Saturday, 19 April 2008

A couple of the Kompong Cham days.

7 /. 4 = A late start through faffing about, but then I hired a bike, so was on my way for some breakfast, then to put my laundry in. Awe inspiring stuff. I pootled around town a bit, up and down alleys. It is flat around here, which is good, the gear on this bike is a tough one. I fancied cycling over the Mekong bridge, but it looks a bit heavy going, so I cycled to the bamboo bridge. Believe it or not, it is constructed out of bamboo. It looks a bit rickety, but cars are supposed to go across it. It is built every year and is only used during the dry season, ferries are used during the wet season. I stopped to take a few pictures, it looks pretty cool, the closer I get. It links an island, Koh Paen, to the southern side of the river. There was a bloke lounging on a cart when I stopped, so I asked to take his photo. When I went over to show him, I tripped and almost took a slide into the Mekong. It’s a good job it is dry season and the river is quite a way off, otherwise I would have been swimming in the Mekong, that would have been another tick on my list that wasn’t meant to be there. The bloke dragged me up the bank, it was dry, so I was only dusty, not up to the eyes in clarts.
I moved closer to the bridge to see if I could do a better job of falling in. The sun is dipping, but it is still red hot, so I stood under a tree and minutes later my next English lesson arrived. Ton Kim his name and this turned out to be one of the most interesting chats I’ve had in Cambodia. After the usual round of questions, Ton began to tell me about when he lived in the jungle. How the wild pigs had eaten all the rice crop the first year, so him and his Dad would sleep by the paddy field, until they finished the fence around it. Also how he heard a tiger turn up one night, checking out his 2 buffalo. He didn’t get up, but saw the paw prints in the morning. Him and his brother used to go out with catapults for birds and he used to trap wild hens. How the locals used to fish with poison, I think it may have been a drug to send the fish dizzy. He obviously missed the jungle, by the way he smiled as he spoke of the times and by the enthusiasm with which he spoke. He told of how the forest is being destroyed by inconsiderate rice farmers and how the local militia lend their weapons to the locals to hunt, so the animals are becoming more scarce. He had some good stories and planted a seed in my thoughts to live in the jungle. Will it grow?? Not quick enough for this trip. For the future?? Who knows what is to come??
I headed back to the stalls by the hotel, that sell the beer, but decided to wait for the sun to drop a bit more, so went passed and sat on the prom wall for a while. Low and behold my 2nd English lesson of the afternoon turned up. It is great when there is no money chasing involved. This lad worked in a nearby hotel and had a definite eye for the ladies. He told me, in the nicest possible way of course, that I could get a lady at his hotel. We had a laugh about it, but I settled for a beer.
I tried a Khmer establishment to eat tonight. A bit posher than most I have tried. There were more waitresses than customers and I’d put money on it they were taking the mickey out of me. One lass sat on the window ledge and watched me eat. Foreigner watching seems to be a Cambodian custom and who am I to complain about people watching. Like me they are just curious, or nosey and I am used to being stared at. The walk is getting definitely more funky. I could qualify for the Ministry of Funny Walks, no problem. The dickie search is another quaint custom. Now you are thinking. I may have told you about this already, but just in case. It is mostly lasses, they sit and search each others hair for unwanted stowaways. I still get the smile and the wave and then they just carry on. It seems to be a popular tea break custom.
Fed and watered, I went back to pack. I am moving from the hotel to a guesthouse tomorrow. I don’t like the room I’m in, it is miserable. Some buildings are demolished because they have sick building syndrome, well, this room has miserable room syndrome. I don’t like the poisoned dwarf on reception either. He even has an elevated chair to bring him up to normal height, behind the counter. He is like a dwarf baddy in a James Bond film.

8 / 1 = Moved from my miserable room to a dump. It’s not that bad. It is about half the size, but looks out over the Mekong and is a happy room. I struggled to find a bike today. Eventually a moto man said he would take me to one. It was so close, he could have pointed it out, but he earned his money helping me to get a bike that wasn’t about to fall apart. The shop we went to didn’t have a bike with gears, so she pointed us next door, very good of her. After trying to get about 6 bikes to function, I gave up. The lady had gone off, so I went back to here later and took one from her without gears. I headed for the bamboo bridge again. If yesterday, I almost fell in the Mekong, today I almost cycled into it. The dirt track to the start of the bridge is dusty, rutted and steep, so as I braked a skid developed and I was on a direct path to miss the bridge, but due to my expert cycling skill, also known as being bloody lucky, I rounded beautifully onto the bridge, on the wrong side of the road, but come on, I’m on the bridge. It’s about 8 feet wide and made of sliced, interwoven bamboo. It took me about 20 metres to realise, one wrong move and I’m in the Mekong, there are no side barriers and there are plenty opportunities to slip, especially when a moto is coming the other way carrying this years rice crop, but I avoided him and the edge of the bridge, or more likely he took pity on me and avoided me. It is easy to miss oncoming traffic, just close your eyes and hope. I got about halfway across and couldn’t believe it, BRIDGEWORKS. 4 lads were crouched sliding new slices of bamboo under the thicker slices of the central reservation, also known as the cyclists trip up. They didn’t move either, so I played it safe, so as not to knock one into the river and scooted through the gap. I made it to the other side and bloody hell, if it isn’t a toll bridge, 50 cents each way. I suppose it has to be paid for and the toll booth was a hammock and a hut, pretty cool. The bridge ends and a track come beach starts, so I am doing a bit of off road racing on a ladies shopping bike that is too small for me, no wonder I am knackered. My sweat is bringing the Mekong back to wet season levels. The road becomes shaded after a while and seems to run for miles. It must go straight down the middle of the island, as I didn’t see any water for ages. There are stilt houses on both sides of the road, some big ones too. It looks like the majority of places are farms. There are fruit trees everywhere mangos, jackfruit, bananas and some I don’t know. Lots of the farms have sweetcorn and tobacco out drying. There are lots of tall tobacco drying houses along the road too, with groups of people tying the leaves together to hang in the drying houses. A group of people are gathered around a machine that strips the corn from the cob and then minces the cobs to a meal. I guess it has all been done manually before, to this is a spectacle to be watched. Sesame is supposed to be grown on the island too, but I don’t see anything that may be sesame.
As usual, there are lots of “Hello” s as I cycle along and some kids run onto the track to slap my palms as I pass. This is a good fun and interesting ride. It is going on a bit without any sign of coming out of the houses and trees, then I heard a call to prayers. I know there is a Muslim village somewhere, so I kept going until I realised the call had gone from in front of me to behind me. I guess I missed that turning. At last I came out into the open to see fields and the river. There is also a pagoda temple off to the left, but I did an about turn and headed back and then I spotted the turn for the Muslim village. I thought there were only houses either side of the track, but they go back a few rows. I eventually gave up looking for the Muslim village when I entered a few farms thinking they were roads. I got back to the track and spotted a bench under a tree at the entrance to a tobacco farm. I asked a young lass, leaving on a bike, if I could sit there. “Yes”. I did then she reappeared. It seems to be a Cambodian habit that if they don’t understand you they say YES. The lass was beaten to me by about 6 kids of varying ages, followed by Mam. I sat for about 30 minutes, probably more, having fun. The Mam was a good laugh too and kept order when it got a bit raucous. Everyone was interested in the LP and there was a photo shoot, only the younger ones were interested in that. I handed out some fruit I had brought along. At first nobody would take it, then the scamp of the bunch took it and everyone dived in then. The kids were good making sure the titchy ones got their share too. I got the binoculars out. This caused a ruckus, but it was all good in the end, even Mam had a go. She had a bigger laugh when I showed them to look through the wrong end. This meeting has made my day, but it is time to move on. I stopped at the last cold drinks stall for a sugar fix before the sand and bridge and 2 kids gave me a Khmer lesson, mostly in counting, after they had asked my age.
Back to the bridge, where the bloke tried to collect my toll again. I was getting a bit cocky on the bridge until a bloke came along with someone on the back of his moto, carrying a mirror almost as wide as the bridge. I pulled over. I made it across, passed the ongoing bridgeworks and sat in the restaurant next to my new abode with a beer as the sun set.
That was a cracking day.

Off to Kompong Cham.

6 / 4 = Yeat didn’t show to pick me up, so I walked to the bus stop. I doubt I had a seat anyway on the 8:30. It looks like Pursat is enroute to places and a seat is given if one is free when a bus arrives. The ticket stands wave the buses down as they approach. I have a book to read and know how to wait, so ………….. I got away at 9:30, not bad. This bus didn’t have plastic seats down the middle, but rice sacks. It amused the other passengers watching a gangle bloke walk over these rice sacks. It was a laugh. I got my book out to amuse myself. The lady next to me amused herself by picking dickies out of her sons hair and crushing them between her thumb nails. Everyone to their own. It is common practice out here.
From the bus Phnom Phen looks like a sprawling city, like many others outside of Cambodia. The other places I have seen in Cambodia, are nowhere like this place, just small towns. This is definitely a capitol city. Not huge, towering office blocks, but lots of areas commerce and housing mixed together. It has a definite city centre with wide roads, offices and modern shops and eateries. The place where the money is.
Just so you don’t forget this is S.E. Asia, loads of tuk tuk and moto drivers greet us at the bus station trying to influence the passengers to a hotel, or shuttle the locals to their destinations. There were only 4 westerners on the bus, but that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm. One of the other westerners is a Belgian lad I got chatting to at the services. He has a guesthouse in Kep. He is married to a Cambodian lass, so that may be a stop off at some point. He is a real easy going lad and still travels Cambodia when he can get time from the guesthouse. He has just been to see a circus in Battambong. It looks like I left too early.
The tuk tukers are enthusiastic, but not aggressive and directed me to the bus stop for Kompong Cham, my next stop. I have a good wait, so sat in the water sprayed seats and did some people watching.
Boarded the bus and was sat next to a very pretty Cambodian lady, or nearly. The seats in front of us had a young monk sat there and when the lady who had the next seat saw him “No way” was her reaction. I didn’t know why, but anyway, it was me and the monk. The bus lady told me to sit there and as she was dressed in black and red, I thought she may be Khmer Rouge, so did as I was told.
Approaching Kompong Cham a storm broke out, but luckily it had blown over by the time we got there. At Kompong Cham, I took a moto wearing both my bags. I am getting a bit cocky now. I’ll come cropper soon. By the time I got back out of the hotel Mekong, it was dark. It is opposite the Mekong river, which is still very impressive, even in the dark. Stall holders have setup along this part of the promenade too, so after a coconutty curry, I sat here with a beer for a super chill, the only thing missing was the stars.

A flying visit to Pursat

4 /4 = Back to the bakery for some pastries and on a moto to the bus station. It is more organised than I expected. Some good characters get on to fill the bus too, so along the way, as more people are picked up, plastic chairs are put in the aisle to sit on. Now it is definitely full. “You wouldn’t get this back in the Nanny State.” Said the impressed grumpy old man. The journey is interesting, as I get to see more of Cambodia. We pulled over at some services, not quite like the British motorway services, in fact nothing like them at all. People pull out the sticky rice, smoked fish or whatever they have packed. I bought a mango, complete with packet of salt, sugar and chilli. It is growing on me. The driver peeps his horn and we all pile back on. The chairs are put back in the aisle and 2 minutes later we are in Pursat, my destination. The chairs are all moved again and an embarrassed Gil gets off. I got my bags off and a moto driver pulled up, but we couldn’t understand each other. I tried some other people, but no joy, so I pulled my bag into the shade and sat on it for a look around and a ponder. I was just about ready to checkout the Guesthouse over the road, when another moto pulled up and he knew the guesthouse I was looking for. He dropped me off and booked me for a trip to the floating village tomorrow. The hotel looks the part for 7 dollars. While I went to get the key a little Cambodian lady whisked my bag up to the 1st floor. The bag was as big as her.
After 40 winks, I went off to discover Pursat. I thought it was a 1 horse town, but wandering down the road proves me wrong. There’s a good market and plenty of shops, definitely not 1 horse. The locals don’t return my smile so readily, but I am the only westerner I have seen so far. I made my way out of town and low and behold I found a bar, a tea bar. There are a few blokes in here, eyes glued to the TV. I fancied a brew, so in I went. It was like in a Western when a stranger walks into a bar and all eyes follow him. I think they realised I was deadly, so left me alone. The lady said “Coffee??” I said “Tea.” She pulled up a seat for me and bless me, if there isn’t a 2nd telly with a Masters golf preview on. The blokes were all watching a kick boxing film, so I had the golf to myself, for a couple of minutes anyway, then some lads came in and put the rodeo riding one. WHAT IS THAT ALL ABOUT GRANDAD!!.
I got my pot of tea and a glass of ice. It’s the done thing, so first you are drinking iced tea and eventually hot tea. It is refreshing and good. I sat for quite a while feeling like one of the lads, then they all got up and left. Scared of the new gunslinger in town????? No, it was closing time, 16:00. I buckled up my holster and left. The people are a lot more smiley away from the market, or word has got out that I am a friendly gunslinger. I reckon it is the later, because loads of lasses giggle at me and shout Hello. Then I realise, I have buckled up my holster, but not my zip. Joke. I think my walk puts a lot of people off. Probably all the Cambodians who have seen me think all Westerners walk like this.
A few old fellows ask me if I want a moto, but judging by the way they laugh with their mates when I decline, I think they were just trying their luck. I ended up back at the bus stop, so checked out a few prices. They are all around 6 dollars, so I decided to wait, I didn’t want to give a plan a chance to be changed. I set off back in the direction of the hotel, I hope. There was some kids playing football on a sandy bank, by the river, so I spectated for a while. I found some gardens to watch from and they are still there, kicking holes in each other. The mozzies are on their way, so I am off to get sprayed.
Never made it, a lad came up to practice English, so we had a lesson while picking up a few mozzy bites.
After being fed and watered, I went to blog a bit. There were only me and the 2 lads running the place in there when in walked 6 young lasses tarted up and giddy. Well at first glance they were. The 2nd glance told me otherwise. They gave me some camp looks of surprise, strutted their stuff and left as 6 young tarted up giddy lads. The place was shutting after the ladyboy onslaught, well, it is 21:00, so I logged off and hit the sack.

5 / 4 = The moto driver Yeat, pronounced Yet, picked me up at 8:00 to go the floating village, Kompong Luong. It is about an hour away and Yeat’s Korean moto isn’t as comfy as Mony’s Honda. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, but a lot more than my Khmer. The price per hour for a boat at the suppy village was a bit steep. Yeat, got it brought down. We boarded gingerly, well, I did. This river is manky at the best, I didn’t want to go in. It probably gets better in the wet season, but doesn’t look or smell the best at the moment. The floating village moves about 7Km as the lake recedes during the dry season. The floating village is visible from the shore and the boatman sets off at very sedate pace. Once on the lake, Tonel Sap the water is just a muddy brown, instead of a stinking, dark, grey. It is covered by a layer of green algae over a lot of it. As with a lot of landbased villages, the church spire is the most prominent feature from afar. I wasn’t sure what to expect. As we approach it looks like a grid town, with 4 or 5 main channels running parallel and lots of side streets/channels. The LP says the village is not as friendly as normal, as there are a lot of Vietnamese here, who have been given a hard time, but nearly everyone is smiles. The kids run to the edges of their boats and wave and shout Hello. Yeat told me the village is 50/50 Vietnamese/Cambodian. Seeing as both sides are not supposed to get along there is a very friendly village atmosphere. I should have tried to organise a night here, but I couldn’t get a stop for a coke organised, so I don’t know what I would have ended up doing.
After puttering up and down the channels, it is just like any land village, but on water. There’s grocers, TV repair boat, butcher boat, fishmongers, at the outer edge, there are 3 petrol station boats and just like on land, the grocers sell Johnnie Walker bottles of bootleg petrol. There are also mobile shops rowing between houses and if any house wants something from them, they just yell and over they paddle. There are loads of fruit and veg mobiles, a baguette lady, fish lady, perrywinkle kids, a water delivery boat, even a lady in a canoe selling CD’s and DVD’s. There are cafes, that I couldn’t get to stop at. A Buddist temple. Lots of motor repair places. Boat not car motors I guess. 2 schools, one for the posh kids with desks and chairs and one for us snotty nosed kids with benches packed solid. Later school must be over as the school boat, not painted yellow, comes passed and the kids wave and shout. There are pet dogs on the boats. I even saw a floating pig sty in the supply village. No wonder the water is manky. I can’t get over how friendly everyone is. It would have been a great experience to have stayed here, but the water is used for everything. The pots are washed over the side of the boats after scooping the algae away, the washing is done, people wash in it using scooped out bowls of water to throw over themselves. I watched one mechanic overhauling an engine and he just dumped the oil over the side of the boat. It must not be too bad. There are barrel loads of fish at the several fishmongers and corals are full of some floating vegetable.
Loads of the boats have TV aerials, so I could have watched the match. They must use generators or batteries. There is a floating mobile phone shop too, but I didn’t see any floating McD. They are not everywhere after all. There is even a village tramp. She paddles around in her canoe checking out the rubbish. This seems a great community and very smiley and there is no hassle from the Tuk tuk (not toot toot in Cambodia, I have discovered) drivers. Everyone jumps in their canoes and paddles to the shops, church or neighbours. It has been a good outing, but I am starting to frazzle as the sun gets hotter, so we are off back. Yeat tries to get me to go to some local hills, but I didn’t fancy it on his moto, so after a drink we set off back.
I had 40 winks. I put it down to the red hot sun. Any excuse. I woke to the sound of thunder and the start of a storm, the heaviest I have seen. It lashed down big time, so I had a read and did a bit of housework, I sewed up my cutoffs pocket. The TV stations went off, then the electricity. It soon heats up without the fan, but then the generator kicked in.
After the rain eased, I headed into town for my bus ticket. Easier said than done, when nobody speaks English and all my Khmer is aw kohn, thank you. They didn’t sell tickets to Thank You. I was about to give up when Yeat showed up. He told me he is a police man, but I reckon he works at this bus stop place. He said he’d pick me up 8:20 in the morning. I was going to walk the 500m , but for 12p, what the hell. I went for another sit in the gardens and another English lesson, then grabbed a butty at a roadside café. I don’t know what it was, but she made it fresh and it was tasty. They didn’t sell tea though. Strange!! It is football night again, but everywhere here is closed by 21:00, so I grabbed a beer to take back, fixed the TV after the storm, bad connection and watched some football.

The rest of Battambong time.

2/4 = Out with Mony, pronounced Mooney, on his moto today. He is the one who picked me up the first day in Battambong. He suggested I don’t go to the killing cave of the Khmer Rouge and after speaking to Martin and James, he is right, it is a bit of an uphill hike, so we are off into the countryside, but only after he insisted I have some breakfast. He pointed out a bakery over the way, so I grabbed a couple of pastries while he waited. He is ad-libing it as we go along, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. We stopped first just outside of town for a bottle of Johnnie Walker, full of petrol. I have discovered that this petrol is smuggled in from Vietnam, so is cheaper. If I told you how I discovered that, I’d have to kill you all, so just take my word for it. We motored along the country lanes, Mony looking for something to stop for and he spotted a mobile rice mill. I don’t think he knew what it was himself. The was a lad repairing, or overhauling it. After he replaced a couple of drive belts, he set it going and was tapping slides and adjusting bolts, then put it into neutral by pushing a piece of wood that slid the wide leather drive belt onto and idler pulley. Thomo will understand. Now he took a cover off, did a bit of tweaking and set it in gear again. Now they were happy with the resultant rice, not too much chaff or small rice. “It took me back to the good old days, before all this electronic rubbish, when you could see what was going on”, said the grumpy old man. It was impressive that the machine with an old Nissan engine, a new Chinese engine, and constructed of part wood, part, leather and part metal could produce 3 different products at the end. Mony had been chatting with the owner while I watched the overhaul and seemed happy with what he now knew, so we headed off. The owner takes the mill around farms and separates the rice for farmers. I think he takes meal and small rice for animal feed or to sell as payment.
The next stop was at a place that was house and work place. 2 ladies were surrounded by 8 foot bamboo frames with 8 inch white circles on them. I had no idea what was going on. They are rice paper that is used to wrap the fresh spring rolls. It is clever how the process works. A rice liquid is spread over a metal cone, similar in shape to the hats worn in the fields, and the cone is over boiling water, when the paste gets to the right consistency, the 1st lady transfers them to a bamboo former, a thick piece of bamboo to cool and the 2nd lady transfers them to the frames. The fire is fuelled by rice husks. Nothing gets wasted around here. I could sit and watch people work for hours, as the saying goes. There were a lot of these places in the village we are in. It often seems that villages specialise in certain crafts.
Next up was the mushroom farm, but this was bad timing, as the compost was due to be replaced, so instead of producing 30Kg, it is now only producing 5Kg per day. The compost is sterilised in a steamer first then the fungus spores added and put into rolls about the size of a new kitchen roll, held in plastic. A sprinkler system, like that of a fire extinguisher system in a hotel, sprays the compost daily. There is another method using straw in the front garden, but this doesn’t look as productive. This place also grow bean sprouts. It looks like they are thrown in a pot, watered for 5 days then sold on. Mony asked if I would give 2000 riel/12p to each place as we go along. The young lass in this place was reluctant to take it. She is about 14 and in charge whilst her Mam and Dad are away. I never got out of Mony where they were. She has to attend school too.
We carried onto a ruined Wat and new pagoda with a huge Buddha. There were some stalls here, so we had a coconut to drink and some vegetable and noodles. Mony told me to add sugar, lime and some homemade chilli sauce and this worked, because it tasted great. I think the Khmer food is not so spicy, so that you can spice it up yourself, to your required taste. Mony then had his coconut split open, sprinkled sugar on it and scooped it out. “It’s like coconut ice cream”, he told me. Mony gave me a rundown on Cambodia’s recent history while we sat here. They have had it tough and nobody seems to have much faith in the present government. I went for a wander while Mony finished his coconut and had a swing in a hammock. I wasn’t going into the Wat, it cost a couple of dollars and didn’t look much. I came across some kids playing a local game with big brown nuts. It’s a bit like skittles. They shouted me over and I was on my way when the Tourist policeman turned up. I had to sign a book to stay around, but the gist was he wanted 2 dollars off me. I told him I wasn’t going into the Wat, so then he decided I didn’t have to sign, so I headed off back to the kids and he said that was 1 dollar, so I gave up and went back to Mony. I paid up for the food and drink, 2 dollars, unbelievable and we set off through lots of dry paddy fields to a monument. I thought “Why has Mony come here?” Then I spotted the skulls in the windows of the monuments. It is a memorial for some of the victims of the Khmer Rouge, found in this killing field and a monument to what a set of bastards the Khmer Rouge were. The engravings are very graphic and the torture descriptions very blunt. This was the saddest part of my travels so far. It’s not real what us humans will do to each other at times.

We travelled on over some bumpy roads and the moto developed a knock. Mony went along checking out the roadside home/businesses, hairdressers, tailors, grocers, then he found the bicycle/moto repair shop. He pulled in and a few thumps and adjustments were tried and finally we were on our way at the third attempt. We were headed for the dory/bamboo train. I didn’t know what to expect. The rail line to Phnom Phen is only used once a day, in alternating directions, the train comes in one day and leaves the next, so the locals make use of the line with norries to move themselves and cargo along the track. On the way here, we pulled over by the roadside to wake a lady in a hammock and buy a water melon from her. Mony was tapping them and chuntering with the lady over which one to take. I said “That one will do”. To which he told me another tourist had him travelling around the stalls to find a good one. It cost about 40p and was delicious. We shared it around while waiting for the bamboo train driver. Mind you we were lucky to get it there, as I was carrying it on the back of the moto over some dodgy roads. There was an Irish lass turned up for the train too, so we shared one to reduce the costs. She looked a bit nervous when the driver turned up, he is about 15 and him and his mate started constructing the norry. It is a small bamboo platform that sits ontop of 2 sets of train wheels, like barbells, one with a small engine. The track is up and down with big gaps in it and this is the main Phnom Phen line. I think I’ll be going by bus. It is constructed in no time, the 2 motos loaded up and a mat put down for us to sit on, then we are off. The ride is more like a fairground ride than a train ride. We met 2 norries coming the other way, but they had no passengers, so our crew jumped off and helped dismantle it, push us passed and then reassemble it. A bit further on a load of wood is being taken across the track and loaded onto a trailer behind a Honda 125. This held us up for about 10 minutes, but I don’t know why, we could have gone passed, but it was entertaining. Once we set off again, we arrived quickly. 8 dollars for 2. Daylight robbery, but good fun. Back on the moto and homeward bound. Mony stopped at the taxi rank to check out prices to Pursat, my next port of call. It is 5 dollars with 4 people in the back and 2 in the front. I think it will be a bit of a crush, so opted for the bus at 6 dollars. The bus is the Phnom Phen bus and it doesn’t matter where you get off, the price is full fare for Phnom Phen. Back to the hotel and a sit on the bench out the front. It is a good spot for a chat and a watch. The moto drivers like to chat. I have stopped here each night before hitting the sack. I did an ATM run, so I could go to the Riverside club for some nosh and after a shower, Mony told me he would take me. He asked what I was doing tomorrow, normal soliciting. I told him I was just going to do some interneting, so he immediately dragged me off to the Internet café, he said he wanted to check his emails. This turned into a bit of a saga. He couldn’t remember how to do it, what his userid was and perhaps the spelling of the password. Now I understand why he wanted me along. We got there in the end and his last email was from June 2007. Someone had set it up for him and she was the last and only one to send him an email. He is thinking ahead, but I don’t think Mony is set to be an IT person. I wrote it all down for him, to give him more chance the next time he uses it, probably Christmas. Now he asked me to wait for 5 minutes while he does a bit of shopping, then he can drop me on the way home, so 3 days later, here I am at the Riverside Club. The music here is good, local music, blues a good mellow mixture. To carry on with the local theme I ordered a decadent burger and chips. The beer was local. The burger was smashing, not like fast food. I sat and chilled for a while reading in the balcony bar above the river, no shoes allowed. This is the life. Another beer and a big time chill and I set off back wondering if I’d be able to pick up a moto. I went about 50 metres and an old fella pulled up. We did the usual bartering. 1 dollar. No, 2000 riel. 3000 riel?? No 2000 riel, then I walked off and he gave in. It is only 50p, but fairs fare. Why should us whities be stung. Back and no sitting chatting on the bench tonight, straight to bed.

3 / 4 = It’s a complete relax day today with an e-session. I went to the bakery and bought a baguette and raison twirl, but fancied a brew, so went to the café on the market. I struggled a bit, but got a pot of tea and the menu. I didn’t fancy any of the noodles or rice, so ate my baguette. I went to pay and the young lass who served me told me the tea is free. I’ll be back here. I felt a bit guilty, so coughed up a few riel, which the lass took very sheepishly.
I found a bench in the shade by the river and sat for a relax. It wasn’t long before a lad joined me to practice his English, genuinely, no scam. The sun moved so I did too, I was headed for the Internet Café, but spotted another bench in the shade and it was lovely and cool to sit on to. The ones that have been out in the sun are like storage heaters. I was checking the LP for some place to go to next and a Frenchman joined me, Phillipe and started chatting. I didn’t need the LP now, he knows everywhere. He has been coming for 15 years and lives in Thailand until the rainy season comes, then he sets off to S.E. Asia. He has some good stories and speaks good English and like to use it. He is a Buddist too, but doesn’t push it at me.
A young lad joined us and asked if we would like to teach an English lesson for the poor kids he teaches. The village is about 7Km away and he will pick us up and drop us back and we can give a donation if we wish. Phillipe is up for the teaching, but not the donation, which seems fair to me. He teaches in Thailand and tells the lad he usually gets paid for teaching or at least free board when he volunteers. I am up for it too. A few Geordie speaking Cambodians has to be a good thing. The lad now tells us we can get a moto for 7 dollars, which is way over the odds, also he is sad that we wont donate anything. He has picked on the wrong one in Phillipe. He gave the lad a real lecture, but is still up for the teaching. Now the lad goes cold on the lift and keeps pushing for a donation, so I guess it is a lie. It is the same lad who approached me yesterday, but I didn’t stop. Phillipe gave him every chance, but the lad left, complete with flea in ear.
We sat a while longer, 2 grumpy old men putting the world to rights. He is well up on affairs in S.E. Asia. He has a bias towards the Thais and is a bit wary of Cambodians. He thinks there will be unrest after the June elections. Something for me to keep an eye out for. He headed off for a Wat to find an old monk to talk to, as if I didn’t fit the bill???
I finally made the internet café, a few hours later than expected and afterwards I realised I still had my raisin twirl, so off for a coffee I went.
After showering I went for another free pot of tea. Who is tight???? This time I ordered some food, fried rice, chicken and veg. I added the spice as shown by Mony. I was actually headed for the Smokin’ Pot, but they were packing up at 19:00 when I got there and I couldn’t face the ladies with their kids again. What a whimp!!!! I tried to force myself, but copped out. Then it was back for a natter on the bench outside the hotel and bed.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Knocking about Battambong.

1/4 - Nobody played an April fool on me as I had a pot of Darjeeling and too much fruit salad for breakfast, then I hired a bike for 75p a day, all from the same place. I hopped onto the bike and headed for I don't know where. My first stop was on a road bridge, partly to take pictures and partly because I couldn't get over the rise. A wagon full of dirt came over while I stood there and the bridge bounced like billyo. Time to move on in case another comes along. I came across Wat Kandal, a big old pagoda, so I rolled into the big grounds. Before the temple there are some old French style houses. I found out these are the monks housing. They were a bit rundown, but still nice buildings.
After circling the pagoda, I sat in some shade to do a bit of writing and after a few minutes some of the monks joined me to practice their English. If they want to study abroad, they have to have good English as the teaching abroad is in English. Cheang, the first monk to come over, is a bit shy and keeps covering his teeth. I thought it was because he has buck teeth and when I told him not to cover them, he told me it is because he has bad breath. THere's honesty for you. A second monk, Macchem joined us and stole the show. His English is very good and after Cheang left he wanted to practice more, so we wandered around to his room around the other side, it is cooler and has a table outside with chairs. It turns out Macchem is a supervisor monk, so has a better pad. I didn't go in, but saw through the door, a PC, stereo and lots of books. He showed me some of the books, I even took down a couple of titles. I may become a monk, but it is more probable that I'll just get a monk on. I bet I spent a couple of hours chatting, so have probably set Macchem's English back about 5 years. I was surprised that he smoked. He is 26 and tells me he is doing alright in the brotherhood, if he is to be believed. COME ON, he's a monk of course he can be believed. It seems a lot of poor, young lads become a monk for the free education. Macchem seems to have been fast tracked through the monk boy, (attendant) and novice phases and now does an hour a night on the local radio station, DJ Monk, when people phone in with questions on Buddism. He told me they have to get their own subsidies, but I left without giving one. I felt a bit guilty, but obviously not guilty enough. I can't subsidise everyone, I'll end up taking refuge in a monastry. I cycled a little further and found another pagoda, it was almost next door. Some young lads waved me in, so I went. More English practice, this lad had lost his Dad, so wanted me to be his godDad. I explained I wouldn't be around to be able to do so, I don't know if he understood.
THere was a commotion going on down a track, so being a nosey git, I went for a look and bumped into my nearly godson. There were lots of rides for small kids and food stalls. The lad explained it is for the opening of a new pagoda and an opportunity to give donations, so I did a quick exit. I think I am turning into a Yorkshireman. When I got back to the main road a moto made a swerve in my direction and when I crossed over he swerved back. This one is an English teacher and wanted me to stop, but I felt a hit coming on, so I declined. He then offered a visit to his village to see the children. The visit to the village may have been good, but I am sure it was a hit on the whiteman's wallet. Anyway, I thought I had better get back to my side of the river, so I crossed the pedestrian and bikes bridge, no dirt wagons here. I checked out a statue of a multi-headed serpent and it was made from weapons handed in after an amnesty and after the Pol Pot times. I decided to go for a beer at the Riverside bar, but luckily enough missed it and ended heading out of town and found ANOTHER pagoda. The paintings that adorn these temples, mostly of Buddha, look very basic to me, almost childrens work, but I guess that is some kind of style. The engraving around them is very detailed and more becoming in my eyes. I thought they were moulded, but spotted 2 ladies creating the engravings in a wall of still unset cement.
I carried on a bit through lots more waves, smiles and hellos and came to a rickety looking railway bridge. This is the main Phnom Phen line. I stopped for a gander around the river. THere were kids and adults down there playing and bathing. A couple of real scamps walking over the railway bridge, it is only used once a day in one direction, spotted me. They scurried over the bridge shouting HELLO HELLO, so I returned the gestures. I have never seen people get so much fun out of saying hello to a whitie. The 2 scamps, or more acurately, the head scamp, shouted for his mates to come see the Barang, foreigner and 6 turned up in the end. The last being the tiniest and snottiest. I bet he sits at the back of the class, if he goes to school. They laughed and shouted having so much fun it was infectious. After I took their photo and showed them it, they became even louder and 3 old fellas on perched on their motos by the bridge were laughing too. Eventually, they scampered off home, so I thought I'd do the same. This time I found the Riverside bar, so stopped for a gander and a beer. Out here, nearly all the houses have huge clay pots. I wondered what they were for. Water storage is one use, as 2 young lasses, barmaids I reckon, at the Riverside were in sarongs and soaked, they had washed their hair and were dipping into their makeup bags, just like back home. They had a good giggle when I took their photo too. I asked first. I had my beer in a very nice veranda bar overlooking the river. I bet that is where the name comes from. I'm not daft me. Then I went for a bit more roaming and took the bike back. It had to be back at 17:00 and belonged to a cafe, where they sell cakes, so coffee and cake it was.
After a shower I thought I'd head for the Smokin' Pot for some FOOD, but it was full, so I ended up back at the White Rose, as last night. One of the ladies was there with her kid and gave me a big smile as I went in. Then I felt guilty eating food while she sat on the kerb. Especially with loads of kids running around the restaurant with ice creams and everyone ignoring her. One lady looked to give her some money.
The table next to me left all sorts of food, so when they got up and left, a young lad came in with a plastic pint pot and helped himself. He crammed all sorts into it and went off a happy lad. I was going to get a take away for the lady, but gave her the money. I figured she can probably get more that way. I'm at a loss with this, I can't get my head around it at all.