12 December 2008

London bells a'ringing

Cambodia aside, I am now in London! The last time i stepped foot in this place was 8 years ago. Eventhough i stayed here for a couple of months then, i cant say i remember much. What has not changed though...is I still love this place, even in this unforgiving bone chilling weather.

.Lis and I at Capital FM. 2000.

Back at paddington, Rozana and I after 17 hours of excruciating flight.
While there is much to do, we're trying to get our shopping done chup chup... It is pure madness, the fitting room and counter queue has made me forsake my to-be purchases. I'll beat the crowd tomorrow! Even Santa! Hmppp!

05 December 2008

Tonle Sap

.The largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and declared a Unesco Biosphere.

I had initially thought of Tonle Sap as a version similar to Kampong Ayer back home. A floating village with the full works; floating schools, mosques, churches, hospitals, convenient stores, restaurants, etc. However, there are several unique differences between the two. One obvious distinction is the term "floating", while some houses are mounted on stilts, most are assembled on floats or flatboats allowing them to change location according to the seasons. Where they live in October may be kilometers away from where they live in March. Imagine a wooden house powered by motor cruising down the river!

Boat tickets cost USD6 per person. When we arrived, i was surprised to see a little girl dodging among crowds snapping pictures of us with her digital camera. Talk about technological advancement in the rural zones. I thought nothing about it until after we returned from our tour, she ran towards us and surprised us with an individual/couple shots on us stuck on a marble plate marked Cambodia. What brains! You cant exactly say "No", isnt it, falling for the souvenir gimmick, we gave her USD5 for 3 of those plates.

During the boat ride, you will notice it appears that fields and mangroves are blossoming amidst the river. In actual fact, these fields and mangroves thrived on dry land. It being the rainy season allowed us to witness the phenomenal reversal flow of the Mekong River, another trait that sets it apart. The Mekong River starts its seaward journey in the Himalayas, through China, Laos and Cambodia before discharging into the sea in South Vietnam. Unable to contain all the runoff from monsoon rain during the wet season, it reverses its normal flow back up the Tonle Sap river. It then stretches the Tonle Sap lake from 2500km2 to an amazing 12,000km2.

These colour on B&W seems befitting for those moments.

He drove out to the open river, and stopped the engine. I freaked out. We whispered amongst ourselves "why are we stopping here, what does he wanna do?" He casually moved to the front of the boat, leaned back and stared at us. With a lousy grin, he said "Just wait here." "Why??"
"You relax, enjoy." @_@! It felt abit weird, we were too worried he's gonna flip the boat to enjoy whatever tranquility one is supposed to feel. Thank god another boat came hawking drinks, and we bought his favour back with a can of coke.

.Crocodiles caught from the Mekong river.

.A bee scare with Boon2 got us worried for a while, but all is good.

At the end of our boat ride, our tour guide asked for Boon's cap and 20USD. We gave him the cap and 5USD. That should have made his day, i think. My rating: Do consider Tonle Sap as part of your itenary.

Almost every turn you make, there is someone trying to make money, or begging for money, little kids signifying 1 dolla with their index finger.. begging merely for their family. It is hard to escape that sight. Here's a beautiful poem i found on the web titled:

A Cambodian Child
by Marja

He smiles but a riverbed
of silenced tears end on his face
where hope has died
where trust has depart
The hand of the begging child is empty

as is his heart

A child living in the shadow of live
where demons of poverty and exploitation
try to get him in his grip so tight
till he stops fighting and loses control
The hand of the begging child is empty
as is his soul

The beautiful mind of a Cambodian child
won’t be nourished by food and education
no pathways grow towards a fruitful future

his cleverness declined

The hand of the begging child is empty
as is his mind

A boy, a landmine victim
like a tree cut from live lost his limb
and a living
he sits down,
the one called outcast

His troubled eyes looked at me however

The hand of the begging child is empty

Is it Forever?

The Videos

The boys distributing notes

Chee Ting's students for an hour =)

17 November 2008

A day in Savong's School

I couldnt help being wary and extremely conscious in scrutinising Savong and his counterparts' demeanour when they came to our hotel the day we arrived in Siem Reap. I wondered "why did he not come alone?" "who are these 3 other guys with him?". Savong, was nothing like i had initially imagined; tall, distinctive, and charismatic. He was none of those. Instead, almost immediately, i decided i cannot hand over a thousand US dollars for his keepsake this instant. Perhaps, it's my instinct or perhaps i dont feel i could trust him with this much money. My excitement took a plunge, and i wondered what i got myself into.


Over dinner, Savong shared some stories about his school with us. I felt i belittled this man and his friends, who were part-time teachers. i was quick to judge the book by its covers. Savong's command of English was good for decent conversations and at times bowled us over with hints of American accent. He was well-spoken and extremely polite. And so, we set a date to do some shopping and a visit to his school.

This is probably the best book store in Siem Reap, adjacent to the end of Pub Street. We stacked as many books at the counter as we thought relevant for the students.

Computer hunting was quite an adventure. Savong led our driver to a make-shift PC store that supposedly has a good deal on a 2nd hand laptop. It was more like a gaming-cum-repair centre. Bits and pieces of what makes up a computer were scattered everywhere leaving very little room for us to move, which i wasnt very keen on anyways because the place was friggin' dusty! After exchanging some words with Savong, in a language we couldnt understand, a half-naked man showed us a 2nd-hand NEC laptop that is going for 400USD. Eric's inspection unfolded crap specifications, and unwilling to reduce the price any lower than 380USD, we decided the money is better spent buying a brand new desktop.

This is where we finally secured two desktop PCs for 700 USD, bargained to the last drop of sweat from Eric's forehead. Even after scoring a good price by Cambodia's standards, he wanted to make sure Savong was covered for after-sales service, "Sekali, the PC breaks down . . ."
SEKALI! Short of being white with an english last name, Eric is the most British-Chinese i've known. SEKALI is the last thing i expect out of him. I nearly broke down in tears, from laughing.

And 30mins away from town...

The size of the school is pretty much what i expected. There were 3 classrooms, each can sit up to 30-40 students depending how they squeeze themselves onto the benches. Two languages are taught in Savong's school, which is by default the must-know language to keep up with the tourism industry; English and Japanese. We were pretty impressed with the methods used to teach English . We saw evidence of grammar based syllabus in use, vocabulary building, dialogues, and usage of pictures and illustrations. What was far more impressive was the student's ability to comprehend, and their level of spoken English. Dare i say, some of them speak better English than some of our poorer kids back home.
.(L): Some of the older students, one we asked was 22 years old, attending the advanced level of English classes. (R): Pointing out where we're from in the world map.

.Their favourite past time sports are Hula-Hooping and Volleyball. (L):I shrilled when i had a closer look at the girl's t-shirt - fancy finding an F4 (Meteor Garden's cast) t-shirt in Cambodia!. (R): Savong.

.Their resident pup.

During the 1 hour break, Savong showed us to the newly raised library. He explained his dream to us, attempting to cast away any doubts we had in us. He also prompted us to ask him questions, which he was quick to answer. But i realised his school does not follow a strict curriculum. Students were free to attend classes whenever they want. He does not want to force the children and make learning a language a chore. "It's supposed to be fun, i want them to enjoy themselves". Eric gave him some good pointers on raising awareness for the school.

By 4pm, more students appeared through the gates in their bicycles. As soon as it was announced our presence today is to conduct a Chinese class, everyone started flocking to our classroom. Some of them even lulled benches from the next room. I am amazed at those sheer determination, the enthusiasm on their faces makes it all worthwhile. This is probably their zest for life - an escape route from poverty.

.I'm so proud of our Chee Ting!.

Chee Ting was our appointed teacher of Mandarin 101, given she is a qualified teacher =P. The men were in charged of handing out notes courtesy of Eric's Mandarin lessons in UBD. CT taught basic conversational mandarin, e.g. My name is; hello, how are you; i am fine; thank you; goodbye; gdmorning teacher; etc. 2 teachers were present to provide translation assistance, and not long into the class we could pinpoint who the teacher's pets are. =)

The class was fun, we called upon the 2 teacher's pet and got them to demonstrate a conversation infront of everyone. Although shy, they pulled it off...

.This boy's keen interest put a big smile on my face. As we progress, he diligently pen down translations in Khmer.

With this many students packed in a classroom, the heat and thickness of the air is almost unbearable. The fans were not working. And the mercy of sunset lit up their notes. The lights were not working either. I began to wonder if this place is even powered up at all. Nevertheless, these children hold tight to the opportunity given to them. Perhaps being poor has its advantage, it instills the drive and determination in you, it makes you take charge of your destiny, it gives you the power to strive to change your life. These individuals' initiative to walk & cycle miles to learn a new language is in itself worthy of praise.

.We 'stole' the kids' bikes and fulfilled our cycling wish. Hee hee.

.The unfinished 2nd storey.

Before we called it a day, Savong insisted we visit his new endeavour - an orphanage. He wants to give the orphans he's met hope and a new life. One story he related was orphaned girls fall in love, and when deserted they become devastated. With no explanation, no one to guide them, they start selling their bodies for sex in exchange for money. His arguments were they will cheat and they will steal; and he hopes education will make a difference.

.(L): 4-bedroom bungalow, each big enough for 3-4 person.

Mel D gave me something to think about when she asked about the Savong-experience. She said "So is he authentic?? I was getting worried about what you're getting yourself into". True enough, we might be in for a big disappointment. I guess the difference between Savong's school and other International NGOs are that NGOs runs on a proper governing and financial system, and are transparent in their actions and the resources they use. Savong, on the other hand is the sole operator, money-raiser, treasurer, etc... so you can never really know if the money you've donated is indeed pumped into the betterment of the school or to the new handphone he bought himself. That we have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
.Thank you guys.

For those that supported Savong, you know who you are, all in all we gave him 2 new desktops, books, and money for internet access. If you decide to visit Siem Reap one day, you should drop by Savong's school =).

.Next up - Tonle Sap Cruise.
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