04 January, 2014

"Teacha! Teacha!" (Week 1 Cambodia)

Site Seeing 

Tip 4. When crossing the road, even at "pedestrian crossings" don't expect cars or motorbikes to stop for you. You simply need to check both sides before slowly creeping onto the road, trusting that the bikes will swerve around you. If you wait for a gap in traffic you most probably will never get across. Motorbike riders are pretty good at dodging pedestrians, but cars will very rarely stop for you.

My journey begins with a full day of site-seeing in Phnom Penh. We visited: the Royal Palace, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. It was a beautiful warm, sunny, humid day; but when spent walking around all day it became very exhausting. Nevertheless, the Royal palace was very beautiful and I was quite attentive since it was the first place we saw. 

Tip 5. Don't give money or buy things off beggars. Even though this made me feel awful, it is something we were advised to do. At times we would even have beggars come up to us while our tuk-tuk came to a stop in traffic. The way I dealt with this was to simply look away and ignore them.

The Royal Palace
Traditionally women wore different colours each day of the week. This was in order to stay happy and bring good fortune to their lives.
This is the wedding gown used for the King and Queen. For Cambodians, your wedding day is the only time in which you can be like the King and Queen. People get replicates made of the wedding gowns to feel like royalty.    
Contrast between original and restored reliefs. 
This is the Budda Tree. It received its name because Budda was born and also died under this tree. The flowers that appear on the tree bloom in the morning and die by the end of the day. Pregnant women are said to collect these flowers and use them to make tea for an easy and successful pregnancy/delivery. 

Genocide Museum 

Four months after the Khmer Rouge won the Cambodian Civil war, In August 1975, the site that was formerly used as a school was converted into a prison. They renamed it as Security Prison 21 (S-21). From 1975-1979 thousands of people were brought in for questioning, imprisonment and torturing.  Most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime, which included soldiers, government officials etc. However later on the party's paranoia grew and thousands of party activist and their families were also brought in. In all around 17,000 people were imprisoned. In 1979, the prison was uncovered by the invading Vietnamese army. In 1980, the prison was reopened by the government of the People's Republic of Kampuchea as a historical museum. 

The Genocide Museum was the most confronting place I have even been to in my life. I felt very uncomfortable walking around, what used to be a prison. Walking on the same tiles and being within the same walls that held thousands of men, women and children captive. It was quite a large building complex and every room had either weapons, photos, journals, or information displayed in them. It was a very shocking experience, and I did not believe that the presentation of the museum was respectful to those that had been captured and tortured. I can understand that the government opened it up to the public for awareness and educational purposes, but I think it was crossing the line. 

The most confronting thing about the Museum was seeing boards after boards after boards of the prisoners faces. Filling a whole level of the main building there were photographs of all people who had been brought into the prison. Room after room there were faces collaged together. Despair, fear and innocence struck upon their faces. This included hundreds of photos of young children to a spine chilling photo of a young mother holding her infant, to countless shots of young and old men. Other disturbing aspects included seeing instruments used for torturing and peering in the cells, afraid of what I might find in them. 

These were the rules that needed to be abided by at the prison.
This is the gallows that were used. Individuals were pulled up to hang here for days in order to get a confession out of them. If they fainted their heads were submerged into the jars below, filled with liquids, to wake them up. 
Barbed wire were used to fence off the outside of the building. This was especially important for the upper storeys as it would prevent people from committing suiciding.
An image of what some of the cells looked like.
Killing Fields

Our next stop was the Killing Fields. This is where the prisoners were taken far away from the town to be slaughtered. This was also an uncomfortable experience. 

This was the sign that was put outside the tall building that housed thousands of skulls found in the fields. Being able to get up close to the skulls was very disturbing. As you peer up the tower you realise that there are so many more levels, all filled with skulls. Some where intact, others shattered. 
Locals come to the fields to pay respect to the deceased; by making or buying bracelets and hanging them off the trees or placing them onto the ditches that were used as graves. Despite the beautiful weather it ended up being quite a morbid day. 

Food, Food, Food! 

Currency used: The USD is the most common form of currency used in Cambodia. However, whenever you are given change that is less than a dollar, you will get it in Riel - KHR. 

Currency conversion: 4000 Riel = 1 USD

This was a banana and berry sticky rice dessert wrapped in banana leaf. Our tour guide bought this for us from a street cart. I could not get a proper photo of what it looked like on the inside because the tuk-tuk ride was very bumpy. This was definitely exciting to try, but was not my favourite.
Vegetable stir fried noodle with egg and a fresh coconut for $3. This was the first time I properly tired a fresh coconut and I've got to say… I didn't really like it that much. 
BBQ dinner with beer being refilled when the glass was empty cost me $3.50 as we went with a big group and split the bill evenly. The meat was quite tough and didn't prove to be the most tastiest meal we had on the trip.  
Angkor - the local beer. Pretty good if you ask me. But I don't really know much about beer, I will pretty much just drink what ever is available. 
While we were volunteering, we would order take away lunch from the guest house. This stir fried vegetable noodles cost me $2.
Trying to get a coffee fix from a local hang out cost 2500 Riel. However if you do not get coffee from an international chain business, they will most probably use condensed milk. It was a very sweet coffee.
Having hot pot like the locals. This seemed to be a very popular option on the streets. It was quite yummy! Ordering this for four people and getting one bottle of beer ended up being around $3 after we split the bill.
Getting some mediocre cocktails from the guest house with Kate.
Finding a French bakery on the main street was a lovely afternoon treat. I bought from bread for lunch the next day, and enjoyed the air-conditioned room with an ice blended coffee. 
The River Crown was a Restaurant at the River Front. An area of Phnom Penh much more populated with tourists. It had many nicer places to eat and chill out in. We went with a big group from our guest house and enjoyed dinner and drinks at a lovely place. Something I really liked about this Restaurant was that we were each given numbers so that they could give us individual bills.
Mango Daiquiri
Passionfruit mojito. Definitely has become my favourite cocktail.
Fish Amok: a very well known and popular Cambodian curry. This was lovely. Buying a curry and two cocktails cost me under $10. Spending this much was quite a luxury but I enjoyed it. And was cost nothing compared to in Australia. 
My vegetables and cashew stir fry I ordered from Tom Yum Kuna, and definitely a let down. It was quite bland and dry. The stir fry was $3.50 and the rice was $0.50 extra. However, a couple of ladies ordered the fish Amok from here and they said it was delicious. 
Buying ice cream for dessert is definitely a luxury in both Australia and Cambodia. I did not record how much this cost me, but it would have been between $3-4 
Thought I would add this photo in. At the main supermarket they had near our guest house, mangos were being sold for $7.30 each! 
On our last day at Phnom Penh, the big group of volunteers decided to spend a bit of money on a nice breakfast at the French bakery. I had an omelette with a side of bread with a balsamic dipping vinegar - my favourite.


Tip 6. When at the markets make sure you bargain well. Be ruthless. I usually went in with a stern face while looking around. When I was interested in buying something I would ask for the price, then give them a lower offer at least half of what they stated at the beginning. This is to ensure you are not getting ripped off. From here you can up your price a dollar or so more - what ever you are willing to pay. Walking away from the buyer and shaking your head can also be a good move if they are not budging. Most of the time they will chase after to you and give you the item for the price you stated. If they do not come after you then don't worry. There will be dozens of stores exactly like the one you are at, someone will settle for the price you want. 

Central Markets in Phnom Penh.
Night Market food. And yes… we did dare to eat this for dinner, because this was all that was there. There was rice paper rolls and a row of meats etc that you could choose from. You basically placed whatever you wanted on a plate and then they deep fried it for you.
A large outdoor seating area covered in mats.
I got all of this as well as one rice paper rolls for 6500 Riel! 
Delicious mango smoothie $1.50. 
This was the smoothie station at the Russian Markets.
Carrot, mango and orange smoothie. This was actually amazing.
Hot chive pancakes Kate and I found at the Russian Markets. This was my favourite street styled food I found in Cambodia! We tried to find these again in Siem Reap, but failed to do so. So I will only have the memories of these hot pancakes. Yum!
All the following pictures are the things that I bought from the markets. Just to show you the range of items I found. All of which were bargained well for.

Volunteering at the daycare 

During our one week stay in Phnom Penh we visited a small day care centre near the slums. It was different to what I had expected. I thought we were going to be in a large orphanage, working with many children. However, the centre was merely a small apartment like structure that had under 30 children aged 3-6 come to enjoy the free daycare. Here the children has classes, played games, washed their hands, ate lunch, brushed their teeth, had naps, were given a quick shower. All the things that they were probably unable to do at home. 

Because there were only a couple of fans in the room along with 6 adults, and 30 odd kids, it was a very stuffy and sweaty. The kids were just so excited to see new people, very energetic and demanding of our attention. The kids called us all "Teacha" which was very adorable. However, when they were desperate for guidance or attention it turned into a general cry of "cha! cha!" Having to deal with the heat, sweat and children jumping around everywhere including on you, was very exhausting. Nevertheless, it was amazing meeting these beautiful children and seeing the way they interacted with each other. They were so warm and welcoming, which was evident from the first day we arrived. As soon as we walked into those doors they ran up to us, giving us hugs, hi-5's and pulling us along to play with them. 

There was a general stale smell and atmosphere at the centre. Especially because there was only one bathroom for all the kids. They had a drain that they were suppose to squat over if they wanted to go to the toilet. However, the kids would usually just step inside the bathroom and do their business anywhere. The teachers would come in occasionally and pour water onto the tiles in attempts to clean the floor. There was a western styled toilet for the adults that had to be manually flushed, but you can probably understand that we didn't really want to step foot in that bathroom. We usually went 6 hours without using the toilet, purposely holding in until we got back to the guest house.

Lesson time for the kids usually involved them screaming the letters of the alphabet. The sad thing was that it was evident that they did not understand what they were being taught. They had merely memorised the alphabet, unable to distinguish letters from one another when asked in a random order. For the whole week we were there, Kate and I tried to teach the younger kids how to tell the difference between the numbers 1-4. There were probably only a couple of kids that seemed to have caught on by the end of the week. It was disappointing that I couldn't spend more time with the kids to see some more improvement. 
Lunch time for the kids. They all crowd around on the mats waiting for their food to be rationed out. The children's brought packed lunches from home, it was nice to see that they all had something to eat. Sometimes there would be a one or two kids that would have to wait in the other room before their family member could drop off some food. 
My favourite little girl aged 6. She was very intelligent, quiet and welcoming. 
On the second day of volunteering, it was a public holiday, which meant no kids. It was honestly a relief not having all the kids there that day. We spent the day decorating the daycare centre with the hand made papers mobiles that hung off the ceiling. This was done by cutting out shapes from paper, and using needle and thread to put it all together. It was a rather long and slow process. The night before I had started making my little paper roses, so I spent the whole day continuing to make them and teaching one of the staff.
On our last day at the daycare we had bought Christmas hats in for all the children. They were absolutely adorable in their hats, they loved them! We spent the day playing games and hanging out with them for the last time.

This little cherub was the youngest kid that attended the daycare. We had been coming to the centre for about 4 months and still cries majority of the day, missing his dad. He would run up to the door and stare out the windows hoping to see his dad come back to pick him up. It was so sad but also adorable. This was the first time I saw him genuinely smile and enjoy himself. I love it!
At the end of the day the teachers got the other volunteers and I to sit on the little chairs as the children presented us with these beautiful paper boutiques. The kids then sang us some Christmas jingles before all coming up to give us hi-5's and hugs. I honestly got a little teary as I looked at all their beautiful faces, trying to absorb everything in before we left.

 Last Day In Phnom Penh

Our last day in Phnom Penh was very lovely. We had breakfast at the French Bakery with the big group of volunteers from the guest house. Then I spent the rest of the day with Kate and her sister Tara. We hit Central Markets again and then relaxed in the afternoon by a random hotel swimming pool near the River Front. We basically got in a tuk-tuk and asked him to take us to the nearest swimming pool. It took him a while to understand where we actually wanted to go. He had to ask two other drivers to finally understand that we wanted to swim in a pool, not go across the river to get to an island. 

We ended up running out of the hotel after we felt like we were being watched by one of the staff. We had to wait until he had left the area to quickly grab our belonging and sneak back out. We then crossed the busy road to get cheap massages. This was an interesting experience. The "full body massage" cost us $7, which is a pretty cheap price. However, the room we were receiving our massages in had an overwhelming seedy appearance. The one hour I paid for was 3/4 a foot and leg massage, 1/4 the rest of my body. I also didn't like the attention given to my feet. I am not one of those people that hate feet, I am simply ticklish. This was both a humorous and uncomfortable experience for me. Kate and Tara laughed at all my reactions to my first massage.

In the evening the big group of volunteers from the guest house met up from dinner at Crown River. Here we enjoyed one last dinner all together with some cocktails. It was a lovely and early night, as the four of us (Khanh, Deborah, Kate and I) had to be up relatively early to catch the bus to Siem Reap in the morning. It was a little sad saying good-bye to the other ladies, but I was excited for what the next week had in stall. 

Vegetable red curry, passionfruit mojito and a fresh watermelon juice for $9.50. 

Phew! That was the end of our time in Phnom Penh, now forward onto Siem Reap. Involving A LOT of temples, an increase of tourists and higher prices. 

To be continued...

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