Cambodia 2008

We had been to Cambodia before, 3 years ago, to see Angkhor Wat.
Stunning – but still an eye opener to the poverty and desolate lifestyle of many people.
It did not however prepare us for Phnom Penh.
Right from the moment we arrived at the boat landing in the city we were met by the most abject looking individuals I have ever encountered. The people, almost everyone (or so it seemed to me) was wearing a look of absolute misery. Immediately asking either to help (with hand held out) or just begging. All ages. Even the children are very practised at this ( this was the same in Angkhor, but there the children generally greeted you with a smile).
Upon arrival we picked a taxi driver to take us to the hotel. Same as before, here was a guy with a car who wanted to be our guide for a few days. At $30 US per day, including car and driver/guide, that’s a steal, but of course requires one to be careful in selecting a partner for a few days. By the time we arrived at the hotel, about 35 minutes ride, we had decided to trust the guy, and hired him. Mind you, in that ½ hr he had already given us another of what seems to be the spiel there, all about his family having been bombed by the Americans, then killed by the Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot and then “liberated” by the Vietnamese. So much so that his mother, who had 12 Children, had lost all but 4 of them and now (my age) could never stop crying!
What a start.
First up we went to see the genocide museum – one of the killing fields from the Khmer Rouge / Pol Pot days.
How could/can people do that.
The entrance is a tower full of skulls, which show off the killing methods. No bullets used – would not waste the ammo; hammer or other blunt instrument blows or driving nails into the head; axes to the head; throats cut, sometimes with the serrated edge of a fresh cut palm tree branch. Bodies were then tossed into mass graves and buried. At the base of the tower was a pile of clothes removed from the prisoners.

This area (the whole prison) was about 1 sq km (300m x 300m or so) and is/was believed to have held almost 9000 bodies. Many of the graves have been exhumed now, and left on display, like the one in the pic here, as a memorial. Still today, as one walks around, there are bones and teeth oozing out of the ground.
Men, women and children, all killed here.
One should also remember that these atrocities were largely committed by children too, under the leadership of only a few adults.
We employed a guide for the museum – the whole aspect of the place, along with his stories (also of how is family was decimated) was extremely depressing.

After this, and in order to get all this out of the way quickly, we went to the infamous Tuong Slor prison of torture and death. This was the processing facility for people going to the killing fields. It had once been a school – what a corruption. Right in the middle of a residential district too, though one must also remember that Pol Pot emptied the cities and made everyone work in the fields. Being anything other than a peasant qualified one, and one’s family, for the prison and/or the killing fields. Teachers, doctors, politicians, civil servants, bosses – almost anything could get one arrested; even something as trivial as wearing glasses got one classed as an intellectual and arrested.

The prison was even worse than the killing fields with all the cell layout and torture tools on show, as well as pictures of the victims and paintings (done by a guy now participating in the recent Khmer Rouge trials) of the torture. There was also a film that followed the life story of one woman and her lover through that period, with interviews with the mother.
Enough to reduce me to tears.

Once again – it must be remembered that children were trained to do all this.
Talk about mans inhumanity to man.

All this while being surrounded by miserable looking people, beggars and poverty of all descriptions was awful. Then one also gets to thinking about:
This all went on until about 1998 when the Khmer Rouge were finally ousted – starting in earnest with the Americans indiscriminately bombing the country (Napalm and Agent Orange too) to try to weed out the VietCong; then progressing through Pol Pot to the fight between the Kmer’s and the Vietnamese who eventually became the liberators of Cambodia – even if not to everyone’s benefit.
Since 1998 gobs of aid money has poured into Cambodia, but there is little evidence today of that aid getting to the general population. There are still raggedy assed – bare assed – sometimes naked children running round the streets, and there are more dirty/badly clothed people in the streets here than I have seen anywhere else in SE Asia (yet). Not obvious where that money is getting stuck eh?
So that first exposure to Phnom Penh certainly took the edge off our trip. I couldn’t wait to get out, quite honestly, and nothing afterwards, even if we did try to lighten things up for the last couple of days, served to change my mind.
I’ll leave it up to Tricia to tell the story of the other – lighter side, of things.

Vietnam, then Cambodia

Another short holiday exploring more of SE Asia. Back to Vietnam again, with a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh City at the beginning, then a few days in the Mekong Delta region. After that it was a boring taxi boat (about 10 passengers) up the Mekong to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, and then several days there.

Here’s one way to get around – bloody tourists!
Vietnam was, once again, an exciting place to visit. HCMC (Saigon) has developed tremendously in the 3 years since we were last there. Most noticeably in the traffic, which now contains many more cars than it did, even if it is still predominantly motor cycles (up to 5 passengers per bike!). At this rate the city should be gridlock in the next 3-5 years I expect.

Didn’t do too much in HCMC as we had been there before – mostly just soaked up the vibrant atmosphere, and eat the lovely Vietnamese food of course (what a way to serve a fish).
The Mekong delta was very interesting. We had a guide to take us through – by van and by boat – what is another of the “rice bowls” of the world. Lots to see and once again evidence of a rapidly developing nations that seems to be moving too fast for itself even to keep up. Lovely people, and a very diverse economy. Here’s some of the story in pictures.
Lazing along the river – note the driver is using his foot.

Floating markets are still a feature. This is a wholesale market, starting at dawn. Small boats then take this produce into the tiny side rivers . The pole sticking up from the boat has things hanging on it – that’s what that boat has for sale.
– and this is the delivery process, plus us enjoying some of the produce.

Making stuff in the delta – first “pop-rice” (like crispies)

Here’s a brick factory in work with many kilns like this in operation. Bricks are stacked by hand in there – 1,000’s of them. Rice husks are used to fire the kiln – waste not, want not eh?

Interestingly there was some striking evidence of the current world crisis when we visited a rice processing factory. This place was a small operation where the owner puts rice through the machines for the local farmers to de-husk, polish, grade, bag, etc the rice. He takes a portion of the rice for his work, and sometimes buys rice crops to sell on, largely for export. Normally this factory, according to our guide, is very busy, and there is lots to see. When we arrived there was only the owner and his wife there and the factory was chock-full of bagged rice that he could not sell – due to the economic downturn! Who would have imagined that from about 6 months back when there was a world shortage of rice? He was quite philosophical about it, as he at least had rice to feed himself. The problem will come if it is still there a year from now as rice in sacks tends to rot after about a year. The other issue is the knock-on effect, of course, as farmers have no-where to take their rice for processing, even if they had anything to do with it once it was processed. So their income dries up, and someone else is living on just their own rice, plus a few handfuls they can sell on to other locals. What a mess. Even our guide was shocked.
Here’s the factory.

The exit from Vietnam to Cambodia was a small border crossing, for just boat passengers. It took 10 of us the best part of an hour to get Visa’s and to get processed through. One can’t hurry things in SE Asia.
Here’s a look at the border with Cambodia – that’s where it is all flooded – Cambodia being too poor to manage the flood plain . . . .

. . . . . . and a look at the border control hut . . .

Then a 3 hour boat ride to Phnom Penh – continued separately.

Typhoon Jangmi (Rose)

Here we go again yet another “Super weather system” is working its way across Taiwan. It has hit us in the middle of the country bringing wind and rain to Taipei. All night the wind raged sounding exactly like a sound track for a Bronte novel. now 6p.m. and still it is raging, the rain is torrential and we have had the odd flash of thunder. The lights have flickered a few times but so far no power cut. We managed to get to church at noon, their seemed to be a lull in the storm then, not many people made it. We have spent the rest of the day indoors Dave doing work and reading, me blogging and trying to do my Mandarin homework.
I signed on again for Chinese classes when they began in September. I thought it would be good exercise for the brain, that may be but Oh boy this learning thing sure gets harder with age. Being dyslexic doesn’t help of course (how many multilingual dyslexics do you know?) but it is a work out for my brain in spite of all that and the pace that Gloria, our teacher, takes is to my liking.
An aside here, all the Chinese people take a western name when they are very young and they do it on how a name sounds to them and if they like it. Thus you come across all sorts of strange old fashioned names which give a completely different view of the name because of who is using it. We recently met a baby called Doris (the parents had named her).
Back to the Typhoon, Dave is due to fly to S. Korea again tomorrow, the last time he went we had a Typhoon, we shall have to wait and see how this works out, he may go later or on Tuesday.

More on Canada trip

After Seattle I flew to Toronto and was met by a good friend who took me to her house where I stayed for a few days before setting off on a trip. Joanne and Paul made me very welcome, I stayed with them because Christina’s studio apartment is very small and doesn’t even have a couch, only a double bed. It was great to catch up with Christina and see her appartment. which is lovely in a great building with lots of facilities but is very expensive as it is in the heart of downtown Toronto.
We arranged to go on a trip to montreal and Ottawa.
After enjoying the Freers hospitality we set off forMontreal.

Marisa and Rufus in “New Kitchen”

Joanne and Marisa showing the “New Kitchen”

Typhoon Sinlaku and Koh Lanta

I am sitting at my computer while the wind and rain lash at the bedroom window, we are in the midst of a slow moving typhoon, the eye of which is forecast to arrive over Taipei this evening. It is a category 3 (Katrina was a 3) which may change to a 4. It is our first experience of a really BIG typhoon and being on the 17th floor it is interesting to watch what happens to the rain with the wind gusts; sometimes it is flying sideways sometimes even upwards but eventually it lands on the ground and the games park opposite is rapidly becoming a lake.
The wind has been blowing all night, it makes whistling, howling sounds which make one want to curl up in a ball somewhere, I suspect an innate trait probably handed down through evolution in order to stay safe during big storms. The government declared a shut down of all city run agencies as of last night and the weather bureau issued a typhoon warning, all this means we should stay home unless it is an emergency. Everyone was preparing yesterday, shopping and making sure they had candles, water and food that doesn’t’ need cooking, in case the electricity goes out. Taipei is usually very good and all buildings are typhoon and earthquake safe but we shall wait and see.

We had another trip to Bangkok the last week of August. Dave had to work on the Monday and Tuesday, then we went off to an island in the Andaman sea, Koh Lanta, off the coast of Krabi.
It is the rainy season down there which means the ocean is quite rough so we didn’t get to go in the sea too much and we were the only ones in our hotel one of the nights (it is the low season for tourists) but this is how we like it, very relaxing.

view of our hotel from outside our room

the Bike
We hired a motor bike for a couple of days and travelled around most of the island except for the very end, the road was a dirt track and very hilly and Dave didn’t feel safe navigating it with me on the back so we didn’t go.
We met some interesting people, a couple of Dr. from France who go there every year for 2 weeks just to unwind. They had travelled by road along Route One in Viet Nam in the mid 1980’s and had also gone into Cambodia in the early ’80’s to be doctors there. They know the Dali Lama and usually go to Tibet every year but didn’t go this year as it was difficult for them to get visas with all the trouble going on there. They had some good stories to tell.
We also met a foursome who go to Lanta every year, they were Liverpudlians, a brother and sister, with their respective partners. They wondered about the political trouble in Bangkok but I told them not to worry. The upheaval had started while we were in Bangkok (it is still ongoing at the moment) and the airport at Krabi was closed on Fri. and Sat., we were due to fly out at 10:am Sunday morning. Luckily for us they reopened it in time for our flight to be the first one out and we had no trouble after that. I know everyone is being warned not to go to Thailand but I am sure it is OK and they really need tourists as a lot of stuff has been cancelled. Most of what is going on is happening in a small area of downtown Bangkok and need not interfere with tourist activities, the rest of Thailand is fine.
A little girl in a shop in Lanta old town
A street in Lanta old town


Dave about to watch sunset

The sunset as seen from our hotel room veranda

The last of Seattle

Here are a few more pictures from Seattle.
I had a wonderful visit, it was good to see everyone, my only regret was not being able to visit my other cousin who lives in the Chicago area. Another time!
Christine with her parents taken in their
living room

Bernadette and Joseph with Patricia
This is a view across Puget Sound from Bernadette and Joseph’s front balcony of Seattle and a rainbow.

This and that

Saturday night Dave and I decided we would do something different as Dave was flying to Sweden the next day we wanted a quiet night. Looking in the English language paper I saw that “Jack”, one of the dancers from the dance production Dave and I were in last year, was performing in a modern dance presentation at the same theater we had played in. We took ourselves off to that event and thoroughly enjoyed the 4 separate dances, jack’s being one of them. After it was over we went backstage to see him and he was really pleased. he was representing his dance company, he had just got back from a 5 month trip to France (sponsored by the Taiwan Government so he could experience other dance cultures, he won the trip). We will probably get together with him again. His American girlfriend is still here she went to France too. The dances were all modern and when i was young I hated modern dance but now i see it as another form artistic expression and i actually “get” it more than I do modern painting or music. funny how tastes change.

It is still hot in the low 90’s most of the time, today it has been cloudy and rain is forecast but we didn’t get the latest Typhoon, that affected northern Vietnam quite badly.

Anyone watch the Olympics? I saw some of the opening ceremony and have been wondering what others thought of the goose stepping solders who took the Olympic flag from the older athletes, who carried it around the stadium, and then hoisted it up the flag pole? I have been trying to talk about my feelings on different forums but my comments have not been accepted. I wonder why?!!!! It does make me wonder about the 1936 (34) Olympics. I keep hearing snippets of news from the BBC world news or the local paper here. All i know is a lot of ordinary people have had to give up a lot so China can host these games.

My other problem is Burma (Myanmar), they are still suffering terribly after the Typhoon that hit 3 months ago now. Still a lot of devastation and many people without proper food supplies.
I just read Secret Histories Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop, by Emma Larkin ISBN 0 7195 5695 3. I highly recommend it as it is easy to read and is very informative about Burma today (before the typhoon)

A quick trip to Korea

It’s almost 40 years since I was last in Korea, in 1969. I stayed only one night. It was an RAF training flight around Asia and we got there in the evening and left early next morning. All I remember is that there was a curfew after dark, and no-one except the patrolling military were alllowed on the streets: so we stayed in our hotel till we left to take off again the next morning. Hence I saw nothing of Korea then.

I spent 4 days there this time, but found it not really very interesting. Seoul must rate as one of the most boring cities I’ve ever visited – no redeeming features at all; not even an old quarter, or stunning temple, of any note.

I found this temple at the back of my hotel.

The food was “interesting”. Almost everything tastes like Kimchi (that spicy with chillies cabbage dish) – they use that sauce on everything (almost). They do eat sashimi, but they also have meat sashimi. I was served raw strips of beef (not good for me) and also raw calves liver!!! When I asked I was emphatically informed that they DO NOT have mad cow in Korea, and that theirs is the best beef in the world. Certainly they are big beef eaters. I only spent 3 nights there (got in late the first night) and was invited to 2 dinner banquets. The 2 meals were different; 1 was a Korean BBQ – which I do like actually (but it was same-same as any other I’ve tried elsewhere in the world) even if it did start with those raw meats; and the second was a royal cuisine banquet. The latter was REALLY nicely presented, even if 1/2 the food was odd (raw lobster and raw crab this time).

This was a tank outside a restaurant with fresh food in it!

They do have one uniquely Korean aspect at the dinners though. Like most Asian meals they like to drink a lot of liquor, in shots – bottoms up toasting each other. Well here they drain their glass then hand it over to you and the hander refills it for you to drink – it’s a respect thing. I was aghast – even in Asia I have not seen people sharing glasses (communal dishes, but not communal glasses). Thankfully I was not drinking the liquor (my op last year gets me out of those games) so I didn’t have to swap used glasses (they did offer me cleaned (shot) glasses with beer in, to include me in the hospitality).
This little garden I came across while I was walking around.

This was interesting – a Lady directing traffic into a mall parking area. Note she has a Mic on and her talking comes over outside loudspeakers. I thought the uniform was interesting.

Maybe next time I go I will find somewhere a little more interesting in the city, as I can’t believe it really could be that boring (reminded me of some mid west boring places in the US).

So having waited 40 years to come back it doesn’t seem like I missed much.

Seattle area visit.

My first stop on my North American odyssey was in Seattle, or to be more precise, a little place across Peugot sound from Seattle. My Aunt and Uncle have lived there since early in the 1990’s when they retired and moved from Chicargo. They have a wonderful view of Seattle across the water and sometimes you can see mount Rainier from their bedroom window. The last time I had seen them was for their 50th wedding anniversary celebrations when Mum and Christina came also. That was in 2003 so it was time I visited them again. We had a great time reminising and visitng my two cousins who live in the area.
My cousin and my aunt, taken in the back yard of a fabulous log home he shares with his wife.

The side of the log home.

A view of Mount Rainier from the log house front


This is a bit dark taken inside the house Lto R
Joseph, Abigail, Andrew, Charlotte
Bernadette and Hannah

No more PFL

Well, my foray into pillow fighting was short-lived. After my second fight, I realised I’m a lover, not a fighter. I think, also, I just really enjoy trying things out the first time. Which is all good… one more certificate to post on my wall.

In other news, I bought myself a bike this summer. I did this to save money on TTC tickets, which I was using far too much considering the beautiful weather.

Since obtaining my lovely used mountain bike, I’ve become incredibly fit. It’s sort of amazing – I’m able to go bike riding for at least 20 minutes every day, and then still have enough energy to go to the gym and do my full weight lifting routine. My diet has also become far more healthy than it ever was – no more pizza on a weekly basis either!

Riding my bike down the street is so much fun… I’m very good at being alert and making sure not to get hit. (*knocks on wood*) I find biking on the road gives me a freedom I’ve missed since selling my car all those years ago when I first moved downtown… I can go as fast as I want, I have the wind on my face, it’s just… refreshing.

And it’s given me another perspective of the road. I’ve now been a pedestrian, a rollerbladeian (!), a biker and a driver. And of course, having had the experience from all sides, I’m now a much better, more attentive and more courteous driver – because I know what it’s like.

For anyone living downtown and looking to save a few bucks, I highly recommend getting a bike. Forget cars! I have a vision of the future in which cars not longer exist on the streets… I’m a convert.