Sunday 29th June
Finally took off from Sydney after a five hour delaydue to aircraft maintenance. So instead of getting to Bangkok at 10pm got there at 4am. Had a compensatory voucher (from my travel agent for some other mix up) for what seemed to be a 10 star hotel so thought that rather than sit 4 more hours in an airport , took the shuttle bus and enjoyed a few hours of luxury.Then up and on the 8am flight to PP>
Looking out the window of the wooded hills I couln't help remembering the lovely Cambodian girls I had taught about 30 years ago back at what was then the Westbridge migrant hostel. In their mid teens, they had lost all their older male relatives in the POl Pot regime. They themselves had been force dto dig dams with their bare hands. So in due course with their remaining family members they had made their way through those hills to refugee camaps in Thailand and after a year or two made it to Australia. Where they presented themselves to me in the learning centre next morning , ready to start learning English.
They were simly wonderful. So eager and positive. Three of them . Two freinds and the aunt of one. Talking to them every day I got to know them and in due course invited them to Sunday lunch> Photocopied the Hurstville page of the street directory ....most people in Hurstville would be daunted to make their way to Villawood on public transport. But these three girls were there at the door at the appointed time. (After many funny experiences with misunderstandings with Koreans and Chinese about appointed times for home invitations..we expected anything.) But not these girls...there they were. Clearly a cut above the rest. ..IN due course they studied (I got funding to set up the first "learning how to learn"course... designed for them as they had no high school education... in due course they studued, married, bought houses, had children ran businesses. I am sure they are richer than I am now>
PP is a lovely city. Still very Cambodian. Most of the shops except in the tourist areas are only in Khmer. The city itself is strongly French colonial in style. Remonds me of Berlin or PAris. But of course there is a lot of poverty everywhere.
Monday 30th June
I met Connie and her teacher friend Rosie , also form Melbourne , at their hotel. It is an old colonial style , Chinese owned place. $25 a night with air con and even a swimming pool. There is an interesting mix of guests...the 30 or so from teachers across borders...from Oz, US, UK . Including some young Cambodian American teachers. All here as volunteers on their summer break. More younger ones than older.
Other guests include European couples spending their first week with their newly adopted Cambodian babies...observers from the EEC here to observe the up-coming national electiosn...and sundry other aid workers and volunteers . Fascinating.
Connie immediately took me off to the Russian market to equip me with money belt and small back pack. She didn't like the look of my handbag. I love traditional markets! Unbelievable.Then we went to the Toul Sleng Genocide museum. We looked around but did not stay long. Our sweet driver asked us why we didn't stay long. I hope he could understand that it was out of respect.
Then I was off on my own to see the main temple in the centre of the city, riding in a tuk tuk, which is an open air conveyasnce pulled by a motorcycle. The driver was very nice and kind. Took me to each place and waited, pointing out the attractions in his limited English.
The temple is very much a favourite place, on a hill surrounded by remnants of jungle complete with monkeys and an elephant to give rides. And all manner of beggars. When I had finished, there was my trusty driver waiting to take me to the Royal palcae and then the Foreign Correspondents Club down by the river. At this stage, having been divested by Connie of most of my money, cards and valuables. I realised that I only had $5 left...no phone...Rosie had been bruised and cut the previous day in an altercation with a thief who had attempted to snatch a camera from her hand in a rough part of town. Hence the money belt and back pack.
Actually my wonderful lightweight travelling pants from Katmandu have secret zipper pockets even for my camera. I'm getting things figuresd out.
So..with only $5 I ordered a local beer for $2 then decided I would walk back. I did have a map! I like walking and with the time around 5 it was not too hot. LOvely...past the palace and temples and official buildings along the main boulevards. Lots of trees. However... in my sleep- deprived state and the heat I quickly realised that negotiating the traffic to cross roads was beyond me. Mostly motor cycles, but plenty of big aggressive SUVs, bicycles, rickshaws, kids, everything.Mostly going in the same direction ( French style... on the other side of the road ...another hazard for me) SO I surrendered to one of the many tuk tuk drivers who had been honking me and climb aboard, hoping I would be able to negotiate the short ride for less than $3! It was only $1. So home, safe and sound. That night there was a teachers across borders dinner at a nearby restaurant. Very nice.
Next day, yesterday...I went and participated in the lesson for the local high school English teachers with Connie and Rosie. The teachers get paid a small stipend to attend as well as being eager to improve.
Then our favoured driver was there at 1pm to take Connie and me out to the "Killing Fields"...a half hour ride away through the sprawling suburbs and beyond to the rice paddies.
After that back in to town for an antidote...the National museum. And a dip in the pool to recover from all the dust. Then a lecture on Buddhism especially for us at a private university by the MInister for Education followed by a sumptuous dinner at a Cambodian restaurant whch he hosted. Somehow, I sat at the end of the table where there were empty seats, being a ring in and not an official participant... and I ended up sitting next to the Mnister himself and the President of the University.!
THis morning, Wednesday, is day 4 of my trip. I am on my own. I had had a headache for about 18 hours. Hven't been eating much... always cautious for a while..haven't really been in Asia for more than 25 years. And I tend to be particuar about hygiene. This is like a time warp back to THailand or rural Korea. So I slept a bit longer and then took myself round the corner to on of the main streets where there is aan affluent western influence....a Macdonalds type Caambodia cafe and had a latte and croissant. $2!! Feeling much better.
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