June 13, 2011
Well, our trip to Cambodia has come to a close—I write this on our first flight home. But since the blog hasn’t been updated since last Sunday, I figured I would update the blog on what our Problems Without Passports group has been doing this past week. My excuse for the lack of updates will be our jam packed schedules of embassy meetings, province interviews, travel, and touring the city of Siem Reap!
On Monday we visited the United States and Japanese embassies. A few of us were looking forward to these visits, particularly the United States, because we wanted to be able to ask questions about how the United States perceives their role in leading up to the Cambodian Genocide and how that affects their current relationship with Cambodia and the ECCC. I don’t know if we all got the answers we were looking for, but it was still an interesting visit. The embassy even tweeted about our visit (@usembphnompenh) with a group picture of us, posted below.
After our visit to the United States, we had a quick break for lunch then headed over to Japan. The Japanese embassy was the first time we got to speak with the actual ambassador at the embassy. He was very hospitable, providing us with hot tea and was definitely the most prepared, with a power point presentation about Japan-Cambodia relations. We hadn’t learned much before about Japan’s involvement in Cambodia so it was definitely an enlightening experience.
On Tuesday, we had our final day of province interviews. This province was particularly interesting because we heard of several instances of former Khmer Rouge cadres who lived in the villages alongside victims. We were very interested in learning from the people we interviewed how perpetrators and victims interact how and how they manage to live alongside each other after all the atrocities after the Khmer Rouge. We split into three groups as we usually do. Jenny and I interviewed the district chief who was a victim of the KR and had several relatives sent from Phnom Penh into the killing fields and murdered. He also witnessed violence from the KR against their own soldiers when they were perceived to have done something wrong. I really enjoyed talking to him and hearing his story. Nora, Abbie, and Jennifer interviewed another former victim. The rest of the group, Morgan, Cat, Amanda, and Panos, went with Kosal to attempt to get an interview with a really high up former KR member, who kept all the records at S-21 prison. Kosal had tried to get interviews with him in the past and he had refused to talk, but the chief thought it might be possible to speak to him this time. They were able to meet him and get a photo, but unfortunately he declined to be interviewed because of the trials that are still going on. They definitely had an interesting moment afterwards, when after meeting him, Cat opened her book about the perpetrators of S-21 and this man’s picture was staring back at her. Their group ended up interviewing another former KR cadre instead.
Tuesday was our last night in Phnom Penh before we traveled to Siem Reap, so we wanted to have a memorable evening. We ended up getting a room at a karaoke place and had a great time singing and dancing the night away…to songs in English, Khmer, and Korean (or at least we tried to sing the Khmer and Korean songs).
After almost two weeks of hard work and interviews in Phnom Penh, Wednesday began the second phase of our trip as we traveled to Siem Reap. Most of the day was spent on our bus for the 5 or 6 hour drive. We arrived at our hotel, which we were all very impressed by—it was beautiful. As usual, when we arrived at our destination, we all gathered so that Kosal could tell us the plan for the day/evening. His agenda was a little different than usual: “Relax Relax Relax! Swim Swim Swim! Spa Spa Spa!” We didn’t have to argue with that. We all headed to the pool and made appointments at the spa. I say it was a well-deserved afternoon of relaxation.
Thursday and Friday were spent touring the famous temples of Siem Reap, which are national treasures in Cambodia. Rather than re capping our experiences at every temple, here are some of my pictures from our visits:
One of the many mysteries of the temples… how did ancient civilizations know about dinosaurs?
Feeding elephants bananas. So adorable.
A monkey attacking Morgan after she tried to feed it a banana. I guess elephants like bananas more than monkeys do. Who knew?
Climbing to the top of Angkor Wat
After our awesome few days in Siem Reap, we headed back on our bus to Phnom Penh for our last night before flying home. We enjoyed lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Friends, and had a final dinner of Khmer food. This morning, we all woke up and enjoyed our last breakfast at our hotel, the Villa Langka, which has become like home to us. Then it was time to head home.
This Friday will be the conclusion of our PWP class, with our group presentations at the Shoah Foundation Institute. We turn in our research papers early July on our individual topics.
I have loved my experience in Cambodia! It has been such an enlightening and enriching experience. My eyes have been opened to the tragic history of Cambodia in the 1970s, but being in Cambodia has also allowed me to experience its rich and unique culture and helped me realize there is so much else to learn about Cambodia besides the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.
Thank you to Abbie, Jennifer, Jenny, Caroline, Morgan, Nora, Cat, Amanda, and Panos for being awesome classmates and Karen and Kosal for being the best instructors we all could have asked for.
And with that, I leave you all with a final FIGHT ON:
Chum Reap Lear!!
June 12, 2011
June 6, 2011
On Saturday we had a day without any long trips to provinces for interviews. We went to Tuol Sleng, or S-21, the largest prison site during the KR, which is now a museum, and then to the killing field nearby, Choeung Ek, which is also a museum. It was a very intense and emotional experience for all of us to go to the sites where the atrocities we have been learning about for weeks actually took place. Most of Tuol Sleng is preserved, so as you walk through it you see the different rooms and cells where people were held, including empty beds with torture instruments. One section of S-21 contains bulletin boards of pictures, including the “mug shot” type photos of all the prisoners that came in because the KR was so into heavily documenting who came in and out. It was really sad, especially seeing the photos of the younger children and teenagers who were also held in the prison. There were also other pictures documenting the regime as well as information and biographies of people involved. There were 7 people still alive when the Vietnamese came to liberate S21 out of the ten thousand people that had been through the prison. The ones who were still alive had posters telling their stories. One of the survivors remained alive because the KR used him to paint pictures of top leaders; they threatened to kill him if they weren’t accurate enough. He had made several paintings of the atrocities that went on in the prison, including very graphic ones of all the torture and killing that were all displayed at Tuol Sleng. Those were probably the most disturbing to me. A couple of the survivors were there when we went. Apparently they still spend a lot of time at the prison.
Here are some photos from S-21:
Afterwards, we went to Choeung Ek, one of the many killing fields where people were trucked out and then killed in mass graves. There was a small museum in front that had basic information that we already knew and a few artifacts. Then we walked around the memorial killing field. In the center there is a tower that has been filled with the cracked skulls of the victims. Walking through the field, several sites have been marked, such as the “magic tree” where there was a loudspeaker that played music to drown out the screams of people being killed. Many of the graves were unearthed and were marked according to how many bodies were found in them or describing them, such as x amount of headless victims were in here, bodies of naked women and babies were here. Probably the most terrible was a tree, the “killing tree” where cadres killed children and babies by holding babies by their feet and smashing their heads against the tree. Some photos:
One thing that was interesting to me was the amount of effort, or lack thereof, that has been put in to aesthetically presenting the information. Most of the information at Tuol Sleng and the headings of the boards with photos were essentially text printed on computer paper and then glued onto the board. Personally, it seemed kind of like a fourth grader’s class project to me. So much different from the efforts made for something like the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in the US. Obviously the Cambodian Government doesn’t have nearly enough money for that sort of thing, but for me it was just interesting to compare the extent of the preservation efforts in different places.
The rest of the day we had free to do whatever we wanted. As a group we collectively decided to visit the royal palace and take a tour. We knew there would be a dress code, so we asked the hotel what to do. They said to bring a scarf so we could cover our shoulders, chest, etc. So I wore my longer pants and a tank top and brought one of my scarves. Well turns out when we got there, you aren’t allowed to wear scarves in to the palace! The explanation we got was that scarves are a symbol of the countryside…so basically they mean you are a peasant and aren’t fit to come in to the palace. Gotta love the class system! (since we are obviously peasants) But unfortunately you also needed shoulders covered, so they directed us to buy $2 t shirts to cover us for those of us wearing tank tops. Well of course stubborn me didn’t want to buy a giant plain white T shirt and I had my green windbreaker with me, so I decided to throw that on. I was proud of my act of defiance, but also really uncomfortable for the majority of the tour because it was, of course, extremely hot. Still, the royal palace was pretty interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily go back again but I think it was good to go once sort of thing and see the various artifacts.
Some photos of the royal palace:
Afterwards, we wandered around some shops and then headed back to the hotel. A group of had planned to go the Buddhist temple across the street for open meditation hours. We thought it started at 5 but when we got there found out it was at 6, so we went to a nearby cafe. I got an iced coffee with condensed milk which seems to be a pretty common drink here and is delicous. We also saw that they had bagels with cheese and all of us realized how tired we were of all the Khmer food we were eating (too much rice!) so we decided to go back there for lunch the next day and find somewhere to get pizza that evening. We went back to the temple, and Ali, who went on the PWP trip last year and interns with me at the Shoah Foundation and came back here for her own research this summer, introduced us to the monk that had given her an intro to meditation. He told us all to get mats and cushions and meet him outside the meditation room. We all lay out our mats and he taught us the basics of meditating, and then we all went into the pagoda and tried it out. It was difficult for me to clear my mind and ignore all the itchyness and sweatiness of my body but I also felt nice and refreshed afterwards! Some of us will probably go back I think. He gave us each an intro packet and book on meditation so we can practice.
After that we all went to dinner at a pizza place that Karen recommended. Boyyy it was delicious. I split a quattro formaggi pizza with the other vegetarian on the trip. I realized how much I missed cheese! The pizza was amazing.
This morning we had an optional trip to a public education forum on genocide, in which DC Cam goes into a village and holds a forum on the Khmer Rouge, teaches lessons, has survivors speak, and teaches the kids critical thinking about the genocide, asking them to summarize points and ask questions that they may have, etc. DC Cam has distributed over 400,000 copies of the textbook written by one of their members (who was at the forum) to schools to teach about the Khmer Rouge and hold these forums to invite students, teachers, and other community members to discuss. Most of us ended up going. I definitely needed to since I want to focus on education for my research topic. The first part of the forum was a little difficult for us to understand because it was conducted entirely in Khmer (we had Kosal and a student translating for us but it was noisy in the pagoda), and really long. Afterwards though we had the opportunity to informally interview the textbook author which was very interesting, and then three of us including me also interviewed one of the students who was there about his reactions. He was adorable. He looked about 10 but was apparently fifteen and he was basically a perfect model student and seemed so interested in learning about the KR and passing on his knowledge and learning more. It was very cute. It was a great to talk to the author and the student about their different views on the effectiveness of genocide education in Cambodia. I got the interviews on video so hopefully they will be helpful.
We had the rest of the afternoon free, while Karen and Kosal interviewed activist Theary Seng, who we met with and talked to earlier in the week. We had lunch at the cafe bagel place as promised. Afterwards, we all did various relaxing things, such as napping, getting 6 dollar massages, eating frozen yogurt, swimming, reading, etc. A day of relaxation was definitely ready so that we could recharge and get back to work the next day.
For dinner, we all went to the sister restaurant of Romdeng, where we went to eat tarantulas, called Friends. The restaurants are run by a non profit organization that employs street kids and trains them as restaurant staff so that they can get jobs in the industry. The food was delicious and I think we would definitely like to go back.
As I write this, we just got back from two embassy visits today–the United States and Japan. Details will be provided in the future!
Chum reap leah! (Goodbye!)
June 5, 2011
Greetings from Phnom Penh!
On this glorious Friday, we begun the day with a thrilling 2 hour bus ride to a small village. On the way, our driver and translator decided to casually purchase pseudo cactus-like flowers, more commonly known as (premature) lotus flowers. These eye-bally entities were chock full of precious gems that tasted just like peas! Yummers!
Cactus? Flower? Cactus-Flower?
These lotus flowers are no joke! There were several layers between the outer layer and the pea-y goodness and it took a good 5 minutes of hard work getting to it. If this isn’t the definition of working for our food, I don’t know what is.
Between the time we got to the village and stumbled out of the van, the entire village assembled to greet us. It was quite a spectacle, which I am sure was just as interesting for them.
A little r&r before our interviews.
Ok. Sidenote/comment: Can we just talk about how precious Cambodian children are for a second?
They are just too cute!
On a more serious note, we conducted an amazing interview with a sweet woman who survived the Khmer Rouge Regime. The one thing she asked of us was to share her story so that others can know the truth about the atrocities of the KR. A brief synopsis will do no justice to her story, but in a nutshell, she experienced the American bombings firsthand, hid to survive, got evacuated from her home, was on the brink of getting murdered but escaped, twice, and finally ended up in a forced labor camp. We were so fortunate to have met her and gratefully so, Karen gave her a warm embrace after the interview.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by the half-completed airplane field. What remains today are a couple structures almost completely covered in foliage. There is really not much to begin with because the Vietnamese intervened and prevented any further construction.
And then we ate tarantulas.
But in all seriousness, we went to a NGO run restaurant called Romdeng for dinner, where marginalized youth are employed. So by eating tarantulas, we supported a great cause! Sounds like a win-win situation if you ask me!
Even though some of us did not take the little creepy crawlers very well, it was pleasantly surprising. The pepper marination really made the dish tasty. Texture wise, think extra crispy french fries. I can’t really explain the taste, but it definitely overpowers whatever tarantula tastes like sans sauce!
Impossible seeds, intense interviews, and interesting eats.
Yup, sounds like just another day in PP
June 2, 2011
“Eye-opening”, “Cheap Food”, “Perfect Pace”, “Unique/Knowledgable”
These were some phrases that came to mind when we were asked this morning to describe the trip thus far in two words. Although some were comical and others more serious we all agreed that this has been a well balanced trip of both trying to understanding the devastating genocide that took place as well as also being able to appreciate the beautiful culture and all that Cambodia has to offer.
I know I’m supposed to speak about today, but I can’t help but include a few pictures from yesterday (When I checked my camera tonight I realized I had only taken four pictures today… three of which were food).
The beaches were BEAUTIFUL and warm waters enticing (even though I got stung by a jellyfish…)
So here are some shots from Sihanoukville…
Anyways back to our adventures of today.
In the morning we went to Royal University or according to Kosal the “Harvard of Cambodia”, which is actually where he went to school . We met with students from the Media/Communication department where they had just as many questions for us as we did for them. We had a group discussion and then had lunch at the cafeteria where we engaged in individual conversations. Several of us completely forgot about our research paper and just talked and connected with these students in a light and friendly manner. It is crazy to think how these people on the other side of the world really aren’t too different from us. Conversations ranged from pop culture regarding favorite TV shows, such as American Idol, to the impact of globalization on the world. It was incredible to listen to their near impeccable English (a couple of them are going to be are translators later in the week) in addition to their in depth understanding of international affairs.
Later we went to DC Cam where half of the group did research for their topics while the other half conducted a three hour long interview with Mr.Chum Mey who is one of three survivors of the S 21 prison. It was “eye-opening” to hear this man’s story of torture and survival, but also forgiveness and hope for Cambodia’s future. He is hoping to make a visit to USC!
We went straight to interview human rights activist Theary Sang back at Villa Langka. Her name was first mentioned during our visit with the German ambassador in reference to her bold posting of a swastika on her website regarding the German co-investigating judge. She was very passionate about her beliefs and we quickly realized that she is not one to take a back seat in her humanitarian rights efforts.
With stomachs growling we hurried on over to dinner to devour delicious Vietnamese dishes. FYI Next time you go to Vietnam/ order Vietnamese food make sure you understand their definition of “cupcakes” and “pancakes” *see pictures below*
Lea heuy!! (good bye)
Side note: See previous posting for title clarification.
June 1, 2011
PWP Cambodia has now gotten down to business. The past three days have been jam packed with traveling, interviews, research, meetings, tours, village excursions, and long bus rides. Of course, we’ve also had our fair share of cheap, delicious food and time to relax and enjoy what Cambodia has to offer.
On Monday, we started off our day with a meeting at the German embassy. It was really interesting to hear the German perspective on the Cambodian genocide. The interview was “off the record” so I don’t know if I can say much here, but I think we all really enjoyed it and felt that our first interview went better than expected!
After the German embassy we visited the ECCC court. As we were entering, we saw the building where the remaining top Khmer Rouge leaders are currently being held before being put on trial. It was really eerie to be in such close vicinity to the people who caused the destruction that we have been learning so much about. We met with the ECCC Public Affairs officer, and learned about the background of the courts and learned some interesting facts about the ECCC and their perspective on the trials and how they present information to the public.
After that we went to DC-Cam, the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which is the NGO that we are working closely with in our research for the trip. We met with Tuok, the director and founder of DC Cam, and we each had the chance to individually explain our research topics to him. He was very enthusiastic towards each of our topics, and had sooo much information about everything we wanted to explore. For me, since I want to study how the current generation in Cambodia learns about genocide and the role of education, he offered for me to split off from my group and come with DC Cam people to a remote village near the border of Laos for three days to a week because they are going there to see the effect of their education programs on the community there. I definitely appreciated the offer to be able to do such intense research; unfortunately I don’t think that me splitting from our PWP group is very feasible. I’ll have to figure out other ways to do my research.
After we got through about half of our topics we went to watch a documentary upstairs at DC Cam again. This filmmaker was visiting and introduced his film, which was on Rock and Roll in 1960s Cambodia…. I had no idea what he was going to be able to talk about because who knew that rock and roll was ever big in Cambodia, right? But I was really amazed! Turns out there was a music scene (mostly among wealthy city people it seemed) for music influenced by rock and roll, r&b, etc, coming over from the western world. That definitely blew my mind, to really get a sense of how rich and free Cambodian culture was in the sixties, and then to see how it completely turned around when the Khmer Rouge came to power. So many of these Cambodian musicians were killed by the Khmer Rouge because they were higher up in society, and because the KR tried to obliterate all personal expression. After the film, we concluded our meeting with Tuok, had a nice dinner and a relaxing rest of the evening.
Early yesterday morning (was that just yesterday? It seems so long ago), after our usual hotel breakfast, we all piled into our bus/van for our first trip outside of Phnom Penh, to the province of Sihanoukville. With the twelve of us plus our translator, there were just enough seats for everyone, so it was quite a squeeze. The drive started out to a promising start when after just a few blocks of driving, we went over a speed bump and the spare tire underneath the bus started dragging across the ground. Fortunately nothing bigger was broken, but we were a little weary after that.
The drive to Sihanoukville (named after the king of Cambodia before the KR) is about four hours long. We stopped along the way pretty frequently for bathroom breaks and such. Eventually we ended up in Sihanoukville and went to a village to conduct our first interview. In order to find people to interview in the villages, we first have to consult the village chief, who then locates people for us to interview. They had only found one survivor of the KR regime for us to interview, and so as not to overwhelm him with all twelve of us, we split into two groups. I went with the second group that would not interview him, but instead went with one of the district chiefs to check out some of the sites in the village, including the location of a former prison. In talking to him, (through Kosal, who was interpreting), Kosal found out that he was a survivor of the KR and so we decided to interview him as well. Unfortunately, since it was so spontaneous, we didn’t have the proper recording equipment with us. I tried to use my flip camera which I had brought, but unfortunately it quickly ran out of battery, so we had to rely on Abbie’s notes that she took during the interview.
After the interview, we walked around Sihanoukville until the other group was finished. Sihanoukville is a port/fishing city. It smells very strongly of fish. Soon the other group was done and picked us up in the van. We left the village to the more touristy part of the area because that was where our hotel was. We ate lunch right on the beach: a delicious medley of seafood. As we ordered, we got appetizers of lobster and squid to tide us over, and then we all ordered various types of seafood. I got a big basket of deep fried sea creatures, which satisfied my pescatarian diet quite well. We also experienced an interesting side of being in the touristy part of town, young kids from the villages trying to get us to buy products. Two little girls came around trying to sell us bracelets; you could tell they had been taught only a few phrases in English. One of the lines the little girl used on us: “You have boyfriend?” I answered no. “You know why?” Why? “Because you no buy my bracelet.” Another: “Open your heart, open your wallet.” I wasn’t really compelled to buy one.
After that we headed to our hotel to quickly change, and then it was off to the beach! We spent a few hours on a private beach with Kosal’s family, including his father, sister, her husband, and their adorable children! The water in the Gulf of Thailand was amazing, although some of us got stung by jellyfish. Afterwards, we all sat under a pagoda and hung out and read for a while. I started Lolita during the trip over, on audiobook while simultaneously following along in the book and looking at the scenery of our drive (there are lots of cows!) and was engrossed in the book as I relaxed on the beach.
We were feeling pretty sticky and gross after the beach, so we headed back to the hotel to shower before meeting Kosal and his family again for a nice dinner. I had shrimp tom yum soup. It was good! The seafood in Sihanoukville was superb.
After dinner, we spent some time walking around the city, checking out the nightlife, which was a lot of fun. Afterwards, we were exhausted from a long day of squished travel, more heat and humidity, good food, and some hard work and interviews mixed in!
This morning I woke up early and continued to read my book before it was time to meet up. When we did meet, we headed out to find somewhere to eat breakfast before going to conduct more interviews at another killing site. We ate and then got in the car to head to the other province. When we got there, we again split into two groups and each interviewed survivors. For my group, I acted as the interviewer (the one who asks questions) while the others in my group took notes and made sure the recordings were going smoothly. The interview was very interesting and went well. It was hard for me and a little anxiety-inducing at first, talking to someone so much older than me who had been through so much, especially needing to have a conversation using an interpreter was difficult as well as establishing a personal connection before delving into heavier subjects. I hope I did an okay job. It was nice hearing this man’s story about his experiences and what his motivations for telling us his story were. I was really grateful for the opportunity.
After the interviews, some of us walked around the village, drinking fresh coconut water.
When we were finished, we were excruciatingly hot and sweaty, and piled back into the van. On the way out, we hiked through an area to the prison site of that village, which is now a rice field. It was pretty haunting, walking through the brush where people were marched before they were killed.
After that, we got back in the bus and set out for our four hour drive back. We stopped once for lunch and a bathroom break. Lunch came out to $3 for some fried noodles and vegetables, and today for dinner we ate at a restaurant where we sat on comfortable cushions on the floor, had music played to us while we ate, in a restaurant with wonderful ambiance, and I got pad thai for three dollars. This is becoming a trend; daily we’ve been getting good meals for about 3-6 dollars each time. Cheap good food. What else could any of us ask for?
That’s all for now! The past three days in Cambodia have been awesome! I think we all agree that it feels like we have been here for so long already. It’s crazy to think that most of us only met a couple weeks ago. We already feel such a connection with the country of Cambodia. It’s really exciting to think that we still have 12 days left here to continue our research and learn even more.
PS Pictures coming soon!
May 29, 2011
This morning we were allowed a lovely lie in – we got up at 7! Breakfast was a feast of different breads and fruits, all very wonderful. My favorite was the rambutans! Forgive me, Professor Kosal, who taught me the name of these delicious fruits in Khmer about four times, which I keep forgetting. They are these little, furry looking fruit things that are red and absolutely delicious. I probably ate around four, maybe five? Anyway, definitely my new favorite fruit. They may be a little difficult to find in the states however. I don’t think they sell them at the local Ralph’s.
Afterwards we took the favorite mode of transportation of PWP Students, tuk tuk, and arrived for our festive boat cruise. I use the word festive because of the Christmas theme that was going on, complete with a Merry Christmas and dangling Santa’s to welcome us. It was awesome. Decorations also included a disco ball that sadly never got put to any use.
The boat ride was truly relaxing. For the most part, we all sat on the top deck with a few of us reading the books we had brought, or hanging out. Very peaceful. We stopped briefly at the Silk Village, where they use the traditional method of looming to make their silk products. There was an outstanding number of scarves and other wares available and most, if not all of the group, picked up a few gifts and souvenirs. Kosal was maybe the only truly intelligent one and bought a fan.
There was a brief stop at the local temple, a very ornate affair with lobsters at the front.
All those new scarves were put to good use and the girls were able to successfully cover their shoulders, a requirement when walking around the temples here in Cambodia.
Then it was back on the boat and off to lunch! Lunch, I must say, was the best part of the day, provided by Danny, who returned to Cambodia with the PWP group last year. Sadly, he was not here with us this time but he let us hang out at the resort he’s building, which looks like a light house. Lunch was a very traditional Khmer meal, meaning we sat on floor and ate with our hands. The rice was cooked in banana leafs, and when you unfolded your packet or rice the banana leaf became your plate. There was also water grass, chicken, and fish! All very, very good. For dessert, there was Cambodian cake, which is more like a rice cake with fruit in it, maybe? I don’t know quite what it was, but it was excellent. Also for desert was around… eight different kinds of fruit. I’m not sure if that’s really how many there were, but they just kept coming. The group also finally got to drink out of a coconut, with me sadly unable to finish the entire coconut that I was given to consume on top of everything else. I ate, you guessed it, more rambutans.
Now the group left for home on our cheerful boat, with some of us some a little more, shall we say pink? than others. We did run into some trouble, however, when it started to rain! What was first only a drizzle became what you would classify as a downpour, and left the group seeking shelter on the lower level of the boat. Unfortunately, the rain had not let up by the time we arrived back to shore, and there was a general fear among the group that there would be no tuk tuk’s to be found, requiring us to walk back to the hotel. Only one of us had brought any form of protection against the rain, which she smugly wore. The rest of us were peevish about this.
Thus the mad dash to see if there was tuk tuk’s began, in which I managed to sink my leg up to my calf in water and lost both my shoes and one point or another to the mud. Never fear, I finally made it up to the street (after going back for my shoes), and the most wonderful site greeted me! Tuk tuk’s! WITH WATER PROOF COVERINGS!
So after a fearful ride in the rain back to the hotel (it turns out that rules of driving in Cambodia are more like guidelines, and that driving on the right side of the rode with the other motor vehicles is optional), we all made it and decided that if we were already wet we might as well go swimming in the hotel’s pool. Blissful. The rest of the night was more relaxing in preparation for tomorrow because we actually have to work. I do have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to Cambodia!
(photo’s coming soon!)
GREETINGS FROM PWP CAMBODIA!
We just finished our first full day in Cambodia, and it so far it has been an adventure, starting from our long day of travel that started Thursday evening. Rather than re capping the whole LAX -> Taipei -> Phnom Penh airport experience, I’ll share a few highlights of my/our experience.
1) The non-existence of May 27th
(Get to the airport Thursday May 26th at 11pm, 14 hours to Taipei, 2 hour layover, 4 hours to Phnom Penh, arrive in Cambodia at 11am on Sunday the 28th. Saturday has been obliterated by the 14 hour time difference. Greetings from the future, America!)
2) Free massage chairs in the airport in Taipei while we wait for our second flight. The perfect way to recover from a 14 hour red eye.
3) I read the Hunger Games. Major page turner.
We arrived in Cambodia in the early afternoon and were greeted by Kosal’s family, who drove with us to our hotel, the Villa Langka.
We were instantly welcomed to Cambodia by the heat and humidity we were told to expect, but the intensity was definitely relieved a bit when we arrived at the hotel with cold minty-lemonadeish drinks and cold towels waiting for us. What a great welcome!
We had a few minutes in our rooms to relax and then hopped into some Tuk-Tuks to our first visit.
I think I shall pause here and explain the concept of Tuk-Tuks to those who are not familiar. Here in Cambodia, people mainly get around by motorcycle. And instead of taxis, we get around by these nifty carriages that hold four people and are pulled around by motorcycle. Riding in a tuk-tuk is quite an adventure it itself, because here it feels like there are absolutely no rules to the road, so cars and motorcycles whizz by and honk at you from every direction as you cruise around the city (crossing the streets, which have very few crosswalks, is a whole other story. Forget everything you thought you knew about waiting until no cars are coming and then swiftly making your way across the street. No, here, you jump right into traffic and then slowly make your way across the street so that cars have enough time to either stop or avoid you. Or, if like some of us, you are too afraid to do so, the traffic police here will assist you in your jaywalking endeavors). Anyways, I mention tuk-tuks here because (spoiler alert!) they may come into play into a later story (which Caroline will be telling in her blog entry)!! I know, you want to know now, but you’re just gonna have to be patient.
The first place we went was a non-profit organization that focuses on archiving and preserving Cambodian history and culture. The downstairs of the building was a small art gallery that had work themed around Cambodian women, which was really cool to see. They also had a screening area where they periodically show documentaries. After checking out the gallery, we took off our shoes and went upstairs to check out the online archives, where we got to watch video clips and view photo galleries about various aspects of Cambodian culture, such as Cambodian women, traditional dance, environmental issues, etc. Jennifer and I were at the same computer, and clicked around until we found a documentary on S-21, the main prison site of the Khmer Rouge where victims of the regime were systemically tortured and executed. After we all had some time to explore the archive, the woman who was showing us around told us about the goals of the organization in archiving and preserving Cambodian history and giving the public access to this documentation of their rich culture.
After the visit, we hopped back in our tuk-tuks back to the hotel, where we got the cell phones and sim cards we will be using to stay in contact with each other while we are here. Then we had another rest break before dinner!
We went to dinner at a beautiful restaurant called Malis (?) which Kosal told us was a must-go. Right off the bat we were excited about how beautiful and peaceful the atmosphere of the restaurant was, as well as the quality of the service. They greeted us with mango juice and were very attentive about constantly refilling our glasses with bottled Evian water—without us even asking! (That fact will turn out to be important later). I personally was pretty amused by the geckoes that were just hanging out inside the lamps, so we could see their shadows on the lampshades. We all got our first taste of Khmer cuisine; we ordered food like stingray curry (although they were out of stingray), garlic eggplant, noodles with vegetables, fish amok, and more. A few of us split pumpkin crème brulee for dessert as well. The food was great! However, when we got our bill we were in for a bit of a surprise…Remember that Evian water we didn’t ask for but were kindly provided with? Well it turned up on our bill: $53 dollars (which was about a quarter of our entire meal!). We were also charged for the steamed rice that some of us had specifically been told was complimentary. The extra charges were certainly a surprise, but the meal was delicious anyway and definitely a lot less expensive than a comparable meal would have been back home. And now we know—in the future, make sure to ask whether the water is free!
One of Kosal’s friends who studied at UCLA joined us for dinner, and afterwards we went to a gallery of his photos, which were totally amazing! A lot of the images depicted scenes from the parts of Cambodia that we will be visiting, and some of them had made National Geographic stock photos. They were really cool to check out and talk to him about, especially for those of us in the group who are interested in photography!
After this, we headed back to Villa Langka. It was around 9pm here, but we were exhausted. I immediately headed back to my room, wrote a quick email to my parents, and then fell right asleep, ready for the adventures to come.
*”Bong”, cleverly used as a cheesy pun in the title of my blog entry, is the Cambodian word for “brother” that is used to refer to someone you are talking to in a sort of friendly manner or term of respect.
PS: I have photos and will add them later, if the internet allows me! **UPDATE: I HAVE ADDED THE PHOTOS!!! However, they are tiny. Hmm… still working out the kinks of this blogging thing, will try to do a better job next time.