## Friday, May 11, 2007

### MAY DAY (photos!)

(this is totally unedited. spellceck it yrself kids. also the photos aren't integrated cos i'm not one of those blokes wot makes newspapers look nice and that... sorry)

As it was May Day and most of us had the day off, we decided to attempt to have some non-pecuniary fun. The idea we had come up with was a bike ride. As there is not really anywhere at a decent distance to ride too (within reason for 3 untrained cyclists) we had to find something to do in Phnom Penh. Ariella mentioned a book of Architecture of Phnom Penh and it was decided that we would find a few of the places for a close up look.

When the day arrived we were greeted with a decent belt of rain, so it was decided to postpone for a couple of hours. Instead of setting off at 9 as planned, w\it was nearly midday by the time we set off (I myself armed with a peanut butter & banana baguette, 2 bottles of water, and some sunscreen). The architecture book was pretty useless in that it had NO maps to show where the buildings were in the city. And the place picked out by Ariella- some sort of church- didn't even have a street number listed. Somehow we got the idea into our heads that it was down by the Tonle Bassac (the Bassac River meets the Tonle Sap near the Quay in Phnom Penh, Then they both run into the Mekong- I think). On the way we decided to stop to look at anything interesting along the way. The 1st sight of interest was the National Archives and Bibliotheque, not being able to read Khmer or French I couldn't figure out the passage on the wall, all I remember is that it ended with 'Toujour's.'' I was mildly amused by what appeared to be a coat of arms-style motif on the national archive which featured Buddha- definitely a touch of East meets West going on there.

We continued on, down Riverside and headed for the Buddhist institute as we had heard that this architecturally splendoured church was just past it. When we got to the rather opulent Buddhist centre we noticed the Khmer Kite museum and went into the compound for a nose around. The place looked pretty much abandoned, there was a stage with an old set on it, a plaster of Paris copy of a sculpture and even though there were a couple of cars parked inside there was no sign of life. We found a replica of Angkor Watt and I had my photo taken in what was meant to be a King Kong-esque attack pose. (PHOTO) We continued on and found the room with the kites (locked by bicycle locks) and in the window a poster advertising an event from 2004/5 (can't quite remember but a couple of years ago anyway). We walked around looking for some easy way to enter but couldn't find any. Inside there was just bits of paper on the floor, the fountain was not functioning but still filled with water and a layer of sediment on the bottom.

We left the Kite museum and continued to search for the church. We rode up the side of the Buddhist institute, the magnificence of which was in direct contrast with the shanty town that seems to run long the side of it. We rode along some more til we saw a sign saying it was the institute of fine arts. We entered and found an extremely run down coach park with half a dozen or so we- and probably functioning tour buses. We continued around the building and quickly came to realise that it was in a serious state of disrepair. We found an entrance and by it a man lying in a hammock- we asked him if we could enter and he said yes. There were a few more people hanging around but no one really took any notice.

Once inside we found puppets from the traditional shadow theatre, they must have been for sale at some point as some of them still had prices on ($120,$180), we also saw some stretched and dried animal skins just lying around- The smell could be detected even over the general hum of detritus and rat piss. This building once more featured an indoor water feature. all kinds of rubbish was floating in it and it appeared to be stocked with catfish- I've no idea how long they could have been there nor how long they are likely to survive in that state.

We made our way up to different floors choosing different paths- using the back stage area or different 'public access' flights of stairs.. The vast majority of the way was hampered by collections of building matter that had one way or another become dislodged and impeded our progress. Some of the stairwells were scary stuff as the banisters were long gone, and when treading with crushed brick and rat shit underfoot it is easy to imagine how one might find themselves loosing their footing and impaling themselves on a nice rusty piss streaked spike several storeys below.

At one point we stopped to admire some Pornography that had been sketched onto the wall. (Photo) and in a number of other places some Khmer had been written on the wall. In one place some poor English accompanied by a rough sketch seemed to be implying something about the Queen of Cambodia. Her tits were out.

Our exploring was cut short when 2 dogs made it quite clear that they were not happy for us to be there, they followed us down some stairs and we had time to open a couple of boxes labeled 'Royal Cambodian Ballet'' (I've no Idea why this was in English as opposed to Khmer of French- but that's how I remember it.. perhaps it actually read 'Royale ballet du Cambodge'' I'll have to check the photos) and in one of them found some sort of papier mache Badger/Bear head. I was intimidated by the dogs that now numbered 3 and we'd been there for a while so we decided to have lunch sitting outside under cover of shade.

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