Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shihanoukville at the weekend

This weekend involved a trip to Cambodia's "beach resort" Shihanoukville - Don't think of the Spanish Costas - think more Dawlish Warren on a massive scale... The trip was with Fred's work mates - all Khmer. The plan originally was that we would go in the car belonging to one of the lawyers - that would have been 9 of us in the car - by Cambodian standards that is luxury. By my standards it is utter hell for 4 hours so we opted to hire a taxi and one of the Cambodians came with us to enjoy the luxury of a car with breathing space.

I have discovered that in Cambodia there is a fondness for stopping - not just for a quick loo stop and a bag of Opal fruits but a proper stop. We got .... ummmm not quite out of Phnom Penh and the Cambodian travelling with us announced we would meet the others for breakfast - just on the outskirts of PP - and sure enough we stopped and ate rice and noodles with chicken (the chickens here are very thin and chopped in a way unknown in the west). Finally we managed to get out of the city and along the road towards our destination. Our next stop was at half way at a place by the roadside crowded with temples (large and small) to pray to budda for a safe journey. Given that we had been hurtling along the road with massive container lorries headed for the port in Shihanoukville and overtaking at the speed of a snail with all sorts of vehicles coming in the other direction I would have thought that praying would have been more prudent up at the breakfast cafe but we had made it to the half way point in one piece so I guess making an offering was sensible for the onward bit!

Either our drivers experience or budda meant we arrived in one piece. My comment above that is place is like Devon mainly comes from the fact that there are shops here that you would see in a UK seaside place - inflatables hanging up etc, the fact that it was very quiet, the shops slightly shabby and the fact that it was RAINING!!!!!!! Rain!!! ahhhhhhhh!! - sadly not cold.

Anyway, after checking out a few hotel options we stayed at the Golden Sand Hotel - it had a pool and was spotlessly clean. The only thing it did not have was atmosphere - well you can't have it all. So after checking in we headed down to one of the better beaches in town. Bearing in mind the hosts were Cambodian this meant no sun (the rain also stopped the sun but only for about an hour) we were to sit in the open sided shacks by the beach and eat. And eat and eat and eat. The Khmers got about 40 crabs and 100 prawns from the market as well as lobster and fruit. The challenge was to finish it. I was introduced to a bizarre fruit which is round and looks like a grapefruit but when it is opened it has the texture of mango but tastes.... vile. A sour taste. The Cambodians dip it in a salt/sugar mix to make it taste nice but the whole combination just made your mouth want to shrivel up and die. Ugh!

(Pictures: the beach, beach hawkers, kid doing the washing up in the sea(!)... monk off duty(?!))

Time to hit the water. I decided I could be rather daring and change out of my trousers for the swimming. However, a swimming costume and a sarong together meant I could hit the water semi Khmer style. Some of the other women did not change - just up and in. Others changed - but into a full set of other clothes! I made "friends" with some Khmer beach kids who were so exceptionally dark skinned from clearly playing on the beach (or rather working and having a few hours off a day playing) - they enjoyed being picked up and flung into the sea. Also they enjoyed putting their feet in my cupped hands and being flung backwards into the sea (or another swimmer!). They also enjoyed clinging on to the sides of the banana boat which we all went on - Some of the Cambodian women were exceptionally scared (of the boat not the kids!).

(Picture: practically naked by Cambodian standards)

After the beach - dinner. More sea food. Shark soup. This was made on the table yourself and the contents of the soup include herbs, noodles, egg and shark. Boiled until all the nutrients are removed. Then back to the beach - well we had some crab/prawn to finish off. There was a spectacular storm brewing so there was amazing lightening over the sea in the dark. At the beach we drank beer - or more accurately the men and me (as the western woman) drank beer. The Cambodian women did not - its not the done thing. The beer was with ice. This is Cambodian style drinking .... more water than beer.

The Karaoke "bar" (I am not sure if anything other than beer on ice was available)

Still utterly sober Karaoke was next. 9 of us piled onto a tuk tuk and headed off down the road - The karaoke place we almost certainly also a brothel - Combining 2 favourite Khmer hobbies. However, as in many places in SE Asia the two do not have to be combined (indeed that may be a challenge) and just karaoke is acceptable. So, the karaoke took place in our own room - green carpeted with long plastic covered sofa/benches with our own TV/karaoke machine. Completely sober I still managed karaoke. English songs were exceptionally limited - However I know that the Cambodians do like the Carpenters (that and Celine Dion... so to say they have no taste in music would be unfair!!!!!!!) and so it was only right to indulge them with a little of "On Top of the World". The translation into English was very funny as was the sweeping view over the Alps in the video!

Enough! I needed a potato based meal!! - thank god there were hash browns at breakfast before the return trip.

A very enjoyable Khmer experience...The lawyers were all lovely despite their fondness for seafood and bad music!

Friday, April 25, 2008

More orphanage...

Here are some pictures from today at the orpahange....
Back flips off the concrete steps - very H&S aware!

(please note I did not teach the one in the middle how to turn his eyelids out in this way! It was very funny though for me and the others).... very fond of making funny faces....

Me and one of my budding young photographers - I let the children take some pictures with my SLR camera - well its insured.... they took some good pictures but most prefered making the faces and seeing them on the screen...

I think her name is lily and the boy is Penha.

Hieng, Panha, Srom Mey, Lily.....

This game involved a shuttlecock that was thrown caught by the other kids who then ran - tried to play but did not really get the rules.....

This is Dy (the boy) one of my more studious beginner students - He borrowed my dictionary for the day yesterday and wrote out about 50 words in English and Khmer and had them learnt by today.... I'm not sure of the girls name yet

This is one of Dy's photos - I set it up he took the picture so I guess it is his really! - Excellent technical ability! - The girls here are playing the game we play in England where you put elastic round your ankles/waist and jump in and out... well I played it at primary school anyway.

Today - I read a story with the help of a Khmer teacher and then played a game using the story and various flashcards - I had at various times beween 4 and 6 adults observing me - my teacher, the director of education, my teacher's friend (also a TEFL teacher) and 3 other volunteers here on other projects..... A bit unnerving given I did not use any of my lesson plan as it was too advanced for the smallest children. Oh well... it was a fun lesson and the adults were well behaved.

After the lesson I played with the children and also taught them some camera skills - I am thinking about a project on this but need cameras that people no longer need....Would anyone like to donate a camera for the children to use (I am probably trying to get about 10) - nothing flash just a basic one you no longer want???!!!

I have had a wander around the Russian market after school..... lunch and now wondering whether I am brave enough to face the heat to go to the post office on the otherside of town.... If I leave it an hour I can combine it with a happy hour drink so I think I'll do that.

This weekend - off to Shihanoukville - This is the more western beach - As close as Cambodia gets to a resort... (but even that description is pushing it I think).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wedesday's class

My class on Wednesday was a lot smaller and all the boys were at about the same level... we had a great lesson on foods I like and don't like - you can see Hieng (in the yellow) is holding up his flashcards of a pizza and a chicken!
Class today was cancelled the Japanese were at the Centre giving the weekly Japanese lesson!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More work at the orphanage

Today more lessons at CCH - I thought it was going to be the middle kids again - but what a surprise it was beginners... Luckily the lesson I had planned had levels of complexity and basicially involved a story around an elephant and a feely bag with lots of random stuff (pupkin, soap, string, ball, pencil, shell, cotton wool, apple...) Anyway the kids liked the bag but they were less keen on the English side of things. The sweets I bought were a hit (surprisingly!!) and some of them even wanted to eat the apple from the feely bag so we cut that up in the kitchen after the lesson. Tomorrow the same group again but that said, given the usual level of organisation in Cambodia, it is probably just as likely to be a class of 100 adults wanting to learn medical terms..... Here is a picture of my class room and one of the new arrivals carrying my handbag - Naturally, I have introduced style and glamour to this place already.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Today was my first day of teaching. I was expecting to teach the beginner class (Red, Blue, ABC, 123 etc) followed by a fairly advanced class but in the end I got a mixed bunch of children - all of them loved Harry Potter (!)... I started with my own personal peice of art work showing drawings me and the things I liked (suitable for children rather than accurate! - think I like tea and ice cream rather than I like a nice cold glass of white wine)... and then the children did the same, made posters and introduced themselves to the class. We then played a game which involved running and hitting the board - I was concerned when one of the older children got a bit competitive and the smacked his head on the wall but he survived and I was less concerned when later in the day another child produced his dart ( a real dart) and starting throwing it ramdomly at walls and dangling it over a balcony pointing at the heads of other kids - a bang on the heag suddenly did not seem so concerning... anyway... so after the game I pulled out the play dough I had made at 7.30am this morning in yellow, red and green - I had no idea what game we were going to play ... but then by the time it was all handed out class was over (luckily) - some other children had also come into the class by this stage to join the fun and so there were probably about 30 kids all with hands covered in a sticky salt/flour/water/food colour mixture. They enjoyed it though. Some took the gloopy mess away in dubious forms - some just all over their hands others had tried to make something. .. Luckily it shuld have all dried out by now!

Tomorrow's class will have less art and no play dough! - I have scrapped the idea of introducing painting with feet and by hands!!!!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Photos of Kep and Kampot

Sunset in Kampot over the mountains


Sunset at Kep Lodge

Rabbit Island

Me on the steps leading up to the temple with the view and the temple once the climb was done...

The white lady who overlooks the beach in Kep

Swimming fully clothed!

Countryside on the way

Kep and Kampot - A new year break!

The Khmer new year this year fell mid April. At NY Khmers try and go back to the province which they came from. The result of which is that PP is practically deserted for the 3 days of the festival. Needless to say, I didn’t need much of an excuse to escape the heat and pollution of the city and so a trip to a tropical paradise sounded like it might do the trick....

Kep is a small seaside resort that was at its best in the 1960s. Then the Khmer Rouge attacked– The art deco villas that line the beach are amazing but they are deserted and are now just shells of buildings. However, it has real character and is having somewhat of a comeback with mainly Khmer people but also the odd western tourist visit.

On Saturday, a taxi provided luxury travel to Kep in less than 3 hours from PP. Much more expensive than the bus but worth the cost as the road was extremely busy with all the people heading out of the capital. After the long bus journey to see the dolphins earlier in the month a taxi was luxury! Travelling by taxi also meant that I could take numerous photos of the Cambodian countryside which would otherwise be obscured by the grimy bus window!

Staying at Kep Lodge provided a great base as the rooms were individual bungalows, thatched with one main area for eating/drinking etc... The guest house is run by a Swiss guy and his wife and so a welcome surprise was a mixture of Swiss and Khmer dishes on the delicious menu – ummmm a fried potato rosti (like a big hash brown!) with cheese – all my dreams had come true in Kep already! Anyway, I digress!

Kep has several main areas – a crab market which has 20 or so shacks serving crab and other seafood delights in basic conditions... then following the road along there is a great costal road. You then arrive at the beach. The beach is a kilometre stretch of sand with a statute of a “white woman” at the far end. She seemed to be quite a draw for the Khmer people visiting Kep! Khmer people do not like to get a tan so the beach does not have the usual sunbeds/umbrellas. Instead on the raised up pavement just behind the beach hawkers set up reed mats with tarpaulin strung overhead using the trees as support.

Moving on down the road from the beach, taking the left turn, you come to the King’s former holiday home. Rather odd in that it is completely deserted but seems to have squatters who have broken in. This also means that you can also go inside... just open the door! The place is described as a palace but a better description would be a 1960s bungalow with a tepee style roof.

Continuing down the main road from the beach more costal road and then a picnic area – raised platforms which you sit on with thatched roofs. Hawkers come to you as you sit there and sell all manner of items – seafood, ice cream, sugar cane juice....
Next sight is the pier. From the pier trips can be taken to nearby Rabbit Island (more on this later...)

Then one reaches Kep City. City is another major over statement – It is about 15 shacks selling... not a lot.

So.... with all this area to cover it only seemed right to hire a moped. The Lonely Planet’s advice to hiring a moped in Cambodia is “don’t even think about it if you don’t have insurance”. I did have insurance but I was pretty certain that it would not cover me (as someone who did not have a driving licence let alone the fact it was probably an excluded activity) but given that I did not read this until browsing the book back in PP yesterday and given the fact that I had my credit card for emergency medical cover(!) I went ahead and got the “bike”. The driving (riding?) was very successful and only resulted in one near accident when I came off the road and nearly ended up in a pond – instead I almost ran over 2 very scared looking Khmer women! – I would add here that this was not my fault there were two problems – The first being the van overtaking the 4WD hurtling towards me on my side of the road leaving less than a foot of space to me to pass, and then secondly, the fact that the foot of road was then reduced to about 5 inches because at the exact point of crossing with the van the road simply had a chunk of concrete missing.

The sunsets from the bungalow were spectacular as evidenced by the sunset shots. By day 4 I felt I had enough pictures of a huge red sun. The photo only does it some justice.
Midday, day 2 in Kep, what better to do that climb a staggeringly steep amount of steps to reach a temple that is locked! Actually, a monk also followed up the stairs to unlock the door which was good of him and the views were great overlooking the whole of the area – including large salt fields. Here is a picture of me on the steps...

Day 3, involved a trip to Rabbit Island – This is a practically deserted island off the coast of Kep – It takes about 30 minutes to get there by boat. The beaches on the island were white sand, palm tree fringed, sea as hot as a luke warm bath (!) ... I did some snorkelling but given that the water was quite cloudy, there was no marine life apart from rocks (which I was convinced were crabs biting my toes) and my irrational fear of “creatures” lurking in the sea it was not all together successful! Later on some Khmer guys who had struck up a conversation earlier started bringing sea urchins out of the sea and waving them in my face excitedly Him: “what is this??” Me: “its an urchin, it will sting you” Him: [prodding urchin] Me: “no really it will sting you.. like mosquito [going stinging actions] ow ow”. Him: Laughing [prodding] I want to show it to my friend”. His “friend” obviously didn’t see the sea urchin because 10 minutes later I had exactly the same conversation with him as he too ran out of the sea in absolutely delight with his pockets literally filled with prickly urchins.... oh well, I did my best.
Anyway, the island is not big and a jungle like path goes right around the outskirts so a 2 hour trek right the way round the island was done... it was hard work hacking through vines, wading through mud flats when the path disappeared and trying to outsmart the dogs who patrolled the beaches but gave a real sense of the Island and the very few people who lived on it in houses that were no more than large sheds.

I was pleased that on Rabbit Island people were generally less interested in western tourists than observers had been on Kep’s main beach the day before. The Khmer people in their shady areas enjoyed staring at the (only) foreigner in the sun on Kep’s beach and then when it was time for a swim there was no way that I was going to strip down to my swimwear given that the Khmer people think this is exactly the same as parading around the street in your underwear – they swim fully clothed. So, into the water I went, top, shorts the lot... I think they still thought that I was crazy even though they were doing it! – You sometimes just can’t win!! It seemed very practical, none of the hassle but drying off without sand becoming an irritation is a fine art.
Day 3 – another great sunset with a nice glass of wine (or was it beer?!) and then a trip to the crab market at night with a mix of people who were staying at the Lodge who also lived in PP and were doing voluntary work.

Day 4 was a rest day because the lying on the beach, eating fresh seafood and drinking various alcoholic beverages had really taken it out of me!! Another trip to the crab market and a zoom about town as well as a short drive into the countryside together with a stroll around the picnic area was all that could be managed (- I needed to devote some serious time to scratching the 10,000 ant bites which I had acquired and catching the jumping spider that had taken up residence in the bungalow in a glass!).

The following morning I took a walk down the country lane that joined the lodge to the main road – a dirt track of about 700m to take some photos. On my return, not really looking where I was going SNAKE!! Right in the middle of the road and I was about to stand on it. I jumped a million miles and then took some photos and started to hurry away just as the gardener from the Lodge zoomed past me on his moped, waved, beeped his horn where the snake was and drove forward like a maniac. I’d like to hope the snake didn’t get squished!

....The spider was released from his glass prison alive and well and a tuk tuk made the drive to Kampot, Kep’s nearest town and the provincial capital, nice and easy. The 40 minute or so journey was good with the landscape changing a lot. Upon arrival in Kampot a quick exploration showed that there was not much going on at all and so I spent the afternoon lounging about before sunset drinks! I am particularly pleased with this sunset shot –possibly the best sunset yet or perhaps just different to the “big red sun” sunsets. The mountains made the sun splay all over the landscape in Kampot rather than the sun and the light disappearing as soon as the sun hits the water as it did in Kep...

Thursday – up early for the bus. The idea in staying in Kampot was to extend the break and also to help with the early start and remove the need to travel from Kep to Kampot to get the bus at the crack of dawn to Phnom Penh. Needless to say I was very disappointed when it transpired that the bus’s route was Kampot – Kep – Phnom Penh.... oh well!!

Today has involved more TEFL, more strepsils than should be eaten (due to a very bad persistent cough) and copious amounts of stationery in preparation for my 10 English lessons that I will start to give to the classes on Monday. The weekend will include more preparation.

Bye for now!

(photos will be posted when I have a fast enough internet speed...!)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Wat Phnom

Pictures of a "relaxing" trip to Wat Phnom - The highest point in PP.... Its not all that high! Here is the Wat, the inside of the Wat, a young girl selling "peas" in a pod (big round green pods) who is "teasing a monkey"....

New homes...

The flat - Kitchen and living room

The Views from the balcony.....

Yesterday we moved into our new flat in Phnom Penh. The flat is small but has all of the western things needed to survive here – like a normal toilet, running hot water and the wiring is actually inside the walls (not hanging out like in some of the flats we saw). Actually the flat is quite beautiful in that it is nice and neutral, has added bonuses of a brand new washing machine and fridge (in fact the whole thing is new and we are the first to move in). It is located on the third floor so the balcony has great views: the independence monument, the biggest shopping centre in town, the parliament, a large temple and the hussle and bussle of a general Khmer street can be observed from the balcony/living room. The nice thing about the flat (as well as all of the above!) is that it is just outside, literally a street away, from the main expat area. This means we have all the comforts of western cafes/bars but without only ever seeing western people! Our neighbour is Khmer and all of the people on the street passing below are generally Khmer too which makes you feel that you are living in Cambodia rather than Bristol! There is a massive NGO contingent here and it is sometimes nice to escape it a bit even if it is just for a while.

Yesterday was spent finding the bits and pieces you need to fill a kitchen - all the things that Ikea would love to provide... Instead, our Ikea was “the Paragon centre”. The thought of bartering around the market in 35 degree heat was too much to bear and I was willing to pay the mark up for the joy of air conditioning of this western style mall. Unlike in the UK, no less than 7 people packed the purchases and 2 men pushed the trolleys to the tuk tuk outside – what great service! Now the flat is nearly complete!

Today I went with my TEFL teacher to the orphanage where I will be training and probably teaching afterwards as a volunteer. The orphanage is about a 15 minute ride away from the flat in an area which has the city dump – the Children’s Centre for Happiness. The children have been rescued from the dump where they would have otherwise lived, earning about 75 cents a day, collecting rubbish to sell to recyclers that line the streets to the dump. The dump itself is 4km square – it smokes constantly from the rubbish giving off methane in the heat. I can only imagine what life was like for these children before then were able to live at this centre. Suffice to say the dump is certainly not a nice place. I am told that one “trick” some people there do (in desperation I would say) is to wait until a tourist gets out of their car with a camera – the tourist starts taking pictures. Then as if by magic a person literally jumps out of the rubbish (it’s piled so high they can leap out of it) and grabs the camera/purse etc and then dives back into the rubbish. No person would be mad enough to follow then to give chase.

It’s tragic but some people can make more in the dump collecting rubbish than they would make in the fields in the provinces. What the children have been through already is awful – being sold by their family into slavery, having to sleep in sewage.... I hope that at the centre, as well as giving English lessons, I will also be able to give art lessons – that will be great fun! Today I was used as a human climbing frame by the children. Hot work giving “giraffe” and “piggy back” rides to more than one child at a time in the baking heat but also good fun!! I go back there after Khmer new year to see some teaching and start teaching myself. For now the lessons in class room theory continue...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Today I continued with the 4 week TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) course I began yesterday.  The guy who is running the training seems nice enough and is knowledgeable so fingers crossed that it will all work out.  My teaching practice will be in an orphanage in the south of the city and I go there for the first time on Monday to observe a class.  It seems there are 3 age ranges/abilities - 4-6yrs old, 6-12yrs and 12-18yrs.   I will teach the upper and the lower ranges in practice sessions and hope to volunteer there afterwards.   At the moment it is basic teaching skills e.g lesson plans and class room management.  It will be good to put that into practice in a few weeks time.    Lessons are informal and take place in various cafe type locations around our guest house area which is handy.   This means that I now have lessons all day and homework(!) - still managing time for the odd beer though!