A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: danydena

back

but still part way in asia

we are back in the USA, time cut short by a family emergency. the airline (american airline) let us change our trip date for a $100 fee each, a wonderful travel agent on golden street in PP set up our new agenda and a flight from PP to bangkok for the next morning, and we were able to fly from phnom penh to bangkok to hong kong to LA, then on to albuquerque: a long 38 hour day, beginning at 6 am on wednesday and landing at 5 pm on the same wednesday...

still thinking a lot about asia, especially about cambodia... about the farmers in the villages, living on the food they grow and maybe a dollar a day in what they can sell. about the insecurity of life under a government that allows the big fish to swallow the little fish - that allows eviction, not just in the cities, but also in the country... kheang and Don wonder if the grass land beyond their home will become a brickyard, wonder if they will be evicted to make room for a factory.

thinking about the crowd of woman we saw on lunch break as our bus came through the outskirts of phnom penh - all young, rushing to the food stalls before going back to work in the garment factories. the garment workers make a mandated $60 a month for a 44 - 48 hour work week, before overtime which can raise the salary to $80. strikes in 2010 demanding more, but no real changes. Bangladesh workers get less, the threat is that the work will move there. maybe 360,000 garment workers, sending remittances home to the villages, 1.6 million people getting a bit of money. though some of the women say they can barely live on their salaries, nothing left over to send home...

who produces in cambodia? gap, h&m, nike, adidas, walmart, banana republic...

garment production is 70% of export income, #3 in overall income after agriculture and tourism.

the garment industry factories are mainly on the edges of phnom pehn, close to the port, not so close to the villages... what happens to the workers in a couple of years? mostly young girls are employed in the garment industry, the minimum age for employment is 15 in cambodia...

cambodia is about at the bottom of the list for corruption and human rights abuses... - not much gets through the elite and government down to the populace.. and in my experience, the people are some of the nicest, friendliest, most welcoming i have met..

back now in the US. do i appreciate our freedoms? oh yes. do i miss the intensity of the asian markets, the crazy but easily available transportation, the incredible fresh and tasty food? oh yes. so much more of the country to experience, hope we do get to return someday.

Posted by danydena 19:05 Comments (0)

village life

peace and tranquility in the countryside?

semi-overcast 86 °F

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off to the countryside. we buy bus tickets at our guest house and are assured that we'd be on a nice modern air-con bus. we arrive at the bus depot where everything is in khmer (and completely illegible to us) and announce that we are headed to kampong cham. wait here says the nice lady. and then she disappears, never to be seen again. hmmm, getting to departure time, so we ask around, and behold, we are on the ratty bus that is by itself in the yard. it is big, and it does have air-con (lots of air-con, with no controls). so we get on, with the best seats in the house: right behind the driver. off we go, at about 3 miles an hour as the streets are barely wide enough, and there are pot holes and just unpaved spots here and there. finally we get to the open road and speed along at about 40 mph. bright green rice paddies, towns hugging the road, tuk tuks, motos, and horse-drawn carts. banana trees, houses on stilts. too bumpy to read.

after about 2 hours, hallelujah, the bus pulls into a rest stop with toilets and a refreshment area. this is the town of skoun, famous for its edible spiders.... did we try the spiders? at 4 for 25 cents, what do you think?IMG_9304.jpgIMG_9302.jpgIMG_9303.jpg

arrived Kampong Cham, tuk tukked 7 kilometers out into the countryside to a tiny banana tree lined path to Rana homestay. P1050515.jpg guest cabin, rana

guest cabin, rana

one bamboo cabin, with an adjoining bamboo bath house, no running water, but big buckets of water and a scoop for flushing and bathing (and yes, the water is cold). no electricity - electricity comes from vietnam, and is very expensive- maybe 6 times as much as in the US. many villagers do have it, use it to power water pumps, fluorescent lights, big tvs, and dvds. tom and jerry cartoons are very popular with the kids! everyone who has it complains about the constantly rising cost.

we come in late in the day, just in time to hear, then see the neighbor's cows come home, the bells around their necks announcing 3 cows and 7 water buffaloes walking down the path. time now for a home cooked dinner, and the story of how the homestay came to be.

Kheang is from the village she now lives in, but left to get more education and then work in PP. after many years of work, she was able to buy a small house in the city. but like so many others, (see previous entry) she was evicted with only minimal compensation, not enough to move elsewhere in the city. so she and Don, her American husband, came back to her home village. Don was not a rice farmer, and Kheang could not farm without help, so they planted fruit trees and sold their produce, and eventually built the homestay cabin using wood that Kheang and Don had taken from the city house.

just before dinner, loudspeakers from across the paved road begin broadcasting extremely loud and distorted traditional khmer music interspersed with live chanting. the music and chanting continue far into the night. as we lay under the mosquito net, we listen to the mix of amplified music, road sounds of cars, trucks and motorbikes, and barking dogs. finally the music stops, traffic thins and the dogs go to sleep. about that time, the roosters wake up. we later learn that the music and chanting were part of a buddhist funeral, this one for a recently deceased person, but the ceremony is also held on the 100 day anniversary and year anniversaries of deaths.

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in the morning after big cambodian breakfasts - rice porridge for me, eggs and baguette for dan, and cambodian breakfast treats - we are ready to see the village. down the road we see a scarecrow in front of one house, and a piece of cactus tied to a post in front of another. these are meant for protection from evil spirits. IMG_9309.jpgIMG_9308.jpg we see a walled area with a roof over it, decorated with little flags. inside the wall is a heap of dirt. oh, a project under way i think, but no, the dirt is a big termite mound, considered a sacred and lucky object. the owners of the mound have erected a shrine and make offerings. it seems to have done its job, as they seem happy and prosperous.

we come to some palm trees, with a pile of bamboo cylinders and plastic containers at their base. high up in a tree a man is tying up one of the cylinders in which he collects palm sap that will be boiled down to make palm sugar. he goes up and down the trees every day, collecting the filled cylinders and tying on new ones, using a single pole bamboo "ladder" tied to the tree trunk. the man is 70 years old.
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farther out the path is the grassy field where the cows and buffalo graze. this was once forest, but all the trees have gone to firewood.

the rice paddies are at a lower elevation. it is january, the dry season, so only irrigated fields are filled with the vibrant green on young rice plants. some of the fields are dry and brown, others are soft and green. lotus flowers bloom in irrigated ponds. the water is pumped up from the ground with diesel motors; there should be reservoirs of monsoon water, but the dams weren't built properly. even so, many people are out working the fields. the work is so labor-intensive that many of the farmers live out in the fields in little huts, cooking rice they bring with them and foraging for weeds, vegetables, fish and snails.90_IMG_9334.jpg90_IMG_9332.jpgIMG_9326.jpgIMG_9324.jpgIMG_9322.jpgIMG_9313.jpg

when the rice is mature, it is harvested by hand.IMG_9344.jpgIMG_9342.jpg

lotus pods are a cash crop - the seeds are eaten whole or ground into flower. last year the price was high - this year a lot of farmers, including kheang's father, are betting on the crop.90_IMG_9350.jpg

work is never done; even during a break at the hottest part of the day, kheang's mother clears brush at her campsite.IMG_9356.jpg

in the afternoon we visit the neighbors. one of the neighbors raises pigs - the new "pink" pigs are faster growing and get much bigger than the native pigs, but they still eatIMG_9361.jpg rice husks. the owner will sell most of them.

in the evening, kheang's mother comes to talk to us. she lived through the pol pot years, and then the vietnamese occupation. with kheang as interpreter this incredibly tiny, strong and dignified woman answers all our questions. kheang herself, at age 10, was part of the labor crew that built the "children's dam". when the monsoon rains came, the dam failed.

dinner, then bed. a much quieter night. then in the morning, back to town.

Posted by danydena 16:50 Comments (0)

colonial architecture and life in the big city

less romance, more reality

we signed up, last minute, for an architecture tour... of phnom penh, so instead of a cambodian architect taking us, we went with a german woman who works with the project. first we went to their office, in an old colonial building that, like so many of the old buildings, has been divided up into lots of small offices and upstairs residential, where we saw old city planning maps from the french colonial era - 1860's through 1954. there was a definite european area that was surrounded by canals, and could be closed off by sealing the bridges. now most of those canals are filled and are big roads. current city planning appears to be non-existent - build what you can afford, where ever you like. then onto cyclos for a close-up of the buildings and how they are used now.Phnom Penh architectural tour, cyclo transport

Phnom Penh architectural tour, cyclo transport

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the french colonial style included some good accommodation for the intensely hot weather and monsoon rains- thick masonry walls, high ceilings, air circulation vents high on the walls, louvered shutters, window awnings, and covered balconies that often surrounded whole sides of the building. French Colonial building divided residential and commercial

French Colonial building divided residential and commercial

some of the remaining buildings are still intact and are used as government offices, schools, the main post office, and police headquarters. Raffles Hotel has been preserved and rehabilitated to modern standards. but many of the old elegant structures were lost during the pol pot years, and others while still standing, are in jeopardy.. some are currently empty, others are filled with residents, often whole families to a room.

ownership of property in cambodia is tenuous - all records were destroyed by the khmer rouge. when the regime was overthrown, people simply moved into whatever was available. in the aftermath, people were granted title to where ever they happened to be living. but there is no real "title" so the big buildings with many occupants are owned by their inhabitants, or by no one.

one of the buildings we toured is part of a complex of old hotel, church, and chinese buddhist temple. each of the rooms in the hotel houses a family; most of the families cook on charcoal stoves under the portals covering the walkways around the outside of each floor of the building. as we walked by we could peak into the rooms and see people watching tv, cutting fabric on the floor, eating at a small tables, or see kids playing with plastic toys on a mat. the hotel still has its elegant tile floors and beautiful staircases, but in some places the banisters are gone and trash is piled in corners. P1050462.jpgP1050458.jpgP1050457.jpg

the church has been colonized; small homes have been built within the big open space of the nave, and spaces between the church and hotel have been filled in with brick walled tiny houses. doors and windows have been cut into walls, high-ceilinged rooms have been made into 2 story homes. there is a lot of activity in the alleyways connecting all this; people cooking, washing clothes, riding bicycles and scooters, kids playing, old people sitting in the sun that filters through. the current residents have created a vibrant, if not always tidy, in-fill community. alleyway between church and hotel

alleyway between church and hotel

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the chinese temple is lovingly preserved and regularly used. near the docks, a colonial era chinese shophouse is beautifully restored.P1050475.jpgP1050471.jpg

an empty but intact chinese owned building is in jeopardy - the preservation group is urging rehabilitation, but the owners lean toward demolition to make room for a tall condo or hotel project. there is no current zoning or building restriction, and the old city center is now peppered with skyscrapers and projected skyscraper sites. P1050460.jpg

because there is only vague ownership, and because of the corruption and "money talks" orientation of the government, evictions of residents is extremely common. right now, over 4000 families are facing eviction in the "lakeside" area of PP where a high government official wants to build a new complex, residents were promised $8500 per family for relocation, but the government then reneged, saying that people were building houses just to get the money. sand has been pumped into the lake to force mud into the homes and make then unlivable. other desirable areas have been cleared by bulldozers, not even leaving time for residents to move their possessions. former residents are loaded onto trucks or buses, taken to distant areas of the city, and perhaps given minimal housing, or simply left in an empty field.

Posted by danydena 20:20 Comments (0)

on to cambodia

just when i,d learned 3 words in vietnamese

semi-overcast 78 °F

got up early, went down the street for breakfast at our new favorite spot run by the wife of a man who now lives in houston. he told us he visits, but doesn't bring his wife to the US. cannot afford to, and seems to have had a whole new family in texas... he's been gone for 28 years, everyone seems fine with the arrangement. across the street is a high school, all the kids coming to school on their bikes, the girls wearing white ao dao, long split side tunic over loose white pants. each one has a method to keep the skirt tails out of the spokes. the boys are in dark pants, white shirts. all very serious...

after breakfast, we trot back to the hotel, finish packing, and come down to go to the boat to cambodia... our ticket man is there with 2 cyclo drivers - throw the suitcase on the cyclo, climb on, and we are whisked 5 blocks down to the pier. very strange to ride on the cyclo - felt rather like a sack of rice. tossed in the back.. about 20 of us are on the boat- a fairly fast motorboat that goes up the mekong, stopping to check passports when we cross from vietnam to cambodia... the boat is basical transport, a water bus. and 5 hours later, we are in phnom penh, 2 million people, a city with half built skyscrapers, a city with the population of new mexico...

first day impression: cambodians are frindly helpful, and want to overcharge for taxi and tuk tuk rides. agoin, lots of young people. a country with a horrifying recent past. tomorrow we are to go look at monuments to that past.

tonight went out to a beer place, drinking is the main event, but eating khmer (cambodian) food is also part of it. we sit down at a toable shared with 3 young men.. dan asks for a menu. the waitress looks puzzled. no menu. one of the three men helps us order - soup i say, and he tells the waitress. no soup, finished. oh, ok how about fried fish. ok, and beef with vegetable. and a beer each. ok. 4 beers appear in a plastic basket. drink what you like, pay for what you drink. a plate of rare beef strips and a plate of strange raw vegetables, with lots and lots of little condiment dishes shows up.. what about the fish? no fish. one of the vegetables is slices of green banana, cottony, but good. other vegetables do not seem to be identifiable. all tastes good. the 3 cambodians are nice, i can understand about every 3rd word, but the more i drink, the less it matters... really lovely to meet people so easily, then move on.

Posted by danydena 07:04 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

from horror to fabulous

and back around

sunny 82 °F

the contradiction of cambodia. four years of absolute horror, but before then, years of french domination, a "golden moment", then civil war, the 4 years of khmer rouge genocidal mania, then 10 years of vietnamese occupation... and now, a country racing toward the future...

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we hired a tuk tuk and driver for the day, rode out to Central Market, wonderful domed market full of everything, especially food, raw cooked, fried, grilled. soup, rice, fish of all sorts, boiling pig head, pickled sour fruits. P1050263.jpgP1050258.jpgP1050276.jpgP1050270.jpgwe had breakfast there, all three of us. the tuk tuk driver got noodle soup with lettuce and meatballs. i carefully order a scrambled egg for dan, acted it all out, everyone understood. and dan got the same soup, with a raw egg floating in it. oooh, he did not look happy!! dan does not eat soup for breakfast, even if there is an egg in it. i'll eat that, i say, and do the scrambled egg act again. ah yes, smiles of comprehension. a while later a plate with two fried eggs, fried rice and two kinds of vegetables appears. well, not quite what dan had in mind, but edible, and quite good. my soup, by the way, was superb. even with an egg in it.

then off to "the killing fields". a memorial to true genocidal horror. i will not describe it, except to say that it is a profoundly moving experience to be in that place...

s 21, cell room

s 21, cell room

so after that, back to the banal goodness of more shopping, at the russian market. ( no russians anywhere to be seen, they used to shop there, but left after the 80's..)
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another huge market, full of deals, brand name thermal tees, abercrombie, aeropostale, polo, gucci jeans.. is there such a thing as gucci jeans? fake rolex watches, nike sox, silk scarves... crowded, dark, you can get a cheap suit, electrical parts, pots and pans. and take it all home on a tuk tuk - saw a tuk tuk today with a mattress, 4 wicker chairs, and a table on top, a family of five riding inside with pots and pans and kitchen towels...

more eating- lunch, this time, and i had the best soup in the universe.. no name of course except "cambodia soup", yeah look up that recipe! some sort of whitish broth pour over noodles, a freshly grated banana flower, other unknown vegetables chopped in, then a purple flower torn up, and a bunch of torn up herb leaves. a squirt of lemon and there it was, the best soup in the universe... yes, i ate a purple flower for lunch.
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then back to unspeakable badness, the infamous prison, S21, where people were tortured, the rooms still there with metal beds and evil spirits in them... photos the khmer rouge took of their victims displayed one after another... hard to be there, hard to leave the innocent dead behind.

on to fabulous, the Royal Palace, all gold and intricately painted murals, costumes with gold and sparkles, unbelievably ornate. lots of buildings with upturned roof corners, high stacked tile roofs. then the silver pagoda, with the floor covered in real silver tiles, now mostly covered with a carpet to protect it, but enough showing to be utterly astounding, and cool to my toes that wandered onto it...

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a bit more sight seeing, a temple on a hill, with an elephant being hosed down in front, and lots of monks in orange robes walking around and taking photos of each other... a drive by the river promenade, people sitting on benches, kids playing soccer and badminton, couples strolling on the broad sidewalk... near the end of the promenade, we drove by "nagaland", a huge casino/hotel complex to rival a las vegas casino... brand new, rather awful and much too big and overwhelming...

what a day!! tuk tuk driver meets us later, we pick up his brother and go for cambodia dinner, 4 shared dishes, heaps of rice, a bottle of water, a mango smoothy for dan, and dinner for all is $5. P1050357.jpg

Posted by danydena 06:19 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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