Friday, December 23, 2011

Cambodia- An Eye Opener

It was interesting taking the VIP bus into Cambodia and seeing the way people look at the bus. Their eyes open up wide as if they were looking at the tallest skyscraper in the world.  They see the bus and it is like dollar signs are flashing through their head like a cartoon. As they look at the bus with such hope, I walk the streets with my eyes wide open tuning into the needs, wants, desires, and passions of the local people.  The way they look at my computer with such admiration and I can not give it to them.  A young girl with a baby asks for food while I am eating in front of her.  Walking through the market, they say, “Hello lady, you buy purse, you buy hat.” “Hello lady, you eat something.”  A man comes up to you with no arms and asks you to buy a book.   Another man cycles around with more books in a car with no legs.  I just keep thinking this is preparation for India. 
In New York, you see the homeless from sunrise to sunset from subways to restaurants to street corners to parks.   But the thing with New York is there is a significant amount of wealth there that could take many of them out of poverty, but the system works against the poor.  The homeless are an oppressed population who continue to be dependent on the system while the system maintains control over them.  It is quite different from impoverished populations in Southeast asia . 

In the morning 7:30am actually, I sit at a café having a poached egg and some yogurt.  The waitresses are so sweet and attentive.  When I ask for the bathroom, they turn on the light and open up the door.  When I order the food, they gently place a napkin on my lap and set the table with a bamboo place mat and clean knife and fork.  The poached egg is just an egg, but what makes it great is the pepper.  Cambodians are known for their Khmer pepper.

Normally when you sit at a café/restaurant in New York, the servers start looking at your rudely and want you to get moving so they can get their next table.  These girls were dressed lovely wearing green blouses, black pants, with their matching hair bands.  Even when spending hours there, they were so polite and sweet.  The whole time I was there only one other person came in as many are out visiting the temples.  It was hard to see them standing there and not leave them a tip. 

In Southeast asia, it boggles my mind that there is no tipping.  The servers work all day single to double shifts making very little money per hour and not getting tips.  If this was the states, they would be receiving 20 percent  tips from me as their service was excellent.  I left them a $1000 riel, which is not much, but it is something.  In the US, I do not like tipping for horrible service or people with attitude, which I encounter frequently in New York, but here is a different story.  These people would be so appreciative with just a dollar tip.  There are many people I think of over my trip who I felt very bad not tipping, but I have never seen a traveler tip.  Not just a budget traveler, but adult travelers with more money  the same.  My apologies Southeast asia for not tipping all of you, but it is a domino effect.  When you tip one, you start tipping them all.  My supervisor once told me, “You can’t help them all Priscilla.”  I would like to take all my tips from New York and transfer them to Southeast asia please ha!

Walked around the city talking with the locals-part of my daily routine.  I stopped by a couple art galleries with a water and cricket photography display.  Apparently, crickets are becoming a staple for  Cambodia with many people frying and eating them.

Located by the sea Cambodia is a country covered with lakes, rivers, small tributaries and creeks, teaming with freshwater fishes.  These waters benefit the agricultural sector of Cambodia and also it’s people as most Khymers are farmers.  The Tonle Sap Lake is one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Southeast Asia containing at least ten tons of freshwater fish per square kilometer.(Water exhibit)

In North Of Cambodia, Siem Riep is known for its amazing diversity.  Situated at the head of the Tonle Sap lake, the region groups a large number of small villages that were set up around the Khmer temples of Angkor Wat.  Siem Riep is known for its vast rice fields which color the landscape. When the monsoon rains appear, the lake is covered six times the surface area than during the dry season.  With the monsoon comes an arrival of masses of crickets.  In a few weeks, Siem Riep focuses on catching the crickets to help with family income.  In Siem Riep, black crickets go for $.50 cents per kg and larger crickets are sold for $2 per kg.  A growing number of Cambodians are thinking of rearing crickets because they are in such high demand(Cricket exhibit)

I stop and talk with a girl working for “Bloom Cambodia”, which sells bags made of rice.  They are composed of various sayings and colors and I find an elephant one that I am tempted to buy.  She said a man came back 4 years later and his bag looked brand new.  She had such a lovely manner to her and said, “Thank you for coming to my store” with a traditional bow.  They are so polite and just “lovely”. I know I need to expand my vocabulary ha!

Many tuk tuks are around asking for a ride-way too many to handle, but I stop to chat with one who teaches me hello and thank you.  I stop in another gallery with young kids painting on canvases various religious and landscape paintings.  The oil paintings in Laos are absolutely beautiful.  I sat with a student who has been painting for seven years and he offers me his paint brush and I start to laugh as I would not want to destroy his masterpiece.  I joke that he could be my teacher and I could move to Cambodia and just paint everyday-what a beautiful thought- right?

The falangs(tourists) are walking around and I see a few from the bus yesterday.  I stop at the Khmer Kitchen for lunch for Khmer Chicken Curry with sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, and spices.  It is delicious and quite lovely how they bring out the dish.  One person serves each dish.  It is interesting as I learn that dark meat is more expensive than white meat, which works out great for me. 

In Cambodia, you pay in US dollars, which is a good way to know how much you are spending.  I chat with the guy at the restaurant and he informs me you are not allowed to rent a motor bike on your own, which disappoints me as I wanted to do some solo motor biking to the villages. 

Walking around the weather is extremely hot and it is nice as a cool breeze comes in.  I walk to the Angkor Children’s hospital to inquire about volunteering and then I walk to the lake to see the sunset and  explore the villages. What I see is ingrained in my memory forever and it is something that has to be experienced-it is all taken into my soul. 

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