Living in Cambodia

Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I will fore warn all of you - this is a long entry and if you want to return to work/facebook/porn/or anything else you may be doing on the computer, there's a dad joke at the end of the blog to send you on your way.
I've been racking my brain all week for comparisons and similes I could use to describe Cambodia in this entry, but none have been forthcoming. My conclusion is that Cambodia is too unique and so ridiculously stupid its incomparable. For example, our friend bought a TV which broke after a week. He takes it back to the shop and is told "you buy bad TV, you need good TV." After paying for an upgrade he is asked "you want Sony or Masonic?" - "Well, Sony would be grand." The woman in the shop opens a drawer, pulls out a Sony sticker and attaches it to the broken 'bad TV!' 

Not a day goes by without something unexplainably strange happening. A few days ago a snake fell out of a tree and landed on Kerry as she walked down the main road. Four grown men were walking around Sihanoukville in pyjamas the next day playing bin lids as drums and being cheered on by 30 monks. A new bar opened in town and I was given a flyer which read "fine pimpery - GIRLS, beer, GIRLS, pool, GIRLS, food, GIRLS 28/7" by the owner who claims it isn't a brothel. Yesterday was Khmer (Cambodian) new year and apparently its custom to soak everyone with water for 3days. Locals took this opportunity to set up road blocks all over town and fire buckets of water on every passing motorcyclist. Every few minutes a motorbike crashed - not only were they hurt the mob set upon them just in case they weren't wet enough. You can't argue with tradition.

Staying here for 6weeks and really starting to understand the life the local people have has made me proud and privileged to have been brought up in England. The more I find out the less I want to know. None of the children I taught had books or pens so I made a sheet of words and had the Khmer translation written next to the English. Only 2 of the 30 children I teach could read their own language. Only those aged over 12 can write their own name. We were feeling all good about ourselves because we raised money for the kids to go to school, yet it was only enough for the children aged 11-16 to go to school for 1-2 hours a day. I sat in on a lesson and watched the children being taught basic arithmetic like 2+3 and 5-2.

All education must be paid for and for a decent education you need to have money. To get decent money you need to be corrupt. Cambodia is officially the third most corrupt country in the world and 90% of government workers surveyed (by some multinational aid agency who will diagnose problems but do jack shit to solve them) admitted being offered bribes in the past 3months. One example - Thai and Vietnamese fishing boats pay $1500 a month to the government to fish in Cambodian waters. The government, Governor and Sihanoukville, and the Navy all take a cut to turn a blind eye - they get rich while the local fishing communities they serve live in poverty. With such huge corruption nothing is illegal if you have money. The Russian billionaire who bought an island and built a 5* resort where he raped little boys is getting all charges against him dropped.

In spite of the countries problems, the people rival Mongolians as the happiest we have met on this trip. Perhaps the brutal suffering during Pol Pot have anesthetized them from the pains of today. Their just happy to be alive. They have made our stay here the most enjoyable part of the whole trip and their enthusiasm and joy rubs off on all the expats. Two weekly events brought most of us (I now consider myself part of this clique) together. On Wednesdays Angkor brewery give away free beer in their bar between 3 and 5. Cue 35 men trying to beat previous personal bests, banging on the tables like monkeys, and eying up the vomit window. Us Englishman are in the majority so the last half an hour degenerates into England football chants. During major football tournaments people often think that enthusiastic English chanting is misplaced optimism for on-field success - it is nothing of the sort - it just takes a certain amount of beer for us to become patriotic.

On Saturdays, Sessions bar host a beer beach volleyball tournament. This normally involves a load of over-serious Brits getting their arse kicked by Scandinavians who look appalled at the standard of competition. To sum up my team's (the democratic republic of unanimous gammon slappers) performance, these are some of the comments made after another 1st round exit: Kerry - "woo, I can't believe I hit the ball", Kate - "thank god we lost, if we won we would have to play again," Paddy - "at least we got a point." True English sporting mentality - its the taking part that counts. Highlight of the day is the $10 charity lap dance by the bar owner - check out the photos. 

After the success of FatDog Cambodia we threw another party to raise $270 and keep the teacher employed for a whole year. This was more of a typical charity affair - we had a raffle and I was forced to play middle of the road music to keep people happy (think of the children not your precious techno). We raised $380 - paying for the teacher and leaving money aside to start a reef conservation project around the island. Making it fancy dress spiced things up a little and my Jamaican cocktail waitress (grass skirt and a lovely pair of coconuts) was a huge success particularly after the party had finished. Everyone headed to Naphouse, the sort of bar that is only popular because everywhere else has closed. No-one enjoys being there except the 30 or so prostitutes who hang around sitting on the laps of overweight Westerners. They didn't understand my outfit and thought I was a ladyboy who forgot to shave. I spent the night propositioning them in the same way they annoy everyone else - "you want a real woman?," "you could never afford me," - then pushing my coconuts together with the eroticism of a pole-dancing Peter Kay.

You may have noticed that last week this blog was featured on Travelpod and the number of readers has more than doubled. I'm understandably happy with this, however, I'm getting really pissed off with the travel companies who have started sending me personal messages like "I see you haven't been to Greece on Cyprus on your trip yet, if your going there check out this amazing site" or "why don't you travel through China with el bollocko tours, we ensure maximum flexibility with your travel plans blah blah blah blah." Can all travel agents just piss off. Anyway, to welcome new readers to the blog I'm going to slag off not one but two types of people who really get on my tits.

Firstly, NGO's. Non-governmental organizations that work for 'charity' in third world countries. Do not be fooled into thinking they are doing any good. 95% of them exist in Cambodia to provide a few corrupt bigwigs with a brand new landcruiser; simultaneously taking money away from where it is needed. You may have seen adverts for volunteer work abroad and thought why do I have to pay $1000s to volunteer my time. You may have been told or thought that it is to cover organisational costs, food, etc etc. Bollocks. You hand over your money and some company director gets a new car. We wanted to paint the school with the kids but were told that another NGO paid for the wood so we couldn't do it. As an alternative, we got all the children to paint pictures of their village to decorate the inside. As we're doing this a woman introduces herself as being from an Italian NGO who are 'redeveloping' the school.
- "I here your the English teacher. We're tiling the school floor and building a kindergarten" she says
- I'm thinking, there is not a single building on Koh Rong Sam Loem with a tiled floor and the kids only go to school 2 hours a day so why do they need two rooms. However, I was exasperated by her retardedness and could only reply with a "oh. Really?" Maybe the director has shares in El Woppo extortionate Tiling and co. Am I being cynical?
 - "yeah and were going to pay for a teacher."
 - I know you should be positive about any help but they built the school over a year ago - surely then was the time to start paying the teacher. "There was no teacher so we raised the money to pay him."
 - "ooh well thats a bit of a problem isn't it."
 - HOW IS THAT A PROBLEM YOU IMBECILE. YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE IN YOUR LIFE. I hold my tongue though and point out an obvious solution - "maybe you could pay for a teacher for that kindergarten your building."
- "we can work something out" she says patronisingly and wanders off to look at the school. The bit that really pissed me off though is that she never came back to talk with me. I don't want to sound big-headed but after spending nearly half of the last 6weeks on the island teaching English and doing various activities with the kids surely I have an informed understanding of what is needed to aid the children's education. If we worked together we could spend money wisely and for the benefit of the community. Not for the benefit of the NGO who can tick a box saying they built a kindergarten for disadvantaged children and claim more funding.

People to avoid while traveling number 6 - 4 and 5* resort tourists

Its understandable that people would want a standard of accommodation higher than the normal backpacker hangout. This isn't why I dislike people who stay in resorts. Its there attitude towards local people that really grates on me. After spending $70 a night to stay in some soulless 'could be anywhere in the world' resort they then haggle for every last penny with the local people on tuctucs, in shops, at the markets, anywhere. Then they slag of the Cambodians because they feel they have been ripped off. Wait a second - you walk around with a telescope looking camera around your neck and make absolutely no attempt to speak the language. Of course their going to rip you off - your nights accommodation costs 3months wages. And the worse thing is that resorts in the developing world are run by greedy multinationals so none of their money stays in Cambodia.

At the moment Sihanoukville is in transformation - it currently has 2 posh resorts but gradually the beachside bars are being ploughed down to make way for more. 11 of the 22 islands off the coast are being sold to foreign hotel chains to make private resorts. An American hotel chain has bid $300million for Koh Rong Sam Loem and I'm disappointed to be leaving before I know what the future holds for the village. Maybe the village gets demolished. Maybe they turn it into a tourist attraction so all the resort tourists can go on tours to the 'traditional' Cambodian village and get pissed off when they get charged $1 for the same drink that costs $2 in the hotel bar. 

As promised - From the Monkey Republic book of crap jokes

Why was the man standing on one leg at the ATM? - he was checking his balance.
Who is the coolest guy in hospital? - the ultrasound man
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