Thursday. The group was going back to Chanleas Dai today and I was staying in Phnom Pehn. We all had an early breakfast and I said my goodbyes to the people whose faces would represent the stories which would fill my memories of Cambodia. And this was the moment in the trip were I began traveling on my own. While in Japan Satoko was my guide. In Cambodia the people of PEPY where my chaperones. In Thailand and China I was own my own. The freedom felt good but I would miss eating meals in a foreign country with friends. After they left I grabbed a tuk-tuk and headed out of town (about 12K) to the Killing Fields). The ride out was the dustiest ride I have had in Asia. It amazes me how many people wear masks in Japan, because the air seems so clean. It equally amazes me how so few people wear masks in Cambodia when the air is thick with red dirt and black fumes. For some of the ride I had to pull my shirt up over my mouth and tuck it under my glasses. I don’t know if this made me look more like a tourist or a local, but it did make me feel better. The Killing Fields was smaller then I expected but the impact was big.
It is amazing to think that this not very long ago. (more…)
Monday. Here in Chanleas Dai the roosters get up before the sun. One of the neighbor’s birds was up and at it by 5am. This meant not long after I rolled over and my eyes rolled open and began reading my book, dozed off a little, rooster crows and the cycle is repeated a few times. By 10 am I was at the “stair climber” pumping up my water for breakfast and what I used for last night’s shower. We had a simple breakfast with rice and stuff (this is my general term for a collection of vegetables and pork and what not). I spent most of the day milling around the school, peaking in on the child-to-child leadership training, biking around the nearby villages and helping with some of the new school project build. PEPY has been hosting groups from Dubai Cares the last few weeks. They come into town, import life’s neccessaties from Dubai (Dubian rice, Dubian veggies, Dubian sheets, Dubian pillow, etc, etc.), spend some time with the children and some time out at some of the new school build sites which they help fund. Today some girls were out at the site hammering desks together and sanding window shades. One of the school’s is almost complete and should be wrinkling children’s brains within the month. The end of the work day whistle blew and a couple of the Cambodian workers brought out a two stringed instrument (similar to an Chinese erhu) and a lap drum. After a few dittys one of the Dubian girls tapped away on the drum, which was a little too fast for the Cambodia fella but he made due and the result was a nice little culture exchange of music. Once the work and the dancing was finished Maryann and I hitched a ride out of the village to the end of the dirt road where the “paved” road to Siem Reap intersects. In an instant we knew we were out of the village and caucasian. The merchants swarmed us and hawked their goods. We were interested only in a car to take us to Siem Reap, a bag of dried sugar bananas and two cold beverages. Basically I stood there, in my casual state of arrested confusion, while Maryann, with her Khmi speaking skills, scored us all three. When we hopped into the car the driver paid a commission to one of the guys, supposedly the one who phoned him the business, and there was an argument about who made the call because as we drove away there was a little tussle over the money. But then the trail of dust rose from our path and they vanished from site.
Tuesday. Today was a big day. Today we (Maryann, Daniela, two teachers, four students, three siblings and seven parents and myself) take the seven hour bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Pehn. Seven hours on a bus sounds like a long time. And it grows even longer when it’s a Cambodian bus (not as bad with the honking as the motos but the weaving in and out of traffic just as bad). And it grows even longer when almost the entire group has never been on a bus. And even longer when instead of raising their hands they only give Daniela blank stares as she tries to explain motion sickness and how the cure was found in this little pill she carried and was willing to give them. You know where I’m going with this. But she did force one child, who was already sick from the ride over on the back of a truck, to take a hit. The bus ride started with such excitement and anxiety. The group was loud, chatty and all wearing huge smiles. Two hours later a different excitement was beginning to erupt and the crowd grew silent. They must have been busy concentrating on the transformation breakfast was taking in their body. Whatever was happening there was no holding off the inevitable. Soon the silence was broken. First one, then two, then it wash child, mother and father, then the levy broke and half of the group was hunched over in their chairs. In a stroke of genius Daniela had picked up a package of little barf bags, which I originally thought was an inflatable seagull because of the packaging. The bags where distributed and put to use. One of the teachers whipped out the cure-all Tiger Balm, spread it across the backs of the ill and the bus soon smelled like Vicks Vapo Rub. Much better than the alternative. When the mayhem was at it’s peak, the scene reminded me of a Seinfeld episode, where George’s father was convinced to cater a bar mitzvah and has flashbacks to his war cooking days. In our case the troops were going down left and right. We sat in the middle of the mess wondering if it was too late to turn back, would it be better to take a ride in the back of the truck the rest of the way, did we have enough bags, what is going to happen when they get on a plane headed for the US? As luck would have it, at this peak we pulled into our scheduled station stop for a twenty minutes. The fresh air allowed us to regroup. We knew the group was resilient and that this would test them. We decided they would make it through. We would soldier on. Despite a few hiccups (you know the kind I am talking about) we pulled into Phnom Pehn still in tack. After a stop at the passport office to complete the paperwork for the children going to summer camp in the US and a short respite at the hotel we headed off for Khmer BBQ and a night walk through town. The weather was cool from the breeze and the smiles had returned to their faces. This is an insolvent group.
Wednesday. The group was going site seeing for the day. Daniela, Maryann and I didn’t tag along for most of it, one because of the heavy admission fees they charge foreigners and secondly Maryann and Daniela had both have lived in Phnom Pehn and visited the popular spots plenty of times. Instead they gave me a tour of their Phnom Pehn, which included good eats and a thai message. And we had some PEPY chores to do. Maryann and I went to the travel agent to buy bus tickets (the group back to Siem Reap and I to Thailand). We also went to the photo printing place to make prints from the photos we took last night for the children and their families. The print house was so busy with workers sitting at copy machines making duplicates of what looked like copyrighted material. So I guess this is where they make those cheap books with bootleg looking covers you see for sell around town. In the back they had a room stuffed full of computers, where they were going to make our prints and copy my backup files. The room was full of guys working in Photoshop superimposing wedding photos and other portraits (many of their children) onto all sorts of distractingly colorful backgrounds and scenic places (waterfalls, temples, outer space, etc). These guys had skills as they cut as pasted faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. That night we meet back up with the group and ate at a street-side Khmer soup establishment. Then we (the Americans) went out for beers, how can you pass up $1 Beer Lao or $1.25 big Angkor Beer bottles. When we returned back to the guest house our Khmer roommates were all fast asleep. In the morning they told us they fell asleep sometime around nine. To save face we didn’t tell them we returned closer to midnight though our faces may have shown it during the 6am breakfast.
When I arrived to Cambodia my travel approach completely changed. Every night in Japan I would plan the next day into meticulous detail (if Satoko was not joining me). I believe this was because without a plan I would have been lost in the size of the city and the amount of things to see and do. Typically after returning back to the abode I would list the places I wanted to go and detail a transportation plan between them. Then if I got sidetracked the plan would change. But in Cambodia there was no plan and instead the goal was to go with the flow. I knew I wanted to visit the PEPY School and Angkor Wat, the rest was wait and see. Luckily there was plenty happening at PEPY to keep me busy and I was fortunate to spend my days with the great people of PEPY. The following is a recap of my travels around Cambodia.
Thursday.My flights (more…)
The good folks at PEPY Ride greated me with open arms on Thursday morning. Jennie was kind enough to meet me at the airport with a tuk-tuk and took me over to Chez PEPY. Most of the team was in the house but between trips, one in yesterday and one going out tomorrow. We were able to get in a good sunset near one of the Ankor Wat gates, a good bike ride through the twilight of Siem Reap, a mexican meal at Viva and some nonsensical British triva at the Funky Monkey. We may have been seated at the losing table but we did get one question correct… “How may stars are on the Texas state flag?” The stars are big and bright… deep in the heart of Cambodia.
Temperature 95 F, traffic crazy and beer $1 USD.
Finally… the ryokan video has been added.
And a little tast of Cambodia. I am a little behind on my blogging, actually leaving Cambodia on a bus to Ko Chang Thailand tomorrow. But I’ll have som good Cambodian stuff coming to you on my Flickr page and here on the blog.