Friday, February 20, 2009
I know it's been forever since I posted. Effing internet here makes posting such a chore.
Anyway... here are a few photos...maybe a video too
this is a video of my old house. you can get a bit of an idea of the place (if I uploaded the right vid). I ended up moving to where I am now because it was just too far outside of town for me. I now live very near the market and can come and go as I please. woo hoo!
While I'm waiting on the vid to upload, here's a quick quip about Cambodia:
Everywhere else in the world, if you touch your poo once a month, they say "You're a sick bastard!" In Cambodia, if you aren't touching your poo at least once a day, they say "I think you're sick, bastard!" this is because 99.9% of Cambodian's do not use toilet paper. They use their left hand for cleaning the old #2 chute! Think about that next time I'm shaking your hand! In place of TP, more modern places (like my new house) have the "butt blaster". This is a small hose with a spray attachment on the end that comes out of the wall near the toilet and allows you to pressure wash the ol bung hole. One of the first things you learn however is to test spray the hose as some have brutally strong water pressure and could detatch your colon. Those who have older houses (like my old one) have a cistern of water near the squat toilet and a water dipper. You have to splash your water on the "spot" and then, yes you guessed it, let your fingers do the washing! This sounds pretty bad but in practice it ends up being a lot cleaner than using paper (provided you wash your hands afterwards with soap). Only thing is, the average Cambodian male (at least the ones who want everyone to know they have money) lets their nails grow to be very long. (to demonstrate that they don't have to work in the fields everyday) Long nails on a person who wipes their ass with their hand isn't a good combination. I personally can't stand the whole "I've got money" thing. Many students who have money here think they can do as they please, coming and going during class etc. It's been fun for me to bring them back to Earth from time to time. Man... this vid is taking a long time to upload. What else can I talk about... let's see.
I've started working with an NGO here called the Tiger Foundation (www.tigerfoundation.com). They are working with a school near my own and I hope to work with them on various community development projects in the future. One project I'm already on board for is a fundraising motorcycle trip. The trip involves travel from Singapore to Cambodia, moving through Malaysia and Thailand. I'll be acting as logistical support during the trip but won't get to ride any bikes sadly. Damn Peace Corps rules! I sure hope you readers enjoy this damn video coz it's taking forever to upload. Hell, it's probably the wrong one anyway.
Ok... this vid is taking too long so I'm leaving it out. I'll try to post some photos and stuff later on! See ya soon!
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Things are still plugging along here in Kampuchea. Today I spent some time working on a grant proposal with a couple of Khmer teachers. It looks like I'll be able to a bit of the old job with them and help them out with project prioritizing and planning. Should be fun.
Last week there were two Khmer holidays, King Coronation day and the King's birthday. Since this meant that nobody would be in school for pretty much the whole week, a few volunteers took this opportunity to head up north to check out Siem Reap. This turned out to be a really good experience...and I didn't even go to Angkor Wat! Don't worry, coming to Kampuchea and not checking out Angkor would be like going all the way to the Grand Canyon and only staying for 15 minutes and I'd never do anything as effing stupid as that! This trip was more about decompressing with other PCVs from the pressures of settling into site.
Siem Reap at times resembles more of a spring break destination than Cambodia and a couple of the bars (on "bar" st.) even had a halloween party on the 31st. So, needless to say, there was fun to be had by all and it was nice to know that this spot was only about two hours away by bus, even though it was a little expensive.
Well, this is the week that i'm putting the rubber to the road finally. I will solidify relationships at one of my three schools and finally get down to business. That leaves the other two still to go...
Whew... this job is almost like work.
see you soon!
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Anyway...here is a prepared blog for ya with some pix... enjoy!
October 16, 2008
Hello everyone…or more specifically to the three or so people who are actually still reading my dementia. I’ve been in my permanent site of Kampong Thom for about a week and so far it’s been pretty good. I’ve made some friends locally as well as in Phnom Penh (which will be good for those times when I get to get away for a while)
For the last week I’ve been damn busy observing classes at the high school and teacher training college an generally running all over Kampong Thom town looking for things I need to keep me sane at home ( like a fan, an extension cord, a beach chair for reading etc.). Through it all there has been one constant: I’m getting ripped off on prices.
Now this isn’t as nefarious as it might seem at first. Most Khmer aren’t consciously trying to sell you a product for more than it’s worth, i.e. cheat you. They are simply using a localized economic model. Quite literally, there are two price structures in Kampuchea, which correspond to the two basic target markets for merchants: Khmer consumers and “Everyone else”. The average Khmer doesn’t make $4 a day, so obviously they cannot afford to pay much for goods and services. Generally foreigners here come in two flavors: those working for NGOs who typically have a healthy spending allowance (relative to locals) and tourists who for the most part have a good amount of money or they wouldn’t be able to visit Cambodia in the first place. In addition to having more money, these foreigners are used to items costing a great deal more in terms of their home currency (for example one really can’t eat a good breakfast for 75 cents in the UK but a meal for 3000 riel is common in Cambodia). Because of these two factors a two-tiered price structure has emerged. So yesterday when I was shopping for undershirts and shorts, I bought a pair of knock off nike tennis shorts, new, for $3. I felt pretty good about my purchase until I arrived home and my host sister (one year older than me and married to my host bro in law) asked me how much I paid. When I told her, she looked aghast and told me that those shorts should never cost more than 7000 riel, or about $1.75.
This pissed me off a bit at first, but then I stopped thinking of it as personal and started thinking about the economics and it all made sense. Quite literally, the price is determined by what the market will bear. In this case however, there are two distinct markets. For me, $3 seemed like a good price for new shorts and I was afraid to bargain lower. A Khmer would say I got a really bad deal. So it’s all a matter of perspective. Still, I’m a bit stuck between the two markets here. As a volunteer, I make about $4 a day, which puts me in the Khmer consumer group in terms of budget. Sadly, I’ll always have the appearance of a chalk white foreigner so the assumption will be that I have funds consistent with that consumer group (and I also come from a world that $3 shorts are a good deal). This may change as more shop owners and sellers at the market become familiar with me, but it is unlikely that I’ll ever get the true Khmer price from many sellers.
Just a little slice of life in Kampuchea-land!!
Here are some pix:
Pic 1- my training family. Three brothers, oldest sister and mother
Pic 2- a view of a floating village I visited. They had barbershops, electronics sellers, even a floating gas station.
Pic 3- Same day I visited the floating village we stopped at the Wat (temple) to pay respect to the monks. The wat is on sort of an island and must be accessed by boat. In the picture with me are Socheata to my right (my language teacher) and another PCV.
Pic 4- Photographic evidence reinforcing a previous blog point.
Pic 5- Riding in the back of a truck, on my way to another water village, Kampong Luong with Socheata on my birthday. Sometimes you have to get a ride with whomever is going that way. Spent my b-day getting pelted by passing boaters with balloons filled with colored water.
Pic 6- your basic Kampuchean water borne snack stand.
Pic 7- When Socheatas attack!! (on the way to the water village)
Pic 8- View of Kampong Chhnang from the top of the hotel where our swearing in was held. First time in a tie in over two and a half years.
Pic 9- Vanny and Socheata, two language instructors looking stunning in their Khmer formal wear after swearing in ceremony.
Pic 10- One of my favorite photos of Kampuchea life. My younger two host bros playing pool. Incidentally, all three of my host brothers are way better at pool than anyone else I’ve ever played against anywhere. They would rattle off successive complex combinations while talking to me all the time. Check out the sign above the pool table. “Please Welcome to this here.”
Friday, September 5, 2008
I'll be going to Kampong Thom provincial town. It's located in the geographic center of Cambodia (in case you're checking the map). It's a popular stop over on the way to Siem Riep (Angkor Wat). I'm pretty excited as it's an up and coming town that just got it's first western food restaurant, an italian place owned by an ex-pat who is a former Peace Corps volunteer! Talk about a valuable resource in town!! Getting a western food place is the tell tale of a town making the turn towards the big time! Can a bar focusing on American Football be far behind??
In the next two days I'll be travelling to visit the site for the first time. I kinda got the hook up with my host family as I will have a whole floor to myself at the house as well as access to...gasp... ELECTRICITY!! More expensive but it sure will be easier to read with all that light!
what follows is some pre written stuff to catch everyone up on what it's been like here in Kampuchea!
I guess I should apologize for the brevity of my recent posts. I can only get on the internet while in Kampong Chhnang, the provincial town that is the hub site of our training. The only spare time we have is during lunch so I haven’t had much time to chat away about stuff. I’m typing this post ahead of time so that it can be cut and pasted quickly. Hopefully it will catch everyone up on some of my thoughts about Kampuchea.
Here are some random thoughts:
Cows- Cambodia may have the skinniest cows on the planet. We drove by some on the bus ride out of Phnom Penh and I remember thinking “man, I’ve never seen a cow with six pack abs before.”
Driving- Anyone who has ever mused that driving would be much better without all those pesky rules should spend a couple of weeks on the roads in Cambodia. Traveling the roadways here will change your opinion of what is safe and what isn’t. Seatbelts? We don’t need no stinkin’ seatbelts. I used to think that two lane roads were for only two cars at a time. Think of the most narrow two lane road you know and you will be able to get three cars and a motorcycle abreast of each other, no problem. Trust me, there’s room.
Text messaging- Cell phones have taken Cambodia by storm. This makes sense as the more remote areas can get service by just putting up a few towers. Khmer people text each other much more often than calling tho as it is much cheaper. This has had an unusual side affect. Text-speak has become pervasive in Khmer society. For example, one of the first things my language teacher did was to pull our leg regarding how hard the test was going to be. He smiled and said.. “Jk! Jk!” This type of thing happens everywhere with people of all ages. For most Khmer, the cell phone is the first exposure they get to English, so most people with phones will remark to you at some point “BFF” “JK, JK” or “LOL”. They also learn useful phrases such as “Missed call” and “one new number.”
Rice- Rice is in every meal. It’s so important that Khmer actually say “eat rice” (nyom bye) as another phrase for “having a meal” If someone they know passes by the house it’s polite for them to yell “Come eat rice”. Rice however has a dark side. If someone, say a new arrival to the country dives in headlong into a diet that is 85% rice you…may…NEVER…crap…again!! Luckily, an apple a day will not only keep the doctor away, it will help get things moving so that you don’t turn septic from impacted bowels. Sadly, apples are not readily available here, and the locals seem to know their value to us “barang” (foreigners) so they are expensive and nobody will budge on the price.
Money- Now that I’ve complained that apples can be expensive, here’s a tidbit on money. It’s silly cheap to live here. If one eats a super deluxe meal, has a couple of beers and coffee you could end up paying 24,000 riel. This sounds like a lot until you know that 4000 riel equals roughly $1 (that comes out to six bucks for you English majors out there). The average meal here is around 4000 riel, with breakfast inside the market rewarding the brave with a nice amount of food for only 1500 riel. There is a lady at a roadside stand that makes waffles for only 200 riel each! Yummy!!
Motos- A moto is basically what Khmer call a motorscooter (too small to be a motorcycle but larger than a moped). It is the preferred mode of motorized travel as cars are usually beyond the means of most Khmer families. The number of passengers that can be safely transported on a moto is limited only by the number of family members the mother has been able to chug out. So far, the record number that I have seen on a single moto, driving down the road at 35 mph or so is 5 humans and a chicken.
More numbers- Regarding cargo, there is no such thing as stacked too high. If the stack was too high, it would have fallen down. So furniture, chicken coops, etc can be seen driving down the road in stacks 3 or four times higher than the roof of the vehicle (or moto). Regarding taxis, there is no such thing as too full. The way you know it is full is that nobody else wants on. If someone else does, there is room. Regarding taxis again, If you ask the driver where the taxi is going, there will be only one answer “where you want to go” If you really want to know where a taxi is heading you have to check to see where the fifteen or so people already on the taxi are headed. If that’s your town, in you go.
Cojones- Bob Barker has never been to Cambodia. Testicles are everywhere. Pigs, Cows, drunk dudes and most of all, Dogs. What’s more, dogs seem to have some sort of ESP that alerts them if someone starts looking their way, at which time they instinctively start licking themselves. Nobody here even understands the concept of neutering dogs. Even the girl dogs here have testicles.
Gambling- Khmer love them some gambling. From cards to sports everyone seems to gamble. In my training village of Boribo, volleyball is the sport of choice and there is always money on the line. There is even action riding on a game involving kicking a flip flop that you can make a few thousand riel playing…provided you are under the age of 10. Everyone here gambles.
Danger- Danger is a relative term here (see Motos Numbers, and Driving above). Things we think are dangerous Khmer see as routine. Every once in a while, a Khmer will say “Care…Danger!”. If you hear this you better damn well steer clear of whatever activity they are referring to (riding on the street, swimming, drinking water) coz if they think it’s dangerous it’s probably something that would make Evel Knievel shit his pants.
Cows and farm livin- About a week ago I was finishing up lunch with my host family. Suddenly there was some sort of commotion behind the house which my host brother ran to investigate. It turns out that my a cow my brother was tending was having a baby! He asked me if I wanted to see it but I was late for class so I said I would check it out later. No more came of this until I was heading home the next morning after teaching a class. Several people including my host brother and host father were gathered around the well. As I approached, my brother said “Bonn Say-ha…the cow…she die.” (obviously he was concerned that this might be an issue for me). My host father looked up and was characteristically brief: He said one word-- “Chin-aing” (Delicious). Yep, the next day I ate me some baby cow. And father was right. It was yummy. That’s farm livin’ for ya!
Stay tuned for the next installment! I’ll be checking in with everyone soon!
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
Well, I'm finally here! It's raining here in Kampong Chhnang. It does that alot. But it's cool coz I'm already soaked through with sweat anyway. It's been an amazing experience so far! Our accomodations have been relatively posh (reminds me a bit of the ol Noble Hotel in Lander) but we will be moving out to host families in two days. The language training is going nicely and I'm learning quite a bit. I can order food, ask where the bathroom is, introduce myself and tell folks where I'm from and talk about my family. The food is one of the best parts here. I can eat like a king for 5000 riel...about $1.25. We got a bit of a tourist markup from one restaurant but when we considered that it amounted to around a quarter, it was hard to get upset. Only one bummer so far. I had my nice leatherman tool out to repair a fellow trainee's jacket zipper and left it on my table. This was an error in judgement as the next day after returning from class it was gone. Chalk it up to a learning experience!
Today we did a practice run to the market here in KC. I'll have to take some pictures of a market someplace because words won't do it proper justice. Try to picture Blade Runner without all the skyscrapers and flying cars and you'll get an idea.
Speaking of flying cars, the traffic here is something else. Most people get around on scooters called Motos and there are apparently only suggested rules for driving. While there are plenty of accidents to be had, mostly this chaotic ballet of busses, trucks cars, motos, Tuk Tuks (little motorcycle drawn carriages) and bicyclists is managed quite normally by everyone. This may be the only place I've ever been that the horn was used to simply announce that you were approaching instead of an attack on a fellow motorist.
I'll try to get my crap together and post some photos soon. Right now I'm still living out of a suitcase and have no room to set up the computer and what not. Besides, packing and unpacking things is a pain in the ass!
I'll get into some of the people stuff on my next couple of posts. There are some really fine people here with me ás well as those helping us to learn the languages and the customs.
All in all...like I said, it's a crazy, awesome overload of the senses!
When next you hear from me I'll have transitioned to my host family where I'll stay for the remainder of the training period.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Well, this is it. Tomorrow I take off to San Francisco and begin my twenty seven month odyssey to southeast Asia.
The car is sold (got a good price too!)
The bags are packed (They are 1.3 lbs under the weight limit!)
I've tied up all the loose ends I could think of...I hope...
I got to see The Dark Knight today (you owe it to yourself to see one of the finest performances in a movie. Heath Ledger is disturbingly brilliant.)
I ate a great big ol steak at Outback with my Mom. (served to us by freaking Rain Man)
And now I lay comfortably chilling out in bed. The noisy barking dogs erasing any anxiety I may have had about the trip (Makes me look forward to being in Cambodia!)
I hope to keep on posting, hopefully with value added, entertaining posts.
Wish me luck!