Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

This little piggy went to the market

By Colin Tom

I winced as she shook her beaded bracelets by my waist.

“Plllleeaasee, sir.  For school.  I need money for school,” the little girl cooed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to keep my eyes ahead of me as I walked while also not trying to hate myself.

“Pleeeasse, suurh, you make me cry,” she said in her most desperate voice while tugging at my shirt.

I could feel my heart starting to rip at the seams when my guide intervened.   There was a quick exchange in Khumer before he cocked his head up, sighing. The girl remained steadfast, and returned to her cooing.

My guide stepped in again, this time with a childish grin on his face.  He grabbed her unwilling hand.  She tried pulling her arm into her body, but he was able uncurl her fingers.

“Noooooo stop!” she cried.

He spread her fingers and cracked each of her knuckles.

“I hate you! Stop!” she pleaded.

Her cries turned into restrained laughter.  She was breaking character.  Soon they were both giggling.

“It’s a game that the kids play,” my guide informed me.

The girl recollected herself.  She tugged at my shirt again, with wide sad eyes.

“Please siiiirrrr!”

My hand dove from above, cracking each of her knuckles.  Her giggles were unwilling, but powerful and the hard shell of a young merchant was penetrated by the laughter of a child.

I watched her walk away and return to her friends.  I was sorry that she was just one of the countless children I wouldn’t be able to help, but grateful that she wasn’t hardened entirely.  She was still just a child.

Karma Payment Plan

by Colin Tom

I couldn’t see farther than the short stretch of light in front of my tuk-tuk driver.
As we rushed through the darkness, I could only make out the indistinct silhouettes of the surrounding buildings.  There wasn’t a single person or light to penetrate the overwhelming stillness of the night.  The tuk-tuk puttered to a stop just outside of an apartment building.  A group of male figures moved toward the carriage.

I stepped out, pressed against the tuk-tuk, standing silently in front of the men.  One of them approached me.

“Your cell phone?” he said.

He handed me a cell phone.  I inspected it.  My name tag and number that the B&B had labeled my temporary phone with were still stuck to the back.  Nothing appeared to have been tampered with.  I had been without a phone for nearly three days.

I thanked him.  I continued to stand in front of the tuk-tuk sensing an unfinished interaction.  My driver leaned into my ear.

“I told him you would give him a little bit of money,” he said.

“Or right, right, right,” I fumbled.

I reached into my pocket and handed him a crumpled five dollar bill.  He gently bowed his head many times, thanking me while I simultaneously thanked him.  Then the group disbanded just as quickly as it had assembled, and I was back on the dark stretch of road with my driver.

I thanked my driver.  Upon receiving a call from my own phone on my companion’s cell at a bar, I had struggled to negotiate a rendezvous.  I handed the phone to one of the many tuk-tuk drivers’ lined along Pub Street to work out the arrangement.  We had played shuttlecock in the streets a few times and I felt like I could trust him.

“You very lucky,” he yelled from over his shoulder “Not everyone gets they’re phone back. Sometimes they try to sell.”

“I’m very lucky.  I lost my wallet earlier last week and got it back too,” I screamed from the back seat.

“Good karma,” he said.

“Sure,” I laughed “I just wish my karma was as good in the states as it is here.

We pulled back into Pub Street.  I thanked him endlessly, in disbelief of my own luck.  Amidst my gratitude he abruptly broke my praise to rush to a nearby man leaving Temple Bar.  He stumbled out of the crowd with his arm slung over a prostitute.  Tuk-tuk drivers clamored to drive them back to his place.  After choosing one of the drivers they puttered away and the unwanted drivers returned to laze in their tuk-tuks.  My driver, who was not chosen, slapped his knee, cackling to himself.

“Lady boy, he doesn’t know,” he laughed.

I shook my head.  Poor guy.  Karma isn’t foolproof,  I suppose.

Angels from abroad

by Cindy Austin

Walking from pavillion to pavillion at the Chres school and orphanage I couldn’t help but notice the painted sides of the buildings. “Wash your hands before every meal,” one said. “Brush your teeth everyday.” The Australian English teacher told us that she’s focusing on health with her class of 12-18 year olds.

“They need to drink more water because they’re always dehydrated,” she said. “I make them drink a whole liter of water before they can leave my class.”

I then thought about the hundreds of wells I’d seen dug around every area of Cambodia we’ve covered, all with white signs describing who donated the money for them or what organization took the time to dig them.

The influence that NGO’s and volunteerism is very prominent here. We’ve met numerous people who have spent months of their lives coming from abroad to teach English to Cambodians. We’ve seen the wells and met couples like the Ross’s who saw a problem and chose to fix it.

It’s going to be harder to ignore the “support a child of 18 cents a day” commercials after seeing what a difference those cents can make.

Wounds apart

by Cindy Austin

This weekend I had some sort of stomach bug and today my tour guide, Yut, did too. As we hopped from temple to temple Yut’s face got more and more distorted. You could tell he was in pain by the way he clutched at his stomach and could barely make full sentences.

While stopped at one of the temples, Yut couldn’t show us around because he was in so much pain so we helped ourselves. When we got back to the bus, Yut showed us huge red marks, 10 inches long and 2 inches thick down his back. We gaped at the eight or 10 marks as he explained he had been “coined.”

While I was sick, I talked to my mother about what medicines she’d recommend as a nurse. I took the pills she prescribed and felt better after a while. Yut had talked to one of the ladies around the temple and she had offered to coin him, which meant taking a coin and scraping it up and down his back to “release the pain.”

I couldn’t help but compare our two approaches, but who knows which one works better.

24 Hours in Siem Reap

Cindy Austin

7:00am-Breakfast at B&B

Wake up early to redeem your included breakfast at Journeys Within Bed and Breakfast, a little oasis in a bustling city filled with tuk-tuks and motorbikes. Journeys Within has a full staff to cook variety of Khmer or Western breakfasts and keep your room spotless and filled with bottled water. Enjoy sitting in the shade while you eat. Make sure to try the fruit shake and the banana crepes.

8:00am-Angkor Wat

After breakfast, have the Journeys Within staff call a tuk-tuk and certified tour guide to take you to Angkor Wat. Located nearby, Angkor Wat is a must-see for all who visit Siem Reap. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been widely listed as one of the seven man made wonders of the ancient world and symbolizes a battle between Hinduism and Buddhism. Originally built as a Hindu temple, Cambodian Buddhists decorate the Hindu statues in Buddhist decor and the government has put Buddha statues all over the inside of the temple.

10:30am- Angkor Thom

Located close to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom offers another look at Cambodian temples. Built as a Buddhist temple, Angkor Thom is known for its four-sided face configuration on the towers. The four faces represent the four faces of Buddha symbolizing compassion, sympathy, courage and equanimity. This is often the favorite of those who have visited multiple temples in Cambodia.

1:00pm- Khmer Kitchen

Take your tuk-tuk into town to grab some lunch at the Khmer Kitchen, located right on the fringes of the Siem Reap market. Here you can grab some great food for cheap and experience what many locals consider their favorite restaurant. Be sure to try the Khmer Coffee, a mix of Khmer coffee and sweetened condensed milk over ice.

2:30pm- Old market

After lunch, walk across the street to the Siem Reap old market. Here you can find anything your heart desires, from jewelry to table cloths and bed coverings, but make sure to check out the wood carvings and spices for truly Cambodian things to take back home. Sellers will usually give tourists a mark up of 20-50 percent so haggle before you make your purchase.

5:15pm- Massage

For a break from the heat, head to one of the many massage parlors in downtown Siem Reap for an incredibly cheap hour of hands-on treatment. The Lemongrass Massage Parlor will treat you to a shower before hand as well as tea before and after your massage for a truly complete experience. Be ready to be twisted and turned as the traditional Khmer body massage ($7 for an hour at Lemongrass) is rougher than western massages.

7:30pm- Dinner

Also in downtown Siem Reap are loads of places to catch some dinner. Temple, located on Pub Street, has a show from 7:30-9:30 every night that features traditional Cambodian music and apsara dancing. The women train from a very young age to make their hands and backs arch in ways that will make them more appealing for the dances. You can also get great food here that will fill you up for very cheap. Recommended is the fried long bean with chicken which only costs $3. Also, grab an Angkor draft to taste the local beer.

9:45pm- Blue Pumpkin

At the end of Pub Street is the Blue Pumpkin, famous in Siem Reap for its delectable desserts. The ice cream ranges from traditional rocky road to mango or cinnamon and speculos. For a break from the heat, grab some ice cream, but if you’re not in the mood for something cold, the baked goods are just as delicious. Suggested are the chocolate and caramel tart and the linga brownies. Be prepared, these desserts are rich and Blue Pumpkin isn’t known for cheap prices so be ready to spend as much as you did on dinner. Don’t worry, it’ll be worth it.

Night market

After grabbing dessert at the Blue Pumpkin, head over to the night markets. The Angkor night market and Siem Reap night market are right next to each other and pretty much sell the same things. If you dare, try out the “Dr. Fish foot massage” in one of the many pools lining the streets at night. These fish nibble at the dead skin on your feet, a Cambodian pedicure.

Late night- Pub Street

For those of you who enjoy a late night, hit Pub Street for a variety of bars, Western and Khmer. Angkor What and Zone 1 provide more modern music and dancing if you’re looking to meet up with other travelers from around the world. Once you’re done enjoying yourself at night, catch one of the many tuk-tuks around Pub Street to head back to Journeys Within Bed and Breakfast, where you’ll be welcomed by fresh towels and turned down covers.

Alternate temple lesson

By Frances Micklow

As we jumped from crumbled ruin to crumbled ruin at the Beng Mealea Temple, I got a Khmer lesson from my guide and a member of the Apsera Society who helped us navigate through the piles of stone.

The Apsera Society helps preserve and protect the temples of Cambodia. They are considered the guardians of the temples. Our lady, dressed in an Apsera Society shirt and hat, quietly helped us as we made our way through the piles of rock.

Toward the end of our tour, we somehow got on the topic of numbers and counting. Excited to show off what Khmer I had learned, I began to count along.

Once we got to 10, the lesson began. Our Apsera Society friend kept counting, pausing after each number long enough for me to repeat. Yut, our guide, would periodically say the numbers in English if I looked lost.

By the time we were exiting out the South gate, we had counted all the way up to 50.

I smiled at my tutor. “Awkunh”

“Awkunh ch’ran,” she smiled back.

Not just a teacher

By Jayshri Patel
“I won’t let them leave class until they finish their bottles of water,” said Claire, a young Australian teacher at Chres Village School and Orphanage (Chres) just five miles outside of Siem Reap. A handful of students groan and laugh at each other in the classroom behind her.
Three weeks ago,  Claire reacted to her students’ complaints of headaches and tiredness by mandating that each student drinks a full bottle of water during class. She realized that several of them were dehydrated when they confessed to drinking less than two cups of water a day.
But even after lessons on dehydration, a young and defiant boy runs out of class after pouring his water into a nearby plant pot.Claire shakes her head and smiles at me as I wait for her reaction.
“They know why to drink the water,” she explains, “they’re just lazy!”
Volunteering as a teacher, it seems Claire plays two roles. Primarily, she teaches the highest level of English offered at the school, and then she teaches her students whatever they need to know in life, much like a parent.

One person’s ability to make a difference.

By: Elizabeth Wilson

One person can make a difference. Andrea Ross has.

Andrea moved to Cambodia seven years ago with her then fiancé Brandon Ross. After backpacking around Southeast Asia, the two decided to move to Cambodia for four months, to see if living here was possible.

“We got here in September. It was just right. Right from the start. We just knew,” Andrea explains. By January, the two had bought a house, started a business and got married. By their fifth month, they had settled in.

Andre and Brandon first created Journey’s Within, their Bed and Breakfast and touring company, but after living in Cambodia for a year in a half, they became aware of the needs of the locals and created Journey’s Within Our Community – or JWOC for short. JWOC is a nongovernmental organization that supports scholarships to University, English classes, microfinance loans, and a clean water project that has put more than wells in Cambodian villages.

As both JWOC and their bed and breakfast flourish, Andrea took on a small sewing project with a prison nearby. “They were having a problem with depression, if we could give them a vocational skill, it would help them. Give them something to do,” Andrea said. The sewing project has been a success, and now different organizations have building set up within the prison to teach women other skills like how to cut hair and how to speak English. Since her sewing project, “They have made the prison a pretty positive place,” she says, “It gives them hope.”

From starting the clean water project and a microfinance program, to sending all of the children of their employees to private school, Andrea and Brandon really are working to improve their community.

A journey that originally started as an adventure and a change of pace became a series of projects that are truly changing the lives of Cambodians in their community. Andrea has created a ripple that is really making a difference.

The Blue Sign

By: Elizabeth Wilson

The temple rubble is visible at the end of the long dirt road.

Situated in a sprawling jungle, the huge stones from over eight thousand years ago are covered by vegetation. This crumbling, overgrown rubble of Beng Mealea, is the type of image that normally comes to mind when one thinks of Cambodia.

We stood in a group, taking in our surroundings. Although the monstrous temple was within my sight, the large metal sign on my left distracted me.

It was a big blue sign with white writing in multiple languages. Underneath the Khmer script, I read “Minefield Cleared by CMAC.”

I was about to explore a temple that was used as a minefield. It had only been cleared in 2007.

A picture of the blue sign remained in my mind the entire time I climbed over the rubble. My body was tense with apprehension.

Luckily we had a small Khmer woman following us around, guiding us through the temple. She had an Absara Authority patch on her khaki shirt that identified her as part of the security that takes care of the temple.

She knew exactly what to point out and where to climb.

As we explored, I learned that in 1992, 600 Cambodians were killed or maimed every month by landmines. CMAC, Cambodian Mine Action Centre was created to rid the country of these landmines, clearing the land for Internally Displaced People.

The land that I was walking on had experienced both wealth and war, just as the country of Cambodia has. The landmines that had been scattered throughout the ruins of the majestic Hindu temple depict this extreme dichotomy.

Although the ruins of Beng Mealea moved me, it was the blue sign that got me thinking.

A piece of home

Clouds covered the sky as I rode an elephant to Phnom Bakheng. Climbing the steep steps to see the top of the temple, I found myself in amazement of this piece of Khmer history.

But, while taking pictures of broken lingas and faded carvings, I heard the sound of children singing. When I ran to the other side of the Hindu temple, there is saw nearly 50 Cambodian children dressed in Catholic school uniforms. Worshipping Jesus, they  were singing English praise songs. 

“Amen! Amen! Oh how I love you, Lord!,” they sang to the lightning bolts in the sky.

I looked down at the red bracelet on my left wrist and peered across the trees at Angkor Wat, where I received the Buddhist blessing. I then realized that I, the product of a Southern Baptist family, had forgotten a huge piece of home.  Busy chasing a deep knowledge of the dominant faith around me, I had failed to recognize my very own Lord and Savior’s presence from across the world.

Because of these Khmer students, I know see that Jesus is in fact God in more places than one.