Mondol Seima district, Koh Kong province – Strolling through his hellish gallery of grotesque concrete statues, monk Lim Pov considered the afterlife in all its Dantean horror.
It doesn’t look good. To his right, a man guilty of avarice and corruption lay prone on a flat rock, his head raised in agony as two demigods run a saw across his stomach. On the left, three naked adulterers hugged a spiked tree as vultures clung to their backs and ripped into their flesh.
Lim Pov, the 42-year-old chief monk at Wat Mondol Seima Ramneang Kok in Neang Kok village, commissioned the statues in 1996 as vivid reminders of evil-doers’ fate after death. Depicted are particularly nasty punishments in store for the abusively rich and powerful.
“Inside the government we have some people who are good and some who are bad. If they treat people badly, this will be their fate,” Lim Pov said on a recent afternoon. He pointed to three emaciated concrete figures, bowed under the heft of an overhanging boulder.
“The people who have power, they take the land from the poor people, they take everything. When they die, they must carry that weight,” he said.
The pagoda’s statues, built on a heap of boulders on the Stung Metuk riverbank, are poignant in this border district, which only in recent years has opened to development and many of its undesirable consequences.
Since the Thai border crossing opened in 1998, Okhnya Ly Young Phat has opened a casino, two hotels and a wildlife theme park, and financed a smooth road and 1,900-meter bridge connecting Thailand to Koh Kong town. Work has begun to clear a 280-hectare industrial export zone.
But life has not gotten easier, say many villagers here, who continue to eke out a living by fishing or farming diminished plots of land outside their wooden huts. For instance, the bridge toll has increased from 1,000 to 1,200 riel since it opened two years ago, sometimes negating profits from selling vegetables in the town’s market.
Electricity and water are expensive, imported into the region by Ly Young Phat. Brothels, where sex with 15-year-old girls costs a few dollars, are booming. Toyota Land Cruisers and sports cars smuggled from Thailand speed past Mondol Seima’s villages to and from the border.
“The people with money, they do whatever they want to do. You can see it here,” said 51-year-old farmer Koun Chenghoun, pointing to where bulldozers have leveled forest in preparation for the industrial zone. “Over there you used to see nothing but forest, and now it is all gone.
“If they thought hard about their religion, they would not do these things,” he said.
Lim Pov compared Mondol Seima’s changes to another set of statues a smiling, muscular destroyer-god ramming a dagger down the throat of a half-man-half-pig. Behind that victim was another on his knees in wait, his palms pressed together in a plea for mercy.
“The big animals eat the small animals. It is the same way with humans. The big people with power and money take advantage of the small people,” he said, admitting that his view of Cambodia’s future was dire.
“If you are a very good man and someone does something evil to you, then when you die, you will go to paradise,” Lim Pov said. “But in this country, I think the suffering will be only worse.”