Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's a boy!

Just kidding.  Seriously, I’m totally kidding!  I’m not having a baby!  And definitely not in Cambodia!  I mean, people do that, but the line above (the part about a BOY) kinda terrifies me.  I mean, I’ve got two super cute, sweet kids, but that’s only a fraction of the time.  The rest of the time...

Anyway... no, it was titled “Names” and that sounded boring so the title change was a last minute switch.  I’m laughing now as I picture my mom and dad speedreading as fast as they can to see what in the world I’m talking about. 
Let’s get to the real story:

I met this new tuk tuk driver outside my apartment about two weeks ago and that’s pretty strange. See, they have some sort of system that I think I’ve figured out parts of but still don’t quite understand. Two guys park in one place, the rest park up on top of the sidewalk in another, and as you take one, the others systematically move up in the line. They all seem to be friends and if one says he’ll pick me up at a certain time at a certain place, it’s not unusual at all for one of the others to show up instead. I guess that’s what they do. I don’t know. Well, after we went to Siem Reap for the holiday, we came home to find a couple new drivers out there in shiny new tuk tuks. One of them pulled up one day as I walked out, so the kids and I did what we always do and climbed in.

He was an okay driver. He spoke a little English and he got us to our destination with only minimal confusion, which is normal for most drivers, so I let him wait and bring us home, too. Before we walked back inside the apartment he gave me his phone number in case I wanted to call him for a ride again. This is also completely normal. I asked him what his name was and he said Nimnal. 

I’ve been riding in his tuk tuk for a couple weeks and calling him Nimnal. 

Today I found out that is not his name.  One of the other drivers was telling me a little more about their system and instructing me not to use the new guys because they are not their friends and I am a friend of all the other guys. That’s another story of tuk tuk politics.

What caught my attention was that he said the guy’s name is Nal.

Not Nimnal.  

I guess he was saying Name, Nal.  And I’ve been calling him Nimnal!  I feel so silly!  I mean shouldn’t I have known that wasn’t a normal name... Nimnal?!?!   

Maybe not.  

Here are some names I’ve heard in Cambodia.  These are names of people I’ve actually met.  Some I do know how to spell correctly I will but others I’ll just spell phonetically for you.

Sok Jia
Oon Dra
Sam Meut
Sok Heng
and my favorite – Kim (yes, it’s a boys name here)


Now, was I so crazy to think Nimnal was his name?
I’m sure he thinks so, but he’ll never tell me. 

I know his name now.  Nal.  All I have left to do is figure out how to play this game of tuk tuk politics!

Should be an adventure for sure!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving in Cambodia

It's Thursday here. Just Thursday. No sign of Thanksgiving at all. But lots of things to be thankful for. Too many to count, actually. And since I'm sure you've read blog after blog about what people are thankful for, I thought a better account might be what is different about celebrating Thanksgiving here in Cambodia.

First of all, it doesn't FEEL like Thanksgiving. It's still in the high 80's, sometimes low 90s. It's humid and sticky and there isn't a colored leaf in sight. I miss wearing sweaters and drinking cider and seeing pumpkins everywhere and knowing Christmas and snow are just around the corner.

But the bigger thing is no one knows what Thanksgiving is! I have to share a funny story with you from my Cambodian friend here. She told me that she heard about our holiday and here is how our conversation went, with a few comments from me inserted in italics for fun:

Her: "I heard about your American holiday when you celebrate how the Americans take land from the other people and you have a big party every year to be happy about that."
 Me: laughing "Well, that's not exactly right..." (I then explain a little more in the same way I explained it in our kindergarten  homeschool lesson this week)
Her: "I do not understand the difference.  And I understand why you celebrate that happy time." What?  She thinks taking someone's land is cause for celebration?
Me:  explain again, trying harder to explain the thankful part
Her: "but what does this have to do with the turkey and pie with pumpkin?"
Me:  Sigh.  Try again.

So funny trying to explain it to someone who doesn't understand the history or language!  Oh, my goodness!

And what's even funnier is they don't have a word for turkey in Khmer!  They call it a foreign chicken.  That cracks me up.  Especially because I have seen turkeys here in Cambodia.  For sure I've seen those foreign chickens on the road out in the provinces.  I know it.  Foreign chicken.  So hilarious!

Here's another challenge to Thanksgiving here in Cambodia...  you can't just buy a foreign chicken at the market to cook, and even if you could, you can't cook it in our teeny ovens, and even if you could, they don't sell roasting pans big enough to put one in. So many challenges to overcome. Well, since I'm not the only American here, these are challenges that have been overcome by entrepreneurs here in the city!

One local vendor... Dan's meats, sells a cooked turkey with stuffing, imported from New Zealand, I think, for a US Ben Franklin Bill and a few more bills... just over $100. It's not that big, either. An international hotel, Sofitel, here in Phnom Penh has a restaurant where you can get a 5-6kg turkey, which comes to just 11-13lbs, cooked with 6 sides and a pie for just $90, so that seemed like a better bargain. We're doing that tonight with the other IJM interns. I am excited because I don't have to cook anything. Don't get me wrong, I love to cook, but Saturday we are getting together with 3 other American families and we're all cooking some side dishes for the big event, where we also ordered a precooked turkey. I didn't want to cook twice in my tiny oven and make the apartment all hot and steamy.

When I ordered the meal from Sofitel, though, I was blessed with a conversation that once again brought me more laughter. Here you go:

Me: "Hi, I am calling to order the turkey dinner from your restaurant?"
*This was followed by repeated transfers to more and more people as they tried to figure out what in the world I was talking about.  I tried substituting turkey with Thanksgiving but no luck. Should have tried foreign chicken, I guess!  Finally I got someone who understood.
Him: "Yes, madam, I will take your order.  Please can you give your name and phone?"
Me: give that and say "What are the sides included with this package?"
Him: "Yes. Sides. There are 6."
Me:  "Oh yes, that is good. But what are they?"
Him: "I cannot tell you that."
Me: "Um, you cannot tell me?  Why?  What?"  laughing to keep from getting frustrated
Him: "It is what the chef makes. I cannot tell you them."
They had told my friend just a couple days before, I just forgot what they said!
Me: "I just want to know what some are so I know if my friends will like them."
Him: "I cannot tell you.  (long pause) They are American, madam, so you will be happy."
Me:  Sigh.  "Okay.  Thank you."
Him:  "If you do not like I am sorry."

Oh, boy. This should be exciting.

For Saturday I'm making a green bean casserole, but have to do the fried onions from scratch, a sweet potato casserole and almost had to make my own marshmallows but a friend found me some, and I had to order a pecan pie.  It was $21. Seriously, $21. I can't believe that. But, it's the holidays, right? They don't have karo syrup here or pecans, so I had to do it, and I guess that's why it costs so much for them, too.  My Cambodian baby sitter is making a pumpkin pie for me.  With real pumpkin.  I hope it's good.

Reminds me of when I first got married and tried to do just that.  Stephen told me that his mom always made pumpkin pie with real pumpkin and we were newlyweds, so I wanted to make him happy.  We carved a pumpkin, roasted the seeds, and I found a recipe for a pie with pumpkin.  I didn't know you had to use small pumpkins because the recipe just said pumpkin! I tried it with the big one we carved. I did everything it said and it was awful.  Terrible.  Disgusting.  I mean, I couldn't even eat it it was so stringy and gross. I was so sad I had ruined it and that Christmas I asked his mom how she made such good pumpkin pie and she said she just used the canned pumpkin and the recipe on the can! I laughed so hard.

Kind of like I've been laughing all day today.  So much to be thankful for!

Thanksgiving in Cambodia.
More adventure every day.

Everyone keeps asking what the mystery sides were... Here you go:

Roasted pumpkin, mashed potatoes, gravy, butter & bread, broccoli, carrots, cranberry sauce with apples in it, and some mystery meat dish we think was the innards of the turkey. The turkey was wonderfully delicious and moist and the sides were good but not very big so I added a few from my kitchen, too. The pie was some sort of pumpkin we think but had yellow raisins in it.  It wasn't nearly as good as the one our babysitter made.  We had a great night!  Happy Thanksgiving all!

I hope you enjoyed your own adventures this Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bayon Temple

If you ask me which temple in Siem Reap was my favorite, my answer might vary depending on what photo I'm looking at or what mood I'm in.  See, they were all drastically different from each other, so it's kind of like comparing apples to oranges... or coconuts to rambutans if you will.  That sounds a bit more Cambodian!  Still, my favorite DAY might be the day we went to Bayon Temple.  And it may be my favorite temple, too.  Today that's my answer anyway!

We rode around it on top of an elephant.  It was so much fun!  And that platform on top was totally leaning before I got on it.  I promise I'm not heavier than my husband and son.  Seriously.  Oh, and here's my favorite picture... look at his face closely!  He was so scared!

It's my favorite photo because yes, he held on so tight his hands turned red and he was afraid the whole time but as soon as we got off he was asking if we could do it again.  So typical of a 5 year old!  Anyway, our elephant was named Sambo and was 45 years old.  We fed him (I think it was a him... didn't get a good look..) a couple bananas before we climbed on his back.  He gave us a good 20 minute ride or so around the temple before we climbed off to walk around inside.

This shows the temple is still an active religious center.  This reclining Buddha has flowers and incense around it that have recently been left by the local Cambodian people. 

Here are some of the carvings at Bayon:

 Aspara Dancers

Bayon is actually famous for the faces carved all over pretty much every surface of the temple.  The faces are all different with varied expressions and the kids enjoyed looking at them and trying to copy the expressions.

They enjoyed playing at the temples, too.  It was like a giant maze and they let you climb on anything.  I kept thinking that if there were anything this old in the USA, no one would be allowed to climb on the ruins for sure! The kids had a blast!

And here are some more of my favorite shots from the day:

Beautiful place.  Yep, it was my favorite.  I'm pretty sure of it. And even if I change my mind in my next post, I hope you enjoyed the beauty as much as I did!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Road Trip

I'm going to back track from my last blog about Angkor Wat and tell you a little about the actual trip that got us there. It was a long drive. A really long drive. We took a taxi, which actually just means that I got to spend 5 hours in the middle of the backseat of a Cambodian guy's old Toyota Camry.  Sitting between 2 carseats in that little car for a long time is always an adventure. Especially with the honking he does the whole way.  Seriously, not more than a minute or two goes by without honking, and the kids sometimes go through phases of the trip when they mimic the horn so they start yelling "beeep, honk, uuunnnkkk" every time it blares.  That's really fun.  I love it.  

The bathroom break was awesome, too.  Below you'll see where we got to stop to let our youngest pee.  He could have gone in front of the car, but he wanted to pee by the water buffalo instead.  So his dear Dad obliged.  I protested but as usual, I'm pretty sure I'm invisible and no one heard anything I said.  You can see him below in the bottom left.  And our dear buffalo friend on the right.  If you look really close you'll see the teeny rope that is keeping him tied up.  And if you don't see it, well, that just shows you why I wasn't confident in it's ability to keep this wild animal away from my child.  

But he survived.  And that's good because it's not like we could do anything medically out in the middle of Cambodia so far from both the major cities - the one we left and the one we were going to. I guess men don't think about that because after he was so fortunate to survive the potty break they then decide to PET the wild animal!!!!  Oh. My. Gosh.  I was freaking out in the car.  Seriously. Just get me over the next 10,546 potholes so we can be at our hotel already and use a real toilet!  I can definitely hold it until then.  And since we are hitting these potholes at this speed I literally will HOLD IT.

And, as always, we eventually made it.  Great hotel!  They let us sit at a little welcome table while they checked us in and took the bags to the room.  Service is always exceptional in Cambodia!  Not sure what this welcome drink was but it tasted like pure sugar. Of course the kids loved it.

And, this is misleading because it was the next night, but hey, gotta put it in somewhere...  We climbed up a mountain to see the sunset.  It was a nice paved trail that wasn't too steep but our little Hulk man was starting to get sick to Stephen carried him the whole way and might not claim the path was so easy.  Our 5 year old did it himself, though.  I was proud.  Look at this view of Angkor Wat from the top!

And on the top we found this temple.  And the line you had to wait in to get to climb it to see the sunset.  Oops!  We didn't know there'd be a line!  I was worried, since I worry about everything, that we wouldn't make it to the top by sunset.  The signs said it closed at 5:30 and one thing about being this close to the equator is that when the sun starts setting it finishes fast.  It goes down so quickly! 

But we made it to the top and saw beautiful views like this...

And the kids were happy to just climb and play on what looked like the top of the world to them!

The water is the Tonle Sap lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.  I'll tell you more about it later, and I also wrote about it here.

So the sun was setting to our west and we looked to the east and were happy to see a full moon as well!  What a great night!

And since it was only like 6pm when it was all finished, we headed to Swensen's after for a treat!  Yep, they have Swensen's in Cambodia.  That and KFC (which some Cambodians think means Kampuchea Fried Chicken) are the only American fast food chains that have made it here as far as we can tell.  Swensen's only has ice cream, no food, but it's pretty yummy!  The kids had fun with the fondue dish we ordered to share. 

What a day that was!  A sunset over a view like that always puts everything back into perspective for me.

 He's got the whole world in His hands.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Angkor Wat

Since Angkor Wat is really the name that tourists use to refer to the whole temple complex around Siem Reap, it makes the most sense to start with photos from there.  It was also our first temple to visit.

Angkor Wat itself has become a national symbol of Cambodia.  It appears on its national flag and draws far more visitors – both national and international - than any other place in the country.  It is a source of great national pride and has helped the nation to have better relations (and funding) from other nations as they help to restore and maintain the temple.
 Here is a little tiny bit of history I learned on our tour.  You can do an internet search to find out a lot more.  It was built in the 12th century by a King whose name I have trouble pronouncing or spelling (or honestly, remembering). It was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to 3 of their gods, mainly to Vishnu and took 37 years to build.  During the rainy season, they floated the giant stones from the mountain some 60-80 km away by bamboo rafts and during the dry season they drilled holes in them like this (below) and tied them to elephants to carry in.

About 100 years after it was finished, the religion of the region changed to Buddhism and the temple became a Buddhist Wat which it is still used actively as today.  During the 20th century a lot of restoration was done and the vines and moss that had overtaken the walls was scrubbed off.  The acid used damaged many of the bas relief style carvings but many more are still clearly visible and beautiful.  Some tell the story of two kings who struggled for power.  Others tell other stories the guide told me but I can’t remember.  Oops.  Pretty pictures of the carvings though, right? 

The entryway is was once “protected” by a stone Naga – or seven headed cobra – that they believe was a deity in snake form that served to protect the temple. That's the railing you see below... the body of the snake.  Interesting.  Sure.

Here is the head, restored:

Hope I don’t come across a real seven headed cobra.  Or any cobra.  Ever.

And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about Angkor Wat.  Come visit us and we will definitely take you to see it!  Here are more photos:

To be honest... this was my least favorite one to photograph, though I loved it very much!  I can’t wait to show you more!