Friday, September 5, 2008

Hello all! Well, it's been a while since the last post. Big news!!! I've received my permanent site where I'll be for the next 2 years!!

I'll be going to Kampong Thom provincial town. It's located in the geographic center of Cambodia (in case you're checking the map). It's a popular stop over on the way to Siem Riep (Angkor Wat). I'm pretty excited as it's an up and coming town that just got it's first western food restaurant, an italian place owned by an ex-pat who is a former Peace Corps volunteer! Talk about a valuable resource in town!! Getting a western food place is the tell tale of a town making the turn towards the big time! Can a bar focusing on American Football be far behind??

In the next two days I'll be travelling to visit the site for the first time. I kinda got the hook up with my host family as I will have a whole floor to myself at the house as well as access to...gasp... ELECTRICITY!! More expensive but it sure will be easier to read with all that light!

what follows is some pre written stuff to catch everyone up on what it's been like here in Kampuchea!

I guess I should apologize for the brevity of my recent posts. I can only get on the internet while in Kampong Chhnang, the provincial town that is the hub site of our training. The only spare time we have is during lunch so I haven’t had much time to chat away about stuff. I’m typing this post ahead of time so that it can be cut and pasted quickly. Hopefully it will catch everyone up on some of my thoughts about Kampuchea.

Here are some random thoughts:

Cows- Cambodia may have the skinniest cows on the planet. We drove by some on the bus ride out of Phnom Penh and I remember thinking “man, I’ve never seen a cow with six pack abs before.”

Driving- Anyone who has ever mused that driving would be much better without all those pesky rules should spend a couple of weeks on the roads in Cambodia. Traveling the roadways here will change your opinion of what is safe and what isn’t. Seatbelts? We don’t need no stinkin’ seatbelts. I used to think that two lane roads were for only two cars at a time. Think of the most narrow two lane road you know and you will be able to get three cars and a motorcycle abreast of each other, no problem. Trust me, there’s room.

Text messaging- Cell phones have taken Cambodia by storm. This makes sense as the more remote areas can get service by just putting up a few towers. Khmer people text each other much more often than calling tho as it is much cheaper. This has had an unusual side affect. Text-speak has become pervasive in Khmer society. For example, one of the first things my language teacher did was to pull our leg regarding how hard the test was going to be. He smiled and said.. “Jk! Jk!” This type of thing happens everywhere with people of all ages. For most Khmer, the cell phone is the first exposure they get to English, so most people with phones will remark to you at some point “BFF” “JK, JK” or “LOL”. They also learn useful phrases such as “Missed call” and “one new number.”

Rice- Rice is in every meal. It’s so important that Khmer actually say “eat rice” (nyom bye) as another phrase for “having a meal” If someone they know passes by the house it’s polite for them to yell “Come eat rice”. Rice however has a dark side. If someone, say a new arrival to the country dives in headlong into a diet that is 85% rice you…may…NEVER…crap…again!! Luckily, an apple a day will not only keep the doctor away, it will help get things moving so that you don’t turn septic from impacted bowels. Sadly, apples are not readily available here, and the locals seem to know their value to us “barang” (foreigners) so they are expensive and nobody will budge on the price.

Money- Now that I’ve complained that apples can be expensive, here’s a tidbit on money. It’s silly cheap to live here. If one eats a super deluxe meal, has a couple of beers and coffee you could end up paying 24,000 riel. This sounds like a lot until you know that 4000 riel equals roughly $1 (that comes out to six bucks for you English majors out there). The average meal here is around 4000 riel, with breakfast inside the market rewarding the brave with a nice amount of food for only 1500 riel. There is a lady at a roadside stand that makes waffles for only 200 riel each! Yummy!!

Motos- A moto is basically what Khmer call a motorscooter (too small to be a motorcycle but larger than a moped). It is the preferred mode of motorized travel as cars are usually beyond the means of most Khmer families. The number of passengers that can be safely transported on a moto is limited only by the number of family members the mother has been able to chug out. So far, the record number that I have seen on a single moto, driving down the road at 35 mph or so is 5 humans and a chicken.

More numbers- Regarding cargo, there is no such thing as stacked too high. If the stack was too high, it would have fallen down. So furniture, chicken coops, etc can be seen driving down the road in stacks 3 or four times higher than the roof of the vehicle (or moto). Regarding taxis, there is no such thing as too full. The way you know it is full is that nobody else wants on. If someone else does, there is room. Regarding taxis again, If you ask the driver where the taxi is going, there will be only one answer “where you want to go” If you really want to know where a taxi is heading you have to check to see where the fifteen or so people already on the taxi are headed. If that’s your town, in you go.

Cojones- Bob Barker has never been to Cambodia. Testicles are everywhere. Pigs, Cows, drunk dudes and most of all, Dogs. What’s more, dogs seem to have some sort of ESP that alerts them if someone starts looking their way, at which time they instinctively start licking themselves. Nobody here even understands the concept of neutering dogs. Even the girl dogs here have testicles.

Gambling- Khmer love them some gambling. From cards to sports everyone seems to gamble. In my training village of Boribo, volleyball is the sport of choice and there is always money on the line. There is even action riding on a game involving kicking a flip flop that you can make a few thousand riel playing…provided you are under the age of 10. Everyone here gambles.

Danger- Danger is a relative term here (see Motos Numbers, and Driving above). Things we think are dangerous Khmer see as routine. Every once in a while, a Khmer will say “Care…Danger!”. If you hear this you better damn well steer clear of whatever activity they are referring to (riding on the street, swimming, drinking water) coz if they think it’s dangerous it’s probably something that would make Evel Knievel shit his pants.

Cows and farm livin- About a week ago I was finishing up lunch with my host family. Suddenly there was some sort of commotion behind the house which my host brother ran to investigate. It turns out that my a cow my brother was tending was having a baby! He asked me if I wanted to see it but I was late for class so I said I would check it out later. No more came of this until I was heading home the next morning after teaching a class. Several people including my host brother and host father were gathered around the well. As I approached, my brother said “Bonn Say-ha…the cow…she die.” (obviously he was concerned that this might be an issue for me). My host father looked up and was characteristically brief: He said one word-- “Chin-aing” (Delicious). Yep, the next day I ate me some baby cow. And father was right. It was yummy. That’s farm livin’ for ya!

Stay tuned for the next installment! I’ll be checking in with everyone soon!

C- Ya!!



NC said...

Hi Mitch!

I'm glad to hear you're doing well out there. And by the way, I found this on the times this morning:
Don't even try to tell me it's rough out there!

Things are good here, though I never did get those mass email from you or your new email address. Try me at my work email:


NC said...

ooops! Wrong link! The site I was really referring to is:

haha....go, me.