02.08.2012 Monks Gone Wild
After what had been a standard day: breakfast, morning class, rest, lunch, rest, evening class, rest and tea (Kenha teaching us how to make my favourite pork egg plant dish) Kenha asked if we wanted to go to the temple for a party. After confirming with Cebolas that I had understood properly we all hastily agreed that we would love to attend and went back to our rooms to tart ourselves up for our very first temple party. The temple was between the BCDO commune and the market and we walked down, whilst the people in the temple finished their prayers we sat outside the pagoda with most the children of Andong Tuek and many of our students who were playing. Eventually the prayers finished and the music began, the temple had massive amps beneath it that played western music that had been altered so that the verses were sang in Khmer. Chaperoning this party was some of the monks from the temple (who all had ridiculously nice teeth), some parents and grandparents, it was clear that this is the only place these kids (between seven and twenty) could go to party, mingle and meet girlfriends and boyfriends. (We discovered that in Cambodia men have to pay the women’s family between two and ten thousand Dollars before they can get married and wedding guests have to pay approximately fifteen Dollars to attend a wedding.) I commented to Lucy and Simon,
“Isn’t it interesting to watch Cebolas and Kenha interact with…”
“Their own kind?! You can’t say that!” interjected Mackie
“Their school friends I was going to say. ‘Their own kind’? There not a different species Lucy.”I said defending myself.
“I know that but I just thought…”Lucy tried to explain,
“That I’m a massive racist?!” I concluded.
Around eleven o’clock we returned to BCDO, only to find Duong helping herself to our whiskey again, as she cooked our meals and cleared up after us we were more than happy to share with her – but filling her own bottles from our stash seemed a little cheeky. In good spirits after an interesting party we decided that another whiskey Thursday was in order, again not thinking of the class I had to teach at eight the next morning.
29.07.2012 Our Third Time To The Four Legged Elephant, One For Each Leg
An Aussie couple had arrived earlier on in the week so a third and final trip to feed the four legged elephant was called for! This trip was again very similar to the first two, although we didn’t take any students with us this time and the farmer who owns the stone well had now constructed a little raft. After quite a brief swim and paddle around we fed the elephant, Fiona kept giving her elephant kisses by blowing down her trunk which was reciprocated by what can only be elephant sneeze – sound like a good way to be covered in elephant snot to me.
We walked home through the forest coming across a patch of pineapple plants, which didn’t look at all like I thought they would and some mysterious rocks. The forest suddenly cleared and there was a large area of rocks, similar to rock pools you encounter at the seaside but in the middle of the woods; maybe because of this peculiarity they had been given some divine meaning and there were shrines and incense sticks a plenty, but then again maybe not. I wanted to plunge into one of these pools to see how deep they were, but was soon reprimanded by Cebolas for dipping just a foot in. As we continued the walk home we got a view of the vast rice paddies that surround all the villages, and saw many of the villagers at work – some no older than the children we had been teaching at the school and the reality of rural poverty really hit home; and on that pleasant note we headed home!
22.07.2012 Le Cascade
After the previous day of quarrying rock for the foundations of the ramp an excursion to a local waterfall is just what the doctor ordered, but it did mean that any hope of a lie in was gone. We set off from the commune at eight am, Cecile deciding she was too ill to join us. (She was reluctant to come because she couldn’t afford to split the twenty two Dollars that the boat cost to hire with us, and felt uncomfortable coming for free – although we insisted she was more than welcome. Enter miraculous phantom illness.) The boat was moored in a part of the village which I hadn’t visited before, and wouldn’t choose to visit again; the streets were very dirty and houses quite decrepit, a poor area of the town I concluded. We found our vessel for the day and to say she looked sea worthy would be an over statement, but we were only going on a river so I’m sure she would be fine; after Poun had bailed the water that had half filled the hull that is. Precariously we climbed aboard the extremely narrow boat (the houses that lined the river had their commodes detached from the house and perched over the river, making a very suspicious, smelly and sloppy river bank – something you certainly wouldn’t want to fall into anyway!) and tried to get comfy on the blank that I assume was supposed to be a bench.
Everybody aboard we set sail with Cebolas, A.K.A ‘Captain Jack Sparrot’ (Sparrow) at the helm, and spent the next forty minutes cruising the Andong Tuek River soaking in the beautiful mangrove and forest scenery and of course the sun. Turning off the main river down a tiny estuary the navigating evidently became more difficult, as Cebolas bounced us from one river bank to another – Poun and Rothna having to get out and push at quite frequent intervals - but we got there eventually. We all had to wade a short distance as the debris in the small stream of water made it impossible for the boat to pass, the river bed was covered with a thick layer of rotten leaves and foliage which released a foul rotten egg smell when it was disturbed, so with nine of us wading through the stink was terrible. We reached the foot of the series of waterfalls and after a short climb arrived at the pool for our first stop, Mackie and Simon both had difficulties on the very first set of rocks: Simon completely losing balance and falling in a horizontal position whilst trying to supply Lucy with cigarettes AND her inhaler (her chest was probably hurting and she couldn’t decide which would relieve the pain); and Mackie’s main problem being ‘she couldn’t get up them!’ so decided to take her own route which proved to be beyond reason and ultimately much more difficult.
As the climb got progressively harder Kenha, Tu and Mackie stayed at the first pool whilst Cebolas, Poun, Rothna, Simon and I went on – which was a good job, seeing Mackie and Kenha struggle up the first set of rock I don’t think they would have made it back alive if they had gone any further! Another stop of note was a heavy flowing section with a deep pool, this meant you could dive and jump in and sit under the falling water for the closest thing you are going to get to a power shower in Andong Tuek, if only I had brought my soap! The grand finale was a waterfall about thirty feet high with an almost sheer rock face, although we managed to scale it just long enough for a photograph; and then it was a jungle trek back to the boat. The jungle trek was fun but comparatively brief, it had taken two hours to scale the waterfalls and took twenty minutes to get back down, only stopping to peel the various leeches off my feet and legs.
The final stop of the day was The Floating Rock, the ‘old people’ as Cebolas called them say that this massive rock in the middle of the river diminishes to the size of your wrist by the time it hits the river bed, I suppose ill have to take their word for that…A temple had been built on the rock for a purpose we were unable to obtain and whilst the Khmer prayed we splashed around pretending to walk on the water (as most of the floating rock was just beneath the river’s surface causing us to emulate Jesus). Another forty minutes on the river soaking up more sun than scenery and we were back a ‘docks’ of Andong Tuek; having thoroughly enjoyed the day and hiding from more exposure to the sun we all rested until tea.
15.07.2012 School Trip II
This second school trip was in essence the same as the previous one minus the rogue elephant, which meant that this time I got to keep my fruit to feed it with! Of course being the ever generous, kind human being that I am, I gave the kids some bananas to feed her with, the first student took half the bunch and threw it in the mud by the elephant’s feet – ‘not quite the point’ I mused in vain. With half the elephant feed now gone I took the lead and demonstrated how to hand feed the elephant by hand, and with a bit of friendly coercion and a small shove most the children achieved this and seemed to really enjoy it; the final little brat (Rudd) got so excited that after the elephant’s trunk had sucked the banana from his hand he felt a flat palmed slap across the trunk was appropriate. At that point I wished the elephant wasn’t behind a fence so she could give him a whack with her trunk back. Candy (Tu’s puppy) was also dragged (literally) along on this school trip and the poor thing spent the entire time being thrown into the middle of the stone well, staggering back up the bank only for the whole thing to be repeated; she had to be carried home because she was too exhausted to walk.
This Berrang Went To Market
During our surplus down time sometimes we took a wonder down to the market, generally on a Wednesday and Friday to buy the required stock for whiskey nights; in fact every time we walked into our favourite shop the owner just said,
“Whiskey? One, two or three?” – normally it was three. At first we used to shop around the market but after a week or two we found Andong Tuek’s answer to Tesco Express; and never had to look anywhere else again. The standard shopping list was a couple bottles of Khmer 31, (whiskey) a bottle of coke, a box of pan (chocolate covered marshmallow sponge cakes), three bags of chewit type sweets and a load of noodles for my breakfast; all for under ten dollars; one week we spent twenty dollars and since then we have been treated like VIP’s. Most the communication in the market place is done through pointing and a calculator, although the villagers do like to shout ‘hello’ as you walk past their stool or just laugh and point. Mackie and I are the talk of the market; an American girl who lives with a family in a different part of the village said the family she stays with and all their neighbours are talking about that ‘married French couple’. French?! Cheeky bastards.
The best part about going to market for me, apart from the whiskey and chocolate is the fried food. An old lady stands by the road with a little wood burning stove under a vat of boiling oil, and in this oil she cooks banana fritters amongst other things (we don’t know what the other things are, but the taste good). The first time we went to her stall she put three bananas fritters in a bag, I gave her a dollar- and instead of change she just filled another three bags full of fritters. They’re good but not that good! This ‘misunderstanding’ became a habit and now I daren’t buy anything from her unless I have the correct money!
08.07.2012 Does Andong Tuek Have A Three Legged Elephant?!
Our first conversation with Sopheap he had mentioned something about a resident three legged elephant, we had brushed it off as a miscommunication – but after lunch Kenha asked me,
“Do you want to come and see the elephant?” to which I responded
“Does a three legged elephant live in Andong Tuek?” of course she didn’t understand that, so I just nodded. I purchased my bananas to feed the elephant (as you may remember I’m a qualified elephant trainer) and set off with Simon, Kenha and my evening class. As we walked the mile or so to the elephants home Simon revealed that it wasn’t a three legged elephant, but rather the elephant had caused a poacher to lose a leg (but agreed that Sopheap had said it was a three legged elephant); although this made the elephant a little less special it made it no less exciting. Whilst trekking through the jungle we discovered to our amusement how petrified these country kids were of pretty much all wildlife; this particular time it was a cow wire snake – whilst Simon and I stood and watched the class and Kenha made a dash for it. At the farm we were welcomed by three barking dogs, which again the Cambodians fled from like the plague, after entering the farm via a barbed wire fence we got our first sight of the four legged elephant. More exciting to me was the small lake (the Cambodian’s call it a stone well) in front of the elephant.
“Do you think we will be allowed to swim in it Simon?” I optimistically asked, then I saw one of the students taking the plunge – so I was in!
Eventually the whole class, Simon and Kenha (who was wearing jeans, t-shirt and a hoody to swim in)were in too, although most the kids couldn’t swim – which meant Simon and I became a taxi service to the pontoon in the middle; after everybody was on the pontoon Kenha dished out some fruit for our consumption. Big Mistake. The elephant was in the next field and must have smelt the fruit as she made a move for the gate, and before we knew it she was submerged in the stone well. The animalphobic Khmer started - by now the predictable over reaction of screaming and clinging to Simon and I, as if we were going to out swim an elephant with fifteen (correct spelling especially for you Thomas Reed) people on our backs. The kids who could swim had by now made a dash for shore whilst Simon and I were left as glorified shields for the hysterical remainder until the farmer used my bananas to coax the elephant away. (My bananas! Guess I won’t be feeding the elephant then. That’s two thousand five hundred Riel I’ll never see again… I got over it, it’s about thirty five pence.)
Once Simon and I had taxied all the kids to dry land we went and petted the elephant (as I now had no bananas to feed it with) and then headed home – having our attempts at Khmer mocked all the way. Having thoroughly enjoyed our day we topped it off with a whiskey Sunday!