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Posts Tagged ‘Cambodia’

Thailand Long Road Taxi

Getting from Koh Chang Island in Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia is no easy task. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s not easy. There are many ways to do it. The trick is to pick the way that fits your preferred style of travel AND results in the least amount of $ leaving your pocket unwillingly along the way. Your options include any and all of the following individually or in combination with each other:

  • Minivan
  • Bus
  • Private Taxi
  • Plane

Minivan and bus options can include lots of scams along the way. Most of these involve trying to get the foreign tourists to pay hefty visa fees at the border or sell them things they don’t need. Given all that we had heard and how far we had to travel (around 280 km total), we opted for the private taxi option. We also had very good help per navigating the border in Aranyaprathet (Thailand)/Poipet (Cambodia) and a driver meeting us there. So, all we had to do was to safely navigate the 150ish kilometers from our bungalow in Koh Chang to the Thai border.

I knew we were in for a time when we walked out of our lodge and our taxi was there with its hood up. Record disconcerting item #1. But, we felt (no choice really) that we were in good hands so proceeded to the car. The driver’s door opened and out spilled a spiky-haired, earphone trailing kid of about 20 (or less) that did not speak a word of English. Record disconcerting item #2. Luckily, our lodge host spoke Thai and could facilitate the placement of our bags in the back and our butts in the seats of the small car. Close the hood, close the doors, and we were off.

Our driver (never did get his name) drove very carefully down the 1-mile off-road section from Baan Rim Nam Guesthouse to the main road. Our first task was to stop at an ATM and procure the requisite payment for our trip as we had run out of Baht (Thai cash) the day before. Don’t let the commercials fool you…Visa is NOT everywhere you want it to be…at least not in Thailand! But, I digress. Back to the drive. Given that our driver did not speak English and I was not convinced he understood we needed to stop and I could not simply say to him, “please pull over at the nearest teller machine”, I resorted to shouting over and over the letters “ATM, ATM” and gesticulating wildly at every one that we passed. He did get the message, we stopped, withdrew, and proceeded onward.

As we made our way around the island, I noticed that our driver (ok, I’ll call him Thim which is kind of Thai for Tim since I don’t know his name) was driving very slowly. Koh Chang has a lot of steep hills and I was wondering if we would make it up some of them. Near the top of the first hill and as he made a slight left, a decent amount of water disgorged itself onto my feet in the front seat of the car. “Ohhh”, I heard from Thim. “It’s ok!” I replied shaking off my shoes. “No problem”.

Thim had picked us up early to make the earlier ferry but I knew at this speed we would not make it. Sure enough, as we pulled into the ferry station, the boat was just leaving. Thim pulled the car into line and we waited for the next boat.

It was about this time that I really began to look at the car. I could not see the odometer, but I could see that every single indicator was on…the check engine light, the gas light, the oil light…everything. The dashboard was a veritable control panel of bright and flashing lights none of which seemed to phase Thim in the least. As we sat there with our engine running and the gas gauge moving closer to empty, I mistakenly tried to initiate a conversation. “It’s ok to turn off the car and save gas”, I said. He looked at me and I repeated myself. He looked at me again and said, “Where you go?” Thinking he was asking where we would end up, I said, “Siem Reap”. Oh, I had said wayyy too much and now had called into question not just my sanity but the location of our destination with him. He quickly pulled out his phone, dialed a number, and handed to me.

I proceeded to engage in a conversation, even though it was in English,  in which neither I nor the person on the other end knew why we were talking to each other. After returning the phone to Thim, he called someone else and again handed me the phone. This time, the person asked if we were going to Aranyaprathet to which I responded yes. He laughed and I gave the phone back to Thim.

Now that our destination was understood by all parties, I stopped trying to talk to Thim and we waited patiently for the ferry. I might mention that during this whole exchange my wing-man, Sian, was happily ensconced in the back seat listening to her book on tape…oblivious to the scene that had unfolded before her.

The ferry ride proceeded without a hitch. We disembarked and headed on our way…BUT, we made a quick stop just on the mainland to interact with an English speaking guy who instructed me to pay our driver the arranged amount. Hesitant to pay before arrival, I reluctantly withdrew the 2800 Baht from my pocket. We had paid a 700 Baht deposit already in advance for a total of 3500 Baht.

Money in hand, I thought that Thim would proceed directly to the first gas station. Alas, this was not the case. As we headed out onto the road I realized we were headed for Chantiburi (the next town) and would probably not stop for gas until we got there (30 Km). Seemed like a “fur piece” as we used to say in Arkansas as I was sure our gas would be gone way before then.

Once on the two lane road, Thim’s Indy 500 driving ambitions came roaring to front and center. Gone was the gentle boy that drove carefully up and down hills and around corners on Koh Chang. In his place…some Thai version of Mario Andretti headed toward the finish line. As his speed zoomed up toward 140 kilometers per hour, I could only hang on for dear life as my body swayed back and forth and the air conditioner spewed water all over my feet at every turn. I was actually afraid to go to sleep but I might mention that my wing-man, Sian, slept soundly through the entire race and when she wasn’t laying down snoring she was up looking around sleepily and listening to her book on tape.

I must say that given an average speed of nearly 100 kph, the distance we had to cover passed very quickly. We made a few stops…gas (thank goodness) …toilet …coffee…and one vendor selling little flower wreaths to hang on the rearview mirror. Thim bought one of these in a town we passed through then proceeded to fold his hands in front of his chest and say a little chant and prayer. Hopefully he was praying for long life and no traffic accidents given his driving behavior.

At one point, I recognized that Thim was falling asleep. Even if you don’t speak the same language, the signs of sleepy driving are impossible to miss. Funny…here I was afraid to sleep and the crazy driver was falling asleep! Not a good thing when you are traveling at break neck speeds, tailgating, and passing on blind corners.

We eventually made it to the Thai border. Unfortunately, Thim felt obligated to drop us at an office of his friends that sold those fake, expensive Visas we were warned about. They met us at the car and tried to explain that we had to go inside this office and buy special visas. Luckily, we were aware of this scam and proceeded to ignore them and be on our way. No tip for a driver that delivers us into the hands of visa fakers!!

At any rate, we made it and hooked up with our connection on the Cambodia side with no trouble. A nice, pleasant, slow taxi ride from Poipet (the Cambodia side of the border) to Siem Reap was followed by a long nap at the hotel. Glad to make it in one piece, we began to plan our time in Siem Reap.

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Cambodia Bound…2011

Cambodia…the Land of Amazement…home to 14 million people most of whom are under thirty years of age..country whose people can expect to live 62 years and whose infant mortality rate is 5.5%.  Some other things you may not know about Cambodia? See answers at the end of this post…

  • How many monks are in Cambodia?
  • How many psychiatrists make their home in Cambodia?
  • How many bombs were dropped on Cambodia in the Vietnam War?

Today, with my friend Sian, I make another trek to this most interesting locale. It is hard to describe in words a place that is so different from what one is used to, however I will try. Last year I blogged about the Aogaah Foundation school and about Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. You may have read my stories about eating bugs (my friends did this, I did not) and about Angkor Wat and about a family in Phnom Pen that I adopted.

This year, some of the themes will continue and some will be new. With a traveling companion along like Dr. Proctor, you never know what kind of stories and images will emerge.

We will start in Phnom Penh then head west to the Cardamom Mountains and then to Thailand. From there we reenter Cambodia and head for Angkor Wat then back to Phnom Penh. Three weeks with a busy schedule will fly by and we have scheduled many adventures along the way.

Our bags are packed and they are huge. Mine weighs in at about 60 pounds and Sian’s at about 50. Filled to the rim with donated school supplies for Aogaah and gifts for the teachers and for my adopted family there, we are crossing our fingers that both bags arrive safely with all items in one piece.

Our travel itinerary is not bad. We fly out of LAX at 1 am tomorrow morning and make our way to Taipei, Taiwan. Our choice to upgrade to Business class will make this leg of the trip more enjoyable. From Taiwan, we fly directly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and arrive on their Saturday around noon.

Answers to the questions above:

  • 60,000 monks
  • 26 psychiatrists (maybe because of all the monks?)
  • 539,000 tons (Funny…since we weren’t at war with Cambodia)

Stats gleaned from Lonely Planet Guide to Cambodia, 2010, pg. 12.

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Cambodia…19 days…1000 stories

Written: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm Arizona time

This post marks the final installment in the Cambodia series and will serve as a kind of overall summary and reflection on the trip.

Trip Dates: June 7 – departed USA and June 25 – returned USA
Travel Route: From Phoenix to L.A. to Taipei, Taiwan then to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Total Flying Time: 18 hours each way between the three legs

Total Distance: 8900 flying miles each way

Time Difference: T + 14 hours from Phoenix to Phnom Penh, CambodiaPopulation: about 15 million people
Size: roughly 70,000 square miles (about the size of the state of Oklahoma)

Sites visited within and around Phnom Penh:

  • Aogaah Village 15/16 school
  • Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
  • Wat (Temple) Oulanam
  • Wat Phnom
  • Killing Fields/Genocide Museum
  • National Museum
  • Russian market, Night market
  • Riverfront (Tonle Sap)
  • Independence Monument
  • Dinner and visit to home of Aogaah teacher Naryla Pok
  • Lunch and visit to home of tuk tuk driver, Mr. Darith

Other trips in the area:

  • Siem Reap and the temples of Angor Wat
  • Siem Reap Cultural Center

Technologies Utilized

  • MacBook Pro laptop (using both wired and wireless access) for blog writing and posting, photo editing and uploading, and responding to and writing emails
  • Apple ipod with Skype and an Unlimited World Monthly account ($13.99) along with headphones/microphone ($40) for calling home every day and for checking email (when I had wireless access)
  • Sony DSC-H5 lightweight digital camera along with AA rechargeable batteries

REFLECTIONS

Distinct memories of the trip’s specific days are already starting to fade. I am so glad that I decided to blog and write during the trip so that feelings and memories could be preserved.

When people ask me how the trip was, I am a little unsure how to respond. Was it fun? Well, I wouldn’t really classify it as fun per se. There were moments of fun for sure. I guess I would mostly say that the trip was “interesting and intense”. Specific areas of recollection include:

  • The Aogaah Village 15/16 school: Visiting and learning more about the school was the main focus of my trip. I went to the school three separate times and observed students and portions of class sessions. In addition, I spent quite a bit of time with the two local teachers, Naryla Pok and Navy Leang, as well as with the founder, Rick Meyer.I came away from those visits with a very positive impression of the teachers, curriculum, schedule, and the Aogaah Foundation in general. The teachers seem passionate and committed and the students seem excited and eager to learn. Rick has mapped out the progress and history of the school in intimate detail and he familiarized me with the budget and structure as well as with future plans and goals for the school. I left Cambodia on Friday knowing that the money contributed by my donors was well spent and thinking of ways to raise more money for next year as well.

Aogaah Kids

  • The People: Rick always says that if you visit him in Cambodia, you don’t get the luxury tour. You get the people tour and that was certainly the case. I met many different people including tuk-tuk drivers, motorcycles drivers, beggars, teachers, fruit salesmen, land-mine victims, monks, tourists, working girls, and house cleaners. I met people of all ages from babies and young children to old men and women. One of my most astounding realizations is one that should be obvious and that is that people are people not matter where they are. The tendency is to think that people from a vastly different culture are different from “us”. Well, in a sense they are but that sense is only superficial (i.e. language, skin-color, occupation, living location, etc…). The stuff that really matters is the same. People everywhere are just doing the best they can with what they have in order to live each day and make their lives as good as they can. Perhaps in Cambodia for most people, a good life is merely surviving but whatever the metric, the goals for all people really are the same.

Cambodian Lady

  • The Traffic and Driving: I don’t care how bad driving gets in the U.S.A., it will never come close to being as bad as it is in Cambodia. Rick says that one truly amazing thing about Cambodia is that only 5 people a day are killed in traffic accidents. I never did quite get used to being out on the streets and since coming back have flinched at the site of a couple of mopeds. The lack of adherence to ANY traffic rules or guidelines results in a “normal” operational state of pure chaos. People in cars share the roads with pedestrians, bicycles, cyclos, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and even huge trucks and buses. At busy intersections, everyone just goes the way they need to go and a big blob of traffic ends up in the middle with people zigging and zagging to make their way. At any rate, the people there seem to be ok with it. I just wonder what will happen in a few years when the traffic surpasses the carrying capacity of the streets. Major gridlock will probably occur.

Tuk Tuk Drive

  • A Kingdom of Extremes: As I stated in an earlier blog post, “middle-ground” does not seem to exist much in Cambodia. People either have money or they don’t; the weather is either pouring down rain or blistering hot; the government either leaves you alone completely or puts stumbling blocks in your way; people live on the street right next to Cambodian mansions. I am sure this feeling was exacerbated but it being my first trip and absolutely everything being foreign to me from the food to the language to the weather to the customs. Maybe this view would be softened with future visits and more understanding of the people and the culture.

Government Building

Storing Clothes Outside

  • Hospitality and Giving: I have to go back to more examples about the people. My heart will forever be touched by the generous nature of Mr. Darith (my tuk-tuk driver) in offering and sharing lunch on my visit to his humble abode. I am also touched by his daily efforts at working and providing for his family. During my time in Angor Wat, I noticed that Naryla and Navy both made regular donations to beggars and offering sites throughout the temple areas. Their monthly wages are not great by our standards yet they felt compelled to give to those in need.

Me and Mr. Darith

  • Faith: Buddhism runs strong in this little country. Every house has at least one shrine where the family can offer incense and make prayers on a daily basis. Buddhism is a gentle philosophy (or religion…depending on your viewpoint) and is a very important part of the daily lives of almost all Cambodians. I am not sure how much they focus on the “eightfold path” or the “middle way” and would like to do more research on this in perhaps a future trip.

Pay for Prayer

  • Technology: The country may be poor but everyone has a cell phone and coverage in the entire country is excellent. Considering almost 15 million people live spread out over an area the size Oklahoma, I would say their cell companies are doing pretty well. Internet is big as well and almost every block as an Internet shop or café. I was able to find fairly reliable connections in all three hotels I stayed in. In fact, my big joke is that my connection speed halfway around the world was better than it will be in North Idaho here in the U.S.
  • Elephant Driver on Cell Phone

  • Things I did not do that I wanted to: Next time, I would love to visit the beaches on the southwest side of Cambodia as they are supposed to be very nice. I also did not eat crickets or other insects (although I did have a chance). The zoo and some of the (very few) local mountain temples are supposed to be cool, too.

Cricket Snack

FINAL THOUGHTS

Am I glad I went? Yes. I am glad to have visited a country that is so very different from ours. I have a new perspective on the U.S. and most of the things we do here. I am glad to know more about the Aogaah schools and have made connections with a nice group of locals.

Will I go back? Perhaps. Tickets are not cheap and if I go, I do not want to go by myself again. Next time…have to talk Greg or someone else into coming along. Any takers????

I would like to thank all who have been reading and commenting on this blog especially my friend Lynn in North Idaho and Marlene in Phoenix. I wrote primarily for myself so I would not forget the trip details. However, knowing I had an audience keeping up made me stick to a schedule of regular posts and updates.

Thank you to Rick and Navy and Naryla for hosting me in Cambodia. And thank you to all the wonderful Cambodian people I met and for sharing your time and your home.

Teacher Rick

Navy (left) and Naryla (right)

And of course, thank you to everyone that donated to the Aogaah Foundation! Your dollars are being put to good use. If you did not donate and still want to, the foundation website has all the info: http://www.aogaah.org

Orkun! (Thank you!)

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A Lesson in Happiness

Written: Thursday, June 24th around 1 pm concerning events Wednesday morning and afternoon, June 23rd

Around 10:00 on Wednesday morning, I find myself once again cruising the streets of Cambodia with my trusty tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Darith. Working with him the past few weeks has been not just enjoyable but a means of tourist survival. The best way to get comfortable and feel safe in a big, new city is to find someone you trust to drive you around. Mr. Darith has been this driver for me since the day I arrived and today we are not sight seeing. Today I am visiting his home to meet his wife and children and see where they live.

Mr. Darith and his Tuk-Tuk

On the way, I ask to stop at a local bakery and we pop inside. I grab 5 pastries of various kinds (for about $4 total) and head back out to the vehicle. As we continue on our way, we pass shops and stores and vendors and beggars and markets and people selling all manner of things. We pass new city buildings and old businesses. We pass a large park and the Olympic Stadium. We make our way slowly through the heavily trafficked and noisy streets finally arriving at the American Kindergarten private school.

Inside the gates of the school, students are soon to be released for the morning as the first session (7:30 – 10:30) is almost over. About 100 kids stand in neat rows and, following instructions from the head teacher, clap and sing songs for about 10 minutes. As they are ready to go, they repeat after their teacher, “Goodbye! See you tomorrow!”

Mr. Darith has located his older son, Borin, and directs him to the tuk-tuk. Borin is an adorable 5-year old with spikey hair, big eyes, and a fabulous smile. When he sees me, he puts his hands together, bows, and says, “How do you do?” Surprised, I return with, “Fine! How do YOU do?”

Borin

We ride the short 5 blocks to his home in respectful silence as we have run out of common language words with which to communicate. As Mr. Darith pulls the tuk-tuk onto the sidewalk, he points to the top of a two-story structure and points to the top floor. Carefully navigating to cross the street, we enter a dingy shop and head for a very narrow set of stairs in the back corner.

Side note: Cambodia has the narrowest stairs I have ever seen. In fact, these were just slightly bigger than the width of my hips. In addition, the slope of the stairs here is usually VERY steep. I think in America we must have codes for the standard height between steps or at least max height. Here, it is just about as high as you can step.

After climbing the narrow stairs, we make a sharp left turn past a community bathroom (one shower and toilet room) and find our way to the home of my friend. This home consists of a single room (approx 20 ft x 10 ft) with concrete walls, tin roof above a one-foot open gap, two doors, one window and one light bulb in the middle of the room.  They have two bed platforms (one for mom and dad and one for the kids) that double as tables and work areas during the day, two chairs and one very small TV. The cooking area is in one corner of the room with pots and pans and dishes stored in a plastic container. The stove is a propane tank connected to one burner. The preparation area is the bed (after the mattress is rolled up). Two shrines are in the room (remember, Buddha is everywhere) and some pictures of Buddha are on the walls along with a calendar and some other odds and ends.

In this room, the number or household items would fit easily into the trunk of a car with room to spare. The sum total of toys for the two children is one small set of barnyard animals and the 6 small trucks I bought them last week.  Other toys in the room that day, including a battery-powered guitar, belonged to a neighbor boy from downstairs. The family owned two kindergarten books for learning English and one other book I did not see the name of. There were no other books in the room.

Borin and Rach with Alphabet

This room and its neighbor, that houses another family, are situated higher than others in the vicinity. Therefore, the living spaces receive the radiant heat from neighboring tin roofs during the day. With little ventilation, a tin roof of its own, and only one very small fan for cooling, the room gets extremely hot during the afternoons. In this environment live Mr. Darith (26 yr old), his wife of 6 years (Leng – not sure how old), and their two sons (Borin, 5 yr and Rach, 4 yr).

Side Note: As a tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Darith’s wages vary. He told me on a good day he might earn $20 and on a very good day $40. Medium days are $10 – $15 and normal are more like $5. The going rate for a tuk-tuk is $3 an hour or so but there are many, many tuks-tuks in the city and finding good, regular business is very difficult. Very good days occur maybe once a month. Medium are more often and normal days are, of course, the norm. Mr. Darith drives his tuk-tuk seven days a week at all hours. Some days he can return home around 6 pm, but if a customer wants to visit the discos or bars (which are open all hours here) then he could be out all night. I believe his wife works doing some cleaning and odds jobs. Working in Cambodia, especially for poor people, falls heavily along gender lines so primarily men do the driving and heavy lifting and primarily women do the cleaning and cooking.

There are no free schools for K – 12 kids (except Rick’s Aogaah schools), so the families must pay at least $15 a month per child. Another issue for children here is nutrition. There is no milk here and I am not sure where kids get their calcium. Most poor Cambodian children probably have some kind of nutritional deficiency. Mr. Darith tries to buy PediaSure powdered formula for his kids to give them the nutritional boost they need. The powder costs $18 per can and they use about a can a week.

I present all this information to help myself remember and help others understand just how hard the poor and lower income people work here to try and make ends meet. By American standards, these people are poorer than poor. They are not even on our income scale. Things that we take for granted are not even fantasies for the poor people here.

Back to the visit: After introductions, I sit in one of the two chairs and chat with Mr. Darith and interact with the boys. Leng disappears to the market downstairs then comes back and works very hard in the corner kitchen to make lunch. I am initially apprehensive given my experience earlier in the week, but I watch her cook (out of the corner of my eye) and things “seem” fairly sanitary. The rice, vegetable, and fried fish are wonderful. I do draw the line at soup left over from the day before with no refrigeration.

At one point during the meal, I look at Mr. Darith and ask if he is happy. Our conversation goes like this:

Me: Mr. Darith…are you happy?

Mr. Darith: Yes…I am so happy to meet you…

Me: No, I mean before you meet me…are you happy?

Mr. Darith: Oh, yes, I understand. Yes…I am happy. Make little money one day, very happy. Make lot money one day, very happy. I have my health, my family, they are healthy…very happy.

He understands perfectly my question and I understand perfectly his response. I explain to him that in America, many people have health, family, and enough money to live (or even more) and they still are not happy. He understands my words but asks why people with all these things would not be happy. I cannot find words to help him understand for any explanation sounds foolish.

After lunch, I say goodbye. As we pull away, the kids are jumping up and down and waving and yelling “bye!” from the balcony near their house.

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How to Bless a Buddha

Written: Wednesday, June 23 around 2 pm concerning events Wednesday morning, June 23rd

Step 1: Find a Buddha

Cambodia’s population is 95% Buddhist so Buddha is everywhere…literally. He is on every wall, in every town square, in every temple, and in every house. There are Buddha statues, paintings, sculptures, carvings, pictures, and even Buddha figures with halos lit up like Las Vegas.

Buddha speaking to his first students

Buddha Statue in Royal Palace

Angkor Wat Buddha

There are shops upon shops that carry Buddha figurines including traditional Indian Buddhas, fat-belly laughing Buddhas from China, Buddha heads, and Buddha hands. The hard part is finding and choosing the one that you want while taking into account both the size and weight limit of your luggage and the available space in your house.

Step 2: Find a Monk

Once you find your Buddha (or Buddhas as the case may be), then you must find a monk. Once again this is not difficult as the orange-robed Buddhism students are everywhere you look. For my purposes today, rather than make a public “blessing spectacle” on the streets of Cambodia, Mr. Darith took me back to a temple that we had visited a week ago. My hope was to reconnect with monk Choyy Chayya and have him do the blessing. After we arrived at the temple and I gathered my 4 Buddhas, we went in search of Choy. After asking several monks without success, we opted for monk Vannak who was there and available.

Step 3: Find a Quiet Location

We spoke with Vannak outside the monk’s dormitory near the temple of Oulanam. He agreed to perform the blessing so we went inside the dorm area. The entryway was dark and very dirty and filled with several motorcycles. Tiny double-bunked monk rooms were on either side.  We entered one of these poorly lit rooms and took our seats. Vannak kindly turned on the very small overhead fan.

Step 4: Make Some Small Talk

Before the blessing, we made some small talk. Between Mr. Darith, who speaks some English, and the monk, who spoke some but different English, we actually had a conversation. Vannak was about 25 years old and a studying monk for about seven years. He was raised in a country province near Cambodia and attends the monk university nearby.  We spoke of the differences and similarities between Mahayana Buddhism (his study) and Zen Buddhism (my very limited study).

Step 5: Down to Business

After chatting, it was blessing time. I dug out the four Buddha statues I bought and set them on the nearby table near Vannak. Mr. Darith sat in the typical Cambodia crouched position (like doing a squat all the way down and staying that way), and I sat in a chair. With hands together and heads bowed in respect, we listened as Vannak began chanting. He chanted in a long, nearly unbroken string of words none of which I understood. I wasn’t sure how best to participate other than to sit quietly and try not to notice the sweat running down my back and other areas of my body. I tried to focus on his words, but it was hard not to glance around the room and notice the items there: laundry line strung up over the end of the bed, books piled on the bed, tape player on the bed, cell phone plugged in near the floor, cooking pot in the corner, rough concrete walls. After about 10 minutes, Vannak was finished. We all bowed and said “Orkun” which means “Thank you” in Khmer.

Step 6: Make An Offering

I expected that a blessing would come with an offering and, although none was asked for, I did give him a small amount of money ($5) for his time. I figured $5 to bless 4 Buddhas and 30 minutes of his time was a pretty good deal for both of us. I carefully repackaged my now-blessed Buddhas and we headed back to the tuk tuk.

Thoughts: Why a Blessing?

Why go to this trouble? In Cambodia, for most people, Buddhism is the root of their beliefs about life and the world and Buddha is the symbol of those beliefs as the monks are the practicing arms of those beliefs. Blessing a statue that would sit on your shelf anyway may give it some additional power or reminder to you. Remembering that you took the time to meet with a monk might make the statue that much more special and embed the Buddhist principles that much deeper into your life.

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Written: Monday, June 21 around 5 pm concerning events Thurs, June 17 – Sunday, June 20

After the heaviness of the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum, I was looking forward to a trip to Siem Reap and Angor Wat to lighten things up a bit. On Thursday, I checked out of OKAY Guesthouse, hopped on board Mr. Darith’s trusty tuk-tuk and headed to Rick’s place to drop off some luggage and meet Navy and Natila.

A short ride to the Mekong bus station at around 1:30, and we got checked in and ready to go. The bus was huge and thankfully had A.C. and a toilet to make the 6-hour journey more pleasant. Riding through the Cambodian countryside as we passed rice fields and country huts was an experience to say the least.

Houses on the Road to Siem Reap

Another experience was our snack stop a couple hours from our destination. Navy and Natila purchased a rather large bag of fried crickets and munched on them for the next two hours. I tried to psych myself into eating one, but I just couldn’t do it. No wonder I don’t see bugs around here to speak of. All the crickets and grasshoppers and roaches get turned into snacks!

Pick your snack! Roaches, crickets, or Grasshoppers.

We arrived at the town of Siem Reap and were picked up by a tuk-tuk and headed to Two Dragons Guesthouse for three nights. For $25 a night, we stayed together in a giant room with two large beds, A.C., and wireless. The accommodations were very nice and the restaurant food was fantastic.

Over the next three days, we visited many, many temple sites around Angor Wat park. I do not know nearly enough history about these places to speak intelligently, but I took tons of pictures. I will say that these people knew what they were doing from an architectural standpoint. Not only were the temple structures themselves intricate and amazing but the carvings and other artwork on the walls must have taken many hands a long time to complete. I kept kidding the girls that what people did before TV and electricity was to build and carve cool and intricate things.

Angkor Faces

So, here are just a very few pictures from the three days. I took many and lots more are posted (or will be soon) on the Flickr site. Our trip home was uneventful except for the loss of A.C. on the bus halfway back. Made for a very sweaty trip back but we made it just fine.

Temple of Bayon in Angkor Wat

Temple Carvings in Angkor Wat

Trees Like Dinosaurs in Angkor Wat

I am now in a new place called the Mittapheap Hotel as I decided to upgrade from the OKAY Guesthouse for my last few days here. Unfortunately, last night, I experienced an attack of something unpleasant due to something I recently ate. But, good medicine and a day in bed have worked wonders.

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Genocide

Written: Wednesday, June 16 around 5 am concerning events on Tuesday, June 15th

DISCLAIMER: The information presented here may be difficult to read and process. I am still working through it myself but want to post to be true to my experiences here.

POL POT and the KHMER ROUGE

On April 17, 1975, Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea movement took power in Cambodia and began a process of killing and control that forever changed the history of this little country. It is said that he killed several million of his own countrymen in the name of Communism and his movement. Any person deemed to have intellectual skills of any kind (reading, medicine, teaching, speaking other languages, religion, etc…) was killed so they would not be a future threat to the revolution. Women and children were not excluded from his horrific actions. In fact, children were often targeted so that they could not grow up and take revenge. Families that tried to flee to Thailand were often killed by land mines along the border. Many of these mines are still in the ground today. There is no family living now in Cambodia that was not impacted in some way by the atrocities committed by Pol Pot and his crew.

I remember as a 10-year old kid watching news reports and seeing Khmer Rouge soldiers on TV and hearing all the bad things that were happening. Never did I imagine that I would go to the place where it all happened nor that I would meet people who were impacted by those events.

S21 – THE TUOL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM

Even though our day started at the Killing Fields, I want to talk about things in the order they would have occurred. People arrested as “enemies of the state” were brought to Security Center 21 (S.21) for housing and interrogation. Here they were held until they confessed (or died). Pol Pot kept meticulous records of each prisoner including their picture and eventual confession. In the museum, they have hundreds and hundreds of pictures of these individuals. I just couldn’t take a picture of the people. It was too overwhelming. I did take some pictures of the facility, which used to be a school before being converted to a prison. In Cambodia, people say that the whole country became a “prison without walls” during the time of Pol Pot.

Tuol Sleng Holding Cell

Tuol Sleng - One of Three or Four Buildings This Size

Barbed Wire to Prevent Suicides

Excellent article with update on Tuol Sleng and the guy(Duch) who ran it (why did he have to be a math teacher?????)

CHOEUNG EK – KILLING FIELDS

After a prisoner “confessed”, they were very quickly disposed of. There were so many people that got arrested that things had to be done very quickly. Trucks of 20 – 30 people were sent about every three weeks from Tuol Sleng Prison down to Choeung Ek about 15 km outside of town. At Choeung Ek, prisoners were killed within hours of arriving using the most brutal methods imaginable including poisoning and head trauma. Infants were killed by first, grabbing their legs and smashing their heads into a tree then, flinging their bodies into a pit with their recently killed mothers.

Killing Tree

Mass Gravesite

The weird thing about all this is that people on the outside did not really know what was going on. The Khmer Rouge used loudspeakers to drown out sounds of people screaming and they used DDT to cover the stench of dead bodies. Families only knew that their members had gone to “meet someone who needed help” or to “enter a re-education program” and that they did not return.

After Pol Pot was overthrown over 4 years later (in 1979), all of the terrible things were discovered. An intense effort of recovery ensued including digging up of mass graves and identifying remains (as much as possible). The site is well preserved and includes markers and descriptions of the buildings and gravesites. A large stupa was erected to house the remains and serve as a reminder of the past and a way to honor the souls of those who died. To this day, bones of those killed are still surfacing after rainstorms.

Memorial Stuppa

Memorial Stuppa

Inside the Stuppa

EVERY FAMILY WAS AFFECTED

It is said that Pol Pot left no Cambodian family untouched, and I believe this to be true. On the way out of each area (S21 and Killing Fields), I met beggars who were missing limbs due to land mines. My teacher friend Navy lost her grandfather. He was asked to come and “meet a friend that needed help” and never returned. My tuk tuk driver lost his father. The shape of this country today still reflects the mold made by Pol Pot and many, many, many generations will be needed to lessen the effect. But, the people seem hopeful. Perhaps that is why they smile so much because when your country is recovering from the most painful period in its history, what is left to do but smile and move ahead.

Khmer Baby and Mom

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