“Kill all the poor people”

“Kill all the poor people”

Don’t worry about my title, I haven’t become a serial killer.
I landed in Cambodia safely after three exhausting days of flying… okay, I exaggerate a little, since it was only 24 hours if you count the time differences, but it was still exhausting.

My first observation on the way into town from the airport was how the area was in contrast with itself. We passed shack after shack, and in the middle they’d plop a giant 4 star hotel. It was very strange. My own hotel is a small guest house and hardly 4 star, but very nice for $15/night. Anyway, after a morning to rest I set out with my guide to explore Siem Reap, which was once the capital of Cambodia. We started with the floating villages of the Tonle Sap lake. They’re called floating villages for a reason– the houses are built on stilts, but with the rainy season the size of the lake doubles, so the people saw off the stilts and the house just floats. All their possessions (including pigs!) float with them and they spend the next months traveling, shopping, and living really, by boat. It was really interesting to see.

Anyway, about my title.  My guide is Cambodian, and I’ll go more into his family story later, which is very sad and has to do with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.  But on the way back from Tonle Sap he was talking about the poverty of the area.  He sounded very compassionate until he all of a sudden said “We just need to kill all the poor people.”!!!  He went on to explain, fortunately, that we need to “kill” them through education, so I think he must have meant ëliminate all the poor people, rather than killing them.  But it was a strange moment.

In any case, the internet here ends at 7am and it’s 6:59, so more later.

Temples and more temples

Temples and more temples

So, Cambodia is probably most famous for Angkor Wat, which is a Hindu temple and one of the new “7 wonders of the world”. (Although to us non-Hindu and not-very-history-oriented Americans, Angkor Wat is most famous because it’s where they filmed Tomb Raider.)
The temples are very interesting– three of them in particular. Angkor Wat itself is the biggest and most impressive. I can’t begin to remember the names of the other two, but one has giant faces carved all over it, and the other has been overgrown with trees, the roots of which have grown in and through the stones and made the temple all wobbly.

(This would be much better with pictures of course, but this computer I’m using is from like 1982 so has no USB port to plug in my camera… hopefully I can add pictures later)

These temples were all built between 800-1400 AD, which is when Europe was in the dark ages, which is pretty amazing since they’re made of giant stones that had to be brought from miles away.

Anyway, I’m of the MTV generation and have the short attention span that goes with it, so at this point I’m pretty templed-out. It was nice yesterday because we took a temple break and visited a local school that is sponsored by Plan. My guide and his sister also use their tip money to help contribute to the school and seem to have made a big difference there.

Oh, speaking of my guide.  His name is Dara, and he grew up during the Khmer Rouge, when education was outlawed, so he wasn’t able to start elementary school until he was 12 years old, but still managed to graduate high school when he was 19 years old. Impressive.

The sad part of Dara’s story though, is that his father, along with 100 other teachers, was taken into the forest by the Khmer Rouge soldiers, and, as Dara said, “he never came back.”

His mother only had a first grade education, but his father had been able to teach her to read before he died, and she in turn instilled the importance of education in Dara and his four sisters, who have all graduated high school.  One even when to a university in Russia. Now they all are tour guides and speak several languages, and they all use their tip money to support local schools.  Pretty inspiring.

Tomorrow is my last full day in Cambodia and then I fly to Bangkok on Saturday.  In the meantime, we’ll be visiting more…  you guessed it, temples! Everytime we pull up and get out of the car I’m swarmed with little children selling books and trinkets and things, almost always for “one dollar! one dollar!”.  It can be overwhelming.  Today a little boy came up to me at one of the temples and I was ready to tell him no, I didn’t want to buy whatever he was selling, but then he just put a little ring on my finger that was made out of a leaf and then walked away.  It was sweet.  Of course, he came back about a minute later and pointed to my finger and said “one dollar!” Oh well.  We made a deal, I kept the ring and he took my half empty water bottle.  I thought that was pretty fair.

Cambodia pictures

Cambodia pictures

Here’s some of the pictures I took in Cambodia… I’m in Bangkok now and will try to write more tonight, but we’re just about out the door to go see some of the city.  So far it’s been mostly orientation for the volunteer program, so not a whole lot to tell anyway. 

Bangkok/CCS so far

Bangkok/CCS so far

I’ve been in Bangkok now for 2 full days and so far we’ve been doing orientation.  We had a general overview of Thai culture, plus a lesson the Thai language (Sawadee ka=hello) and were told a little about where we’ll be volunteering, which we start tomorrow.
My placement was changed, so now I’ll be at a preschool/community center in a shanty town that watches kids aged 2-5 so their parents can work.  Different than I was expecting, but we’ll see how it goes.

The house I’m staying at is in a suburb of Bankgok where basically no tourists go, so it’s interesting to see an “authentic” Thai neighborhood.  5 other volunteers started the same day I did, plus 3 will be staying from before.  2 others left today.  The volunteers seem to be split evenly between people who are here to volunteer, and people who are here to enjoy the nightlife and maybe do some volunteering on the side.  I’ll let you figure out which group I’m in.  Everyone is nice, but it’s a lot different from when I was in Africa and everyone had a heart for what they were doing.  Plus, there, people were from all over the world, and here everyone is from the US or Canada.

Yesterday part of the orientation was called a “drop off exercise” and basically they sent us off on a sort of scavenger hunt and we had to find our own way around the neighborhood.  My partner and I were sent to a Buddhist temple.  It was really interesting to see, and I’m glad I got that one, because another group just got sent to the 7-11 and “Big C” which is like a Thai K-Mart. 

Today we went to the touristy part of the city and visited “Wat Arun” which is a famous temple, decorated with mosaic tiles.  We also went on a “khlong tour”– Bangkok is supposedly the “Venice of the East” because it’s intersected by all kinds of canals, aka khlongs.  Well, I’ve been to Venice, and it was no Venice, but it was really interesting to see how people live along the river.

I took pictures of course, but my camera is downstairs and my internet time is almost up, so I’ll post them tomorrow hopefully.

Volunteering

Volunteering

So, volunteering so far…  I’m working at a daycare center in a poor area of Bangkok.  Most of the people in the area are day laborers, and since parents work, without the center they’d have no one to watch their kids.  The center also provides the kids with clothes and other items, and gives them milk and lunch everyday.
My role is to help the Thai aides take care of about 50 kids ages 2-5, and to help both the kids (and the aides) get a little exposure to English in the process.  It’s very hectic, because all the kids are crowded into one small room.  The older kids do pretty well with following directions and doing what they’re supposed to, but the littlest ones tend to just run around and go wherever. 

First thing in the morning everyday, they sing the national anthem (well, scream is a better word) and then scream their prayers, and then scream a few Thai songs that the head of the school leads.  One song is about 10 ways to be a good little kid, and another is about alligators and elephants.  Then we read them stories, and they color and play around, and then after that they have lunch and then take a nap.  They love to tell stories and ask questions, both of which are all in Thai, and I have no idea what any of the kids are saying all day, or what any of their names are for that matter, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Getting to know Bangkok

Getting to know Bangkok

So, when we’re not volunteering, most afternoons they take us out to see different parts of Bangkok.  It’s weird, because where we’re staying is very un-touristy, so it’s kind of a shock to all of a sudden be thrown in the middle of thousands of “farang” (tourists).  It’s funny, because it feels like the tourists are some complete separate entity, and we side more with the locals.  Of course, the locals probably wouldn’t agree.

Last night we were supposed to go bowling and to do karaoke, but half of the volunteers went away for a long weekend, so they decided to take the rest of us to Chinatown instead.  Which was fabulous, because I am not very into either bowling or karaoke.  Chinatown was interesting (I feel like I’m saying interesting a lot). It seemed a lot more… authentic I guess… then the other Chinatowns I’ve seen.  Here’s some photos…

Today we went to the Grand Palace, which used to be the palace of the king, and also has a Wat (temple) that contains the Emerald Buddha, which is about a foot tall, but made of solid emerald.  Unfortunately my picture doesn’t look so great and I’ll have to try to Photoshop it once I get home, but here are some of the other pictures of the Grand Palace…

After that we went to Wat Pho, which is another temple (there’s like thousands of them in Bangkok alone) that is important because it holds the biggest Buddha statue in all of Thailand.  All the Buddha statues are in different poses and this one is reclining.  It fills a whole building that was built just for it, except apparently not very well because part of it still sticks out through the roof. 

Interesting note about Bangkok… ! They love, and I mean, LOVE their king. People always talk about him as “my king” and there are huge billboards and pictures of him EVERYwhere.  If I were him I would get really tired of seeing my own face on every building.  It’s crazy. Half the people are always wearing yellow because that’s his color, and they sell wrist bands like the Lance Armstrong ones that say “I love the king”.  I bought one, of course, have to fit in with the crowd.  Anyway, the king’s sister died a month or two ago, so now the whole country is under 100 days of mourning.  Over his sister! Literally there are crowds of people wearing black in her memory, and now her picture is up in half the places too.  I’m just wondering what would happen if Jeb Bush died. I’m thinking there wouldn’t be any billboards.

Tomorrow some of us are going to try to go to the weekend market, which apparently is ridiculously big and sells everything from t-shirts to owls and puppies.  Then Sunday I have a tour scheduled to go to the floating market (which is a market that floats, ha ha) and to the Tiger Temple, where I get to walk with real live tigers and.  Hopefully I’ll live to post again, but you’ll just have to wait and see.

Floating Market and Tiger Temple

Floating Market and Tiger Temple

So, I made it back, with all my limbs attached even.  I did get scratched by a tiger, but it’s only small scratch and won’t leave a scar, which is a shame, because it would be fun to tell people I got scarred by a tiger.

Anyway, first things first.  I started today by visiting the floating market, which is, of course, a market that floats.  It was really interesting to see, but very touristy, so I was glad to have a guide that knew how to get away from the touristy areas.  Here’s some pictures…

 After that, we went to the Tiger Temple.  Basically, it was a regular Buddhist temple, but then people in the area started sending abandoned animals to the abbot there.  It started with birds and pigs, and animals people got when they were cute but then they weren’t anymore.  But then someone left a baby tiger, and then another, and another, and now it’s a home for 10+ tigers, from babies to adults.  Apparently since the tigers are raised by monks and have never eaten raw meat they are tame and socialized.  So now people that go to visit the temple can walk with the tigers and play with the young ones.  It was really amazing to be there and so close to tigers, especially the full grown ones.  Unfortunately it was the middle of the day and 110 degrees and humid, so by the end I felt like I was going to die, but other than that it was a great day, scratch and all.

Market+Volunteering Continues

Market+Volunteering Continues

Last night we went to a flower market that ended up also being a fruit, vegetable and bug market.  Yes, bugs. To eat.  I didn’t have any, but some volunteers (who are much braver than I), did.  For the curious, the bugs for sale included crickets, bamboo worms and cockroaches.  Plus some whole frogs for good measure.

Here’s some pictures…

Meanwhile, during the days, volunteering continues at the Daycare.  It’s pretty routine, so there’s not much to tell, but the kids are really cute.  I have a favorite (of course), his name is “Eet Cue” or at least that’s how it’s pronounced.  I have NO idea how it would be spelled. His is the photo on the 3rd row.

More photos from volunteering

More photos from volunteering