Monday, November 27, 2006


friday 24th
last night was my 1st ever Thanksgiving. So far as i could tell it was like any other western holiday. a bunch of people in a room eat and drinking and talking, with perhaps a fomral nod in the direction of the origin of the festivity. Our hosts were Christians and went to the trouble of explaining to the non-american guests (ie the majority) what Thanksgiving was about. The folks leaving europe to escape persecution, arriving on the east coast of the US with no food or idea of how to work the new foods in the new land. The native people offered help to the newcomers showing them the techniques that had been perfected and showing them the good land to work, and then how after the 1st harvest the newcomers ahd a big feast and were thankful to god for what they had been given. I'm sure they were very thankful indeed to their god, but i couldn't help but notice that no one mentioned thanking the native people who did all the work. hrm..
anyway, the thanksgiving do was alright, i tried to avoid too much conversation cos, well basically, i didn't know most of the peopel and didn't feel like i had the energy to plough on with small talk.
After everyone had filled their bellies with many kinds of food, a little meeting was held and from the discussion it seems that the Phnonh here are in pretty deep shit, the rice crops are pretty mucha complete failure this year and in 2 months or so the situation could be very serious. We arranged a meeting for next thursday and all the NGOs are goingto bring to the table the best idea they have and some sort of way to implementthem will be agreed on. hopefully.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

thurs 23rd (no time to spellchack- battery dying!!)

thurs 23rd
today we set off at 7:30 to putang to see an elephant that jack has been treating more or less every day for the past 2 weeks. We took with us some Malaria drugs as we had heard tale last night that a young Mahout had symptoms. On arrival it seemed that the elephant we had come to see was fine and needed no treatment, neither did any of the others. so we asked around about any mahouts with malaria, no one knew what we were talking about- it didn't help that jack and the people he was talking to were not speaking their 1st languages (the phnong have their own language- communication is in khmer) and jack didn't know the word for Malaria. eventually we go through. it turned out that while no one knew of a mahout with malaria, one guy we were talking to had a 4year old girl with a bad fever. we found out that he had gotten her some medicine off the market- it appeared to be pain killers and fake malarine. knowing that the father had been ripped off, and that the drugs we had were not good for a small child to take we offered to take her and her father to the hospital. The father said he had no money (art loi) but obviously we were not going to let that be a problem. so they both got in the truck, and at the same moment a yung mahout came past (on a bicycle) and HE was the kid who had the symptoms we're heard about. Jack gave him the medicine and told him when to take it -he took the 1st dose in front of us - and gave him a bottle of water to take the pills with.

Off we headed to the hospital, in the waiting room some guy piped up that treating a small child was a waste of time. I have words for people like him, i do not know any of them in Khmer - luckily. After seeing one doctor we were sent through the carpark to the kids clinic where we had to wait outside the waiting room as it was full. In the mean time a Septegenerian Phnong lady asked if I would be interested in marrying her daughter- i told her that I have no money and she should try Jack. In the mean time we tried to keep this tiny, wasted looking Phnong girl happy. she sat dead silent, it was pretty difficult trying to get her interested in anything me or jack might have to say - my limited khmer was waster as she only spoke phnong and the only phnong word i know is her name (Eerb) which i learnt today. After some time Me and Jack decided all we hasd was our facial featues. so we both called out her name at the same time and immediately I stuck my tongue out and jack did a sort of Pob-like face. We succeded in getting a reluctant and quickly hidden smile. ut it was deffinitely there at some point and i'd like to think that perhaps she wasn't completely terrifird by us.

Eventually the girl and her father got to see another doctor who wrote out a prescription for anti-biotics and child-malarine, and maybe something else, i've forgotten. but as soon as jack was spotted with them 50% was added on to the price, it went from 2000reil to 3000 instantly. Now, the father wasn't paying (neither was I come to think of it) so I wasn't concerned about him being ripped off (or jack), and 1000reil is about 12.5p so it's really nothing. But the thought of someone lining their pocket and using a 4year old tribe girl with malaria as the bribe was simply too much for me. I know that everyone in the world everyone is ripping each other off, and i know that cambodia is rife with corruption. but to see it happen there and then made me fucking angry. there is nothing i can think that i could have done, and jack said that if anyoone kicked up a fuss then next time the price would go up- or perhaps treatment may even be refused. I had a little walk around the car park to try and calm down as at that point I was definitely the angriest and most frustrated I have been in this country yet. I felt like walking in to the surgery and pointing out one way or another that I am probably a foot taller than anyone in the building. But I know that that is not the right course of action, violence is a terrible thing, and in the long run would just make things worse for any sick Phnong. and i could get shot. I suppose that's another thing about being in a poor country- there's nothing to turn around and smash to pieces when your wound up like that. so i just paced around til they came out with the new medicine.

after that we sent them home on a moto and went to get our breakfast.

weds 22nd (no spellcheck)

WEDS 22nd
for the past couple of days it has rained pretty heavily for a few hours each afternoon. i say heavily and i mean leaking roofs and rivers in the streets. i didn't change clothes for 3 days cos i could see no point it wrecking some people got stranded on the road back from calsay ma (sp??) a town in the north which means our trip to the very same town has been postponed. even though it is particularly sunny today the road is likely to be sludge.
because of one thing and another it looks like our jaunt to phnom penh is going to be brought forward a week or so. this is pretty much all good. obviously if we could get all of our plans completed forst that would be great, but we can't. so it boils down to the fact that i am going to check out phnom penh in a slightly less hectic and confused state. it also means that when i do my border run for a new business visa i MAY be staying over in thailand for a day or so to check out the elephant camp that inspired jack to start ELIE. Also, while in Phnom Penh i aim to stock up on 2nd hand books.
for no other reason than i am feeling the burden i feel like adding that the noodle soupl at Chom Nor Tmei restaurant, Senmonorom is a full-on onslaught of carbohydrates, so, maybe if yr about to run a marathon you should check them out the night before.
Oh, and last I heaerd we were invited to a Thankgiving affair tomorrow at the abode of some Christian Missionary types. ODD. apparently it's a pot-luck and we were gonna show u
p with out very own AMERICAN! but due to the change in weather conditions he has just set of north on a moto, which will apparently be easier than in a truck. I suppose our addition to the pot-luck dinner (bearing in mind we don't have a kitchen at the moment and hence cannot possibly provide food) is going to have to be our condescending air and ghastly arrogance- they are yanks after all.


we were watching CNN in a cafe and they mentioned something about Hajj and showed a shot of all the pilgrims around the thingy in Mecca. I said it'd be incredible to be in mecca at this time of year, to be surrounded by so many people so into what they believe.
and jack said "yea, and slaughtering an incredible number of goats"
to which i immediately replied "that's no different to Christmas in Britain, 10's millions of turkeys"
he shut up then. i don't even know if there is any slaughter that goes on- i can't pretend I know anything about Hajj at all.
But, being born and raised in a mostly Christian country i do know a liittle about common practise in christian festivals- in the Uk at least. christmas is a time of mass ritual slaughter in the uk, though the important part is the consumption of the flesh rather than the act of slaughter. it amounts to the same to any non-human animal who is unlucky enough to take part in such an activity.

The rituals continue in Western birthday traditions as well, how many parties have I been to where different varities of flesh are laid out in celebration of someone's time on this planet?
This is not a dig at meat-eating in general, i'm just trying to point out that through secular and religious celebrations in the west we do engage in ritual slaughter, even though most of us label it barbaric when it's not for OUR religious ceremony, or OUR secular ceremony..

Monday, November 20, 2006

i am white dontvha know

hTurns out I got TRES DRUNK the night before the wedding. Due to a confused communiqué, I and a comrade were under the impression that we were stranded for a good 4 hours. To relieve the boredom we purchased a bottle of Mekhong (sic), which is a sort of rice whisky. No sooner had we poured our first glass each than people we weren't expecting showed up. So we got a couple more bottles. Suffice to say we saw the end of 7 bottles of this stuff and all woke up dead the next day.
Even so I was made to MAN UP and go along to this wedding. We as ELIE comprised the total of the token Barang at the wedding- highly honoured were they to have a table of white folk. We were assigned high ranking family members and plied with drink and a succession of foodstuffs. Jack and I were even made a fuss of as it was known that neither of us partake of the flesh and hence a platter of fruit and a plate of cashews each. Rumour has it that in an attempt to whiz up some animal-free food the kitchen was SET ON FIRE and hence we ate a raw meal. This is just as well because the Khmer have a traditional form of dancing that the Barang were BEGGED to join in with. It went something like this:

Groom: Hello. I am happy you came to my wedding. You must dance! Learn from me!
Me: umm... er...
Groom Grabs my arm.
Me: um... okay then, i'll just copy you.

There was a table in the middle of the dance floor, covered with a red table cloth and a vase of flowers. Two girls of about 17/18 were moving anti-clockwise around the table doing some sort of footwork and complex hand movements.

As soon as a couple of white guys were up at the table about a dozen Khmer shot up to join in and hang out with the Barang. Everyone wanted us to copy them and they all seemed to want to copy any of our "western" dance moves i.e. poor imitations of their own. Normally I'd find being so highly regarded painfully embarrassing and faintly annoying that something as stupid as race should make me important. But I'm glad that everyone was too excited about dancing with Barang at a wedding to care that I moved around that table like a crippled tuna fish suffering an epileptic fit. Lots of smiles and laughing got the token white men through what could have been a mortifying ordeal.

Ooh! This reminds me, every guest gets a present! AWESOME! We all got a key ring with a plastic fruit on. I got some sort of raspberry type thing.

There are too many things I could say about the wedding for me to type here, but several demand a quick mention: the grooms pink silk dinner jacket; they innumerable change of costumes for the newlyweds; the brides gold-coloured genie shoes; the TINY guy who learnt to drive in one afternoon and used to drive troops to fight the Khmer Rouge; older people covering their mouths when the speak French; the instantly replenished stocks of drink; the unfathomable square dance/Macarena song that was played about 5 times; the fact that we got invited to a 2nd wedding on the strength of being Barang; the fact that the only remote inkling of disapproval of us complete strangers was when someone wanted to 'cheers' my glass and realised it had Fanta in it; the special sign language which means you are (un)willing to down your drink and can show extra respect to your drinking partner(s); all the guests turning up on Motos...


Wednesday 15th

Today I saw 8 elephants. Elephants are big. Boy elephants are scarier than girl elephants.

I’ve had enough of reading about elephants for one afternoon. Not least of all because I am finding it hard to concentrate due to the VERY LOUD Khmer music coming from the wedding next door. It is unnecessarily loud and distorted. A minute ago someone seemed to be checking a microphone- interesting to hear him say “hello", the international mic-checking codeword apparently.
We at ELIE have all been invited to the wedding tomorrow- these affairs last for 3 days- so I am expecting an Uber headache from actually being in the same room as this offensively loud (through 2 walls) music. I hear it's free booze though so I might be able to drown out the sound with rice wine. I'm told that guests are expected not to bring a gift (few!) but we ARE expected to PAY $20! I don't remember ever buying a wedding gift due to my utter tightness, but it's hard to jump a queue at a wedding when there's a tax on the door. $20 is about a week’s wages out here, so they're not playing games. I have no idea what fifteen dollars worth of rice wine looks like but I am gonna have bash at getting value for money.
I'm afraid that the Khmer happy couple will have to make to with a pretty un-swanky Barang showing up at on their magical day (but then so has any couple who've invited me to their wedding). Though I reckon that for $20 I should be able to show up in an inflatable sumo-wrestler outfit should the fancy take me. As it happens I am going to leave the petulance in my guesthouse and I am even going to leave my beard there too. I bought a razor the other day ("super shave fancy panda- I kid you not!) And I reckon a wedding is as good occasion as any to break it out.

Coming soon: the aftermath of a Khmer wedding: earache, headache, bellyache, shaving cuts and memory lapses. Probably.

DEAD LONG arrival business

I’m writing this in the office, I’m going to upload it later; tomorrow maybe (today is Monday).

So I’ve been in mondulkiri for a week now. People who've been in Cambodia for months or traveling for a while all seem to ask me what I notice, or miss or what seems weird. At the moment everything seems to make sense, I reckon this could be partly because of the way I got here: from Dudley to Heathrow- Heathrow to Bangkok where I decided to go in to the city rather that loiter at the airport- then Bangkok to Phnom Penh where I stayed for the night (1st sleep for 2 days) and then up early to travel 8 hours north to mondulkiri, check into my guest house, eat, then sleep.

I saw so many places and people... i think 2 long car journeys, 3 aeroplanes, a couple of buses, several encounters with customs, using 3 currencies and being awake for 2 days straight just led to information overload which meant that nothing seemed to stand out as being odd. E.g. why should a dirt runway in a town with no streetlights strike me as peculiar when just a few hours back i was sitting in bangkok thinking about the tourist info i was being shown about jordan on my plane when i'm heading to cambodia?

Anyway, when I arrived in Phnom Penh at about 9 am the sky was clear, the sun was bright and it was dry and hot (Bangkok seemed comparatively cool) and after dealing with the slightly mardy immigration (but we expect that, right?) I got outside the dollhouse-esque airport to find -with some relief- jack was waiting for me. we got in his truck (sans seatbelts) and did what people do in Phnom Penh- horns beeped, motos squeezed through spaces that were too small for the single moto next to them.. Baptism of fire. Then on to the guesthouse which was partly flooded so we had to wade through a "moat" to gain entry, but it was nice inside and there really was a fantastic view of the lake.

after lunch we went to a gathering on someone’s rooftop which overlooked the river- I arrived in the middle of the water festival so the street below us was heaving with people, mostly locals I assume but the rural folks were noticeable by the way they literally clung to each other in the crowds that they clearly were not used to-I could see virtual conga lines of what must've been extended families or groups of coworkers snaking through the crowd. So yea, we had a great spot to watch the boat races (no one could figure out who was racing who, nor were we able to identify any winners) and the huge boats covered in lights, and later on the fireworks. After all this we went for a drink at the peculiarly named Magic Sponge, a western owned bar that all western people in Phnom Penh seem to know, and then I went in the early hours of Monday morning to bed for the 1st time since Friday morning. Apart from the guesthouse’s cat scaring the shit out of me it was a good sleep.

My 1st experience of a Phnong village was after a 9 hour drive across the country, I’m sure I was still suffering jet lag. The 1st thing that jumped out at me was a dog's head on a stick. I've heard that Phnong eat dog (though I have not seen any confirmation) and i understand that they use them to hunt. Yet I cannot fathom why they would put a dog's head on a stick on the edge of the village- not just a dog's head though, I mean, I don't understand why they would put any animal's head there. But the fact remains that there was only a dog's head on a stick, no pig, cow, chicken etc.
I went back to the village this morning (9 days later) and it's still there which I am also confused by, it hasn't been scavenged, washed away, decomposed or taken over by maggots. An enchanted decapitation perhaps?

More to come