Cambodia = Kampuchean

Cambodia = Kampuchean

Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010 - With and Bang and a Bust!

In general, "Cambodia"  is going so well! SWELL, indeed. Although work matters are on a bit of a hold right now. The general mood of holidays and that sort of thing...

The school newsletter project that im implementing (in collab with folks here, of course!) is going as per plan. we will kick start the next year with first meeting (and therefore, "training") sessions with students who volunteered for the student-run newspaper clubs that we're launching. this pilot project is only being launched at 3 secondary schools that we picked out of all the schools KAPE works with. each school will produce their very own school newsletter/4-pg newspaper every month. exciting and very tangible stuff. yahoo!

It is now the best (=most comfortable) "season" in cambodia. the cool-and-dry season. come feb, it will transform to hot-and-dry. and then later in the year it becomes hot-and-wet, which is perhaps the least comfortable, albeit most beautiful, I'll bet. So the days are cooler this time of year; there's always a wonderful breeze about, and the nights can sometimes get chilly. There was this one night that I actually had to turn the fan off and pull on a heavy sweater. Whoppa.

I can speak rudimentary Khmer now. How are you? Fine? FINE! Where are you going? The market? How much is that? TOO MUCH MONEY, OLDER BROTHER/SISTER/AUNTY/OLD LADY!, NO MONEY!! and important stuff like that... :P I've also quickly picked up the necessary words that, when strung together, allow me to be sassy-in-khmer. Of course I did.

Laurel asked me what the coolest thing was that happened to me this past week.  'Well, nothing really COOL happened to me this past week. but something incredibly memorable did. and boy, can you say THAT again. ;) i was in a road accident. christmas day/ christmas miracle and all that warming-of-the-cockles-of-the-heart kind of material. I got t-boned smack on the left by a speeding motorbike fella as I was biking across a road. No mortal injuries. No broken bones. No head trauma. Oh, hello there Sheer Luck! But she did leave me some tokens: sore torso, bruises and scratches, and an bittersweet appreciation for the diversity of peoples. I encountered both, disturbingly stoic and indifferent people (who, btw, proceeded to just stand and stare at me as I lay heaped in the middle of a busy thoroughfare), and unbelievably and unfathomably kind and caring few others (whose actions made me weep).

Anyhow, all is well. Convalescence is swift and incredibly successful. Perhaps another 2 days of rest (I stopped taking painkillers couple days ago) and voila! fit as a fiddle.

Headed to Phnom Penh (PP) for some New Year's festivities. Yahoo!

Jhoom Reap Soo-er 2011!

ps- (Uh, btw, that was me saying, how are you 2011. So, this tells you how often I use the wrong phrases. Cute. But inappropriate phrasing.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water Festival Shenanigans: A Day Trip

Cambodia - the "Kingdom of Wonder" - loves its Water Festival. What other reason could there be for the good and long four-day weekend and the arrival of the masses witnessed by the city of Phnom Penh? Seriously. Millions upon millions of people come flocking over to Phnom Penh to partake in the festivities that constitute the annual "Water Festival".

Here's what makes this festival something to cheer about:
There are two characters in this short story - the Tonle Sap and the Mekong  (tonle pronounced tone-lay means "river"). The two ribbons snake their way southbound and meet in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. After heavy showers a la the monsoon season, Mekong - the mightier, more aggressive and rather well traveled one - gathers up speed and force as it makes its way to the South China Sea (via Vietnam). And since "something's always gotta give," the result is a rather unique phenomenon wherein there is a reversal of Tonle Sap's flow to a northbound course. Rare and quite neat, yes? Well, it appears the historic peoples of Cambodia felt the same way, and thus was born the Water Festival.

 There are stalls and stalls of food and drinks and promotional marketing. There was the feeling of being at the Fair. I think I may have seen a Ferris Wheel out in the horizon.

This is also a time when people enjoy the water games and boat races.

Pedro, Leonard and I headed to Phnom Penh on an 8am bus, arriving at 11am. While Pedro went about his own uncharted plans, Lenny and I took to a nice long walk towards the river and then hung out at a restaurant which was perfectly located for aviewing of the semi-finals of the boat races.

An unfortunate incident involving a sinking boat along the bank of the river! I have to admit, it was a bit comical.  Also, this was a team that had just finished a race, so no real harm done. :)

Lenny and I on a motor (pronouned mo-toe) on our way back to Central Market.

That is where the Sorya Buses leave for various destinations. Mine? Kampong Cham, of course. Usually the ticket costs Riel 15,000 ($3.75) one-way, but during the Water Festical everything is hiked. So I paid a solid Riel 20,000 ($5) for the bus ride.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Urban Wedding

JaNise teaches at a local secondary school here in Kampong Cham. This young woman in her acquaintance at the school invited JaNise to her wedding. JaNise even received a personalized wedding invite - hello! So, the rule, apparently, is that if you receive an invite, you can go ahead and invite other friends as your Plus One or Two or Three..... Or maybe that only applies to barangs (= the word for "french folk" that has come to mean "foreigner"), who knows? :)

Erin, Lauren and I joined JaNise in attendance. [The two ladies are also Peace Corps volunteers in the Kampong Cham province, but only JaNise works in Kampong Cham town within the province.]

JaNise had a few pieces of traditional Kampuchean outfits that we borrowed. You can see me here sporting a typically shiny and incredibly frilly blouse(?) that goes with the pencil skirt that is called a sampot. Of course, as you can see, the one I borrowed from JaNise is a a toned-down everyday-use version of the hello-there-sequin-and-lace-overload which ALL the Kampuchean ladies (and JaNise!) tend to show off at weddings. The more the bling, the more the bang. The wedding hall was filled with glitterings and all - of all shades of the rainbow and of all shapes of people.

 Here are some pictures to tide us over the lack of visuals.

Bride's Outfit #1

Gosh, she's gorgeous, eh?
Bride's Outfit #2

An addition to the Family

I've been in  Cambodia for nearly 2 months now. (Whoa!) About a month and a half ago, I moved into my own apartment here in Kampong Cham. About three weeks later, I was joined by a

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What am I doing here anyway?

Hello there, curious one. I am here to tell you about my work.

I work with the organizations called World Education Inc. and KAPE (Kampuchean Action for Primary Education). KAPE is the local implementer of the projects involved. The "Improved Basic Education in Cambodia Project" (IBECP) is an integrated project involving the two organizations. One of the IBECP initiatives is the IT-integration project. It aims at diversifying the presence of

Siem Reap - Land of the Angkorian Temples

It was early October, and I'd decided, quite spontaneously, what I would be doing with my Pchum Ban (pronounced puh-choom bun) vacation. This is a four-day long weekend (Oct. 7 -10) during which all Cambodians head off to their villages/ native towns to celebrate in memory of their ancestors, leaving all urban areas rather empty and bleak.

Three newly found friends, who are also in Kampong Cham working with Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) had made plans to travel north to the Province of Siem Reap. I found myself jumping on their wagon barely 12 hours before

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Truth in a Grandmother's Tale

I was planning to prepare a pretty meager dinner for myself. I had just jumped into my shorts, ready to lounge for a few minutes before I began the "arduous" task of whipping up a ramen/maggi noodle storm, when I heard Mrs. Sitach Korn shuffling up

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Very Own Nest

Today I head to what is to be my home for the next nine months. The rent is a bit steep, but frills seems worth the price. Also, I think the landlady ought to be credited with a savvier sense of running a apartment rental business: she quotes a price that rolls in the cost of all the frills so that she can happily and emphatically claim that they are "all for free!" Frills, you ask? This is no shoe string budget affair, I promise you. The apartment (and landlady, to be sure) boast of its fridge, TV ("with all channels!"), washing machine (not very common to the Kampong Cham lifestyle), air conditioning, fans, two bedrooms, doors and windows doubled up with meshed ones, a kitchen stocked with utensils, and finally, a fully furnished house. All for the blessed price of $250 per month. Steep, my friends, very steep. But I took it. Reasons:  the sweet old landlady lives downstairs, I can actually bike to work in under 5 minutes, and the place is close to the market as well as the Mekong River. (For travelers interested, the latter is where all foreign visitors congregate. MUWCI folks, you will recognize it to be Kampong Cham's "German Bakery")

So I opted for safety over thriftiness. While a lion's share of my stipend will go toward the rent, I think I'll be good since I will only have utilities and food of which to take care - I guess, I'm hoping they don't amount to too much. Ultimately, safety over the Tummy, eh? Maybe, I've gone a bit overboard...

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Refuge

- Chan Sokha picked me up at the airport in Phnom Penh, and together we journeyed the 2-hour trip to Kampong Cham, all the while battling his minimal English skills and my deplorable lack of any Khmer at all. Looking out the windows, I saw the frequent presence of Cambodian and ...Indian flags! "Cambodia" is currently rejoicing it's friendship and solidarity with India, it seems. This bilateral relationship, while not entirely surprising, is news to me in its explicit display of affection. Who knew...

I will be staying at Kurt's home until I find a place to rent in town. Kurt Bredenberg may be considered the head of operations of an integrated project involving two organizations: World Education and KAPE (Kampuchean Action for Primary Education). Kurt's home also doubles up as a staff house, with four other KAPE staff members living on one of the floors. The compound surrounding this house as well as the interior design of the house present a kind of tropical paradise, no less! Lush greenery, modest areas of lawn and generous numbers of coconut and banana trees ensconce the house. Inside, (a la Kurt?) the walls are decorated with neatly framed paintings, indigenous artwork in sculpture and, once again, splashes of "natural" decor that mirror the abundant foliage present outside.

[Indirectly related aside:
I love etymology. I discovered something today from a fantastic book on the Wonders of the World that belongs to Kurt. Did you know that the word "paradise" was adapted from the Indo-Iranic word paradeisha? The latter refers to a "supreme elevated land". I also realized how similar it is to the Urdu/Hindi word pardes (pronounced par-dayz) meaning "other/ foreign land". Now, what I find fascinating is the fact that I've been using both, paradise and pardes, my entire life, without realizing that they sound incredibly alike, without realizing that there was a time deep in history when certain peoples created the common root of the word. Oh Golly Gee! Origin of language still boggles me to no end... ]

Notes on a Visa-Stamped Happy arrival

- Phnom Penh is 15hours ahead of the US west coast. Whoa. As little or much as I have traveled by airline, I refuse to "get over" the incredibly fascinating experience of flying across time zones. I boarded my flight in San Francisco 1:40am of the 14th, slept for what seemed like the night, and completed the 11-hour journey only to arrive in Taipei, Taiwan mid-morn on the "15th"!

-I try to check in online whenever I'm flying. I always have an inner struggle involving the pros and cons of the window seat versus the aisle seat. Naturally, aisle wins. Always. But this time, it was hard. Wouldn't I be missing out on some glorious views of the Pacific Ocean, as we sailed across the skies? Well, as luck would have it, I was too tired to stay awake for the show in any case. But the few times my eyes fluttered open, thanks to the nasal flight attendants, I met with a disappointing view: a relentless, inky black curtain that refused to part.

-I was told that when I arrived in Phnom Penh there was a chance I would be asked for proof of my return journey. So, it is important that you know, for the purpose of realizing the urgency in this story, that I didn't in fact have a "return ticket"! Whoops? Not really. My stay in Cambodia ends June 2011 - there's no way to get a ticket nine months in advance (of course, for obvious reasons I didn't consider the "open ended" tickets that cost a heap more). I was also told that upon showing Cambodian visa officials World Education's official letter of hire I would be whisked through the short process. After a few mini-episodes of miscommunication, the blessed letter was "recognized" and, well,...all's well that ends well, eh?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pre-Arrival Session

San Francisco is the last city/town at which I will have stayed. I think it is a lovely way to end this tryst with the USA, and I say "this" because, let's be honest, another visit/stay is inevitable. But the westward journey is incomplete yet...

It hasn't sunk in that I'm headed to work in Cambodia.  The "feel" of the flight is going to be very different considering most of the passengers seem to hail from either East  Asia or South-east Asia, by which I'm referring to the fact that I never seem to have boarded a flight that didn't have a significant number of Indian passengers. What an odd realization; an intriguing subconscious expectation.

Eva Air flies to Taiwan, and onward to Phnom Penh, Cambodia thereafter. A few complications with the visa might emerge as it is one that can be got "on arrival", but nothing too serious to remain unsolved - that's what I am told. I'll take that attitude any day.

Adios USA, hello Cambodia (Kampuchean)!