Monday, June 28, 2010

Leaving Cambodia



— Sara

K3s

Kampot

So we were having the breakfast at Sisters II. Cale was taking note of a group of barang eating on the patio. There was something about their American accents that drew his attention. When they started talking about food ("I'll eat this and carne asada, just watch me."), he knew he had Peace Corps on his hands. "Pisikoa o tagata lea." However, he knew for sure when he heard one of them mention the names of nearby married Peace Corps that we had planned to visit. Without hesitation he headed over to the table. "You guys must be Peace Corps, yeah?" Of course he was right. We had accidentally run into a group of K3 (unlike Samoa where we just say Group 79 or whatever, other countries seem to refer to their groups by a letter designator usually from the name of the country). These guys were almost one year into service with another year to go. Later we learned they had been discussing us as well. They had decided we weren't tourists or ex-pats so we must work for an NGO. It fit nicely into their framework that we were RPCV from another country (though some previous RPCV experience from them had been with some strange birds).

We exchanged pleasantries and they informed us of some live music happening later that night at the
Bodhi Villa. After a failed attempt to see the sunset at Utopia, we headed back to Bodhi to meet up with the K3s and see some music. The music ended up starting past our bedtime and Cale and I bailed early. However, this was not before we spent some time talking with K3 Christian and his visiting girlfriend Jessica. They were thinking about heading to Rabbit Island the next day, but were hoping to find someone to share the boat ride coast with (it is $20 per boat, regardless of the number of passengers). We had also been considering Rabbit Island, but didn't want to spend $20 on the boat. Like a match made in heaven, we discovered we were staying in the same guest house and made plans to meet the next morning and head out to Rabbit Island.

More on the island to come.

— Sara

Sisters II

I mentioned we started our breakfast routine in Kampot at Epic Arts Cafe, but had to abandon it after the great coffee debacle. Next we moved to Coco House. It was just around the corner from our guesthouse and offered cheap western fare (eggs and bread for $1.50). However, we knew we had to seek out Sisters II as soon as possible, as it had been recommended to us by two difference Peace Corps volunteers.

Let me just say, WOW.

The food at Sisters II is simply amazing. There are pumpkin pancakes that are so delicious that I would keep eating way past full and never really regret it (though I would moan aa little and hold my stomach). In addition to the pumpkin pancakes there was also homemade syrup and butter. Honest to goodness homemade butter. AND! cinnamon rolls and brownies and apple pie and chocolate pie and lime pie. Dear god, it was amazing. If you ask ahead you can also purchase an entire loaf of their amazing bread at an extremely reasonable price. This was the bread that sustained Cale and I during our 13-hour bus ride.

Added bonus, the lady that runs Sisters II is wonderful. Super friendly. She and her husband recently adopted a baby boy. They named him Moses. How powerful a name is that? She grew up in an orphanage with the two other women who make up the sisters. Though not related by blood, they consider themselves sisters. They have locations in Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh (where I can only imagine the other two women live).

If you are in Kampot you must eat there. They have all-day breakfast and lunch items that are also delicious. Run, don't walk to Sisters II. Just don't go on Sunday, they are closed.

— Sara

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hello, Moto

Kep

One of the reasons we have been able to stay in Kampot for so long is the moto. Cale has been determined to learn to drive one since we arrived in Southeast Asia. Kampot was finally the perfect town and Nita obliged Cale's request. Since then we have rented a moto most days.

Having a moto has opened up the countryside to us in a way no other transportation can. We traveled by bike or foot in the other places we have visited and the distance we could travel was limited. It never really occurred to us to rent a car (and not just because of the price), but in a car its more about the destination than the journey. By moto we often simply pick a direction and head out, the scenery along the way is enough excuse for the trip.

We have tooled around Kampot, been out to Kep and Kampong Trach, visited pepper plantations and strange cave shrines. We've swam in resort pools and seen the river views from far out guesthouses. We go to the Wunderbar on the edge of town and eaten mashed potatoes frequently. This was all made possible by moto.

Cale is insistent that when you go to a new country you must begin traveling like the local people as quickly as possible. He is right. It gets you away from the other tourists and the package deals. It lets you see the country more authentically.

I am becoming a better moto passenger. You may remember my first moto ride was by moto-taxi at Mike's site, with a 25 pound pack on my back and at speeds of 60km an hour or more. I held on for dear life and imagined all the horrible things that could happen while convincing myself I wasn't going to throw up. Today, at city speeds, I don't even have to hold on to the sissy bar. I still hate cornering and highway speeds and I still occasionally imagine what would happen if the bike tipped over in a turn or if I fell of the back. But I am showing improvement. Nita keeps insisting I learn to drive. I think it is too early for that. Maybe when we come back for our retirement.

— Sara

Kampot

Kampot

I am getting out of order again. That is what happens when I am so far behind in my blogging. However, we are leaving Kampot tomorrow and I haven't had the opportunity to explain why we have stayed in this tiny, riverside town for three weeks.

Cale has already declared Kampot at the top of his list of places to retire early (we just have to figure out how to retire early...which I suppose starts with having jobs to retire from) and I am inclined to degree. There is something about the atmosphere here. The people in Cambodia have all been overwhelmingly nice and welcoming and Kampot seems to take that friendliness up a notch. Someone we met once at dinner will come up to us days later at a bar and ask us how we are doing. The owners of Wunderbar will be tooling around on their moto, see us at a riverside cafe and wave happily. Its nice.

Kampot is also a Khmer city. Granted, it is a tourist destination and the riverfront road feels pretty much abandoned right now in the low season, but even empty riverfront road feels lived in. At night we watch families out on motos and the kids at the playground. Tourism is obviously not the overwhelming purpose of this town, unlike Siem Reap (another city we enjoyed).

There is also the buzz of revitalization in the air. Everywhere you look construction is underway. Old, French-era row houses are being gutted and rebuilt. Public, park-like promonade spaces are under construction in the middle of town. When the heat of the day has passed you can see kids playing hackey-sack-like games in the one that is completed. There is a sense of determined people committed to growth and rejuvenation. Of course, all this development can have its downside too. Up on Bokor Mountain where the decaying remains of a French resort sits like a ghost town and new resort is all ready under construction in the years to come a golf course, casino and hotel will spring up and the French ruins will not longer stand, shrouded in mist.

When Cale and I arrived we thought we would stay a week before continuing on to Kampong Trach and meeting up with the Peace Corps volunteers there. However, in addition to being actually sick, I was sick and tired of being on the move. Also, the PC volunteers were busy that first weekend. So we decided to unpack our stuff, make Paris Guesthouse (great place) our home and settle in for another week. We started to look at our options of where to go next. We thought that next weekend we wold visit the PCs and then head on to Battambang. The next weekend came and the volunteers found themselves in the whirlwind of activity surrounding the arrival of the US Navy's humanitarian hospital ship (which was in Samoa almost this same time last year). Should we just break camp and head to Battambang, we wondered. We looked at the calendar, our visa expiration dates (30 June) and our flight home (12 July). Did we really want to leave a city we were enjoying so much for one we were unsure of with two weeks left on our Cambodian visas? The answer to that was no. And so we left our backpacks in the corner and called Kampot our home for another week.

Unfortunately, the time to leave has finally arrived. Our visas expire in four days. Travel logistics will not allow for us to travel directly to the border from here (we want to arrive at the border in time to make the train to Bangkok). We have decided to spend one more day in Siem Reap before heading to Poipet. Tomorrow (Sunday) will find us on the bus to Siem Reap and on Tuesday, with one day left on our visa, we will cross the border and be back in Thailand.

I am sad to leave Kampot, but to be honest I am also a little excited. We are reaching the end of our travel and I am ready. My mind is already in Bloomington and going back to school. We got confirmation of our student loans, we found a place to live (thanks Grandma Hellman), we are thinking about the future. We are still more than two weeks away from that flight home, but packing up tonight and getting on a bus in the morning are the first steps we have taken in that direction in three weeks. I think I am ready to be on the move again.

— Sara

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rusty Keyhole

Meera's going away dinner was held at a restaurant called the Rusty Keyhole. Only a month ago they were located on the riverfront. but their landlady raised the rent and they moved to a location outside of town with nice breeze and a beautiful view of fields and the mountains. The pictures on the web are from the old location.

At that dinner Cale had immediately tuned to the rack of bbq pork ribs on the menu. Unfortunately, some one else had just ordered the last one for the night. We knew we were going to have to return, so a week later we found ourselves out there again for lunch.

The ribs were a different cut then we are used to in the States, but it seems to mean that you get more meat than the typical bbq rib cuts in America. They were outrageously delicious. They meat was fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth tender. The sauce was amazing. Cale took note of honey, garlic and citrus flavors, but it was hard to tell just what all went into it. They even point out on their menu that several other restaurants on the river have attempted to replicate their bbq to no avail. There was so much food that I almost immediately went into a food/meat coma. When the last bite was gone I had to instruct Cale to drive me directly back to our guesthouse where I laid in a stuffed stupor on the bed.

I promise that our time in Kampot has not just been eating. We have done other things and I intend to talk about them in future blog entries. However, there will also be more blog entries about food. I want to make sure to point out any places we have found really good, just in case some one out there reads the blog and then travels to Kampot.

— Sara

Wunderbar

If The Green Man is our official hangout in Kampot, Wunderbar is our unofficial hangout. We have been there at least seven nights since we arrived almost three weeks ago. We first went with Az, Olivia and Darren. Cale had seen a sign advertising their dartboard so it was inevitable we would end up there. I discovered they had mashed potatoes on the menu so it was inevitable we would return.

Every time we have gone I have ordered the same thing, the chicken satay bbq with mashed potatoes, with one exception. Out of guilt over not being adventurous I ordered a toasted sandwich that included salami and olives. Though it was good, I immediately regretted not ordering mashed potatoes. More recently I have been ordering the satay and mashed potatoes with a side of extra mashed potatoes. Needless to say, I am gaining back the weight I had lost in the previous few weeks.

We go back to the Wunderbar to watch World Cup games, eat mashed potatoes, play darts and pool and hang out with the Swiss-German owner and the cool staff. I think the Chile/Honduras game was the first World Cup game I have ever watched. I am not a sporty person, so it was surprising to me when I discovered I liked watching rugby sevens in Samoa. Now I am surprised to learn I like watching World Cup football. The Chile/Honduras game was fun, even if the Chilean players were throwing themselves on the ground in obviously-fake pain every three seconds. Cale and I took to referring to the Chilean players as Nancy and Sally and asking them if they had gotten their periods. "Maybe a Midol will help you get up off the ground and play a little football, Sally?" Nothing like a little misogyny with my mashed potatoes.

Currently Wunderbar is located on the road to Phnom Penh a little outside of central Kampot. However, they have recently bought or rented space on the riverfront and have a move planned in the future.

— Sara

Epic Arts

While we were still in Siem Reap staying in Clem's lunch hut, we met another couchsurfer, Meera. Meera is from England and was traveling over the summer break after completing her undergraduate for pre-med. In the fall she will return to Oxford. She was up in Siem Reap for a four-day national holiday, but she was staying Kampot where she was volunteering with an organization called Epic Arts.

According to their web site:
"Epic Arts is an arts charity established in 2001. We organise and run visual art, drama, dance and music projects for people with disabilities in the UK, Cambodia and other international locations. Our projects celebrate the creative potential of those with whom we work, by offering new skills and giving each participant an outlet for their creative expression. Epic Arts works with the philosophy that Every Person Counts (EPiC)."

"In Cambodia, Epic Arts provides a range of professional dance, drama, music and art programs to people of all abilities and disabilities in order to promote empowerment, integration and acceptance. This is vital is a country where an estimated 1 in 10 people have some form of disability."
They also run a cafe in Kampot.

When I was finally able to try food on Sunday after my first Saturday of illness in Kampot Cale brought me back some oatmeal (porridge on the menu) from the Epic Arts Cafe. It was the perfect mush food for someone who found swallowing painful. I still was only able to handle a couple of bites, but it was a good start. When I was able to leave the guesthouse the next day we breafasted at Epic, I had the oatmeal again. This time I was able to eat more and added some of the palm sugar it is served with. It was pretty good. We at breakfast at Epic the next two or three days in a row. They had an impressive-looking menu that included a lot of delicious-sounding dishes...if a bit pricey. However, I only ever had the oatmeal.

Cale had been ordering other breakfast items and a french press of coffee. He was less than impressed with the coffee. It was expensive and not very good. After several days he decided to bring his own coffee and mug with him and just ask for some hot water. On the second day one of the barang employees (or volunteers, I am not sure) came over to talk to Cale. She took issue with him bringing his own coffee into a cafe where they sell coffee. Cale could understand her complaint and explained that their coffee wasn't very good and he was perfectly willing to pay for the hot water, but they were having none of it. It was strange to me. We were there every morning ordering pretty sizable breakfasts and yet they were raising an issue over a cup of coffee. Cale was angry enough that he didn't want to return. We started breakfasting at Coco House around the corner from our new guesthouse (Paris Guesthouse). The breakfast there is cheaper, just as delicious and they are more than accommodating of Cale's request for some hot water.

Cale says he has mixed feelings about Epic Arts. He loves the work that they do for artists, but is less than happy with the cafe. "Promoting the idea of professional artists is one of the things that makes a civilization."

When we finally made our way down to Kampot we planned on looking Meera up, but it occurred to us that we might have missed her. She was only volunteering for a month and it was three weeks ago that we had met her in Siem Reap (she was a week into her volunteer work at that time). We texted her and discovered that the same weekend I was sick she had gotten food poisoning in Phnom Penh (and later we discovered that Clem also had food poisoning in Siem Reap, how odd is that?). She was just getting back to work on Wednesday after taking several days off and then Friday was her last day. We ended up meeting up with Meera at her going away dinner from Epic Arts.

At dinner Meera introduced us to another American who is staying Kampot and is on couchsurfing. Tony told us he was from Detroit and Cale and I refused to believe him. "You don't sound like your from Detroit." You know why? Because he went to high school in Indianapolis. He graduated from Ben Davis two years before Cale and I graduated from Pike. It is a small, small world.

The place we had dinner with Meera and the Epic Arts crew was impressive that I am refraining from naming it now so I can give it its very own blog entry. Tune in later to learn about the barbecue pork ribs we had in Cambodia that rival the best ones I have had in the States (even Dreamland Joel, even Dreamland).

— Sara

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Az and Olivia and Kep

Kampot

My first night out of the guesthouse Cale and I ran into Darren at The Green Man. He's from Australia and married to a Khmer woman. He as a small boat and runs sunset cruises on the river. While having a drink with him he mentioned that he was taking some guests from the Rikitikitavi out on the river that night, would we like to come along?

The sunset cruise was a delight and not just for the scenery. We also met Az and Olivia. They are a Welsh couple on a three-month vacation that takes in Southeast Asia, Australia and Hong Kong. After mostly running into such young travelers (kids as young as 18) it was nice to hang out with someone in our age bracket. Cale was also pretty pumped to have a guy to talk to. He had recently been noting that all the people we have been hanging out with since coming to Cambodia were women. Not that Cale doesn't love hanging out with women and talking about menstrual cycles and makeup tips, and not that Cale is some burly guy who wants to chug beers and talk about sports, but sometimes it is nice to have another guy to hang out with.

Kampot
Darren and Az

After the boat trip we had dinner with Az, Olivia and Darren and we played a game of darts. Cale was in heaven. Other boys and darts! Woo hoo!

We ended up hanging out with Az and Olivia several nights in row. When they made the move to the Veranda resort in Kep it turned out it was the same one we had scouted the day before and had determined to return to the following day to use the pool.

The Veranda sits up the side of a mountain in Kep, a seaside city just outside of Kampot. Cale and I had motored over there for the day to check it out. In comparison to Kampot (a tiny town) Kep is miniscule. We were less than impressed with the available diversions and after the restaurant attempted to cheat us on the lunch bill were weren't too inclined to make the move from Kampot to Kep. Besides, it was only a 40 minute moto-ride away, we could always return when we wanted. After determining the beach also wasn't too exciting, we motoed up the mountain in search of a hiking trail. Jenn, a Peace Corps volunteer outside Kep, had told me that the Veranda resort sat very near to the head of a hiking trail. The trail turned out to be part of the Kep National Park. After ascertaining the location of the trail and discovering that we could use the Veranda pool if we bought $5 each in food or drink, we knew we had a plan for the next day. We would hike this trail, get good and hot and sweaty and then luxuriate in the pool.

Kep

The trail is incredibly well maintained and an easy hike. In fact, we saw both motos and tuk-tuks on the trail. However, we wanted a little exercise and decided to hoof it. There are several openings in the tree coverage where local groups or guesthouses have sponsored benches and you can see spectacular views of Kep and Kampot in the distance. We saw innumerable amounts of butterflies (Cambodia is just chock full of butterflies) and heard monkeys (though we never saw them). Just before the "summit" there is a large clearing with several benches and signs indicating what is in the distance and how far away it is. Unless you plan to hike clear around the mountain (approximately a 7k trek) this is the best stopping point. After the view the trail continues to this so called summit which offers no view other than a flag. Very anticlimactic.

Kep

As planned Cale and I had gotten quite hot and sweaty and were ready for the pool. We knew it wasn't going to be difficult to spend $5, seeing has how the margaritas we started with were $4 each. After we had been there a bit, Az and Olivia arrived. It had started to rain just then, so we sat at the pool-side bar enjoying drinks (cheaper drinks, but not by much) and goat-cheese pizza (that's right people, goat cheese). When the rain let up we were all back in the pool until our entire bodies had turned pruney. Then Cale and I hopped back on the moto and returned to Kampot.

Kep

— Sara

The Green Man

Kampot

While I had been convalescing at the Sunrise Guesthouse, Cale had been out exploring Kampot a little bit. One of the first places he happened upon was the nexus of weird. The sign, however, says
The Green Man.

The Green Man is a bar/restaurant run by Nita and we have been there practically everyday since arriving in Kampot. The first night Cale went out for a wander and was drawn by a man with an iPhone in pieces. The following day he passed by with a bag bulging with laundry. Now friendly with Nita, he stopped to ask if she knew a place that did laundry by the kilo (the laundry across the street from the guesthouse only did laundry by the piece, which as insanely expensive). "You do here for free. No worries. I have washing machine. You see. Do laundry here for free." Cale, skeptically, followed her to the back of the shop where indeed there was a large laundry machine. But why would she want him to do his laundry here for free? Throwing caution to the wind he decided that free is good and washed the clothes there. As he left, he passed a magazine on a table. The headline? "The Great Clothes Robbery." He wondered if that was a sign. Returning to the room he told me we either were going to get our clothes cleaned for free or lose everything but what we had on. Either way, it would make for a good story.

Nita, of course, turned out to be a sweetheart and not a clothes thief. She regularly offers us the use of her daughter's moto for free (which we always decline, choosing to rent one instead so as not to deprive her daughter of transportation), she lent us the bikes she usually rents for a $1 a day for free and we have done our laundry at her place several times since. She was also the person who finally taught Cale how to drive a moto (he has been trying to get someone to do that since we arrived in Cambodia).

"Nita," we ask, "if you keep giving everything away for free, how will you ever make any money?" She is making some cash off us. We visit her every night for a beer or two and there are rarely ever other customers (this is the low season and barang are scarce around these parts).

Nita has introduced us to her array of regular customers, which mostly consist of expats.

One of these customers is entering into my newly formed category of John Waters' characters who have retired to Cambodia. You may remember the two we met in
Sen Monorom? Well, there is one here in Kampot as well. Not surprisingly he also moved from Sihanoukville (which I am starting to form quite the strange mental picture of) recently and rented a house in town. He has the magical ability of always being where you are and you are less than excited about it. He is always, always just a little bit drunk and more thank likely more than a little bit drunk. He wobbly rides his bike from one bar to next and makes very little sense when he is speaking. To be honest, my instant reaction to him was he was the oldest e-tard I had ever met. There was one day he was hanging out at The Green Man in men's pajamas and asked another patron, "Do you go out in your sleeping costume?" The other patron replied that no, only women went out in pajamas here (you may remember my mentioning that pajamas are clothes?).

Hanging out with Nita is always an adventure. Sometimes it is harder for me because she speaks English with both a Khmer and French accent (she lived in France for several years). Yet even when I am not 100% sure what is going on, it is hard not to join in with her infections laughter. Nita has a collection of friends whom she always refers to as having good hearts. According to her, we too have good hearts.

If you happen to find yourself in Kampot, seek out The Green Man on the river road (it's hard to miss) and you won't be disappointed.

— Sara

Dang Tung Part II: The Wedding

Dang Tung

One of the women who works in Lauren's village market was getting married and Lauren was invited. She asked around and we were invited too. I love how it is no big deal for a guest to bring along two uninvited and unknown guests to a wedding at the last minute here and in Thailand. I get the impression it is the more, the merrier.

Lauren thought it would be fun for us get the traditional Khmer dress-up treatment with elaborate hair and makeup. I was all for it. In the evening, after Lauren had finished school for the day we headed over to the beauty parlor. There were several women there ahead of us, so we waited our turn.

Dang Tung

Lauren went first and as expected her hair was immediately teased to huge proportions. A significant amount of hairspray and bobby pins were added. A crimping iron came out. The finishing touch was a jeweled tiara that was added to her beehive-like hair at a jaunty angle. We all agreed she had the look of a retro prom queen doing the morning after walk of shame. It was awesome.

Dang Tung

When my turn came the hairdresser first started out teasing my hair up, but quickly realized there was too little and it was too thin to tease. After a brief assessment she switched to twisting pieces and stabbing them into places with sharp, tip-less bobby pints. Things started to get really spectacular when the jeweled chain came out and she wove around the twists. We all thought the the giant yellow and orange flower pinned to the back was the finishing touch, but we would later learn there was still fabulousness to come. After completing my makeup, the hairdresser dug into a bag and produced a ponytail of black hair.

Dang Tung

"That's real hair isn't it?" I asked. Oh, yes. Yes it was real hair indeed. Completely disregarding the drastic difference in hair colors the hair dresser proceeded to pin this ponytail to the back of my head and arranged so it draped over my shoulder in rigid, hairspray curls. Talk about awesomeness. I took to calling it the muskrat. We were not at the wedding for very long before I had to rather aggressively pry int from my head. The hard, hairsprayed curls made it impossible for me to turn my head to the left. The would stick fast to my right shoulder and pull at the hair they were attached to when I turned my head.

Dang Tung

The actual wedding portion of the wedding had taken place through out the day and we were arriving for the reception. Though some of Lauren's market friends wanted us to join their table we were ushered to another, half-empty table. Apparently, a table could not receive food unless its seats were full, so the arrival of three more people was very important to this table. Plus, we were informed that some of the people at this table spoke English. With the music blaring so loudly from the band, I am not sure how a conversation in any language could have taken place.

Dang Tung

In addition to tons of food there was also plenty of alcohol. I was trying to drain my first glass of beer so I could pour some water into the glass instead. However, every time I looked down, I discovered my half-filled glass was full again. The lady to my right was keeping me topped up. Cale (who was between me and Lauren) had a safe glass, so he drained his and filled it with water for me and I passed him my never ending glass of beer.

The table was presented with rice and an assortment of Khmer dishes. I have a hard time eating things I cannot see and in the dim light nothing was distinguishable. Lauren was kind enough to tell us what was in all the dishes, but I still could not bring myself to brave the unseen items. I ate only rice and the carrots from one of the soup-like items (I was informed later it might have been a pickling brine?). The best quote of the night came when I pointed to a soup situated between me and Cale saying, "Something in that soup wants out." A cricket of some sort had made its way into this viscous, brown gravy in front of us and was desperately swimming its way to the edge and grasping at the slippery sides. However, at first glance, in the dim light and in my overwhelmed state, my first reaction was to assume that there were still-live elements to this meal. Cale gave the cricket a hand and I pretended that soup didn't exist anymore.

Not long after the food came out the dancing began. There was a band playing Khmer karaoke music with hired singers tunelessly belting out the music. In order to show our appreciation for being invited, Cale and I (who are not dancers) joined in for a couple of numbers. However, when they began to play more popular music that involved actually dancing attempts (and not just walking around in a circle and moving your hands a little) we bowed out. Our decision to sit out the dances was upsetting to some drunken men who literally tried to pull us bodily on to the dance floor. There was one man in particular (who appeared to be part of the staff serving the food and providing the tables and chairs) who would have absolutely none of our sitting and watching. He repeatedly grabbed both Cale and I and tried to drag us from our seats.

Dang Tung
The bride

One difficult aspect of the wedding experience were the can kids. There were several young boys and one young girl who were wandering from table to table with long strings. They would scavenge for empty beer cans, check to see if they were in fact empty (usually by drinking the last swallow) and then add them to the string. Lauren explained to us (as she asked for an extra bowl and spoon, filled the bowl with food from the table and handed it off to the kids) that these kids were motherless or fatherless and were scavenging the wedding for recyclables to make some money. To see the way that kid attacked the food Lauren had given him was a clear indication that they weren't scavenging for a little extra pocket change. They were looking for money for dinner in these beer cans. One of these kids we had in fact met earlier in the day. He lived near to Lauren and had come by her house. We were informed, in Khmer, with the kid standing right there that his mother was recently dead. It had a feel of, "Oh, this one? This is the one with the dead mother."

Dang Tung

It wasn't until several hours after we got home that night that I learned that something I ate at the wedding hadn't sat well with me, which led to the tale of my illness and our journey to Kampot, which you have already heard.

Tune in next time to hear about what it is like in Kampot when you finally leave your guesthouse after 48 hours of drinking water, lying around and living on a handful of french fries and a banana.

— Sara

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dang Tung Part I

Dang Tung

Thursday morning we went with Lauren to her village market. Lauren and I had Cambodia breakfast
*. Cale was not hungry. Lauren had some sort of curry rice. I had a noodle soup, with unidentifiable meats...oh and clotted blood. I sort of ate around the meats and blood.

*I am starting to get the impression that it is only western cultures that have special foods that are only supposed to be eaten at breakfast. Thais and the Khmer both eat rice or noodles dishes as breakfast foods, the same as they would for lunch or dinner. The Samoans would have toast or eggs or something for breakfast, but that is something I think they inherited from the missionaries. A more common Samoan breakfast dish was saimini (raman noodles). Of course, I could be totally wrong about this and my outside the US breakfast experiences are limited to these three countries. So ignore this and we can go back to the regularly scheduled blog entry.

Lauren took us to meet her favourite seamstress so she could alter one of Lauren's Khmer outfits for me to wear to the wedding on Friday. When I had tried the top on the night before a deep breath had burst three buttons off the back. Lauren is a pretty tiny girl and I am a ogre in Southeast Asia. Interestingly enough Cale and I were told by two separate people in the market that we were a good size. They were used to foreigners being so much bigger and liked our size better.

Even though Lauren is smaller than me the alterations to her top and skirt were oddly to make them smaller in places. Instead of making the skirt larger to accommodate my hips, which would have been a trickier alteration, instead we just hitched the skirt up higher so that my hips went into an already larger area and then she made the waist a little smaller so that it wouldn't bunch up funnily. I have no idea why they decided to make the top smaller, as the entire reason it needed fixing was that I had burst the buttons. When I wore the top to the wedding the next day I had to refrain from breathing in deeply.

You may notice in the pictures of this alteration process I suddenly am quite well-endowed in the chest area. I didn't suddenly grow boobs while I was away. All Khmer dress-up clothes for ladies have built in boobs. They are these have spheres made of sturdy cloth. Lauren once specifically requested an dress made without the "balls" as they are called, but it was refused. She was told that she needed the balls to be beautiful.

When I took off my shirt to try on the top of the outfit there was sudden interest in my sports bra. In the end I had to take it off so the seamstress could look at it. I apologized as I handed it over, explaining it was both damp and stinky. Lauren explained the use of sports bras versus regular bras. When I put my shirt back on later, I didn't have the bar on and there seemed to be some sort of disappointment in my boobs. One of the ladies gave me the scoop half of the Laura Hanks "scoop and slam." I didn't get it translated, so I am not sure what they were saying about my boobs. Then they were all entertained as I attempted to put my sports bra back on under my shirt.

Dang Tung

Later in the day we heard rumors of a exorcism occurring nearby. Lauren's host brother had gone to it taking his oldest daughter. We were told that it should start around 1pm and go until 4pm. In the afternoon we headed out in search of this exorcism. It was quite the bike ride away from Lauren's house. She rode on her Peace Corps bike and gave her cruiser bike to Cale. I sat side saddle on the luggage rack thing on the back of the cruiser bike, a very popular way to share bikes around here. Occasionally, Lauren would stop and inquire further directions, narrowing down the location of the exorcism. We finally found ourselves wandering through dry rice fields, avoiding cows and their droppings to the complete astonishment of any local children. Eventually we ran into Lauren's host brother who told us the exorcism was already over. We had missed it. Later, while we hung out with some of Lauren's host relatives she tried to determine why the exorcism had ended so early. She was told because there was only one, but she couldn't determine if it was because there was only one ghost to be exorcised or because there was only one magician/wizard to do the exorcizing. It was all very confusing.

We ended the night eating dinner with her family and showing them some of our pictures from Samoa.

— Sara

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sara's 29th Birthday or Adventures in a Share Mini-Bus

Sara's Birthday

If you remember we spent most of our anniversary on a bus under the impression this would save me from spending my birthday on a bus. Well, there goes that idea.

We thought we would spend the night of Monday the 31st in Phnom Penh and then take the bus out to PCV Lauren's village the next day. The day before my birthday. However, Lauren suggested it would be perfect if we came to her place on Wednesday instead. We would get in Wednesday evening and then could hang out with her on Thursday, her day off from school. So despite our best laid plans, we ended up on a bus for my birthday anyway.

There isn't really a bus to Lauren's village. There is a mini-van. We learned the mini-van to her village would probably be leaving from the market at 1:30pm...which means more like 2 or 2:30pm according to Lauren. Unsure of where we were going and how long it would take to get there Cale and I ended up at the market where the mini-vans depart from around 11:30am, a little early for our trip. The tuktuk driver looked around and found the van going to Lauren's village. The van driver then showed us a phone number on his cell phone, we compared it to the number for Lauren we had saved into our phone. They matched! We knew we had the right van and we didn't even have to attempt any verbal communication.

Seeing has how it was going to be like two hours before the van would even think about leaving Cale went off in search of water and a money changer to get our dollars changed into riel. I have a future post planned about money in Cambodia, but it is sufficient to know that USD and the Cambodian riel are both accepted currency. However, the more rural you are the less use you will have for USD, except maybe $1s. While Cale was off, the mini-van driver indicated I should sit in the van. I was the only passenger at the time and it was a little warm in the van so after 20 minutes or so, I gave up and moved outside in the breeze to wait.

When the van finally headed out Cale and I were thinking that we were in for a pretty luxuriant ride by Cambodia standards. There were only six or seven passengers in the van including us and a baby. Normally these sorts of modes of transport are stuffed to the gills. Granted the trunk was so packed with bags of flour and cement and our bags and a couple of plants and car parts that it couldn't shut. But I have never seen one of these vans on the road without a trunk that is propped open with stuff and tied down with rope. More car parts were tucked into the floor space inside the van, but in general it was pretty roomy. Along the way we picked up packages and letters from people on the side of the road. We picked up a lady and a baby on the side of the road. She had large wicker shelves with her and they put them inside the van in such a manner that Cale and I had the entire back seat to ourselves and the wicker shelf took up another one of the backseat spaces. Now we were feeling pretty confident that we would have a roomy ride, there was furniture hindering other passengers from sitting next us. However, we had gotten excited too early.

At the first stop outside of Phnom Penh they took out the wicker furniture and strapped it to the roof. Then we picked up several more passengers ensuring that there were now two other people sharing the backseat with me and Cale. Cale, unfortunately, we sitting on the end where the roof of the van curved down. He was too tall and could not sit up straight without hitting his head on the roof. For a significant portion of the ride, he stuck his head out the window. All in all there were more than 15 passengers in this seven or eight passenger mini-van and that does not include infants or children sitting on laps.

There were two babies being held on laps in front of us. One of the moms' favourite baby diversions was "look at the barang" and they would hold the infants up and encourage them to look at us. This has happened to us a lot on our travels. I feel a little like one of the characters in Disneyland, like I am Mickey Mouse or something, and all the parents are constantly bring around their babies to look at me or pointing me out to the babies. I try to oblige by making funny faces.

The girl sitting next to me on the bus was fascinated with my tattoo. After a while of staring, she worked up the courage to touch it. After a brief touch, she then did some more aggressive rubbing. The best I can tell is she was trying to determine if it would come off. She also kept pointing back and forth between our hands. I know that the Khmer and Thai are very skin-colour conscious. All skin/body products (including deodorant) around here are whitening. I was guessing she was saying something about the differences in our skin colour, but I couldn't be sure. I asked Cale if he knew any colour words, but he wasn't sure either. Lauren thinks she was probably commenting on my skin being white and beautiful and hers being dark (and therefore, not beautiful). Immediately after the hand comparison she started pointing out all the holes in her jeans to me and at this point I was complete confused as to what this could possibly be. So I just smiled and repeatedly said I didn't understand.

After several hours in the van we were dropped directly at Lauren's door, which was nice and saved us having to figure out how to get there. Lauren had seen it was my birthday on facebook. She suggested we go into town, pickup up some typical Khmer dessert and bring it back to her house to stick a candle in it. So we did.

The dessert we had is called Tuek Kawk, which breaks down to water ice, but what we would call shaved ice. The shaved ice is mixed with your choice of "toppings" (the topping goes on the bottom), which are not traditional Western dessert items: corn, black beans, green beans, etc. This is all covered with lots of sweetened condensed milk and sugar syrup can also be added. It is pretty good. I cannot find anything on the internets about the Cambodian one, but
this wikipedia page on other similar asian desserts should do.

And that ladies and gentlemen is how I spent my 29th birthday.

Tune in next time when Sara gets fondled by the women in the market and we go in search of an exorcism.

— Sara

Travel Fatigue

At first I just figured it was a reaction on being sick. But sick is almost two weeks behind me and I am still in the same frame of mind. I might just be a little bit done.

Cale and I have been talking about it and we think it comes to down to the fact that we are inherently incapable of going this long with out something concrete to do. We have been traveling without specific purpose, without jobs or missions for more than two months now. It looks like our aimless limit is two months, once we go over we start to get antsy.

We have three and a half more weeks before our flight home. One and half of those are in Cambodia before our visa runs out. We are still hoping to meet up with a married couple Peace Corps volunteers and then we figured we would see Battanbang before heading back to Thailand. In Thailand we need to keep ourselves occupied for just under two weeks. Seeing as how riding trains was a big part of these travel plans since the beginning and we haven't managed to do any of that yet, hopefully we can get in a train trip before we leave.

I know it sounds petty to complain about a long vacation in Southeast Asia, but it is something that you have to take into account before you head of for a long adventure. Just how long can you go before you need a job or a mission? Looks like for me it is two months. Good to keep in mind for the future.

— Sara

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Discover Card is Crap

*Update: About a month after this post was made, Discover card found it and contacted us in the hopes of remedying the situation. You can read about it here.

Before we left the country to travel to Southeast Asia, Cale called Discover card. He wanted to know if our card would work in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. He was assured by the woman on the other end of the line in customer service that the card would work at any ATM in Thailand that carried the Diners' Club logo. Granted, we knew that these would probably be rare, but we figured we would be able to find one or two in the big cities. She couldn't say if there would be anywhere to use the card in Cambodia or Vietnam.

We quickly discovered that our card didn't work in Thailand. We located several ATMs with Diners' Club logos and none of them would take our card. At first we weren't to concerned about this, however, as time progressed we were more and more interested in having access to our Discover card. We wanted to keep as much real money in our bank account in case of an emergency and use cash transfers or cash advances from credit while we were overseas. Once we got back to the States we would pay off the credit from the bank account.

While in Phnom Penh Cale called the Discover card's 24-hour customer service line using Skype. He complained to the person on the other end that he had been lied to about being able to use his card in Southeast Asia. The customer service rep seemed to be surprised that some one had told him the card would work at Diners' Club ATMs and assured him his card would not work in Asia. Yeah, we had kinda figured that one out. However, this new rep assured Cale that he could use his card at Western Union to get a cash advance. Eager to test this information Cale went out in a down pour to a Western Union around the corner. They looked at him like he was a crazy person and had no idea what to do with his card. Cale returned to the room and took a look at Western Union's web site. They claimed to only support Visa and Mastercard.

He called Discover back.

He told the new rep that the last two reps had lied to him about where he could use his Discover card. This new rep was surprised that someone had told him that he could use his card at Western Union. "Oh, no. Western Union doesn't support Discover." Yeah, we had kinda figured that one out.

Cale was starting to get a little frustrated. However, he is significantly nicer than I am in these sorts of situations. I would have been getting a little irate. In fact, I was from off the phone I was furiously scribbling pointed notes and angry questions that I wanted Cale to repeat into the phone. He tried to ignore me.

Cale went from one rep to another, explaining to each one that the information provided by the last one wasn't true. He continually asked why they couldn't just enable the balance transfer feature that would allow him to transfer a cash advance from Discover to our bank account online. The answer, because you have to make at least three "qualifying" payments and though we had paid Discover card more than three times since getting the card, these payments were not "qualifying" because they had not been done through the Discover web site. At this time we had a $0 balance with Discover and would have to make a purchase online with the card so we could then pay them back using their web interface to get the qualifying payments. How stupid is that. Cale also repeatedly asked how it was that because he had the wallet protection program if he lost his card they would find a way to get him $1,000 no matter where he was, but because he still has his card they cannot help him.

"I don't want to lie to you guys and tell you that I lost the card, but that is the only option you are giving me at this point."

I am not kidding when I tell you that at one point while Cale was on the phone with a rep told him to "Hold on, let me get you some
real information." Seriously? Now you are going to get the real information? What was all that previous information you were providing us with?

Long story short? We are still in Southeast Asia and we still cannot use our Discover card and Discover seems to have no problem with that even though they repeatedly claimed there were ways to use the card here.

Discover card is crap.

— Sara

Phnom Penh Part II: The Busiversary

7th Anniversary

And so we spent a significant portion of our seventh anniversary on a bus from Sen Monorom to Phnom Penh. It is possible the seats on Cambodian buses are even smaller than Thai bus seats. Cale and I are not big people, but both our shoulders are slightly to wide for the space provided for the seat and one of us always has to sit to the side or our shoulders overlap during the ride.

When we arrived in Phnom Penh we walked to our guest house (much to the consternation of every moto, tuk tuk and taxi driver in the entire city). Cale had picked out a road on the map near the river that seemed to have a collection of better class guesthouses than the one we had stayed at by the lake. The one in particular he had in mind,
Nordic House, turned out to be just fine and we decided to stay there.

It didn't take us long to notice there seemed to be an underlying theme to most of the other establishments on the street. The
Candy Bar. The 69 Bar. Hmmmm.... Later, at dinner, I read through the Phnom Penh Drinking & Dining guide and discovered that just about ever establishment on our street was a "hostess" bar. Hostess appearing to be the preferred word for ladies who will sit on your lap and giggle and dance with you and probably go home with you (or at least upstairs). Yet in the middle of all these hostess bars stands the Nordic House and very nice, very clean, very well air-conditioned. In general, great.

For dinner we went to the
Cantina, a Mexican restaurant that had been recommended to us by an expat in Sen Monorom. The food was decent. We had been instructed to have the strawberry margarita. It was on the menu, but when we ordered it we were delivered regular margaritas and then told they didn't have strawberry ones.

The next night we went to Phnom Penh India. If the name wasn't an indicator it is an Indian restaurant on the river. It was fabulous. We ordered two starters thinking we would do those first and then order a main to share. Before the starters they brought out the Indian equivalent of chips and salsa (free, unlike the chips and salsa at Cantina). The starters themselves were huge and delicious. When we finished them we were full to bursting and I even had to get the remainder of mine for take-away. We were so sad that we didn't have room for more food that we ordered some naan for take-away too. Just when we thought we were finished and were going to ask for the bill they brought around some sort of tiny dessert item. The waiter came out and set these tiny bowls in front of us saying, "For sweet." For sweet indeed. At first I thought I was looking at a large grape in a sugar or honey sauce. I was totally shocked to put it in my mouth and discover it was some sort of dough item soaked in this sweet syrup (it might have been
this). Whatever it was, it was delicious. If you are in Phnom Penh, I highly recommend Phnom Penh India on the river.

Tune in later to learn how Cale spent that night fighting with Discover card on the phone.

— Sara

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nature Lodge

Sen Monorom

Mondulkiri is a beautiful, mountainous region with a dramatically different than anywhere else we had been so far. I saw expanses of rolling hills draped in vivid green with patches of brick red exposed earth. It is also, apparently, one of the most jungle-covered regions. The road to Sen Monorom was only finished recently (in the last year or so), before that it was a muddy dirt track filled with truck-swallowing pot holes.

Sen Monorom

We stayed at the
Nature Lodge, two kilometers outside of Sen Monorom. The Nature Lodge is a collection of cabins and A-frames on the side of a hill. The main lodge houses a restaurant/bar and a tree-top platform filled with hammocks. It is an ideal place for relaxing. That first night them temperature was low enough I changed into my jeans for the first time since we flew out of the US. Walking back to our A-frame, Cale and I were shocked to see lightening bugs. I literally have not seen those in years.

Nature Lodge

Friday morning I was up around 7am. Lying on the path between me and the lodge were the family's four cows. I side tracked around them. As I approached the lodge, I discovered the family's three horses inside the entry way where I assumed they had taken refuge from the rain during the night. It was a surreal experience. Cale walked into town and spent the day wandering in the hot sun. Having learned my lesson, I chose not to join him and spent the day toning pictures and reading. That night we played Scrabble while wearing long pants and sleeves.

Nature Lodge

Saturday I walked into town with Cale to see some of the sights he had discovered and do a little interneting at an "internet cafe." I meant to use the ironic quotes. One of the restaurants on what I assume is the main road has a collection of three mix-and-match computers set up on the porch. Everything about it reminded my of my computer lab in Samoa when I first encountered it or the computer set up in the school office, right down to the cluttered desktop and warning on the screen indicating that you might be using an illegal copy of windows and might be a victim of copyright infringement (or something to that nature). I know all the computer teachers in Samoa have seen the "this is not a genuine copy of windows" screen before.

Cale introduced me to the proprietor of Middle of Somewhere. Lonely Planet accurately describes it as an "NGO-run 'drop-in center' for Phnong people" and as "the best source of information on sustainable tourism, village homestays and elephant rides." Bill is something straight out of a John Waters' film, missing one eye and cuddling an orphaned, baby monkey. Cale was interested in doing an elephant trek, but we were really concerned about the treatment of the elephants. Bill told us we were right in our concern. Even the local tours that claimed humane elephant treatment are still not what we were looking for. The elephants still have to carry passengers in baskets in the middle of their back, which is bad for them and painful. They are still kept from normal elephant behavior, like throwing dust and water on their backs (and therefore on the tourists), by way of clubs. He couldn't in good conscious recommend a single elephant trek. There is an elephant sanctuary in the area, but it had just closed to tourists for the rainy season.

Cale also introduced me to an expat who runs a restaurant of sorts called Bananas and has lived in Cambodia for over a decade. A John Waters' character herself, she seems to subsist entirely on cigarettes and red wine. She has been in Sen Monorom a relatively short period of time after having left Sihanoukville. According to Tania things have gotten quite dangerous in Sihanoukville, especially in the expat community where people are in the habit of killing each other quite often. As she explained her motivations to move, "You don't go around killing other people. It's just not done." She also explained that murder is rude.

We spent four nights at the Nature Lodge doing just about nothing. We read books, lounged in the hammocks and enjoyed the cooler temperatures. When it was time to go we spent some time debating when to leave. Did we want to stay an extra day and have our anniversary here? Did we spend our anniversary on a bus so that we could keep from having my birthday on a bus? In the end we decided to leave Sen Monorom on the 31st, which meant spending most of our anniversary on a bus. We did this under the impression it meant that we would not spend my birthday on a bus. As you will learn later, things do not always work out as planned.

Nature Lodge
The share toilet at the Nature Lodge was very nature indeed. At times a little too nature, what with the shower head attached to a tree crawling with ants and termites.

— Sara

Phnom Penh Part I

On Wednesday, 26 May we left Siem Reap. It had been a good three weeks, but we needed to see more in Cambodia. We were headed to Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri. By all accounts it was supposed to be beautiful, mountainous and cooler. Also, avocados were supposed to be in season and this was the only region of Cambodia with the right climate. We made a reservation at the Nature Lodge. A Peace Corps Cambodia volunteer had stayed there in April and her pictures on facebook had looked great. We had to get there first.

If you look at a map of Cambodia you will notice a dearth of roads. You will also notice that Phnom Penh serves as a hub with all the national highways running in and out of the capital city. Much like Samoa, Cambodia suffers from "you can't get there from here." We took a six-hour bus ride into Phnom Penh on Wednesday and booked into the not-grand Grandview Guesthouse (if you remember is a recent Tidbits, I mentioned how terrible it was). We immediately left in search of the station belonging to the only bus company in the country that services Sen Monorom. Cale had their address and a general idea of where they should be on the map. We set out on foot, flabbergasting and frustrating every tuktuk and moto driver we passed for the next hour. Neither Phnom Penh, nor any city in Cambodia, is built for pedestrians. The traffic is pure insanity and follows absolutely no traffic rules. I recently read an article describing traffic rules as "do whatever you like but if you hit someone you have to pay them money." When we were lucky enough to we on a road with sidewalks (pavements as our UK friends call them), we already knew to avoid them. Thanks to our Siem Reap experience we knew that sidewalks weren't for walking. They are for parking cars, motos, tuktuks and bikes. Or for setting up your mobile food stand or bookshop. Or for increasing the size of your store or restaurant by spilling out on the sidewalk. We were the only people out walking.

Finding the bus station proved to be a little trickier than anticipated. We ended up at a tour company and after much discussion back and forth among the entire office staff we were given some both vague and complicated directions in broken English. I asked Cale when we stepped out of the shop, "So. What did he say?" "I am not really sure," was the reply. Luckily we were able to find the bus company and purchase our tickets for a bus at eight the next morning. We also discovered we had come at the station the back way and had in fact passed the correct road to turn on earlier in our search. We headed back along that route.

As far as I have been able to gather from my limited experience in Cambodia, it is common for cities to have trash pickup. It is also common for the garbage trucks to dump said trash at some designated place in the city where the poor can then search through the trash for recyclables or other useful things. I then assume the remainder is collected again later and carted somewhere else or these spots would become landfills. According to Clem, they used to dump the trash between the river and the Old Market in Siem Reap until someone pointed out that piles of rotting trash are not too appealing to tourists. Well, the road we walked back on appears to be a place where trash is dumped. There wasn't a fresh load, but it was still less than fresh as a daisy.

That night we ate at the Lazy Gecko, where we ate overpriced food and were told the advertised free wifi was down (even though Cale was picking up the signal with the computer and just needed the password to access it). We suffered through sleeping in the dingy guesthouse by putting our own ie down on the bed so we didn't touch their sheets and Cale tried desperately not to touch the filthy wall the bed was pushed up against.

Thursday we were up early and walked back to the bus station, this time with our packs on. Two barang walking with giant backpacks through the streets of Phnom Penh cannot really blend in. Every tuktuk, moto and taxi driver for miles found us. I had gotten used to "you need tuktuk? and "you need moto?" and "you need ride?" However, they were trying a new tactic now and guessing where we might want to go. So you have all these random me walking up to you and just picking a destination at random (actually, I assume it is where they were going anyway) and asking you if you are going there.

"You go Siem Reap?" No. "You go Battambang?" No. "You go Sihanoukville?" No. "You go Killing Fields?" No.

While we waited at the bus station, another tourist seemed keen on making friends with Cale, though Cale tried his best to be curt. According to this guy, his friend had recently lost all his stuff (including wallet and passport) because he had put is bag on a moto and sent it to the bus station ahead of him. This tourist guy was sharing this information as a warning. Seriously? You handed over everything to a moto driver and just let him drive off with out you? And you were surprised that it was stolen? Just how retarded are you? We are always with our bags when traveling except when they are in the trunk of a taxi or the under carriage of a bus. In those cases we still keep our passports and other important things in our possession.

Eventually the bus came and we piled on. There were two other barang couples on the bus and outside of town we picked up another couple. Eight barang on the bus to Sen Monorom. We learned later that this was pretty rare. It was like an invasion of barang for Sen Monorom when we eventually arrived seven (or was it eight) hours later.

More on the Nature Lodge later.

— Sara

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Shadow Puppets

Shadow Puppets

Our last night in Siem Reap we went to the shadow puppet show at the Bayon restaurant. Previous, when we had been staying at a guesthouse, our room window had a view straight across the pool below to the balcony of the Bayon where we could see the back of the shadow puppet show behind the screen. We decided after seeing the show backstage we should see it from the front.

According to
Wikipedia, shadow play is "an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment using opaque...figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images."

I was hard pressed to locate much information specifically about Cambodian shadow puppetry on the internet.
This article at everything2 offered quite a bit of information, though I have no way of telling how reliable it is.

According to the article, there are two types of Cambodian shadow puppetry: Sbeik thom (big skin) and Sbeik touch (small skin). The skin refers to the medium used to create the puppets which are traditionally made from animal hide. When we visited the Roluos temples in Angkor we visited a small workshop where shadow puppets are made. The artists were all young boys who were learning the trade. Each puppet for sale has the name of the artist on the back. When we picked one out to purchase the kid was called up to do the transaction and have his picture taken with is work. According to their instructor each kid received a percentage of each of his sales. I would like to believe that this workshop was more like an extracurricular activity and the kids were learning a useful trade and that it wasn't just a child labor workshop. I have no definitive way of knowing, but it didn't have that sort of sketchy vibe.

Roluos Group

At the Bayon, the puppet show is held on the second-floor balcony. The balcony forms a square around an opening in the middle that looks down on the entryway to the ground-floor restaurant. On the far said of the opening is the screen behind which the performers manipulate the puppets. To the right is the live band that accompanies the show. We were on the opposite side of the opening. As it was low season our group sat at one of only three occupied tables. Before the show began we were given a sheet explaining the plot of the three plays we would see as the dialogue would all be in Khmer.

Shadow Puppets

After the initial novelty of the shadow puppetry had worn off and the marveling at the intricacy of the puppets had passed, we started to discover that it was less than exciting. Additionally, someone at the restaurant thought that in the middle of the puppet performance would be an excellent time to break out a loud garden hose with sprayer and hose down the entryway immediately below the opening in the balcony and water the plants. It was a noisy distraction from the performance.

Overall, I cannot recommend the performance at the Bayon. Technically, the price of the show is advertised at $4. We are not charged for the show (most likely because it was low season and they were happy to have anyone). The food was way overpriced (especially for portion size) and the drinks were outrageous. It is common for menus here to advertise a price for a spirit and a separate price for the mixer. However, they will also usually have a list of mixed drinks at set prices. The Bayon had a gin and tonic listed as a cocktail, but there were no prices on the menu for the cocktails. We learned the hard way when they delivered each one of us our own shot of gin and can of tonic water. Granted, it made of a strong drink, but a very pricey strong drink.

If you are looking to see a shadow puppet show in Siem Reap, you might want to shop around to another venue.

— Sara

Why I Could Never Be a Photographer

I often find myself watching a little scene unfold before me that would me a wonderful picture. Nothing dramatic. Usually very calm moments of daily life.

A young girl of maybe eight leads two brahmin cattle down a dirt path between rice fields. She's topless and coils of rope cross her chest the way a bandito might wear a gun belt. Red dust streaks her black skirt and cakes her bare feet. Oh to snap a photo! But I don't. There is something about the act of capturing the moment that can ruin it. In this instance it would have involved stopping the moto we were speeding past on and switching lenses. By then, the moment has passed.

The monks are out gathering their daily offerings. They travel in pairs, identical bald heads, orange robes, orange umbrellas against the sun, bare feet on blistering concrete. In Thailand they were only out in the wee hours of the morning, but here in Kampot the monks like to sleep in as much as I do and we see them making their rounds at nine or 10 in the morning. I am obviously a tourist and to take their picture makes me feel like I am telling them I consider them a tourist attraction. I can rarely bring myself to take pictures of strangers, especially strangers who see me taking their pictures. It feels invasive and rude.

So more often than not, I don't take the picture. Part of me regrets it, but a bigger part of me is learning to simple see things and enjoy the moment and later the memory.

— Sara

Name This Plant: Eggplant

Name This Plant

We have a winner! Anonymous's husband has correctly named this plant
eggplant. Those of you in the US might be suprised to discover that eggplant comes in varieties other than the large purple ones we have at home. The small green ones seen above are in fact egg-sized. Cale also used an even smaller variety. These pea eggplants are, naturally, about the size of a pea.


www.foodsubs.com

Chiang Rai
One of Cale's dishes uses eggplant

— Sara

Friday, June 11, 2010

Last Templing

Ta Nei
Ta Nei

With only a couple more days left in Siem Reap we wanted to use the last day on our seven-day temple pass to see some temples we had missed.

Bakheng

One of them was
Phnom Bakheng, a temple we had passed literally every time we had gone from Angkor Wat to Angkor Thom. The portion of the temple that faces the road has a sign strung across keeping visitors away and I had always assumed it was closed. However, as it turns out, you just enter from around the back.

Bakheng was constructed on top of an existing hill, making it higher than any of the other temples in the area. One would think this would lead to arresting views. The hike to the top of the hill itself is not very scenic as the hill has extensive tree coverage even interferes with the views from the specifically constructed scenic overlooks. To get a truly good view, you need to get to the top of the temple. Did I mention it had insanely steep stairs? We all know how Sara loves insanely steep stairs. See this entry.

Bakheng

After Bakheng, we decided to head to
Ta Nei. Ta Nei isn't quite off the beaten track. There is in fact a beaten track. It is, however, off the roads that lead to all the other temples in the Angkor complex. We took a left turn at a dirt path and headed into the jungle. The humidity in the air immediately rose dramatically. When we came to the fork we realized that our Ancient Angkor book hadn't really been too specific in indicating how exactly to get to this temple. When we came to the second fork we started to wonder if we were lost. When the path ended in a clearing where a logging operation was clearly taking place we knew we were in the wrong place.

Cale was able to use his improving Khmer skills to ask the man hanging out by the wood how to get to the temple and was able to understand his response. We were to head back the way we came and turn left at the second opportunity. It appears we had chosen poorly at the first fork.

When we finally came on the temple it was clearly rarely visited and in a state of extreme disrepair. Just the way we like our temples.

We had planned to continue on north of Angkor Thom to see more temples on our last day, but decided to head home. Cale and I had been borrowing bikes for the last several days rather than renting. The bike I was using had a broken seat. It was a little uncomfortable, but nothing noticeable for short trips into town and back. However, after riding around on it all day I discovered that my backend was in agony and my lower back and neck were starting to join in the complain fest. Cale gave my bike a brief try and was shocked to discover just how uncomfortable it was. The trip home started to get tricky because I could only ride the bike for short distances before I needed to get off and walk it for a while. Cale had a hard time riding the bike as well. Not only because the seat was so poor, but because he couldn't pedal without hitting his knees on the handlebars. We found an eventual compromise where I road Cale's bike and he sat on mine while holding on to the back of the one I was pedaling. So I provided the power for both.

And so finished our last day at the Angkor temples.

— Sara

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tidbits

Kelsey's family had a pet bird. It talked. The talking wasn't too impressive to me, as the bird spoke Khmer and I had no idea what it was saying. However, the bird did spot-on impressions of cellphone noises and ringtones and that was awesome.

Banteay Srei

In rural Cambodia it is common to come across a device called an "engine cow" (or for the bigger ones: "engine buffalo"). Basically it is a seat, two long handle bars and an engine. You can attach just about anything to it: plow, cart, wagon. It's pretty multi-purpose. Cale thinks they are awesome.

When we arrived in Sisiphon from Kelsey's village we sort of expected to be dropped off at the bus station. However, the taxi driver handed us off to another taxi driver in the middle of a random four-way intersection. Granted this new taxi driver was going to Siem Reap, but we didn't want to pay for a taxi. We wanted to take a bus, they are cheaper. Try as Cale might, he could not get them to take us to a bus company. He drew pictures of buses, he used all the Khmer words he knew and they were having none of it. Everyone kept acting like they had no idea what we were talking about and could not imagine what this picture Cale was drawing could possibly be. When the hand off took place the first taxi driver had taken our bags from his trunk and deposited them in the trunk of the new driver's car. After much insisting we got them to give us back our bags and we were perfectly happy sitting on the side of the road until we were able to call Kelsey and learn where the bus station was. However, the new taxi driver was pretty keen on getting our fare. Through hand signs and numbers written in Cale's notebook, he told us that it was $50,000r per person to Siem Reap via the taxi. We knew it was $15,000r per person via the bus. Cale wrote that number down and drew an arrow to the bus pictures. More hand gestures and it appears he was agreeing to drive us to Siem Reap for the bus prices. So what the hell, we hopped in the taxi and gave up on our search for buses. The minute he had secured our fare his inability to understand what Cale could possibly mean with these strange drawings evaporated and he was able to tell Cale the Khmer word for bus.

Cale's Bad Haircut
If you look closely you can see Cale's corners.

Cale got a haircut in Siem Reap. It seemed safe when he was just going to have it clippered all over. When we got there he changed his mind and decided he wanted the sides trimmed up and left long on top. It was quite possibly one of the worst haircuts Cale has ever gotten. He was keen on pointing out that his head now had corners and that it was the perfect haircut for someone with a square head. The best part of the haircut experience wasn't the terrible cut or the face "massage" that involved the woman sort of slapping Cale about the head and face. As she was cutting his hair she was doing the bit where you clean up around the ears with clippers. She started around the back and came around the front to where she would straighten out the sideburns only to discover his sideburns continued on to a face covered with fur and it was obvious she had no idea what to do. You could see the confusion all over her face. If I shave here to clean up the side burns there will be a weird bald patch between head and face. Do I shave it? Do I just leave it alone? Arrgghh! She sort of wavered there for a while and then mimed shaving his face with the clippers and looked at Cale questioningly. Cale agreed to it, telling her to leave the goatee and mustache area alone and she proceeded to just run the clippers up and down his cheeks on each side. It was hilarious.

For some strange reason I expected that the one patch of continuously paved road in Cambodia would be from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. I figured it must be the most well-travelled of all routes. However, it is not. Much of the trip is dirt road. I was surprised.

The Grandview Guesthouse in Phnom Penh is not grand in anyway. Do not believe the pictures on the web site. Our room was tiny and dingy. One of the beds was covered in ants. The sheets on both beds were worn, torn and stained in frightening ways. Worst of all the walls of the room were just filthy with what looked like dirt and smeared boogers. If staying in Phnom Penh, stay away from the guesthouses on the lake and try the ones on the river. I highly recommend Nordic House.

While sitting at a cafe for dinner I overheard a girl with what could have been a Scottish accent talk about something called "chaps and cheese" for like 20 straight minutes. I have no idea what she was talking about, but it ended in a great quote.
"No, it's not a cheese day."

Gas Station

We've been in Cambodia for more than a month now and we have traveled a bit. In that time I have seen at most 10 gas stations. I don't mean 10 types. I mean 10 gas stations. Total. Most gas is distributed from glass Coke, Pepsi or Fanta bottles from roadside stands. Sometimes there will be an oil drum with a strange apparatus on top and a long tube that dispenses gas as well. These are operated by a hand crank. While walking to town in Sen Monorom we saw a woman cranking gas from one of these set up on a hill through the long tube to a man standing on the road below. He was holding a plastic bag like they might put your gum and candy bar purchase into at a gas station. That was where the gas was going. I am not sure small plastic grocery bags are the recommended container for gas.

We are sitting in a tuk-tuk. Another tuktuk drives by. The driver leans over, "You need tuktuk?" Seriously? We are in a tuktuk right now!

Cale is sitting on the back of a moto on his way to find me at the pharmacy the day I was sick. Another moto driver comes by, "You need moto?" Seriously people? Is business that slow? Do you really expect that Cale is going to reflect on the current situation and think, "You know, on second thought, yes I do need a different moto. This moto is just no good."

— Sara