Sunday, 24 March 2013

#28: Battambang, Bugs and Goodbyes...

Saturday 9th March, officially slated Day of Rest at the no-kettle-and-no-room-service-after-8pm-Shadow of Angkor II. 
When I say 'rest', I actually mean let's traipse all over Siem Reap in search of the elusive Turkish Delight Tim Tam. An apparently rare species in this part of the world, not even to be found in 'western Style' supermarkets, like the 'Lucky', that cater to the exotic tastes of Aussie tourists..

After several hours of dedicated searching, punctuated by the odd 'refreshment break', we had to concede that the delightful Turkish Tim Tams were not currently frequenting this particular area of Cambodia and settled instead for a few delightful examples of the Honeycomb family and a few more of Choc-on-choc. Perhaps not as splendid as the TD variety, in plumage, but pretty damned tasty all the same..

Booked a Tuk-Tuk for 7.30am to do the 2hr trip out to see the Temple ruins of Beng Melea..
Our driver Tuk-Tuk us via the scenic route, (see what I did there...), which was absolutely beautiful ! 
A brief stop at "The-Best- Toilets-in-Cambodia" and we were all set for a couple of hours of scrambling over rocks'n'rubble..
One small step for me, one giant step for my li'l girl..and one split seam in new, quality, Cambodian pants...and no Jas, I can't see your pink-polka-dot knickers.
These ruins are from the same era as Angkor Wat but, being substantially smaller, they are much easier to see in a day and, since they have not been restored, are not as overrun with tourists.

Then a few manic weeks to show Jas around the 'Bong' & wrap things up for my month-long absence.
Took Jas to the Circus, Phare Ponleu Selpak - "Phsong Preng"

To a Khmer wedding -  Kan's adopted daughter..

Trivia @ 'Here Be Dragons' - (chili vodka shots), with Dani, Kate, Lavy (& 1 of Lavy's girlfriends..) & Lars..

 Sky Club - tehehe,
Doubling Jas around the insane streets of the 'Bong on a moto...sticking to the 'Drink & Drive' rules we've set in place : 
"If you're going to drink'n'drive, stay out late enough so that there aren't any innocents left on the streets.."
A brief visit to Phnom Sampov to see the bats and suddenly it's time to head back to Oz for Al's Graduation and a fun month of R & R...
With those hugs young man!

Thanx Kate & Dani for a Fine Farewell, thanx(?) Lavy for the bugs and thanx to Untac & Seavyi for the Hugs..

Mmmm...Frogs-on-a-stick, Crickets...and BUGS!!

Post-dinner collapse..once yo're sittin', there's only one way to go...It's too damned hot & we're too damned full to get up....

Lavy: "I swear to god.."
Me: " that would be to the god you don't believe in.."
Lavy: " yes..I swear by the god I don't believe in.."
Untac: " this is not going well Lavy..."

Sunday, 10 March 2013

# 27: Buses, Tuk-Tuks & Zen..

Having counted down the days for the last month, my gorgeous girl has finally arrived in Cambodia. The poor girl spent 25 hrs travelling, but only 10 hrs in the air. That's a lot of hours curled up in airport chairs...

Bodgy Buses from Battambang
I, on the other hand, left Battambang at noon on Wednesday for the '6hr' bus trip to Phnom Penh. Just over 90 mins into the trip, a disturbingly loud clunk slowed said bus to a frustrating crawl and we travelled the next couple of hours at a maximum speed of 20km/hr..
Terrific for sightseeing...Great opportunity to practice patience....and zen...and sleep....and a little more patience...

Turns out the transmission had somewhat imploded, but this is Cambodia, the bus was not actually we just kept driving.
3 hrs into the trip, we pulled into the first rest stop..only to discover that the insane shuddering we'd all noticed over the last half hour or so, had been due to a snapped-n-two shock absorber on the front wheel...closely followed by a very flat tyre!

The driver called the office, the office said just wait there and we'll send a replacement bus, the passengers laughed and we all settled in for the 'just-15-minutes-Madame' wait for the replacement bus.

An hour & a half later, bus #2 arrived, we piled in and set off again.

Yep, they all just laughed - I love this country, nothing upsets the Khmer and I'm slowly learning not to worry about the things I have no control over.... like buses that shit themselves, causing planned journeys to take hours longer than expected, and plans based on 'official' schedules to be more akin to a dreamy ideal than anything remotely like reality.

We arrived in Phnom Penh at 9pm and I grabbed a tuk-tuk to go to to Kyra's place - thankyou for that, Lovely. 
When I booked the midday bus from Battambang, my plan had been to drop my gear and head out for some dinner but, after spending 9, coffee free hours on the silly-bus, I instead settled for one, very strong coffee, dropped the mattress on the floor under the ceiling fan and promptly fell asleep. This is not something I'm accustomed to doing at Kyra's place but, after a bus trip of unrivalled absurdity and without the company of my Aussie Babes and/or a litre or two of Kyra's extraordinary cocktails, it was the best I could manage.

Tuk-tuk booked for a 9am pickup to go to the airport, was right on time.
Jas' plane, on the other hand was about 1/2 hr late... no problem, just have another coffee.

Finally got to hug my girl ! 
We returned to Kyra's, dumped more bags, drank more coffee, then out to the markets for clothes and stuff..
Dropped all the shopping off at 'home' & went in search of food... 

We soon found Lemongrass Restaurant where we ate a small mountain of food....washed down with some wonderful juices, then wandered up the road for a 'proper' coffee. By now Jas was looking a little like a zombie so, because I love her, we went home to watch movies and go to sleep.
At this point we met Ty. A particularly endearing tuk-tuk driver who won us both over with his smiles, his command of English, his gentle manner and his reply of "whatever you think is fair" when asked "How much?". We used his services for the duration of our stay in PP.

Friday morning, Ty arrived to take us to Botanico for a scrumptious breakfast - I just love their "Creamy Scrambled Eggs'...not to mention (which I will..) the terrific coffee.

Then back home, grab our gear and onto the midday bus for the '5-6 hr' trip to Siem Reap. 
Of course, 5-6 hours was just kidding. The "highway" is STILL being repaired (groan..) so, after 8 1/2 hrs and with slightly aching backs, we arrived in Siem Reap at 8.30pm. The trip had an extra 1/2 hr or so added to the end because the driver didn't go straight to the depot but decided instead that, since the delay had no doubt caused some inconvenience to his passengers, he would set about delivering each and every one of them to the street they wanted. A charming gesture, but since neither of us new the layout of Siem Reap, we didn't realise that one of those countless streets had been the one where our hotel was, so when we finally did reach the depot and told him where we had to go, he apologised and arranged for one of the Capital Transport tuk-tuks to take us back.
How accommodating, we thought, until the driver realised he had a very flat tyre and proceeded to drive around in search of a pump...

Finally, made it to the hotel. Hot showers and coffee..hang on, there's no kettle in our room. Hmmm, just ask room service to bring some up - "sorry madam, the kitchen is closed, you can get coffee after 6am..."

Zen,zen,zen...get dressed
Well what do you know, there's an awesome cafe just around the corner - Bon Cafe. Strong coffee, free WiFi, great juices AND cocktails..
Mission accomplished !

Thursday, 14 February 2013

# 26: “Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” - Christopher Hitchins

Now that my amazing new life has become 'normal', I no longer seem to be reeling in stunned amazement at everything I see and hear.
My inner story-teller is being challenged, but I shall, nevertheless, try to find some entertaining tales for you.

I have made one interesting observation that still has me totally puzzled:
This city is overrun by dogs. They're everywhere.
No specific breeds, unless you count mongrel as a breed.
They enjoy constant, indiscriminate mating. A habit that the kids (and my Tuk-Tuk driver) find endlessly entertaining, so there are always more, really cute little puppies around.
There is no regular street cleaning. A relevant point, because....


I am sure of this, because I have looked. 
I've looked from the dubious 'comfort' of my company Tuk-Tuk..
I've looked from the even more dubious 'comfort' of my bicycle..
I've looked as I stroll around the streets on foot..
I've even tried looking from the genuine comfort of my rented moto - although that was a little tricky, since I actually had to focus on the other traffic in order to avoid dying..
Now, my beautiful little Goddaughters have 2 dogs, Jack and Bronson and I can attest to the amount of landmines those 2 can deposit in a day (the dogs, not the goddaughters... although....). I've also, personally, witnessed the slightly disturbing habit that little Jack, the Jack Russell, has of eating the anal offerings of his much larger buddy, Bronson the Golden Lab, but surely that's not the answer - Battambang's dog population cannot possibly be devouring all the evidence!

Just another of life's amazing mysteries, I guess...

On a much less crappy note, I finally got my Cambodian licence - which, of course has my address on it, complete with the name of my Village and the name of my Commune...

Unfortunately it's in Khmer, so I still don't know where I live..

This joyous event did allow me to grab a moto for the last long weekend - woohoo!

Rode for an hour up National Road 5 to Khum Chrouy Sdau to go to another wedding.
Cchaiya's family and 600 of their closest friends.. copious amounts of food, even more beer, which was being drunk through straws.... making for a gaggle of drunken uncles..

Had a fun day, drank beers with the uncles and cousins, danced with friends and family and managed to ride home without dying..

The only slightly 'hairy' moment happened while I was overtaking one of the ubiquitous, gravity-defying, over-loaded trucks on the 'highway'.

 Nice, wide stretch of straight road, a bus coming the other way but still plenty of room...until another overladen truck popped out and started overtaking said bus.
It was a few seconds of scanning for potential escape routes, realising there weren't any and ultimately accepting that there would either be enough room for all 4 of us ...or things would get a little messy...

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), there was enough room, or I wouldn't be sitting here writing this stuff.

I then spent the next 2 days riding all around town and the nearby countryside.
Such a buzz - must buy a moto of my own!

Let's see, what else have I done over the last 2 weeks...

I started a couple of online courses from University of Edinburgh..
  • "Critical Thinking in Global Challenges" 
  • "Introduction to Philosophy"
Both really interesting - I've even been giving some of the exercises to my older students. They got a real buzz from being able to do some 'Uni-level' work...
We're focusing on Critical Thinking at the moment 'cause they still don't really understand how much misinformation is out there, let alone have the skills needed to recognise it.

Loving the little gems that spring from the minds of children, as I do, I thought I'd share this one with you:
I was talking to a Canadian traveller at one of our favourite Friday night haunts, the Balcony Bar, last week and he related a story about a friend of his who had lived here in Battambang for about 5 years. His son was born here and when they returned to Canada his, then 4 yr old, son asked a question that kinda sums up some crucial differences between life here and life in the West:  
"Dad, I like it here 'cause it's all clean and I have lots of toys, but why is everyone in such a hurry, they never stop to talk to me and why are all the doors closed in the daytime?"
Says it all really.....

And lastly, a game that's played all over town, anywhere there's a bit of space; footpaths...parks...roads:

This game only requires people - 2 or more, and a 10 cent, plastic, feathered, bouncy, shuttlecocky-thingy and a very little bit of space.
It's played by anyone, of any age, boys and girls..and occasionally dogs....but they cheat...they tend to catch it and run away...
 While this game CAN be played with 2 teams on either side of a net, that's a bit prohibitive for most Battambangers, so all the games I've seen are played by standing in a ring, using hands, heads and feet. Just keep that thingy-whatsit from hitting the ground!
Great exercise...well, it probably is, I must try it....some the future...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

# 25: "Every Picture tells a Story.." - Ronnie Wood

First, to subtly remedy an omission from my last post...

and what's this?  A toy?
and it's a boy......

And that is all I have to say about my last weekend away...

So, another weekend in Phnom Penh, this time to celebrate Kyra's birthday.

With a start like this:

I should've known it would be another weekend to remember.

We left on the early bus and arrived at Kyra's, in time for the afternoon 'Daiquiri Hour', which is a lot like Cocktail Hour but with no dress code, daiquiris instead of cocktails and the time isn't really relevant...
Loaded down with gifts, munchies, a small mountain of fruit (to add to Kyra's largish mountain) and a wee bit of alcohol..Ok, lots of alcohol, I was all prepared for a nice, quiet, responsible evening in with the girls...
Yeh, that's a lie, with these sweet girls, no celebration is going to be quiet...or particularly responsible...

Me'n'Kyra doing our True Blood thing..
with raspberry daiquiris.
After a few hours, several kilos of fruit, a bottle or two of rum & vodka, some slightly disturbing photos and some beautiful & soulful 'poetry' recitals by Daisywe bravely set forth to enjoy dinner at the Yumi Restaurant - slightly ontixicated and realizing we were on the the 3rd floor of an apartment building with a steep, external staircase, not unlike a fire escape, I was impressed when we all made it to the ground below without.....well, without falling to an untimely death or, at the very least, to a broken bone or two, in the alley below...

Yumi. Japanese cuisine - bet you never guessed. 

This was a truly spectacular meal, too many dishes to name, but wasabi featured prominently as did the 2 birthday cakes - 1 from Kyra's friend & colleague (another Nat), and one that Daisy and Erin snuck off to buy, while the rest of us sampled a few vinos..
THE Birthday Cake

Yep, these girls are all Class.....

Over the next few hours we managed to finish pretty well everything on the table.
Home for a few more beverages.. and a slumber party ! Six slightly pissy chicks (btw, that's really hard to say when you're pissed...) on mattresses on Kyra's living room floor. Giggle time...

Breakfast on Sunday morning...well, at lunchtime, in a beautiful garden cafe:

Then Kyra and I had important business to take care of, while Erin & Daisy went off to get even more beautiful:
Blonde'n'Red Daisy...

 Back into a Tuk-Tuk, with Tara and Danni running shotgun, Kyra and I headed off to......

Where they served:

presumably, so you'd be numb for the Pretty Pictures....

followed by yet another delicious meal. Indian this time:

an evening listening to live jazz at River House - Nat's fiancee sings & plays sax,
... and the drummer was pretty damned cute..
 awesome music.

Started with a couple of tasty Reds, moved on to Black Russians, then Kamakazis & B52 shots, before heading back to (and I still find this hard to believe - LB is definitely on a headlong,masochistic race to oblivion) ... PONTOON..again...

Home to bed by 4am, this time, six REALLY pissy chicks all over Kyra's floor.
Oddly enough we missed the early bus home..missed the next one too...and the next one...made it to the 2pm and arrived home, a little weary, by 8.30pm.

Aaah...survived another weekend of fun, laughter and possibly, a little too much alcohol...

Thursday, 17 January 2013

# 24: “ It's the Little Moments that make Life BIG.”

Another 2 weeks have zoomed by - hmmm, seems like duty is interfering with blogging..

When I returned home from Phnom Penh after New Year, my little log cabin was wearing so much Battambang dust'n'dirt that it looked like it hadn't been lived in for years.
And that was inside, with all the windows closed...
Instant Reality Check ! Holidays are over.
So, the next few days were taken up with much wiping, dusting, sweeping, washing - floors & clothes, and general, tedious cleaning.

Then back to a beautiful welcoming commitee at the Youth Centre - I don't think the kids believed I was coming back until I actually walked into the room...
Drowning in HUGS !!

On the following weekend, I finally got to go for a ride out to Chantha's home in Khum Chroy Sdau (the commune), 3-up on  Chhaiya's motorbike.
Nikum Prea Si Ha Nu Village is about 40km NNE of Battambang and, apart from seeing one of the ever-present roaming dogs get killed by a passing car, it was a beautiful trip.

I met Chhaiya's family:
        Mum                                Dad                              Cchaiya                           
               Ratanak                          Rena                         Chan Tra Both               

stayed at Chantha's home..

and met just a few of Chantha's family - she has 9 siblings...

     Chantha & Mum                     Dad & Labin             her  94 yr old Grandma                Chantha & her old Maths teacher    Baby Labin - neice #3                  Virey - neice #1           

We wandered around the rice paddies..

 until sunset..

and the next morning, after a stunning sunrise...

enjoyed a wonderful breakfast picked from the multitude of fruit trees around the house. There are bananas, milfruit, mango, papaya, cashews, coconuts, passionfruit and more that I can't even name. Then Chantha took me for a walk to see the rest of her village.

First stop, the Pagoda next door:
Then the 'hospital' across the road:

and finally, her old primary school - not sure if the name is such a good choice though, even if it was named after the man who donated the funds to build it...
The entrance             The Clumsy Hans School              Classrooms
   Virey at the water pump          lovely grounds           Best basketball ring EVER

Then back to Cchaiya's to enjoy the magnificent lunch he'd prepared for us - among other things, he's is a great cook.

Back to Battambang in time for dinner at one of my growing list of favourite restaurant/cafes.The 'identity-confused' Ganesha.
Named after a Hindu god, owned by a German, serving Khmer & Western cuisine.
Kind of indicative of BtB really... 

This week we had a visit from a lovely lady who sponsors a couple of our children. She visits twice a year and, while she's here, does craft sessions with all the kids.
They enjoyed it so much, especially the Youth Centre kids who, I suspect, have never done anything like it before...
I love doing craft with kids - it was so simple and they were absolutely enthralled!

We finally got to do "Where The Wild Things Are" - one of my all time favourites and, now, a great favourite of our Grade 3's as well. When I named all the Wild Things in the story after the children and asked them to show me how ferocious they could be, they were hilarious, and extremely LOUD. 
Probably should have given that idea a little more thought, apologies to the class next door...

And today was "Ice Cream Day" for the Youth Centre kids...our totally Ethical, monthly 'this-is-not-a-bribe-but-a-reward' day.
I left with 12 freshly washed, smiling kids and returned with 12 deliriously happy, somewhat hyperactive, chocolate-coated children.

 What fun !!

 and who new fish liked cornettos....

I know I like boys with flowers in their hair

and children who just love each other......Aaaw

This adorable little girl had to have her head shaved to help a nasty skin infection. She was so embarrassed, she started wearing a towel, wrapped around her little head. When I bought her this scarf, all the other kids started telling her how beautiful she looked -
 " look like a Mongol princess.." 
Now they all want one just like hers - no problem says I, just come over here so I can shave your head.... "Aaah, NO! I don't want my hair cut off!"
Fits of giggling..
As always, the spirit of these beautiful children rushes into my heart and warms my soul. They tease each other, like all children, but when they can see one of them is really hurting they become gentle, thoughtful & loving.
It's an absolute pleasure to behold.

This weekend we're off to Phnom Penh to celebrate the Daiquiri Diva's birthday - cause parties in PP are such a hoot...

I may or may not return to write another post in a few days...

Saturday, 5 January 2013

# 23: "The Smoker you Drink, the Player you Get.." - Joe Walsh

And so, the Final Leg - New Years Eve awaits...

Having organised a gaggle of motos to carry us & our significantly lighter luggage, back into town for the 7am bus, we stood by the gate, nervously waiting as the clock ticked, gave a sigh of relief when they arrived only 5 mins late and then, like true locals, piled ourselves and all our bags onto the bikes.
Of course the bus left late anyway and this time it wasn't even full. Room to move. Flaming luxury!
Nevertheless, no morning coffee...again.
I believe I can feel a conniption coming on...
Starting my day without coffee is wrong, it's like, well, it's just....wrong.

After what I believe was a totally uneventful bus trip, although, since I slept pretty well the whole way, it is possible that we had several near misses, maybe even slaughtered a few animals along the way, 'cause we arrived in Phnom Penh in record time...just after 12.30pm.
Anyway, we went straight to the Paragon to dump our bags and enjoy a long, hot shower, then off to hit the Russian Market - Psah Toul Tom Pong ( sounds a lot like 'totem pole' - which is a totally meaningless observation, just sayin').
Oh, and 'Psah' means 'market'.

This is when we discovered another of Kate's hidden talents. That girl can really bargain !! We even had to buy new backpacks to carry all the stuff we bought.
But come the night, WE LOOKED GORGEOUS!!

OK, some more gorgeous than others..

 Heading to Kyra's apartment for a few little drinkies & snacks...

You have to admit, we look pretty damned stunning!!

At least at the beginning of the night..

Later on, maybe not so much...

Kyra, deciding to fortify our constitutions with something wholesome, had bought a cool Kermit-Green blender and a small mountain of yummy fruit; strawberries, raspberries, watermelon & mango with which to dilute the Vodka...
Not to mention fresh & crunchy  cucumber, capsicum and carrots to scoop up the delicious dips.
That really is a stupid phrase isn't it? "not to mention". when obviously, you are going to mention it...
Anyway, I digress.

Kyra, with all due ceremony, I hereby christen thee our Honorary 'Daiquiri Diva' !
Those drinks were sensational - if a little dangerously easy to drink..
Not a problem though, 'cause I'm pretty damned sure we covered the most important vegetarian food groups - being chock-full of fruit.. and potatoes...

And another countdown to midnight...

Then back into tuk-tuks and off into the bright lights & loud music of New Years Eve in Phnom Penh. 
The city was ALIVE!

I have to confess here that I'm not sure how many places we visited. I seem to recall sitting down at a place called "Ruby's"..which may or may not be where I took the pic below..
 No prizes for guessing which drink I ordered..

And the Charming Kyra welcomes you to this 'Charming' town.

and I definitely don't remember this little gem..
Dim Sums that can totally "Kick you Arse", I suppose.

So, while the memory may be a 'little' hazy, I do have photographic evidence that we didn't go straight to the venue that kept us dancing 'til just before sunrise
The now infamous PONTOON...

As I said: "later on, not so much.."
Yeh Kids, your old Ma had a bit of a Flashback and apparently danced all night. 
Don't even remember the last time I did that..I'm sure, if I could remember THIS night with any kind of clarity it would be to my undying embarrassment.
What happens on the dance floor, stays on the dance floor...tehehe..mostly.

Stevi..miss you already...

What a night !
*smiley face*

You girls are all so gorgeous, no wonder some repulsive slimeball decided to spike one of your drinks...

I guess it was a blessing, of sorts, that it only got one of you, since we were all sharing drinks and that when the crisis became obvious the rest of us were there to get you to hospital and nurse you back to your bubbly self. 

It was a shitty way to end a truly wonderful night.

The following day, when we were all back together again, we made an executive decision to call the officially recognised 1st January 2013, DAY ZERO, our year will only have 364 days, beginning with this beautiful sunrise on our very own 01.01.2013..

Now I'm back home at last, in my comfy little cabin, with my comfy 'little' bed and a DAMNED WEDDING UP THE STREET !!!   Aaaahh...Home Sweet Home.