A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

Cambodia to Laos...to Cambodia...to Laos....ARGH!

Never trust border guards.

overcast 27 °C

When we arrived in Kratie we booked seats on a bus from there to Nakasang in Laos. The bus was meant to leave at 12 the next day, great we thought, its 4 hours and we’ll be on Don Det for sunset. The next day came and the bus didn’t. In fact it didn’t come for two hours! When a bus did arrive, it wasn’t the one we’d been booked on, but another which was headed all the way to Vientiane. Fortunately this did mean it went past where we wanted to go so we got on board and headed to our.....beds! A sleeper bus in Cambodia, well there’s a first time for everything, though it would be a long way to fall from the top bunk!
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The main worry over the bus being late was whether we would be able to get a visa at the Laos border. We’d read a few blogs which had hinted the visa on arrival service only ran normal office hours (and god knows what they’d be in sleepy Laos!) so at the very latest we’d want to arrive at the border was 5pm. We’d opted to get a visa on the border rather than in advance because it was $55 from Siem Reap or anywhere from $20 to $35 on the day. A gamble, but a worthy one, we hoped.

So we set off in that hope but weren’t too impressed when the bus we’d literally just got on, stopped so that some people could use and ATM, and we were even less impressed when it stopped 5 minutes outside Kratie so the drivers could eat their lunch! Anyway, we were now 2 ½ hours late and 5pm didn’’t seem so far away. After a few hours of napping we woke up to find the bus had dropped even further behind schedule for some reason making our hopes seem desperate. At 5:30pm the bus slowed, and slowed and stopped in the middle of nowhere next to a field. People got off for the usual fag break but the truth seemed to come out when a random moto drew up with a big barrel of something golden. We’d run out of petrol! Once that was filled lo and behold the bus wouldn’t start which meant the people outside had to push the double decker down the road to jump start it! With a big cheer it appeared to have worked but it was now nearly 6 and was getting darker by the minute.

10kms and half an hour later we arrived at the Cambodian border to find.....noone there! We all stood around clueless until from the distance a few motos and a suitcase carrying man in uniform arrived. We handed them our passports and the customary $1 for the Laos immigration retirement fund and headed down the dark road to the Laos side of the border. By this point we were pretty convinced it was going to cost an arm and a leg to get across, with some people banding about figures of $70 or more! Amazingly when we got there a very friendly border guard greeted us and quoted “just” $36! PHEW! All our fears of having to spend the night on the road were gone. We handed him our visa papers and passports and went to wait at the next window......

“John?!” came the call from the window.
“Yes?”
“No stamp.”
“Sorry?”
“No Cambodia stamp”
“You what?”
“No Cambodia exit stamp, go back and get one and we give you Laos entry stamp.”
“Errrrrrrrrrrrrr”
So John ran back down the road, where he couldn’t see his feet for the darkness, to the Cambodian border, where of course they’d all gone home. He then ran back panicked and spoke to the bus drivers who didn’t speak the best of English. They told him they didn’t have their number to call. Panic x 10. The drivers then spoke to Laos immigration who suggested he leave his passport there, go to nagasang for the night and come and get it in the morning. Well Nagasang was only 40 minutes away but that didn’t seem like the best idea. The discussions continued.....
Then a moto appeared and John was told to get on board. He did and headed off into the night back towards Cambodia......
The driver of the moto was one of the staff from the bus, but even in the dark he drove like he was in the motogp. Not the most reassuring position to be in for only my fourth moto ride! We stopped at the first house on the nearly deserted road and the driver explained the situation. Of course the locals didn’t have a clue but motioned us towards a bungalow a way down the road. Reluctantly the driver got me back onboard and we headed off into the night. Next stop was a military barracks where a rather rotuned and cantankerous officer was summoned from his bed (without a shirt on I might add.) (Moobs I might further add.) He seemed fairly miffed but sent us even further down the road. As we walked back to the moto I realised the driver had been keeping my passport in the basket on the front of the moto, marginally less safe than my pocket, so I rescused it. As I got onto the moto the other officer turned off the generator for their house and we were plunged into almost complete darkeness and then the moto wouldn’t start.....
Here we go I thought! Middle of nowhere, soldiers, half a Laos visa, half left Cambodia, eugh, stressful. Fortunately it turned out the driver had just forgotten to turn the key on the moto, maybe I wasn’t the only stressed one. Next stop was a house. With dogs. Who barked. Alot. This was a mistake and actually we wanted the building across the street. Thankfully the dogs didn’t bite! This building was the immigration office and more semi uniformed men emerged to fix my exit stamp. In the end it was so simple to fix. A simple stamp and date. And this time it didn’t even cost me a dollar! How nice of them.....
Back onto the moto to head back to the bus which was hopefully still waiting for us. The driver seemed to go even quicker this time and I really thought we were going to fall off. As you’re reading this now you can see that I didn’t and the bus was indeed waiting. Hurrah! All it took was another $2 to pay for the moto (which incidently belonged to a random Laos 12 yr old who had happened to be passing) and I was able to reboard the bus, visa in hand, legally exited Cambodia, relieved and ready to be on an island somewhere peaceful.

So the bus set off again (hopefully for the last time!) and it wasn’t long before we were told to get off because we’d finally arrived at Nakasang, where a boat would take us to Don Det. Noone really explained how this would all work though so we were pretty much dumped by the side of the road, all 20 of us, in the dark. Nice. Before too long a man appeared from somewhere and told us to get into his truck for a ride to the water. It would cost $3 rather than $2, due to the late hour (7:30pm), but would include our boat to the island. Now the truck did have seats but after perhaps 5 of us had got on with our bags we soon realised all 20 of us were not going to fit....comfortably. With 5 on the roof and a big squash we did all fit and in 15 minutes we were at the jetty. A similar situation transpired with the boat (though no one on the roof this time) and I have no idea how we all managed to fit in the end! Once again we set off into the night, on water this time, and headed for the dim lights in the distance which we hoped were Don Det. We landed on the shore happy to have arrived. We weren’t picky about where we stayed for the night and found the first place we could which didn’t have a queue. 30,000Kip a night did us just fine, even if it did mean cold showers, no sink and a squat toilet, but we were here! 4 hours later than we should have been but legal and a little wiser!

Posted by Susiep539 19:15 Archived in Cambodia Tagged laos cambodia_laos_border laos_visa don_det Comments (0)

To Kratie!

Buses shouldn't break down!

overcast 27 °C

So, we woke up stupidly early, at 4am, in order to be ready to be picked up for our 5:30am bus to Kratie, in the Northeast of Cambodia. By 5:25 we were beginning to worry slightly, so we woke up the poor security guard, who phoned the bus company.. They sent someone over in a tuk-tuk to pick us up, and as we got to town, we flagged the bus down in the middle of the street, and transferred ourselves over to it. The journey promised to our first excessive bus journey, of 8 hours, so we settled down. Luckily the bus wasn’t too full, so we had two seats each, and after watching the sunrise, we settled down to sleep. However, peaceful slumber was not to be; as the bus thundered down the road, we were woken by an almighty crash, as one of the tyres burst! We fell asleep again as the bus got the tyre mended, and woke up an hour later as the bus set off again. For the next 4 hours, John mostly slept, whilst Susie watched interesting things out of the window, such as people harvesting rice using oxen, cows being driven to market, lots of ladies riding along on top of a truck full of bricks, various sculpture makers, a large group of men in a cafe intently watching a WWF wrestling match, and a man on moto with a trailer with two massive jars on, each with a small child in it!
We suddenly stopped at 11am, and were told to change buses. This time we were lucky enough to have aircon, but there were less seats, so poor Susie had to deal with John lolling all over her as he slept! Another looooong 4 and a half hours later, we arrived in Kratie at 3pm, 9 and a half hours after we’d left Siem Reap. Hurray!

We got settled into Yon Hong guesthouse, into a $5 a night room with a private bathroom, and then wandered into Kratie and bought our bus tickets to take us to Laos tomorrow. Kratie is nice, very untouristy really, but really quite small. We then got a tuk-tuk out to see the Irrawaddy dolphins – the main reason we’d chosen here as our stop off point. The tuk-tuk ride out, 20km through lots of villages, was very pretty, and as ever, we enjoyed all the kids getting excited at waving to us! We got to Kampi, where the dolphins are, paid our $9 conservation and boat fee, and set off, onto the beautiful Mekong river. It was so calm and picturesque, as we went across. We saw really quite a few dolphins, about 7 different ones we think which, when there are now only about 80 in the whole Mekong, isn’t bad really! Some of them were fairly close to the boat, but they’re not as inquisitive or playful as other dolphins, so we didn’t manage to get any good pictures unfortunately.
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Susie on the boat

On the way back, the sun started to set, and it was just beautiful. The whole sky was pink and orange, and it was all reflected in the river. Just perfect! It lasted us most of the tuk-tuk ride back, before night fell and the hundreds of bugs started. Yuck! When we got back, we got some fried noodles where we’re staying, and fell into bed.

Posted by Susiep539 19:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged bus siem_reap kratie irrawaddy_dolphins Comments (0)

Goodbye Siem Reap :(

sunny 27 °C

Goodbye to Siem Reap!
Our last week at school went well, and we both really felt like we’d got in the swing of it. The change of topic, from the ridiculous religion one to a (slightly) more sensible one of ‘Past and Future’ helped, as we both felt we were teaching the kids things that they’d actually find useful! John completely blew his kids minds by using a piece of string to show the history of the universe, whilst Susie stuck to the slightly more straightforward ‘Tomorrow is...’, ‘Yesterday was...’, etc!
Our last lessons, on arts and crafts Thursday, were both lovely. Susie’s class finished making octopus mobiles, that look really great hanging up the classroom (even if they are completely unrelated to the topics in hand, and only happened because we studied shapes, and octopus is like octagon!). John’s class made birthday cards for Grace House, as the school celebrated its 2 year anniversary on our last day. The cards are so sweet, and some of the things that the kids wrote about the school make you want to cry!
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One of Johns cards
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Some of Susie's octopuses

Then Friday was birthday party day! It was a really nice thing to end on. The party started with an hour of free choice – there were computers, arts and crafts, football, board games, and Khmer party games on offer, and the kids just wandered round doing what they wanted to. Susie spent her time making origami and bracelets in the arts and crafts room, whilst John split his time between computers, football and Khmer games.
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Making bracelets
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John's football crew

It was then break time, where the kids all got a snack of an orange, a cake/bag of crisps, and a juice drink. After they’d eaten we all joined together where they were given a sparkler each, since the day coincided with Bonfire Night. Not a good idea as it turned out, since none of the kids knew what to do with sparklers, and a few of them got burnt. Oops! There was then a little treasure hunt, where all the kids got a little something, like a bouncy ball or a hair clip. There was then about 30minutes of mad Khmer dancing, for which it is apparently very important to have a ROUND table WITH FLOWERS. Then some songs you dance round the table, and some you dance next to it! Obviously we joined in, John more enthusiastically it has to be said, but we really came into our own during the macerena, being the only two people there who knew it perfectly!!
We then said our goodbyes to all the kids as they went home. It was really sad, but it’s good to know that we’ll be back to say hello in a few weeks, and we both like the volunteers who are teaching our classes for the next 8 weeks, so we feel like we’ve left them in safe hands. The kids were really sweet with their goodbyes, with all of them who spoke enough English telling us to come back soon, and with lots of them giving us drawings they’d done and bracelets they’d made. I don’t think either of us are going to forget the kids at Grace House in a hurry, and we definitely want to keep helping them out somehow, as and when we can. We’ve just got to work out how!
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All the kids bundle into a photo!

Then on Friday evening, we went out, which we’ve already written about.

On Saturday we had a really nice last day with the volunteers that we’ve gotten to know best. We went for breakfast with Jenny, Flic, Natasha and Tamara, to Soria Moria, which is our favourite ‘treat yourself’ breakfast place. For just $3, you get all you can eat of various cooked breakfast bits, ranging from pancakes to poached eggs to noodles, as well as fruit and drinks. Yum! We stuffed ourselves, which helped ward off the hangover, and then went back and tackled the mountain of packing we had to do.

After a failed attempt (we actually just watched ‘Australia’!), we went swimming, which again we’ve already written about. Then during swimming, we all realised that although we had no right to be hungry, we actually all wanted a burger! First we had to go back and skype to our mothers, since we didn’t know when we’d be able to again, and then we met Natasha and Flic at Soria Moria once more for lunch. It was very yummy, and the four of us had a really nice chat over our burgers! Very full, we went back and packed more successfully, before heading out to Green Cafe for our last dinner. We were meeting all the staff from school for the adults birthday celebration, which was really nice. We tried a variety of different dishes, but we were both too full to do them the justice they deserved! We did both try frog though! After goodbyes to the staff, we went to meet Flic and Natasha for some goodbye drinks. We also bought some popcorn from Angkor Famous for our bus journey the day after, and said a fond farewell to Tombraider, our favourite tuk-tuk driver! When the four of us got back (with a pancake stop for Susie and Natasha, and an ice-cream stop for Flic that ended with Susie and Natasha losing John and Flic and everyone being confused), we bundled into our room, swapped photos and took some more stupid ones!
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"Into the Pride" - Natasha's favourite show!

We’re going to miss Flic and Natasha, all the kids, and everyone else at Globalteer and Grace House, but we’re excited to be setting out on new adventures!

Posted by Susiep539 19:09 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap globalteer grace_house soria_moria Comments (0)

Other things in Siem Reap

We've told you about our trip to Battambang, and our explorations around the temples, but we've done a few other bits and pieces too, that we've not got round to blogging about, so here's a quick(ish) summary.

Pchum Ben
We've mentioned a few times that it was Pchum Ben festival the second week we were here, but we've not told you very much about it. Pchum Ben is supposedly a Buddhist festival, but they only celebrate it in Cambodia (although most people here won't believe you if you tell them that!) and it's actually an animistic festival, because it's all to do with ancestral ghosts. It's really a big deal here, and is the largest Cambodian religious festival. The basic idea is that during the 15 waning days of the last lunar month, you have to go at least once to feed the ghosts at the pagoda so that they don't give you bad luck for the next month. However, the ghosts only come out between 4-5 am, so you have to go to the pagoda then. You make little balls of sticky rice, and take them along with fruit. You then sit and listen to monks chanting for about 45mins, which I guess is their version of a service, then you walk round the Pagoda three times, throwing the rice balls onto mats that are set out all round the Pagoda. It was really eerie, because the only light was from candles. It was a great experience! We've biked and walked round the town quite a bit too, so we've got our bearings and everything.

Cooking course
We splashed out on our fourth weekend in Siem Reap, and did a cookery course at Temple Bar, a bar/restaurant in Pub Street in the centre of Siem Reap. Peta and Flic, two Australian volunteers, came with us, and we all made a selection of tasty things. It was $10, but such good value! We got a free t-shirt, and cooked an absolutely massive three course meal, which we could pick. Susie made fried spring rolls, our favourite Khmer Amok, and a strange banana and tapioca pudding. John made mango salad, Cambodian curry and the same pudding with pumpkin in it. We had great fun making everything – the Cambodian staff were really helpful, and made it all really straightforward for us – with their instruction even John managed to roll a spring roll! We spent about 90mins-2hrs preparing and cooking all our dishes (they do the washing up for you :)).
Then we ate! None of us who went were convinced by the desserts – Cambodia isn’t a pudding type place really – but the rest of the food was yummy yummy yummy! There was also A LOT of it! Between the two of us, we ate John’s starter, about half of his main, and 1 spring roll each, and then we were stuffed! After trying them, we left most of the puddings, but took the rest home to feed us happily for two more meals! We’d definitely recommend the course to anyone.
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Nails
Now everyone reading this probably knows that I’m (Susie) not really a ‘getting my nails done’ kinda girl, but the fact that it’s really dusty everywhere so our toes are a horrible colour, and we’re wearing flip-flops all the time made me want to get them done. I went to a little place near school one lunchtime. The two girls in there, who were about our age, are the sweetest things, and were having a chilled out nap on the floor when I got there! They soon woke up, and lept into action! Now, I had only planned to get them painted a plain colour, but they thrust a pile of intricate designs at me, all priced at 2000riel – 50c/30p! I picked a blue flowery one, and then some over-excitement on the girls part, and a severe language barrier later, I ended up with four flowery toes on each foot, one snowman and one rabbit with a balloon! They’re amazing though, and they’d be at least 10times the price anywhere else, even in Siem Reap. Everyone else was so impressed that Peta, Jenny, Flic and Natasha, 4 other volunteers, all went to get theirs done too! On the final trip, we persuaded John to get his done, much to the amusement of the girl there. She gave him a good little pedicure, and he now has a rabbit and some flowers on each toenail!!
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Susie's toes
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John's toes

Swimming
Despite saying we’d go swimming a lot, we only actually went twice. The first time we went to a tiny little pool, but it didn’t cost us anything and there were lots of fun toys to play with! The second time was on our last day, and we went to the Prince D’Angkor, a ridiculously posh hotel! Room rates for a double, we noticed, ranged upwards from $240!!! Swimming was a rather more reasonable, although still expensive, $5, and it was lovely. Flic and Natasha came too(they’re Australian and American respectively, both 18 and the four of us have become good friends), and we had great fun taking photos, messing about in the water and trying to sunbathe, although the clouds kept preventing that one!
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Susie, Flic and Natasha

Trip round near school
On one of our last days at school, we went with Jenny on a little explore around the area. We first went to visit the local pagoda and Angkor era temple, which is where a lot of our students go for religious events. The pagoda was funny – it’s got a monastery next to it, so there were a lot of monks around. However, being a monk in Cambodia isn’t quite as religious as it would be in the Western world. All men are meant to be a monk for at least a day during their lives, and so there are a lot of men/boys who are monks at the weekend, or for the odd week or whatever. When we went they were all just chilling out, but apparently when Jenny had gone a couple of weeks earlier, they’d all been watching a slightly racy film!! The Angkor temple was pretty, as they all are, but was nice and quiet, except for a couple of girls doing their homework!
We didn’t see many of the kids from school – some biked past and said hello, but that was it really. Susie did see one of the loveliest girls from her afternoon class though, and went to have a little look round her house. It was good to see where she lived, but sad to see how poor it obviously was.
We then biked around to Treik village, which is definitely not spelt right, and is where some of the kids from school live. The area is just beautiful, with rice paddies as far as you can see, just broken up by palm trees and the odd lotus pond. So so pretty. We wished we’d done more bike rides around, because it gave us a lovely feel of how the kids live, as well as showing us some of the unspoilt Cambodian countryside.
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Nights Out
We’ve been on two proper nights out since we’ve been in Siem Reap. The first was after we’d done the cooking course. We went out to celebrate with Peta, who had just had some good news. We first went upmarket, to the posh garden of the Foreign Correspondents Club, where we had a cocktail, before heading to our standard Angkor Famous for dinner and some more drinks. We had food, and then Peta and Jenny decided they’d go home, since as they’re both in their 60s, they thought a big night out wasn’t quite for them! I think they were both a little tempted though! Us two, Natasha and Flic carried on, had a tequila shot, shared a pitcher of vodka and sprite, then went onto ‘Angkor What?’, the main tourist drinking spot in Siem Reap. We shared two ‘buckets’ of goodness knows what, had some great fun taking ridiculous photos and laughing at Flic going through a very rapid stage of sober, drunk, really happy, dancing, very tired, within the space of 10 minutes! Susie took her home, and when she got back we had a good dancing session, before dying of tiredness at about 12:30 and heading home. We had a great time, but felt a little too touristy, so we went more locals for our second night out!
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This was on our last weekend, and we’d invited Matt, a 19 year old (in Khmer years, or 17 in Western years!), who is working for Globalteer for 6 weeks, and who has a lot of love for John! He calls him his ‘number two James Bond’ and is really quite adorable about it!
We started at our favourite, Ankor Famous, to see shouty lady, get dinner and to line our stomachs with some free popcorn! It wasn’t long before Natasha got a phone call from “number one James Bond” asking where we were. John told him we were in the alley, to which he replied, where?! Now this would all be well and good if A. He wasn’t a local. B. Didn’t do the town tours for new volunteers and C. Hadn’t shown the girls where it was originally, just a few weeks before! Anyway after a few too many directions he got the idea. He also told John he was drunk already, good start!
He found us after not too long and was certainly on something. We don’t thnk we’ve ever heard someone talk that fast, for so long, about so little! He was crazy, but hilarious. He told us he can’t add us on facebook because he’s too rude on there, he wrote wanker! Oh noes! He also told us he wanted to take us to a Khmer club which we were all up for but it was only 8pm, so perhaps not yet.
Soon we headed off to get dollar cocktails at a place the girls had found not too long ago. Matt came with us and also invited two of his “best” friends from uni. They met us there and it turns out he’d only known one of them a week :/ No matter, he had a car and after a time (and Matt’s insistence) we were driven to this Khmer club.
The club could have easily been in England, it had a really nice garden area and rooftop bar where Matt ordered us fried corn, YUM, chilli clams YUM YUM and something else which was dubious...
Anyway, it all seemed to agree with our stomachs well enough and it wasn’t long before we were dancing to.....the Macarena! Now this night out was the same day we’d had our party at school so it was the third time we’d busted a groove in 12 hours! That song really does get everywhere! Fortunately the rest of the music was much better and we had a really good time.
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Posted by Susiep539 18:44 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap globalteer temple_bar khmer_amok Comments (0)

The Life of Grace House children

sunny 30 °C

Since we've now been at school for 5 weeks, we thought it was about time that we told you a bit more about it, and about the children we're teaching.

All the children come from 2 villages around the school, called Kor Krahn and Trithick (they're probably not spelled right but you get the idea!). The villages are very poor generally, and the children come from a mix of income levels of home within the villages. Both of us have been on house visits this week, to two very different homes. John went first, to the home of a orphan teenager who the school are trying to enroll in their new electricians course, but isn't coming. His home was basically a bamboo box on stilts - it had holes in the walls and floor and very few posessions at all, other than a bamboo mat to sleep on, a table covered in rubbish (at present he's working as a rubbish collector) and very little else. The land isn't his, and the landlord lets him live their rent free, but in theory he could be turned out at any time. This is about as poor as families get in this area, but from all accounts there are quite a few who are at this sort of level. In a lot of cases, the problem is magnified by large families, and apparently alcoholism and gambling, which are supposedly rife among some of the poorer families. I guess when you're at home all day with nothing else to do, it's easy to fall into that kind of way of life. However, neither of us has personally seen any evidence of this, so we're only going on what we've been told by other people at Grace House.

Susie visited a very different home with one of the children the day after. All the families have their homes surveyed periodically, to see what they need, and to see how they feel about Grace House. They are asked questions about the children they have, their jobs, whether they are able to feed their families, debts they have, what they have available as a support network, and so on. All of these they answer surprisingly frankly, but I suppose when you have very little, you tell the truth in the hope you get help.

Anyway, Susie went on one of these surveys, and it turned out it was to one of the best off families in the school. Piseth, the Khmer member of staff who took her, said that there are only 2 or 3 families in the school, out of 100+ who have a house as good as she saw. This house was on a fairly large plot of land, maybe 100m ish square. The house itself was raised up maybe 70cm, had a stone foundations to about 1.5m, and then was built out of wood with a metal roof. When you went in, there was a sitting area, with a television, electric lighting, and a few plastic chairs and one folding deckchair. There were also 2 bedrooms, with raised beds, with thin futon like mattresses on, a kitchen, which included a fridge, and a small bathroom. There were photos of the family up on the walls, and books around, and although the house would have felt a very bare, small one by English standards, it would by no means be a complete shock compared to poorer areas of England (obviously the style was very different, but I mean the size and possessions). The family had borrowed $5000 from a friend in order to build the house, which they'd only built a few months previously, and were paying back $200 a month which by Cambodian standards is a lot. Mortgages don't exist here - most people rent, or inherit, or have to save until they can buy outright. The dad worked as a mechanic, so the family had a car and a motorbike, but it was when we had a walk round the garden that it became apparent how he makes his money. They have 24 chickens, which they breed for cock fighting. This is technically illegal in Cambodia, but according to him as long as you keep the gathering small, and pay the police a little bribe, you can get away with it! But if the gathering gets too big then the police will sometimes come, and try to take $300, or just somebodies moto if there isn't enough money there! It was very interesting to see what 'rich' in the terms of these villagers was.

Food wise, apparently none of the kids are starving in an actual sense - they all get (just about) enough rice (with the help of some hand outs from Grace House), but a lot of them, especially from the poorer families, get very little in the way of nutrients or protein, so their bodies definitely aren't getting all they need. Another issue is that they also think that a large percentage of children in Cambodia are abused - beating is still seem as an appropriate punishment for misbehaviour, neglect seems to be almost standard, and Grace House has in the past taken children to hospital, and been told that they have suffered some form of sexual abuse. Grace House finds this almost impossible to deal with; if they raise concerns then it's likely the parents will stop the child coming to school, and if the child was taken off the family there isn't anywhere safer for them to go anyway - as we're here there's someone from an orphanage somewhere in Siem Reap being accused of abusing the children in his care. Further, a lot of parents have to work so hard just to keep their heads above water, that the children are used a lot to help out, by doing the shopping, caring for younger siblings, helping with farming and so on. When they already attend Grace House 2 hours a day and state school for 4+ hours a day, that makes for a lot of work for kids.

So there are a lot of issues that affect the kids at home, and the way this affects them at school is really mixed. On one hand, they are tired and hungry a great amount of the time, which must make it hard to concentrate, especially when we're asking them to do it in a language they don't understand very well. However, on the other hand, the kids all know that they are lucky to have Grace House as a safe place to go, and that the stuff they're learning there is really useful to them. They are all so so keen and enthusiastic and lovely all of the time - they could give English kids a brilliant lesson in valuing what you have and making the most of things.

It's amazing the things that are so exciting to them that we in the west would just take as a matter of course. Things like me giving them a piggy back during break time, or letting them use my camera to take a photo, or seeing a photo of themselves, or being allowed to write the answer to a question on the board, or just answering a question correctly, or being told their work is good and getting a smiley face drawn on it, or playing a little game in class, or a hundred other little things just excite them so much, and really seem to make them so happy. It's really rewarding how much difference you can make by doing so little. Then there's slightly bigger things, like them spending a lesson using the computers. Only 3 kids out of my class of 30 had ever used a computer before last week, and even though they only have one old laptop between 4 of them, they love their computer lessons and work so hard at them. I've never seen a group of children more excited than when I taught my class how to change the colour and size of text in Microsoft Word. It really does melt your heart.
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Having fun in computer class

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Playing a shapes board game

We had an even bigger event for some of John's class last thursday night. A very posh hotel, called Hotel De La Paix, in Siem Reap regularly runs art exhibitions of Cambodian art. They're aimed at rich tourists, but thursday was the first night of a new event and since it was art done by children who are disabled (either from birth or as the result of accidents - mainly due to landmines), they invited some of the children from local NGO schools. Lots were drawn, and 20 of the students from John's class went (since they're the oldest). They got a rusty open topped truck, which drew up to this spectacularly posh hotel (a hilarious juxtaposition) and after a very patronising talk from the man in charge of the event, they were allowed in. They were all amazed at the building, the room (everything really), and they especially enjoyed the free food, free drinks, and the performance that a group of children from a local Orphanage gave of bokator, a traditional dance/martial art, a little like capoeira. All of them were a little overwhelmed, but it was such a lovely, lovely night, and obviously meant a huge amount to all of them. They were absolutely buzzing with it the next day, and I'm sure they all will be for a while to come. We both just hope that the hotel feels the night was a success, and invites them again.
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Outside the hotel
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John and his students

So that's some information about the kids at school, and means we've posted two blog posts in one day. Wow! We only have one more week left here now - we're both going to be so so sad to leave here. We've altered our plans slightly now though - we're off to Laos next for 4 weeks, then to Vietnam for 2, before heading back to Cambodia for Christmas. This has many advantages, but the main ones are that we can see more of Laos off the beaten track, which we both really want to do, and can do it fully so we don't need to go back or miss things out, travel round a bit more of Cambodia when we come back, go to the Grace House Christmas party, leave some things here so we don't have to lug all our stuff around with us the whole time, and be with some people we know, and in an area we know we like for Christmas. Maybe we'll actually stick to this plan, although those of you who know us best know that that's never a guaranteed thing!!

Posted by Susiep539 07:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged globalteer grace_house hotel_de_la_paix Comments (0)

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