Phnom Penh: Exhausting yet Awesome
There really aren’t words to get across what being Phnom Penh is like. The traffic is lawless, the heat is dry (thankfully) but dusty, and the people are much poorer than those living in Bangkok. It is, on the whole, amazing.
We have been exceedingly busy since getting into Cambodia, with barely a moment’s rest to sit and rest our sore legs. We got through the border around 1 pm, dropped our stuff at the Mad Monkey Guesthouse, and headed off to the Killing Fields and S21 prison. Both were eye-opening, and far more real than your typical museum. The Killing Fields still had pieces of clothing and bones surfacing after particularly heavy rains. Most distressing was the tree they beat babies to death on, which had teeth sitting at the bottom and a dark stain where the deed was done. The S21 prison was also disturbing; it’s a converted high school where they stored prisoners briefly before brutally torturing them and shipping them off to the fields to be executed. Pictures of the prisoners line the inside of the buildings, each holding their number and staring hauntingly into the camera. It was a heavy day.
Yesterday we headed out to the country to attend the opening of an SCAO school in a small village. The previous OG group helped develop the school and donated about $800 toward the building. We spent the afternoon playing with the cutest children, teaching them songs and taking photos. I lent one young boy my enormous SLR, which made him smile from ear to ear and take about 100 photos (some weren’t half bad). On the way back we took something called a Romo, which is essentially a rowboat attached to the back of a dirtbike. Wooden planks are attached along the top of the rowboat as seats and the dirtbike pulls you wherever you want to go. These are by no means typical tourist means of transportation, and the 14 of us riding back into Phnom Penh was like a parade. Everyone we passed pointed, smiled, laughed, waved, and told their friends. We silly westerners made everyone’s day!
Today we went out to see the Save the Bears Foundation, a local animal conservation group devoted to saving the Asiatic bear and Sun bear. These two endangered animals are hunted and trapped to make bear paw soup as well as to be “bile farmed,” which is when they are kept alive to harvest their bile for use in traditional Chinese medecine. It’s an awful and destructive practice. While there we made a few linen hammocks for the bears to use as well as prepared food packages to be hidden around the large cages. This keeps them active and entertained looking for food.
After that we headed to Tiny Toones, a local children’s organization started by a deported American breakdancer who was brought to America as a young child in the 1970’s. He started the organization to provide a healthy outlet for local street children who might otherwise resort to violence, gangs, or drugs. They not only teach dance there but also teach English, sex ed, and drug education. The last group worked with them on their trip too, and we met with Romi, a teacher there, to hear exactly what their future goals are (a dance tour in Australia). You can see more from her here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4Hvkh9R6RU
That’s it for now! We soon go to Koh Rong with no internet access, so this may be the last you hear from me for a while. See ya!