Friday, September 26, 2008

Parents' day

Today I had a 30 minute lunchtime presentation to my school children's parents on the curriculum. My first presentation with a Khmer translation. The verdict - Khmer takes far longer than English - Perhaps the head teacher who was translating was adding the bits I forgot to say! It was good to see the support the children are (or are not) getting at home and for me to talk for a good 30 minutes without shouting "be quiet!". The Khmer do seem to be rather fond of answering their phones (in a not subtle way) mid meeting and having a conversation while someone (-me) is speaking though.

The hotel for Vietnam is sorted - staying at Madam Cruc which is a guesthouse which appears to have excellent reviews but I can't find any pictures yet. Ummm - fingers crossed.

The photo exhibition launch is edging closer and yesterday evening I fought out the price of colour photocopying for our poster with all of the local printers on Sihanouk Blvd. In the end, 1800 Riel was knocked down to 1400 Riel. We will see.... Oh the excitement of haggling over photocopying!!

One discussion was particularly amusing. I asked the sales woman for her price and she quoted 3500 Riel. I made to leave as this was grossly expensive and not worth haggling over and she called me back I told her truthfully that that the printer next door would copy for 1500 Riel - So she reduced the price to 3000r. I pushed the point but her best price was then lowered to 2000r. She then looked like she had done me a great favour and that I should immediately hand over the copying. When I said again that the price next door was still cheaper and also asked why I would give it to her when she was 500r more expensive her attitude was "so what - I reduced my price lots so you should give it to me".... It wasn't a language problem more of a logic problem I think!! Surprisingly I will be going elsewhere!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Days off

Today is constitution day and so this means a random Wednesday off work. The day was spent constructively taking a girl from CCH out to buy clothes and stationery for her first day at a special school tomorrow. It was very moving to take a girl who is 9 but who never really goes out of the orphanage (because she is scared due to trauma experienced at the dump) to buy a skirt and T Shirts and later for an ice cream and burger ready for her big adventure tomorrow. I'm trying to fund raise for her education at a special school at the moment so if you work at one of my previous firms keep your eyes open for fundraising activities! - Thank you to those who are helping back home!

I am going to Vietnam on Saturday for 4 days - Ho Chi Minh. A large festival (P'Chum Ben - honour the dead) means we have a holiday on Monday and Tuesday next week so I am off to explore elsewhere. I now have my visa and now all I need is the bus ticket and a place to stay....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chicken and art

They say that Cambodia changes people. I reflected upon this when I was serving up 4 freshly fried boiling hot, heads still on them, chickens with my hands to 9 hungry children and 4 adults yesterday....

We went to the old capital this weekend with the students for the photo course. It was my second visit to the hill top pagodas - Odong (see my May post). As we climbed over 500 steps to get to the top I regretted mixing my drinks the night before! Sweating and avoiding monkeys while trying to encourage photo taking is no easy task!

When we got to the top there is a pretty impressive view. I last went at the start of the dry season - The landscape was green but not as lush as it was this time around. Also last time I came I felt the pestering children were all a bit much. This time however I had quite a lot of fun with then taking pictures and practising my Khmer and them practising their English. I don't know whether I came on a particlarly quiet day the last time so I was the kid's sole target for $1 but I suspect that actually I have just got used to Cambodia and its begging children who actually don't mind a bit of respite from the hard slog of asking for cash....
Now above and below back in April...

We made our way to a second part of the complex and fell upon (as you do) a government minister praying to her family's tombs. This being the land of bling (if you've got cash/importance then flash it) unsurprisingly it was not just her quietly reflecting on her grief. There were also 2 photographers (well 11 when we arrived), a camera man, 3 foil things on sticks to reflect the light properly, 3 large red carpets, a troop of Apsara dancers from the National Ballet and a live Khmer band along with numerous plates of offerings....Oh and an helicopter fly over (not sure if that was for her though) Everything was one at least 3 times so that the camera man could film the action from different angles!!

Then we were hungry which brings me back to the chicken story. 7 of the students went with Brian and his friends to a nearby pagoda while we ordered "takeaway". We tried a "restaurant" but they would not do take away. So... we had to hit the street stalls. After strolling up and down the 30 or so stalls it was clear that the items on offer were: frogs legs (no), bugs (no), fish with head and scales (no), chicken (ummm....). So the negotiations began.
Chosing a plumpish chicken stand (the chicken and the seller that is) we asked about the price - $5.50. Now that I beleive is certainly more expensive than an Asda/Tesco cooked chicken but possibly cheaper than a Sainsbuy's one.... so in the land where people earn about $1 that seemed rather expensive. [However, I am aware that "chicken and petrol is expensive" - you are told this alot in Cambodia].

After asking at other places it appeared that the women in all 30 stalls were partaking in anti-competitive practices and were price fixing. $5.50 was the price and no one was willing to shift. Back to the original woman... Starving - we got 4 of her chickens for $5 each (a much deserved reduction!) and got rice from her mate next door.
So... we take the chicken back to the car and using the boot area as a kitchen I begin hacking the things up to distribute it into the rice boxes. Pulling off the legs was fine... but then the claw came out as well - aghh! Then I turned it over and there was its limp head looking at me sorrowfully. Oh well we didn't want to waste any - off with its head - one of the boys will eat it the girls told me. As I ripped the birds apart I rememebered how about 15 years ago I cried when Sun Valley gave my school free chicken to use in our cooking class and I almost had to make a chicken dish (I was veggie at the time). Perhaps it is true ....Cambodia does have a certain effect!!

The rush to serve the chicken was so I could get back to PP to have some art fun with the kids at CCH. Painting and glitter and all sorts of messy art provided the children with some entertainment. They painted massive pictures and made masks.

Monday, September 15, 2008


It has started to get seriously cold here and raining as well!! Well, I exaggerate. It is dropping to about 25 degrees and it rains for on average 2 hours everyday. There is the odd occasion where it rains all night and the morning is wonderfully "cold". Almost like England.

This weekend revolved again around the photo project for the CCH children. We went to a Vietnamese area of the city by the river which I had never been to before which was really interesting. We ended up at a Pagoda just in time because the heavens opened and the rain came down in tropical proportions. We also went to the hideous back packer area that is Lakeside. This is a truly western backpacker scummy area. (Can you tell I hate it?).

That aside, developers, with government approval, have obtained the lake and the immediate surrounds to build on so now the lake is controversially being pumped with sand to get rid of it. This is forcing the locals out of their homes due to flooding and they are being offered $8000 in compensation. Truly crazy when you consider how much property costs in PP these days and how much their land would actually be worth. The residents have issued an injunction against the developers but as the Cambodian Daily stated (in not quite the same words) - when or if and injunction is granted would depend on whether the judge has time or the inclination to hear it... I am thinking that no judge will have the time until the lake is filled in and the houses gone.

Sunday consisted of not much more than a leisurely breakfast and a trip to CCH to play with balloons and face paints. School again today...6 more weeks of teaching to go until the start of my 11 week holiday and a return to unemployment!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Photo school

Today we went to the market near to the Theatre. This market will apparently move to the site of Stung Meanchy landfill when the dump is forced to close and relocate. Have a look at the kids pictures at ... I had 9 students today, some more keen than others!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Happy birthday!

This week it was my birthday and this mainly resulted in copious amounts of (not so delicious) Khmer cake...

The cake(s): Cambodian celebration cakes are fairly out of the ordinary by western standards. Imagine a fairly normal but heavy sponge cake ... Now imagine it covered all over in an icing that has the texture and consistency of lard but is sweet and supposedly "creamy" - spread and shape it into anything (flowers are popular but I have also seen cakes make into dogs, rabbits etc). Drip some sort of coloured gelatin around the outside and enjoy.

The bakery opposite the largest supermarket Lucky has done a roaring trade from me this week. I was concerned that the women at the bakers do not really get the need to be urgent after they take the cake creation out of the cold cabinet to write your message on it and package it up for you - The lard I thought would surely melt but after one of my cakes not being kept cold for 4 hours (and it was still OK and in one piece) I guess the cakes are heat resistant as well. ... This can only be an added bonus.

The women in the shop were fairly confused when I asked for candles. Not because they did not have any or that it was not a Cambodian tradition. They were confused by the fact that I told them "4" in response to their question "how old?". I just didn't want 28 candles on the cake... so I said "4" ... However, when I took the candle out of the bag it was actually one candle in the shape of a number 4 rather than 4 individual candles. Ummm.... confusing for the children - never mind.
Party(s): My first celebration was at the International School. I had told the kids on Tuesday it was my birthday the day before so they could get sufficiently hyped up about the prospect of cake. However, the result was in fact gifts. Ranging from a very useful and rather attractive "Hello Kitty" mug, a money box and a wooden jewellery box, hair bands, note paper, pen etc to paper folded swans and airplanes (lots of then) and tropical fruit juice. The kids were all very sweet and made/bought cards etc. The Cambodian tradition of presents being wrapped up very elaborately was followed - pretty paper and bows and boxes for any gift was compulsory. The short party lasted about an hour and I face painted their faces. A popular request was a Vampire

On Friday it was my birthday party at CCH. It was decided that I would get hot dogs, fries etc for the 50 kids that live at CCH. Mix that with another lard Cambodian cake and Mirinda (a toxic form of Fanta) and the live CCH band and there are a lot of hyper kids. First stop for me after school was the supermarket. 60 hot dogs, 5 large packs of frozen fries, 64 bread rolls and frozen battered onions... then over the road with large heavy bags to get the large lardy cake. I now had to get all of this and me onto a motorbike taxi. The women at the bakery nearly died of shock that I was going to spend $20 on a cake and then take it on a bike!!! They asked "but where is your car?!". Balancing the cake on my lap, 3 carrier bags on my left arm, my handbag around my neck and giving my large basket to the driver we sped off - I was a prime target for a sausage/cake thief.

Lardy cake
The cake made it only slightly squished. I then helped the cook fry the hundreds of fries and sausages over a charcoal heated pan - Absolutely boiling work!
The children decorated the orphanage with the balloons I got and played with some silly string I managed to find. Then after the band had played a few songs, the candle was blown out. Happy birthday was sung, I was presented with many paper necklace garlands, a small presentation to say thank you and then the cake was eaten in a flash... then we ate the hot dogs and fries before dancing to the band. Some of the children gave me some gifts/cards they had made. The kids seemed to like the food and the cake (of course) so it was a success.
Lily in my shoes preparing for the party

Concentrating hard - you try cutting a cake into 60 even parts with an audience!

A very productive birthday!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I visited a slum around the corner from where I live on Saturday as part of the Smile Photoproject ( . The old pre Khmer Rouge buildings are clearly in great disrepair.