So it’s October already and today I’ve been here 3 weeks........in reality, it feels like I’ve been here for more like 5 or 6 weeks.....wow. Every day is jammed packed with things happening and each week is full to the brim, so days and weeks feel long (in a good way), but on the other hand, it feels like time is racing by and I cannot believe that I only have 6 weeks left in Phnom Penh – two months felt like such a long time at the start. I also cannot comprehend that I was in Brisbane just over 3 weeks ago – it seems like another lifetime ago.
We were talking on Friday night about the fact that you never quite relax here......oddly though I feel chilled out – it’s just that you never do anything automatically. You have to plan and work out a strategy for everything you do. In nearly every conversation you have you are consciously choosing the right words so that you can be understood, and if you fail, you search your brain for another word or paragraph that the person might understand. Then there’s the getting around – you don’t just jump into your car and head off .......you have to search everything out on a map (and have I told you just how useless maps are in PP?), then negotiate a price with the tuk tuk driver which is always funny because we both know what price we’ll end up at, but you have to play the game first. Being a Westerner, you are always considered a tourist, so you can NEVER just walk down a street. You are always being hassled by someone, be it for a moto, tuk tuk, and if you’re in the tourist area of riverside.... “you buy a book madam”, “you want a t-shirt lady”, or having someone with a drugged up baby under their arm, begging. If you say no, some of the kids are very good at laying the guilt trip on you.....and have whining down to a fine art. I would rather the kids be at school learning, than hawking books, and I’m less than impressed with the women that hire babies, then sedate them so that they look almost lifeless, in order to pull at the heart strings of tourists to get money. I know poverty is rife here, but there are programs in place by many NGOs to give people a hand at getting their lives together, even so far as to start small businesses etc in many cases. There is no pension or social security though, but I’ve learnt from working at the school in the slums, that alcohol and drugs are an issue here, so it makes it harder for many families.
Re the maps – most streets don’t have names, just numbers. For example, our street is simply Str 112. The odd numbers run one way, the evens the other.......sounds like a great system, right? Well it would be if the numbers were in sequence, but they’re often not. So the street next to ours might very well be Str 134 for example, which makes following a map mighty tough going. One map that I have even goes so far as to colour code the street numbers to make it easy for me...........but in true Cambodian style, the colour system is the opposite to what they state.....you just have to grin and do your best to find the place you’re meant to be going to.
As I mentioned in my blog earlier this week, there has been quite a bit of change this week in ranks of the volunteers. We’ve farewelled a few and welcomed quite a few.....this week we’ve largely had people coming in for the Conservation/Diving program, so they normally just stay one night before catching a bus and boat to their island (about 7 – 8 hours away). Judging by some of the people that have passed through this week , it will be an interesting time on the island for sure. Couple of young, brash, opinionated US guys, both fine in small doses, but on a smallish island, hmmmm, will make for some interesting stories I’m sure.....a French guy heading down tomorrow that barely speaks English - I think he will have to learn very quickly otherwise it might be a fairly silent time....a Japanese girl that is lovely (Yumiko, more about her later).......and also a really nice Norwegian girl - I’m sure she’ll enjoy her time there. I think the island would be too isolated for me....I’m pretty sure that the facilities are fairly limited and I understand they don’t have internet access, and can only leave the island on the weekend (for the mainland) to catch up with friends and family via the net etc .....mind you, the boat ride is 2+ hours back, and in the current weather, I don’t think that would be too comfy.
Yumiko arrived the other day and didn’t leave for the island until the next day. So she asked if she could come along with me to school for the day............all approvals were sought and given, so we jumped on the back on my regular moto and headed off to school. Bad traffic day, so poor Chann (my moto driver) had a few hairy, sudden stops with 3 of us on his tiny moto.... The kids at school were awesome and welcomed Yumiko as if they’d known her for ages. At break time she brought her camera out to take some photos of the kids, and she was instantly “Miss Popular”....as they just LOVE cameras – both being photographed and taking photographs. So we both spent the break taking dozens of pics. She also loved seeing parts of Phnom Penh that she would have missed had she gone straight to the island, but as it was her first time on the back of a moto (motorbike) she found it a tad challenging. It was also an eye opener for her, going into the slums to the school, and I think she was amazed at just how happy the kids are, considering their home lives. Personally, I enjoyed having her company for the day.
I had my first major “cheesed off with Cambodia” moment on Friday morning. I’ve told you all about the karaoke/brothel next door....but not in a lot of detail. Well, it generally starts up around 5.30pm with the music (loud, really loud), and then from about 7pm onwards the punters start arriving and singing up a storm – seriously, do they not realise that they’re not whichever famous Khmer singing sensation that they’re imitating?? By 5.30pm, the hostesses (who are we kidding? Prostitutes) are nicely lined up at the door of the bar, waiting for the sleaze-bags to arrive (am I being too judgemental here?). By 7pm, some of the more affluent customers start pulling up in front of the bar and that means pretty much in front of our apartment, and blasting their horns for “service . If someone doesn’t race out within 30 seconds (and I’m not lying), they sit with their hands on the horn and blast until someone arrives.....it’s a truly charming/delightful/endearing behaviour – NOT. This goes on until, hmmm, let’s see, 1am, sometimes later. We love it....again, NOT. But mostly we suck it up and get on with life. However, Friday morning they partied on and we had techno crap playing until 6am.....no sleep at all that night. The “music” was so loud, our walls were vibrating. I spoke to Projects Abroad and explained that I’m a human, not a robot, and need sleep if I’m to get up and teach each day.
So, Pises, the director up here, visited the bar/brothel on Friday night and explained the very simple fact that we would like to sleep and that the noise was just a tad INCONSIDERATE........and all I can say is, he’s a mighty powerful man because for the last 2 nights it’s been mighty quiet around here and we’re loving it. Thanks Pises, we owe you...
Friday night, Seang (social co-ordinator for Projects Abroad) invited us to an opening of a new guest house and bar near riverside. Free food, free drinks, so we were there. Nice guest house with odd named rooms, ie Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.......and a great terrace on the roof - was it 5 or 6 floors up? Can’t remember but it was like climbing Mt Warning I can tell you – they have The Steepest Staircases in the world here !! The food was great and all the Aussies agreed that it was like being at home at a bbq – they had the best potato salad and really nice roast beef. After that, a group of us went to the night market – interesting place, they had a talent quest happening so we got to hear some talented and not so talented singers, and witnessed some amusing rap dancing by 3 teenage guys decked out in baggy jeans, American-style t-shirts, and back-turned baseball caps. Didn’t do much shopping, but did pick up a snow globe for Sally as promised....over here they’re glitter globes as I’m pretty sure they have no idea what snow is, so can't replicate it. Oh, side thought, talking snow, I saw a street vendor selling Milo snow cones the other day !!! We don’t even have those at home.
Saturday, was an interesting day. My morning was good in that I went for a huge walk, and did some shopping, got toenails painted - with pretty flowers etc, and then after lunch a group of us went to a sanctuary for rescued animals – monkeys, gibbons, tigers, lions, crocodiles, dear, bears, slow loris’, snakes, birds etc. It was great, and sad at the same time. These animals have been mostly mistreated by the people that owned them, and some have been injured etc. But it was also great to see them up close and to have a guided tour, and to know that they are now safe and well looked after.
The trip out was long.......very long (1.5 hrs there & 2 hrs backs), especially in a tuk tuk that in Western terms only seats 4 people comfortably, and we had 6 of us crammed in. It was dry, dusty, cramped, but we saw some amazing sights along the way. It’s funny being the odd ones out, and having people stare at us.....often from their mini vans that had maybe 12 people crowded in, oh and that’s on top of the shopping supplies, spare motos etc etc. So many kids call out from the side of the road – “hello” – and get really excited when you smile and wave back ...Another tuk tuk was loaded to the roof with traditional Khmer farmers and they were pointing at us and checking us all out.....they were delighted when we waved and said hello to them, and were all smiles and giggles. I never cease to be amazed at how friendly most people are here, and how tough their lives appear to be............and what they carry on the back of motos and tuk tuks etc. I wish I had more photos to share, but I don’t always have the camera in my hand when they wiz past. I saw one lady the other day, bottle feeding her young baby on the back of the moto....hubby driving, then baby cradled in the middle in mom’s arms as she fed it....
Just prior to heading back to PP, a huge thunderstorm developed – lots of thunder and lightning. It hit just as we were leaving. Now, as most Queenslanders would know, it’s scary enough being on the road in a car during a thunderstorm, let alone being in a tiny tuk tuk, with canvas sides that shield you from absolutely nothing – ie lightning, other vehicles, torrential rain etc . Water was coming at us via a hole in the roof, from the front, sides and back of the tuk tuk.......and the traffic was horrendous....cars, bikes, trucks and tuk tuks going in all directions, with mud and crap flying up from the road. One of the girls ended up putting her umbrella up to shield her from the rain coming in....was very funny, but at the time she was cold, wet and not so impressed (said with Danish accent). As we got closer to PP, the storm got worse and the city started to flood in places (combo of a huge amount of water and poor drainage – you should the rubbish that gets dumped into the gutters). Our tuk tuk’s engine stalled so many times that we lost count.....and I’m sure Noah was knocking and asking to be let into the relatively dry confines of our tuk tuk. The traffic was chaotic, to say the least, and in the really deeply flooded areas, kids were being kids, and splashing around and swimming in the streets – the water was filthy, but as I said, kids do kid things. I was supposed to catch up with Tim after dinner but there was so much flooding around town that we figured we’d take a raincheck (pardon the pun) and catch up later in the week. About 9 of us ended heading to Greetings cafe (end of our street, and not a brothel – amazing) for coffee shakes and free WiFi....we know how to party here on a Saturday night !!!
It’s been a great week being back with the kids at school and it was fantastic on Friday when I reviewed the lessons with the senior class and realised that they’ve learnt a lot from me and retained quite a large amount of worthwhile information. They told the teacher to let me know that they’re happy with my lessons, and said some of them are hard, some are easy, but they’re enjoying them.....wooohoo. I’ve also had some great success with the slower learners in the junior class – they can say their ABCs but really struggle to write them, so we practiced a lot of writing this week, and I’ve seen a great improvement. In Khmer, words in sentences are written all together – ie no spaces between the words ....so I’m having to break that cycle when it comes to writing English and it’s a hard habit for them to break...but we’ll get there – the kids are bright and oh so keen to learn.
Friday from 10am – 11am is cartoon time, supposedly to learn English. When I was at the Russian market last week I bought a Wiggles DVD, thinking that the kids might enjoy it. The teacher played it on Friday and the kids hated it. After 15 mins she asked me if I minded if she stopped it and I was fine for that....and when the teacher suggested stopping it, to the kids, they all cheered. Seems The Wiggles are just an Aussie thing. We ended up watching some of Monsters Inc, so I was happy with that – love that movie, as do the kids.
Talking about the kids, one of their favourite games to play in the classroom is “Slap the Board”. It’s a word search game, where you write lots of English words on the board, two students stand in front of the class with backs to the board........I then call out a word and they compete to find it. When I first started here, that was basically idea of the game, so I’ve introduced new rules where they have to say the word, spell it and say it again....the teacher and the kids love it. Anyway, the other day we had a game and it was girls against the boys.............have no idea where I learnt it, but when the girls were winning I started this stupid thing of standing up, doing a stupid dance of swivelling my hips and doing a stirring motion with arms/hands and chanting “go girl, go girl” (seriously what stupid show on tv did I pick this up from???). Anyway the kids loved it, and it’s become the thing to do.....even the boys do it. So the next day I introduced “woohoo” for the boys as they punch the air.... Even the teacher is in on the silly dance, and when I leave school, I often hear someone giggling behind me, and then the familiar “go girl, go girl”.... They are so much fun !!! I was hoping for a more inspirational legacy to leave the kids, but I fear it will be “go girl”.
Ok, so that’s about it.....I’ve got some lessons to prepare for the coming week, so will go do those, and catch you all later.
Hugs as always from Cambodia...Rob
I'm sure there are certain people who's mind has gone straight to the gutter on reading the headline ....hmmm, what can I say, I got as dirty as you would if you were rolling around in a gutter, but the reality is we went to a school and painted walls.....it was SO much fun and a I feel great. What a rewarding day!!!
We headed off early knowing a little of what to expect, but only a little. The school we went to accommodates 200 kids, in 3 shifts throughout the day....but there are only 4 completed the rooms, the rest are under construction.
Our job today was to paint and decorate the staircase that was recently completed....easy enough in Queensland, but in Cambodia where there is no such thing as workplace health & safety, it's challenging task. I will include photos. Anyway, 12 of us got to work and somehow managed to paint the walls and then decorate them for the kids. Some of the walls were at least 20 - 25 feet high, and all manner of implements were taped to the rollers and paintbrushes in order to reach every nook and cranny. I'll let the photos tell the story of the ladders and "scaffolding" used.
One of the volunteers was from Poland (Ola) and was great fun, and said about 100 times throughout the day "I love it"....she/we really got into the day and had a ball.
Anyway, will leave it to the pictures to tell the story......Oh, by the way, we got VERY DIRTY during the day and I feel fantastic now that I've scrubbed away the paint and grime....
Hugs, Rob, xx
There is so much to say about Phnom Penh, so I have a feeling I will have to write blogs at least every other day! Where to start…
I was picked up at Phnom Penh airport last Sunday, 2nd October, by the Projects Abroad staff. Little did I realise that this will probably be the last time I ride in a car for at least several months, as the primary modes of transport here is motorcycles and tuk tuks. It had just started to rain as we reached the hired car, and as we began to weave through heavy traffic, it really began to chuck it down. And when I say HEAVY RAIN, I mean some seriously crazy rain. This is Southeast Asia in the Wet Season. Unless you have visited or lived in the Tropics, you would have never seen rain like this. It was so torrential that within minutes the roads became mini-rivers, and the moto drivers had to pull over to shelter under petrol station roof because it was too difficult to see with the pounding rain.
The cleansing rain was a good omen I felt, and pretty much a good introduction to life in Phnom Penh during the Wet Season. The weather in Phnom Penh has two seasons, either hot and wet, or hot and dry– this means it is approximately 32C during the day and about 28C at night most of the year, and the only difference in the seasons is how much rain you get on a daily basis. It seems to rain about 4pm every day for a few hours, or if it’s a ‘dry day’ it starts raining at 7 or 8pm. You get so used to the rain that you don’t even worry about using an umbrella, you just walk in the rain unless it’s a really heavy downpour. You don’t mind it anyway, because it’s so cooling! You average at least 2 showers a day here, so if it rains, you may be able to opt out of one of your showers!
Speaking of water, I drink at least 12 liters of water a day. I probably average about a liter an hour, and if I don’t have a bottle of water nearby at all times, I really notice it. It must be due to the constant heat, but rarely am I so hot that it is unbearable (that has only happened in the narrow walkways in some of the markets). Our apartments have well stocked fridges full of lovely cold purified water bottles –the empties are left in the kitchen sink for our ‘house mom’ (the Cambodian woman who lives in our apartment and is our cook/cleaner) to wash and refill from the water purifier in every kitchen. I have a ritual of grabbing at least 3 bottles from the house fridge and “DEET up” with copious amounts of mosquito spray containing at least 50% DEET before I head out!
The mosquitos here aren’t too bad, they are everywhere but I have a ritual of coating myself in DEET several times a day to cope with the little bastards and I’ve probably had only 10 bites in the last week, which is really good for me! I’m usually the one that informs everyone that there are mosquitos present, as I will have received three itchy bites within seconds of mosquito contact. Considering this, I think Cambodia has less mosquitos than North Carolina – or at least I must be more obsessive about DEET wearing than I was there….
I am very aware that there would be not only mosquitos bites to worry about, but also malaria and dengue fever that are possible consequences of mosquito bites here. Malaria is not very common here in Phnom Penh, so I’m currently not taking any anti-malarials. However, dengue fever is still a risk, so I’m pretty keen to avoid that. Dengue fever is like a REALLY BAD case of the flu, there are no vaccinations available, and you’re pretty weak for a month or so. I had brought some impressive DEET supplies with me, ranging from 50% DEET roll-on, 25% DEET wipes, and then a small bottle spray of DEET MAX 100. My uncle had given me the wipes and the DEET MAX 100, so I hadn’t really taken a look at them until last week. I suddenly realized the reason it is called DEET MAX 100 is that it is 100% DEET! Jeez. If you’ve ever used DEET, you’ll know that this is serious stuff – it melts plastic and god knows what serious chemicals are in it! I’ve never used anything higher than 50% before…and that it some really potent stuff! So I’ve held off using the DEET MAX 100 until I get into the jungle in high risk malarial regions…no point in getting cancer to avoid malaria!
Signing off now, gotta get ready to teach my students!
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