Archive for the ‘Cambodia’ category

A Tale Of Two Countries by Diane

April 18, 2010

We’re sorry we haven’t blogged in ages.  We make no excuses, it wasn’t intentional, we just stopped writing about the great travels we were taking.  We haven’t stopped the traveling  – we’re moving around SE Asia and enjoying our time here even more than we imagined.  Through it all, Michael has captured great images and we’ve uploaded a small grouping of them now.  Two of our recent trips are really worth sharing so here’s a snippet of description to go with those photos.

February 2010 – Incredible, indelible, indescribeable, intoxicating India
Kerala is the shining jewel state of southern India.  We wanted a slow and easy way to take our first India vacation so we opted out of the Taj Mahal and the challenges of the North.  We chose well.  After two days in the dusty, trashy, noisy, chaotic streets of Cochin and the charms of the old Jew town quarter, we drove high into the hills to the tea plantations of Munnar.  The cool mountain air and stunning nature was cleansing, sweet relief.  This is the India you never knew existed.  The next time you are letting your tea steep, take a moment to imagine the steep slopes on which those leaves grow.  You cannot help but appreciate the effort and artistry that convene in this common cuppa, and to understand why so many cultures imbue it with reverence and ritual.  There’s magic in them there leaves.  Next our expert driver navigated the mountainous switchbacks to take us to the coastal backwaters of colourful Kerala.  The houseboat rental through this region was the highlight of our trip. Life is lived on these waters is sparse simplicity but according to an ancient traditional rhythm.

Every moment in India is one of contrasts; ordinary vegetables enlivened with perfumed seasonings, stifling heat refreshed by white bright smiles; and so many shades of brown, weather-worn people, wrapped in a dazzling rainbow of cottons and silk.  The whole journey felt like a feast for the senses and India’s “other-worldly” quality lingers long in our hearts and heads.

For the photos, click here.

March 2010 – Pursat and Phenom Penh, Cambodia

A year ago, for our 10th wedding anniversary, we sponsored two children from rural Cambodia.  For Easter this year, we decided to go and meet them and spend some time in their villages and see how we could help out.  We collected heaps of clothing, books and toys, caught a 6am flight to Phenom Penh and then took a 4-hour drive North to the small town of Pursat. A group of Americans started an organization called Sustainable Cambodia back in the 90’s, after visiting there and realizing they simply had to do something to make a difference. And what a difference they’ve made.

They focus on water sourcing through well digging, water catchment and purification and schooling.  We spent three amazing days visiting the poorest villages we have ever been to, distributing the clothing we brought, (which fell grossly shy of the need) and savoring the spirit of these warm, smiling, hopeful, even-when-hopelessly-poor people.  We put shoes on feet that had never worn shoes before, watched as women and teenagers blushed and giggled when handed new panties and received more than our share of blessings from people who were as grateful for our presence as they were for the supplies.  We bought each of our families a bicycle, that will be used by every member of the family over the course of a day.  We were VIP’s at a “diarrhea party,” which was a role-playing skit put on by the older students to teach the very young about cholera and the importance of using water filters.  It was a serious subject but as we’ve come to see in this country with a tragically serious past, it ended like most events–loads of laughter, hours of dancing and non-stop singing.

We spent Easter weekend in Phenom Penh, reveling in the Frenchness of it all– great coffee, bread and bistros.  It’s gentler than Hanoi and less seedy than Bangkok and it has a peaceful pace that envelops you.  There are lots of NGO’s (non-government organizations) operating retail and arts and crafts shops as well as restaurants, all in an effort to make amends for the atrocities that befell Cambodia.  And it’s working!  My favorite hours in the city were spent watching motorbikes, laden with lives and livelihoods, pass in front of our hotel window.  We went to help others and we received more than we gave.  A Happy Easter in deed.

For the photos, click here.

Our time in Asia is ending in a few months, we’re still weighing our options and frantically trying to decide if we can squeeze in Laos, or Nepal or Japan, or should we go back to Bali, Siem Reap or Phuket!  Good choices all.  We’ll keep you with us in our hearts and look forward to the chance to share some of our stories with you when we meet again.

Contrast in Cambodia by Diane

April 8, 2009

Note:  With this blog entry, we’re switching to displaying our photos on Picasa.  You can view all of the Cambodia shots, plus pictures of our recent trips to Puerto Galera in the Philippines and Sibu Island in Malaysia by clicking here when you’re done reading.

Like all tourists bound for Angkor Wat, we were captivated by the ancient temples.  Our photos, reminiscent of all the photos you have ever seen of this destination, capture only a small bit of the evocative, sometimes eerie, always enticing 12th century ruins.  Two things really surprised us.  First, you can literally climb all over these crumbling temples.  There are no barriers, no silk ropes; instead there are arrows pointing “this way” with tourists from all over the world crawling through the warrens of doorways, windows and half-walls in pursuit of that one unique photo.  I’m not sure how long this “freedom” will last, and it exists in stark contrast to the serenity of the place.  Still we found ourselves quieted by our own awe as we examined the intricacy of the carvings, the weathered color on the walls, and — most astounding of all considering the march of years — the symmetrically aligned doorways that invite your eyes to see from one end of the temple to the other, a distance you find unfathomable, while light falls and fades a dozen times along the path.

The second surprise was that most of the temples (and there are thousands, btw) are in the middle of the woods! The famous photos we’ve all seen never include the surrounding pine forests and tall wispy trees.  It’s gorgeous and flat and many of the temples are connected by scenic bike paths and stone bridges and are flanked by multi-story, multi-faced ornate archways.  Wow. The forests provided much of the “cover” that preserved the temples and hid them during the years of war that ravaged Cambodia – a place with the unfortunate distinction of being the most bombed country on earth.

Cambodia can appear to be a sad, sad place.  Wars have stolen whole generations of families and the Khmer Rouge regime was responsible for unspeakable savagery.  We visited The Land Mine Museum outside Siem Reap, created through the efforts of one ex-soldier who planted land mines during wartime and has now dedicated his life to finding and defusing thousands of them, and helping survivors enjoy lives without limbs. Contrary to what you’d expect, it was an uplifting experience.

Everywhere you look it is either muddy or dusty and so very poor. What little water runs through the village is used for everything imaginable – and this is water that you and I would prefer not to wash our feet in.  Out of nowhere, there are suddenly bursts of color in the middle of monochromatic dirty, silty street life and you see baskets of chili, vibrant silks, decked-out tuk-tuks and ear-to-ear smiles on barely-clothed children. Cambodians could simply be broken people, but instead they are very busy people, busy rebuilding lives that have seen the worst that man can do to man.

It’s the first place in Asia that I noticed what I could describe as an absence of pride – very little attention paid to flourish or the indulgence of beauty – and in its place an abundance of humility.  It’s as though everything here is fragile and tentative and all can be lost again with the change of the winds.  It was also the first time in a long time that I didn’t feel sorry for the street dogs – I simply couldn’t muster enough empathy for animals when surrounded by so much collective human suffering.

A thought struck me on a ride through the countryside – the idea of geographical or psychological relativity – if you don’t know your life is hard, then it isn’t.  What looked grueling to us was far better than the alternative that Cambodians have known.  And that’s what gives the country its unique vibe – people are brimming with gratitude for the little they have.  I felt, time and again, we were witness to the beauty and endurance of the human spirit.

And thankfully, the world is helping out.  We saw many US and European-sponsored homes that were part of a clean water project.  We visited a small orphanage and brought rice, noodles, cookies and school supplies and the surprised and grateful faces of the children will live long in our memories. There are lots of projects and ways to help and peace has finally come to this simple country.

Some final thoughts…

We were amused that along the roadside, almost all of the containers used to sell gasoline were Johnnie Walker bottles! (Black, Red, Blue labels – maybe that’s why these Cambodians are so smiley!) Outside the city, in front of many houses you see enormous steaming cauldrons of boiling sugar cane that’s being reduced to a type of brown sugar candy that’s a national favorite.  Michael donated a pint of blood at the hospital and he was treated like a celebrity – they just couldn’t thank him enough.  The joy of Obama is still ringing loudly in Cambodia, a country of underdogs sees themselves in him.  We saw many ornate staircases – wide, wooden, carved and fancily painted staircases – really expensive looking steps that connected bare ground to a simple wood house on stilts; I could only imagine that it was symbolic of connecting heaven and earth.  And on a ride back from too much “templing” we saw two men on scooters, each with a full-size live pig tied upside-down on the back, clearly en route to its “final destination.”  I was struck quiet by the sight and I realized that it is hard to witness the last minutes of any life, even a life that would be feed so many.   And that’s what Cambodia was for us – a country of constant contrasts.

Click here for photos.