Posts Tagged ‘southeast Asia’

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia

August 27, 2010

While writing my feature film, I turn to my coffee cup and am reminded how far I’ve actually travelled. The coffee I made today comes Vietnam, some of the best damn coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, usually alone. After reading through my notes of my trip, I realized that I make a lot of comments about coffee or coffee shops so I thought I’d write them up. I’ve even included pictures for my fans out there who requested them.

As a warning, I am a professional coffee taster. Fully certified by several countries since my graduate years. Every word in this article can be taken to be The Word On Coffee and backed by my caffeine-stained, yellow-toothed smile. Further, I drink my coffee “pure,” i.e. black, no milk, no sugar.

Laos:

The bag of coffee I bought here wasn’t fresh as the beans had already dried. But I think the greatest thing about having coffee in Laos is the utter tranquillity of the place. No rush here to get your move on, only freshly ground, brewed coffee and WIFI for all of us hardcore interneters. Not only that, Laos is still pretty cheap. It was in this country that I and my Polish travelling companion debated about my Ukrainian-ness and what heritage means. The beans for sale on the main streets were priced pretty high (30,000 Kip (~$3.75) for 250 g) while the markets offered larger bags for cheaper prices (maybe the robusta variety instead of arabica?). I bought my kilo for 50,000 Kip (~$6.25). Overall, either sitting on a balcony and watching the Mekong flow by or simply out on the street corner watching people (or debating Ukrainian-ness), Laos is one of the most peaceful places to sip a good cup of coffee.

My coffee beans from Laos.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hard to find a decent cup of coffee in PP but, if you must, go to the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) along the Mekong river. Found in a renovated villa from the French colonial era, the place is both a boutique hotel and a cafe. Get the double since a single is something like $2 whereas a double is $2.50 and is a generous serving of caffeine. Again, atmosphere is pretty cool and the service is great. The cafe is located on the second floor, overlooking the Mekong River, and out of reach of the hawkers working the street below. Lots of foreigners inside, lots of hawkers selling weed outside.

Busan, South Korea:

Okay, not much to write about here since most coffee here is made by companies similar to Starbucks and Second Cup in Canada. That is, they’re chain stores. Notable mentions include Angel-in-Us for having the Jamaican Blue Mountain blend priced at a “holy shit” figure of 7,000 Won for a mug. It’s okay, but, given it’s hype are being one of the best coffees in the world, I didn’t write to my mother about it. There used to be a Turkish restaurant in the Kyungsung University area that served great Turkish coffee, but it has since closed down.

The gold star, however, goes to Cherami, the cafe and bakery outside of Goejeong subway station (exit #6). They gave me a free piece of cake with every espresso or coffee order. The espresso itself was very good, and served in a very generous double portion. This is the coffee shop that I practiced “copy chuseyo” the most. And every time, the girl who worked the counter giggled. Worth the admission folks. I can tell you that the most expensive coffee I tried was here during the Pusan International Film Festival, topping out at $12 for a single espresso at one of the fancy hotels near Haeundae Beach. Maybe I said something wrong to the waitress (or didn’t say), but I don’t think the espresso should’ve cost that much. Ouch.

Taipei, Taiwan:

Monument Coffee. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave this description brief. Using the Chinese Siphon coffee making method, the coffee took a full five minutes to make and was worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Vietnam:

Despite my differences with the hawkers of this coastal country, I will hands down give Vietnam the title of having the best coffee I tried. I am saddened by the fact that I did not bring more of it home with me. I did bring home a small coffee maker, but it’s been banged up since I left Vietnam (pictured below). The brewed coffee tastes and smells a whole lot sweeter than any other coffee I’ve tried. Served either in ice or hot (they look at you funny when you order hot coffee on a hot day), the coffee is pretty much the same all over the country. Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi all offer small Mom-and-Pop coffee shops that serve the same, if not better, coffee than the chain store, Highland Coffee. If you’re on the hunt for great coffee, go to Vietnam. Just watch out for those ladies around the lake who pretend to be English students.

My coffee maker from Vietnam. Best damn coffee I had.

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Fresh Arabica beans for you here! The coffee shop I most frequented while my travelling companion was out with the Dengue Fever was Momo’s. It was in this city that I was able to pen most of the script for my feature film, The Musician, energized by the caffeine I sucked down in Momo’s. Not only that, I managed to find a kilo of freshly roasted arabica beans to take back with me, costing only 400 Baht (~$12). If there is one place I’d like to go back to just to drink the coffee it would be Chiang Mai. As a side note, you can also order coffee from Doi Chang Coffee including the renowned “Doi Chaang Wild Civet (Kopi Luwak) Coffee” which has passed through the “digestive track of a wild civet”. Fascinating. I have never actually tried this coffee, but I will probably order a bag just to see what it tastes like. Hmmm, two civets, one cup?

And that about does it for my coffee experience in Asia. I’m thinking I may just order my coffee beans right from Thailand from now on. Why bother with Starbucks any longer?

In my earlier post I mentioned that the coffee is brewed the Chinese way, complete with a propane torch, glass bulb, and two-foot filtration system, making the coffee to have 1/3 more caffeine than if brewed the more modern filter method. That is what the lady told me and showed me in her menu. I neglected to take a picture of the machine, but managed to snag the image below from Google. In any event, the coffee was expensive but worth every dollar. I tried the Blue Mountain blend (yes, the same as the one from Busan) and here it was much better.

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Laos: Laid back, Great Scenery, Great Coffee and… Polish Lessons?

June 24, 2010

Laos was awesome. It just was. The scenery was gorgeous. The coffee was great (I bought a kilo to take home with me). The people extremely nice. The pace of life was sooooooo laid back. Small cities (you could walk across the capital in a couple of hours). And best of all, it’s cheap.

For me Laos wasn’t suppose to be anything to hair-raisingly exciting but a place where I could write my script and chill out. And it was. I finished writing the 3rd draft while in Laos and began the process of getting the movie made (see “The Musician”).

I only visited three cities: Vientiane, Vang Vieng, and Luang Prabang. I’ll try to keep my description real simple.

Vientiane: small, not many annoying Tuk-Tuk drivers, friendly, Nazeem’s on the riverside has great Indian food, cheap place to stay (70000 Kip for a double), and soccer (football) teams made up from the local businesses. Oh yea, and GREAT COFFEE.

Vang Vieng: lots of early 20-somethings thinking it’s HILARIOUS to get shit-faced and piss of the locals, lots of rain, only one main street, cheap and gorgeous places to stay, nice-looking caves, Nazeem’s again for Indian food. Annnd…. GREAT COFFEE.

Luang Prabang: phenomenal, except for the dengue fever. Chill atmosphere, elephants!, GREAT COFFEE, markets, and very accommodating hospital staff for my rabies vaccine. And a place called Nisha’s for Indian food. Favourite? Luang Prabang.

The worst part about Laos is the roads between cities. Imagine a perfect road, then remove some sections every kilometre or so, then add a few mountains under it, sprinkle with potholes and you get the idea of what roads are like in Laos. The trip from Hanoi, if done in any other part of the world with good roads, wouldn’t take more than 6 hours. But here, it takes 24.

And then the Polish lessons. I met this gorgeous Polish girl waiting for the bus to depart Hanoi which would eventually take us through the roadways of Vietnam and Laos to Vientiane. It was on this journey that she tried to convince me that I am Polish and not Ukrianian (which is kinda true, I guess). After holding myself back from putting my faith in the sword and the sword into the Pole, I asked her what she meant. And thus began a month long international diplomatic mission. Since then I’ve learned that I know damn near nothing about my home country (Canada), next to nothing about my heritage (Ukrainian), am mixing up Polish with Ukrainian and French and Korean, Slavic women are beautiful and seductive, Asia is the best place to be employed as an English teacher but I feel the need to go back to Canada, and, to top it all off, the symptoms of dengue fever. Yes, SHE got bit by a mosquito and contracted the big DF. That means Mr. Ukrainian-but-not-Ukrainian gets to take care of Ms. Sick Polish History Girl. (She recovered fine and is now on her way through the rest of SE Asia).

After learning all of that, it’s off to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Vietnam Part 2: A girl, a dog, and some tea leaves

June 19, 2010

And the second part.

To finish up my eye-opening trip to Vietnam, once in Hanoi I met this “English student” around Ho Kiem Lake (maybe, but not likely a student). We’ll call her Doong. Doong was cute and knew all of the cute things us foreign guys like to see and hear (giggle at stupid jokes, ask what clothing items are in English, talk about family, and say that you have no boyfriend). I figured, “What the hell, let’s tag around this chick and see what happens. I don’t have much on me to steal.” So she takes me around the lake and it’s obvious she’s done this to others because she’s got her script in the little black book that she keeps showing me. Whatever, carry on. Doong mentions that he uncle’s house is nearby and that we could drop in to say “hi.” A few things run through my mind as this point: 1) this is where I should say “thank you” and move away because her uncle is member of the Vietnam Mafia. 2) I check my pockets for condoms. 3) Check the woman’s features in case I need to make a police report. So with those thoughts running through my mind, I decide to join her.

Finally, we come to Doong’s “uncle’s house”. For those of you thinking that this was a bad idea, well, yes, probably. Her uncle wasn’t around, but her cousin was. He was tending to the moto-renting business. We go into the garage and sit at the back behind the motos. He offers me something to drink (I’m waiting to get poisoned and robbed any minute here) and we get talking (well, he didn’t actually speak English, so this chick had to interpret). After a few minutes, he pulls up a bong from which he smokes Vietnamese tobacco. Me, having a Yes-Man moment, decide that it would be a GREAT idea to try this thing out. Holy fuck. Bong goes my head. And that was a small, improper toke. He’s so pleased by my ability to smoke, he invites me to dinner. We agree that I need to go shower and should return to his place around 6 pm. Doong doesn’t want to come back cause she doesn’t like to see me drinking and smoking (awww, what a wonderful girlfriend she would make! She’s concerned about me!!), but I convince her to join me because there’s no way I’m going to sit by myself in a moto-rental shop with her tokin’ cousin and a bunch of his friends.

6 pm, dinner time. He cooks up some pig, rice and some vegetables, pulls out some Bia Ha Noi, and invites a couple other friends over for the celebration. Doong doesn’t want to drink, but I’m all for it. Since I went back to the hotel, I emptied my pockets of everything worth stealing and only kept my insurance papers and some cash. After the beer’s finished, we drink the home made “Ro” (rice-whiskey, similar to lao-lao) and that fucks me up. In any event, after drinking so much, I gotta pee. Go to the toilet. Leave toilet, spook dog, dog bites my foot. FUCK! Now I’ve been bitten by a fucking dog in a developing country! If there’s one thing you HAVE to go to the doctor for, it’s getting bit by a dog. I sit down on the couch and let Doong spray some anti-septic on my foot and bandage me up while her cousin tells me that it’s not a “crazy dog.”

Bandaged and still eager to continue on, I take another hit of that bong. And BONG! again goes my head. This toke doesn’t sit right, and you know what happens when you feel that way. So up comes the good pig Doong’s cousin has cooked for us. Whoops.

But it doesn’t end there.

Not to be daunted by the dog bite or the up-chucking, I tell my man Ling or Lao or Lou or whatever his name was (Doong’s cousin’s friend who can speak English), that I’d like to see some live music, jazz specifically. So we get on his moto and find a jazz club. It’s swinging and a great time. No worries. I request Rollins, and the band yelled something back in Vietnamese. Unsure what they said. I applauded anyway. And now Ling wants to go to a night club.

We go and it’s not such a big deal. Hip hop mostly complete with choregraphed dancers on the bar tables. Kinda expensive, 500,000 VND but we have a good time (on my dollar, btw).

Drunk, bitten and in need of some sleep or a woman, I get Lao to drop me off somewhere close to my hotel. He dropped me off a block away from my hotel but SOMEHOW I got lost. So, what happens? Well, some dude pulls up on a moto bike and offers me some weed. I say “yea, that’d be a great idea” (it wasn’t). I ASK if he has change (Steve, you did what?) for a 500,000 bill (how much did you show him you had?). Which he grabbed from my hand and drove off (did you at least get the weed?). No weed, but some nicely packaged tea leaves.

Upset at being ripped off, I decide it’s a good idea to try to rob a moto driver (at this point, I thought of Vietnam as a collective organism committed to one thing, telling the world how horrible their history is and bilking all tourists of their money). Well, sheeit, the first guy who stops screams bloody murder and all of a sudden, the cops magically appear! WOW! Try to get that service anywhere else! The good Lord was above me then because I back off knowing that going at it with the cops would probably be a worse thing than the dog, the puking and losing $25… and much tougher to explain.

Maybe one day my opinion of Vietnam can change, but right now, I’m glad I’m out of there.

PS – Be careful of boom-boom, there may be more behind the abbreviation of the country’s currency than you think.

PPS – I did see one guy die on a bench by the lake. His friend was either trying resusitate him or kill him more by hitting and jumping on his chest. Kinda sickening, actually. Cops showed up and casually walked over to the bench and didn’t even touch the guy. Weird.

PPPS – It was on the way to Vietnam I created the following playlist. Not sure if it says something about my state of mind or if it’s just a series of good tunes to listen to.

So What – Metallica’s version

Fuel – Metallica

Breakin’ me Down – Soil

Halo – Soil

Garden of Eden – Guns N’ Roses

Die, Die my Darling – Metallica

Alconol – Ciaira’s tears

Vietnam Part 1: The Good and Bad

June 12, 2010

Well, I’ve waited to write this post for quite some time because I didn’t like the place. Then, I ended up writing so much that I have to cut it into two parts to make it more digestible. So, part 1 is about the positives and negatives of Vietnam. Part 2 is about an eventful day during my last week in the country.

Simply put, Vietnam would be better without the people. Let me clarify, it would be better without the people who work with tourists, especially the hawkers, the hotel managers with “Great suggestions”, persistent tuk-tuk and moto drivers (who, without a misstep in their English, go from offering rides on a motorcycle to rides from a woman to marijuana), and finally, the constant dread of getting ripped-off or robbed everywhere just because I am white and APPEAR to have the money to travel.

Didn’t like it.

To be fair, I’d heard about the annoyances in Vietnam before going, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. Since I’d been in Thailand and Cambodia, I thought I could handle Vietnam. The big problem, however, is that Vietnam, unlike neighbouring Cambodia, Laos or even Thailand, the price hardly budges on most things. If the seller says something is 50,000 Dong, then that’s the price and good luck trying to get it down. When you do, they whine and complain about the low price. It would be okay if the price were fair to begin with, but it often isn’t. They see a foreigner and they think “ATM! Let’s make a withdrawal!” It seemed as if Vietnamese folks are not friendly unless you have a wad of cash in your hand, or the look of a foreigner (who are supposed to have a wad of cash in his pocket).

There are some positives to Vietnam. Great scenery, amazing coffee, cheap suits, and a chance to learn some history from the non-American view. Personally, the day trip I took to the former DMZ was probably the best one. The scenery was gorgeous and the guide we had was very good at informing us at the current situation of Vietnam (it’s shit). Basically, under all that wonderful scenery lay about 10,000 unexploded ordinances, meaning if you step off the bus and wander into the bush to piss or fuck, you run the risk of losing a limb.

The coffee is simply great. It was hard to find great coffee in Bangkok and southern Thailand, except for the American brand names and Italian copies. The only coffee worth mentioning in Cambodia is at the FCC. But Vietnamese coffee is astounding in most places. Costing just over $1 per cup (and a very small cup), you don’t need the Starbucks grande dark roast to feel alive. Nope, one cup of Vietnamese coffee is sufficiently strong to get you going. Any more and you’re wondering how to use all of your energy (a few suggestions come to mind, none clean).

We’ll see how the suits hold up, but I bought a couple of suits in Hoi An. They looked great and were apparently made from “Italian” wool (is it really Italian?). I needed some suits for the next couple of years (yes, I don’t buy them often) and something that looks good. So, two 3-piece suits, shoes, ties, cufflinks, and 6 shirts later, I realize I now have to cut my southeast Asia trip a little short. Pinstrip, one is double-breasted which is damn hard to find these days in regular suit shops. It was great though, they have CATALOGUES of stuff to choose from. Pick what you want, fabric and they’ll have it made within 24 hours. They’ll even help you ship it home (mine have yet to arrive, and so I’ve got to thinking about the BRILLIANT scam it would be to operate a clothing business that then swipes the clothing from the post office and pays out only the maximum insurance of $500… I’ve been in Vietnam for too long.) I’ll let you know how those suits hold up.

Most of all, Vietnam was a two and a half week history lesson. Go to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon and you won’t hold the tears and disgust back. The pictures aren’t viewer-friendly, this is history as it happened. Complete with a box that holds two fetuses deformed by Agent Orange, a multitude of pictures showing body parts and other remains of dead people, the museum left an indelible mark on my mind. My experience at the War Remnants Museum was followed up about a week later in Hoi An when I took a day trip with a moto-driver who wouldn’t leave me alone during my morning breakfast. Finally agreeing to the price of $25 for him to take me around for the day, I talked to him about how many people are just barely scraping a living since property taxes are so high in Vietnam (which is why many of the buildings are tall and narrow, something to do with the frontage costs). To add to that sob story, I met an ex-American Ranger while on the moto ride. It was his 4th or 5th time that he’d back to the country, revisiting the places that he’d been as a soldier. He told me some stories and talked about the book he’s writing. The entire story was fascinating, and it was really interesting to be between two Vietnamese moto drivers whose fathers were probably maimed, wounded, or horribly scarred by the war, and this American military dude doing the rounds to come to terms with what he had done during the war. So, at the end of the day, I felt so bad about being a “well to-do tourist” that I gave the moto-driver an extra 100,000 VND (~$5).

And that sums up the good and bad of Vietnam. Next, I hope to share a laugh at my expense by sharing with you one of the events that happened to me during my last week in the country.

Week 2 – April 26th to April 30th, 2010

April 30, 2010

So I’ve finished my 3 week stint teaching English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I’ll miss the kids. It was like seeing one big family taking care of each other. I took quite a few pictures on my last day, and the kids and I had fun using the video camera to record our antics, even in front of the Australian lady visitor we had (no idea who she was). Watching the kids take care of each other was phenomenal. If some kid fell down and hit his head, often he cried for 3 seconds until someone acknowledged his pain and suffering, and then he stopped and ran off to the next activity. I saw kids falling off of benches (and yes, I did try to stop them), and all they needed was a hug to keep going. My mom used to tell me to be more resilient. Sheeit, these kids are the epitome of the word.

So how did it go? It was fun. I didn’t try to teach the kids anything new, opting instead to get them using whatever knowledge they had already. I read some more books to them and then on Wednesday we watched Kung Fu Panda. Thursday was actually a write-off since I was out with a head cold (and I know which little devil gave it to me!!!) This was a very easy week. My goal on Friday was to make a movie with the kids, but NONE of them were interested. I stopped by again on Saturday with some treats for the kids and we had a party. I bought some VCDs (Khmer karaoke) for the kids to sing along with, but then I was informed that the DVD player didn’t work. One of the kids had an old CD player and managed to find some computer speakers (I have NO idea where they came from) and made one of the CDs he had work. I don’t think the kids enjoyed the music I brought 😦

It’s been a very good experience for me while at SFODA. I would come back. Many of the other volunteers who I’ve met have different itineraries than I. Some are in Cambodia explicitly to volunteer to complete some degree requirements, others are on prolonged travels and have no urgency to get back to where they came from. I do question whether or not I made a difference in the kids’ lives. I’m told that they were asking for me the day I was absent, but I wonder if I’m just one of many open-minded and fun volunteers that have passed through those gates. I’ve also been informed that the staff thinks I’m an actor because I can change my voice (yes, including my amazing British/Australian/Scottish/Latin accent, my “gay” voice, my penchant to sing and my high-pitched female voice) and my facial expressions.

As I move towards Vietnam this weekend, I can’t help but reflect on how far I’ve come over the last 3 months alone. I finished up a contract in South Korea that put me in touch with a whole swack of interesting people (such as crazy Blackburn women, a rockstar, a natural playa, beautiful women, a great cook, amongst others). And now I’m moving through southeast Asia having met fighters in Thailand (including a squadron of Canadians in Phuket), a British diplomant (well, I call him them because he’s a hell of a lot nicer than I am to the tuk-tuk drivers), and now hot Swedish and Asian women.

With that, Vietnam, here I come.

Volunteering Week 2 – April 19th to 23rd, 2010

April 26, 2010

This week was my first full week at the orphanage. Teaching here has been an interesting adventure. There aren’t as many resources available here as there were in South Korea. The place has some school supplies (such as markers, pencils, paper, and some books) and has an area dedicated to being the classroom. But as for photocopy or printing, it’s lacking.

Few of the bigger kids don’t seem to care to learn any more than what they learn in school. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don’t. The younger kids, however, I’ve found to be very eager to learn. They love colouring, and that can easily take up 30 minutes if I let it. They also love when I read them books. We have a few of those books where the kids have to look at the picture and say the word. My antics seem to go over very well. Lesson plans are pretty basic, and I don’t really have any specific topic I try to teach them since their school text books and/or teachers seem to be doing a pretty good job. As a result, I read to them, play some games, give them worksheets, and get them talking about whatever.

I’m supposed to teach for about 2 hours in the morning and afternoon but I’m not. Cambodia has a weird school system where the little kids go in the morning and the older kids go in the afternoon. Then they switch every month. The little kids can bear with for an hour, but then they make it known that they want to go. They’re smart kids, love to participate and they are obedient. The girls seem to enjoy talking in a conversational style more than the boys, while the boys are much more eager to play games, especially sports. Outside of “class time”, I spend time talking to the kids, but much more time fighting the boys. I told them I do Khmer boxing and so they took the opportunity to test my skills. The boys are pretty good at boxing. There are two or three of them that I can see being quite strong when they grow up. There’s also one kid who loves break dancing. He’s okay right now, but if he keeps it up he’ll be able to pull any chick in the bar when he’s older. Good luck my man!

I think this will be one of my last teaching stints. Although I’m enjoying my time as a teacher, it’s not something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I would do it again especially if I needed the money, but I think the next challenge lies in finding a different type of job for a while.

This last week was my first full week at the orphanage. Teaching here has been an interesting adventure. There aren’t as many resources available here as there were in South Korea. The place has some school supplies (such as markers, pencils, paper, and some books) and has an area dedicated to being the classroom. But as for photocopy or printing, it’s lacking.

Few of the bigger kids don’t seem to care to learn any more than what they learn in school. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they don’t. The younger kids, however, I’ve found to be very eager to learn. They love colouring, and that can easily take up 30 minutes if I let it. They also love when I read them books. We have a few of those books where the kids have to look at the picture and say the word. My antics seem to go over very well. Lesson plans are pretty basic, and I don’t really have any specific topic I try to teach them since their school text books and/or teachers seem to be doing a pretty good job. As a result, I read to them, play some games, give them worksheets, and get them talking about whatever.

I’m supposed to teach for about 2 hours in the morning and afternoon but I’m not. Cambodia has a weird school system where the little kids go in the morning and the older kids go in the afternoon. Then they switch every month. The little kids can bear with for an hour, but then they make it known that they want to go. They’re smart kids, love to participate and they are obedient. The girls seem to enjoy talking in a conversational style more than the boys, while the boys are much more eager to play games, especially sports. Outside of “class time”, I spend time talking to the kids, but much more time fighting the boys. I told them I do Khmer boxing and so they took the opportunity to test my skills. The boys are pretty good at boxing. There are two or three of them that I can see being quite strong when they grow up. There’s also one kid who loves break dancing. He’s okay right now, but if he keeps it up he’ll be able to pull any chick in the bar when he’s older. Good luck my man!

I think this will be one of my last teaching stints. Although I’m enjoying my time as a teacher, it’s not something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. I would do it again especially if I needed the money, but I think the next challenge lies in finding a different type of job for a while.

I’m in talks with the orphanage to sell some prints of their paintings. If you’re interested, let me know. I’ve commissioned a special larger painting of Angkor Wat which I will copy and sell. Majority of the proceeds will go to the orphanage while I’ll retain a part of the proceeds to cover my costs. Otherwise, you can email the orphanage directly and ask them about the paintings they have for sale. All original paintings sold contribute to the development of the orphanage.

Day whatever April 12 2010 – Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

April 12, 2010

Wow. That’s all I can say. First, the trip out here was insane due to all of the Phnom Penh folks wanting to get out of the city to visit their families. A 4 hour trip turned into an 8 hour marathon.

And talk about a depressing trip. Not the seeing families thing, but the state of life I saw during the bus trip. There are a lot of “holy shit” and “holy fuck” moments overall in Cambodia, and seeing the dingy homes was one of each.

But Angkor Wat was fucking cool.

The place is huge. We bought our tickets after 5 so our passes don’t technically start until tomorrow. 3 day passes should be sufficient to see quite a few of the temples. There is a week pass available, but I don’t have that kinda time. They are neat buidlings. I’m even thinking of buying the DVD documentary about the place. I’ve already helped one young lady go to school by buying the book she was selling. She originally wanted $15 for it before we negotiated. After I told her water-bottle-selling friend to fuck off, I convinced the book-seller that school was overrated Western trend and that she should just keep selling stolen books or begging since you earn more money AND learn more about business that way than in school. Ok, I didn’t actually say that to her or her friend (and I did regret not getting the water) but I did try to give the book back several times politely. I finally offered her $5 before she said $7. She finally settled for $7 plus a dollar tip for the Khmer new year. Her business savvy and saleswomanship is something to be admired. In the end, the book has prove to be very informative.

One of the guards there let us go to the top of the central lotus flower dome to see the sunset. We ended up paying him $5 to see the sun disappear behind the clouds. Nonetheless, the view of the central dome unobstructed is fucking phenomenal.

It’s places like Angkor Wat that I always leave feeling as if I should see more. The guide books and history books all make these places seem so big and insurmountable to me, a lowly backpacker. Not only that, I’m afraid my camera just isn’t as big as some others out there, which means my photos may not be seen by as many people. Poop. Anyway, places like Angkor Wat also tend to make me want to wander the area and think about what it was like during the heyday of these temples. I wish I knew more of the temple’s history. Good thing I bought the book.

I have some photos. They will have to wait until I get back to Phnom Penh because I don’t have the camera cable with me… And I don’t know how to upload them to wordpress.

Day 6: April 9th, 2010 – HOA and A German Woman

April 10, 2010

Didn’t go into my orphanage today. They told me yesterday not to go in. I did, however, go to another orphanage, Hope of Orphanage Association. Another girl who is in the same program as I works there. It was her last day so a few of us from the guesthouse went there to see the kids. It was a good thing I went because I picked up a few good ideas for games there. One of the best was filling up 4 bowls of water and placing 4 empty bottles opposite those bowls (about 20 feet away). The kids had to suck in the water from the bowls then run across and spit it into the bottles. They had to repeat the process until all of the team members were done. I imagined this as a good party-drinking game. For adults, not the orphans.

Came home early, around 12:30. Fell asleep for a few hours. Woke up and tried to finish reading First they Killed My Father by Loung Ung. Found myself wanting coffee. Went to go find GOOD coffee (couldn’t) and ended up playing the Cambodian version of hacky sack with a group of Cambodian men. This game, however, had an arrow with a spring at one end of it so it could bounce. Played it for something like 30 minutes.

Afterwards I met up with a few folks at the FCC, the Foreign Correspondents Club, a coffee shop on the river front. We stayed there for happy hour, meaning half-priced jugs of sangria ($6.75). Headed to Guesthouse #11 for food and more drinks before heading to our coordinator’s house for a party. Met a bunch of folks from Germany and Australia mostly. Got drunk talking to a German girl. She was curious why some Americans seem so superficial. I was so tempted to give Jim Carrey’s line in Liar, Liar: “It’s because you have big boobs.” I must be getting older because I refrained from saying it.

So ended the day.

Day 5: April 8th, 2010 – Teaching English and African Health Advice

April 10, 2010

Good day today.

Played with the kids in the morning. I actually taught a class in the afternoon, too! A full 1 hour and 30 minutes. These kids are super smart. They knew a lot of animals, colours, numbers, the alphabet, descriptions, languages, and countries. The kids loved my lesson on languages of the world. It all started with the French. They asked if I knew it, I’m like, fuckin eh I know French, and wrote some on the board. Next, Chinese? I’m like, sure, I know Chinese, and scribbled something on the board, and the kids laughed. So we worked our way through Japanese, Thai, Italian, Korean, Islam and Khmer. I don’t know half of those languages, but they found it absolutely fucking hilarious that I was trying to write them on the board. They especially laughed when I wrote some Khmer on the board: something that resembled a squiggly happy face. They impressed me, though, because they could spell words like Chinese and Korean (the hardest was Italian). After I tested their animal, description and sentence-making abilities, we moved on to an epic game of hangman, a beautiful game that sucked up 20 minutes of time. Really impressed. I’m going to have to step up my efforts to challenge them next time.

The one thing that really surprised me today was how one kid was interested in learning about the stock market, or at least he sat through my blathering. His name is Sokhum and he’s about 12 years old. I was checking my stocks when he walked into the office and sat down. I showed him some charts, I showed him how I’ve lost some money on one stock, but made money on some others. I tried to teach him about trend lines, but I’m not sure he completely understood how to draw them. He did understand that an up-trend line is good, whereas a down-trend line is bad. At the end, we went through about 6 or 7 stocks and we pretended to buy 100 shares each. He owns lsg.to, pnp.to and osk.to. He did not want to buy clm.to I bought clm.to, bbd/b.to, and lsg.to. I told him we’ll try to check the prices every day. Next week we have off, so I’ll see if he’s still interested in another week’s time.

Bought two paintings. I’ll post pictures. The orphans made them. Made me think of how I can get the kids involved in writing a story with me.

Back at the guesthouse, one of the girl’s works in the kitchen wanted me to teach her some dance moves. I tried to teach her a few, but she was shy, more willing in words than in body.

Heard one of the funniest health tips ever today from a Swedish girl took some advice from a Ghanan doctor: stop eating meat and drink whiskey. Four shots in the morning, one at night. Wow. I have yet to try. No doubt it’d make my day a lot better!

Did some creative writing today. Working on the feature film to be shot in Canada this year.

Day 4: April 7th, 2010 – First Day at SFODA

April 10, 2010

Woke up early today, ca. 4 am, with some nightmares about Cambodian ghosts. I think it had something to do with visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 on Monday. It all started when I had to take a piss and had to use my iPod as a flashlight. Imagine how freaky it would be to turn on your iPod to use as a flashlight and then stumble across a young girl in a white dress and her eyes poked out in your room. Those are the sort of images that were running through my head. Of course, my mind wouldn’t let it go and I kept thinking about how many ghosts Cambodia must have, especially in the country side. Are all of the victims of the genocide resting in peace?

So I found out today that I won’t actually be teaching English until AFTER the Khmer New Year, which is next week. Talked to my Sebastian (program coordinator) about it, and we’ll try to work something out. The idea was thrown around to have me stay for two weeks after the New Year celebrations. As much as I don’t have a deadline, I also don’t have endless pockets to fund this project. Money is a funny thing. Though I’m concerned about it, my good friend Steve told me before I left for Europe last year that money is never the issue and is usually the tip of a much larger ice berg. The debate is now whether or not I can afford and want to stay in Cambodia for a full month instead of just two weeks.

Anyway, about the orphange. It’s abbreviation, SFODA, stands for Sacrifice Families & Orphans Development Association. First, the place itself. It’s a shanty. I really had no idea what to expect but the place is in a run-down part of Phnom Penh and the orphanage itself looks like it needs a major overhaul. The “classroom” is right beside the “playground” which is right beside the kids’ beds. They have an office with a computer connected to the internet, etc., but that’s the newest part of the orphanage I think. In regard to teaching supplies, they are sufficiently equipped: books, pencils, markers, computer, printer, plenty of water for volunteers. They even gave me lunch today too! The one really cool thing about the orphanage is how they do some fundraising. Some of the older kids are pretty good painters. The paintings they make (usually of Buddha or some country scene) are very well done. After they are finished, they can be sold in order to benefit the orphanage. They also make bracelets and some other things. Apparently this is typical of many of the orphanages in Cambodia.

Second, the kids. Hilarious! The kids range from 18 months to 7 years old, though I’m told there are older kids, only 1 of whom I saw today. Their English is also very good, much better than I thought. There are a few girls, Counry, Cundrun, and one other girl whose name I forget right now, who are absolutely hilarious to talk to. They pick up on all of my sarcasm, though their response isn’t as sharp. There is one boy (I’ve named him Toytoy because he tried to say turtle but NO ONE understood him until he pointed at the picture on the wall) who likes to fight me, so we Thai/Khmer box until one of us gets hurt. Then we stop and laugh.

You know the adorable eyes that Puss n’ Boots gives in Shrek? Well, there is one 16 month-old who has eyes like that. There are a lot of babies in the orphanage, usually given over by the hospital for any number of reasons. They’re wild, but adorable.

I won’t teach English until sometime after the Khmer New Year, which means this week I just show up and play with the kids. That gives me some time to think about how to actually teach these kids, given that some of them are so young and I’ve never dealt with babies before!


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