GPS Tagging My Travels

There was an interesting article in the ‘Cambodian Daily’ the other day. It was talking about how Cambodia is growing, but it still has a long way to go. It was referring to the annual report put out the previous day by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). I was quite interested, seeing as how I had chosen to make Cambodia my home for the past 6 months. Here are a few of the more interesting notes:

• “The least developed countries of the region: Afghanistan, Cambodia, & Myanmar, also have the largest infrastructure deficits”. Riding my motorcycle around the country and in Thailand and Laos, I can attest to that last part!

• The ESCAP report notes that: Only 24% of Cambodians have access to electricity, 64% have access to clean water, and 31% have access to proper sanitation.

• They also noted that Cambodia has one of the highest proportions of undernourished people at 17.1%

Yet despite all of it’s problems, the people here seem so happy and are so friendly. I wouldn’t have done anything differently and I am very pleased to be able to say: “I’ve lived in Cambodia”.

When I’ve been out and about, I will usually ‘try’ to remember to snap a photo with my iPhone. I love how it gps tags the photos with latitude and longitude, so it can map the photo. It gives me a record of exactly where I’ve been, not that I would forget! I wanted to show you a sample of my travels over the last 6 months, while being based here out of Phnom Penh.

Note: I am using the ‘Hipstomatic’ camera app, which allows me to change films, but there’s no zoom. It is also square with borders.

So, following is a map of SEAsia with the tags (locations) of the snap shots that follow it. I look at each photo and I can put myself back to the exact time and place I took it. I grant you, this post is my own personal log, so thanks for letting me indulge myself.

 

 ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam

Fish on Farms, Revisited

 ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

 

 

Well we’re near the end of the dry season here in Cambodia, it has only started to rain again the last couple of weeks. It might rain and then it might pour for awhile, although it hasn’t done anything to dampen the heat. This is the hot time of the year and it’s always in the upper 90′s (F), approaching and going into 3 digits. So you can imagine 100º and 99% humidity! It’s warm.

I went back out to Prey Veng Province a few days ago to check up on the Fish on Farms program with Helen Keller International (HKI) and University of British Columbia (UBC). The one I went to last November and posted here on the blog. This trip we were going out to the farms and ponds to check up on the fish. For a short recap of that posting, the farmers involved with this project are growing small fish and large fish in ponds dug on their farms. The small fish are to be ground up whole and put into bor bor (a local type of porridge) given to their children to help with eliminating malnutrition. The large fish are to be sold at market for profit.

After the dry season the water has evaporated quite a bit, but all the foliage that they are growing to surround the ponds is doing quite well. It helps with the water and keeps critters and others out of the ponds. However with the scattered downpours of rain we’ve had recently, the water levels weren’t as low as I was expecting. The main reason for this visit was to collect samples of the different species of fish and prepare it for shipping to Vancouver for testing and collecting all the data for the study.

We got there quite late in the day and dusk was setting in a little early due to the pending rain. In hindsight I can say the pending downpour. At the first pond they were collecting the fish buy laying a net in the pond and then lifting it up and slowly moving the fish to one end. It may not look it but it had to be about 102º and 98% humidity. I really wanted to jump in and join the guys. Well, almost!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the collection the real work begins. They needed to collect 5 samples of 6 species and prepare them according to very specific guidelines. Record all the data and then get the fish to the only refrigerated freezer in the province. The fish must be kept below -18º (C) until they arrive in Vancouver. Before we showed up at the first pond, we stopped by the Health Center in the province which has the only freezer in the entire province and it runs solely on solar power. Then after all the samples are collected from a number of ponds, they will be transported to Phnom Penh packed in dry ice and then shipped to North America.

 

 

 

 

At this pond you can see the next level that the water will rise to as soon as the rainy season gets into full gear. The pond now is about 2 meters deep, so there is still plenty of room for this woman farmer to raise her fish. She has done quite a good job over the dry season to get the foliage grown around her pond. Her two little girls told me they do like the bor bor with the fish ground up. I haven’t tried it yet!

 

 

As you can see she’s also done a nice job raising her fish. These are some of the small species that will be prepared for shipping to the lab.

 

 

 

 

 

The following day we stopped by this couple’s farm to see the ‘almost’ completed fish hatchery. They were one of the 360 farmers who had a pond on their farm and then they were chosen, through a rather lengthy process, to build a hatchery in the place of their one pond. They are about two or three weeks away from finishing the fishery. The tanks are almost finished and the 8 new ponds have all been dug. A new water well was drilled and the goal is that in about one year, maybe two, they will be able to hatch enough fish to yearly restock all 360 ponds in the Fish on Farms project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Cambodia

A Tourist in SEAsia

I decided to take two weeks and be a tourist. So I got a plane ticket, took off with a plan of direction but nothing definite. I’ll just go and see what happens. I started out in Bangkok, which I had been to before. But….. that was 40 years ago in 1973. Not the same place anymore. Most all the khlongs are paved over now with a few left to the locals, mostly for transportation. There were only about 3 or 4 buildings over 5 stories then and now it’s a bustling metropolis with a skyline to match. Subways and even a Sky Train that travels above the streets like an ‘El’.

The Khlongs were the lifeblood back then, the way you bought your food, clothing, and you got around. One remnant of the old days, albeit now he’s selling hats and trinkets.

( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

 

My plan was to head north past Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle Area of Chiang Rai, so I flew up from Bangkok. When we arrived we circled the airport about 3 times. I wasn’t quite sure why, this is a small airport. The kind where there are no taxiways, you land, turn around on the runway and go to the parking lot. I couldn’t see much out the window, then just saw the ground as we were about to land.

Nowhere did I read that March and April of every year are like this. The visibility is only about 1 to 2 km. This is the time of year the farmers are burning the remains of their rice harvest getting ready for planting the new crop. The Thai government has asked the farmers to stop burning, which ‘most’ have. But they have no control over Burma (Myanmar) nor Laos and the entire northern part of SEAsia is under very heavy smoke.

I wanted to find the poppy fields, the buds heroin is made from, only because I’ve always heard about them. The Thai government has been able to rid the countryside of almost all of them. But I did finally find a few plants, but in full disclosure they were in a palace botanical garden.

 

 

I have found what I like most is to just rent a motorcycle and take off for a day. Drive up to mountains and get out of town, I usually get lost but the things you run into are usually very interesting. Early in the morning I rode south of Chiang Rai to see Wat Rong Khun, also called the White Temple. Chalermchai Kositpipat designed it. I think he’s the Antoni Gaudí of Thailand. It is very different and very unique.

 

 

One day I got a car and driver and we drove along a very narrow road that is the border, with Thailand on one side and Myanmar on the other. The terrain is very steep so most of the way it’s just cliff then barbed wire where it’s possible to climb. Along our drive that day, about every 15 km we would run into a military post, just a hut and a bamboo stick across the road. But always a uniformed officer with rifle to check our trunk and my driver had to show his Thai ID. They are looking for Burmese who have come across the border. Even on my bus ride to Chaing Mai, the bus was stopped and officers came onboard and all locals had to show Thai ID. Somewhere behind all that smoke is Burma.

 

 

I got as far north as Mae Sai at the border with Myanmar. I had to go, so I crossed over into Myanmar and spent the afternoon in the market and took a tuk tuk up to the temple to see the city but just too much smoke.

The next day I took a bus and went to Chiang Mai, about 3 hours south of Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai is an old town of history, being the capital of the Kingdom of Lanna from the early 14th through mid 18th centuries. It is quite a bit bigger than Chiang Rai and somewhat of a tourist destination now. I found a great guesthouse inside the old city wall and it was just great.

I had so wanted to join a particular, eco, animal friendly elephant rescue farm where you spend an entire day, one on one with an elephant. But they were booked through the month so I was resigned to not seeing any elephants while I was there, which really bummed me out. So I rented a motorcycle and went up into the mountains for a 204 km ride into Samoeng Valley and around. I was riding back toward Chiang Mai and off the side of the road an elephant in the stream caught my eye. So I stopped, grabbed my camera and went to the edge of the cliff and started taking pictures. A mahout (trainer) was giving this elephant a bath as another elephant came down and into the stream. The mahout saw me taking pictures and waved me down, so I went back to the bike, changed to the wide angle lens and down on my butt, I slid down the cliff. Had no idea if I was going to be able to make it back up, but I wasn’t going to miss out on this. I was able to spend half an hour or so with these elephants all to myself, and the mahout. I was one very happy puppy. Not easy getting back up the cliff but I did make it home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day I did something I’ve never done before. I went zip lining through the jungle forest. It was about an hours drive into the mountains and was over 5 km’s of zip lines. We would go from one tree to another, cross rope bridges to another tree, drop down 20 ft to another. The longest single zip line was about 200 meters, longer than two football fields. Most of the time you couldn’t see the landing from where you were starting. It was a blast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was on to Luang Prabang In Laos. A young woman, Vesna from Montenegro, sat next to me on the plane, we got talking and low and behold, she’s a singer, photographer/videographer, on a 2 month trek through SEAsia. We got along great so we spent some time traveling around Luang Prabang.

Again on the first day I rented a motorcycle and asked Vesna if she wanted to come with me to go see the Pak Ou caves carved into the side of the cliffs along the Mekong river. So off we went. After about an hour or so we crossed a river and it just didn’t seem right so we stopped and asked some kids. They pointed us back south and with no common language we just went. Took the first road we saw and went with it. After about half an hour on this small dirt road without any traffic we figured, we were lost. It was so beautiful we kept going and kept running into such beautiful surroundings. I should mention here that the Lao farmers are also burning so the smoke here is actually denser than in Thailand.

Along the way we came around a corner and saw this working elephant along side the road. We stopped to take some photos and the mahout wasn’t very friendly, but try stopping two photographers.

 

 

After riding and seeing wonderful country we ended up in a small village, parked the bike and walked through the village and down to the river. Vesna wanted to go swimming and we found a very beautiful spot, with only the occasional boat paddling by. That tiny boat with the husband and wife show you how big these cliffs are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed for about an hour or so till it was getting late. The wind started to pick up and the sound of the wind blowing through the bamboo made the most beautiful sound. Then it rained on us riding home, a very welcomed change.

The next day we were going to go down river to the Kuangsi Waterfalls and while walking to the river we ran into Joy, a woman Vesna had met in the airport. So Joy joined us and the three of us rented a boat to take us down river. When we got there, Joy who’s Thai and can communicate in Lao, got a fellow to take us up to the waterfalls in the back of his pickup. He was very kind, he laid a rug down for us.

The colour of these pools and the water was just beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m back in Phnom Penh and the summer heat is in full swing with 100º+ days and the occasional downpour.

 

 

 

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Posted in Laos, Thailand

The Temples at Angkor

Trying to imagine what some of these places looked like over 1,000 years ago can be a bit difficult at times. With Mother Nature doing her thing, theft, the vandalism, the thousands of people walking through every day over the last three or four decades, it is in remarkable shape. The entire Angkor Regional Park area is huge, covering some 150 plus square miles. The Angkorian period spans from the 9th to 15th centuries and brought the Khmer empire to be one of the greatest in Southeast Asia.

Angkor Wat is the most famous and the best kept of all the temples. It is also the world’s largest surviving religious building. The largest most complete ‘city’ would be Angkor Thom where in its day, there were one million living inside its walled area. King Suryavarman II lived here while building Angkor Wat just a few kilometers down the road.

The area and temples are being renovated with monetary help from Germany and India. I am going to say I come from the school of ‘leave it alone’. In another thousand years it will still be here, so let Mother Nature do her thing and leave it be. I understand the necessity of safety with the thousands of tourists, but I’d prefer to see the crumbling stones and weathered facades over new patches of limestone. They have only begun the process, about 3 or 4 years ago, so they have a very long way to go.

So I met Lysang early one morning at my guesthouse, he was going to be with me for a couple of days showing me around and explaining its history. I explained to Lysang during our tuk tuk ride out to the area north of Siem Reap, I really wanted to take pictures. He was cautious and tentative during our conversation but as we talked and he understood where I came from, he really opened up. We had a great time over 2 days talking about Cambodia, it’s people, it’s problems, and as he put it “his king” who was cremated three weeks ago.

Lysang has been guiding people around Angkor for over 10 years and knew almost everyone out there, so it was great. He’d take me off the beaten path and we would sneak around to where others were roped off. We’d stop and talk to the workers and on the second day it seems I created a bit of raucous when I insisted that he and our tuk tuk driver sit down and eat lunch with me. Seems that’s just not done, but I don’t like eating alone and I wanted to buy them lunch and a beer. I insisted!

The entire area was built out of limestone from a quarry some 25 miles northeast of here. So how did they get those stones here and build these so high? Same quandary as the pyramids. So I am presuming in its day it was very grey, the colour of new limestone with the green of the jungle and forest and the blue of the water. Now after a thousand years, Mother Nature’s hand of rain, moss, lichen, and the acid rain of late it is a very different place.

The temples are very high and the steps are very steep with high steps, so there is a lot climbing sideways. I did climb all the way to the top of over 14 temples in two days and it was HOT. Thankfully I live in a 5th floor walk-up so I was in shape!

So I think I will just leave you to wander through a few of the temples…

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  ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

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A beautiful carved Deveta.

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There is a very long earth causeway that crosses the moat and leads up to Angkor Wat. It was so hot and the direct sun is so brutal, there were two young Khmer boys jumping off the causeway into the moat to cool off or rather they were pushing each other off! Then they would climb back up and do it again.

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I was walking through Ta Prohm and I heard this very loud scream. I ran around the corner and this young Australian woman was totally out of breath. She had just turned a corner and ran into this little beauty. Now the body is about 3 inches long so leg tip to leg tip is over 10 inches!

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Even after 1,000 years and shifting limestone blocks, the beauty is still there.

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Near the end of the day I was so hot, so I snuck around a building to go down to one of the reservoirs and saw a group of young kids playing in the water. Then this one young girl about 11 showed me how young kids in Cambodia fish… they just look for them!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cambodia

Toul Sleng (S-21), Kampouchea

Trying to learn and understand some of the many wars that have gone on in Cambodia just over the last 60 years, I’m finding it’s extremely complicated. My first disclaimer is I am no historian and I am only at the beginning of under- standing the many smaller wars that made up Cambodia’s larger civil war. Please bare that in mind and ‘consider the source’ while I ‘try’ to give you a very short timeline of today’s post.

Cambodia’s civil war started and overlapped the end of the second Indochina War, which we in the west know as the Vietnam War. The civil war is roughly considered to have started around 1970 with a coup of the government, which I alluded to in the previous post when King Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown. Then when the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War in 1975, that left a vacuum where the Khmer Rouge was able to gain control, with Pol Pot as their leader. Pol Pot reigned from 1975 to 1979 until the Vietnamese came in and over threw the Khmer Rouge. Then they were in control of the country till the end of the civil war in about 1989, with the Paris Peace Accords. It’s been a struggling country ever since. It was during this time (1975—1989) that so many anti personal and anti tank mines were laid along the Cambodian border with Thailand, they are still killing over 200 people every year.

During the reign of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot, they called Cambodia the Democratic Kampouchea. Under Pol Pot’s rule and the Khmer Rouge’s socialism, people fled the cities to the country. Anyone with an education, wealth, had a professional background, were considered suspect, along with former government officials and later even Khmer Rouge high ranking leaders, who some say Pol Pot feared as possible coup leaders. Between political executions, forced labour, malnutrition, and starvation, it is estimated that 2+ million people died during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Roughly 25% of the population of Cambodia at the time.

During my travels here in Cambodia I’ve run into many places where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed people. Such as the caves at Phnum Sampov just outside of Battambang, where there are memorials to all those taken inside the caves, tortured and killed. But the most famous is Toul Sleng (aka ‘S-21′) here in Phnom Penh. I read that an estimate of about 17,000 were imprisoned and tortured here in S-21 during it’s operation (1975–1979), forced to confess to the crimes they were arrested for. Then most all were taken the 15 km south of Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where they were killed and buried in mass graves.

I visited Toul Sleng the other day…

  ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

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A steel bed spring to be tied by leg irons and interrogated.

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They broke through the walls between classrooms to make one very long room. Then built very crude steel structure’s to reinforce brick walls to create small cells for detainment. These cells were approximately 4 ft x 6 ft.

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Out in the exercise yard of the high school was a high bar. They had three long ropes hanging from it where they would hang prisoners upside down till they passed out. Underneath them were three large vases about 3 feet high filled with waste water, they used to water outdoor plants. They would lower the unconscious prisoners into the vases till they were shocked awake, so they could torture and interrogate them some more.

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Even though the entire school was surrounded with double walls of corrugated iron and barb wire, they enclosed the individual buildings with barb wire to prevent prisoners from escaping and committing suicide.

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Some of the exhumed mass graves at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. With the dry season, wet season, and time, bone fragments are continuing to rise to the surface. It is now a memorial park with a stupa for the thousands that were killed in this one field alone.

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Posted in Cambodia

Farewell to King Norodom Sihanouk

There has been a very large buildup to the last 5 days here in Cambodia, ever since I arrived last November 1st. The King Father Norodom Sihanouk died last October in Beijing and his body was returned in mid October to the Royal Palace here in Phnom Penh, just across the park from my apartment. The Royal Palace has been closed to the public since I arrived while his body lies in-state. Usually Buddhist funerals do not wait this long before cremation but there was time needed to build a ‘proper’ crematorium fit for a King and for the people of Cambodia to come pay their respects.

I will try to be brief… King Father Sihanouk helped Cambodia get it’s independence from France in 1953. He’d go out to the villages to talk to the people and they loved him for that. He later abdicated the throne so he could become a politician and became Cambodia’s Prime Minister for some 15 years until he was overthrown in a coup in 1970. He sided with the Khmer Rouge in the early years, which isn’t talked about much, then was bestowed the title of King again in 1993. Then in 2004 he abdicated the thrown to his son King Norodom Sihamoni, the current king. So he is very well loved and thought of as the founding King of the independent Cambodia.

There have been stories for weeks about 1, 2 even possibly 3 million people coming into Phnom Penh for the 7 day mourning period and funeral. I’m registered with the U.S. State Department and I received an email telling us all to be very careful, there are 4 million people coming to Phnom Phnen for the four-day funeral and to stay away from crowds. Yeah right!

It’s been a concern though living right here what would it be like. People sleeping in our alleyway? Could I move around? Even get to my apartment? Would there be places to eat? No one really knew but we did know we would soon find out.

There was an entire square block park right across the street from my apartment called Veal Mean, between my block and the Royal Palace. I remember when I first moved in that it was kind of nice to have a park right here. Within one week there was a crew of maybe 5 guys doing some kind of work out in the very middle and I didn’t think twice about it other than maybe they’re fixing up the park, it needed it.

As the weeks passed it got bigger, steel was being brought in, the crew got larger and larger. Well they’ve had a crew of about maybe 100 working 16-hour days every day for almost 3 months working in the park. Finally last December I read in the paper what was going on. They were building the crematorium for the King-Father’s funeral along with viewing stands for hundreds, mostly VIP’s and Heads of State of other countries. I read that a fence was being built around the park, I wondered to keep the rest of us out? As time passed and I started to better understand the current politics here, it all made more sense. Security for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has had unrivaled power for the last three decades, was a main concern.

This is the park, from my alley entrance about the 3rd week of November.

 ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

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Here it was about one week ago. Snake flags flying and just the need to remove the crane and the plastic around the flowers that’s been keeping them clean.

 

 

 

The police barricades have been being stacked at intersections for the last week so I still wasn’t sure what was really going to happen. All the restaurants were being told to close for 4 days, the police removed all the street vendors and stalls from outside my market around the corner. I’ve been reading the papers trying to find out but they’re just not telling the public much of anything. Then I noticed that all the buildings on my street and on Sotheros, the two streets along the park, are being shrouded in netting. Then I find out its all security for the Prime Minister.

 

 

 

I noticed a couple of weeks ago when I came back from Battambang that all the streets were freshly re-striped. People were starting to show up and they were re-striping Sotheros at dusk the night before the whole ceremony was to begin

 

 

 

Just down Sotheros on the other side of the park is the Royal Palace. The street has been closed to traffic since I moved into the neighborhood because since October people have been coming by day and night to pay respects to the King. Every day at 09:00 in the morning and 17:30 in the evening monks chant for the King. There is a small park between the entrance to the Royal Palace and the river that is filled with people at all times and has become the place for Cambodians to come and light incense and pay their last respects to the King-Father. The evening has seen the most traffic and as the ceremony draws closer, more and more people are showing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main entrance to Veal Mean (the crematorium) was only finished about one week ago and really draws the crowds at night to check it out and take pictures with their phones and iPads.

 

 

 

So this last Friday (February 1) the four-day funeral began. The King’s body was to leave the Royal Palace on a 6-kilometer procession around Phnom Penh, to allow the huge influx of people to see him and pay their respects. I had no idea what to really expect. I was originally thinking maybe I should leave the city for the weekend and then I thought how often do you get to see a Buddhist funeral of a King. So I decided to stay, deal wth the crowds, all the closings, and take some pictures.

7 am I walked out my apartment and down the alley to the street, very few people so I started over to the river to see the procession. I was ‘inside’ the barricade zone. All the people were being kept 4 blocks away from the crematorium. I wore a white shirt, (in Asian countries white is the same as the West’s black, the mourning colour) a black tie, my black ribbon with the King’s photo on my shirt pocket and with my camera gear around my neck, I could somewhat look like the photographers who had press passes. If I hid my front from the police!

So my neighborhood was the staging area for the procession to get started and everyone was lining up along the river in front of the Royal Palace. There are hundreds in the parade from scouts to police to military and Buddhist traditional symbolisms. It was so hot even at 8 am, some of the people in the procession were fainting while waiting to get started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then around 9 am the procession started. It was to go up Sisowath, around Wat Phnom, down Norodum Bvd. to Independence Monumnet’s round about, back over to the river and up to the crematorium in Veal Mean. I’m sure you all know exactly what I’m talking about? I saw this group of young monks behind a group of older monks in front of the Royal Palace just as the procession was starting.

 

 

 

The King’s coffin being carried along Preah Sisowath Quay.

 
The do love their gold. This is the urn that some of the King’s remains will be put in then put in the Stupa in the Royal Palace.

 

 

 

Prime Minister Hun Sen being carried on one of the many ‘floats’; I’m not sure what to call them. I’m not sure float would be the proper word for a funeral procession.

 

 

 

All the VIP’s had been arriving and going to their seats, while the Cambodian general public was being kept 3 blocks away. So my neighborhood was rather quiet from what I was expecting thousands of people to be like. I was able to stay because I live in the neighborhood and most of the police thought I had a press pass. Now and then one would notice I didn’t and they would grab me and kick me back across the street. I’d just wait awhile and then sneak back.

The main entrance where the VIP’s entered was on the front street, the entrance right across from my alley was a side entrance that everyone who was in the procession used to go inside and through metal detectors. So it got rather hectic when everyone started to arrive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After most everyone was inside there was still quite a long wait, then the King’s body finally arrived. It made three revolutions around the crematorium building for all the people inside to pay their respects.

 

 

 

Immediately followed by the Queen-Mother and the King-Father’s son, the current King Norodom Sihamoni.

 

 

 

So did the crowds ever really appear? The ‘schedule’ was that on Friday there would be the procession and the formal arrival of the King’s body to the crematorium at Veal Mean. Saturday and Sunday were for the masses to pay their respects and on Monday was the formal cremation. Tuesday was the removal of the ashes to the Royal Palace, then on Wednesday a portion of the ashes to be scattered in front of the Royal Palace at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong. The remaining ashes are to be placed in the Stupa at the Royal Palace.

Well I went downstairs Saturday morning and the masses did show up. They finally let the people through the barricades but no automobiles or motorbikes. This is my normally quiet Street 178.

 

 

 

All day Saturday and Sunday the masses were allowed to come in and pay their respects. They were allowed to go inside Veal Mean and file by the main crematorium. I also tried to go inside to look and take some photos. I got in line, went by all the check points, then at the very last one before going inside two guards grabbed me and pulled me out of line. I’m not Khmer.

So for two days the entire neighborhood was filled with people walking around, praying, and chanting their final respect. I couldn’t even enter one of the alleys to my apartment due to the masses. It seemed everyone was quite sad to see their King-Father go but with the Buddhist tradition, he’s just moving on to his next life..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday evening around 16:30 the neighborhood was once again void of the masses. Then the VIP’s started to arrive and slowly the Veal Mean filled once again to capacity. We were all waiting and watching with great anticipation for the cremation ceremony. Which in the Buddhist faith is only the end of one life and the beginning of another. The cremation releases the spirit from the body so it may enter it’s next life.

Well it seems no one at the press stand where I was shooting knew what was going on either. We all just kept watching, as did most of the people inside. Very formal, many monks in orange and many in bronze would enter the crematoria structure and then monks surrounding the building would start chanting. The monks who entered the crematoria were inside for the better part of an hour with the curtains drawn. Then the VIP’s and Heads of State all took turns going up inside and returning. Another half hour went by with anticipation, then all of a sudden fireworks went off inside Veal Preah Man and all along the river front. It was over.

 

 

 

Today on Wednesday they scattered part of the King’s ashes in the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, in front of the Royal Palace and moved the urn to the stupa inside the Royal Palace grounds. I am hoping that soon the Royal Palace will once again be open to the pubic so I may go take a look.

There is one thing that is rather amazing about the crematorium complex across the street? It’s temporary and will be torn down and returned to the original Veal Mean.

 

 

 

Posted in Cambodia

Battambang Province

OK, I haven’t posted in awhile. I’ve been busy riding around the country, went to Kampot, Kep, rode up to the top of Bokor Mountain overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. In my neighborhood they’re getting ready for the final funeral of the Father King Norodum Sihanouk next week. They’re expecting an influx of 2 million people here for what they say will be the largest Sate Funeral in SEAsia in over half a century. So…………..

Last week I rode my motorcycle 294 km West NWest of Phnom Penh to the city of Battambang, out towards the Thailand border. Yes, on the roads here in Cambodia that was a very long ride. I met up with a young woman originally from Boston, Meghan Battle, who started the NGO ‘Our Strength’ awhile back. They are primarily focused on women’s health issues and empowering the women out in the surrounding villages of Battambang. There are health clinics but most are not very close to the villages so the women tend to not use them. Our Strength tries to fill that gap and educate the women on their own health and their families. I spent a couple of days with Our Strength going out to a few villages seeing what they’re doing.

It was great, we took three moto’s (three on their two moto’s and me on my motorcycle) out along rivers, rice paddies, and farm land. The first village we went to, Rokha – pop. about 900, was maybe 15 km away, A rather easy dirt gravel road, but rather dusty. When we arrived at the Village Health Volunteer’s (VHV) home, there wasn’t anybody there yet for the workshop. When the villager’s hear the moto’s they know they’ve arrived so the women start walking to the VHV’s house.

It was still fairly early in the morning when we got there. Very still, very quiet and cool (OK, not hot yet), it was gorgeous! There was a long creek splitting the village in half and some of the women on the far side crossed over a single log footbridge to come to the workshop. It was great, the dogs swam across.

 ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

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They just find a clearing in the shade, it’s always hot in Cambodia, clear it off put down a rug or two and they’re ready. What I find amazing, for someone from foggy San Francisco, is the Khmer get cool when it drops below 90 F. They wear scares, long sleeves, and sweatshirts when it get’s into the 80′s. I’ve been ‘warm’ since I got here.

What was so interesting about this group was the diversity of the generations that came. From teenagers, to young women, to mothers, to grandmothers, they all came for this workshop on women’s reproductive health.

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We later rode in and out along a river to the next village Chiettiel. a tad bigger than Rokha. When we got there the women were all sitting at machines on the first floor (under the main house) making shirts for a distributor. They only make about 700 Riel per shirt. That’s about 18¢, not much for what they put in to it.

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All the kids started showing up and they do love the camera.

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Again the diversity of the women was great and as Meghan told me, there is usually always one elderly woman who is not shy with her questions and stories! They are great, they listen and they do love getting involved. I’ll leave you to your own ideas of what they ask about women’s reproductive health. I wonder…. would they have been laughing and asking so many questions if I understood Khmer? Knowing these wonderful ladies, I think they would.

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Our Strength aligns themselves with the entire village, from the seamstress’s to the farmers. So we stopped by a few farms to talk with the people. Our Strength also makes house calls to see women they’ve seen in the past or who were sick and couldn’t make the workshop. To check in and make sure everything is alright.

We stopped by to talk to the VHV who was 8 months pregnant and she couldn’t show up. She was telling us that she had gone for her first sonogram, her 4th child. She told us she was quite nervous because of all the equipment in the room. Said her husband wouldn’t go in. Then I asked if they gave her a photo and she was so proud to go get it and show us. It’s a girl.

We stopped by to talk to Channa’s grandmother where she helped her plant some corn in between the pepper plants that were already growing. I saw their neighbor out harvesting his lettuce crop for market and went over to check it out.

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On the way back that evening, Channa, Vanna, and I stopped to go out on the only bridge for kilometers where you could cross the river. We spent about half an hour out on the bridge watching the people below swimming as the sun was getting low.

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The next day we rode quite a long way along the river, north of town to the village, Bak Roteh. I made a mistake that morning and wore a white shirt. OK, I wasn’t too smart. A very bumpy, washed out, dusty trail was the only way along the river. After about an hour when we got there, my white shirt was rust coloured under about a quarter inch of dust.

As usual the women know when Our Strength arrives, they either hear or see the motos. So when we got there I went to meet some of the women who would be coming to the workshop, which today was on Personal Hygiene. Being sandwiched between the river and the land, everyone makes their living fishing and farming. The women and men share most of the fishing duties.

This woman was coming in with her catch when we got there, I saw her at the workshop about a half hour later. She had her daughter with her and she actually scooped out fish and water from inside her boat and filled a bucket for her daughter to haul up the bank.

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They also will need to just start at one end of the net and pull the fish out as they work their way to the other end.

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They will clean them, cut the heads off, then cook them over bamboo grills. Grandma is preparing reed sticks to put the fish on for cooking. Think Satay.

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Today’s  workshop on Personal Hygiene was given by Kunthea and Sochenda. There aren’t a lot of trees around for shade so the first floor of the VHV’s home is usually used for giving the workshop. It’s the coolest place to be and everyone can get out of the direct sun.

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We stopped by for a house call to check in on a woman who wasn’t able to attend the workshop and I honestly can’t say what she found so funny. I got there just after the punch line. It was probably my rust coloured white shirt!

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During one of the workshops I saw this young fellow out plowing his field and had to go out and check it out. I think his butt must have felt like mine after 5 hours on the motorcycle. He’s getting ready to plant watermelon.

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As usual, the kids love following me around while mom is in the workshop. They’ll usually be still and quiet if I take their picture. Of course then we all must take a look at ourselves on the back of the camera.

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I’d like to thank everyone at Our Strength. Meghan, Kunthea, Sochenda, Channa, and Vanna. I had a great time. The NGO is doing a fantastic job and like a lot of places I’ve been, I am blown away at the dedication of these local women working here. I also wish you all well with your next level of English classes and again….. Happy Birthday Kunthea!

 

 

 

Posted in Cambodia