Monday, June 30, 2008


School in the morning and working towards various projects in the afternoon results in nothing really interesting to report. However, the election campagin is hotting up with the CPP party parading down the street this afternoon. The hotel next door to the apartment I think is in favour of the 3rd party - Sam Rainsy. They have not put up any banners/signs though....

Party political truck and moto

The eldery lady was back this afternoon so, after deciding that there was no point keeping the unopened rice and noodles that were in the kitchen, given eating out is so easy (and less hot!) I took them out to her. I wish I could speak more Khmer to talk to her properly.

I am working on the mural for CCH's classroom and now just need to source the paint - Given I need all sorts of colours this may be difficult!

Moto drivers and the guard waiting

These power cables are the main electricity cables - Scary!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Giving and taking...

There is unsurprisingly a number of people begging in Phnom Penh. This can be quite challenging for some but I have found the beggars here to be far less persistent and "in your face" than in other countries I have visited. Even the begging in the tourist areas is often done with an element of good spirit and the children selling the books on the riverside often appear to be more interested (as they should be, being children(!)) in playing and winding each other up rather than the hard sell.

Whether to give is a personal choice but (not being the un-opinionated type) it is in my view a foolish thing to do when children are involved. Many of the children begging in Phnom Penh are put there by their parents who know that their child can earn more begging than they could in a job. The children do not therefore go to school, they cannot get a job and the begging cycle remains with them in adulthood. Many of the beggar children run around the Riverfront (the main tourist drag - I suppose the equivalent in London might be Piccadilly Circus...) completely naked. I think this may be part of the begging act to get more money rather than complete poverty but is obviously totally inhumane to the children.

One of the things that disgusts me here is the fact that some adults run what I call "glue stands". These are stands where children, who cannot afford to buy a whole tube of glue to sniff, go to buy a little bit of glue in a plastic bag to inhale. I am horrified that people would run such an outfit - aimed at vulnerable children. This is also where your money may go on giving money to the street children. Far better to buy them a meal or a drink of clean water. That said, on offering this you can work out the genuine needy and hungry from the more fake.... Needless to say the fakers will turn it down and press for more money.

I do however give some money to an ancient old lady who begs on our street. She is a "regular" beggar and the moto taxi drivers are always very happy with me when I give her some cash even if it is only about 500 Riel (about 6p/$0.12). I have only ever given to one other old lady who accosted me as soon as I got off a moto taxi away from home - She was not impressed with the 500 Riel I gave her (which I know to be fair as the regular is always thanking me far too much for this amount). From now on I will certainly 0nly give to the lady on my street.

Here she is with some monks...

Another very frustrating thing is the moto drivers who try and rip you off for journeys. I never negotiate the fare - Just get off the bike at the end of the journey and pay them the amount that you know is about right (or often a bit more). This week however I have had a number of drivers complain at the amount offered. They obviously have inflated ideas when a foreigner gets on the bike. I have even had discussions in Khmer with the second, third and fouth rip off merchants telling him I am not a tourist, that I work in Stung Meancheay and how much it costs to get there (much further than the journey he just made with me) and why the price was therefore fair....ummm good Khmer practice but I just prefer a quiet moto ride and a non angry driver. Its quite funny when they are surprised I speak some Khmer - Luckily they do not speak back too much otherwise they would immediately find out that my Khmer is limited!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

School and a meeting at CCH

Friday is a good day at school as I get to make lots of mess and see the look on the children's faces when I tell them about one artist or another. This week it was Picasso and the Three Musicians painting. The result - Not as good as the Van Gogh's but at least they tried!

The results of a morning of Picasso and work in progress.

In the afternoon Brian and I went to CCH to speak to the director. We established with him that I could run a photography course with 5 of the students with the cameras donated and that I could paint one of the classrooms for the younger children... ideally with an educational mural! I have designed the mural and now just need to get buying the paint/brushes/rollers etc. Hopefully I will start it next week.

Lily Heng and Panha - reading the alphabet bird book(!)

The girl who was introduced to me as Goy in March ...but now appears to be called something beginning with S (Sinda perhaps?)
...Its best when he doesn't know I am there otherwise I get all sorts of very odd poses!

Although some of them can be quite arty I suppose!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What to do and an election...

It is hard being a lady of leisure. I finish work at 11.30am-ish (having started at 7.30am) and so that leaves the rest of the day free. There are not a lot of activities in Phnom Penh on some afternoons I am left wondering what to do until I go full time in August.

One project is going to be teaching the children at CCH how to use digital cameras and how to take great pictures so that they can be sold and we can have an exhibition - That will take up a lot of time once it gets going. Another ... the potential painting of the CCH classrooms to make it a better environment for the children. I am going to speak to the director about this tomorrow hopefully.
In the meantime, I have needed to find other ideas which yesterday involved a trip to the Russian Market. Seeing the women slice open the half alive fish, the chickens, dead, plucked but still with the feet on, the meat covered in the flies etc. There is however a really nice place in the market to have a drink of fresh orange juice and have a chat to the young woman (17 yrs) who works there.

Yesterday she told me how she gets up at 3am to come to the market and prepare for the day. At 5am-ish the first customers arrive, she stays there until 5.30pm when she goes home and studies English until 9.30pm when she goes to bed. While it may be true that the Cambo office workers culture is to do as little as possible and surf the internet whenever possible (to be fair this I think is actually just an international office work ethic) her working day is far from lazy, slow or unproductive. Her dedication to study English from a dry boring grammar exercise book after she has worked all day in a boiling hot, dirty, smelly market is exceptional. She taught me some Khmer - Being not such a good student I have forgotten most of it already.

Feeling rehydrated and educated (but dirtier) I took a trip to my favourite shop "Beautiful Shoes".

In case you are ever in the area

I now have 3 pairs of custom made shoes but at $16-$18 its just not enough. So I picked out a pair of retro sandals which I ordered in a different colour and leather soles and a pair in a bronzy colour which I created myself putting together different aspects from lots of shoes in the shop. Ummmm nice! In need of chalk and balloons for my lesson today I then went into a new stationery shop and met a delightful Cambodian family (about 10 of them) and rather than just buy the chalk it turned into a bit of a chat and trying to speak to their children in Khmer. Its that type of thing that I love here.

One thing that I do not love is the corruption. This is particularly evident in the run up to the main elections taking place on 27th July. Today was the first day of (official) campaigning and straight away there are posters for the Prime Minister's party - CPP everywhere pasted outside houses. Also the police are causing problems on the roads and political rallies have started in the city.
Political poster on the house opposite for the PM's party CPP and one of the "election jeeps" parked on my road (also for the party - CPP)

Here is a short political history for you!

Before the the 70s the monarchy ruled Cambodia. In 1975 the radical and genocidal Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was eventually overthrown in 1979 by Cambodian communists who were backed by 100,000 Vietnamese troops. During the 1980s Vietnam had troops stationed in Cambodia and during this period the only legal political party was the Kampochean People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP - who are now called the CPP).

With the help of the United Nations, internal conflict within Cambodia was resolved with a peace accord which was signed in Paris in 1991. A UN protectorate was to help rule Cambodia until national elections were held in 1993. When the elections were held, 20 political parties participated with two parties winning the majority of seats, FUNCINPEC and CPP (formerly the KPRP).

Two prime ministers headed the government; Prince Norodom Ranariddh of FUNCINPEC was the first prime minister with Hun Sen of the CPP being the second prime minister. However, Hen Sen managed to manipulate the relationship and divide and rule tactics when possible and violence when necessary- So, by 1997 the coalition government by this time had virtually ceased to function. This built up until the tensions finally exploded with two days of fierce fighting and from which Hun Sen emerged as the leader of Cambodia. Many international observers labelled this a political coup detat.

The focus of international agencies assisting with the rebuilding of the country was to ensure that the elections due in 1998 were held on schedule. The elections went ahead in 1998 and despite the other parties claiming large scale election irregularities, voter intimidation and political violence by the CPP the election was declared (by foreign election monitors) "fair enough to reflect the broad will of the people."
The CPP won 64 seats in the 122 member parliament, FUNCINPEC won 43 seats and the Sam Rainsy Party received 15 seats. A two-thirds majority is required in the National Assembly to form a government, these results forced the formation of a new coalition (again). However, this time Hun Sen was the only prime minister. Since 1998, the new coalition is completely dominated by Hun Sen's CPP. Hun Sen is widely viewed as the only person capable of bringing stability to the country. Many foreign governments and Cambodians therefore support him.

Further elections were held in 2003. It resulted in a larger majority for the CPP. However, the party was still short of the 2/3 of votes required to form the government and a new coalition with FUNCINPEC was formed.

Scarily, like so many politicians here, Hun Sen is ex-Khmer Rouge.
If your interested in the pending violence (or non violence) -

and another thing...

(Here he is - not one of my pictures!)

Hun Sen made an announcement at a graduation ceremony in front about 3,000 people that his adopted daughter is lesbian. He explained that this was a personal struggle for him he said that he could not accept this in his own family even though he had learned that homosexuality was acceptable.... He took legal steps to disown this daughter and to prevent her from any entitlement to inheritance. Despite this he asked the audience to accept homosexuals!

Some pictures from my balcony for light entertainment after that "party political broadcast".

Saturday, June 21, 2008

More bikes....

Today I went out to CCH again to buy more bikes for them - This time, the standard push bike variety rather than electric. After picking up two of the older children to assist Brian and I went to Kampuchea Krom, the street with the bike shops...
The great thing about Cambodia is that all the shops selling the same thing are together. Not so convenient if you want to buy a selection of items but very good for price/service comparison should you be on a mission. I now have the art of looking uninterested yet interested at the same time in order to get a good deal... We began with a shop where the woman was more than annoyed that we had disturbed her afternoon snack and did not seem interested in selling. So, we e moved on to a place where the bikes were $45 (I think) but the price quickly came down to $35 and then after doing the whole "walking away, look elsewhere routine" the woman asked me to name my price. I did. $30 per bike and we would buy 5.

Intense negotiations

We compromised on $33 if I got 5. Had I concluded the same deal in the UK for £17.50 I do not think I would have got the same service that followed.

One of the bikes... The children insisted I try all 5 much to every Khmer's delight.

The price included, new basket, handles, brakes, seats ... everything but the frame and it took a while for this to be prepared by the "boys" who appeared as if from no where to perform the task. This gave me an opportunity to buy drinks from the nearby street stall, including the chance to expand upon my Khmer language skills. I understood the price and everything! wow! It was very nice drinking a cola from a plastic bag (the stall owner keeps the bottle), sitting on the chair the bike store owner had bought out to the street for me as they prepared the bikes....

Then we had to get 5 bikes back to the orphanage. Despite sensible logical tips from Brian and myself about how to fit the bikes onto the tuk tuk it was Asian rather than Western logic that prevailed and so the process was quite slow. However, in the end we managed to eventually fit 4 bikes on to the tuk tuk leaving space for me and one of the children. The other child (well actually about 16 yrs old and off to Canada shortly on a scholarship - Does anyone have a guidebook on Canada they no longer want?? - so not really a child...) rode the other bike back. Brian (having been daring enough to buy his own mountain bike at $34!) cycled off not really knowing how to navigate the traffic or his way home. I assume he is alive still....

Why would you ride a bike when you can put it on a motorised vehicle?

On arrival back at CCH the children were very pleased with the bikes. I also had got a number of grammar books, a picture dictionary and a thesaurus - far less exciting....

Friday, June 20, 2008

CCH donation and art!

On Thursday, after teaching at the International School I headed over to CCH to go with the staff to buy a electric bike for the children. Penny the woman who I met initally at the Lighthouse had left me with a large amount of money to donate in gifts and the bike was something the orphanage had chosen. This is because some of the children go to school in the centre of Phnom Penh and if you look at my map(!) you will see that CCH is quite a way out to the west of the city. Using an electric bike it only takes half an hour to get to the centre, otherwise it would be hours on foot and impossible! So, 4 of us went from CCH in the CCH car back in to town to a row of shops specialising in these bikes. One older orphan (what is the politically correct name - disadvantaged child(?)), one staff member and me and Brian (my ex-TEFL teacher/friend). The shop which CCH knows and gets a good price from is run by a chinese woman. Crazily Brian speaks chinese having lived there for a while and so was able to soften her up to get a good deal.

There was a good deal of standing around, looking like we were not interested.... for about an hour. We tried to get all sorts of freebies (a lock, a helmet etc) but she would not budge. She had apparently already discounted the bike from $480 to $390 so that was it. Eventually she melted and gave in - Her final price $385. A whole further £2.50 discount for an hour of "work". I think I would have prefered to have paid the $390 and saved an hour standing in baking heat on the side of a dusty road but where would be the fun in that?! The other vendors on the street were grossly over priced in comparison.

Here are some photos of the intense negotiations (!) and also the bike leaving the shop once purchased and the bike back at CCH after its first ride across town!

Tomorrow I am going to buy some normal bikes for the children at a mere $30 its not a lot of money so we may end up getting 5-10 bikes. That should be interesting.

This morning at the international school we did Kandinsky (well I like to be informative in my education). Based on Composition X (here is a picture of the original in case you are culturally uneducated) and here is the pictures done by the kids. We painted the card black (you cannot get black card in Cambo) and then cut out and stuck on shapes. It took from 8.30am til 11.15am - Easy!

The original ... and my lovely children's work on display.... well they kind of got the concept

These are last weeks Van Gogh copies and the original!!

This afternoon I continued the gift buying for CCH. I think the woman in the stationery shop almost died when I announced I wanted 200 books. They were also very amused by the amount of educational posters I got. But, nothing was as funny to them as me getting on a motorbike with the goods to go home balancing them with the help of my driver.

The kids at the orphange are very excited about the prospect of a photography course - The plan, if they are good, is to have an exhibition to raise funds. If anyone has any old digital cameras to donate please let me know so they can be included in the package being prepared to come from the UK- I think Alex and Lucy at OC are arranging the shipment soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

King's mother's birthday

Yesterday one of my children at school asked me if there was a day off because of the King's mother's bithday. I know the Cambodians are keen on the old bank holiday but I thought this was sure to be one that most people did not take seriously. I was wrong! The school was shut today which means I have just had my first day's paid holiday since finishing at OC!

I went for a wander to the Wat that you can see from our balcony - The Wat I thought was no longer open but instead formed part of a Wat factory - making all sorts of concrete decorations for temples. I thought that the shed like structures that surround the Wat were part of the factory. In fact they turned out to be peopl's houses. I wandered through the backstreets and weaved in and out of people sleeping, varnishing tables, eating etc! The houses went right up to the walls of the Wat which I haven't seen before. The Wat itself was a bit of a state. The people were nice and friendly though.... A complete crammed/shanty town at the end of my street and I had no idea! I also went to a second Wat further down the road - Not as interesting. A moto ride across town, some shopping and that was it for the day.

Happy birthday Queen. (official photograph)

(On a similar note there is a reception here for her Maj Queen Elizabeth's birthday here on Thursday hosted by the British Embassy. I was not invited despite a number of people I know having invites. Upon requesting one I was told there was no space. Huh. Don't they know who I am?! - Instead I will go to a Q&A session on street children and AIDS - Far better in any event.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A trip to the temples

Poncho necessary due to rain - Nice look, might catch on (oh and ...Angkor Wat in distance!)

This weekend I flew to Siem Reap, home of the Angkor temples and the world famous Angkor Wat. I had been to the temple complex before last year but fancied another look. The flight was a bit of luxury as it meant avoiding a hard 5 hour bus journey. The bus is about $5, the flight about $100 (one way) and so there was a considerable loss of money by fliying but considerably less pain and trauma.

On Saturday, a tuk tuk took me to the main 4 temples I had seen before plus Brantrei Srei, a temple on the outskirts of the "tenple zone" that I had not been to before. Suffice to say the layout and the temples themselves had not change in the year since my last visit. They all looked the same(!) My catch phrase of "rocks and wood and 1000s of Korean tourists" probably doesn't do this [almost] wonder of the world justice.... It is very beautiful/historically important etc but personally I preferred my trip to the Happy Ranch on Sunday.

Happy Ranch is a horse farm just on the outskirts of town. I rode a hose called "Macho" and happily walked, trotted and cantered around the Cambodian countryside taking in the beautiful vibrant green paddy fields, the water buffallo, the children shouting "hello, hello, hello" coming out pof their wooden houses to say hello and swimming in flooded fields, toothless farmers, wooden ploughs, a burial ground where bodies are buried for up to 2 years before they are dug up (ugh!) to be cremated on the correct date in the low-tech (basically a concrete platform with an opening for wood to burn) crematorium next door, roads of red mud clay and roads that had turned to small rivers because of the recent start of the rainy season. There was also a cow that had gone mad and would buck and charge at the horses - Probably a case of BSE...I should stop eating Cambodian beef. Also part of the ride took us to a .... (go on guess!...) yes a temple! Wat Atvea.
We went very fast and managed to do a 3 hour ride in 2 hours - a lot of cantering which was great expecially in the wet rice fields. Not so great is the pain that my backside and thighs are currently feeling from the experience.

Here are some temple photos, sadly no horse pictures as camera/rain/potentially bucking horse do not mix. The above horse picture is an "artists impression" of what it was like today from the Happy Ranch website!

I do not know why this child was on his bike in a massive rain water lake/puddle - He waved but I assumed he was not drowning..?!

At the Bayon the rocks are carved into faces so more interesting than just stones!

The Rough Guide says Bantrey Srei will amaze even the most temple fatigued visitor. Yes, it is a different colour and has nice carvings so I guess a 5/5 for temple interest!

Below is Ta Prom where Tomb Raider was filmed... very atmospheric with the jungle taking over the temple on one level but on another level too many Koreans making "V" signs and posing with aforementioned jungle....

.... If you can't beat 'em (and believe me you will not win against 1000 Koreans (and their tour guides/umbrellas/matching T shirts/hats ) on a temple mission) - So I just had to join in with the rock/wood pose .....

Thursday, June 12, 2008

New school and new teacher!

I am now a proper teacher in my own very nice air conditioned class room. I have a class of 15 students at the moment including the head teachers 2 sons (no pressure there then). Lessons begin at 8am and I have to be in the school at 7.30am. The advantage of an early start is however that I finish teaching at 11.30am although I do generally hang about to finish off projects, decorate the room and harass the kids into being quiet when they eat their lunch. This week we have created a great display on safety tips, done an experiement on the water cycle and tomorrow will be attempting to copy a Van Gogh as well as more formal stuff.

They have to pray before lunch and the prayers can be very funny - "Dear God, help the poor people, help us to be sensible, thank you for the shade so we are not in the hot, thank you for giving us cake - Amen"!

The kids are in second grade. In the US I think that means that they would usually be 7 or 8. My ages range from 7 to 12... but this is Cambodia so anything goes. The chidlren created "summer school" teams - I now have the "Horned Unicorns", "Flying Dragons", "Lucky Pokemon" and the "Ghost Soldiers". Very creative!

On friday I teach art all morning - Today, Van Gogh - They liked the bit about him cutting off his own ear best. Some of the pictures were quite good but some less so! I will post some pictures of their delightful art next week.

For now here is a picture of my classroom - luxury air con and fan - Its a bit different to the orpahanges.

From August I go full time - That will be exhausting as by 11.30am I have a headache and am ready to sleep. Luckily I only have one or two difficult children and even those ones can be controlled. Nothing like teaching in the UK I suspect!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Last teaching day at Lighthouse

Top class (and me)
Middle class

ABC - Beginner class
After school at my paid employment(!) I finished at the Lighthouse orphanage today. I bought a massive Khmer cake to school and the kids scoffed it up - A khmer cake is disgusting but looks amazing. Generally sponge with a layer of fat icing. Fondant almost but not tasty! The decoration is spectacular though... I will go back and see the children in July. This place has really opened my eyes to the pros and cons of "tourist orphanages" in Cambodia.