Giant update from Siem Reap on dodgy internet!

There’s been a pretty huge gap in my blog posts, so apologies for those who thought I might have abandoned it! The simple reason I haven’t updated is due to the fact in the days leading up to leaving Phnom Penh and setting off to my project in Siem Reap I had no time at all and since we’ve had no internet!

The last time I wrote was on the 28th so I’ll do a quick summary from there. On the 29th (the Wednesday) we had our Khmer lesson as usual and then met Silvia our temporary rep from Project Trust to go out to this brilliant ice cream place called the ‘Blue Pumpkin’. It’s a famous chain of restaurants that serve luxury ice cream, kind of like the Hagen Daaz one in London but comparatively much cheaper! I had a seriously chocolately thing which I needed bigtime and it was by far the best thing I’ve eaten so far here. The place itself is beautiful, with a ‘cool lounge’ which is completely white and air conditioned, a great break from the dusty hot streets. The sides are lined with sort of giant sofas and pillow which you can snuggle into with your laptop and enjoy the free wifi (I should advertise the place haha!) We ended up going back on the Thursday because it was so good. After we all wolfed down our huge ice creams we headed to Silvia’s house which was incredible! It’s a kind of massive villa and we saw in particular her giant attic which would easily sleep us all. She has kindly said we can use it anytime, I definitely will be! Afterwards we ordered some spring rolls at our hotel and crashed out to sleep.

The following days before we left we had two amazing nights out, the first on the Thursday was our opportunity to have some fun after a really stressful 9 language lessons and it was just incredible. We all ended up in a club called ‘Heart of Darkness’ before moving onto the backpacker favourite ‘Pontoon’ which (to our drunken surprise) had a dramatic drag show involving scarily convincing ladyboys dancing to lady gaga with giant black feathered wings. Nope I promise no drugs were involved, just a lot of bad dancing on our part!! The next night we were out again on the Friday with our language teacher Nim, after having our last language lesson which was so sad- even though we’d been looking forward to finishing it, we’ll miss her so much!

On the Friday evening before we hit the ‘Riverhouse’ with Nim we met an ex-Project Trust volunteer called Fiona and her boyfriend Mike who took us out to this delicious khmer bbq place (roasted pork mmmm.) We’ve discovered if you mix their pepper with lime juice and garlic the best sauce ever can be created, thanks to Mike!! After a lovely meal the pair took us to a bar called Blue Chili which happened to be a gay bar covered in sequins with of course loads of gay Cambodian men! (Gay bars always play the best music and have the best cocktails, just so you know..) Then yet again we were graced with a ladyboy drag show (I think I’ve seen enough to last me a lifetime now for sure) it is actually incredible how much they look like women?! I can’t even describe how feminine the men looked, unlike some transvestites at home, there has been some serious body modification going on out here… So we then headed off, saying our goodbyes to the lovely couple (so many stories of travelling I can’t even remember what they told us!) and met Nim at the Riverhouse. It’s apparently the club where the Cambodian elite go to party (I’m talking actual princesses here…) and I still can’t believe we never have to pay entry fees anywhere! Nim’s friends bought drinks all night long and we all had so much fun. The best thing was when we were belting out the words to some really cheesey club music and all the Cambodians just gawked at us, as of course most had no idea what they were saying in ‘I’m sexy and I know it’.. haha!

I’ve missed out that on the Thursday Nim ended our second-to-last language lesson a little early and took us to get our nails painted in a market! For 3 dollars we had a manicure and pedicure by some lovely Cambodian ladies, who have set up a kind of make-shift nail bar inbetween all these chaotic stalls. It was so nice to see how it’s a sort of social meeting place for loads of the women and we saw a lot of young professionals walking through in beautiful tailored suits into this dirty, smelly market with glittery toenails! However the thing that most sticks in my mind from the day (4 days ago now!) was the fact that while my toes were being painted, opposite me a woman was butchering some chicken meat with a giant cleaver. A bit strange to say the least but my toes looked pretty and no chicken blood was spattered near me! (though I did see a cockroach *shudder*) We had such a good day on the Thursday as we were able to almost have it to ourselves as we finished so early! All 6 of us got a tuk tuk to the Russian market (the driver took us to the wrong one first of course) and had fun haggling more prices and pretty much cooked alive in the humidity of the middle of the day, surrounded by silk scarves. The market is a special one as it has so many gifts in it! You’ll see in the photos it has everything from hand carved compasses to jade elephants which are sold in the tiny cramped stalls stacked sky-high.

When the weekend finally came and August ended, it was time for our Phnom Penh adventure to come to a close at last. AND for our next major one to begin! Me and Trish packed our huge rucksacks (mine weighs approx. 23 kgs by the way) and were shovelled onto a bus at 12pm to make the 6ish hour journey to Siem Reap. The bus tickets are very deceiving as it depicts a shiny coach with a sign saying ‘fully air conditioned!’ ‘VIP’ etc. In reality however, the bus looked about 50 years old with a creaky door, broken seats and compromising stains. Oh and the air con was a tiny breeze from the ceiling. BUT because we are gap yah kids we took all of this in our stride and sat sweating for hours while the film ‘Rambo’ and a variety of hilarious Khmer karate classics played on the small screen at the front. I read the whole of the first Harry Potter while Trish slept and so all in all, a productive journey. We finally arrived just after 7pm on the 1st September in Siem Reap, were picked up by our host Sue and taken to what would be our home for the whole year!

{{I momentarily interrupt this thrilling story to give you the important news that I paused after this section to clean my room in Siem Reap with Trisha head to toe in 2 hours, including a spider killing spree}}

ANYWAY, to continue on we arrived in the dark and the rain with Sue who took us out to eat at the Two Dragons before we entered the pitch black of our house that we are sharing. After making our way up 2 flights of steep steps with the enormous bags we looked well, not exactly our best and I personally couldn’t wait to get to sleep. But of course a problem arose! Once we had our bags chucked onto the floor and flopped into our beds, Trisha looked up at the ceiling and jumped about 5ft into the air, doing a kind of mission impossible roll onto the floor at the same time. In a sleepy daze I got up to see what had happened. To my surprise I found Trisha had seen 2 little lizards or geckos clinging to our bedroom walls, one of them about 30 cm from where she’d been lying. So we may have freaked out, just a little. Not sure why, I think the insane tiredness and dehydration plus meeting Sue and being kind of creeped out by the pitch black storminess of our arrival combined to create hysteria. While on speakerphone to our fellow PT volunteers in Phnom Penh we described the exact movements of the geckos and shouted down the phone to try and work out what to do.

So in panicky irrational situations there are only two things you can do. First was of course to disturb our host Sue to ask if they were poisonous and would kill us (clearly we are both experts on creatures.) Once finding out that they were in fact the most harmless things possible, to get rid of our irrational hatred of the things we named them! So now Gordon and George are our scaly leathery roommates that make strange noises and sometimes watch us when we shower. So basically preparing us for the reality of university life. Now we don’t mind them at all and actually get disappointed if they decide not to turn up… Shows how quickly we can adjust!

After a night of pretty restless sleep, we got up the next day (Sunday 2nd) to get a tuk tuk into town and buy our cleaning stuff – which of course has just been used!! I’m ashamed to say we both really enjoyed picking out the cheapest brands of fly killer and loo bleach but it was really fun… I think I used to be a normal person once?! Cambodia has changed me into a clean freak, mainly due to my phobia of any kind of insect, especially cockroaches. So after picking out some fetching hand-washing buckets, we headed down to the Golden Takeo guesthouse for lunch. Prom who owns it was friends with the previous 2 volunteers so I hope we can be just as good friends! I had an amazing burger and coke (luxury western food for me!) before getting back on the tuk tuk to meet Sue at a hotel in town.

The hotel was the first place me and Trisha had a chance to meet the kids and both of us were incredibly nervous and excited. The kids from Honour Village had a day out to have a music lesson in the hotel held by another charity which helps NGOs in Siem Reap and then a chance to use the hotel pool, swimming is very rare for them so it was probably a highlight of their month. We sat waiting a little early by the front and then saw a huge bus roll by. Then Sue’s waving hand signalled their arrival and one by one the 43 children who were out for the day walked by waving and smiling. We both couldn’t believe we were finally seeing them in real life. It’s strange to say but the prospect of working with them has seemed almost dream-like and for it to become reality actually moved both of us emotionally (not to tears of course but just with happiness!) Our purpose for this year was now something feasible.

We followed the kids up to sit in on their lesson and nervously introduced ourselves. I still have no idea how I’m going to remember all their names but I was met with smiles and the occasional ‘hello’. I’m now known as the one called Lucy because I wear glasses, so I’m guessing I’ll have to wait a while before I venture to contact lenses as they won’t know who I am! After the lesson, Trish and I jumped into the hotel pool with the younger ones and that was where the real fun began. We were pretty much human life rafts, carrying the majority who couldn’t swim back and forth into a mini waterfall for about an hour. All I can remember is constant laughter and happiness at being able to get into the pool and go crazy with the water. I know everyone must say this about the orphanages they work at or visit but I swear every kid is insanely cute, even the naughty ones! After everyone traipsed onto the coach in various stages of dampness from the swimming they all sang songs in both English and Khmer, taking turns in a kind of karaoke with the bus tannoy which was hilarious (karaoke is huge in Cambodia apparently?!)

Me and Trish were dropped off at our place and then popped into town to have a meal with Sue. Oh and Becky and Ben! I hope they don’t mind me writing about them on here but they are 2 Australian volunteers who are more experienced at Honour Village and are staying here for about 2 or 3 months. Both have worked at the orphanage previously 6 weeks ago, so they actually knew the last 2 PT volunteers which is a bit strange! I hope we match up to the amazing work they seemed to have achieved. : )

After a much better sleep, today I woke up and headed for the first time to the Honour Village site to see it and all of the kids in their holiday routine! I ended up perching on the front of a tuk tuk which was interesting… and almost falling off. I forgot to mention, the road down to our house is pretty much a series of ditches and puddles which make any kind of transport extremely hard, but in Cambodia there is always a way! We made it to the site of the orphanage and as cheesey as it sounds, it is really beautiful (even though it’s still under construction now.) There are tons of murals on the exterior walls and a huge fountain with lily pads floating on the water. A big play area with tables, chairs and of course football goalposts is perfect for all the kids to have fun. Once we arrived, we made our own way around, observing some of the lessons going on in the morning and getting a feel of the place.  The whole day was a blur of watching some of the teaching Becky and Ben were doing plus a lovely 3 month volunteer called Anita from New Zealand. In the breaks we played with the kids and the food is really good too! We get both lunch and dinner cooked for us if we want it which is such a help. All the kids clean up every mealtime, wash the dishes and help all the staff sweep the floors etc. it’s really impressive how much they are into their routine, even if some were more than a little excited in their classes!

I’ll try and write more detail about life at Honour Village as the blog progresses as there is still so much to say. From a first day’s impression it is a really well run and friendly organisation that is full of so much motivation to make these kid’s lives as good as they can be, even if they’ve started off with some horror stories in their backgrounds. I won’t be writing any of the children’s names for obvious reasons and it’s unfair to give any specifics but even from the first day hearing some of the stories of what children as young as 3 or 4 have been through it’s going to be really tough. Many of them have scars and burn marks which you hardly notice because all you can see is their cheeky happy faces and that is what really matters.

I really hope that as time goes on me and Trish will gain confidence and teaching ability to make a difference, we’re both really up for the challenge and it is certainly going to be one! The kids abilities range massively, even in the separated classes and discipline is no easy feat. However I know we have a year to master it and may even end up teaching the village kids possibly whose ages go up to 17/18 or even 20 years old! With all challenges though it’s about taking those first steps and Sue has a brilliant motto we will always remember: “Be flexible, Be willing.”

I’ll end it on that note for now as it’s getting late and I have another busy day of Honour Village ahead tomorrow! It’s raining a monsoon outside and Gordon and George are nowhere to be seen (though I suspect they may be behind the mirror in the bathroom.) It’s strange that so many will be starting university soon as well, I just hope I can still post this blog with such dodgy internet here! Fingers crossed we’ll sort it out : )

Much love to everyone xxx

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A post dedicated to Sunday 26th.

28.08.12

Tuesday has been a pretty standard day here, haggling for tuk tuks, learning more khmer (though it was a tough lesson on listening today – something most of you know I’m terrible at anyway!) and then writing myself a mini dictionary of all our words so far before a nap and then dinner at a place by the river. We had a thunderstorm today which was crazy! And in the restaurant tonight it had walls decorated with posters made by people who have eaten there so of course we had to make one too!! We made a little project trust one to put up and I was nominated as drawer – never have I put so much pressure on myself to draw a perfect palm tree with a whiteboard marker (no easy feat I can tell you…) We’ll hopefully pop back and get a photo to put up. 🙂

So SUNDAY. The story continues…

Thanks for following all of this so far, I really appreciate the fact anyone reads this at all!! I hope my writing gets better throughout the year – this is currently just what I can remember on the spot, but I’ll try and put some decent description in here somewhere…

AH yes Sunday, sorry – where was I?

Okay to re-cap we met Vanny our tour guide for the day (and also turned out to be an AMAZING human being) and had just been told about Cambodian independence from the French Indochinese colony. The monument is huuuuge and beautiful with a signature Cambodian architectural style in the form of ‘haga’s or mythical snakes with 5, 7 or sometimes 9 heads which decorate, in layers, the top of a monumental column base. Vanny told us how the ‘haga’ was a protector of the gods and how a lot of Cambodian culture has taken influences from Indian traditions, including especially the hindu religion. Cambodia is both influenced by India and China, as two of the leading developing economies in the world, that influence was not only present in forming the Khmer empire but even today in the rebuilding of Cambodian society in the modern age. (oh god this is sounding like one of my history essays…)

So with all that historical knowledge which I lapped up like the little nerd I am, we headed off to the Royal Palace! This was definitely one of the highlights of the tour. The palace itself was absolutely incredible, with gleaming golden roofs, intricate stone carvings, giant chandeliers, perfectly kept grounds and a stunning impact on every visitor who walked through its gates. The main throne room was the most beautiful with a layered roof and sort of spire which had 4 buddha faces mounted in bright white, so that there was a face in every direction to the moving sun. Vanny told us so much I cannot remember now unfortunately but the Kings are seen in Cambodia as almost god-like and practice strict Buddhist lives, often hoping to be carnated into Buddha himself. Statues are only allowed to be made of royalty after death, rather than in life as is the way in China. I wish I could remember all the facts but then this would simply be a guidebook re-written, so instead I’ll give you my impressions.

After visiting the throne room, we then saw the traditional gold plated costumes with a magnificent building of its own, next to a huge dining hall. All the buildings were guarded by giant marble haga snakes with 7 heads (the more the better apparently) and their tails snaked up the banisters of the stairs. We then visited the royal Buddhist temple, walking inside (without our shoes of course!) to find the famous green emerald Buddha given as a gift and one of only 5 known in the world. Emerald is found in Myan Mar, where 2 of the Buddhas remain. The temple was filled with pure gold statues of Buddha gleaming in the hot afternoon sun while we stared in awe at the intricate carvings of the central shrine where the emerald Buddha sat in all its glory. Vanny told us stories of the gifts displayed in the many cases around the temple, from the original coronation chair of the first kings to tiny silver cigarette boxes probably worth more than my house. The floor was made of pure silver weighing over 50,000 tonnes. Again I wish I could remember more but you will have to visit with a tour guide to know all of it yourself!

Once we had seen the wonders of the temple, where the kings had practiced as monks for hundreds of years, we wondered between the giant stone ‘stupas’ in the grounds. These ‘stupa’ are giant carved stone monuments which inside hold the previous kings ashes or other noted Buddhist royalty. Each one was so beautiful, spotting monkeys to elephants all carved onto every imaginable surface of the structure. Incense burned in the gardens as we walked by giant bushes shaped into teapots, it was almost surreal in contrast to the dirty hot streets of phnom penh we were now used to. After seeing a statue of Lady Penh (the rich woman who founded the city) and learning of the importance of nature in Buddhism we headed back to the tuk tuks to visit Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom was a short ride away and we visited the famous temple to see it’s beautiful painted interior and Tricia and Sarah set free a caged bird, seen as a sign of Buddhist enlightenment. Again ‘haga’ guarded the temple’s entrance as we entered a smoky incense filled room. You could have your fortune told or say Buddhist prayers and Vanny paid his respects to the Buddha statue, highly decorated with candles and flowers. We wondered through past the columns to the shrine to Lady Penh and watched as the beautiful, lush green gardens were lit by sunlight bringing a Technicolor feel to everything we saw. An amazing photo op. for sure!! After being almost roasted alive in the heat, we met the tuk tuks by the giant wicker ‘haga’ snake to head to the Russian market and grab a well needed lunch.

The Russian Market is one of the 3 main ones in the capital and is called so due to the fact a large number of Russian immigrants came to Cambodia in the mid-80s and 90s moving to a concentrated area and then shopped at this particular market. It is much more known for its clothes, jewellery and souvenirs- definitely where I’ll be shopping for all your presents!! I bought a pair of so called ‘elephant trousers’ which I’m in love with and I will definitely be wearing them to uni as a crazy hippy when I get back (might need some dreadlocks to finish the look… hmmmm and a tribal tattoo?) haha! For 3 dollars it wasn’t a bad deal, yet again haggling had to be enforced and everyone had a lot of success – someone in our group got a bag down from 17 to 8 dollars 🙂

So we stopped for some lunch and I had the best chicken mayo sandwich I’ve probably ever tasted and then we headed off to our main part of the day, but definitely the part which will stay with me forever.

The Tuol Sleng genocide museum is not a place for those who want a day out with friends. It is probably one of the most harrowing experiences available in the world. A permanent reminder of the horrors and suffering caused by the Khmer Rouge which savaged the Cambodian population for 4 years between 1975-9 – killing almost 40% of the population as a whole.

The museum is set in one of the infamous ‘security centres’ set up to interrogate and torture prisoners of the regime. Rather than the clinical history of Auschwitz, Tuol Sleng turns stomachs and makes your breath catch in your throat as you enter one of the blocks kept in exactly the condition it was found – complete with blood stains which remain on the floors of the wooden and brick cells. What is worse is that the security centre names ‘S21’ was held in a former secondary school. The classrooms were converted into torture chambers and the playground became a place to dunk prisoners heads into stinking water, drowning out confessions. It is the most chilling place I have ever been (apart from Auschwitz), with a vivid imagination you find yourself tracing the possible steps of prisoners walking to their death, imagining the suffering as if it was only yesterday. Which in reality, in historical terms, it still is. It has been almost 40 years since the Khmer Rouge existed in this country.

This fact was made clear to us when we discovered our tour guide Vanny had been alive during the regime. He was not an old man. Only 6 at the time of the regimes introduction he gave us his own detailed story of his experience. His family lived in a rural village which is situated by the border of Vietnam, to the South-East and was heavily bombed by the Nixon administration in America. It was my history A level work on Vietnam coming alive before my very eyes, to read statistics in the textbook is one thing, to hear how the bombs dropped destroyed a little boy’s life is something entirely different. Vanny’s perspective captured the fear of the bombed communities, how many sought revenge against America by joining the Khmer Rouge or being persuaded by Sihanouk (the leader at the time)’s allegiance to the regime. His family were forced to flee to Phnom Penh, travelling 5 weeks on foot up the Mekong river to reach the city. Once they entered the city, the regime began to turn on its people. Vanny and his family were forced back out of the city after travelling so far, to walk the journey again. Instead of returning to his bombed village he was sent to a childrens centre where they were checked each year for height to see if they could work in the paddy fields. He told us he was lucky to be short as he only had to suffer one year with the hard labour when he was 10 years old. However the childrens centre was not a happy place, he tried to run away to find his mother who along with the rest of his family had been separated. Vanny showed us the scars on his arms of where the forks had been stabbed into him by other children, fighting for the morsels of food they were given. Sitting there listening to his story none of us could quite believe that the very tour guide who took us to the palace and had spoken of the ancient Khmer culture had himself been touched by the terror of the war. The most moving part of his account came as we trailed through the museum. Vanny lost 2 of his sisters, 2 uncles and aunts to the regime and still has nightmares of the sounds of bombs as a man probably into his 50s.

His story contextualised the awful black and white photos displaying the corpses of victims of S21 and their photos they had taken on arrival. Reminiscent of the Nazi documentation, the Khmer Rouge kept extensive documentation of their genocide. Most shocking was the huge numbers of babies and young faces which walled the exhibitions, their young faces staring out at us with sad eyes. The exhibition hid nothing and bares all the horrors of the regimes reality to those who decide to venture to the old high school. Skulls of victims were displayed with old clothes and photos of the forced labour- particularly linking to Vanny’s story. We saw rooms where corpses were found by the liberating Vietnamese army, the original rusting iron beds and shackles lay by black and white photos of the dead.

Although some of you reading this may wonder why we would want to see such evidence of human suffering, the end result of the trip is a realisation that a country can overcome anything.

Cambodia is flourishing, with a long way to go as almost everyone educated was wiped out by the Khmer Rouge, but its slow process to rebuilding its rich traditions and history is well on its way. I bought a book on the regime, so I hope to weave some of the history into this blog. It was one of the worst tragedies in history yet so many people are so unaware of its existence. The killing fields are yet to be visited but I’m sure we will have an opportunity to see them – as hard as it is to deal with, it is an important part of history which cannot be forgotten. Just look at Syria today, Rwanda in the 90s etc. the world repeats itself in so many ways. The parallels between the Nazis and Khmer Rouge are almost identical in aspects, a chilling thought that every generation is capable of these regimes.

The most amazing part of the day by far was meeting one of the seven survivors of S21, the only ones who made it out alive from the other 20,000 who passed through its cells. I was speechless, I had no idea what to say to a man who has seen so much and suffered so much! Then I remembered this was his life now, keeping the museum and the memories alive and teaching the lessons learnt from the regime’s terror for future generations to remember. We had a photograph taken with him, maybe one of the only ones we will ever have as he and one other are the only 2 left alive in their old age.

I hope it hasn’t been too hard to read this entry as long as it has been, but I wanted to dedicate a lot of time to giving the experience justice. As fun as it is to visit a beautiful monument of a country, if we are living here for a year it is important to know the background to its poverty and current society. I would recommend everything we experienced that day to anyone thinking of going to Cambodia- and it’s important to mix it up so your whole day is not spent with harrowing history, it’s very emotionally draining and I don’t think any of us could go back anytime soon – but none of us will forget it.

One week in!

So it’s been a week since I arrived in Cambodia, to say it’s flown by might be a cliché but it’s so true!!

I feel at home already which is great as it is so different here so I thought I’d be homesick straight away. Of course I’m missing everyone! But it’s nice that I can distract myself with the adventures we’re having : ) It’s almost worrying how quickly we can adjust to a new environment, though the insane driving styles of motorbikes and smashed up trucks hasn’t quite become a comfortable part of life quite yet!

Since my last post we’ve had a hectic weekend, starting with Saturday when again we got up bright and early (lie ins are now a dream of the past…) and headed over to Nim’s house which is right by the airport in Phnom Penh. We had a brilliant day cooking with her and I’ve taken loads of photos of the food we made (I’ll try and attach some to this post!) We started with learning how to make a mango salad. ‘AHA A FRUIT SALAD’ is what I thought but then to my horror she brought out some unlikely ingredients this ‘salad’ would contain. This included the root of a lotus flower (actually a pretty badass ingredient); crushed peanuts, fish sauce, lime juice, PORK and not just pork but the fat as well… and then just to make it sound extra scrumptious some mint leaves and boiled eggs were thrown in too! Okay so that sounds horrible I know, but it was actually so nice!! In reality the mango was shredded unripe mango, not the mushy orange stuff we eat at home. Still I did avoid the bits of fat…

Mango salad wasn’t the only thing we saw being prepared, we then ventured onto a fish and pork soup (pigs are a favourite here) which had a mix of some strange herbs or ‘chi’ with again loads of fish sauce! Really tasty too but some of the herbs had a liquorice flavour so wasn’t my favourite dish of the day. Then the amazing finale of the lesson was the deep fried shrimp.. MMMMMM is all I can say!! So unhealthy but the best thing I’ve ever tasted  I swear and no creepy ingredients wooo!

We then sat in her little front room (or I lay in a hammock) and watched something called ‘KPOP’ which is a channel that shows Korean pop music…. Not sure what to say on that one, apart from I won’t be attempting to add ‘Miss A’ to my ipod collection any time soon! It was also hard to tell between the guys and girls due to a huge number of sequinned outfits, so now I know what South Korea is really like! (I joke.) Her Chinese mother was lovely and is fluent in Khmer, French and Chinese, but sadly for us knew limited English… While watching the t.v. we also ate some buttery fried sweetcorn which was so yummy (I thought I was going to LOSE weight this year haha!)

So after a busy day cooking we crashed at the guesthouse and watched the old episodes of NCIS on FOX entertainment channels which are in English, so we were happy – instead of going out like we planned. To make up for that we’re going out with Nim on Friday night which we are all so excited for, hoping to go to ‘Heart of Darkness’ club… But on Saturday night we just had to rest up for the crazy day ahead…

Sunday was our marathon sight-seeing tour of Phnom Pehn. We met our lovely Cambodian guide who spoke amazing English called Vanny. We were whisked away in tuk tuks (3 in each for once rather than cramming 6 of us into one as usual!) to the independence monument for a photo opportunity and learnt about the liberation of Cambodia from the French empire…

{sorry to cut you all off but it’s so late I will have to post about Sunday in detail tomorrow night instead!! There is just too much to tell in a rush. Have some photos of the food instead! I will pick up exactly where I left off in a post tomorrow night…suspense 😉 }

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Frying Shrimp 🙂 mmmm

THE BEAUTIFUL END PRODUCT!!

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Here almost a week already!?

Hi again 🙂

So much has happened since my last post!

Still on the language course, it’ll be our 5th lesson tomorrow and definitely getting to grips with at least some basic phrases! However it’ll be a long time before I get anywhere near conversational in Khmer…

Also found I’m great at bargaining for stuff, so we haven’t been ripped off by any tuk tuks yet. This brings me to the fact we have been adopted by a tuk tuk driver!! His name is Koy and he’s 33, with a full time tuk tuk driving job. He’s taken us a couple of times to the Mad Monkey guesthouse where we have the language lessons with Nim. Then he asked if he could take us every day and as he charges the best price we of course said yes! He has made friends with us already and has agreed to pick us up tomorrow morning. It’s great to have a friendly driver, good at English who you can practice your Khmer with!

-I’ve attached a photo of a tuk tuk so you know what I’m on about!-

So loads has happened since the post on the 21st! On the 22nd we had our lesson in the morning (I had noodles for breakfast AND lunch and luckily not for dinner as well…I had rice ;D) then we headed over with our country rep Silvia to the Central Market in Phnom Pehn. I can’t wait to show you all the photos! It was incredible; first we walked around the food part of the market, hundreds of stalls selling everything you can imagine and more. So much of the fruit and veg and fish I didn’t recognise in both looks and smell… let’s just say it was a bit fishy…

Everyone was so friendly and Sylvia bought us a load of crazy fruits to try. I’ll look up the names to tell you but there are 3 kinds of bananas! We had the mini ones which are about the size of your finger and really sweet. There were small spiky ones we tried and then a ‘pomelo’ which was like a sweet graprefruit. It was a crazy riot of colours and people everywhere, baking hot and so so humid with the smells of pickled everything.

Live shrimp and crabs overflowed in buckets pumped with oxygen and huge clusters of dead skinned chickens hung from hooks. Vegetarians would have cried, we saw a chicken being killed and plucked infront of us!! Live chickens were kept in cages and could be bought along with giant eel like fish that were roughly chopped by tiny old women with what looked like meat cleavers..

After we looked around the food, we scanned the giant market hall, I bought a little watch for 3 dollars and some fake ray bans for 2! (which are awesome, there will be photos of me in them this year I’m sure!) We were just heading home and then the heavens opened. So we thought we’d seen a monsoon on the Tuesday… That was NOTHING compared to the storm which opened over the market. We dashed between stalls and were instantly soaked, safe to say I hid my camera deep in my rucksack. The market stalls used plastic sheets to channel the water into buckets and rivers formed down the streets.

When sitting inside the food hall section (fresh cooked squid roasting infront of us) a cockroach made its way up (the other) Lucy’s leg! We all freaked out, screaming and running around much to the locals delight, one woman opposite almost wet herself with laughter pretty much. Oops! Need to get used to those :S

When we made it to Silvia’s tuk tuk my glasses were so steamed up the journey home was a blur. The tuk tuks are driven by a motorbike and the water was so deep I was surprised the engine didn’t flood!

So after finally drying off, we set off on foot to try and find the chinese noodle place which was 3 dollars max (on a budget, it’s hard to know where to go – thank you lonely planet!)

Aaaand… we got lost.

To be fair, so far we’ve done pretty well but we were so lost, the tuk tuk driver who finally saved us got us to the tiny noodle place at half 8 (we set off at 7!) Might have helped if the people we’d asked had understood my fried noodle charade (pretending to eat noodles with chopsticks.) Still after a somewhat bony duck rice, we headed back exhausted.

Then yesterday we had the language course bright and early as usual but we had to repeat all the words we have learnt so far!! Over a hundred words and phrases! I didn’t know about 20 and I revised..ish. Haha but afterwards we decided to chill at the guesthouse instead of getting so lost again. Not much happened that evening, as we were so exhausted from the night and day before! Some of the girls went to Canadia bank and me and Lucy chilled by the little pool, looking up cheap places to eat. We’ve limited ourselves to max 15 dollars a day on all expenses so we need to eat cheap where possible (places are there is you make the effort!)

Today however has been one of my favourites so far, after a productive lesson with Nim we headed out by foot for the second time with so much more success! We walked the right way down the Sothearos Blvd. and to our surprise huge dancing classes were going on in the middle of the park! Loads of middle aged women dancing to an instructor, almost like Zumba! It was hilarious but even more funny was a group of younger guys dancing to more modern music by a boombox. Three of them were dancing so seriously in the middle of this park but in such a camp way! We all just wanted to join in but we’d clearly have just cramped their amazing style.

The streets were so much better by foot, we discovered French bakeries, fast food joints, a hundred different supermarkets and shops. The strange thing we haven’t quite got used to is the stares from everyone. Of course they are used to tourists but 6 white young girls attract some stares and laughs! We made it to boat noodle after dashing between busy streets and seeing a much poorer almost slum which we hadn’t seen yet. We could see a small boy brushing his teeth through a barred window framed by a shabby almost crumbling apartment block. On the way back home, I was terrified of the chaos of the boulevard and an old Cambodian man held my hand to cross the road as he could see I needed the help!

Pretty much a representation of how helpful and lovely so many of the people here are. 🙂

Next blog post will be even more full of excitement as tomorrow Nim is taking us to her house to learn how to cook 3 Cambodian dishes! Then we’re going out tomorrow night for the first time 😀 Sunday is even more exciting as have an induction day, going to see the royal palace, monument, wat phnom, tuol sleng and then to another market (hopefully the Russian one!)

Always write essays but thanks for reading this far! Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am haha 🙂

p.s. I thought I could escape the horrors of Nicki Minaj here, alas she is still haunting me across the globe with starships as they play it regularly on the guesthouse music playlist -_-   pretty much my only criticism so far… oh and 3 huge bites!

TUK TUK!! My own photos coming soon 😀

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21st August 2012: Arriving, the year begins!

Hey everyone,

Haven’t really had time to write a blog entry so far, it’s been so so busy.

I’ll try and remember as much as I can!

So we arrived yesterday which seems like years ago, actually got over the jet lag pretty quick and am so used to this place already.

The flights were great, Malaysia airlines is amazing (even the food was nice… I KNOW!) and we stopped off at KL airport which is the world’s best for a reason, even that was a photo opportunity! So after a couple of hours in Malaysia we flew off the Cambodia completely shattered in the early hours of yesterday morning. Seeing the country as we landed all of us were suddenly so awake and excited. This was our home for a YEAR!

It still doesn’t feel like we’re staying here for so long but everyone is just really excited J In my country group I have me and Tricia (my partner for the Siem Reap Honour Village project); Sally and Lucy (another one!) who are in a project in Phnom Pehn called Magna and Elidih and Sarah who are primary school teaching in the capital as well in a school called FootPrints.

However at the moment before we all set off to do what we came all this way to do, we have to get to grips with at least some basic Khmer (the Cambodian 1st language). Although luckily in the capital we can all get by for now as English is spoken so widely due to tourism, once we travel or go to more rural parts we will need all the help we can get!

Our teacher is called Nim and is so lovely J Today was our first session and we learnt probably about 40 words in Khmer in 4 hours!! My brain hurt by the end, and we have another 9 days of this (with only Sunday off!!)

Apart from all the learning, we got the afternoon off to enjoy ourselves and spent it mostly outside in the heat (something I’ll mention later!) but then heard a monsoon shower was coming. As it’s currently rainy season in Cambodia we weren’t surprised – but the guesthouse staff were when we decided to sit out in it! This rain is actually fun to get soaked in and we dangled our feet into the little pool while being soaked to the skin.

After we dried off and the Cambodian hotel worker had asked to take a picture on his Iphone (in a non-creepy way I promise!) we headed off to our first proper meal out as a group. We checked in the Lonely Planet guide for good places and found Romdeng, a traditional khmer restaurant.

Safe to say the guidebook knows its stuff! The place was beautiful and we found out the staff were all former street children and their teachers. I had a spicy peanut curry with muslim beef which was AMAZING ( I love food, so this pretty much made my day..) There were fried tarantula legs on the menu but we’re all too chicken to try those just yet!

The tuk tuks are our main way of travelling round and already we have made a friend who had become our loyal driver and has agreed to pick us up tomorrow morning to take us to the ‘Mad Monkey’ guesthouse where we have our language lessons. We do get a LOT of attention travelling round as a group of 6 white girls but everyone is friendly and it feels safe here – of course there are still dangers but not as many as people probably imagine.

Still so much to say! And this is only after 2 days.. ! As well as the excitement of the tuk tuks we met our stand in country rep called Sylvia when we arrived. She is German and has lived here for 8 years! She sorted out things like our SIM and visa for us and showed us around, took us for a meal the first day by the riverside and was our source of info for the first day. Since then we’ve pretty much managed on our own, finding the guesthouse to meet Nim at today was interesting, we arrived an hour early by accident – that’s what time differences do to you…

It is also SO HOT! Not just sunny like when you go for a bit of a tan on holiday, like bathing in a humid bathroom after a shower.. But I actually really like it?! I seemed to be the only person who liked the thought of humidity but everyone is adjusting and the trick is to drink pretty much your body weight in water.

Which brings me to the most recent event before writing this, the overflowing of our toilet! Not only have me and Tricia already  broken a key (the lock is really dodgy to open I promise!) but then the toilet went crazy and created a swimming pool in our bathroom. Always fun to practice saying thanks and sorry in Khmer while a man tries to fix your flooding toilet…

Trying to think what I’ve missed in this essay! I’ll write more by the end of the week but pretty much a summary is that there are no traffic lights here, roads are mental, it’s hot, the people are great, the food even better and most of all we’re all having so much fun J I know its only day 2 but I have a feeling this year will fly by!

Much love to you all x

p.s. tried something called lok lak and amok today which was SO GOOD (this will pretty much be a food blog, we’re getting cooking lessons hopefully too, I’ll keep you updated! and try to put some photos up as I go along too 🙂

So this is my blog for next year,

My name is Lucy Hughes,

I’m 18 (almost 19, in September 2012),

and I’m about to go on one of the biggest adventures of my whole life.

As a volunteer with the Project Trust charity, I am spending 12 months in the amazing country of Cambodia. Working at Honour Village with the 48 children who live at the orphanage, teaching English and helping with any social care they need me to do. It’s located outside the Northern city of Siem Reap and happens to be on the doorstep of the world heritage site, Angkor Wat (as pictured at the top of this blog!)

Luckily I don’t have to face this all alone. I have a partner with me to share all the awesome stuff I’m going to see/do and also to help me when I’m a crying mess from homesickness. I’ll ask her first before identifying her to the world but she’ll definitely be mentioned in here no doubt!

That’s pretty much a summary of my year, I’m writing this from England Wales actually! I have 18 days before I fly on August 19th. Pretty scary stuff.

Currently feeling nervous but also so excited to finally get out there after all the preparation and fund raising. Thanks again to everyone who helped in any way, whether it was buying cakes or simply encouraging me to keep going!

I hope some of you will keep up with my travels and the work I’m doing, I’ll try and blog about it as much as I can or when internet allows! I also want to keep it as a kind of public diary for myself, so I can see how I’ve changed and keep track of every exciting experience or equally every challenging one that I encounter.

The next time I post will most likely be the day before I go, I’ll try not to cry onto my  computer but (WARNING) it will most likely be very emotional – I hope so anyway, otherwise I’m definitely heartless…

I’m currently still having a great summer catching up with everyone before I go, so I hope you are all enjoying yours!

Until the next time 🙂 (how the hell do you finish these?!)

p.s. please try not to cringe too much at any grammar/spelling/structure errors, English Lit. students YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!