Fish guts and not so sugar cane juice

Trip Start May 03, 2010
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Trip End Oct 18, 2011


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Sunday, June 27, 2010

The night before I left for Battambang, I cleverly stayed up until 5am watching the last USA match for the World Cup.  We lost, so obviously that was totally worth it (not at all).  After my three hour bus ride on Sunday, I did what has now become a regular occurrence every time I change venues: passed out for a long daytime nap.  The only thing I accomplished that night was a 15 minute walk down to the only area in Battambang that has a selection of restaurants to choose from, and ordered a very fishy curry, of which I then gave half to the begging kids on the sidewalk.

Battambang is an industrial city, full of both high rises and markets, and not much in between besides clothing shops and hotels.  Jesse, my friend from Siem Reap, had put me in contact with a driver, Sambath, so he picked me up from the bus station, drove me around until I found a room at Star Hotel, and agreed to come back the next day to take me on a countryside tour.

The countryside in Battambang turns out to be the reason why you go there, not the city.  He took me out along a highway road past several miles of lush, green rice fields and turned off to take me through the neighborhoods.  Along the way, we stopped by a mushroom farm at one of the houses.  He showed me the whole process of cultivating mushrooms, which the family then sells at the market.  Like in Siem Reap, these neighborhoods are built off dirt roads, with houses made from bamboo and sheet metal.  At one point though, we passed by a shack that had a collection of car batteries on the ground, which a man was connecting to a larger machine that appeared to be charging the batteries.  I asked Sambath what that was for, and he explained that they use the car batteries to power their TVs.  It seemed surprising that people living in such poverty would be able to afford a TV, and he said that their explanation is this: "Have TV, so no have more kids."  Got it.

The remainder of the day was spent at the Killing Caves and temples of Phnom Sampeuo where many Cambodian people lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge.  Sambath looked to be around 40 years old, so I asked him how he survived the genocide.  He said he was sent off to work in a labor camp for kids when he was five years old, lost a brother, and was reunited with his family after the fall of Pol Pot.  I'd been reading First They Killed My Father, by Loung Ung, who had the exact same story.  Can you imagine being five years old and made to work on a farm 12 to 15 hours per day with little to no food?  I am consistently impressed with the plight and courage of these people.

After that, I climbed 359 steps to the top of Banan Temple, which I think means mountain temple and should explain all of the stairs.  A slight woman of around 50 years old accompanied me to the top and didn't even break a sweat while she talked and explained the history of the temple to me, and her daughter fanned me.  I was drenched with sweat, as usual.  I was actually getting tired of listening to her so I asked for some quiet time at the top, which she obeyed for about 10 minutes.  By the time we got back down to the bottom, I paid her 1,500 Riel just to leave me alone.  4,000 Riel is one dollar in Cambodia, but they use both Riel and US Dollars as currency.  Riel is usually used to provide change for a dollar, but sometimes for larger change I get a 20,000 Riel bill which is $5.  It's easy, but still requires constant calculation.

My last activity that day was a ride on a bamboo train, called a Nori train.  I took a video of it and just remember as you watch, how much you love me.  I'm following in my sister's footsteps here with the video making.  Can't you see me with my own travel show on Discovery Channel or something?

The next day, I went out on another countryside ride with a driver from the hotel, Lizy.  He took me through another neighborhood area, and stopped to show me how rice paper is made, plus bamboo sticky rice and rice noodles.  I always wondered why rice paper had those criss cross marks on them and now I have my answer!  They get dried on bamboo mats, which leaves the imprint of the mat design on the rice paper.  Bamboo sticky rice is made from a coconut sauce which turns out to be semi-sweet and chewy and delicious.  I've been craving it ever since I left Cambodia and Vietnam does not make theirs sweet, I am sad to discover.

After riding through the neighborhood and waving at all the kids and monks who said hi to us, we stopped at Wat Som Rong Knong, another memorial for Khmer Rouge victims.  This one was extremely graphic, with images and descriptions of the brutal murders committed by the Khmer Rouge.  Lizy was too young to have been alive during this time, but when I asked how his parents survived, he responded, "They don't make mistake."  The thought of a time where one mistake can mean the end of your life is absolutely horrifying.

Our next stop was Ek Phnom, ancient temple ruins from around the same time as Angkor Wat, just not as big.  Next to it stood a huge Buddha statue and a newer temple with images from the life of Buddha.  Outside the ruins, I tried a common snack I see around southeast Asia, sugar can juice.  It was really not sweet, in fact it was almost sour, and I couldn't finish it, but I'm glad I know what it is now and it was interesting to watch the lady make it.

The last stop was the fish market, where they butcher fish and make fish paste.  The people handling the fish were covered up to their elbows and knees in blood and guts, and the fish paste smelled, you guessed it, fishy!  I'm always impressed with the level of tolerance people have for adverse odors.  Anyway, I took another video for your viewing pleasure.  You love me.

As I got ready to leave on a bus to Ho Chi Minh, I reflected on Cambodia and regretted that I had such a hard time adjusting to it.  In the end, I have an immense sympathy for the people who endured the genocide of Pol Pot and the new generation that has little in the way of role models.  One thing is for sure, there is an air of appreciation and enthusiasm that takes a while to notice, but is inspiring nonetheless.  Cambodia is on a path of new discovery, and they are very open to new ideas and outside influence.  So I'm proud that I contributed something with my volunteering and I hope I left some impact on those kids.  I still never found food to enjoy besides Cambodian BBQ and got easily frustrated with service people, but I'm glad I stuck it out and that my experience ended in a positive light.

For now, it was time to move on to Vietnam! 
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Comments

Jana on

Hey Kate! Oh my god - your videos are awesome!! I do love you!! Haha - you have to do more of those! Looks like you were going pretty fast on the Nori ride! And the pictures of the Pol Pot scenes are crazy! Does sound horrible. I have that book, "First They Killed My Father", here at the library. I'll have to read it. Hope you like Vietnam!

straykat6
straykat6 on

That Nori ride was pretty damn fast! I kept getting hit in the face by bugs. I'm glad you like my hokey videos, they're fun. And yes, read that book - it's well written and an easy read.

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