Friday, October 28, 2011

Phnom Tamao Zoo

Oh, my!

You know I had to do it!  You would, too.  Anyway...

Thanks to a dear friend of ours who has a car, the kids and I got to go to the zoo just outside of Phnom Penh today.  The whole family went once before, and we hired a taxi to take us then.  This time I told my friend it was easy to find and that we didn’t need a taxi.  Ha!  Who knows what she thinks of me right this moment?  I hope she has the same definition of “adventure” as I do! 

Anyway, it’s not exactly a zoo.  It’s the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, so the animals are actually pretty well taken care of and the maintenance is pretty good.  I hear that’s not the case in most of southeast Asia.  I don’t have anything to compare it to except American zoos and it’s different than those for sure but still nicer than I expected, considering things I had heard about Asian zoos. 

According to the sources I researched, and by “sources,” I really mean just one: Lonely Planet Cambodia, this is the region’s foremost wildlife sanctuary.  It houses animals which have been confiscated from traffickers or rescued from traps set by poachers.  Quite a few international wildlife NGOs like Free the Bears and others are helping to improve the facility.  Whenever possible, the animals are saved and then released back into the wild after they have recovered.  They also operate breeding programs for endangered and threatened species. 

It was a great experience, both the first time, when it was packed full of Cambodian families during a national holiday and this time, when we had the park almost to ourselves except for a few monks and a couple Cambodian families.  It’s kind of confusing to find your way around as there are roads that lead to nowhere and roads that go somewhere but we weren’t allowed to drive on.  It’s like a combo safari/zoo experience because you drive in but can park and walk around wherever you want.  Children inside the zoo try to sell you food to feed the animals and the price changes every time they ask you.  One little girl, the fifth time we said no, said “but the animals are hungry!”  The boys were dying to feed the otters so I paid $0.50 for something like 8 fish and then they wouldn’t do it.  I had fun doing it though!  Aren’t they cute?

And there are a few monkey cages but these wild monkeys were everywhere.  I mean, it’s a zoo, so why not hang out where you’ll be fed and photographed and maybe even loved?  They were fun little guys, huh?

And here are some of the other animals.  Yes, they were all in cages, minus a few monkeys.  I just used this cool focus trick of my camera to throw the cage so out of focus that you can't see it at all!

I don't care for snakes.  Like, ever.  But for my kids, I'll pretend they are super cool and photograph them and stand cautiously observing them.  And just to be nice, I'll even let the kids get between the snakes and me.  I'm an awesome Mom.

And the biggest is last!  The first time we went one elephant wasn't even in a cage!  All the elephants are amazing!

But wait.  What's this say?

Well, of course he may be dangerous!  Notice anything special about that elephant?

Here's a closer look:

Wow.  This place is doing great work!  If they can build a prosthetic leg for a 1+ ton (and still growing) ELEPHANT after his leg was caught in a trap, then I applaud them and think I may go back and pay some admission again just to support their cause!

And, of course, to people watch. I enjoy watching people and promise a "zoo part 2" post with people photos soon.

For now, here's my two favorite people, who can ask me to take them to the zoo any day they want!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I have a lot to say but not really a coherent thought so here’s one of those totally realistic stream of consciousness posts for you, which is much more like me than anything I’ve ever written that has a point.  This is how I actually think on the spot.  Who knows where this will lead...

I just rode the elevator in my building up to the roof and back down to the ground before going to my apartment.  I did this because if you stand just right against the back wall, there’s a really nice breeze that hits you as it moves.  Feels great after being out in the hot Cambodia sun.  In fact, I am considering doing it again before I continue typing.

But then my kids would want to push every button.  Did I mention that my five year old has been counting lately?  All the time?  Like, to a hundred, or 300, or I’m not sure how high because I tune it out.  I think he switches to doing it in Khmer sometimes to get my attention but it’s just not that cute sometimes!

And, oh, speaking of Khmer, I am getting better, even though I haven’t been officially learning any more lately.  Like, today, this guy told me I couldn’t go in one entrance of a supermarket where I see people go in all the time.  I wanted to say “but I see Cambodians go in there all the time!” I couldn’t say that exactly, but I was able to say “I know Cambodia boys do that many days.” I think that’s what I said.  He still said no.

The postal service here is terrible.

I saw a great film last night that was about orphans in Nepal.  These terrible people go and tell the village parents that they are going to educate their children and send them back to support their families and have the parents sign all these papers they don’t understand which are really papers that give up their rights to the kids and then the orphanages charge foreigners outrageous prices to adopt the children and the real parents never see them again!  Terrible.  I’m sure I will have more... much more... to say on that later.  Called Paper Orphans by Marie Ange Sylvain  if you want to look it up. 

Have you ever noticed that grammar kind of goes out the window on blogs?  I was always a good English student and really good with grammar but notice that on my blog I put the commas and periods and little ...’s where I’d put them if I were speaking and most of the time it’s completely incorrect grammatically.  I’m sorry about that.

Oh my gosh, I just looked over at my cute little boy and realized I haven’t shared something I’ve been wanting to for quite some time.  So, you know how in some countries, picking your nose is like an almost criminal offense?  Well it is NOT HERE!  My gosh, they do it all the time.  And looking at my boy reminded me of it because he’s doing it right now!  How do you ever get kids to stop that?  Especially when the people around them just look right at you and do it?  At least in America if you are reaching up there and catch someone’s eye, you get embarrassed and stop!  Not here, nope, they just keep on going!  Eeeew!  I’m making a generalization here, because I’m sure there are Cambodians who don’t act like that but there are just so many who do!!!

Speaking of Cambodians, I missed the little boy’s club this week because my little boy was sick.  I hated missing that day!  I love those kids.  I wonder if they missed my boys?  I hear they look forward to playing with my kids.  My son is better, though, thanks for those who are wondering.  

I did take the boys out for a short walk though, in the stroller, since we didn’t want to be touching others with the germs but wanted to get out of the house.  I’m on this mission to enter this photography contest and am looking for the perfect shot.  Actually 5 absolutely perfect shots.  I’m thinking it may not happen in time for the deadline that is quickly approaching.  In fact, everyone around me is sick of hearing about that stupid contest.  In fact, I’m going to quit typing nonsense and go take some more photos.  I do hope I have some to show you soon.  If I get what I’m looking for, it is going to be great.

But first I think I’ll have a snack. Some fresh mangoes and sticky rice.   Yum.  The fruit here is so good.

Now, go do something more useful than reading my gibberish!

Oh, but do come back...  I will be doing an awesome Cambodian giveaway very soon!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Shots from the Tuk Tuk

For those that don't know from my previous posts, this is a tuk tuk:

I had to ride in one for a long distance today all by myself and since I wasn't worrying about holding on to kids and making sure no one fell out (or jumped out), I pulled out my camera and snapped a few photos as we flew through the city streets.  I set my shutter speed high to compensate for the movement but still got blur in a lot of them.  Oh well.  Here are a few that turned out okay.  

We crossed over this bridge.  I call it the stinky bridge.  Well, one of the many, many, many stinky bridges in Phnom Penh.  

 Let's have a closer look at that water.  Any guess why it's stinky?  I don't want to know what's in it...  They have open sewers here that look like this, too.  Who knows, this may be part of that.  I have no idea.  I was just shooting from the tuk tuk.

Then we got stuck at an intersection and this guy saw my camera and kept giving me this goofy look and wanting me to take his picture.  Lots of people do funny things with their hands here when I put my camera to my eye.  It makes me laugh.  I love these Cambodians!  

And I always love the bright orange robes of the monks.  Here's one on a moto:

And just some more random shots of everyday life on the streets.

 We were moving fast so I couldn't capture much, but you'll see people just being people...

...and kids just being kids...

... or babies driving mopeds...  whatever :) 

Just another day of adventure in Cambodia!
I love this place.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Retail Returns

Ok, since apparently a few of you shed some tears over my last post, and its quite obvious that I did, too, I figure I should lighten it up a bit this time! 

The story of trying to return my hair dryer is a good way to do that.

I got a cute new haircut.  I could have gone to one many, many, many of the places here that showcases a larger than life poster of Mario Lopez or Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt’s outside, because they must obviously get their haircut there (hahaha), but instead, I went to a more Western place called the Dollhouse.  I didn’t know it but I was apparently scheduled to get my hair cut by a famous stylist, Craig Taylor!  Seriously!  You can read about him here.  It was really cool.  And long story short, I spent $30 instead of the $3 I would have paid at a Cambodian place but still spent way less than I would have anywhere else by someone like this, so it was worth the experience!  He did a fantastic job - gave me the best hair cut I’ve ever had in my life and made me feel good about myself... something I needed at the time! 

Anyway, the next day my hairdryer fried!  Seriously?  So I got a new one and guess what, yep, the first time I plugged it in, smoke started coming out as soon as I turned it on!  So frustrating! 

I decided that I was going to take it back.  After all, I spent $25 on it, and that’s a lot of money for something that doesn’t work.  Whether you are in Cambodia or not, whether your income is support based or not, if it doesn’t work, it’s a waste of money!

I had a bunch of errands to run that day but decided to start with that one.  I marched in the store – a real store, not a market – and gave them the box and receipt and said in English, but slowly and clearly, “I bought this but it does not work.” The girl pointed me toward someone else.  I went to him and said, again, “This does not work.”  He took it out of the box and plugged it into the wall.

Hmm.  Let's call him guy #1.

When guy #1 plugged it in to the wall, smoke started coming out of the nozzle.  He looked at me and said, “This does not work.” And then he said he was going to get his friend to help.  He grabbed someone and just stood there as I told the story yet again to guy #2.  Because guy #1 explaining it to him for me would be too much work?

We all watched as guy #2 stood there and plugged it in to the wall and saw smoke come out.  He looked to me and said “This does not work.  It makes fire.”  I replied (kindly) that I had already said that to a few people.  He said he was going to get a friend.  Really?

So he got guy #3.  Now we are all standing there... me, #1, #2, and now #3 as he plugs it in to the wall.  Are you bored yet?  Because I was!  I said “They already tried this and it didn’t work! You are going to start a fire! Can’t you smell the smoke?” He plugged it in.  And guess what... it didn’t work. More smoke.  This guy at least realized that maybe we should try a new one instead of getting another friend.  He went to the shelf and got another one.  The whole entourage followed.  He handed me the new box indicating that the problem was solved that easily.  Instead, I smiled and said “Please try that one for me.”

We all watched anxiously as he plugged it into the wall and ... you guessed it... smoke billowed out as the on switch was pressed. 

So we grabbed a third one - the last one on the shelf - and tried it.  The same smoke resulted.  We had an even bigger audience now. 

Out of curiosity, one of the female employees who was standing by brought over a hairdryer that was on the shelf below.  It was made by a different manufacturer and had a $20 price tag instead of $25.  Guy #3 (out of about 8 now) tried it out and it worked beautifully.  I said, “Great!  I’ll take that one!”  He handed it to me and told me to take it to the cashier.

You’ll never believe where all the broken ones went.

Yes.  Back on the shelf.  Seriously.  I tried to comment on that but they just laughed and told me it was ok.  Note to self – always try electronics before I buy in Cambodia. 

So I went up to the register, where the cashier, who happened to be the girl I initially talked to when I walked in told me she could not exchange it because it was not the same hair dryer.  Well, of course, that makes sense!  “Ok, well, refund that one, then, and I’ll buy this one.”  She told me they don’t give money back for things at their store.

What? Even if it doesn't work and I just bought it?  I told her that I would even let her keep the $5 difference in price if I could just take the dryer home!  After all, I needed a way to keep styling my cute new hair!  She said she could not do that.  Sigh.

I asked to talk to a manager.  Oh, boy, I had no idea what that meant.  

Finally, I looked over and saw a moto pulling up outside.  He had come from home!!!  He came in and when she explained everything to him in Khmer he then looked at me and told me no exchanges or refunds but he would repair it for me and I could pick it up.  Not further details of how or when to pick it up.  He walked out and got on his moto and drove away.  And then I walked out, too, 45 minutes after I walked in to run my “quick errand.”

That was over a week ago.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never see that hair dryer again.  I mean, how could they possibly fix it after plugging it in so many times and watching smoke pour out of it again and again?

I guess I could just go buy another one off the shelf there?     :)

Just another day in Cambodia!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Photo Walk

I don't know where to begin.  I am hot and tired and sweat is dripping off me as I start typing but I just have to get all this off my chest RIGHT NOW!  And its a lot of honesty, so get ready...

I decided to leave my kids with a sitter during naps today and go out for a photo walk.  You know, a walk where I just snap pictures of whatever I want and then do whatever I want with them.  Well, the walk yielded very few photos and a whole lot of emotions.

I found myself in a neighborhood I didn't know.  A REAL Phnom Penh neighborhood, not the fancy ex-pat ones I usually stick to.  I was holding my camera strap tightly as I decided to start snapping photos of the people around me on the streets.  Here is the first one I took:

And just after I snapped it that moto driver pulled up to me with a sad expression on her face.  It didn't take me long to figure out why.  See, I was standing there in cute clothes, nice shoes, and holding a camera that was worth more money than many Cambodians make in a year.  I was taking their picture and then turning to walk away!  I was doing nothing to help!  I deserved her sad expression.  And I decided to do I should do something about it.

But...I don't speak Khmer.  I mean, I say that I'm trying to, and I really am, but my brain is just so full it doesn't seem to accept any new words!  I knew there was no way I could have a meaningful conversation with them. And this was one of those God moments when I totally felt the Spirit telling me to speak to them.

And yet, even still, I couldn't do it.  I stood there and I did say a prayer for them, hoping God would accept that in exchange.  As I was praying for them the lady glanced over at me and I smiled at her.  I reached in my bag to look for a bottle of water I could give her but it was empty.  I hadn't brought a wallet, so I was standing there with no money, no food, no drink to give her.  So I smiled and then walked away.

I walked away so disappointed.  I walked away praying for God to forgive me and as the tears ran down my cheeks I began to notice others around me who needed prayer.  I put my camera away and since I truly had nothing to give I just prayed for them.

I prayed for a young boy who was going through the trash.  Whether he was looking for something to sell or something to eat, I will never know.  I prayed for his future.

I prayed for a woman with 2 small children who was sitting under a tree next to a heap of trash. I prayed for their health and her children's bellies to be full - or at least not empty - tonight.

I prayed for an old lady who was hunched over in front of a small fire with squid looking things on a stick as she smiled up at me with no front teeth.  I prayed for the past she had and thanked God that she is alive.  In Cambodia, there aren't a lot of old people because a massive genocide murdered 3/4 of their population in the 1970's.

I prayed for a group of young boys who were playing with a flip flop, kicking it back and forth in a circle because they didn't have a ball or anything else to kick around.  I laughed and kicked the flip flop as I walked by and they thought I was awesome!

I prayed for a man sleeping in a hammock.  I don't know his story either, but I prayed for him.

I prayed all this out loud as I walked through the alleys.

I made a mistake today.  I felt God leading me to speak to the people in the photo and I didn't follow His will.  But He forgave me and gave me others to love. He literally put them in my path. I also decided that I will venture out with my camera again, but next time I'll also have some water bottles and some tracts in Khmer that I bought at the Christian bookstore here. I don't speak their language but its all right there for them - from Creation to Eternity - in beautiful pictures. And, most importantly, in their own language.

I realized that these people don't believe in God.  They are likely Buddhist and chances are good that they haven't even heard of the Lord before. I need to show them that He is the God Who Sees, and that their needs are never to small for Him.

And it also means that it's likely that no one has ever prayed for them.  So today I did.

Can you pray for me to have the courage to do this again and do it even better next time?  You'll have to pray a lot because it's going to take a lot of Him which means very little of me and giving up myself is just so hard, as I learned today.

It'd be so easy to forget God's purpose for me here, but there's nothing I want more than to be living in the middle of His will.

"How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"  Romans 10:14 NIV

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sixteen Weeks Have Changed My Life

Well, upon looking at my calendar, I realize that we’ve been in Cambodia for 16 weeks.  That’s 112 days, or 2688 hours since we left all THIS:

And boarded a plane with only THIS:

Well, except for the truck.  And with this, too:

Do I miss it?  Actually, surprisingly, refreshingly, NO!  I don’t.  I mean, I miss my friends, my church, my family, my favorite Mexican restaurants, and a few other things, but my stuff?  Nope.  And the boys haven’t asked for any of their toys that were left behind.  Not once.  I mean, as long as they have their little Superheroes, any other toy is useless anyway. 

But while thinking about that, I also thought of several things I used to do every week (or every day) that I haven’t done a single time since June 24th.

For example, I haven’t driven a car since I came to Cambodia.  Remember when we sold the minivan? I was so sad, but I don’t miss it now.  Well, ok, sometimes I do.  It was a great car, but I’d be terrified of killing someone with it here. One friend described driving a car through Phnom Penh as being a giant slow moving turtle surrounded by a swarm of fast moving ants (the motos).  Not sure I’d like that.  Still, I wonder if I’ll be able to drive again when I get back?  It’s funny that they let you keep a driver’s license when there’s no way to know if you practiced at all!

And if I had a car, my first stop might be Starbucks.... If I missed it!  But I don’t!  In fact, I’ll likely find it way overpriced and not very good when we get back because here you can get coffee for under a dollar and they put yummy sweetened condensed milk in it and it’s just OH SO GOOD!  I make it at home most days, which is way more than I can say about when I lived in America!  Does anyone know a way I can block that statement from my husband when he reads this?  Hi, Stephen!  Yep, I used to buy a lot of coffee at Starbucks.  More than you ever knew.  I’m sorry I spent hundreds (thousands?)  of your hard earned dollars on coffee! 

I haven’t used a crockpot in that many days, either.  I mean, not that I used it that often before, but knowing it was an option was invaluable.  And now my friends are posting recipes of all these great hearty fall foods and I can just salivate on my keyboard as I try to figure out how to make slow cooked foods taste just as good if I cook them fast. 

But not too fast.  I can’t!  I don’t have a microwave, either.  I really thought I’d miss this, but I’m getting used to heating leftovers on the stove.  I can even make popcorn the old fashioned way.  Ha!  So what else would I need a microwave for?

At least they do sell those things here if I ever got desperate.  But I’d have to really want it because I’d spend hundreds on a microwave and over $60 on a crockpot and both would cost me a small fortune in electricity. 

There are so many more things I haven’t done in 16+ weeks.

Like use a dryer.  Or a dishwasher.  Nope.  I can wash clothes but they have to hang to dry and then be ironed.  I have to wash dishes in the sink.  Every. Single. Meal.  And not even with hot water!  I use it when I can but that requires boiling it on the stove because there is no hot water connected to the sink.  Each bathroom has a water heater that you have to turn on and let run for about 10-15 minutes before you can get hot water!  They don’t have those in the sink. 

And I used to take a hot bath every day.  Sometimes twice.  Again, honey, sorry about wasting money!  But not here.  Even if I wanted to, which would mean I’m nuts, because it feels like 90+ degrees everyday,  that little tiny heater would never get warm enough to provide a hot, steamy, bubbly bath.  Cold showers it is!

I do miss being able to buy all my groceries at one store and only shop once every week or two.  Here we have big stores, but it’s funny because they all have unique items that others don’t have.  One has more meat and cheese, another has the baking supplies, another has the good cereals and milks.  I have to make several stops to get it all.  And that doesn’t even include the fruits and veggies we buy at the market.  Oh, its exhausting just typing it!

I miss normal iced tea, instead of the jasmine, or English, or green that they have here.  I just want normal iced tea!

I don’t really miss being able to check email on my phone.  Don’t get me wrong, they have phones that do that here, but we are using money wisely and a $250+ iPhone isn’t something that we need right now.  So, I just check it when I get home.  And it’s always fun to see several unread messages when I turn on the computer.

I don’t miss my stuff.  Nope.    I have Jesus.  I have my family.  And we have more food and shelter than almost any Cambodian family.   For that I am grateful.  

What is something you think you could not live without? 
 Try going without it for a week.  

You might find yourself relieved that the burden has been lifted after all!

I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Little Boys

Well, if boys back home are supposedly made of snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails, you’d think little boys in Cambodia would be, too. 

But they’re not! 
They are incredible. 

Let me tell you why:

For a few weeks now my own little boys and I have been playing at a shelter for little boys who don’t have a home, or don’t have much of one, anyway.  It’s not an overnight shelter but it’s a place where kids can go to be loved.  And they feel the love from people who care for them sincerely, teach them English, do crafts with them, and even sometimes give them a bite to eat or a shower when needed.  These people are awesome.  They help the kids when they need help, even if the kids don’t know they need it.  And the boys are just amazing kids.

I’ve learned a lot from them.  They ask me to teach science type stuff to them sometimes, since I have a background in that.  But mostly I’ve learned a lot from them.
I wasn’t sure what playing with them would look like.  The first day we arrived, the leader told us that many of them had never played with toys before and they didn’t know how.  Didn’t know how to play with toys?  Aren’t kids just born knowing how to play?  I guess not.  Not if you haven’t ever had a toy.  Or, more importantly, haven’t ever really had time to play with a toy because you were working from the time you could walk!  Wow.  How humbling is that?

My boys were quick to jump in and play and those boys watched them.  They were fast learners!  They had the chance to play with so many toys and show off some talents they likely had never discovered! 

In fact, that part made me a little sad and a lot more prayerful!

See, the first week I taught a lesson on the human body.  I had to talk through a translator, of course, and he was great to know some body parts in English!  When he didn’t know, he just said, “In English, they say it _____.”  That was fun.   Not sure if it was for him, but it was for me!  Anyway, after the lesson the kids got to put together a human skeleton toy and play with one of those cool bodies that you take out the organs and have to put them back in just right.  What a neat way to learn, right?

One kid in particular stood out to me that day.  He was fascinated by the body.  He kept pointing at parts and asking me to name them for him again and again.  He was so smart and I found myself imagining him as a great Cambodian doctor someday.  Then I realized that it wasn’t likely he’d ever have that chance, with the life he was born into.  I pray for him a lot.

There are other kids like that, too.  Some can draw beautifully.  Others can look at directions of an elaborate building project and replicate it with ease.  I see many trying to learn more about magnets with a magnet toy they have.  There are kids who excel at puzzles, at learning English, at modeling with Play-Doh, at reading, or at writing.  These beautiful children don’t even know how gifted they are.

Because no one has ever given them a chance to discover it.

But now they have one, thanks to the wonderful organization that is helping them.  Instead of being sad about their past, which nothing will ever change, I pray for the future they are building day by day.  I lift up their names and think of their faces even as I type this right now. 

It isn’t always easy to be there.  Besides making the universal sounds that cross any child’s language barrier when playing, I can’t do much else.  You know those sounds... like “aaah” when I get shot by a toy gun or run over by a toy car, “mmmmm” when I am given a toy food to eat, “hahahaha” when I see something funny, or  “roar” when I chase one dinosaur with another.  That’s about all I contribute when I’m there.

But as soon as I leave until I arrive there again, I am praying.  For the children.  For them to know Jesus Christ right now.  For their present circumstances to be better.  For their future to be something they can’t even dream of it’s so good.  For their children for many generations to have better lives because someone showed them a little of what Christ’s love looks like. 

It’s what Jesus would do for every single one of them.    

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.  Matthew 18:12-14

Thank you to Hard Places, who doesn’t just play with these kids once a week but instead devotes hours upon hours every single day to loving them.