in the manufacture of wheelchairs, and which is known as one of the best in the country.
Every week, he and sister Kampat travel round the villages of Cambodia, giving wheelchairs to those who most need them.

39:04 Our journey along the Mekong is coming to an end. Before flowing into the China Sea, in Vietnam, the river forms an extensive and complex delta, known as The Nine Dragons.
A network of 5,000 kilometres of natural and artificial canals carries the waters to the rice fields. Cantho is the largest city in the delta. It’s small in size, but with a large population.