Sunday, February 5, 2012

Phnom Penh

Rolling into Phnom Penh, into the “bus station” and looking out the window to Sokhom waving. There's Samnang. Far out, we're here. Load our stuff into the Camry and make our way across town to the family's new house, the front of which is exactly like the old one – a small cafe where motorcycles drive right in between the bar and the 3-4 tables. Chanmony and Sophear are waiting for us, along with Than, Jeudi, and Uncle Da. Up the steep stairs, into the room where we'll stay, wash up, have some (really good) dinner. We're here. Photo: Children I saw on a walk (described later) Phnom Penh photos are here

In the past we stayed a block from Psar Tuol Tom Pong (Russian Market). This time

we were further out, but still, an easy 8 minute $2 tuk-tuk ride to the market. Phnom Penh this time was mainly spending time with Samnang's family, including the totally Cambodian family outing described below. Jeudi's food was stellar as always – it was a really nice, relaxing, homey time.

The following from Leslie's email to David: Yesterday was Chinese New year and Tet is today, so the big markets, etc. were closed yesterday and today. We had planned to spend several leisurely hours down by the riverside. The girls wanted to join us (a day completely off because it's Happy New Year!) but then Samnang took over the "plan of the day" and announced it at breakfast this morning - a family expedition to Udon, the old capital, lunch there and a tour of the ruins.

We brought water; beer; soda; Samnang's bottle of liquid herbal medicine; and my frozen bottle of tea. The girls actually wore long sleeves and Sokkhom brought (and wore) neck scarves for all the women. Needless to say, I just carried mine.

So off we went at 9:20, six of us in the Camry and three on a motorcycle, missing only Than. We arrived at 10:40 after only one short stop for gas, and entered the "park" area which is free for everyone except foreigners @ $1.00 per head. Photo below: The street where we stayed

The road that lead to the way up the mountain was lined by umbrella-covered

food vendors. The opposite side of the road had long thatched-roof pavilions with wooden platforms covered in mats for families to rent for picnics. We unloaded water, etc. from the car onto one of the platforms and David, Jeudi, Da, and Sokkhom went off to fetch an assortment of food from various vendors. We ended up with whole fish (1 large and 4 small) fire-roasted on skewers; chicken with ginger (every piece perfect with its fair share of bone); a whole roasted chicken; hot pot with soup, vegetables and assorted meat; lotus seeds; whole steamed tamarind; rice steamed in metal tubes served with sugar, cinnamon and grated coconut; other gelatinous, sweet morsels. Amazing! Photo below: One of my favorite photos - children in a temple

We ate at 12:15 after all the above was

assembled. Jeudi served as always and ate last, but she, Samnang, and Sokkhom all ate tons which I've never seen before.

About 1:20, after lunch and naps, your Dad, David, Mony, and Sophear started up the mountain while Samnang, Sokkhom, and Jeudi all napped some more while I wrote this and caught up trying to balance $4 million VND - I'm not kidding!

The hikers returned about an hour later, soaking wet and tired. After quickly packing up loads of left-over food and fixing a doggie bag for Sali, the dog, we pulled out of our spot at 2:30, and the Camry occupants arrived back at the house at shortly before 4:00. The poor three-some on the motorcycle had their 2nd flat of the journey and didn't get back until about 6:30. And you guessed it, Jeudi then prepared and served dinner. It's incredibly hard work to have her job in this household.

A couple of observations: shortly before we left the park grounds, a hit-and-run driver struck and killed a woman on a motorcycle about 50 yards from where we were. It drew large crowds from far afield, but there was no outcry or anger at all. Samnang didn't explain

that there's been a death until I asked again in the car on the return trip. It was surreal. Photo: The family outing

Your Dad told me that on the mountain top, there was a woman responsible for cleaning around the stupa; but she just threw all the trash over the railing. Why would that even cross your mind?

It was a long, hot interesting day.

So that's it for the day here. We both had a cold shower that felt wonderful and have crashed watching the Australian Open. Hewitt is doing a beautiful job holding his own against Djokovic, and the home crowd is going wild (me too!). Photo: Sophear

CK's account of the hike up

the mountain: After lunch, in the heat of the day, cousin David, uncle Da, Chanmony, Chansophear, and I headed up the hill to the stupas. It was a hot walk, three hundred and some odd steps past quite a few beggars to the stupa, but not bad. Oh, there's another stupa, up more steps and past more beggars and another and another, so by the time we got to the last one, I was pretty hot – we were all hot and sweaty, even cousin David (the one who set the pace). From the last stupa we could see far across this flat, green watery land – it was like we could see across Cambodia. The stairs down were very crowded with fellow holidayers (that's the short way up and down) and more beggars and even some monkeys. Photo: The view from the mountain

My internet friend, Henning and his partner, Mint picked us up one morning for breakfast at Jars of Clay, one of the aircon places near the Russian Market. It was good to see them. This is the third time we've gotten together in Phnom Penh. Henning is a world traveler since he was a child and has vast knowledge of Cambodia and the near and far east. Photo: Random family on a moto. I wonder why MVAs are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Cambodia...

From there we spent a few hours in

the market. Interestingly the woman we'd bought silk from before remembered Leslie and asked after David. It was hot in the narrow, crowded aisles, but it's been hotter. Another nice thing was

that I saw a woman with some serious burn scars who before had always walked around selling on foot; now she has a small stand. When we were done we went back to Jars of Clay and had some coffee and then some food – in comfortable chairs and air-conditioning.

I went for a walk yesterday morning, the last day of the Chinese New Year holiday, the Year of the Dragon... through narrow lanes, past children playing and some just standing, past a few food vendors, people selling this and that, then unpaved alleys (faint sound of drums), past people eating, sitting, washing in front of houses, past some apartments – a narrow walkway with cell-like rooms on each side, then through narrower passages with a few people standing and sitting, some pretty hard looking, staring at me or not, hearing he sound of drums louder and louder and

the passage opening up and out in to an open area next to a large market and some people around and lion dancers leaping and whirling and shaking their heads and of course the weird round-faced mask guy fanning ghosts. Photo: The round-headed guy who's always a part of the Lion Dance

I walked up out of the market area to the dusty road, even though it's now paved, that leads to Choeun Ek, a few miles away where mass graves have been emptied, but with shards of bone and scraps of rotted cloth still in the dirt – I was there in 2005, never having imagined that I would ever see mass graves and planning on never seeing any again, remembering that it was an unpaved, much dustier road then, and a mentally hellish ride back and now I walk across the road to a kind of wooden dock perpendicular to the road with 8 or 10 ramshackle 1-2 room houses on each side 20-30 feet above muddy, polluted water and from there back up to the road, past a couple of life-ravaged prostitutes in an open-fronted “massage” place with a sign saying 10,000 Riel ($2.50USD) for services,

just the two of them, sitting on low chairs, singing karaoke about 7:45 in the morning, loud. I'm not making any of this up. Photo: Houses built over the water

All in all, it was a low-key, relaxing visit. On the way to the airport Leslie saw a sign that said “Orphanage, Tourists Welcome” - part of the new orphanage industry, I imagine. It was on the road to Choeun Ek, a lucrative location, no doubt, what with tourists leaving the mass graves and thus vulnerable to guilt-inducing pitches for donations. Motherland, cradle me. Away we go.


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