Saturday, July 31, 2010

Making Grandma's House Our Home

New House

Before Cale and I joined the Peace Corps in 2007 we sold everything we owned. Had we moved into a married-student slum while attending IU, it would have been one empty apartment. No furniture. No dishes. No nothing. One of the benefits to moving into Cale's grandmother's home is it was already furnished. However, we still wanted to make this house feel like our home.

The first step creating a home was to bring our family back together. For the first time in almost three years we have been reunited with our cat, Smack. I have to thank Rob, April and Jason for caring for him while we were away. He was with them for almost a third of his life.

The final stepping in feeling at home was breaking out the boxes of artwork we hadn't seen on almost three years either and finding them a place on the walls.

With our family complete and our walls decorated we feel pretty comfortable. Sure, we are still sleeping on the floor and find the couch too comfortable, but it is a start.

— Sara

PS, The top picture looks better to me, but this one is a better picture of Smack.

New House

Friday, July 30, 2010

We're in Poland


Wikipedia

Poland, Indiana that is.

As you already know, Cale and I are going to be pretty stationary in good, old Indiana for a while. Exotic adventures abroad have been put on hold temporarily. Luckily, we can still imagine we are traveling right here in our new home in Poland, Indiana. We are southeast of Brazil. And southwest of Lebanon, Peru and Mexico.

Cale's grandmother owns a house in Poland, just outside of Spencer, Indiana. She rarely lives there, spending most of her summers in her other Indiana home and her winters in Arizona. When she learned we would be moving to Bloomington for school she offered her place to us rent-free. At first Cale and I were interested in living on campus, but after applying for married-student slums and being assigned to a crappy, one-bedroom apartment with rent of $707 a month, Cale's grandmother's house looked like a god-send.

Cale and I moved our belongings down here two weeks ago with the help of Rob and Connor. Everything we own fit in the back of the jeep and Rob's trunk. We've unpacked and settled in. Stay tuned for more on Poland in the coming days.

— Sara

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Next Big Adventure

In our continuing efforts to refrain from growing up, Cale and I are going back to school. You should be able to find us in the vicinity of Bloomington at Indiana University for the next three years-ish. I will be working on a Masters in Nonprofit Management at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (maybe with a little Comparative and International Affairs and Policy Analysis thrown in for good measure). Cale will be in the Kelley School working on an undergraduate degree in business with a focus in Entrepreneurship. Cale likes to say that I'll cover the nonprofit and he'll take the profit and one of us should end up managing something in the end.

There were probably be fewer cultural revelations in the blog for the next few years. Or surprising foods. Or unidentifiable plants. However, I will do my best to keep it interesting. Stay tuned for fascinating stories on life with air-conditioning, travel in your own car and restaurants, restaurants, restaurants galore. Oh, and possibly some studying.

— Sara

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Discover Card is Slightly Less Crap Than Previously Indicated


www.slashphone.com

You may remember a little
rant I posted to the blog a month ago. Long story short, we were having a problem with our Discover card. We had been told we could use our card in Thailand. It wasn't true. We were told we could use our card at Western Union. It wasn't true. We were told we could do cash advance transfers to checking. It sort of wasn't true (we hadn't made three "qualifying" payments).

Earlier this week Cale received an email from Dawn at Discover card. She had been made aware of our blog entry and wanted to apologize for the situation. Apparently, we could have accessed Emergency Cash while in Cambodia. However, in order to access this cash, we needed to know the secret code. Though we repeatedly told the customer service representatives we were in a foreign country and that we really wanted to get money from our Discover card, none of them seemed to know any way (well, any real way, they offered plenty of false ways) for us to use our card. According to Dawn, we needed to tell the customer service rep on the phone to transfer us to Global Traveler’s Assistance, From there that person would have been able to get us the Emergency Cash. Unfortunately, because we didn't know the code words (Global Traveler's Assistance) we weren't able to get our multiple customer service reps to transfer us to the people who could help us.

To Dawn's credit, from her email I get the impression that she was prepared at that time to do whatever it took to assist us. She did not know we were already back in the States by then (since we had told Discover we were going to be overseas from April to August), so she provided us with this information in the hopes that we would use it if necessary. She also credited $75 to our account for our troubles, which was appreciated. Furthermore, when we were back in the States Cale made a transfer from Discover to our bank account. After seeing this transfer and knowing that we were supposed to be overseas still, Discover put a hold on our account (though, now that I think about it, I don't think they notified us about this hold). When the card wouldn't work any more, Cale called them, told them we were back in America and that these were authorized transactions. I appreciate Discover cards quick action to prevent our card from being misused when they had reason to suspect that it was not us making the transactions.

So, long story short. Discover card could definitely do a better job in educating their customer service reps on what options are available to card users overseas, otherwise they are less crappy than previously indicated. Dawn, we appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

— Sara

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Final Southeast Asia Tidbits

Homes and businesses in Thailand and Cambodia with tin roofs will frequently have a roof sprinkler system. It can be an actually garden sprinkler on the roof or simply a hose with holes or advanced professional systems. Whatever the method, they will turn it on during the heat of the day cooling the tin roof and helping keep the temperature down inside. Brilliant. I see no reason why this wouldn't be effective in Samoa (at least in the places with abundant running water). Our PST village had free water pipe and a river, I bet it would be easy to cool off houses in this manner.

On the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok we saw the place where toilets go to die. It was a massive porcelain graveyard.

It happened frequently enough for me to wonder if it was just a language issue. Someone would tell you how much something costs or how many of something they have saying one number while holding up a different number of fingers. They would say five and hold up four fingers. Mostly it happened in English, which is not their first language. However, usually the number they were saying was the correct number and not the fingers. Also, Cale said he had it happen to him a couple of times in Thai and Khmer.

Cale and I had an argument over whether or not he could tie me to the table (don't ask) with is flip-flops. I don't think it could be done. He seems to think that they plastic-rubbery straps of his jandals would be enough to hold me.

Wow. I thought I had more tidbits than this. Looks like my last entry on Southeast Asia is mercifully short. Tune in next time when Cale and Sara go back to school and hi-jinx ensue.

— Sara

Final Details of Southeast Asia


*Audience Participation Portion: Please imagine the red dot is on Indianapolis and not Bangkok. The map was originally made on a Mac with Illustator and now I have Inkscape and cannot open the EPS to edit it.

So, yeah, we're back in America. I mentioned that earlier. I figured I would fill you in on the final details of our trip and the last few tidbits I have to share.

Saturday, 10 July, we caught the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok at 2:50pm. This time we got sleeper seats. They were not air-conditioned and I found that way more comfortable than the air-con seats we had on the ride in the opposite direction. This time around we were too smart to fall for their meal tricks. However, we were also arriving in Bangkok at 5:30 in the morning, so they weren't offering an overly-priced breakfast on this train anyway.

On the Train

Once again, the views from the train were lovely. Train travel, especially over long distances is way preferable to the bus. Even if we had splurged for the first, first, first-class bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok it still would have been like 12 hours in a seat on a bus. This way we could walk around and then at night we had relatively comfortable beds. The only disadvantages is they do not turn the car lights out. If you want dark for sleeping you need to draw your curtain. However, if you want the breeze from the fan (especially for top bunk people with no window) you need to leave your curtain open. I opted for the open curtain.

Cale and I settled down to sleep pretty early (it was like 8 or 9pm). It was pretty good that I started sleeping so early. Even though I had taken a Benadryl to aid with my sleeping, I still woke up every hour or two. No reason for that; I just couldn't seem to stay asleep.

Our train was scheduled to arrive in Bangkok at 5:30am. Maybe that is the time we crossed the line into the Bangkok metro area or something because we sure didn't pull into the train station until 7am. Oh well, the subway didn't start running until like 6am anyway, so if we had arrived at 5:30 we would have just had to wait around.

We went immediately to the train to the subway. We switched to the skytrain at an interchange station and took that to the stop for the Buri House (where we had stayed with Nancymarie and Hayden three months ago...almost to the day even). While sitting in the Buri House waiting room we ran into Portia (another Peace Corps volunteer we had met in Chiang Mai...it's a small world after all). After checking in we proceeded to crash for several hours in obscenely cold air-con. We already had a full day and it was only like 9am.

We quickly discovered that the Buri House is in a pretty expensive part of town. The roads are lined with high-end malls and interior design shops. If you are getting married this must be bridal row or something, with all the dress and bridal-planning shops. Cale was still a little weary from a bout of stomach problems he had experienced in Chiang Mai and didn't want a repeat just as we were going to begin our 30-hour airplane adventure, so he didn't want to eat street food. The restaurants in the area were pretty expensive (one Korea joint we went into had a buffet that cost 500 baht..that's $15USd!). So we ended up eating McDonalds in the mall (don't tell anyone...or that we had KFC in the mall for dinner).

The check out from our guesthouse was 12pm Monday, 12 July. Our flight wasn't until 12:30am Tuesday, 13 July. For those of you who have trouble with the whole midnight/noon am/pm thing, that means our flight was so late Monday night it was really Tuesday morning. It also meant we had 12 hours to kill from when we checked out of our guesthouse until our flight took off. At first we considered seeing a movie and getting food and wandering around. However, we had all our luggage to deal with, the area of town we were in was expensive and, well, we are lazy. So instead after checking out from our guesthouse we caught a taxi to the airport. That's right cats and kittens, only 12 hours early for our flight.

How to kill almost 10 hours in the Bangkok airport before even going through security:

1. Wander around the entire pre-security area. Get a feel for the restaurants and 7-11s. Keep an eye out for any electrical outlets near chairs.

2. Find a comfortable place to set up camp at one far, abandoned end near the restrooms. Choose seating strategically to keep an eye on all the electrical outlets. For some strange reason, all seats near electrical outlets were taken and most of the people in the seats weren't even using the outlet. Also, note to BKK, why go through all the effort to wire up that support beam and put an outlet in if you are only going to include a single plug. Why not two plugs? Or, heaven forbid, several?

3. Watch Alien on the laptop and drink a beer (cause you can do that anywhere).

4. Experience false advertising after ordering the "Burger Set" at the Black Canyon Coffee outlet in the airport. I counted, I got less than 10 fries with my burger and I won't even get into the burger.

5. Read

6. Take turns walking around.

7. Watch Where the Wild Things Are on the laptop and drink a beer.

8. Take turns walking around.

9. Read.

10. Get really excited about the prospect of checking into your flight.

11. Get your hopes dashed and return to waiting.

12. Check in for your flight. Watch an old man in line ahead of you open his suitcase and pull out socks and pants and proceed to get dressed while waiting in line.

13. Passport inspection.

14. Security.

15. Now begins the waiting on the other side of security.

We were flying with two large groups. One was a group of sporty looking people from Nepal. The other was some sort of large group of people who all appeared to work for the same company (the matching windbreakers were the clue). Both the Nepalese and the employees were wearing laminated pieces of A4 like unaccompanied minors that listed all their travel info and their names and whatnot. Can these grown people not travel on their own? Is there some worry they might get lost? I suppose if this is their first international flight. But they were more than 20 people in each group, I feel like it would be tricky to get lost.

Anyway, we fly to Korea. I have very little memory of this. It was five hours. I think there might have been breakfast. I think I made the mistake of choosing the rice porridge, which would have been fine if I hadn't added the "green tea" flavor packet that contained seaweed. Had I known about the seaweed I would have left out the packet.

Next we waited in the Seoul airport for four hours or so. This was done mostly in a delirious haze in and out of consciousness. Before boarding the flight to the US, Cale was made to throw away his bottle of water, even though he had just bought it on the other side of security.

The flight to Chicago was 12 hours. Our seat mate was a little too chatty for my liking. I now know all the details of his life. Where he used to live, where he lives now, why he was in Bangkok, his wife, his divorce, his dead grandfather, etc., etc, etc. I think he took the hint when I put my earphones in and didn't remove them for the next 12 hours. I watched Alice in Wonderland, Date Night, and Youth in Revolt. I tried to watch Bounty Hunter and Valentine's Day, but they were too terrible to continue with.

Lunch was chicken and mashed potatoes (my seat mate doesn't eat meat, but doesn't advance order a vegetarian meal, instead he just lets you know he cannot eat anything on his plate, do you want it? so I gave him my salad). Dinner was either Korean noodles or seafood. Even though our seat mate could see the Korea noodle dish in front of me and Cale (and how it was entirely vegetables) before making his choice, he chose the seafood. After opening it he discovered it was full of (surprise) seafood, which he could not eat. Also it was in a cream sauce and he cannot eat milk. Or gluten. I am sure the stewardesses love him. Some time in the middle of the night (to be honest, I have no idea what time it was) they came around with a snack, either these crazy pizza sticks or tuna-rice balls that were in a triangle instead of a ball.

Aside from the time I walked in on an old lady in the bathroom (you have to pull the lock so the door says occupied!) the flight was pretty uneventful. Just long.

We landed in Chicago and drank a beer that wasn't Chang or Angkor (or the like). I also showed an old lady with very little English how to use the automatic flush toilets. There is just something about me and old ladies and toilets I guess.

When we finally arrived in Indy we had been in transit for more than 40 hours. Our Tuesday had been more than 30 hours long and it was only 4pm Tuesday there. We still had eight more hours of Tuesday to get through.

The last of the tidbits will be in the next blog entry.

— Sara

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Name This Plant: Eucalyptus Deglupta

Name This Plant

Name This Plant- Eucalyptus Deglupta

Jane has successfully named this plant the Rainbow Gum Tree (that's Eucalyptus Deglupta to you). According to
Wikipedia, this is the only eucalyptus tree native to the northern hemisphere. It is most commonly grown for pulp wood in making paper and for ornamental purposes.
"This tree is also grown for ornamental purposes, due to the showy multi-coloured streaks that cover the trunk. Patches of outer bark are shed annually at different times, showing the bright-green inner bark. This then darkens and matures to give blue, purple, orange and then maroon tones"
I had no idea such a tree existed. Cale and I were walking around in the national park up the mountain from Chiang Mai, when we happened to turn the corner and stumble on this tree. At first we thought it had been painted, until we realized that they were everywhere and all the trees were equally colorful. Cale describes them as Picasso trees. They are my new favourite plant.

Name This Plant- Eucalyptus Deglupta

Name This Plant- Eucalyptus Deglupta

— Sara

Friday, July 16, 2010

Name This Plant

Name This Plant

— Sara

In America

I am sorry. For those of you following the blog who are not on the facebook, I failed to mention we are back in America. I will post the final entries of our Southeast adventures very soon. Things are a little jet-lagged and hectic here at the moment.

— Sara

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Name This Plant: Longan

Name This Plant

Peak Ness has successfully named this plant Longan in a facebook comment. She does have a slight advantage though, what with living in Thailand and all.

According to
Wikipedia, the names for this fruit in Chinese and Malay mean "dragon eye" and "cat eye" respectively. I would not argue with this assessment. Longan falls into the category of eyeball fruits.


Wikipedia

Mark Kaplan guessed this fruit might be lychee or rambutan (also via facebook). You may remember rambutan from
the very first Name This Plant. Lychee, also like the longan and rambutan, has an outer shell with an eyeball-like fruit inside. All three fruits are frequently sold on the roadside here in bunches still attached to small branch.


Lychee/Wikipedia

According to
Purdue's horticulture web site, logan is often named in reference to the lychee:
"Closely allied to the glamorous lychee, in the family Sapindaceae, the longan, or lungan, also known as dragon's eye or eyeball, and as mamoncillo chino in Cuba, has been referred to as the 'little brother of the lychee', or li-chihnu, 'slave of the lychee'. Botanically, it is placed in a separate genus, and is currently designated Dimocarpus longan Lour. (syns. Euphoria longan Steud.; E. longana Lam.; Nephelium longana Cambess.). According to the esteemed scholar, Prof. G. Weidman Groff, the longan is less important to the Chinese as an edible fruit, more widely used than the lychee in Oriental medicine."
Though I am a fan of the flavors of all these fruits, I am not a big fan of their consistency and eyeball-like qualities. I rarely eat them.

— Sara

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tidbits

Sara, why are you posting so many blog entries all at once?

Because we are almost ready to leave and I haven't caught up with our adventures. It would be silly to be back in America and still blogging about Thailand.

Oh..ok...well hurry up already.

Outside Chiang Mai

The people of Thailand seem to have a thing for the old American West. There are country-western bars and whatnot around. However, this resort/campground outside of Chiang Mai really takes the cake. I am not sure if you can sleep in the teepees or not.

I did find it strange that the hot springs that are in no way affiliated with the above resort also incorporated Native American stuff.

Hot Springs

You can also buy dreamcatchers at the Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Market.

Dear tourists, your hand does not actually emanate a force field.
For some strange reason we have been witness to a strange phenomena. A group of tourists will be standing on the side of the road waiting to cross the street (usually these groups appear to be family groupings with kids in tow) and the leader of the group will just decide that now is the time to cross, regardless of the traffic. They will step out into the street and put out their hand at the oncoming cars. "Stop in the name of the farang!" They don't actually say that, but that is the impression that I get. What exactly do you think you are accomplishing with your hand? Either the traffic sees you and will stop or they don't. Do you think that with out the hand signal the drivers see you but aren't sure what to do and will run you down? Stupid tourists, wait for a break in traffic or, this is craziness, cross at the designated cross walks where there is a light and a button you push to indicate you want to cross.

Speaking of Chiang Mai traffic, it is insane. At least around the moat. All the traffic goes one way in a circle on the road inside the moat and all the traffic goes the other way in a circle on the outside of the moat and there are occasional places to cross over. It makes getting somewhere specific an adventure of U-turns.

Thai and Khmer people are practically born on motos. These guys can drive a moto like nobody's business. They weave in and out of traffic. They are up and down one-way streets, regardless of the direction of traffic. It is almost an art form. However, they also drive four-wheel vehicles like they are motos and that not a good idea. Note to drivers of cars and trucks in Southeast Asia, your car is much bigger than a moto and cannot fit into that space. Also, it is recommended that you stay in between the lines indicating the lanes. I have never seen a person in Thailand or Cambodia park a car without a passenger getting out to direct the parking (and I am not just talking about parallel parking here). I have also never seen any one pull out of a parking space or parking lot with out either making an elaborate 19-point turn or having a security guard with a whistle stop traffic so you can pull out. Craziness.

Things you might not consider luxuries, but that I do:
Cold drinking water
Hot showers, with soap, and a real towel afterwards
Dry, ironed, folded laundry

— Sara

Happy Birthday America or The Great Marinara Debate



Cale and I wanted to do something American for the 4th of July. We learned about this official event* the day before. Though it was tempting (four different salads!), we thought the 300B price tag (about $10USD) was a little high. Instead we decided to resign ourselves to eating hamburgers. Cale had scouted around a little the day before and had found what he thought might be an American bar. The
Chiang Mai Saloon sort of had the feel of a Texas Roadhouse-type restaurant and we thought we would have burgers there.

*How can you not love that official American food includes Polish and Italian sausage and quesadillas and tacos? Those all are truly American foods.

When we finally sat down to dinner, I realized that I wasn't up for a burger. I just haven't been a big fan of burgers for, well, years now. Too much meat in one place. Instead, I was excited to order the mozarella sticks. The
menu describes the mozzarella sticks as such:
Mozzarella Sticks
Italian breaded and deep fried, served with marinara sauce.
When they arrived, things looked a little fishy. To start with, they were not Italian breaded and deep fried. Instead they were
tempura, which was good enough. However, the dipping sauce was obviously not marinara. I decided to give it a go anyway. It tasted a little like the sweet chili sauce often served with spring rolls or samosas, but it was not as clear as that sauce. I held up my sauce to the waitress and asked her if she had any marinara, as this was chili sauce or something. She returned with mayonnaise. Hmmm....

Now let me put forth a disclaimer. Had we been anywhere else in Southeast Asia I would have just moved on. I am used to getting Western foods that are not as advertised. I am in Thailand, I should be eating Thai food (which I do, but it was America Day). Bu, we were not really in Thailand, we were in the Disneyland Epcot-like equivalent of America town with a wild west theme and I figured I should be able to get the advertised marinara sauce here of all places. Finally, they have spaghetti bolognese on the menu, so I should be able to get the spaghetti sauce, no?

At this point the waitress is confused. I tell her that marinara is like spaghetti sauce. She heads back into the restaurant (we are out on the patio) and I find a menu and follow her. She is talking to a woman behind the bar. This woman tells me they don't have marinara. Once again, I normally would have let it go at this point (ok, no sauce, not a problem), but I know they have the spaghetti on the menu. I point to the marinara listed next to the mozzarella sticks on the menu and then tell her it is like the spaghetti sauce (and point to the spaghetti bolognese), can I have the spaghetti sauce? She tells me that I cannot, that they make that sauce special for the spaghetti bolognese with the meat in it. I say fine, can I just have whatever sauce you use without the meat. She tells me that I cannot. This sort of angers me a little. You have this spaghetti sauce, but I cannot have it? So I tell her that she shouldn't advertise marinara on the menu if they don't actually have marinara sauce.

This is where it gets interesting.

The woman behind the bar starts to insist that what was given to me is in fact marinara sauce. Listen lady, my maiden name is Carusillo and I know a marinara sauce when I see one. I don't go around telling you what is and isn't Pad Thai do I? I am not asking for grandma's homemade red sauce here, just a little Prego or Ragu or something out of a can is just fine. Obviously, I don't tell her this. I do explain that marinara is like the spaghetti sauce they use in the bolognese (obviously sans meat) and that this (indicating what I was given) tastes more like chili sauce. She is still really adamant that this is marinara and explains to me that they use tomato sauce (which is what they call sweet ketchup here) and add tabasco sauce to it. Voila, marinara. She also insists that no one has ever complained before.

At this point I don't want to be having this argument anymore. I have established that I will not be getting any sauce for my sticks and I just want to eat them. So I thank her and go back to the table.

She follows me back to the table! Where she continues to insist that it was marinara and tries to take away my food, telling me I can order something else. I keep insisting that I am hungry and I am going to eat the mozzarella sticks. She keeps wanting to take them away. When she finally decides I can keep them, she makes a point of telling me that if I eat them I have to pay for them. Well, no duh. Thanks for that.

Anyway, so that is how I spent my Fourth of July, arguing with a Thai woman over what is and is not marinara sauce. Hope you enjoyed your holiday.

— Sara

PS. After I went through this whole episode a guy two tables over ordered something off the menu and we could clearly here him ask, "This comes with marinara, right?" We were so super tempted to stick around just to see what he got and whether or not he thought it was marinara, but decided not to.

Name This Plant

Name This Plant

— Sara

Back to Chiang Mai



When we leave Chiang Mai on a night train back to Bangkok Saturday afternoon we will have been here for about 10 days. Ten days is the length of some people's vacations. For us it is the time to kill between Cambodia and our flight home.

Chiang Mai is a completely different city this time around. Songkran is over, it is the low season and the protests in Bangkok significantly affected the tourism industry. Chiang Mai is almost a ghost town when it comes to tourists. Don't get me wrong, it is still crowded. The city itself has a population of 150,000 (just under the population of all of Samoa) and the metro area is home to just under a million people. Its just the farang that are missing.

Hot Springs

We've had a chance to do some things we didn't do when we were here the first time. We rented a moto. After a significant amount of experience in Cambodia, Cale was feeling more confident about driving in Chiang Mai traffic (which is still ridiculous) and I was no longer deathly afraid of the moto. We motoed out to
Bo Sang, Baan Tawai and other handicraft "villages." Talk about deceptive marketing. These are not villages where people make things, these are outdoor strip malls where every store sells just about the same thing. We were less than impressed. We were also less than impressed with the hot springs. I think mainly because it was already hot outside. Hot springs are better in colder weather. That and the geyser wasn't natural, there was a pump. You can buy eggs and put them in the hot water to boil, but we weren't hungry, so we didn't.

Chiang Mai

We also motoed up the mountain, Doi Suthep. We skipped the mountain-top temple (the only temple that charges admission in the city) and the tourist clap-trap village that has sprung up at the entrance and continued on to the Doi Suthep National Park.

Chiang Mai

We also visited the Night Market repeatedly. When we were here the first time Cale told a musical instrument vendor that he would come back at the end of our trip to buy the instrument. Two months later we returned and the first thing the guy said to Cale? "You're back!" He had remembered Cale. How crazy is that?

Holland Beats Brazil

We saw Holland kick Brazil's ass at a bar we originally thought was called Holland House, but have since discovered is called The Wall. The Dutch owners just covered it in signs saying Holland House to encourage Dutch football fans to watch the games there.

Cale had a suit custom tailored. I got a manicure and pedicure. We ate an excessive amount of Mexican food from
Miguel's. And I had a 4th of July argument with a Thai woman about marinara sauce (more to come on this one later). All in all, I would say a good time was had by all. Tomorrow we are back on the train for another 14 hours back to Bangkok.

— Sara

29 Hours

On the Train

Tuesday, 29 June, we were up early to catch a bus to the border. Our Cambodian visas were set to expire the next day and we planned to be in Thailand before that could happen. Our bus was at 8am. Sophara said he would pick us up at 7:45am. How we ended up at the bus station before the 7:30am bus left, I will never know. Anyway, we hung out at the bus station for a while and then hopped on our bus to the border. It was a bus to Poipet (border town) and then on to Bangkok. We were not taking the bus on to Bangkok though, we were taking a train.

The bus ride was about three hours. When we arrived in Poipet the bus dropped us at the Capitol bus station because our tickets were to Poipet. However, after leaving us at the curb, it then continued to the border crossing. Had we stayed on the bus, we would have saved ourselves a long, hot walk. Whatever, we needed the exercise. Doing the walk in reverse was an interesting experience. When we had crossed into Cambodia two months ago and were walking from the border to the bus station we couldn't beat the taxi drivers off with sticks. You may remember we were shadowed at slow speeds by one taxi driver that really wanted to drive us somewhere, anywhere for most of our walk to the bus station. This time around, no one was interested. We could only be going to the border and that wasn't that far away (in the grand scheme of things).

Once at the border we found ourselves in line behind people who had been on the same bus as us earlier. After we want through the checkpoint, Cale accepted an offer for a ride to the train station. The man phoned a truck that had already departed the crossing back. Surprise, surprise, there were the same barang (sorry, we are in Thailand now, farang) that were on the bus with us before. They were sitting on the benches in the bed of the truck and we were put in the back seats (extended cab) with the air conditioning. I started to wonder, about the bus to Bangkok from Siem Reap. I assume that the Capitol bus dropped them at the border and they crossed. However, it doesn't appear they just get on another bus on the other side of the border. Instead they were taken by this truck to a way station of sorts, where I suppose they were waiting for another bus. However, there were only farang on this ride. Where did all the Khmer (or I suppose Thai) people who had been on our bus go after they crossed the border? Weren't they also getting a bus on to Bangkok? They couldn't have been riding to just Poipet or they would have kicked them off at the Poipet bus station. Or would they? Maybe they were just to savvy to get off the bus there and saved themselves the long walk we had.

Anyway, we get a ride to the train station. The ride to the train station cost us more than the train ride to Bangkok. Hmmm.... A fifteen minute truck ride is more expensive than a six hour train ride?

The train wasn't going to leave until almost 2pm and it was only just noon, so we had a bit of a wait at the station. Cale bought some meat on a stick and wrapped it in the bread we had bought before leaving Siem Reap. Instant sandwich.

On the Train

The train ride to Bangkok was way more enjoyable than the bus ride had been coming the other direction. You could get up and move around a little if you wanted to. People walked the aisles constantly selling drinks and snacks. There was leg room. However, the best part of the deal was the scenery. The view from the bus is just highway and industrial wasteland and mammoth gas stations. The view from the train is so much more enjoyable. One thing we noticed immediately is the difference a little rain makes. When we arrived in Thailand three months ago it was dry, dry, dry, dry. Did I mention it was dry? Everything was brown and dust and dead. Out the window of the train three months later and everything was lush and green and gorgeous. It was exactly what Thailand was supposed to look like.

On the Train

The train came into Bangkok under the cover of night. As we entered the city. the train ran parallel to the
BTS (Skytrain) for quite a while. In the shadow of the BTS supports was the most extensive shanty town I have ever seen. It continued on after the BTS veered off in another direction. Just miles and miles of houses and businesses constructed out of scrap wood and leftover roofing irons set up between the "real" city and the train tracks.

We pulled into the main station 30 minutes too late to catch one of the overnight trains to Chiang Mai, the only overnight train with room left in the sleepers. Instead we got tickets on the next train that had no sleeper seats left. We settled on air-con rather than fan seats. We had a two-hour wait before our train left and were famished. We had been up for more than 12 hours and it had been a long time since breakfast at the guesthouse. The street meat and bread also seemed a long way away. None of the cheap food stalls in the station food court were still open, so we had to settle on KFC. That's right, Kentucky Fried Chicken. The KFCs in Thailand serve chicken fried rice and some sort of green curry fried chicken; however, they also have original recipe. We got a meal for two for about 250B. Considering you can usually eat for 30 or 40B it was sort of a pricey meal.

Whew. This blog entry is getting long and I still have a 14-hour train ride to go. What do you expect though, I am covering a lot of ground here?

So 10pm comes and we get on the train. The seats in the aircon car are not horribly uncomfortable and the leg room is more than ample. In fact, I found myself wishing there was less legroom so I could have something to prop my legs up against. Also, one of our seats was broken and it could only recline. No seat backs in the upright position for that chair. Luckily we were provided blankets as we soon discovered the aircon was more than adequate. A group of four French guys took the seats in front of us. While Cale went to locate us some drinks in the "dining" car, these guys basically removed their clothes (seriously, they were standing there in their boxer shorts) so they could change into warmer attire for the train ride. Flash forward 14 hours and they will once again strip in public so they can change back to shorts and t-shirts.

Speaking of temperatures, the next day when the sun finally started to warm the train and the temperature inside became comfortable (i.e. I could sit not huddled under the blanket) someone went around and turned on a line of high-powered ceiling fans. It went back to being uncomfortably cold with the added bonus of being intermittently hit with a blast of cold wind. Hooray.

Also, speaking of the "dining" car. Less dining, more train car with no seats and some dirty tables bolted to the wall. Cale asked to see a menu and baffled everyone affiliated with the car, including me at that point. Can't you see this is not a place for food and definitely not a place with a menu?

At some point in the middle of the night a man came around waking people up and asking us if we wanted breakfast. A clever ploy indeed. Wake people up in the middle of the night to ask if they want breakfast. The answer was guaranteed to be a confused and groggy yes (at least from the uninitiated). So I mistakenly agreed to this breakfast. Flash forward about eight hours and it is morning. We have been up for a while (or in my case, all night as I could not sleep in the chairs) and have seen no indication of this breakfast. Women have been hopping on the train at stops and selling drinks and food stuffs. I have Cale buy us two packets of sticky rice for 20B. Pesky breakfast problem solved. Except the man with the breakfasts finally shows up about an hour later and presents us with plates with eggs, hot dogs, apple slices and bread. I eat my bread, eggs and apple slices. We are also given what is quite possibly the worst coffee ever in all of the world. The breakfast man has disappeared and I start to wonder out loud to Cale how this works. We are the only people in the car that got the breakfast. If it was part of the ticket price you would think that other people would have gotten it as well. So that means there has to be a price associated with this, but when will we pay, how much is it, how does this work? Just as I am wondering this, the breakfast man is back. We do have to pay. 260B!!! I cannot put enough exclamation marks on that. You may remember that we got two packets of sticky rice for 20B earlier and now we are being charged more than ten times that for this. We learned that lesson the hard way. I am not sure what a breakfast at Denny's costs these days, but I think it might be cheaper than that. I know I could get a Burger King breakfast for cheaper.

Finally, around 1pm we arrived in Chiang Mai. So we had left our guesthouse in Siem Reap not long after 7am the day before and traveled almost continuously for the next 29 hours. When I mentioned that we had just traveled that long on facebook, some friends had assumed we had returned to America. Oh no, we were just back in Thailand. We still have to do the 30 hours of Tuesday when we travel back to America soon.

— Sara

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Back to Siem Reap

We were only back in Siem Reap for a day. We arrived the night before and would leave the next morning. In the time we had, we had some very important tasks to accomplish. Namely, eat $1 tacos and drink $1 margaritas and $.50 drafts at !VIVA!. Mission accomplished.

We also did a little souvenir shopping and mocked some tourists (behind their backs, obviously). I still don't understand what it is about vacation that makes people think what they are wearing is clothes. Seriously? Your bikini and an oversized t-shirt that, mercifully, covers your bum? What makes that walk-around-town clothes? Would you wear that out to the grocery store at home? I would like to give all the guys the benefit of the doubt and assume they left their guesthouse complete clothed that morning and they were accosted by
gangsters who stole their shirts some time during the day.

That night we went to the Peace Cafe so Cale could have his last language lesson ever. Just as the lesson was ending it started to rain. I am sorry, I meant to type RAIN!!!!! It was insane the rain. We waited as long as our empty stomachs could bare and then we braved the downpour to walk back to our guesthouse. We quickly discovered that the actual rain had diminished to a sprinkle but the streets of Siem Reap were flooded. We waded through shin deep poop water (lord only knows what was in there). After a brief knees and below scrub, we went downstairs and had dinner there, not wanting to head back out into the flood.

The next morning we began our journey back to Thailand.

— Sara

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More Than a Decade Ago

I know this had nothing to do with our trip, but I have been thinking a lot about getting older lately. I am sure it had nothing to do with my then impending 29th birthday when I started to evaluate my mental image of myself in late May. I had realized that the picture I have of myself is a decade old. Every time I look in the mirror I am a little surprised to discover that I am not still nineteen. I still imagine myself as this tiny, cute anime-like character with giant eyes and a button nose.


Sara: The Younger Years

However, my eyes have been shrinking and my nose has been growing. There are more lines around my eyes and mouth, more sun spots. That mole by my eye keeps getting bigger. WTF! I am getting old.

This morning I was doing my morning exercises for my bad back (it's all downhill from here). As I stretched over to the side and reached for my toes, I thought to myself, "I remember a time when I could touch my nose to my knee." Then it occurred to me, it is quite possible that the time I am remembering (which probably comes as a miracle to those of you that are familiar with my memory) was when I was on the track team at Cardinal Ritter High School...in like 1996. Have I reached the age when you look back with bittersweet nostalgia on your high school days? I have at least reached the point in life where you can remember things from more than a decade ago and not realize it is ancient history.

I know I am gonna catch heat from all the really old folks out there that read the blog (I hear that some of them are even older than 40! mamaws and peepaws). I can hear my mom now, "Your complaining about being old. You're only 29!" I am not really complaining about being 29. My problem is I haven't been able to bring my mental picture of myself up-to-date, so I am constantly surprised by not being as young as my imagination would like to believe. I just need to eliminate the element of surprise. Resignation, that is what I need. I must resign myself to never been nineteen again. How depressing.

— Sara

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Name This Plant: Tamarind

Name This Plant

Anonymous has successfully named this plant tamarind. When I first photographed this fruit in the Big C in Bangkok, I had no idea what it was and no English labels to clue me in. It wasn't until we visited Mike in Tak and he picked these seed pods up off the ground and pulled the fruit out to share that I discovered what they were.

To me tamarind doesn't resemble any fruit I am familiar with and has a very distinctive taste. It is native to Africa but found through out Asia and Central America. According to
Wikipedia we are familiar with it in Western cuisine in Worcestershire sauce. In Thailand it is an important part of my favourite Thai dish, Pad Thai (which tastes absolutely nothing like what they served at Noodles & Company, let me tell you). Wikipedia also tells me that it is combined with some poisonous yams in Ghana to make them safe for human consumption. I am not sure how that works.

It is hard to tell from the picture below, but the fruit is the dark brown, almost black thing that you see where the outer shell has been broken. Under that are the seeds inside the fruit.


www.kerala.com

According to the
Purdue Horticulture page:
"Few plants will survive beneath a tamarind tree and there is a superstition that it is harmful to sleep or to tie a horse beneath one, probably because of the corrosive effect that fallen leaves have on fabrics in damp weather. Some African tribes venerate the tamarind tree as sacred. To certain Burmese, the tree represents the dwelling-place of the rain god and some hold the belief that the tree raises the temperature in its immediate vicinity. Hindus may marry a tamarind tree to a mango tree before eating the fruits of the latter. In Nyasaland, tamarind bark soaked with corn is given to domestic fowl in the belief that, if they stray or are stolen, it will cause them to return home. In Malaya, a little tamarind and coconut milk is placed in the mouth of an infant at birth, and the bark and fruit are given to elephants to make them wise."
— Sara

Monday, July 5, 2010

Thirteen Hours

We we set out for Siem Reap by bus we weren't 100% how long it was going to take. We hadn't come straight to Kampot from Phnom Penh, so we had no idea how long that bus ride was. We also couldn't remember how long the trip from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh had been the first time. However, in our minds we thought it might be eight hours or so. We were wrong.

Our bus left at 6:45 in the morning. We had with us just over a half loaf of Sisters II bread for snacking and didn't bother to eat when the bus stopped later in the morning for breakfast. Our second set of tickets (from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap) said the bus left at 12pm. At it approached 11am and we were still not in sight of the city, we began to grow concerned. We had thought the ride to the capital would be about three hours and it had now been four. We finally pulled into the bus station at 11:55am. Cale leapt from the bus and found the baggage handler unloading the luggage. He needed to figure out where our next bus was and get us and our baggage there; we only had five minutes. However, after a little initial confusion we learned the bus wouldn't leave until 12:45pm (I am sure they wanted to know why this barang was so up in arms over a bus that wasn't leaving for an hour).

We got on the next bus thinking this ride was four hours. Under the impression we would be in Siem Reap for dinner time we didn't get food when the bus stopped along the way. Though I had complained I was hungry, the easily portable and familiar foods were always over priced at these stops. Can o' Pringles-like chips? $4. Bag of unidentifiable fish products? $0.50. We could wait to eat in town. But the hours kept ticking by and we didn't appear to be any closer.

When we finally arrived in Siem Reap it was after 7pm and raining hard. Cale had called
Sophara from outside of town to tell him we were arriving by bus and to ask if he could give us a ride to our guesthouse. He met us at the bus station outside of town and drove us to Happy Guesthouse in the pouring rain. Because we were friends he kept insisting we couldn't pay him and Cale practically had to wrestle the cash into his hands.

We dropped our things in our room and immediately went down stairs to order food. It was a replay of our first night in Siem Reap almost two months earlier. We arrived late and famished. I ordered the fried rice, Cale the amok (strangely enough, none of the info on amok I can find on the internet sounds or looks anything like any of the amok we ate while in Cambodia). We stuffed ourselves and then immediately to sleep. It was barely after 9pm.

— Sara

Landen and Amanda

Nita kept mentioning friends she wanted us to meet. They were American, we were American. It was a match made in heaven!

Landen and Amanda have lived in Kampot for almost year. Originally from Texas, they settled down there after a long travel through Europe and Southeast Asia. Their son, Pax, is six months old.

Landen has published
five books. One is a travel memoir from Thailand and the other four are works of fiction (and are conveniently all available in a single book called, Four Books). It pretty much rocked our worlds to learn that he makes enough off the sales of those books (and his publishing house doesn't even provide advertising or marketing) for the family to live on in Kampot. Note to self, become author. Of course, Landen says he can show you a whole pile of rejection letters that came before he ever published anything. I am sure the story of every author.

Landen is quite the character. He is easy to spot in a crowd with a mane of bushy, untamable, curly hair that leans more towards red than it does dark blond. More often than not is it tapped down under a baseball cap. He speaks with a Texas drawl and with Southern manners. A collector of information, he is just as likely to ask you your astrological sign as your favorite car (though, he is guaranteed to ask you your astrological sign). Amanda is one of those tiny barang we kept hanging out with that made me feel like an ogre. She, too, has a little Texas in her voice. Though tiny, Amanda must be a pretty strong woman. She had Pax at home, in a foreign country that isn't famous for its medical care (that would be its neighbor, Thailand). Obviously everything went well. Landen and Amanda consider it a relatively normal thing. Nita, on the other hand, is obviously awed by Amanda's choice to have her baby at home and considers it an amazing accomplishment. Amanda said that afterwards Nita was by their house with every imaginable kind of medicine and vitamin she could bring from the local pharmacy.

We hung out with Landen, Amanda, Pat the Aussie and Nita are last night in Kampot at The Green Man. The next morning we were catching a bus to Siem Reap.

— Sara

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Random Day

Kampong Trach
Kampong Trach

Kampot is famous for its
pepper. Most the packaged tour deals in the area include a visit to a pepper plantation. Cale and I are not packaged tour people. Instead one day we decided to scoot out to where the pepper plantations were indicated on the map and have a poke around. The moto up the hill (mountain?) itself was beautiful. The first sign we passed indicating a pepper farm also had a kid outside flagging us down, so we decided to stop. The kid was probably about eight and had enough English to give his pepper spiel (i.e. walk you over to a small pepper garden patch, point at plant, display tiny peppercorn buds, indicate they take about 6 months to grow and walk us over to the stand to buy pepper). Cale was happy to buy pepper from the source, especially because it was dramatically cheaper than in town. While we were there we saw a tuk-tuk blow past with a tourist in the back and we decided to continue in that direction. Maybe there were more informative pepper plantations ahead. We stopped at another one, but the best we can tell a pepper plantation tour with out a hired tuk-tuk tour guide is simple a walk around fields of tall, staked plants. Hmm.. scenery was still pretty and Cale got a mess of cheap, awesome pepper.

Since we were in a scooting mood and already out in that direction we decided to continue on to
Kampong Trach, which is just outside of Kep. We were motoing down a dirt road when a kid on a bike pulled up next to us and kept pace (it was an extremely pitted, bumpy road, so we were going slow). His English was off the hook and he was extremely chatty, wanting to know all about us and where we were from. We just thought he was super friendly, but eventually we came to the catch. He was one of the kids that guide barang around the cave shrines. Not having anything else to do we paid our dollars and followed him into some caves where lots of Buddha statues and other religious relics have been set up. This kid also had a whole spiel prepared and pointed out all these rock formations that sort of look like animals and whatnot.

Kampong Trach

After we had poked around in the damp, dark caves for a bit I called up the local Peace Corps couple and asked if they could recommend a place to eat. They suggested a nondescript place with incredibly cheap, good fried rice. We sat there for a while and an older gentleman came by and tried to engage Cale in a conversation that was a mix of his minimal English and Cale's Khmer. One thing I have noticed here is people are super eager to practise their English and seem to have no hangups over just diving into conversation head first with no worries about getting in over their heads. It is the best way to learn. Cale is always saying he knows just enough Thai to get in over his head. He can say enough for the Thai speaker to think he knows Thai and then they just let loose a long, paragraph-like sentence that leaves Cale standing, mouth a little agape, brow creased in concentration, completely baffled by what has been said.

Anyway, that was are random drive around day and find ourselves being shown around by small children.

— Sara

Friday, July 2, 2010

Tidbits

Kampot

Cale brought me this drink. On the back it comforts me by saying:

"The appearance of milk particles in this product is natural and does not affect the quality. Contains permitted food additives of non-animal origin."

Ok. First of all, "milk particles?" What the hell is a milk particle? Second, it is called Melon Milk and there are cows pictured on the front, why would I be concerned to find milk inside? Also, why would milk be associated with lower quality? Finally, "non-animal origin?" Can I assume that is the melon portion of the Melon Milk or are we talking about something more sinister here?

Also, I suppose you would not be surprised to discover the above item looked like green milk. It didn't taste too bad. I liked the Winter Melon Tea better.

A constant theme on this trip is that Cale and I are ok-sized white people. People in Lauren's village said we were appropriately sized. A kid in Kampong Trach wanted us to know that he saw Americans when the Navy medical ship came and they were too "long." He said this in comparison to us. We, apparently, are not too long. The waitresses at the Warehouse in Siem Reap were surprised to learn we were Americans. Since we weren't fat they had assumed we were English or Australian. When the learned we were Americans they said that were a good size, not tall or fat like the other ones.

Quote of the day from Cale (in reference to scantily-clad, skinny tourist), "What's nice to look at is not always nice to squeeze." Sara questions which one she is. Answer? "I'll squeeze you with the lights on."

Construction practices in Cambodia are awesome. First you need to create a forest of bamboo to hold up the concrete form for the second floor. Then you need to have a guy on the ground toss bricks one at a time to a guy on the second floor. If you are a particularly good brick tosser you can do it by snagging the brick with a stick and lobbing it up two or three stories. If you have to get a particularly heavy thing up several floors? Try rigging a pulley and having two guys on the ground take off running with the end of the rope.

Winnie the pooh is huge, I mean HUGE, in Thailand and Cambodia. Do you know why?

It seems to be a rule that at a certain age a Cambodian grandma just begins chewing things in her free time. Apparently it is usually
betel nut. Grandma's in Cambodia are old. Really, really old. I have no idea what their actual age is, but time has not been kind to these women. Their faces are worn and wrinkled like crumpled paper. More often then not they have no teeth. One grandma (that's honestly what all old women are called, at a certain age they refer to themselves as grandma) we saw at a bus stop was chewing on something. Because she lacked teeth her entire face would collapse in on itself and shrink in size by more than half as she brought her gums together, it was amazing. However, the best was the grandma at the Phnom Penh bus station who had herself an external chewing device. Because she lacked teeth she would put the item she wanted to chew in her mouth and sort of work it around a bit and then take it out and insert it into some sort of nutcracker-looking item and grind it almost mindlessly while she worked another wad around in her mouth. After a while, she would switch.

Things Cale said about Kampot that I forgot to include in the Kampot blog entry:


"It's been easier to be here I think than anywhere we've ever been."

"How can you not like this. There's a mountain with a cloud toupe and a cow family out for a walk."


Speaking of cows out for a walk. Some cows are free range cows, meaning they seem to just wander all over (including down the middle of national highways). Some cows, on the other hand, need to be taken for walks. You can moto down the road and see people out walking their cows the way people walk their dogs in the States. I doubt they pick up the poop though.

One industrious kid walked the riverfront in Kampot with a scale one night. He was so popular! For 200 riel you could weigh yourself. It was in kilos, but Pat the Aussie's cellphone converter claimed it said I weighed 116. Not only is this kid making bank weighing people, but he is making them happy because his scales are off! There is no way I weigh less than 120 right now, probably 125.

Darren threw a double, double bullseye while we were playing darts. He named it the vampire robin hood.

Kampot

In Cambodia, you can pee anywhere. If you are offended by the sight of men peeing on the sides of roads, buildings, trees, light posts, bushes, or just in the open; you might want to keep your eyes closed all the time.

Another quote from Cale: "This country I will remember as the squeaky toy country." Throughout Cambodia there are people who come around collecting your recyclables (and possibly other useful trash). They all indicate their presence by constantly squeezing a squeaky toy as they walk or moto by. There are lots of them.

A quote from Sara from 8 June: "What's today? July?"

More later

— Sara

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Riel Deal


Wikipedia

The national currency in Cambodia is called the
riel (pronounced by all the barang as real).

Before I go any further in my post about money in Cambodia, I would first like to point out how awesome it must be to write headlines about money for English-language publications in Cambodia. The potential for puns is just outrageous. Anyway, moving on.

In addition to the riel, USD is also widely used in Cambodia. That's right good old greenbacks. At the current exchange rate $1 USD is worth 4,190
KHR. Prices will frequently be listed in either dollars or riel, but, I have notice, rarely both. With the riel to dollar ratio so close to 4,000 to one a strange sort of phenomena has developed. The dollar has become, well, the dollar and the riel has become the change. 1,000= 25 cents. So if something costs $2.50 you usually pay two dollars and 2,000 riel.

When an economy is using two separate currencies, whose value in relationship to each other fluctuates, things can get a little tricky. Furthermore, it is easy to convert the riel to dollar ratio to 4,000 to one, but that is not completely accurate. It is closer to 4,200 to one (right now, but as I said, it can fluctuate). So if a price is listed as $2.00 and you pay them two dollars you are actually paying them almost 8,400 riel. But if you were to pay them only 8,000 in riel (not dollars), they would most likely accept that too. On the same note, if a price is listed as 4,000 riel and you pay with a dollar, no one i going to give you back those 200 riel in change. So when you pay for prices listed in riel with dollars you loose 200 riel for every dollar and when you pay for prices listed in dollars with riel you save 200 riel. Tricky, tricky. It is to your benefit to pay in riel. Your, tiny, tiny benefit. But those 200 riel can add up over time, right?

On only one occasion did we ever have anyone question this whole accepted 4,000 to one concept. We purchased something at the market for $6 (price agreed on in dollars). Cale gave the woman five dollar bills and 4,000 in riel. She counted the money and explained to him that he still owed her 200 riel because the exchange rate is closer to 4,200 to one. What? No one ever points that out! And there is no way that if the quoted price had been 24,000 riel and Cale had given her $6 USD that she would have given him his change of 1,200 riel. Well, I suppose I cannot say that for a fact. Maybe she is meticulous with the exchange rate going both ways, but no one else is.


Wikipedia

In more rural areas you will find that the riel is more commonly used as the currency. Prices in rural areas are lower than in cities and tourist places. It would be hard to use dollars when you are talking about prices of 500 riel and less. The biggest riel note Cale and I have had in our possession is 10,000 (about $2.50), though Cale has seen a 50,000
(about $12.50). Rumor has it there are riel coins and Wikipedia seems to agree. However, Wikipedia points out that they are not being produced anymore and no longer in common circulation. I would agree with that, as I have never seen one and prices are such that they would be useless. I have never paid for anything that is less than 100. I think of 100 riel like the penny.

Cambodians are also very particular about their USD notes. They need to be as new and as crisp as possible. When you pay the vendor may inspect your bills, not for fakes, but for any small tears or fold creases. Poor condition bills will be rejected. The new USD notes are adding an interesting element to things as well. It appears the new $5 has been around long enough for it to be accepted. However, I tried to pay with a new $10 at a grocery store and the cashier was having none of it. She asked if I had any other bills, which I did not. She then called over a supervisor, who called over another supervisor. Before it was all over I think everyone in the store had inspected my $10 and asked me if I had another method of payment. I kept insisting it was a real, valid $10 note and that I had nothing else to pay with. Eventually. it was accepted, reluctantly.

Cale and I were give a
$2 USD note with a mint date of 2006 as change while in Kampot. Neither Cale nor I could remember if two-dollar bills were still being printed. I remember being given two-dollar notes as presents from my grandparents as a kid, but I haven't seen one in so long. I get the impression that people believe they are collectable. I had no way of knowing if the the US was still printing two-dollar bills as recently as 2006. To be on the safe side we spent the $2 immediately in Kampot rather than risk bringing it home to the States and discover it was fake.

— Sara

Rabbit Island

Rabbit Island

The Khmer name for
Rabbit Island is Koh Tonsay (Koh meaning island and Rabbit meaning Tonsay), but being a barang people only refer to it as Rabbit Island in my presence. As in, "You go Rabbit Island tomorrow?" It is located just of the coast of Kep and is a popular spot for tourists and day-tripping locals.

Wikipedia seems to be under the impression that the island gets its name from its shape (apparently similar to a rabbit?), but
Kep's official web site begs to differ. According to this site the island gets its name from a play on the Khmer word rumsay (which the web site does not bother to translate, but the internets tells me might mean "to spread out troops") from an incident involving the Khmer Rouge and someone stationing troops there. It seems strange to me that this island would have gone nameless until the 1970s or later. Regardless, there is a tiny island of about 2km off the coast of Kep and everyone who heard we were going to Kampot told us to go there.

At first we were hesitant to visit the island. The main draws everyone raved about were there was a nice white-sand beach (white sand my ass, that sand was brown like east coast Florida beaches) and you could sleep on the beach in a hut. The beach-hut-sleeping seemed to be the big, novel attraction. Cale and I, spoiled by constantly sleeping in huts on the beach in Samoa, were a little jaded, "So what? You sleep on the beach in a hut? How else are you gonna sleep on the beach?" Also the boat ride to the island was $20, which seemed a little pricey to us.

When we ran into Christian (the PCV) and Jessica Friday night, they wanted to go to Rabbit Island, but they too were also concerned about the tuk-tuk to Kep and boat ride price tag. Happily we agreed to go with them and share the costs.

Rabbit Island

Saturday morning we stopped at a shop for our typical going to the beach supplies: vodka and juice. Christian and Jessica went for the sangria and corn flakes. Then Christian talked a tuk-tuk driver into taking us to Kep for $8 which seemed pretty cheap to me, though Christian seemed to feel we could have gotten him down to $7. Once at the dock where the boats leave from we ran into another group of barang heading to the island as well. They immediately asked if we wanted to share their boat (it is $20 per boat, so the more people, the cheaper the ride for each person). However, that made a group of seven and the ticket seller insisted that a boat could only handle six barang. Eight Khmer was no problem, but barang are bigger and six is the max. The weather was particularly windy that morning and the water was very choppy. After we were underway and the boat rocked in the waves we were glad to only have the four of us on board. Due to the waves and wind, they couldn't land us on the side of the island where the huts were. Instead we were dropped off on an easier side and trekked through the jungle for about 15 minutes (at most) to the accommodations.

Rabbit Island

The huts here are a little fancier than your basic fale in Samoa. Once again, sticking with local construction techniques they are all enclosed (why do people who live somewhere so hot build houses with so many walls and such tiny windows?). However, there was the added bonus of an attached bathroom with toilet and shower head. There were Khmer-style lunch huts on the beach which were much closer to a Samoan beach fale, but these were just for hanging out in a hammock and not for sleeping.

Rabbit Island

After settling in, we immediately set to the difficult task of relaxing. The wind was still blowing like crazy and the day had become overcast. Instead of jumping in the water, we did some hanging out (literally, Khmer is a hammock culture) and reading. That night Cale, Christian, Jessica and I set up camp in one of the lunch huts and shared our supplies while anticipating an amazing sunset. Unfortunately, cloud coverage interfered with that, but it was still beautiful.

Rabbit Island

I was feeling a little bad for Jessica. In addition to hogging her boyfriend (who she had flown around the world to see) talking about Peace Corps and living in the third world stuff, it also just so happened that Christian had a lot of Samoan friends growing up in California. So we had twice as much to talk about. Best part? "Can I ask you guys a question," Christian asks. "Did you eat a lot of hot dogs?" OMG! Like there isn't at least one cold hot dog in every styrofoam clam shell meal you are given at an event. Apparently his Samoan friends subsisted almost entirely on hot dogs.

The next morning brought with it calm winds and a sky full of sunshine. It was the perfect day for beaching. Before hitting the water Cale and I stopped for breakfast at one of the beach hut establishments. The menu offered an item called pancake with fruit salad. In my experience that is a pancake with a mix of cut fruit on the side. The price listed was $1-2. That usually means there is a small and a large. When I ordered it and the lady asked me if I wanted one or two, I assumed this was the difference between small and large, did I want one pancake or two. I went for two. I chose wrong. Not long after the woman came back with two plates. On each plate was a pancake (more like a crepe) that filled the entire plate. Each pancake had been covered in chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and fruit (pineapple, mango, etc). It was insane. I turned to Cale for help. I was able to make my way through one entire pancake, though I was moaning at the end. It was extreme sugar shock. Cale ate all the fruit off the other and was already feeling the effects when his omelet arrived. He had ordered omelet with bread, but they were out of the bread and decided to make up for it with extra egg. The plate set in front of Cale was mounded high with eggs and veggies. He bravely set to work and was only able to make it halfway through before he had to admit defeat.

We spent all morning lazing in the water or on the beach. For a late lunch we ordered some "potatoes in hot oil" which turned out to be french fries, as we had hoped. By late afternoon the wind had picked up again and the clouds were setting in. That night we had dinner with Christian and Jessica before turning in.

The next morning we were up early to catch our boat at 9am (when you buy your boat ticket it is for the return trip as well, you are supposed to take the same boat there and back, that is how the guy gets paid fairly since there is the same number of people on both trips). It was not a promising day. It was overcast and raining intermittently. In the process we picked up two stray travelers who apparently had not left with the same group they had arrived with. Phone calls were made and it appeared they could share our boat despite not having arrived on it. We trekked through the jungle to meet the boat. However, as we trekked the rain picked up. Not long after we arrived it began to pour and we could not longer even see the not-so-distant coast of Kep through the curtain of water. Though we had no expectations of leaving at nine, as 9am became 10 am and there was still no boat we assumed they might be waiting for the rain to let up. We were right. Once the rain turned to sprinkling around 11am a man jumped into one of the four boats anchored just off the beach and began to bail it out. When he had finished he indicated he would take us across. Not long after we crossed the halfway mark we saw a boat coming towards from the dock in Kep. It was the boat we had take across Saturday morning on his way to get us. He too had been waiting for the rain to stop. We waved wildly to get his attention and he turned around and followed us back.

We parted ways with Christian and Jessica, who were headed to Christian's site by bus from Kep, and tuk-tuked back to Kampot with the two other travelers we had shared the boat with. By the time we dragged ourselves into our guesthouse room (which we had just kept for those two nights rather than pack all our stuff up again and store it) we were tired, soaked through and freezing. Opening the door to the room and collapsing on the bed felt like a homecoming. The hot-water shower that followed was glorious. When we finally felt like humans again we went to the Wunderbar for dinner where we watched Portugal just massacre North Korea. A group of South Koreans had come to watch the game and root for the North, but they left out of desperation before halftime even began.

More later

— Sara