I’ve been plowing through Keith Richards’ autobiography “life” on the trip. Picked it up at the airport and had my expectations low. Gotta say I loved it. Finished it today. Wonderful writing and lots of fun. Smart.
Talked to Marilyn on the phone for a bit and then sorted out our bags.
Then went for a brief walk.
Lunch it is…
We had a wonderful lunch and had a nice talk with our waiter. He neglected to take out the peanuts of the dish I ordered and my face swelled up on the flight to Korea. I have a peanut allergy!! It’s certain!!
We made arrangements to go see the sunset for our last trip put of town. Funny thing though. There was no sunset. He wound up taking us to Angkor Wat (which we have been to already, of course) and told us we’d need to climb all of the steps and get to the top for the sunset. Yeah, right.
All the way up there?!
Anyway we wandered around, feeling like this was a perfect way to end our Cambodia trip. Not exactly what we expected but in a good way.
Then it was time to say goodbye to our friend Poli at the Peace Cafe. This guy was an angel to us.
Then it was out the door, our final ride arranged with Sun our driver.
Then it was goodbye Cambodia and hello Seoul, Korea.
>One more day until we leave on a night plane to Seoul. We spent the morning quietly getting up, heading to breakfast–doing all of the routine we’ve done every day for three weeks. I read over the my novel before all this. Just sort of started feeling it again. I didn’t intentionally decide to take three weeks off of it–it just worked that way. We headed downstairs a little bit groggy but hungry.
I have had such a fun time on this trip with Leslie. I feel as if we have grown to know other sides of one another through this. We absorb things so differently. For the first two weeks Leslie was so observant and almost quiet. She processes things peacefully. Patiently, watching for nuance and smiling only slightly when moved. I am always making exclamations, well, I don’t know about that. Huh? Oh, this is it!
When we got back to Siem Reap four days ago it was if Leslie, the Leslie I know started to emerge. After we slept for 13 hours on Friday night we woke up on Saturday and just talked and talked.
We’ve spent a lot of time taking care of ourselves and playing cards here. There’s a yoga studio upstairs and it reminds of us of home.
What an experience this has been? Cambodia? We were talking last night and we were saying that neither of us ever had this on the agenda. That’s the way life works though–sometimes you just gotta do something new, have a new experience.
Cambodian garbage can, bet you didn’t know that, did cha?
The ability of all of us is what fascinates me on any trip. We always look for signals, connection to our worlds and lives as we travel. What does that mean? Let’s see if we can figure it out? What’s a tuk-tuk, oh it’s a motorbike with a carriage in the back, that’s cool.
This is a market, they must sell things. What if I say, “best price?” will they negotiate with me? Sure they will! What if we joke around, will the price drop further? Sure it might!
We are now 14 hours away from our flight. We both don’t know how this trip fits into the larger scheme of things. I think I’d like to come back. It surprises me that I’m saying that. I don’t know, South East Asia gets under your skin, it feels comfortable in a raw sort of way. Like you can get used to watching a world change in front of you. It reminds me of the charm and grace of Romania but without the cynicism. The cynicism replaced by a Buddhist stoicism.
Last night we recorded some music in the night market.
These are members of a band who have been afflicted with injuries from land mines. Leslie recorded some of their music and we walked around a bit.
I know we’ve accomplished all of our goals that we set out before we came. Take video of Leslie’s performances, shoot lots of pictures — I have shot well over a thousand. Learn and bear witness to stories of lives and stay hopeful. Raise awareness. Find ways to connect to others. Stay healthy and safe–check. Don’t get robbed–also check. Have fun–check. In fact, the whole trip has been damn wonderful! Really gone smoothly. Sure, at times we have both emotionally gone through a lot but overall–wonderful. Well, I think that is it for now. Must run and figure out how to pack up and such.
Might get to another blog post before we leave but once again, thank you for all your love and support. It really pulled us through.
>We took a drive south of the city to visit the Land mine museum. I told you in a previous post about my friend Douk who lost all his limbs in explosion when he was a young man.
He wasn’t the only one selling books in this way and afflicted in this same way.
This is Teak who lost his legs from a land mine years ago. Both of them let me take pictures of them and were both really humble and gracious individuals. I decided we needed to visit the museum and explore in greater detail what happened in the war.
This is Aki Ra. He is the founder and creator of the land mine museum. He was a former child soldier with the Khmer Rouge and fled their army after he was 12 or 13 years old. He then fought along side the Vietnamese who threw the Khmer Rouge out of power.
It is believed that there have been over 10 million land mines in Cambodia. Aki Ra took it upon himself to begin defusing land mines that were littered across the country side. He has been able to defuse or have controlled detonations of over 50,000 mines in the past 10 years and defused thousands of bombs that litter the country side.
This is a wonderful video about the situation on YouTube that is plenty informative.
The US during Nixon’s administration conducted an unprecedented bombing campaign in Cambodia. Code named, Operation Menu -/- we dropped over 2.75 million tons of bombs on Cambodia until the end of the Vietnam War.
Many bombs that did not go off still litter the countryside and must be defused. The goal of the bombing was to disrupt the movements of the Viet Confirm in North Vietnam who at times crossed the boarder into Cambodia. Unfortunately, this was a mistake in military policy that had site consequences on the people of Cambodia. Not only did the bombing kill over 600,000 innocent civilians but it destabilized the country to the extent that it allowed the anti-western revolutionary Khmer Rouge (psychos) to come to power.
On our way back we had a wonderful drive. The weather and light was perfect.
I tried to snap a few pictures of kids driving their bikes on the side of the road.
Seems like someone is always trying to carry a heavy load on their bikes.
The rest of the day was wonderful. Another informative and eye opening day in Cambodia.
We explored the market, hunting for a deck of playing cards.
Here’s a little no comment video:
We found this amazing cafe called the Peace Cafe that serves all vegetarian options, lots of wonderful fresh squeezed juices and smoothies! We’re in heaven. We’ll get some more pictures of the place and post them shortly.
>What a difference between cities. Siem Reap instantly felt, well, small to us.
The streets less crowded and the smog less heavy. Instead of paying 6 dollars each meal we were paying 4. The smiles more genuine and everyone loves talking. I was immediately comfortable again, thankful to see something familiar and I sort of wanted to unwind
We headed out to lunch and we ran into Douk, a victim of a land mine when he was a young man. It took his legs and arms. He sells books in the streets.
I will write more about his story and those like him in my post from day 20 when we visited the Land Mine Museum.
Later that night we went to a concert at the children’s hospital.
We learned the fascinating history behind the medical system here. After the war this man, Dr. Beat Richner came back to Cambodia after serving as a young doctor here in the 70′s and began rebuilding the hospital system. He runs the Kantha Popha Hospitals here in Cambodia.
Here are some fascinating stats:
The Kantha Bopha hospitals treat half a million children per year free of charge. Approx 100,000 seriously ill children are admitted. Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever and typhoid are common, often exacerbated by the presence of TB. TB is the number one killer. Mortality rate is an astonishingly low 1%.
He has had the remarkable success in raising millions of dollars to ensure millions of children get adequate health care. Something like 90% of the funds to support the hospitals come from private donations, which is truly remarkable. And, I should note, for free.
I know, I know, the question is why does he have a cello?! The deal is he is also a very accomplished musician. He plays these concerts to raise awareness on the issue of health care in this country and to solicit both monetary and blood donations from tourists. Our Eyes were opened it was a great evening!
>We began our last day in Phnom Penh by checking out the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda.
The silver pagoda earned it’s name because the entire floor of the building is made of silver. If I could have taken pictures of it–I would have, unfortunately it was forbidden.
Just imagine a really beautiful silver floor. It was very cool.
We had a bus to catch to Siem Reap so we took off. We decided that we didn’t need to take another trip to the beach and just wanted to head back to Siem Reap and relax before our trip.
The bus was luxurious compared to the other ways we’d been traveling around. Bumpy roads, no air conditioning. No, this bus was classy.
Here’s the no comment video from that day.
In sum, Phnom Penh was eye opening, beautiful and busy. A fun place and retrospect now three days after we left we probably should have stayed for a few more days. We left Phnom Penh with lots of friend’s and with a lot of work completed. I look forward to going back and seeing how much it will have changed.
>Leslie played again at the Daughters Cafe and we began solidifying our plans to go back to Siem Reap.
Here’s a little video to show you just how far (ironically) our hotel turned out to be from the cafe:
Leslie sang beautifully. And look, she’s standing at her keyboard instead of sitting! Again about 30+ people were in the cafe listening to her sing.
I had a great conversation with one of the staff members from the hotel who came to the show. He and a buddy of his and I talked for about two straight hours about life in Cambodia.
Here are some highlights: On why Cambodians are so nice: “we’re family oriented and community oriented. In the villages we talk to one another a lot and spend time walking between houses…. We are nice to foreigners because we want to express how glad we are that you came to our country.” On the sex trafficking situation in the country: “it is a very bad thing but it is starting to change. I think it because there is no money, women before had no jobs and that is starting to change. Women are now more educated, getting better jobs. I want it to change.” On what he wants to do with his life:“I want to either be one of two things, an English lecturer in college or a tour guide.”
I encouraged him to keep practicing his english and do the bit as a lecturer. Great guy.
We said goodbye to the amazing women at Daughters of Cambodia and our good friend Haley Welgus who helped us through so much of our trip. Haley (from previous posts) works for AFESIP and plans to spend two years with the organization.
Hayley… Thank you, we’ll miss you.
Later on that day we met with Chab Dai, an umbrella organization of NGOs. Ironically, we kept running into the contact for the organization, Aimee all over town. Chab Dai has a great network they are working under and clearly excellent leadership.
It’s a great community of volunteers, ex-pats and NGOs in Phnom Penh and really cutting edge stuff is going on. It was truly encouraging.
Later that night we went to Paddy Rice, an Irish bar on the riverfront that had an open Mic. A friend of ours from the hotel played guitar with a trio. They blared through a number of songs and weren’t that bad.
We closed the night by walking down street 136. The infamous street for girlie bars in Phnom Penh. It was somewhat eye opening to see scores of women hanging out outside of bars, standing on the balcony outside waving to you. One guy came up to me offered “Hash, opium, and boom boom in that order.” I’ll let you guess what boom-boom is. Replete with lots neon and thuggish looking guys outside and plenty of Westerners milling about we skirted through and caught a tuk-tuk out to our hotel.
I am glad the point of our trip wasn’t to do direct intervention work but instead to work with women in recovery.
We check out the Silver Pagoda tomorrow and leave back for Siem Reap. I’m a day behind on the blog but should catch up today. More soon everyone. Hugs. Our trip is coming to a smooth conclusion!
>Yesterday Leslie played a two hour show at the Daughters of Cambodia cafe. The cafe is part of the NGO run by women who have had trained with the center in the hospitality field.
The cafe is a wonderful place, very western and tons of great food. About 30 or so people showed up that were ex-pats and such.
Later that night we had dinner with Matt Thomas a graphic designer who is working for Daughters of Cambodia. Matt and I met through J. Michael Martinez, a very good friend of mine that I met during my MFA at Mason. The two of them grew up together and have been great friends ever since. Small world, right?
Matt’s life also changed when he read Half the Sky. He changed his whole direction from living in Boulder, CO to immerse himself in this world. He is working with women and boys at Daughters of Cambodia, creating the new designs for their t-shirts and running their print shop, purchasing materials and t-shirts directly from the factories where they are made. It was incredible getting to talk to him. I should also add that Matt is no stranger to the STL art scene and has worked with Tom Huck of Evil Prints. Again, small world.
Afterwards we attended a lecture by Francois Ponchaud. A French Catholic priest that was influential exposing the Khmer Rouge’s genocide to the rest of the world. He lectured on Animism and Brahmanism’s influence on the local population.
>It seems with the biggest traveling day behind us, and having already gone to two centers we felt good and relaxed going into this final trip.
On our way with our tuktuk. Passing monks who walk the city collecting money for the poor.
We went to the clinic first for AFESIP which served a dual function of supporting and an intervention locale for women who are still on the streets and providing medical assistance for women in the Phnom Penh center.
Tom Oliver speaking with a staff member.
We had a great talk with the chief psychologist who explained that his work is quite difficult in doing interventions and takes a lot of time from the initial explanation of services to continual interactions with the women coming from the community.
We left the clinic and then went to the Phnom Penh shelter. After driving quite a bit outside of town we arrived at another bib facility. Similar to the site at Siem Riep, no tall buildings but many small houses scattered along beautiful grounds. It was the first facility and named after the first woman that Somaly Man got off the streets.
There were classrooms, a huge seamstress shop and a training center to work in a hair salon.
A recently built salon faces the back of the facility along a road so that people from the community can get their hair done. A few of the other volunteers stopped by as well.
Then it was time for Leslie to sing. An odd fact was that every facility we went to seems stuffed to the fils with speakers.
So we knew that they rocked.
The women gathered around a small set of steps and sat and listened.
Leslie sang incredibly. We will be rolling out the songs shortly on video.
An incredible video of the women singing along:
The women really enjoyed the performances and laughed as Leslie smiled and warmed their hearts.
After the performances the organization Helping Hands passed out presents for all the women.
We were joined on this trip by Philip Ward a volunteer in Battabang province with the Peace Corps. His dream is coming back and working with AFSEIP over an extended period of time.
When all was said and done Khmer pop songs played and the women thanked us heartily. No dancing for me this shot around.
It was another wonderful trip to raise awareness and meet a vibrant community. I can tell you that the women had a wonderful time. At every center I was struck by how happy, hard working and hopeful all the women are. It is a world that I feel privileged and honored to be around.
Leslie has two straight shows at the Daughters of Cambodia cafe so I better hit. Running late as It is. Hugs to all.
Tomorrow we are off back to Siem Reap. I know I am running behind on posts so I’ll do another one this afternoon.