Thursday, August 22, 2013

I have seen the top of the mountain....

Vote "Giant Enemy Crab" for leader!

I've shown you the lows of Cambodia Yes, I am referring to politics, where the leader of Cambodia is chosen by pulling the shining blade, Ricecalibur from the stone... what? Oh, right. The leaders are semi-democratically elected, with potentially mammoth amounts of corruption, and everyone else runs around talking about the sky falling.

Don't vote for this guy...

The sword seems like a better option. ;)

Anyway, back to the high points of Cambodia. Amongst my travels, I was able to visit a mountain! I know what you are thinking - Cambodia is mostly flat jungle. What mountain? While we do have a lot of flatlands, we have a number of (smallish) mountains. This one in particular is called "Bokor"(which apparently means "The ox's hump").

Stonehenge... place of mystery, and UF... what? oh, right. Still Cambodia. Still no sword in a rock.

You'll notice our trip resembles something akin to the Scottish Highlands. It was heavily foggy, rainy, and best of all, cold! Beautiful, glorious coldness! Really, it was more of an experience than a destination. :)

Navi in winter gear! :D
The Khmai, of course, were less than impressed with the temperature. Cold to them usually means it's 3 degrees under 90. Yes, I am used to the heat, to a point, but I still loooove cold.

Not everyone likes the cold...

What's there to see on Bokor? Well, it's an old French settlement - or at least an attempt at one. It's also got a former palace-like home for a former king, and an old church.

Larger congregation than this place has seen since... oh, prolly the 1930's.
We brought pretty much all of Sak Saum with us. For most, it was their first trip to Bokor. For some, it was their first trip anywhere! It makes for a good start for outings, I think.

Why was it their first? Well, Sak Saum is around to help people be free from what amounts to slavery. How many slaves get to sight-see? :)

Giant statue at the top.

The summit is capped by a large female Buddha-like statue named Lok Yeah Mao. She's considered to be the protector spirit of travelers. Realistically, this protection supposedly comes by sacrificing (spending money) and giving to the little roadside temples (spending money) like the one on the way to Sihanoukville I showed you a few posts ago. You all know my opinion on religions that take from the poor to give to the inanimate mortar and stone (or the people that 'tend' them), so I'll spare you the diatribe. Despite this dark cloud, it's quite interesting to visit and see the giant monument looming from the mists.

'Enter here, all ye who long for rest... or a good photo op'

The Catholic Church was in decidedly worse shape, but far more interesting. It's been too long since people have gathered in to enjoy fellowship, song, and to search for grace to expect it to feel like a church. Even so, there is still a pervading sense of quiet stillness.

DJ Saiyan and Jazzy A try to liven things up a bit.

Sadly, after a thorough search, I did not find any secret passages, doors, or mysterious catacombs stretching deep into the heart of the mountain. There was also a decided lack of snack vendors considering it's still Cambodia. :)

So happy to explore!
...we didn't actually go out that way - too muddy.

The broken down palace was interesting. Apparently someone tried to turn it into a casino at one point, but that didn't stick either. There were plenty of places to explore if you didn't mind getting your feet wet and stepping through slightly icky water.

How could you not want to see what's down there?!?

Needless to say, Aidan immediately wanted to be Indiana Jones and find every nook and cranny. My shoes were already soaked, so why not? We wandered all over the place :)

Jess took this one, and the stairs too I think.

After we finished being really cold (Can I have a take-away order of that, please?) and trekking through the mists, we headed to our next destination - kep.

The guy on the left? He just noticed the huge wave about to break over the group.

Kep beach (pronounced Kype - translation has something to do with saddles) is home to a crab market, and apparently some of the best durian in Cambodia. I wouldn't know. I don't eat the stuff, but I was told it was awesome! They also had a giant statue of a durian in town (I missed the photo op - sorry!).

For the guys and girls of Sak Saum, this was more than just a trip to the beach and mountain. As I mentioned, it was a first time for a good number of them. How could you tell? They went and bought new outfits to wear JUST to go.

When is the last time you went to an event that was that important? Wedding? Funeral? Squirrel hunting (new flannel jacket counts)?

Smiles all around!

 Was it worth it? Judging by all the smiles, I'd say yes. :)

All in all, it was a great adventure. Everyone laughed, got wet, went to the beach, got wet again. We saw ruins, waterfalls, a weird bird, and a statue or two.

Still no sword.

Most importantly, we made memories. For Sak Saum, these are just a few ways of replacing the bad memories - memories of the time that was stolen by abuse, trafficking, or just plain loneliness - and healing the hurts.

For Aidan, surprisingly, it's similar. New happy memories to replace the ones full of bullying and being made fun of.


I'll take that kind of trip anytime!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A heart of gold.

Ok, so I have a whole 'nuther post planned that I've been working on for 3 or 4 days now (yes, sometimes it takes awhile. Like you didn't know that already!), but something else more important came up.

I wanted to talk to you about something... well, ok - someone.

Those are snax he is holding.

This is Jim [pronounced "Heem". As in, you know this guy? Yes, I know heeeem (Best Igor voice)]. He is our beloved Tuk Tuk driver, and a good friend. He's done a lot for our family... removed dead ratasauruses (I came from Florida, and even I thought the rat was huge), plays games with Aidan, ferries me around, and helps me up when I trip and fall. Not that that happens or anything.

Really. Not at all. ...stop looking at me like that.

As I've gotten to know his family, I've realized just what a gem we have. He has a wife (same big goofy smile) and 3 kids - 1 boy and twin girls.


Why is he so special? Well, he's selfless. He literally puts everyone else first. No, not in that "Hey, you!-I'm-putting-you-first-so-check-out-how-humble-I-am" sort of way. He just... does. If it needs fixing, he'll fix it - even for complete strangers. He laughs and smiles at everyone, and everyone likes being around him.

The... great... mustachio!!!

Why am I writing this? I wanted to show you why so many of the people here are important. He's one of many that have a great beauty deep within their souls. Here, let me explain...

So, a few days ago, I hop in the Tuk Tuk and let him know my manly attempt to swing open the LARGE METAL GATE met with mixed results. I.E., I hurt my arm, and felt really old.

His responce was sympathy, of course, and a chuckle at being old. Then he told me he was sorry he couldn't come get me earlier (he was running late that day). His daughter was sick.

Ok, no biggie right? People you work with would make the same apology.

...Except his daughter has dengue fever. She sleeps alot, has a high fever, distended tummy, and increasingly lower blood pressure. He apologized again, saying he had to bring her for blood transfusions in a few hours and could only help me out for a little while. (Before you go all "Why didn't you let him go home to his daughter?!?!?!", he wouldn't hear of it.)

I went with him today when he visited. His wife was so blessed I came. They both gave me goofy grins!

His daughter was effectively gravely ill, with an incurable (by medicine) illness that's very nasty and dangerous. Most men would grieve, or worry, or blow off everything else. Not Jim. He just carries on, takes care of his family, and looks to help others in-between.

What if you could have a heart like his? Innocent... fulfilled... selfless?

What a treasure that would be, hmm? Worth giving your all for? Worth moving to a third world, stinky, dirty, hot nation?

Yup, I think so too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wars and rumors of wars...

So, I wanted to put up a small post about what's happening over here right now. Some of you - those who are up on current events - may be wondering how the recent elections are affecting Cambodia.


Right now, as rumor and some local facebookers, bloggers, and Cambodian news outlets would have it, both major parties won. Or lost. Maybe both at the same time.


Also, one or both parties have called in supporters to rally in Phnom Penh, or called in troops from Vietnam. Or both.

Courtesy Phnom Penh Post, Sam Rainsy rally.

Supposedly one party's more radical supporters threatened to blow up structures if their side lost.

 All rights reserved, WB

Right now, you're thinking it's getting bad over here. Why is this crazy dude sticking around? You want the truth?

Both parties sat down and talked. Yes, talked! There was mutual consensus that the election results were to be carefully examined and votes re-counted (There's no direct Khmai translation for "Dangling Chad"). Each side is still claiming either victory or revenge even after the results were published, but aside from a few minor traffic jams, no real difference has been seen at the street level.

Rights reserved, Disney... Lucas... dude whose name is on this...

Of course, the two parties getting together might've been something reminiscent of Star Wars (Bad guy controlled both sides of the conflict, etc). Who knows?  For now, life goes on. People sleep, eat, and ride their motos on the sidewalk - sometimes all at once.

Nothing an etch-a-sketch can't fix.

Moral of the story? Don't believe everything you read. Life is far better than people give it credit for.

Words to live by... in Khmai.

Keep calm and eat rice. :)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Parties, parties everywhere... no, the other kind.

I would vote for this guy...

Yes, you guessed it! It's that time of year again. A time when everyone returns to their home province in peace, leaving the streets quiet and restful after a long, hot summer.

Yeah, right. It's election time! It's time for noise, marching, and lots of angst.

For participating, you get a free t-shirt!

If you recall my last post, election times are exciting... provided you like traffic jams. This election, however, is slightly different. This election will help to choose the seats in Parliament, and that, in turn, will determine who is the prime minister here.

Why is that important?

Candidate #1, reigning PM Hun Sen. Photo courtesy wikipedia.

Well, for the first time that I am aware of, there is a great outpouring of hope here. Hope for change, and a better way of doing things. This voice comes from the younger generation, mostly, which consists of those who have adopted, among other things, more western-style attitudes. These are the worldly, the we've-seen-better-elsewhere, and the usual assortment of hasty folk who believe that change for change's sake is a good thing.

The opposition leader, Sam Rainsy Wikipedia again.

The other end of the spectrum contains those who have seen a little more. They've seen what age and time have done to temper the leadership in Cambodia, and what things were like during the LAST political upheaval. Some of them stress change in smaller amounts - improve this, or alter that. Chaos is nobody's friend, in other words.

One of my most recent English lessons... :)

Needless to say, I am politically neutral. I don't really care who wins, so long as Cambodia continues to grow and flourish. I want the people I've come to know to have a future, and to have opportunity to move beyond the jobs that exist here now. Slow and measured growth will accomplish that.

What am I doing right now? Well, staying indoors. It's not a good idea to be out right now. The major hullabaloo is this weekend, and depending on the results of the election, things could be a bit dicey.

The people are what matter. Photo Courtesy EH/GCC

All of that aside, this election is historic in that there actually are two visible parties. Yes, there's been more than one before, but now people feel more free to speak their minds, and share their views. Thank you, Facebook and social media. :)

The great Mustachio! I vote him as head of Agriculture and facial hair.

So, to sum things up, leaders will change (or not). People will change (most likely not, but it can happen!). Life will go on. IHSI and Sak Saum will continue to fight for freedom, healing, and to build up the Khmer people. I will continue to be a geeky individual, and Aidan will continue to be cute.

Life is good. :)

"Vote for me! I'm cute too!"