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TALES OF AN ORANGEPEELER

an archive of pleasures, wounds, sublimations
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08.27.02, tuesday morning

At least two donut shops are within walking distance from my new flat, a fact which encourages my nascent fondness for Oakland . . . despite the apparent and inconvenient lack of laundromats downtown.

One donut shop has proven elusive since, with my wonderfully askew sense of direction, Iíve gotten lost three times looking for it. Itís called Colonial Donuts, I informed D., who gasped, Ohmigawd.

So I have yet to ascertain if a Cambodian family runs it. Did you know that a high percentage of Cambodians own donut shops in California? I know at least four families whose hands are in the sticky business of flour and glaze. There must be a Cambodian Donut Cartel operating outta Long Beach, plump grandmothers who, over American Spirits and Hennessy, designate how many donut shops may exist per city and which families were respectable enough to operate an industrial-strength mixer and learn the secret behind crumb cakes. (Which isnít a big hush-hush secret when you really think about it.)

. . .

At the one donut shop I stumbled into, located near the Paramount Theatre, I bemusedly find a framed poster of Angkor Wat hanging above my head (and a rather mediocre cinnamon bun). My skn prickles with the shock of familiarity. And not one faciliated by an imagined affinity with Angkor Wat, the thing itself, the 7th Wonder, architectural highlight of Cambodia, the birthplace of the people who raised me here in the United States. No, thank you, I donít need a homeland.

Rather, the familiarity arose as visceral recognition of the representation and the histories associated with that representation. I scrutinized the architecture of the former palace-temple, comparing the composition and color of the photograph to those of other photographs that I had perused in National Geographics, Cambodian-owned homes or pre-Khmer Rouge tomes extolling, in English, the gentle nature of Cambodians. Another lesson in history as a war over the representation of things (and bodies and empires and the terrors of empire).

What year and why was it photographed? Was it pre- or post-Khmer Rouge? Was it by a Cambodian photographer? Or a Westerner, somone who possessed the privilege of travel, to photograph the ruins of empire and to flee, privilege intact, from the ruins caused by empire?

Of course, by then, I digress; on my inner eyelids replays a tv commercial praising the national rewards of owning an American-sold cell phone. It promises the privilege of being an American where you are, no matter where you (the person who can afford a cell phone and worldwide travel) are. Efficiency, an American virtue, is essential, even on vacation in Venice or Paris or Hong Kong, because time, time is money, so goes the saying, and is this, I wonder idly, why a watch was drawn on the wrist of a stone Buddha? In that National Geographic photograph I had puzzled over in my auntieís house so many years ago, the wristwatch-wearing Buddha also sports a ballpoint tie. He smiles serenely. Will this watch, with its perpetually set time, bring the anonymous artist luck? Time enough to save him or her from poverty, from the ruins caused by empire?

In the Southeast Asian Antiquities section of the Seattle Art Museum years and years ago, I pointed to the Buddha-heads, whispering, Where are their bodies? Auntie Warya answered, During war-time, smugglers would sneak into the country and steal Buddhas. They would chop off the heads because they were easy to transport and sell them to museums and private collectors, mostly in the West.

Years later, Iím in a mall candle-shop, recoiling from the sight of wooden Buddha-heads lined up like trophies, their throats neat, not roughly hewn. Beside them is a display of lilies, oranges, incense, Orientalia waiting for self-assembly altars to peace and harmony and whatever states of being that yuppies ponder after work. Will this bring them luck? Time enough to save them any thought about the poverty of others, the rewards (and the terror and ruin) brought by empire?

And somewhere, I imagine, there is a little kid like I was years and years ago, pondering a headless Buddha, thinking silently, Where are their heads?

Separated from their wrists and their wrist-watches that artists have drawn for good luck, where do the Buddha-heads rest?






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