Every day I climb on the back of a little guy’s motorbike and he drives me to school, for the princely sum of $1. Here are some shots from my journey on Friday…
Last week it was the Kings Birthday here in Cambodia. (happy birthday mate!!) That meant I had a 4 day weekend, so I decided to head out of town, up north to Rattanakiri province to check it out. The bus ride was supposed to be 10 hours, and was supposed to leave a 6.00 am. Now, it is highly unusual for a bus in Cambodia to leave on time, and that is something I have learned to deal with. However, it is a tad frustrating when the bus leaves half an hour late because 2 French people have probably slept through their alarm. They finally boarded all smiles and laughs, without an inkling of remorse for the rest of us who have sat unnecessarily on a bus for the last half hour…. As the bus headed off, on came the blast of Cambodian Karaoke tunes from the on-board television. As I pulled out my ipod which had been packed specifically for the purpose of drowning out the tunes the locals like to enjoy at maximum volume, one of the French couple vacated their seat, and told the bus driver to turn down the music… Uncomfortable smiles were shared between all those who had been enjoying the music as the driver obliged. It was then that a man behind me began to talk on his mobile phone. (probably bitching to his mate about how the music had been turned down..) The next thing I know, the French man is turning around and screaming at the man on his phone to ‘Shut-up!!!’
The main reason I decided to head north on this trip was because I had heard there was beautiful jungle this direction. So I was hoping the 2nd half of the bus journey would provide me with some nice scenery. Unfortunately for me, I got stuck sitting next to a girl who had the window seat, and was the ONLY person on the bus who insisted on pulling the curtain across the window. So, the view I had hoped would make the 10 hours bearable was denied!!!
11 hours later, we arrived in the town of Banlung where I stayed for a couple of days, knotched up some miles on a very dodgy bicycle, saw a couple of waterfalls and a stunning lake. As always, it was 40 degree heat and I timed a 6 k ride back from the waterfall, up hill for the hottest part of the day, but hey, whats new!!
I decided on my way home to stop overnight in a town called Kratie, to break up the journey. Here I again went on a beautiful bike ride and watched an amazing sunset over the Mekong… Whilst taking in this spectacular view, a young local came over to practise his English. I obliged and when he went to leave he asked me for my phone number for next time he was in Phnom Penh. Thinking nothing of it, I handed it over. The very next day, at 11.30pm, I received a text. Here’s what it said…
Hello beauty full girl. hello good teacher. you sleep yet? Today you tired? My feeling tell me that i miss you so much. You remember me or not? I’m yaris. i stay in kratie province. i want to talk with alot…alot…alot..if you dont sleep, you reply me ok? I’m waiting you reply sms to me. xxx
I think I’m in love….
Here’s the sunset he interrupted….
I’d like to say I received this injury whilst saving starving orphans from a dump, or through rescuing bears from poachers in the depths of the Cambodian jungle, but alas I would be lying. Unfortunately my tale of woe is a lot less interesting…
Recently I had a pair of sensible English teaching sandals made here in Phnom Penh. For $15, they are great. However, as with many new shoes, they began to rub my foot after I was caught in the monsoonal rain. As I was at work, I had no choice but to suffer the pain. I find when new shoes do rub, tis best to just stick on a plaster and ride out the pain. And this I did. But after another day of ouchies, I decided to change shoes for the remainder of the week, and let my wound heal. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas, and by Friday, my foot was actually in agony. Nothing a few brewskies wouldn’t solve I thought, but by Sunday, I decided perhaps I should have my foot checked out by a professional. After all, I didn’t really want to lose my righty!!
The first clinic I attended wanted to charge me $100 for a consultation. The 2nd asked for $50, so I sadly accepted their terms. For that exorbitant price I received a dousing of Betadine, and a prescription for rather pricey antibiotics. Money well spent…. not! But at least I still have a foot.
5 dead mosquitoes. 6 dead mosquitoes. Seriously, why were they all hanging around me?? I was on the bus, headed back to Phnom Penh from Koh Kong, the border town near Thailand. I had had the opportunity to take an air-conditioned taxi back to the capital , but for the sake of a measly $13, I had refused. And in the process, I lost $50, or if you will, a day’s pay.
Let me backtrack a little for you. To get from Phnom Penh to Koh Chang, I had paid $23. At the time I had thought the price quite steep, but for less stress and because of the lovely girl who sold me my ticket, I paid up. The journey; completely non-problematic. So when I decided to return to PP, I again went to 3 different travel agents in Koh Chang and was quoted 15oo baht, or $50 if you will for the reverse journey. I knew I could do it cheaper off my own bat, so that I did. All was going well and I had only spend $15 by the time I crossed the border.
As I crossed, various touts informed me that the express bus I desired was full, and that I should catch a share taxi back home for $20. However, me being the seasoned traveller that I am (yeah right…) decided these guys were taking me for a ride (excuse the pun) so instead I headed for the bus station where sure enough, I was told the bus I wanted was full, but that a shittier version would leave in 2 hours time for the inflated foreign price of $12. (Locals pay $7) Begrudgingly, I paid and headed into town for some deliciously cheap lunch. I then wasted some time on good old ‘facebook’ before heading back to the bus station. When I went to pay for my moto driver, the hand in my pocket sensed that the $50 I had exchanged from baht back at the border was gone. Had I unconsciously put it in my wallet? No, I hadn’t. Nor had I put it in any of my other 4 pockets. It was definitely gone. So, I boarded my mosquito ridden, barely air-conditioned bus, trying to convince myself that some Cambodian had found $50 worth of New Year luck in the streets of Koh Kong that day. As for me, in an effort to save myself $27, I had parted with $80 that day, and it was only 1.20pm.
It was when the 48th bucket of water was thrown at my head in Koh Chang by a stupid backpacker during Songkran (Thai New Year) that I decided that perhaps I am too old and cynical to do the Thailand island circuit for the second time around. I decided I hated all backpackers and was furious at myself for forgetting how ordinary the food is in island tourist locations in Thailand….
However, instead of packing it all in and heading back to Phnom Penh, I decided a change of surroundings was in order, so after a quick consultation with the Lonely Planet, I headed for a small nearby island called Koh Mak. After a 2 hour slow boat ride through and passageway of small islands with deserted white beaches, I reached my destination and was soon settled in a beachside bungalow complete with my own hammock. I then proceeded to spend the afternoon reading between dips in the ocean. Happy times.
Now it may be due to my red hair and whiter than white skin, that I am quickly bored on a beach. I had also forgotten that Thai beaches, though quite stunning, their water temperature sits at about 40 degrees celcius, so when its warmer in the water than out… not such a relief from the blistering heat!! The beach is ok for a day or two, but then I want to know.. whats next??? So this morning I decided it was cycling!!! Earlyish I hired a ‘mountain bike’ and set out to ride around the island.
AN hour later I had hit my 3rd dead end, had pushed my ‘mountain bike’ up to many hills to recollect and was pouring with sunscreen infused sweat… (whats that saying about only mad dogs and englishmen going out in the midday sun!!??)I had almost given up on the whole stupid idea, when I finally hit a sealed road and was at a beach on the opposite side of the island from whence I had come. Score!!!! White sand, palm trees, beachside bar and much cooler water temperatures quckly made me forget my dripping face, sunscreen covered clothing and legs turned some shade of ochre from the red dirt tracks. But in the back of my mind I still knew I would have to somehow get back…..
It truly astounds me how much time I wasted on the internet during my time in Korea. Admittedly, I did have little choice chained to my desk as I was at the time, but here in Cambodia, logging onto the WWW just seems all too hard!!
As I may or may not have mentioned, I am teaching English predominantly to kindergarten children here in Phnom Penh. I moved out of a guest house into my own apartment recently, where my neighbours all seem to be old foreign men who look like they are here for ‘good times,’ if you catch my drift. I am pretty much convinced my actual next door neighbour is a prostitute, though how I prove this to be so is beyond me. All I know is that there seems to be an array of different ‘gentlemen’ leaving her apartment at all hours of the day. This morning I left my apartment in search of a bicycle to rent for the day, and ended up a few hours later, $30 lighter, as the owner of my own mode of transport!! Very exciting stuff!
Teaching 3 and 4 year old Cambodians to speak English is exhausting and hilarious all at the same time. I’m hoping to move onto older kids soon, but the funny shit they do does crack me up. For example, yesterday I was pointing out students who had been excellent that class. I then feel a tap on my leg and see 3 year old Simeng, who has pissed his pants, standing there naked asking ‘Teacher, have I been excellent today?”‘ ( The same child I caught the previous week peeing into the classroom bin!) I often look down to a sea of faces with fingers firmly planted up their noses, who then want to hold my hand. I am constantly flashed by little girls, and watch as the little boys check out each others penis’… Its a good thing I’m no paedophile!!
I have a 2 hour lunch break here, and as I work a fair distance from where I live, I decided to join a gym to fill this gap of time. The gym is quite modern and on the 4th floor of a building. Many Cambodians sensibly sleep over lunch time (hence my 2 hour break) so the gym is usually quite empty when I am there. Sometimes, however, I am joined by a group of local men, who I think are just there for a catch up rather than any real exercise. I have witnessed them though, treadmill running in flip flops and exiting loud grunts as they try to bicep curl 10 kilos. I do believe they think as long as they work up a sweat (not through actual exercise but by steaming in up in a 4th floor building in the middle of the day without turning on the air con) they are getting fit. Hey, but Im not complaining. I figure they just make me look better!! The change room at the gym is a whole other experience. A woman stands and watches me as I change and shower each day. I have tried to tell her I’m ok and don’t need any assistance, but I think it might be part of her job, and as I am the only woman who ever seems to be there, I can hardly deny the woman the one break she has from mopping the spotless floor for the millionth time that day!!
* A man on a motorbike loaded with enough bananas to feed a small nation
* A man running on a treadmill wearing flip flops
* 2 chicken breasts in the supermarket for $1.50
* A turd left on the staircase to my classroom by my kindergarten student
* Another turd left on my classroom floor by another student
* Approximately 8500 tuk tuk drivers all wanting to take me for a ride
* Possibly 10200 moto drivers also wanting to give me a lift
I shall endeavour to have my camera with me more often to share these moments more visually with you
I write this entry from the back of a mini van headed for Siem Reap. It is Friday, 7.30am and I am meant to start work in exactly one hour and ten minutes time. As my job is in Phnom Penh, you can obviously tell this is not going to happen. Basically, I am taking my 2nd ever fake sick day in my whole life so I can dine on spit roast pig in a village where a good friend Aaron has been 10 times the person as I and has been volunteering to build houses juse outside of Siem Reap. Today is his last day on the project, so to celebrate he has spent $100 to have a pig slaughtered and spit roasted for the occasion. (in case you were wondering , this will be a feast for the entire village, not just he and I!!)
In true gutless style, I text messaged my boss at 6.10am and her lack of response could mean one of 3 things…
a) She got the message and all is well. On Monday, she will greet me with a warm embrace, asking me if Im sure Im up to working today.
b) She didnt get the message, so I should expect an angry call in about one hour’s time..
or.. c) She got the message and I rock up to school on Monday to be told my services are no longer required.
10.40am. We have just finished out pitstop en route and there has been no call from shcool. About to pile back onto the slightly running late minivan when the driver realised the sliding door ist stuck. The next 15 minutes are filled with Cambodian machoism as 6 men pull and tug and deconstruct the door to no avail. Ordinarily this sort of thing does not bother me, but knowing a tuk tuk is waiting for me in Siem Reap at 12 sharp to escort me to my piggy feast, Im slightly on edge.
Finally, it is decided we can all board from the front of the van, over the front seat, and as we do, the door is finally shoved open!! It will now be a race against the clock to ensure my stomach is sated with piggy goodness. Ahhh karma is such a bitch!!
Friday February 19th
* 1st class…. cancelled.
* Photocopier – out of paper until Monday (!?)
* Computer… out of order
* Me… sweltering in a teachers office with an hour to fill sans equipment to prepare classes for my 3rd week of teaching at my new job.
I am teaching at an English school in Phnom Penh where I started last Tuesday. (It was supposed to be Monday, but I couldn’t quite leave the pool I was lying around in Siem Reap any sooner)
Like Korea, I am learning that I am told things on a need to know basis. When I signed up for the gig I was told I would work 5 hours per day, teaching grade 1 and 2. Sweet. On my first day I was told that instead I would teach one grade 2 class and 4 kindergarten classes and though I would still be teaching 5 hours, they would be spread out over the hours of 8.40 to 5pm. Did I mention the kindergarten children are as young as 3!! Eek! However, unlike Korea,these children are delightfully happy souls who on the most part want to be here and have a bit of fun. (though not necessarlily always want to listen to their not so patient and understanding Australian teacher!) Their English also far exceeds the level of the middle school students I taught last year, despite the lack of fully functional computers and photocopying paper that was never a problem in Korean schools.
For those of you I just bored to sleep with regales of teaching……
I caught a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh last Tuesday. The guy next to me threw up. (into a plastic bag, thank heavens!) There really is nothing quite like the aroma of fresh spew in a crowded mini van whose windows are sealed shut in order to retain the blast of the ice-cold air con…..
I has occurred to me that since being in Cambodia, writing a blog entry is quite challenging for me when I have nothing to bitch about. It almost seems that I need to return to Korea simply for the subject matter, as here I am, dare I say it… happy….
I thought today I would attempt to impress you with a travel story. On the weekend, I went to Angkor Wat. In actual fact, I have been there before, but I figured, whilst in the area, I should go.
Besides the temples themselves being extraordinary (well worth a second visit) other highlights of the day included…
* Cycling out to the temples on a bike that had a little less suspension than I would normally like, especially considering my number 2’s had not exactly been of a desired consistency the previous 2 days..
* Waiting for a Contiki or some similar tour group of about 30 young people or so to have individual photos in front of the ‘Tomb Raider tree.’ This was followed by their group shot where they all pulled Lara Croft poses…
* The reaction of one of the tour members when an English chap I had met, Rob, called out, ‘bloody tourists,’to the group as we waited.. This girl was still bitching about his comment when we passed her half an hour later.
* The girl who had actually dressed as Lara Croft for the day.
* Having an obligatory photo of myself taken at the temples in 35 degree weather, having had cycled around the the place in the blazing heat, with sweat pouring from my brow, my clothes covered in brown dust and my hair nothing short of a humidified afro of sweat and dust….. HOT!
* Arriving at Angkor Wat, only to find that particular temple covered in scaffolding and green netting.
* Finishing the tour of the 3 major temples on bicycles, only to find ourselves as far as humanly possible away from our accommodation.
* Successfully completing the day without shitting myself!
In all seriousness though, it was a stupendous day, and the temples really are one of my favourite tourist destinations…