there’s always time for nature

The waterfall we saw yesterday was absolutely beautiful.

 We took a long and very bumpy van ride about an hour and a half out to this incredible local spot. We had our own little hut for the day. We ordered lunch so that we would have it ready once we got back from swimming. We got 3 whole, deep-fried honey chickens. Our driver sat with our things while we went down to the waterfall. Gorgeous. We climbed all over the rocks and swam under the falls. It started raining while we were all in the water, it was the first time I was cool outside since touching down in Siem Reap. It was so fun, absolutely incredible.

It was a great day. We all had dinner together in the big house which is always a good time. We always spend so much time eating dinner and chatting. After dinner almost everyone in the group went out for ice cream and a few drinks. I stayed in to write and sleep, I think I fell asleep at like 10pm. I think the waterfall took it out of me, but it was worth every penny.

I went out with the JWOC volunteer class this morning on the clean water project. I went walking through the village and got some photos and interviews. Now I just have to finish my story that’s due tomorrow.

monk, girl, ghost

Thursday turned into a wonderful day.

After class and some writing time, the girls headed to the central market to cross off our souvenir lists. After 2 hours of haggling and bargaining, I met up with Elizabeth and Cindy at our favorite restaurant, the Khmer Kitchen. We had lunch with a girl from Mexico who was traveling with her grandmother. Both such amazing people! They’ve seen so much of the world. And, she is studying Photo journalism, so that was a fun topic of conversation.

After lugging our goods back to the B&B in a tuk-tuk, we went to meet one of our guides that we have befriended, Yut, who was taking us to the Buddhist Monastery. Yut, being an ex monk, studied at the temple we visited when he was a novice. We got blessed by two monks and then sat and chatted with them for a while. An older monk one house over gave us each a little trinket, i ended up with a miniature bronze buddha. A gift from a monk! They Yut showed us around the rest of the monastery and Elizabeth did a quick interview with the head of the school at the monastery. He was in his second day of no longer being a monk.

So that night, a group of 6 of us went to meet Yut for dinner (since we had already eaten at the Khmer Kitchen once that day). We sat at dinner for hours talking, joking, and being super obnoxious. Somehow we started talking about childhood games. Yut told us about a game called monk, girl, ghost, which is more or less the Cambodian equivalent of rock, paper, scissors. In the game, each of the three things has a gesture. The competitors close their eyes, someone counts: mooay, bpee, bay (to 3), and then you make your gesture. The monk is afraid of the girl, so the girl wins. The girl is afraid of the ghost, so ghost wins. And the ghost is afraid of the monk, so the monk wins. (yellow house girls, this is how we can decide who has to take out the trash next year) We played tournament style for quite some time.

After dinner, we went to check off something from my “things to do while in Cambodia” list. Eat a fertilized duck egg, or a duck fetus. Yut was more than happy to assist us in expanding our palates. So we sat down and Yut showed us what to do. You put the boiled egg small side down into the little holder and crack the top open. Once open, you take the lime-pepper sauce (which is delicious! especially on Lok Lak and honey chicken) and put a little on top and suck out some of the juice. Then you start into the half-developed duck. It looked as bad as it sounded. There were literally little parts of the duck you could tell were developing. But it didn’t taste bad at all. Different. But I actually liked it. I was the first one to finish mine. After that experience, we all decided we deserved a beer, so we went to the Banana Leaf and enjoyed some drafts. Yut gave us all Khmer names. Mine means “beautiful flower” in english, but I’ll have to get back to you with the Khmer spelling, Jayshri has them all written down. It was such a fun night.

Friday was another free day. Beth, Cindy and I all took advantage of it by knocking out a reporting trip. We went into one of the villages and found a family that makes palm sugar. I’m working on a photo essay for my second story, so I took tons of pictures. The whole process was so interesting, and the family was so welcoming to us. I got to drink some of the palm sugar juice (delicious! I think I like it a little bit better than the coconut milk) as well as taste some of the finished sugar. After the mom, Rin, had scooped all the sugar out of the bowl, all the children took pieces of palm leaf and scrapped left over sugar from the side of the bowl. It’s not like granulated sugar, it’s a thick, almost molasisy, consistency. It was like watching kids from the states lick the brownie batter bowl.

The whole group went out to dinner last night. We had Viva! a Cambodian version of a Mexican restaurant. I had a shrimp quesadilla that was very tasty. Everyone in the group is getting along so well and it was so fun to all go out and get food together. After dinner and group of 6 of us went out on the town and had an absolutely wonderful time. I’m gong to miss it here.

i know

i’ve got some catching up to do. and i will get to it at some point. its just been a bit crazy with reporting trips, interviewing and writing out first stories, and the power going out. but an very long and exciting (i hope) update is coming very soon. we’re going to a waterfall tomorrow, but once we get home i’ll snap into writing mode and, if i get my book report done, i’ll sit down and do this next blog entry justice.

but to wet your appetite, here is a sneak peak of what all i have done. went to a buddhist monastery, learned the “monk, girl, ghost” game, had an excellent evening with some kids from the group and an ex-monk, ate a duck fetus, drank palm sugar juice, and ate fresh made palm sugar.

Silkworms and floating villages

Yesterday the class went to a silk farm, an artisan shop, and then had lunch and a tour in the old market. The silk farm was amazing. We got to see each stage of the silk process, from mulberry growth, to the silk worm cacoon, to the actual weaving together of goods. Incredible! Silk worms are very soft. The whole class and all our guides huddled around the big bog of feeding silkworms and petted them. It was quite a sight. In the room where they boiled the silk worm cacoons, pulled them into thread, and died the silk, i ate a silk worm. It had been boiled inside its cacoon and one of the guides cut it out for me. I put it in between my teeth. Squish. There was a mini explosion of bug in my mouth. Other than the initial squish, it wasn’t too bad. It tasted almost like a boiled peanut.

Today we went to Tonle Sap Lake. It is a HUGE fresh water lake in Cambodia that is fed by the Mekong river. There is a large population of Vietnamese immigrants who have built a floating village on the lake. It is house boat after house boat. We got off at a restaurant and fish farm. They were growing striped catfish and asian crocodiles. We stopped to eat some boiled shrimp with some delicious lemon pepper sauce. The kids who live out on the lake float around in large metal bowls. They paddle their way to the tour boats and try to sell  drinks and pythons. Yeah, pythons. They wear them around their necks like feather boas. No thank you.

After our afternoon class there are a few of us headed back to another monk chat. After dinner tonight we’re watching the movie, The Killing Fields, which of course are located in Cambodia’s capital. We don’t have any scheduled reporting trips for Thursday and Friday. I think I’m going with Beth to a village where they make palm sugar candies one of the days to work on a possible photo essay. We’re thinking of planning a trip to a waterfall sometime this weekend in between the volunteer opportunities and writing our first stories.

New Experiences

I’ve tried a lot of new things in the past 24 hours. Last night after dinner, Collin got out a durian fruit he had bought at the market. Imagine a spiky, almost pineappley, looking fruit that smells like rotting socks. Delicious right? Then you cut it open and the pieces of fruit look like off-white grubs. Getting better? So we peel off a little piece. Its got a soft squishy inside, with a filmy outside. It doesn’t taste that bad, but I certainly couldn’t eat a whole lot of it.

Today we went on a tour of a local village. It was similar to my clean water village experience, only this village seemed a lot more sophisticated than the one I saw yesterday. We walked all through the village and talked to the people through our guide. We got to try some fresh made rice wine– it was pungent to say the least.

At our next stop we got to try coconut milk. But not just any coconut milk. The young man shimmied his way up the coconut tree by way of a bamboo stick and carried them down for us. Fresh coconut milk, and green coconuts, not the brown hairy ones you usually see. Then they took a machete and cut each of us one. The milk was pretty clear and only a little bit sweet. It was delicious! And I don’t even like coconut. Unless they’re on my Samoa girl scout cookies.

After a boat ride around the West Baray Lake and a motorbike ride up to some ruins on an island, our reporting day had come to an end. However, it was not complete until our guide bought some crickets. After I pulled off the legs and wings off of the roasted insect, I popped the whole thing in my mouth. And then I had another one. They almost reminded me of pork rinds, except I liked the taste. Crunchy goodness.

Today was a really hot day. The sweat was just beading on my skin. I got a little too much sun on my right arm and my neck, so apparently I didn’t apply my sunscreen as thoroughly as I thought. The evening is winding down, but I’m looking forward to what tomorrow at the Silk Farm and the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake will bring.

As I type this I am trying to upload a lot of my pictures from my trip so far to facebook. The upload has already failed once, but hopefully this time it will work. So check out facebook for the album titled “Au Cambodge” (which is French for “in Cambodia,” we keep finding Tin Tin au Cambodge shirts and such at the Old Market)

No one is perfect

…but there are parts of everyone who are perfect.

This was the way one of the monks at monk chat described his temptations. Despite their shaved heads and saffron robes, monks are people, just like everyone else. They even have facebook and skype. At least this monk did. I don’t think I have ever been more fascinated in my entire life like I was sitting cross-legged across from three buddhist monks at the top of the Peace Cafe in down town Siem Reap yesterday. It was so interesting to ask questions of these pious men and have them answer frankly. And with jokes! definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far. I think we’re going to go back for another one of the monk chats, they are every Saturday and Wednesday at 5pm.

Today I woke up early to go volunteer with the Journeys Within Our Community (the NGO associated with our B&B) scholarship class. The Cambodian students in the class are all on scholarship at local Universities through JWOC. The class I joined today works with providing clean water to the villages in Siem Reap. We took a long and bumpy, off-raoding tuk-tuk ride out to a village. We then split off into 5 different groups, on the backs of motorbikes, to cover different sections of the village. We talked (and by we, I mean the students, I ignorantly listened as I have not picked up any substantial Khmer) to the families and figured out how many people used the well and what condition it and the water were in. Some had rusty water, dirty water, and no water at all during the rainy season. These people need wells and water, the makeshift ones they have constructed only go so far. After they assess the current wells and figure out where new ones can be built, JWOC hires a local expert to repair and build new wells so that the villages can have clean water. I hope to work more with this project over the next two weeks.

The villages were really interesting. It really hit me that I wasn’t in america or even the western world anymore. Some of the people I saw today had never seen a white foreigner before. Their houses are all on stilts and made with everything from palm-leafs to hand-made bricks. People lay in hammocks under the shade of their houses, often sharing space with their chickens, cows, pigs, and dogs. Despite my white skin and inability to speak their language, the people were warm and welcoming to me, the outsider. They let me rest in the shade of their house, offered me seats, and one woman even asked me to eat lunch with her. If we had more time, I would have loved to. I now have a newfound patience for people who can’t speak my language and who come from different cultures than what I am accustomed to.

Our schedule has been changed a little bit since we all seem to be a bit templed out, so I am not sure exactly what we are doing tomorrow. But I’m sure whatever it is will come with new sights, insights, and experiences.

chaco watch


never leave your chacos out in the sun too long, or they’ll be too hot when you go to put them back on.

I am documenting the development of my chaco tan during my time in cambodia and malaysia. I’ll update every few days so you can see what 2 pairs of chacos and the cambodian sun do to my feet.

Day 2:

After spending time walking around a squatter village and Angkor Wat temple.

Day 4:

Two more days spent exploring temples

a catch up post

Yesterday was a long, long day.

Thursday night we went and got dinner and then walked around pub street for a while. We went to the Funky Monkey and Angkor What? and then we went to zone one, the cambodian discoteque. What an experience. What a night.

After breakfast and class on Friday we took a long tuk-tuk ride out to some of the smaller temples. On the way we passed by a lot of farming communities. The wet season hasn’t gotten underway yet, so we could see where the rice fields would usually be. All the houses are up on stilts and the people stay below their houses during the day to avoid the heat. The people I passed seem to live such a simple exsistance, spending time with family, living off the land, and making extra cash when they can.

We visited Banteay Srei, the lady temple, another small temple that no one in the class can seem to remember the name of, and Ta Prahom, the tree temple where they filmed tomb raider. So you can call me Lara Croft. Ta Prahom and Bayon have been my favorite so far. Ta Prahom was absolutly magnificent. Much of it is in ruins from the tree roots. You can read a brief anticdote from my visit, as well as my classmate’s, here:

We were all pretty tired when we got back to the B&B, so we had a lazy afternoon class and ordered pizza for dinner. They delivered it via tuk-tuk (we need these in Athens) and we ate with our professor, Dr. Greenman. We ordered 4 large pizzas, they we’re really good. I guess you can find western food anywhere, although the sizes are definatly different. If what we got was a large, I can’t even imagine a small.

Its Saturday morning now. We all had a late (and by late, I mean on our adjusted oldfolks time of 8:30am) breakfast, ordered lunch, and have been watching Korean MTV and lounging around. This maymester study abroad is no walk in the park, its long days and hard work, but the experiences are incredible. It doesn’t feel real. After lunch we’re going to a monk chat, where we can sit down and talk with some Buddhist monks, and then peruse the old market again. That is if the ominous thunder doesn’t result in rain.

a monkey and a monk on a moterbike

Only one of the many things I saw today. Today we went to the Angkor Thom complex. Despite all the hype that surrounds Agkor Wat, I think what I saw today was far more spectacular.

We took a tuk-tuk (or rather a remork since it has 4 wheels, tuk-tuks have three wheels and are more common in Thailand instead of Siem Reap) to the temple complex. The road into the temple was lined with thousands of people, vendors, and monks. There was some sort of pilgrimage festival going on with nuns and their helpers. The air was a little rough, a mix of dust, exhaust, sweat, animal, and cooking meat. We also passed tons of monkeys and elephants on our way in.

Once inside I was amazed at every turn. The carvings are so intricate, everything means something. We saw the old king’s entertainment terrace, called the elephant terrace, as well as the king’s and concubine’s baths.

None of this compared to the Bayon temple, the temple of faces. It looked like something straight from Hollywood, except it was real and old. It took twenty years to build and isn’t quite as old as Angkor Wat, but since the king who ordered it to be built had the workers use stones from the fallen temples, it looks older than Angkor Wat. I’ll upload as many pictures as possible, but it is something that has to be seen to be believed.

The weather here is crazy hot. I’m talking 100 degrees with 100% humidity. I’ve never sweat so much in my entire life, recruitment is going to be a walk in the park. We look so silly in our outfits– long skirts, capris, pants, long sleeves, big hats, like we’re all going out on safaris in different countries or something. But it is the only way to combat the sun and the bugs. Sweat-schmet.

The food at the B&B and in Cambodia in general is delicious. We wake up every morning to breakfast. This morning I had fresh french pressed coffee, fresh pineapple juice, fruit, a croissant, and a bowl of yogurt, granola, and apples, mangos, dragon fruit, and raisins. A few days ago I had banana creps. Delicious. For lunch and dinner I’ve had the traditional coconut chicken curry (served in a hollowed out coconut!), cashew chicken, amok fish… the works. Its fabulous. So much for that weight I was hoping to lose, I’m banking on sweating off the pounds.

We’ve got class this afternoon around the pool, and then the group is going out to the night market, dinner, and to Angkor What Bar and whatever else we can find out on the town. We are thinking of heading to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Phen, this weekend. There is a festival this weekend celebrating the King’s birthday. So we’ll see what we find.