TONLE SAP LAKE – CAMBODIA Part Two

FISHING THE LAKE

Catching Tonle Sap fish is simple (that’s what I was told). It is later that the real work begins. Because of the drop in the water level, the Tonle Sap naturally carries away thousands of fish. Fishers place cone-shaped nets into the water from their floating houses and then lift the net seconds later. Using this technique, two or three tons of fish are trapped each time and more than ten thousand tons of fish can be caught in under a week. One by one, fishers, mostly women, cut off the fish heads then take the fish back to the river to be cleaned and to remove the fat. Salting the fish for preservation is the final step in this process, but the fish will continue to macerate for several months in order to become a paste called prahoka condiment that complements almost any dish. On average, three days of fishing supplies enough prahok for an entire year.

To emphasise the importance of fish in the local economy, the name of Cambodian currency is riel, the name of a small silver carp that is the staple of most diets.

After leaving our very interesting excursion on the water we spent time wandering through a local market where there was a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Cambodia appears to be the land of the hammock. All ages from the very young to the elderly can be seen in hammocks in the Markets where they sell their goods. Time for a haircut, well the hairdresser was there too! Our tour guide wanted a pumpkin to take home to his mother and took quite time to choose one as the girl climbed to the top of the heap.

Lunch was an interesting experience where we suggested to Lim that he order dishes for us to share. We were outdoor under cover. Thankfully there were ceiling fans here and there. The food was enjoyable. The visit to the toilet was an experience I will leave to the imagination.

LIVING LIFE AS AN EXPAT.(4) – CAMBODIA

Expat. Life update #samesamebutdifferent

There are so many elements of life and living that are consistent wherever you are in the world, but each takes on the flavour of the country you are in…..so I thought I’d share a few of those as we are experiencing them in Cambodia.

SCHOOL –  Day starts for staff at 7.15                                                                 Most students arrive by bus, but others in Tuk Tuks, on moto’s, or are dropped off by parents.                                                                                                 8 am starts with high school line up for morning notices, then pastoral class until 8.20 when class starts.                                                                                        6 x 50 minute lessons.                                                                                            Many students have a cooked lunch prepared in the school kitchen. Two courses on a 4 week rotating menu (an interesting combination of foods – Khmer and attempts at more Western style)                                                      Class sizes range from mid-twenties in junior school to 3 students upwards from year 9 up, depending on subject choice.                                                      The school is just under 300 students. One class at each year level commencing with Kindergarten.                                                                                  All students study a second language – Khmer, French, Spanish or Korean. Classrooms have air conditioners running almost constantly. It is hot and humid!                                                                                                                            No uniform.                                                                                                                 The day finishes at 2.30pm, after which staff have meetings most nights. David and I usually leave around 4-4.30pm (and like home, I then do quite a bit of work at night)                                                                                                   The main school sports are soccer (football here) and basketball.

TRANSPORT –                                                                                                     We have a moto and a push bike. Currently spending about $3 a week on fuel. On weekends if we travel more than about 20 minutes away we use PassApp (like Uber) but small motorised rickshaws, or we call our friend Mr.Tou, our tuk tuk driver (but this is more expensive as we pay him a daily rate of approx. $US25).                                                                                             The traffic is always challenging but doesn’t travel too fast – 40km around town so that is a blessing. While the roads are improving in quality and more traffic lights are being installed…… people’s understanding of and willingness to follow road rules is another matter.                                   Travelling to work is different: on the way home tonight (with a slight diversion to get some food) we passed the following animals……. all roaming freely and often on the road – dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, cows, horses, goats, and water buffalo (and lots of rubbish).

FOOD –                                                                                                                   We eat at home during the week and, like at home, like to go out on weekends. Supermarket food is quite expensive, but we enjoy going to our local market where we can get a good range of fresh fruit and veg. Interestingly, most is imported to Cambodia. This week’s meals have included vegetarian lasagne, nachos, and corn and potato chowder! At work there is a ‘proper’ coffee machine which is staffed at morning tea and lunch time …… a cappuccino with fresh milk is 2000 riel ($USO.50c).            Wednesday school lunch is a highlight – a local Pakistani refugee prepares home cooked curry for the staff to purchase.

CLOTHING –                                                                                                                A little more casual than home, for work, although a number of the men still wear ties. It is long pants for the men and knee-length dresses for women, or pants. I wear much as I would have at home, but not my suit                         The other benefit (and practicality) is flat shoes….. and shoes off in any classroom with floor covering other than tiles.

ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY   –                                                                Everyone has phones and they are relatively inexpensive to run (a $US5 card seems to get us each through the month). We brought our computers from home for use at work and, fortunately, have one extra so are not having to carry it back and forth. At home we are happily using Abbey’s second Netflix screen…. while there are many channels we can access, many are not in English. We do enjoy the Australia channel.

WATER –                                                                                                                We buy our drinking water in 20l containers, but otherwise we use the tap water for washing, brushing teeth and cooking. (Research says that Phnom Penh water is fine for drinking…….but we’re playing it safe at present).

DAILY ROUTINES –                                                                                       Much as at home:  work, home, weeknights mostly doing work, although we both attend Bible study groups and we are going to the gym. The aim is three weeknights and once on the weekend. Like home we don’t always meet our aim. We are starting Khmer classes this Friday afternoon. While initially we had planned to undertake more intensive language studies, reality has hit and we realise we wouldn’t have the capacity at the end of a workday.

RECREATION –                                                                                                  We are still in the process of establishing new friendship networks, but nevertheless seem to catch up with someone for a meal out about once a week. If we head ‘downtown’ we can go to the movies.                                       We are attending International Christian Assembly each Sunday (about 400 attendees from MANY different countries.                                                             We celebrated Australia Day at the Director’s house with about 8 Australian families – either staff or students – and we already have a ‘date’ with the NSW staff to watch the Sydney v Crows match in May!                                                 And the gym has two lovely pools so a great place to feel cool.

 

 

 

 

TONLE SAP LAKE – CAMBODIA – Part One

TONLE SAP LAKE –  LITERALLY:  TONLE = Large River.  SAP = Not Salty

The lake is commonly referred to as ‘Great Lake” – the seasonally inundated freshwater lake and the attached river (Tonle Sap river) which is 120 kms long connects the Lake to the Mekong River. The annual fluctuation in the water volume of the Mekong causes a unique flow reversal of the Tonle Sap River. Inflow starts in May or June with maximum rates of flow by late August and ends in October or November, amplified by precipitation of the annual Asian Monsoon. In November the Lake reaches its maximum size. The annual monsoon ceases around this time of the year. As the Mekong River is at its minimum flow around this time and its water level falls deeper than the Tonle Sap Lake, the Tonle Sap River and surrounding wetlands, waters of the Lake’s basin drains via the Tonle Sap River into the Mekong. As a result the Tonle Sap River flows six months a year southeast (Mekong) to northwest (Lake) and six months a year in the opposite direction.

Our Driver and Tour Guide met us at the Hotel at 08:00 to travel 91 kms to Kampong Chhnang.

As it was about 4 weeks prior to the start of the wet season the countryside was not as green as I had expected but there were many interesting things to see along the way. Here and there we saw groups of 3 or 4 young children as they squatted under trees collecting Tamarind pods and leaves to be sold at the market. We were quick to ask for a photo stop as we approached a large Pottery. We could only purchase a few small pieces as we were aware of not adding too much weight to our bags. When back in the car we soon realised what a tiny price we had paid for our gifts to bring home. Lotus were growing in the low levels of water in the river. Rice hay had been stacked to a peak ready for the wet season. An ox cart was carrying the pottery to Market. Bougainvillea was prolific displaying a wide colour variety.

On arrival at the Lake we boarded a small boat, just for us, and spent a most interesting time viewing the happenings of the floating village as we passed by. The lake dwellers appeared to be very happy people posing with big smiles and waves as we took photos. Initially I felt that we were intruding but Lim wanted us to know that they were really pleased that we were interested enough to learn about their country. All of the necessities for living on the Lake have to be transported on the water so if the house needs to be re-roofed (which needs to be done regularly) the palm leaves have to be brought by boat or if a new section of the house is to be built the long bamboo poles come the same way. There are shop boats for day-to-day requirements such as fuel, fresh fruit and vegetables, soft drinks and even a coffee boat. As it was just before the wet season the water in the lake was at a low level and the water colour was a muddy-looking brown.

When the Tonle Sap floods the surrounding areas become a prime breeding ground for fish. During this time fishers are scarce. Fishing during this period is illegal to prevent disruption of mating. At the end of the rainy season, when the water levels go down, fishing is allowed again. Fishermen install floating houses along one half of the river and the other half is left free for navigation.

To be continued with more about the fishing and also a visit to the local Market……………

PHNOM PENH SIGNIFICANT SITES

FROM my diary notes after my visit in 2005.

“ROYAL PALACE AND SILVER PAGODA – Thankfully, because we are the only ones on this Tour, we are travelling in an air-conditioned car. The afternoon was spent visiting the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, both situated within the same walled grounds not far from the riverfront. The Palace was built in 1866 while under the French protectorate and King Norodom. Many of the surrounding buildings were built over following decades. The Silver Pagoda is the capital’s most visited Pagoda because of its array of priceless objects. It is named for the over 5,000 silver tiles that cover the floor. The walls are adorned with rarely seen turn of the century paintings and it houses cultural treasures such as the ‘Emerald Buddha’ and a Royal Litter.

The grounds are kept in immaculate condition and the ornate buildings include a totally pressed metal Pavilion given by Napoleon III and named after him. Entrance Fees were included but sometimes a charge was made when taking photographs and in other places photography was not allowed.  Footwear must be left on special racks at the door. (We always wondered whether we would ever see our sandals again, but no problems!)

So that we would receive the best information available, Lim introduced us to a specialist Guide who had full knowledge of the buildings being visited.

Our next stop was at the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CAMBODIA where we were once again left with a Specialist Guide, this time Miss Rath.

Miss Rath spoke excellent English but much concentration was needed as she spoke quietly and with quite a strong accent. Her mother cared for her little girl while she worked to support them and her main aim was to be able to give her daughter the schooling that had been afforded her by her family. The Museum building is a unique rust-red colour and displays more than 5000 objects including statues from the Angkorian era and other artefacts.

This visit to the Museum prior to visiting the Angkor Wat Temple Complex 5.5 kms North of Siem Reap helped prepare us for the wonders of that area.”

 

OUR HOUSE IN PHNOM PENH

LIVING LIFE AS AN EXPAT (3)

Clearly an Expat problem…. #bathrooms#somanybathrooms#interesting design

We have a lovely house.  In square metre terms it is bigger than the townhouse we left in Adelaide.

On the ground floor we have our living, kitchen and eating space. Out the back we have a small enclosed area for our washing machine and David’s general ‘junk’. We also have bathroom 1.  See any design issues here?

Level 2 has two bedrooms, each with their own ensuite. The one off our bedroom has a bath – great!  Unfortunately, no hot water. The second bedroom has the best bathroom – you will see a small heater on the wall.

On level three we have a third bedroom which again has its own ensuite, but again, we’re back to the cold water alternative.

We’re clearly spoilt for choice although you will be interested to see the interesting design elements.

But let us keep this in perspective. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation is one of the biggest issues affecting the health of children across Cambodia, particularly those who live in the countryside. Too many children are still denied the most basic right to safe water, the dignity of using a toilet and the simple practice of washing hands with soap. High incidences of diarrhoeal diseases alone account for one fifth of the deaths of children aged five and under in Cambodia and an estimated 10,000 overall deaths annually, largely owing to lack of sanitation and hygiene practices (unicef.org)

According to the Cambodian ministry for rural development the number of people with access to clean water increased to 53% in 2016.

This is a situation that needs to continue. When visiting rural schools with students from King’s Baptist in South Australia we learned that many schools may have only one or two toilets to serve more than 200 children and that many girls stop going to school once they reach puberty because of the challenges that they face.

So, while I get used to my cold bath, I keep some perspective thinking of the many families who still can’t turn a tap for running water.

STIRRED EMOTIONS

It would be difficult to visit Cambodia without immersing in the atrocities of the 1970’s which form a major part of the history of the country.

KHMER ROUGE REGIME  – The Khmer Rouge reached Phnom Penh and took power in 1975. Led by Pol Pot they changed the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea. The new regime modelled itself on Maoist China and immediately evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country’s agriculture on the model of the 11th century, discarded Western medicine and destroyed temples, libraries and anything considered Western. Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime range from approximately one to three million.

The following is a report I wrote in 2005 after returning from the trip I had with my brother who was living in Thailand at the time.

”We were met at the Airport in Phnom Penh by Liam, our guide, and Mr.Tok, our driver. As it was the end of the peak tourist season, we were The Tour. This worked very much in our favour as it was then a tour worked around us and the amount of time we chose to spend in any one place. Graham had arranged the tour via Internet and ‘phone with Mr.Sok Chea of World of Cambodia Travel. As it was too early to go to our hotel room we were on our way, straight from the Airport. Lim’s comment was that we would do the places that brought least happiness first and so we started at the Genocide Museum – Tuol Sleng (former Khmer Rouge S-21 Prison). Prior to 1975 the buildings housed a High School, but all of the classrooms were converted to prison cells with all windows being enclosed with iron bars and covered with tangled barbed wire to prevent possible escape by prisoners.Whole families from baby up were taken there to be exterminated.

Reports estimate that between 1975 and 1978 10,500 were killed, not including the children and that estimate is 2,000. This is all shown very graphically in paintings and photographs and also in visiting the cell blocks, seeing the shackles, gallows, etc. Prisoners were from all parts of the country and all walks of life. They were of many nationalities including Vietnamese, Laotians, Thai, Indians, Pakistanis, British, Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians, but the vast majority were Cambodians. They were workers, farmers, engineers, technicians, intellectuals, professors, teachers, students and even ministers and diplomats.

From there we drove approximately 15 kms, first on quite good sealed road passing many little roadside shops and dwellings, many bicycles and motor bikes, and fields of very green Morning Glory which is harvested while the leaves are young – it forms part of the local diet. Monks were seen walking alongside the road with umbrellas sheltering them from the heat of the day. I asked a couple of times that we stop so that I could take photographs (and they soon learned that this would happen quite often). The road meandered on for several kms deteriorating into a very pot-holed dirt road. When I encountered the first Petrol Station I asked for another photo stop. The children had just finished morning school and were all wandering or riding their bikes home. I asked three little girls if I could take their photograph and they willingly obliged and were very interested to then look at my camera to see themselves. Children go to school for 4 hours per day – either 7 until 11 or 1 until 5. It is exceptionally hot in the middle of the day and we found that many rest during that time.

Our destination on this road was Choeung Ek, a mass graves site known as the Killing Fields. When Pol Pot took power in 1975 all city dwellers were forced into the countryside to labour camps where everybody was forced to work 12-14 hours per day, every day. People were fed one watery bowl of soup with a few grains of rice thrown in, with everybody living in fear. We viewed large open pits where thousands of unnamed bodies were buried and saw the Memorial built in their honour.

Today’s Cambodian culture, including its art and music, is quite remarkable and modern day Cambodia is a friendly and youthful place that does not reflect the dark chapters in the country’s history.”

VISIT TO CENTRE 21

LIVING LIFE AS AN EXPAT (2)

Visit to Centre 21 – established by Transform Cambodia and sponsored by families connected to King’s Baptist Grammar School in South Australia.

As we don’t officially start work until January 4th we have used our time to get the house organised and visit with friends. Last week we had the chance to spend two days at Centre 21.

First:  some info about TRANSFORM –

We started with Cambodia – Transform started in 2006 after our founders witnessed hundreds of highly vulnerable children scavenging the rubbish tip of Phnom Penh. These children had no access to education and little hope for a better life. In partnership with their parents, the first Life Centre was started to provide 60 of these children with health care, nutrition, education and mentors who would stay with them as they grew up. Today, we have grown to almost 3,300 children and 31 Life Centres spread right across the city. 

Set up and led by entrepeneurs, Transform is over 50% funded by a private foundation. This sustainable funding source allows them to provide a level of care to our children and families that goes beyond the average charity. It means that their purpose is not to fundraise but rather to partner with other great organisations. 

This is where King’s Baptist got involved. Each child at Centre 21 is sponsored by a King’s family and this provides them program access, money for local schooling and uniform, a daily meal and 20kg of rice for their family each month. David and I sponsor one family, as does Grace (our eldest daughter). We are privileged to have established a personal relationship with our sponsor family, having now visited them a number of times. We also love getting to know the staff at the centre, the manager Mongkul, his teaching staff and the cook and the security guard.

This past week gave us time to visit and see the kids and teachers in action on one day and then on another morning attend on rice day when all of the parents are in attendance. Parents started the morning in small groups where they shared snacks and heard teaching about Christmas. Then everyone came together for the kids to perform an item, some games with the parents, information and updates (including a new staff member being introduced and me sharing a little about what we are doing in Cambodia) and then parents collected their rice.

For more details about Transform and their work see – https://www.transformcambodia.com