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January 27, 2011

Part III - Cambodia Condensed - A “Two-a-Day” Series of Our Time In Cambodia:

Mom & The Girls (Photo: Schwary)
DAY 5 - CAMBODIA (Battambang):
We met our next tuk-tuk driver. This time his name was Sung. Not pronounced like, “I sung a song”, but like s-o-o-n, “I’ll see you soon”. Anyhow, Sung took us on a tour of Battambang and the few highlights it had to offer. Our first stop, examining how rice-paper was made. Second stop, learning how rice-noodles were made. third stop, watching how the fish market applied it centuries old techniques of catching, killing, preserving and selling its fish. The smell of those fish still linger in my nose. I think it was in those precious moments at the fish market that my Mom realized she had been in Asia for over a solid week. It was recently documented that the odor of fish can cause a  variety of different emotions, one of which, in this circumstance, was an immediate appreciation her youngest son, Jason. Now, only if I could bottle up that scent and sell it as a perfume to the rest of the world. Ok, enough of horseplay, we have serious stuff to cover.  We re-boarded Sung’s tuk-tuk and arrived at a restaurant. I insisted he eat with us. I bet he thought he was simply in for a free meal. He wasn’t. He was about to be interviewed, interrogated and questioned on some of the things I desperately wanted to know about Cambodia, and it’s long history of oppression and poverty. It was tough for me to ask what I asked. It was good for him to know that I cared. Everyone at the table got the opportunity to learn.  The things he recounted and spoke of were overwhelmingly tragic. I always respected Dan Rather, but in that particular moment, he had nothing on Sung. Thank you Sung. Thank you again. We mounted the tuk-tuk and arrived at a tourist trap. We were expected to ride a bamboo train for an entire fourteen kilometers, sitting on our bare buttocks. Not good. We declined the offer and substituted it for examining a bucket full of skinned rats that were in the process of being deep fried like KFC chicken. If you’re wondering, no, I didn’t try it. Not even Marie! She’s from France and still chose to decline. I figured it would have been a golden opportunity to add eating fried rats to her long list of Man vs. Wild resume of things consumed that most Americans consider repugnant. Off the main topic, her father once ate bat testicles. Sorry, not going there.  Our last stop of the day was to the base of a large hill. We climbed the hill and visited some enormous golden domed temples.  I got to see a Buddhist Monk washing his orange robes out of a small plastic bucket.  We descended the hill and visited the principal attraction, a large hole used to shove thousands of innocent Cambodians to their death during the height of the Khmer Rouge regime. It was beyond sad. I placed my right hand on top of the actual bolder that was responsible for delivering  the final blow. In the ten seconds my hand rested on the tip of that rock, I felt a small portion of the extreme misery and absolute bewilderment of the vast genocidal atrocities inflicted on millions of Cambodians throughout the four years of Pol Pot’s, reign of terror. My soul wept for those poor victims. I felt deep hatred for Pol Pot. I felt frustration for my government's lack of involvement during those first four years of my once young 36 year old life. When I think of how the U.S. involves itself in the affairs of every country that exists on the planet, and for it to have turned a blind eye on this international atrocity, it makes me want to vomit. After absorbing these frustrations, they were immediate replaced with the fascination as we observed millions of bats leave their cave for the evening in search of blood rendering nutrition. I wondered if Marie’s father would have been interested to see that one? We hopped on our tuk-tuk for the last time. Road back to hotel and rested. Again, a very long day. Went to bed knowing we’d be back on the bus trail tomorrow.  I tried to dream that soon we’d stop feeling deep sorrow and sadness for such a kind and humbled people. But I wasn’t naive, being in Cambodia is like being in an environment inextricable from such emotions.  And furthermore, that same type of mentality might be the same wishful thinking that left my county blind folder 35 years ago. Just prior to going to bed we all watched, Marley & Me. I thought it would be uplifting.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t. While Marley was being put to sleep at the vet, I was the only person watching without tears in my eyes. Reality can be crazy. Reality can be tuff. But, it’s reality that perfectly provides endless opportunity for both good, and bad. Oh reality, how real you are. With enough in my head to last an eternity, I passed out. Zzzzz.

Riding In Style (Photo: Schwary)
DAY 6  - CAMBODIA (Battambang to Phnom Penh):
We woke up in a rush. Packed everything as neatly as possible in just eighteen minutes. Walked to the bus station just around the corner from out hotel, boarded the bus and took our seats. We thought we were in for a pretty simple ride but it ended up taking almost twice as long. Some bused go from A to B. This one however, seemed to stop at every letter between A and Z. Tiring. I figured it was okay though because it gave my Mom a chance to feel what it’s like to travel by bus in a third world country.  I’m sure it was more an experience for her, than me.  I enjoy giving her these opportunities. I feel it forces her to appreciate the BMW a bit more when she returns to Newport. :) .  In case you missed that, that was a smily face. We arrived in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.  That name actually has a meaning being it. In fact, almost all Cambodian cities have a meaning behind their name. Phnom means “hill” in English. Penh, is the last name of a woman who lived almost 1,200 years ago that did something important on that particular hill (placed four Buddha statues on top of it, if you're curious).  Our last hour of the bus ride was my favorite. The sun was setting over the city, casting a warm, golden blanket over all it’s inhabitants as they came running to the street to greet us. Well, sort of. The city is filled with about two million inhabitants, of which, I think I counted 1,673, 361.  The vast majority of these people live in either super condensed accommodations, or worse yet, don’t even have a proper bed to sleep on when the sun goes down.  Beyond that inconvenient truth, I sensed an awkward, almost misplaced joy for the people of this city. Why? Because I know that just a brief thirty years before, this city was a complete ghost town during that asshole’s (Pol Pot) regime. It’s true, can you imagine within five hours of his victory march he literally kicked out every single citizen of the city and forced them into labor camps across the country?  We arrived at the bus station. Tired, yet more entranced, we boarded a friendly tuk-tuk driver’s tuk-tuk, and peeled out of the station and into the circus like traffic of Phnom Penh.  We checked into our Hotel, who’s name was none other than, The Last Home Guesthouse. Scary name if you think about it. I wonder which Madison Avenue’s PR/Marketing agency was responsible for that screw-up? At dinner, I ate my first real steak in over four months. Maybe it was actually seven months if you consider the lack of American style steaks you get in France.  Fat and happy, I tossed and turned to sleep.  Zzzzz.

P h o t o g r a p h s  o f   D a y  5
'Nova in Rice Land (Photo: Schwary)
Sunset Over Battambang (Photo: Schwary)
Blurry Spaghetti (Photo: Schwary)
Zen (Photo: Schwary)
Weeee in Cambodia! (Photo: Schwary)
Me, Trying To Be Artsy (Photo: Schwary)
Mom Over Battambang (Photo: Schwary)
Artsy, Again (Photo: Schwary)
Fragile (Photo: Schwary)
Monk(eying) Around (Photo: Schwary)
Brick & Mortar (Photo: Schwary)
Brick and Children (Photo: Schwary)
Raider of the Lost Temples (Photo: Schwary)
Bridge and Water (Photo: Schwary)
One of Our Many Tuk-Tuks (Photo: Schwary)
12 Year Old Monk (Photo: Schwary)
Cambodian Plate (Photo: Schwary)
Fish at the Market (Photo: Schwary)
100 Kilos of Fish (Photo: Schwary)
Cambodian Team Work (Photo: Schwary)
In a Class Room Called, Life (Photo: Schwary)
Rural Road (Photo: Schwary)
Whistle While You Work, Whistle While You Play (Photo: Schwary)
What Next? (Photo: Schwary)
 Rice Noodles (Photo: Schwary)
Back In School (Photo: Schwary)
No Caption Necessary (Photo: Schwary)
4 of a Kind (Photo: Schwary)

P h o t o g r a p h s  o f   D a y  6
Mom and Another Bus Ride (Photo: Schwary)
 First Images of Phnom Penh from Bus Window - 1 (Photo: Schwary)
 First Images of Phnom Penh from Bus Window - 2 (Photo: Schwary)
 First Images of Phnom Penh from Bus Window - 3 (Photo: Schwary)
 First Images of Phnom Penh from Bus Window - 4 (Photo: Schwary)
 First Images of Phnom Penh from Bus Window - 5 (Photo: Schwary)
The End, for part III, that is...


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