Battambang and Around

Trip Start May 18, 2005
Trip End Jul 10, 2005

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Several days this entry:
At last, Cambodia. This trip really started in 1981 when Leslie and I began our work with Cambodian refugees - we were at it seven days a week, every waking minute when we were not working at our regular jobs. Cambodian refugees were our life from 1981-1986 - an astonishing & very difficult time - and the first time I understood the bedrock reality of God (when I realized I/myself could not possibly be doing what I was doing). Anyway, I am overwhelmed to be here now. And it is so much sweeter with David here (how I wish Leslie was here, too).

Today went like this. Up at 0500, pack, eat breakfast, catch taxi to Bangkok's northern station, buy ticket for ~175 baht to Aranyaprathet (the bus leaving right now - threw packs on moving bus), ride to Aran with water dripping from vent onto David the whole way (used krama to catch it), and by a miracle, they turned off TV about 15 minutes into
trip. Saw signs to Sa Kaeo, which sent chills over me as many refugees had bad times there. Catch local bus (10 baht) to border, get all mixed up with immigration, finally get it straight, car to Battambang, secure room at Hotel Angkor ($13 USD for 3 beds), jump across street to meet Chharvy (lovely lady) at KCT Internet Caffe, go to White Rose
Restaurant next door for a great meal (fried pork with chillis, chicken & onion, curry, spring rolls, mango shake, & lots of water). Long day, but good traveling.

We're deep into Asia now - exactly where I want to be.

Hotel is pretty good & pretty clean. Peter Lorre's Chinese incarnation is manager - kind of creeping around all the time. Our room is on the so-called 3rd floor (actually the 4th, so it is [yet another] uphill trudge to the room), bathroom, cool water (but who needs hot?), countless geckos, balcony running around two sides of hotel, veranda overlooking Sangkar River (Stung Sankar). From veranda look down on street beside river & see mostly foot and motorcycle traffic, people bathing in river, life unfolding. One very nice detail is that motorcycles here are 4-stroke vs. 2-stroke, so much quieter.

Many beggars around. Some seem very poor and desperate. On Monday morning watched the boss of the beggars sweep through to intimidate his workers. A very unpleasant fellow.

Monday we had breakfast at the White Rose (coffee, toast, and omelet on top of onions, tomatoes, cucumbers - David also had pineapple shake). Met the men we talked with yesterday re motorcycle trip into countryside: Panya is a refined man 28 years old, goes to English school and hopes to become a primary teacher. Thony is in mid 30s and a veteran of 1990s war with Khmer Rouge. He wants to get married but his father wants him to become a monk for about 5 years - serious conflict!

David rode with Thony and I with Panya and Jeff rode alone. Eventually I was very grateful that I did not try to ride alone as it rained some and the unpaved roads were a true challenge. This was the first tour I've ever taken and it was wonderful. We really did see the countryside.

First stop was a wat at the top of Phnom Sam Peau. We left the motorcycles at the bottom of the hill and took a good long trudge to the top. The reward was a breathtaking view of Battambang Province. From there we walked to another part of the mountain where there were caves where some thousands of people had been murdered - smashed or stabbed and thrown into the caves. There were cords strung about with little pieces of cloth from the clothes of the people killed. David and I prayed at one of the stacks of bones and skulls. To me, sadder than the bones were stacks of clothing from the dead. Jews, Cambodians, Kurds - so many killed in our time.

We met a former Khmer Rouge, now living at the temple. Later I thought what better place to seek redemption - but his eyes seemed dead - talk about soul loss! I thought about the old proverb, "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime." Seems like he's doing the hardest time imaginable and much more to come.

From the mountain we could see several rain storms across the land. I lost my first pair of glasses somewhere up there - my favorite dollar store glasses - good place to lose them (one down, three to go).

Had lunch at bottom of mountain - new meaning to chicken with many many bones. Along with the bones were vegetables likened by Jeff to "what they put under your fingernails." The soup was okay, but also many many bones.

Rode through countryside to Wat Banon. Thoughout the day the rides were just wonderful. Rural Cambodia is beautiful and the people are beautiful - to me, the best looking in the world - men and women and the children, well, you know, so pretty it makes my heart ache. Another wonderful thing was seeing many new schools along the roads - monuments of hope and the future. My friend Lance built a wood school over here about 10 years ago - named for his Mom, Elizabeth. What joy for him to see a new stucco school take the place of the Elizabeth School. Good work, mate.

Everywhere we go, people are interested in David. They recognize him instantly as Khmer and are puzzled that he does not speak Khmer. But everyone is gracious and there has been none of the intrusiveness we've experienced several times in the past. Interesting that Cambodian farmers would have better manners than some people who consider themselves special - "blessed" and all that.

Next stop was Wat Banan, an 11th Century wat at (where else) the top of a small mountain. The steps to the wat were very steep and what you would expect after about a 1000 years of close to no maintenance. Wat Banan is like a very small Angkor Wat, falling down to some extent and beautiful - many linga and yoni around. David was first to the top, of course, and he met a monk who showed him how to enter the chambers and what to do inside. Temple boys are little boys whose family cannot feed them. There was a temple boy with this monk - sweetest boy - touched that I wanted to take his photograph. Three children went with us from bottom to top and back down. One boy about five years old just hurtled down, making me a little sick to my stomach - one misstep and he's hurt bad or dead. 10 year old girl that went with us was named Savann. I asked and asked Thony, the guide to ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. Chauvinist that he is, he kept saying what he thought she wanted to be, like married. Finally he really asked and in the smallest voice she said, "teacher." This truly is a high time for me.

We went to a wat where there were countless huge fruit bats in the trees, some long boats, and what have you. Boring to me, so I walked down the road. Stopped and said hello to a grandmother. Her neightbor saw me and burst out laughing at my beard. So I took my hat off so she could see my bald head and she literally fell over laughing. Good times. Walked down to the river (late afternoon by now) and watched people bathing, cleaning horsecart, and so on. The beauty of what I was seeing was amplified by a woman singing a beautiful haunting song somewhere along the river. Met a girl named Ieng sitting on a platform in a little thatched lean-to. I have no idea what she was doing there.

We took off for the "bamboo train" and along the way I asked to stop to see some pineapple plants. We were looking at the plants and a woman walked up the path from the house and invited us to see her house. So we're sitting in the open part of her poor farmer's house with several more women around, a man, 5-6 children (one little girl terrified of the foreigners) talking via the guides. The woman tells us that one of the women is sick with a problem in her breast. I'm thinking I was committed to not get involved in health-related things, but this is too much that (1) we stop at this house, (2) the woman invites us to see her house, and (3) there was a sick woman there who maybe - if the problem is an infection - I can help. I tell them I know a little bit about these things and ask if she would like for me to take a look. The answer is yes, and in the meantime her husband brings out the medicine she is taking. Tamoxifen! I'm astonished. We're on a country road in Cambodia and this woman is taking the right medicine for breast cancer. But she looks bad. No mass in her breast. Though not cachectic, still, haggard, like she is dying. I tell her this is good medicine, keep taking it, and I will pray for her. They tell us she got it free from the "Holy Hospital" and the guides tell us it is run by Italians. Holy Hospital, indeed. Where else.

At the end of the day we get to the "bamboo train," a platform set on wheels formerly used on tank treads. First they set the axles/wheels on the track, then set the platform on top, then a small engine is connected, and finally the three motorcycles, two guides, assorted people, and David, Jeff, and I. Start the engine and away we go. Great trip, flying down the track almost to Battambang. When we get to the stopping place we unload motorcycles and people, turn the platform around, and we go back to town while the "train" goes back to where we started.

What a wonderful day.
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