Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tuk-Tuk of Doom -or- Paying off the police

Alright you crazy cats, get ready for the longest post you've ever read in your life. Well, probably not, but settle in because I have lots to say!

Right after I wrote the post on not having any stories to tell, I definitely was involved in a couple adventures. The first entails the often hilarious repercussions of the obvious language barrier between us and the tuk-tuk drivers.

The weather has been particularly brutal these past few days. It cools down about 20 degrees when it rains, but unfortunately, it's only managed to do that once. So, being the typically environmentally friendly Americans that we are, we pretty much decide to take a tuk-tuk rather than endure the grueling 15 minute walk back to our hotel from town. On one such occasion, my friend Emily and I hop on a tuk-tuk and ask to be taken to our guesthouse, the GOLDEN village. 10 minutes into our ride, the landscape has drastically changed. All of a sudden, we were most definitely the only white people around as we rode by run-down houses built with banana leaves and branches chilling on sticks by the river. We had entered the "non-touristy area of Siem Reap." Well, Emily and I decided to wait about 10 more minutes before finally yelling at the tuk-tuk driver, "Sir, excuse me, do you know where Golden Village is?"

The driver screeches to a halt and turns around. "Golden Village?? I take you to Floating Village!"

Yeah, the floating village is about 45 minutes away. No wonder he wanted us to pay him so much up front! Good thing we finally got the guts to say something.. He found it pretty funny, and kept turning around to go "Hahaha! Golden village! Hohoho!"

Something tells me that's not going to be the last of stories like that....!

Yesterday, a group of us traveled to Phnom Krom, a mountain about 20 minutes away from Siem Reap. Our group was pretty diverse as we not only had American students, but also Khmer (Cambodian) and French students as well.

**Side note - To explain, I am in the CIEE group, which has 11 American students. There is another group that is studying with us that is on a Fellowship from the Center for Khmer studies. They have 5 Americans, 5 Khmer, and 5 French. Needless to say, our conversations have been pretty hilarious :). Alright, back to the story!**

On the way, we were stopped by some government officials. The Khmer students jumped out and had to bargain with them to let us keep going. Apparently, they charge tourists $30 to continue on, but since we were only going to the mountain, they let us pass free of charge. Being the poli sci nerd that I am, it was kind of exciting to see my first example of government corruption, wasn't the last, because once we finally got to the mountain, they wouldn't let us go past a certain point until 5:30, and even then we had to collectively pay $10. I'm glad we had our Khmer friends with us that could negotiate for us!

Because we couldn't pass a certain point for about an hour and a half, we had a lot of free time on our hands...Dave and I tried to teach the French baseball with big rocks for bases and an umbrella for a bat, people were was really fun. We finally got to the Wat (temple) at the top of the mountain, and the view was absolutely amazing. As far as you could see were bright green rice paddies, dense forests, and the tiny houses on stilts below. It was very calm and peaceful. Past the more modern Wat on a trail, we came upon some very old ruins dating back to the Angkor period. A very old man told us that the Khmer Rouge had used this as a stronghold during the 1990's, which added to the already historical aura of the place. The carvings on the temple were very beautiful, and I am extremely excited to visit Angkor Wat tomorrow to see everything on a larger scale.

On the way down the mountain, we were surrounded by local children who had probably seen us heading up. One of my favorite things so far in Cambodia is that the children are always so excited to see you and practice their English "Hello!" It's really cute when you can see them practicing under their breath before they reach you :). Well, these kids were no exception, and they were really giggly and fun. They were especially excited when we took a picture and showed it to them, and right away, they started posing and making funny faces so that they could see themselves. I started asking what their names were in Cambodian, and when I told them my name, they all started shouting "Abby! Abby!" Oh man, so cute.

My favorite moment was when I tried to say "Hi" in Cambodian to show that I could say it in their language too, but when I messed up and said "Soos-day", one of the girls sighed, shook her head, and corrected me: "Tay (no)!, soos-DEI!"

Ah, it was hilarious.

Today, we took a boat tour on lake Tonle Sap, the biggest lake in Cambodia. We first had to take a small boat through the river past the floating village. The day before, a construction dam a couple miles away had broken, and the surge of water had flooded and destroyed a lot of the boats. Most of the actual houses, though, appeared ok. In the floating village, all of the houses are built on boats or logs and bob along with the waves. The people travel around by canoe, and some even sell produce and other things from small boats around the village. We eventually made it to Tonle Sap, which is so huge we couldn't even see the other side. We saw a crocodile farm, went to a bigger boat to eat some food (I got fish and chips..not very Cambodian..-_-), and saw a Wat on stilts...We actually got jipped because we were supposed to see the bird sanctuary, but they waited till we go there to say that it wasn't included. Those Australians...haha.

All in all, I've been doing pretty well being so far from home, but there is one thing that I am missing hard core: the food. I'm not to keen on Cambodian food, and I'm already getting sick of eating rice and noodles. Right now, I would kill for just some peanut butter and jelly...oh man.

Anyways, I love the guesthouse we are staying in. The family is so nice, and I've gotten to really know the people who work here. My favorites are the daughters of the owner, Lahng and Ing. They are so sweet, and we're sat together and studied for our respective subjects at night on the porch :).

Speaking of studying, the curriculum is ridiculous!! 60-100 pages of reading a night, projects, two 10-page research papers.....what the hell! None of us are very happy about we may split up the readings between ourselves, shhhh...;). Because of that, I don't know when I can fit in volunteering..hopefully, I can at least teach some english at the Wat down the street. (If you haven't noticed, there are a ton of Wats around!)

We did get to watch the Killing Fields in class, which is about the Khmer Rouge takeover between 1975 and 1979 where over 2 million people were killed. If you haven't seen it, please do yourself a favor and watch it right now. It's a big reason why I wanted to come.

Alright, that's enough writing for one night. Don't hesitate to e-mail me and tell me how you are doing!

Abby, out.


Kevin said...

im still serious about the monk touching spree. I bet it would be awesome in floating village!!!!!

Kim said...

I think it's fitting that you get so excited about witnessing government corruption first-hand. You make me smile.

Kim said...

I spend a lot of time cruising food blogs. I found a post asking about food in Cambodia and Vietnam, so I copied the part about Cambodia below. I don't know if it's helpful, but I thought of you.

In Cambodia's capital, we ate regularly at a partially open-air restaurant on the corner between the main market and the Inter-city bus terminal. Anything on the menu is well worth trying. The staff is particularly pleasant. On an inter-city bus trip out of the capital, the bus stopped for a half-hour refreshment stop and there I encountered crowds of people offering all kinds of exotic fresh fruits, boiled eggs, and fried tarantulas. Didn't try one but, on reflection. I will forever wonder what I missed ;~(