Saturday, July 23, 2011

End of Term Three - sorry this one is a bit long

Life continued as normal for the next two months and suddenly, Chloe, Gayle and Bronwyn were starting to rush around and visit all the places they wanted to see and buy the presents they had to buy before they had to continue their travels or go back home.
I was still helping out with Touch*A*Life twice a week and trying to get up the motivation to finish my TESOL studies.
The weather was getting even hotter by the day (didn’t think that was possible), it was about 37 degrees every day.
By mid June all the exams had been completed and marked.  Pleased to say that all my students passed very well.  The three girls had packed up and gone to Phnom Pehn for a few days and then planning to go to the beach. 
Unfortunately, Rhiannan who was Lis’ offsider at the village was asked to leave the school due to a huge misunderstanding and quite a lot of ill feeling occurred.  Rhiannan had planned to stay on for another term.  A lot of discussion took place regarding her replacement as the two girls shared a room.
After my last trip travelling by myself, I convinced (wasn’t hard) Lis to come travelling with me to Kampot and Kampong Som Provinces which are the opposite end of Cambodia I travelled last time.
We spent the first night in Phnom Pehn at a very nice hotel which I had chosen as it was very close to the Casino.  Yes, I went there but didn’t stay long as the pokies were very old and I couldn’t afford to even stand near the card tables.
The next day we found ourselves on one of the wonderful busses found only in Asia travelling to Kampot.  Fortunately, this was only a short trip which took 5 hours.
Kampot is a lovely sleepy riverside town, a charming place with a relaxed atmosphere and old fashioned French architecture.  Our guest house was right on the river front next to an old bridge that takes the traffic over the bay.  It certainly is a lovely town and we were going to be there for three days to enjoy it.  As usual, there were a huge number of places to choose from to eat and drink while sitting and watching the sunset.  Our room was nice.
Sunset at Kampot
Durian statue

Unfortunately the weather the next day looked as if it was going to rain and we had planned to go to the market and then spend the day wandering around the town.  Undaunted we walked to the market and then the skies opened and we were in the local market, dodging streams of water that was coming from the tarps and umbrellas the stall holders had placed over their good.  The markets have a distinct smell and believe me, when all the rubbish becomes wet the smell is even more ‘distinct’.   We caught a Tuk Tuk back to one of the restaurants and spent the rest of the day curled up in huge chairs and read books, watching the rain and wind wreak havoc with the countryside.
The next day was our sightseeing day away from Kampot.  We had met this lovely Tuk Tuk driver who for the total amount of $18 took us out for the day.  Riding in a Tuk Tuk in the country is great fun.  You can see and smell everything as you only putt along at about 40 kms.  When it has been raining it makes travelling all the more fun as the roads are so bad, the pot holes which are big enough to hide a cow in are full of water.  The drivers of busses and motorcars care for nothing but themselves so they fly through the water and the poor people on bushbikes, motorbikes and Tuk Tuks get covered in mud.  
The weather was overcast but not raining when we go up in the morning.
Our first visit was to Phnom (means hill) Chhnork and the reason we went there was to see a large limestone cave.  The walk to get to the caves was through a number of rice fields and of course we were accompanied by the local children.  I was happy to go down the stairs to go into the cave but it was pitch black and the only light we had was from our phones, I chickened out.  Lis clambered through the tunnels and had to breathe in a couple of times to fit, so I was glad that I changed my mind.

Rural Countryside
Cave side

Our next trip was to the pepper plantation.  This meant that we travelled for another hour in the Tuk Tuk which gave us a chance to see more countryside.  June is when they plant the rice and it is wonderful to see the farmers with their ox, ploughing the fields and then wonderful shades of green as the rice starts growing taller.  It would be a hard life as most of the farmers only produce enough rice to eat and not a lot left to sell.
Kamot pepper is the best pepper in the world and it was quite surprising how it grows.  I have bought some so that I can give you some.  They sell, green, red and black pepper corms.  They also had durian, jackfruit and other fruits growing. 
 We had lunch there and we had brought some ham and cheese sandwiches from the French bakery in Kampot for the three of us.  It was funny watching the driver trying to look as if he was enjoying the sandwich when he really would have liked a bowl of rice. 

The driver asked us if we would like to meet his Mum as his village was not far from where we were.  He told us that he lives in Kampot as he is studying and his Mum is my age and he would be proud to take us.  We jumped at the idea and so we travelled to his village and met this wonderful old lady and his family, it was nice to sit with them.  The driver translated and they gave us a huge coconut each as a drink. 
Nice way to spend an afternoon, we went back after that only stopping to see where they collect salt.  Kampot has both pepper and salt industry.
There were a lot of ex-pats living in Kampot, I think that there must be a large number of NGO’s there.  The weather was still fine and we saw the sunset from the bar in our guesthouse.

Instead of taking the bus to go to Kep, we travelled with our Tuk Tuk driver again as Kep is only 25 kms away from Kampot and only $2 more than the bus.
Kep is a seaside resort and is famous for its spectacular sunsets and splendid seafood.  It was founded as a colonial retreat for the rich French and later on the rich Cambodians.  The Khmer Rouge really did not like the town at all and the destruction they wrought was nearly total.  Today, dozens of Kep’s luxurious pre-war villas are still just blackened shells.  It is odd walking in the dark and seeing a light in the bottom floor as squatters now life in them.  It is really sad to see such beautiful buildings in such a state.
Our guesthouse was right on the waterfront and had its own private beach.  Unfortunately, the beach was just a pile of rocks with little sand so walking out to the water was a challenge which I did not take up.  The water was very choppy with all the wind and rain in the area so we decided that we would just use the guesthouse swimming pool.  I know a hard life.
Crabs.  During my time in Kep, I ate crabs in a curry, grilled, b-b-qued, chillied.  Fantastic, so cheap.  The only problem is that they are so smaaaaaaaaaaall and hard to eat.  I know, I have been spoiled by the mud crabs that Gill and Nathan give me.  I keep telling everyone who will listen that the crabs in Cambodia are smaller that our seashells.  
What did we do in Kep?  Not a lot.  We ate, we walked, we drank and we then had to eat again.  We didn’t swim in the sea but I am sure that it would be OK.  There were a lot of locals swimming.  Life is very quiet and slow in Kep.  Think I could settle down there.  There are still things you could volunteer to do but when you didn’t want to, you could just sit.


The Vietnam border is about 15kms from Kep and a lot of people get the bus from there and travel on to Saigon.
We had a date the next day with Sandra in Sihanoukville, so we left the next day on a share taxi, fortunately this one was not crowded.
I had organised for Sandra to be picked up by a taxi and brought down to Sihanoukville to our hotel thus saving me a trip back to Phnom Pehn to pick her up.  She arrived at the hotel about 1 hour after us.  Sandra had been travelling for two days from Townsville and it was lovely to see her again.  Sandra was only over for two weeks as that is all the holidays they have this time of the year in Queensland schools.  Sandra is planning to come back for 3 months to Siem Reap in January and certainly looking forward to it.  She may spend some time at the school here as a short term teacher, time will tell.
The three days in Sihanoukville was spent on the beach with a trip to one of the islands on the second day.  Lovely, the weather was perfect.  I will definitely have to go back there before I go home.

We thought that we would hang the expense and get a private car to take us back to Siem Reap.  We chose the time to leave and with just the three of us and the driver in the car, we could stop when we chose.  Great, it was a little expensive $105 for a 10 hour trip but it beats the bus hands down.  It rained non-stop from Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap, guess the rain was waiting for us to come back.  Great holiday and neither Lis or I wanted to come back.
The new teachers were already comfortable at the school.  Clare, who is about 25 from Melbourne, Maurine who is over 60 from Melbourne and Barry who is about 55 from Townsville.   Unfortunately, Barry left the school on the second week although he only taught for 2 days and never entered the classroom again.  I think that he had health problems which were aggravated by stress; I think that he was not comfortable in front of a class.  Fortunately for Mel, there was a young lass here from London who was a friend of one of the teachers and she managed to change her life around for a couple of weeks and so she is here until August and then Mel should have found someone by then.
We also found out that Lis’ new room-mate was a young 18 year old male and of course that caused a lot of moral problems for Lis.  The people she lived with in the village had adopted her as a daughter and the idea of her living with a young man in the same room was not culturally acceptable, as it is also not in Australia.  Lis found that a compromise could not be found i.e. put the lad somewhere else and bring in another girl, Lis had to resign.  It was very hard on her but she felt that she had little choice.  She has moved in with Lyn and is helping her with her school and also still doing a little teaching in the village.
Lyn had moved houses while I was away.  She has moved a little closer to town and is renting a number of rooms in a big house.  The owners offered her an area outside of the house for a school at no charge if she would provide a free school.  They have done a lot of work on the room and made it quite nice.  Lyn is using that for her classroom, sometimes having as many as 40 kids in the room and using the foyer area of the house for younger ones.  She really has no idea of her numbers as they come and go all the time; she knows that it is over 200.  Lyn is still finding it hard without volunteers although she has Mel who is a Rover from Tassie, Richard her son and now Lis.  I think she could do with some more as it must be quite hectic at times.

My birthday was spent, firstly opening presents from home.  John had sent a parcel for Sandra to bring over and she did not give me my presents until the day before and only then as she was flying home.  It was lovely reading the cards and opening the gifts, must admit that I got a bit soppy.  We had our Sunday lesson planning meeting and during that a lovely bouquet of flowers arrived from Lis.  I received texts from my family and in the afternoon I went swimming at my friend’s beautiful villa with Lis, Lyn, Mel (the Rover) and Richard.  They presented me with a cake.  Nice afternoon, in the evening I went to dinner with two of the people from the school.
Last Saturday/Sunday, Lis and I stayed at one of the 5 star hotels here.  John had given me membership to the Accor club which entitles you to a free night in an Accor hotel and the only one in Cambodia was the Sofitel Angkor Golf and Spa Resort.  Wow.  We were treated like Queens from the moment we went in there until we left 24 hours later.  The swimming pool is the biggest in Cambodia, the rack of lamb was Australian lamb and the breakfast buffet was huge.  We were given red roses when we left the restaurant and a birthday cake, basket of fresh fruit, macaroons and special container of Cambodian spices and free drinks.  I could learn to like living like the ‘rich and famous’.   Thank You John for your lovely gift.  
I am still trying to finish my TESOL course but find it hard to do the final part which is covering areas that I am not sure about.  I have given myself till the middle of August to finish it.  Clare who is a lovely lady from England is here at the school until the end of this term and she is TESOL qualified and very clever, she is going to be my assessor.  I will be so glad when it is finished.
What about me.  I am really happy and certainly fit and well although I still have not lost any weight which is strange as I don’t eat a lot.  Think I have lost about 5kgs.
I walk a lot and love working with the people from Touch*A*Life and I have just met up with a lady who does craft work with the kids from the orphanages around here and Battenbang.  I love the idea of doing craft with the kids so will think about what I can do and where I can get materials.
I miss my family and friends especially in the evenings after teaching but thank heavens for Facebook and texts.
I am sorry that this has become so long but once I start (takes ages) I can’t stop.  I am sure there is a lot of other things I have forgotten to tell you.