Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Temples of Cambodia

(by Joe)
Today we went to Angkor Wat and the temples surrounding it. The temple complex of Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world. We arrived long before sunrise and watched as the sky slowly performed a reverse sunset, revealed the massive structure and burned off the mist surrounding it. I wish I could say it was magical but the thousands of other tourists who had arrived at the same time as us to crowding the whole place took something away from it. These photos do not reflect the sheer numbers of Japanese and French gawkers milling about the place because Mia and I are very good at excluding them from our shots. It's also hard to take yourself back in time when you are constantly being bombarded by children pushing postcards, fake art, water, scarfs and assorted other junk into your face and whining, "Waaaant a BooooOOOOk? Miiiiisteeer! You waaaaant-a PoooostcaaaaAAArd? Waaaant some Wateeeer? Mister, hey I talk to you! Hey!"

A few of the temples we managed to find seem to have been forgotten over time and are overgrown with foliage and spiderwebs. However, all the joys of finding something we had all to ourselves came with the added difficulty of trying to explore with a mask of webs filled with mosquitoes stuck to our faces. I just couldn't find it in myself to pick up a stick and start slashing the webs down as we walked. The spiders had a pretty cushy life going and who am I to ruin it. We swam back into the sea of junk peddlers after a short time.

Angkor Wat at sunrise.

The jungle slowly reclaims a temple near Siam Reap.

The early morning sun burns through the mist in one of the courtyards of Angkor Wat.

Even at a great distance, Joe is able to add drama to a photo by the use of body language.

A series of doors which lead to a turn and then... another series of doors.

Joe explores a temple off the beaten path.

Joe admires ceiling murals inside an old temple.

Angkor Wat reflected in a lake. The lake might be filled with crocodiles! Or lake bears!

This shirt is getting full of holes, so enjoy its presence in our photos while you can.

If you are going to be getting a custom made calendar with your own photos this year, I would recommend including this one.

Mia peaks around a corned in Angkor Wat. Every surface in the temple is or was as intricately carved as this wall.

Also we uploaded more pictures below.

Death, death and happy children.

A pile of 8000 skulls excavated from the mass graves created during the genocidal Pol Pot regime in 1979.

Mia wanders through freshly excavated mass graves. It would be more powerful if there was anything historical there besides just a bunch of holes.

The two headed body of a calf rests in a glass tank of formaldehyde. If it would have reached adulthood, just one sip of it's milk would have made a normal man into a winged god.

Mia thrills over the discovery of 3000 tiny Buddha statues and a dead 2 headed cow. She is unhappy that she can't drink it's milk.

Joe had this scarf custom made for Mia. She looks good in it. In Cambodia you call this a 'Krama'. You can also use it as a hat, a skirt, a wrap, a bandage, a fishing net, TP, a tablecloth, a purse, etc.

A deadly spider waits for its unsuspecting prey.

Women ride atop a truck loaded with bags of rice.

Mia and some Buddhas.

Cats can see spirits more easily than people because of their super sensitive eyes. They can also see flies, as pictured here.

At the orphanage the nurse uses a quarter dipped in hair tonic to grind the flesh of a child with a fever. What looks like war paint is actually the equivalent of giant hickeys covering this young man. It did seem to cool him off.

Pol holds his good friend Chikai in his lap at the orphanage.

BINGOOOOOOO!!! Mia plays with the orphans on a lazy Cambodian afternoon.

Deaf children work on portraits under Joe's supervision at Epic Arts Cafe. Mia helped a considerable amount.

Some of Joe's students work diligently to copy down new words off the board.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Updated map

Here is an updated map of where we have been. We are currently back in Phnom Penh for the night retracing our steps to Bangkok from where we were volunteering in Kampot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A little more from Joe on Kampot.

(By Joe)
Since I haven't written anything since we arrived in Cambodia I will just fill you all in on a few more things. The traffic here is wild. There are no laws. No laws. The only things I need to have on my person when riding my Motorbike (which I LOVE) is the business card of the company that rented it to me. No drivers licence. People tend to follow a drive on the right common mentality but this is by no means followed by everyone. MAybe, 70 percent at best. Along with the mixings of people doing anywhere from 2 miles an hour on bicycles to people doing 100 on motorcycles and in Toyota Camreys, there is also the aimlessly wandering dogs, cows, chickens and people that must constantly be dodged when going anywhere.

Mia mentioned our boat trip, but what she didn't mention was the snake that was in the water by our boat. The very water which I later won a diving competition in. (I won against an man from Scotland, so you know I brought my A game.) At one point when we docked for a stretch our bot was flooded with monstrous red ants the size of wasps, and, having been allergic to ants as a child and not knowing whether or not I still was allergic, I set about killing them one by one. My weapons were two short twigs which, when combined with lightning speed and perfect aim, spell lethal for the insect world. (One ant bit me but I was OK.) I also got a chance to steer the boat with a bamboo pole again, a skill which will be completely useless once I return to the US of A but one which I continue to hone here in Asia. Partway through our relaxing river cruise we rounded a tight corner and found ourselves heading straight toward a large fishing boat which was sitting long ways across the whole river. Captain Bart did his best but the bamboo shade over our boat snagged on the bow of the other boat and branches started snapping like toothpicks with the sounds of fire crackers. For a second I thought this was going to be another incident of bamboo doing bodily harm to me on a boat but thankfully nobody was injured.

Ok, we are off to make a fresh cucumber vinaigrette salad in our room and watch some HBO so I don't have time to tell any more adventure stories for the time being. More soon. Also, keep scrolling down as there were a number of new blogs and photos posted in the last 24 hours.

What have we been doing in Kampot, Cambodia

(By Mia)
Four main activities have dominated our time here in Kampot. During the day we work at an orphanage. In the evenings we help out teaching English at a subsidized language school for very poor children in the rural areas surrounding the town. And "late" at night (from about 9 - 10:30 PM) we eat Nutella straight out of the jar and watch The National Geographic Channel. That's right! Our room has a TV with, count 'em, THREE English language channels! We stocked up on books before leaving Phnom Pehn, in anticipation of being in the little town of Kampot for three whole weeks, and I've barely read 15 pages since we arrived. (Joe has read a book and a half because he already knows all about great white sharks and giant crocodiles- Joe)

Working with the kids at the orphanage has been a simultaneously delightful and exhausting experience. There aren't any adults around to help us organize the kids, and the few grown-ups that wander by from time to time don't speak any English. So we're pretty much on our own. This has been challenging when it comes to planning and executing activities with the kids, since we're incredibly limited in our ability to explain rules or objectives. From what we've gathered over the past week and a half, it seems that most of the 60 kids are in classes for at least part of the day (although we never see these alleged teachers coming or going). When they're not in class, there's really nothing at all for them to do, other than gather around the one black and white TV in the "library" (an otherwise empty room with one plastic bag of assorted crayons and an outdated world map on the wall) and watch American professional wrestling, a sport for which they all share disturbing fascination.

While trying to expose them to as much English as possible and give them a chance to practice speaking, our main goal has been just to get these kids involved in activities that engage and hopefully challenge them creatively or physically. That said, we have to keep in mind that any new activity we introduce must be very simple to explain through demonstration only, not requiring any verbal instructions whatsoever. Also, we never know when some or all of them will have to run off to class, so activities must be able to be executed quickly if necessary. One of our most successful crafts was mask-making, during which Joe and I spent the entire day frantically cutting out Mardi Gras-style masks out of a cardboard box we'd scavenged, as kids lined up to receive blank masks, decorate them, and then have them tied on with scraps of fabric. We've also played pin-the-tail-on-the-bunny (we weren't sure if any of them would have ever seen a donkey) with a board Joe and I painted. We have also been playing soccer, volleyball, and endless rounds of Bingo. We actually made the Bingo game for the English classes, but then added flash cards to accompany it so that the kids at the orphanage could play too. The individual bingo cards all have images relevant to the kids' lives (chicken, dog, apple...), and then we made cards to hold up with matching images, so that I can say "chicken" and show them a picture of a chicken at the same time. It's been amazingly popular, with both audiences. The kids at the orphanage will go round after round until I just can't possibly endure another game of Bingo. One would think that without any prize for the winner, it would get tiresome for the kids fairly quickly, but so far they can't get enough.

At the language school, we're supposed to be acting as teachers' aids, but end up teaching classes by ourselves much more than we'd anticipated. Frequently the teachers don't prepare lessons, but instead simply hand over the reigns to us at the beginning of class, and sometimes they just don't show up at all, leaving us to fend completely for ourselves in front of 30-60 students (depending on the class) without even the help of a translator. We're thrilled, though, to have been given as much control over the direction of the classes as we have been. Now we meet with some of the teachers during the day to plan lessons for that night, and other teachers give us the pages of the book they plan to teach the following day so that we can work out activities before class. However, when we first showed up, before they realized they could depend on us to come every night and started giving us much more input, sitting through an hour-long class could be painfully tedious. The standard curriculum in Cambodia seems to be entirely repetition-based, and teachers will often spend the whole class on 4 lines of dialogue from the book (dialogue which is completely irrelevant to the students' lives- using examples like German beer and Italian handbags for exercises). The teacher would have me read the dialogue all the way through: "A. Is Jim from Switzerland? B. Yes, he is. A. Is Jim an accountant (a pretty hard profession to explain to the class....)? B. No, he isn't." The kids listen to me go through that a few times, then they repeat after me, then they do "A" "B" back and forth between their rows, then I read a line and the teacher translates it to Khmer, then a student reads the same line and another translates it to Khmer, and on and on like this for an hour!

A tiny addition from Joe follows: Hi, Joe here. In my class today the english lesson covered the average day of George, a Computer Millionaire who had gotten rich from his website NetShop24.COM. (George has breakfast at 7:30, etc.) I had to sit down with the teacher and explain that a millionaire was a man with millions and millions of US dollars. (US$ is the currency here as well but the average person only makes about $50 a month.) I then had to explain internet shopping, which led to me explaining credit cards, online banking and the UPS and FED EX shipping industries that all work together to bring anything the average american anything wants directly to their door within 24 hours without ever leaving the house. By the end of my explination this guy's head was spinning like a top. He was holding onto the table with one hand all bent over as if he had just run a marathon, taking little gulps of air like a fish and staring up at me with wide, glazed over eyes. This is a good example of a lesson not being written to suit it's target audience. Peace out, love Joe.

(By Mia again)
Joe and I each work with different teachers, and once we persuaded them individually to let us try out the Bingo game, and the students were so incredibly enthusiastic about it, they've started letting us implement more interactive lesson plans. It's really incredibly how well the kids respond to even the simplest variations- letting them come up to the board and fill in answers, designing some kind of competition, even singing Head Shoulders Knees and Toes! They're so excited to participate, with absolutely none of that too-cool-to-raise-my-hand crap you see in American schools. It's also been fascinating to observe the different ways that teachers manage their classrooms, and the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of different crowd control styles. None of the classes have any system of punishments or rewards for behavior, and the students are remarkably willing to do what's asked of them in spite of this. And yet some instructors are unquestionably better at keeping their students quiet and engaged than others. Having been a student for most of my life, it's been incredibly interesting to have the opportunity to watch different teachers present the same information to the same demographic, and see such wildly different results. From what I can tell so far, when you take grades, time-outs, and prizes out of the equation, personal presentation and demeanor is the most important factor in commanding an audience, even if when that audience ranges from 8 year old kids to 20 year old monks.

For the past few nights, we've been going over to a little cafe to help out with painting the walls after classes are over. The cafe is run by a British couple and was set up to support the deaf and disabled community in Kampot. Almost all the staff at the restaurant is deaf, and they also host workshops and exhibit art for disabled members of the community. Now that we've got the interior of the cafe looking bright and shiny, Joe's scheduled to lead a painting workshop next weekend to create some new art with which to decorate the walls. We had a long weekend (two days instead of one- all schools hold classes on Saturdays here) for Human Rights Day and took the opportunity to step a little bit out of our Kampot routine. Yesterday we took the motorbike (Joe's gotten really good at driving it, and he administered my first lesson today) out to the beach, about an hour drive through the beautiful Cambodian countryside. It's amazing how many people they'll cram onto a motorbike around here- three adults is a common sight, or an adult and three children, or a father, two small kids, and a mother holding a baby. They even make little baby seats for motorbikes here that attach like a basket between the front of the seat and the handlebars. Doesn't have a seat belt or anything, just a tiny removable chair. The overcrowding goes for bicycles too. And men have no qualms about piling onto one bike or motorbike seat together. In fact, you'll very often here see two men riding their bikes down the street holding hands- very refreshing!

Being out among the farms and chickens and Cambodian people is such a joyful experience. Children always wave and yell "Hello" as we go by, and if we're going slow enough they will squeeze in a "What is your name?" as well, more for the fun of shouting in English than because they actually care to know the answer. It seems like no one under the age of 8 bothers getting dressed around here, and naked children are a common sight- bathing in the muddy water along the roads, wandering around a restaurant, or sitting in their mothers arms on the back of a motorbike. Most businesses are at least in part melded with the family home, and its quite common to have your bank teller be ironing her laundry as you're asking for a money change, or for the man at the convenience store to have an infant in a baby carriage tucked right text to the cash register.

Over the holiday weekend we also too a boat trip up the river that runs through the middle of town. Kampot is a dusty, run down town where the French colonial architecture has deteriorated far past the point of being quaint. But once one emerges from town, the countryside along the river is absolutely breathtaking. Capitan Bart (a 50 year old Belgian with blond dreadlocks down to his waist) took us on a day long cruise with two friends, first up the river and onto tiny, slow-flowing streams, and then out into the ocean, stopping a few times along the way at riverside bars to restock the cooler with Anchor Beer.
A naked little boy just ran past behind my computer.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Orphans, Boat Trips and Motor Bikes

A Cambodian fisherman walks his boat out to sea. The coast in the background is the closest land but even this far out the water is only knee deep.

Joe displays two twigs which he used to single-handedly kill a whole army of giant red ants that had invaded our boat. Joe is very brave.

Two Cambodian women show us how they harvest rice by hand with a tool that looks like a wooden boomerang tied to a knife.

Mia pets a cow in what looks like a child's drawing come to life.

Stilt houses line the river that flows between Kampot and the ocean.

This isn't the picture of snake swimming across the water in front of our boat but it is less blurry and the composition is better so pretend that the is a SNAKE swimming across the river right in front of our BOAT!

Fishermen head out for a long night at sea.

Mia at the local Kampot market hand picking some fresh apples.

The markets sells everything we need for a fresh, homemade cucumber salad except for the Italian dressing.

Mia poses in her very own checkered scarf. A staple of Khmer fashion. The beach of Kep can be seen in the background.

These three kids posed for us and then took one of our bottles of water. Hooligans.

Mia takes the Honda Wave out for a spin. Beep Beep.

Two young ladies out on the town.

Matching his and hers helmets are a MUST for the tourist who is seen about town.

This game involves jumping up BACKWARDS over a string of rubber bands, catching it in your toes as you go, and then whipping it underneath you with your leg while in the air, thus clearing it. It is played on rough concrete. Extremely impressive to watch. This girl is flying TOWARDS the camera.

Nhanh (Nee-an) rests against a wall. She is one of Mia and Joe's favorite orphans. If they were older and richer, they would adopt her.

Nhanh, Mia and Noch.

Joe gives Nhanh a lesson on motorbiking. Lesson One: Always look cool by wearing over sized Italian sun glasses instead of a visor.

Having acquired a ravenous taste for crab, Joe dons a helmet and goes after the biggest crab the coastal waters of Cambodia have to offer. Crabs are DELICIOUS!