Author Archives: K.O.
Remember all that extra time I had off from work not too long ago? Remember how I thought I would accomplish so much in all that EXTRA time? Well it seems this summer was a summer of low tech relaxation. I avoided my laptop like the plague and it felt AMAZING. I should really do it more often, because it meant that I could really switch off and just enjoy life in the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I still was addicted to my phone.. but it was great to step away from work and just enjoy being at home.
I did manage to squeeze a lot into all that downtime I had. From flying to Toronto from Singapore, then to Philadelphia with my big sis for a EdTech conference, to Vegas to meet a dear friend from Singapore, to being back on the farm, to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, and then back to the farm for other local adventures. It was a fantabulous summer and I got to spend so much time with my family. I loved it. Sister time, niece and nephew time, parent time, aunts, uncles, cousins – gosh even cousins twice removed! It was a fun-filled family holiday! And I also got to see some of my friends in there too! Sadly, I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to… which is always the case for my trip back home. How do you fit a year of being away into only a month?! C’est tout simplement impossible!!
And in no particular order… the highlights.
It was definitely a summer that will be tough to beat. But hey, I like a challenge!
But there is always an end to the summer fun, then the reality of moving back to Singapore sets in. This year, coming back was the hardest I have found it since that day at the airport 11 years ago when I first left. I cried my heart out saying goodbye to Mom and Dad. Then cried through customs. Then on the plane. And once more when I got back for good measure.
As amazing as life is over here, nothing can replace ‘home’.
I miss you guys!!!
Well I’ve said it once, twice and probably a hundred times…. “I want to get back to writing my blog”. It is hard to imagine that the last time I wrote was back in October 2013!!! A LOT of things have changed in my life since then – so it is high time I get back on to doing the things I really enjoy doing. Like, surprisingly, writing my blog. Cheap therapy and it is a nice place for me to look back on the things in my life. I promise to try to be more regular in my blogging this time around. No guarantees but a promise to at least try.
So, what is new?
Firstly, I got a new job this year. Still located in Singapore, but at a different school, and a somewhat different role. I have spent the year working at GEMS World Academy – Singapore as a Dramatic Arts teacher for Grades 6-8 and also a Language and Literature teacher for Grades 6&7. FINALLY putting to use my minor in English! It wasn’t what I was thinking of doing, and probably something that wouldn’t have passed through my mind to even try – but I have found that I really love it. I love the different style of classroom I teach in, and using my creative side in a different way. I had a student today tell me that he would be “so sad if he found out I wasn’t going to be teaching him English again next year in Grade 7. I love this class. I just do!” Well if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face and motivate you to work hard to make others feel the same – I don’t know what could motivate me! (p.s. I had another student tell me that I have inspired them today too – It was a really good ‘students made me love my job’ kind of days). This year has been BUSY. Captial letters for emphasis are a must. Everything has been a first. I created lessons from scratch (with some amazing support from friends of course) but mostly doing it all myself. That is no small task with absolutely no curriculum in place other than what I could think up, research and create myself. But I do like what I have created, and have already begun working on the improvements for next year. I am looking forward to redoing it again so I can make it even better lessons and units for the kidlets.
It has been a big year for Singapore in a number of ways. Firstly, the founding father of Singapore PM Lee Kwan Yew passed away this year. It was a very interesting experience here in Singapore. Thousands and thousands of Singaporeans lined up for days, 24 hours a day, to catch a glimpse and pay their final respects. Radio programming was at a standstill for the official week of mourning. Television channels played life documentaries on repeat for the week. I am pretty sure I will never experience something quite like this in my lifetime again, and am 100% positive Canadian’s will not experience a deep love and admiration for a politician like. Not everyone here shared this same passion for the former PM, and there was much discourse about it. However, I was so intrigued by the whole experience of his passing – it is definitely not a moment I will soon forget.
Singapore is also celebrating its 50th birthday. There are so many things to celebrate “SG50” – it is impressive. Happy Birthday Singapore! www.singapore50.sg
My friend Rey started his own business – and it is a super hit!!! He started his own personal training company called Unbeatable Boxing and Fitness and I couldn’t be more proud of all of his hard work and dedication. http://www.unbeatableboxing.com
Travel wise – Kels and I have travelled a lot this year. Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok a few times, Japan for a great skiing holiday, Hong Kong and probably some places I forgot about. As always – we love to see the world and experience new places together.
Well – this is a start to get the ball rolling. More to come (and more regularly hopefully!)
Until the next one!
Notes from Gwen:
We arrived in Bali on Monday afternoon. As we exited the airport, we were greeted by beautiful girls,who put flowers in our hair. At that moment I knew this was going to be a totally different taste of Asia. As our hosts at the Rouge villa where we are staying said, “welcome to paradise.” This villa is fantastic. Red and white, is definitely the theme. It is new and modern with a beautiful lounge area, aesthetic building, pool and individual rooms. Everything was so perfect. The staff were all very helpful and wanting to assist us in anyway possible.
Ubud is a busy tourist town, with lots of people on the street and shops. After we arrived and settled in, we enjoyed some drinks and sushi at the lounge in our villa. We went for a walk to check out a bit of the town and ate dinner at TeraZo’s. It is a lovely restaurant and the food was excellent. We try to order a variety of things, so we get to taste many things. This little plan works wonderfully.
The following day, Keriann arranged for a driver to take us around the country side in this area. We drove to the coast to see the 11th century, Tanah Lot temples built on rock formations in the water. Wonderous structures so beautiful to see, and the bonus to smell and feel the warm Indian Ocean. We saw lots of country side and the beautiful rice terraces. You can’t help but recall the scene in Eat, Pray, Love, with Julia Roberts. Seeing it is even more spectacular! We ate lunch at a lovely roadside restaurant. There were chickens strutting around, which isn’t unusual in any way but one chicken made a hilarious noise that sounded like it was laughing. That was pretty entertaining.
After lunch we visited a butterfly conservatory. Interesting, with many beautiful specimens. Keriann bravely let a gentleman put a collection of bugs on the front of her dress. I wasn’t too interested in participating in that bug collection. Some of them were huge.
We continued our tour which included a butterfly conservatory. A stop to see and taste various spices teas and the world famous Kopi Lamak coffee. If you ever saw the movie, The Bucket list, there was a scene when Jack Nicholson learns this expensive coffee comes from Mongoose poop. Anyway, after the process was explained, and as a true coffee lover from 1/2 way around the world, I couldn’t not pass it up. It wasn’t brewed properly at this little tasting place so the best I can say is it was ok.
After a full afternoon we were back at Rouge, to get ready for dinner out at another fabulous restaurant, the Lamak. Our usual combination of cocktails, dinner and wine made for another amazing meal. Just when you think you topped it all at the last place we dined, another restaurant has something else very special.
The next day was a Hindu celebration day in Bali. Some shops were closed or opened late. We spent the morning walking through the monkey forest. This is a lovely wooded park, that is home to many, many monkeys. They are very used to tourists so they come very close. I decided to distance myself from the people that like to feed and try to attract them. I saw a male jump on a guy who was tempting him with a water bottle. Monkeys are cute and fun to watch, but that’s where I draw the line as they can also be very aggressive. After the monkey forest, we browsed through a few shops, had a delicious lunch, and relaxed around the pool at the Villa. To complete our last evening in Ubud we ate dinner at Bridges. It is located by a bridge of course, but it over looks a beautiful, steep ravine. Dinner was so amazing and we were surprised again with a anniversary dessert. The whole experience was amazing!
The next morning we were off to our last destination in Bali, Seminyak. It is another big tourist area. Bali is the tourist capital for Australian holidayers. We have our own private 3 bedroom villa, Keriann’s friend Rob DeRosa has joined us for a couple of days. It has been great to see him again and listen to some of his many travel stories. Not too many places he hasn’t been.
At this very moment I am sitting on a lounge chair, whole a cook prepares our breakfast. Reality is going to bite badly when we get home.
In the evening we went to a temple by the ocean and watched a famous Hindu cultural dance performance. It was beautiful with some beautiful costumes and masks. Of course if finished the evening by going to a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the ocean.
The next day we spent the day at the beach, We lounged, swam, watched people body surf, drank and ate the day a way. Just a perfect last day in paradise!
This morning we are enjoying some quiet lounging at the villa, before having to pack and head to the airport to return to Singapore.
“Bali Ha’i will call you, any night any day.
In my heart I’ll hear it calling
Come away, come away
Next stop Singers!
Notes from Keriann:
We definitely tried to make the very most of our final days together. We arrived into Singapore in the late afternoon, and spent a couple of hours just doing things around the apartment and running a couple of small errands. We then headed out for an amazing dinner together at Artichoke. True to our holiday dining, Artichoke was fabulous! We loved the banter we had with the host and the food was out of this world delicious.
Our last day in Singapore, was also my last day of holiday so we did our best to make the most of every second before the reality of the end being near was realized. We decided to make a stop at the pool for an hour, then we headed off to Park at Holland Village for lunch. I had heard that the eggs benedict here were amazing so I had been wanting to try it out for awhile. We were definitely not disappointed in the food. yum! It rained so we were a bit stuck for a little while until it cleared up, but then we were off to Sentosa Island to check out the aquarium and try out the casino for a short while.
The aquarium was really impressive. It’s the world’s biggest oceanarium and it really does look pretty wonderful. All I can hope is that the animals inside are treated well and their needs are being cared for by the aquarium. The exhibits are gorgeous. We also tried our luck a little at the casino. We should have quit while we were ahead there, but that’s the problem with casinos!
We ended our perfect Singapore Sunday with a dinner at Glutton’s Bay overlooking the Marina Bay with cousin Katelyn and some friends. Again, the food was amazing and it was a great way to end a great time together experiencing all the different foods (and Tiger beer) that make Singapore one of the best food capitals!
P & G’s Anniversary Asian Adventure has now come to a close. I left them at the apartment early this morning as I headed off to work. It is never easy to end such a wonderful time with people who mean so much to you, however, knowing what a fantastic time we had together and getting to experience so much of my life together was an amazingly wonderful experience.
Until our next Asian Adventure, Mom and Dad! See you again soon!
CAMBODIA – FROM GWEN
Oh, where to begin? I would like to write a few words about my impressions of Cambodia. The first thing you notice is the hot temperature and dirty extreme poverty all around. These are just superficial things. The real Cambodia lies in the heart of the Khmer people. Just thinking about them and the constant struggle brings a lump in my throat and tear to my eye.
We had the distinct opportunity to meet some great guys and have them extend their friendship to us. EVERYONE we encountered treated us with great respect and kindness. You notice they are always smiling. They have every reason to be angry at the world who seemed to have abandoned them for several years. 1st during the relentless bombing by the US, then by the terror reigned by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. In the words of one of our tour guides, ” we were a dead country to the rest of the world”. No one knew what was going on. Despite this, they have a love for each other and humanity. I witnessed a tuk tuk driver who would perhaps make only $5 in a day, stop and give an old man at the side of the street some money.
We had a fantastic time in Siem Reap exploring temples. They are intricate 11th, 12th, and 13th century works of art. We took some amazing pictures, which is wonderful but to totally appreciate the size and structure is to see it in all dimensions. Tom, our driver and tour guide was a wealth of knowledge and had a great sense of humour.
We had wonderful tuk tuk drivers in Phnom Penh that took us everywhere and became our friends. Two of them Savi and Wan, were friends of Keriann and her friends from previous visits. They recruited a cousin, Nim, to be our driver while in Phnom Penh. He didn’t speaking English well and we didn’t speak Cambodian at all. We managed very well and saw some areas we hadn’t planned on. He felt very responsible for us all the time and couldn’t do enough to please us. We hope to keep a personal connection with him and give him some financial support to help his 2 little girls.
There were many highlights to our time spent here. The two that I will forever remember was a our day at the PIO school and orphanage and building houses. What fun we had visiting the school and the taking all the kids from the orphanages to a somewhat sketchy water park. The kids had a great time just doing what they do best, having fun, and laughing. It was all nothing but fun.
On the way back to the orphanage we had a small encounter when the tuk tuk we were riding in collided with a motorcycle. Nothing serious, but the motorcycle driver did go for a tumble when he hit the road, he did had a few cuts and bruises and a seriously scraped bike. We were all pretty calm, but I’m not going to lie when it happened I’m thinking here we are 2 adults with 4 kids in Cambodia, where the sex trade is awful. We don’t know where we are and we are being swarmed by as it turns out by a lot of nosey people. The kids took it all in stride, but they had the advantage of knowing the language.
The next day was the Tabitha house building. Thanks Lizz and Cody for all your help. We successfully completed 2 houses ourselves. Just Pat, Gwen, Kelso, Keriann, Lizz and Cody as a team together on our two houses. The rest of the group were working on their own houses in other parts of the village while we worked on ours. I don’t think I’m going to look for a career in nailing down 2″ strips of bamboo flooring anytime soon though. It was hot work but so life changing for both the families who received the houses, and for us as well. The group built 16 houses in total. We personally improved the quality of life for 16 families. They were so happy to have a dry sturdy house to live it. We also had the privilege to present a beautiful hand embroidered blanket to 2 of the families. It was an unforgettable experience to share with Keriann and Kelso.
I would like to say what a fantastic group of professional people took part in both the orphanage visit and the house building. Thanks Donna Jackson for all the organizing. Keriann’s and Kelso friends welcomed us with open arms. They are very passionate about the support they lend to the not-for-profit groups. They brain storm to come up with new ways to help the PIO school, students and teachers. It is all about helping in any way they can as they can easily see that there is so much to do to support so many people they meet. I was so proud of all of them. They are dedicated to simply helping to improve the lives of their Cambodian friends. Thanks everyone! We sure enjoyed getting to know you. We totally enjoyed our dinners together at some amazing restaurants! I can’t miss mentioning the array of french bread and pastries we ate. No problem feeding my carb addiction in Cambodia.
Sadly, we had to leave Cambodia though too as we were headed off to experience an entirely different culture and people in Bali, Indonesia. As we rode to the airport in the tuk tuk, I tried to take a mental picture and commit to memory all that we had experienced. I want to be able to vividly recall each experience at whim.
We arrived back in Singapore for a night then we were off to begin our Balinese adventure.
The adventure continues……
BALI – BY KERIANN
The adventures certainly do continue in Bali. We had just an evening/morning back in Singapore to regroup, repack and do a bit of laundry. It also gave us some time to nip out to the mall next to our house and get my dad some new eyeglasses. Optical Power Shop! We were probably in and out of the eyeglass shop in about 30 minutes. In that time frame, my father tried on many frames (and many ridiculous joke frames too of course – it is Pat O’Rourke after all). Has his eyes tested and his bifocals tested too. Singapore doesn’t joke around when it comes to efficiency!
On Monday, we were off on a plane again, but this time to Bali, Indonesia. When we arrived at the airport, we noticed a huge queue of people waiting to go through customs. Over an hour wait at least. Ugh. However, there is a system set up that allows people to bypass waiting in line at the customs area. So, this seems totally sketchy and more than likely, it probably is. For an extra $25 USD, someone takes your passport and gets it all stamped for you so that you can bypass the massive line up. Even with their brand new, huge airport, there was still a massive queue as a few flights had arrived all at the same time. We didn’t want to waste any daylight hours we could have in Bali so we decided that it was worth the extra money. I would never have used this service in a million years had I not already done it once with Kelso a few months back. I could see from the looks on my parent’s faces, that they too had the impression that this was a bit of a sketchy set up. But it worked just fine and we were in a van headed to Ubud before we knew it!
We arrived in Ubud around 5pm and decided to head up to the lounge bar that is a part of our hotel for a cocktail and a snack before dinner. We are staying at Rouge Bali Villas in Ubud. It is a lovely, modern hotel with every amenity you can imagine. Everything is done with the theme of the colour red. It really stands out and is located just off of the main road. I HIGHLY recommend staying here! It is fabulous. As we sat and enjoyed some sushi and drinks, the owners came over to introduce themselves to us. There are only 8 rooms at this hotel so it is a very intimate experience which is really enjoyable. From there, we left to have a little walk around town and pop our head into a few shops along the way. We had a fabulous meal at TeraZo (a place I have enjoyed before on a trip with Kelso a few years ago). Delicious meal and fantastic atmosphere!
The next day we spent taking a tour and seeing many different sites around Bali. We really felt like we did it all in a day but everything was so interesting to see and we learned a lot from our guide – Gedung. We travelled to Tanah Lot temple out on the coast of the Indian Ocean. It is a beautiful place and the waves were crashing up against the rocks surrounding the cliffs and temples here.
We then headed off towards the mountains to see the Tegalalang rice terraces that have been made famous in many films and photos. Being the true farmers we are 🙂 we wanted to know about how the rice irrigation systems were created and how they work. Gedung also showed us a peanut plant and we ate fresh peanuts right off the plant which tasted exactly like a sweet pea tastes fresh of the plant. We enjoyed a lovely Indonesian lunch in a restaurant and a few of the terraces.
From there, we were again off to see a butterfly park. We thought that this was going to be another one of those stops that are super touristy and ends up not being that great. However, it was really interesting! We spoke to a staff member that explained the process of hatching all the butterflies and got to have some “butterfly babies” sat on our hands and clothing that were only a few hours old. We saw massive stick bugs, beetles, scorpions, bugs that looked like leaves and flowers. They were really interesting and the garden was full of beautiful plants and flowers. It was worth the stop! Along the way we could see all the preparations for a festival that is taking place right now. It is a religious festival and every house and shop puts up one of these beautifully decorated bamboo poles. They are so gorgeous and all are handmade.
We then headed to “The Temple on the Lake” (or Pura Ulun Danu Bratan). This is a famous temple, that is also found on the 50,000 Rupiah note. The tide was out at the time we were there so it didn’t “float” on the lake as it usually does, but it was interesting to learn more about the temples, what they mean, what they are made from etc.
Our last stop was to a garden where many spices, coffee and chocolate are grown. Again, this was touristy as sin, but a necessary component of a coffee lover’s trip to Bali to say that you tried Kopi Luwak. If you don’t know what this is, it is literally Mongoose Poop Coffee. What? Yep – it is very famous and also very expensive coffee sold world-wide. The flavour apparently really comes from the fermentation process that occurs when a Mongoose eats the ripe, red coffee beans and they travel through their digestive system. People then harvest the undigested beans from their droppings, cleans, roasts and makes them into a delicious brew. Gwen tried this, but I am sure Pat and I were secretly thinking how happy we are that we aren’t coffee drinkers! There were many other teas and coffees to try too and we did try them all. It was a fun way to end the tour.
We ended the day with a walk around the town, another evening of poking our heads in the many different shops that line the streets of Ubud and a wonderful meal at Lamak. It was a great find and I had read about it on a blog somewhere so when I saw the sign I thought it was worth a try. It definitely was! Yummy, yummy, yummy!
More to come about our Bali adventures again tomorrow…. we’ve done many other things as well we can’t fit it all in to one post!
I think G & P are definitely on a “Bali High”
Cambodia!! What an experience!! From the moment we stepped off the plane from Utopia In Singapore we realized we were completely in another world.
A country of 17 million people that has gone through hell during the genocide regime of the lunatic Pol Pot as leader of the Khmer Rouge party during the 1970’s. Even though there was irrefutable proof that he massacred and starved to death between 1 and 2 million of his own people, the Western world continued to support this clown and his party for over 15 years. The UN even gave him a seat in the UN. That confirms more in my mind than ever that the UN has become a huge useless bureaucracy that really has no relevance in today’s world.
But back to 2013 and our wonderful experience in Cambodia. We stayed for 2 days in Siem Reap, a northern city of about 300,000 people, where we enjoyed viewing some fantastic architecture in temples from the 11th – 12th centuries. An amazing feat considering that most of the rocks for the temples were built with rocks from a mountain 60 kms away. These temples are comparable to the pyramids in Egypt. As well we toured a floating village, which gives a new meaning to us in Canada, of a floating village as most of the original houses that were built near ground level were immersed in water to the eaves. This is truly the rainy season as reports coming out of the media are claiming that two thirds of the country is currently under water. When flying back in the daylight to Singapore and looking down on Cambodia I believe those reports to be true. Water, water everywhere!!
Then we moved onto Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, a city of 4 million people. This is the comeback city for the Cambodians. Even though there are still lots of people living in extreme poverty the city is growing in leaps and bounds. Construction everywhere!!!! Huge new buildings and major highways. Hopefully they aren’t building more government offices as there seems to be no end of elaborate government buildings already in existence. We just had a fantastic time touring around in the main source of transportation in Cambodia, the world renowned Tuk Tuk. This tuk tuk is a little different than the one in Thailand which is a one piece unit. In Cambodia they have these 4 seater two wheeled carts attached to 160 cc motorcycles. The “Honda Dream ” I’m sure has 75% of the tuk tuk market. Motorcycle Alley is 3 city blocks long on both sides of the street with new motorcycle dealers. Only saw two Harleys in the whole city. Small, small motorcycles here.
The Cambodian people are the meekest people that I have ever met as a society. Our Tuk Tuk driver, who we hired for the 5 days, had limited English language skills and consequently took us to a few places that we hadn’t asked to go. He was very apologetic for doing that with his hands folded and bowing to us as in prayer. He even wanted to buy us our dinner one night because of his mixups. Can you imagine that taking place in Canada!? Combined with our limited grasp of the Cambodian language we did a lot of hand signing and signals to get our messages across. On most roads, other then the major 4 lane highways, everyone just drives where ever they wish. There doesn’t seem to be any road rage as everybody just gives way to whatever is needed to keep the motorcycles and tuk tuks moving. I can’t imagine this taking place in Western world cities where somebody would step out and pound you if you cut them off!!! Once again the Cambodian culture of meekness.
We spent one day reviewing the history at the time of the Pol Pot regime during the 1970’s. A very moving and sombre time as we viewed the so called “Killing Fields” where Pot’s regime took the people that didn’t agree with his philosophy of what a pure race of people that he was going to create. At these fields he made the people dig these massive graves and then just killed the people to fill them in every inhumane way he could. There were over 50 of these fields disbursed throughout Cambodia. We finished up that day reviewing a former school that was supposed to be a jail but was really a torture chamber to remind the people of Cambodia that Pol Pot was really a warped and insane individual. Hard to believe that “so called” humans can do this to their fellow man. Every day I think how fortunate myself and our families were to be born in Canada, a real land of opportunity.
I believe Gwen is talking about our housebuilding and orphanage tour so I will leave that segment to her. The rest of the time was spent touring the city, eating great food and drinking cheap beer. “Angkor” and “Cambodian” beer were the most popular and the cheapest. In most restaurants beer was anywhere from $1 to $1.50 US for beer. Lots of different food and most restaurants also provided Western cuisine. Ate “crocodile” one evening and it truly does taste like chicken. Ha! Ha!
We are just leaving for the airport again this morning to fly to Bali for 5 days of fun and relaxation. What a trip we’ve had!!! Life doesn’t get any better!
Well we have been really, really busy these past few days. So busy, I haven’t really been able to find the time to be able to write out all that has been going on. But this busy-ness is a good thing because we have learned so much about this country in such a small span of time. There have been lessons in humankind, lessons in evil, lessons in healing, and lessons in survival. All have been powerful messages that have hit us all in many different ways.
We spent the full day on Wednesday learning about Cambodia’s most recent history involving the Khmer Rouge and their take over of Cambodia. For those who don’t know, from 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge ruled ruthlessly over Cambodia through Communist ideals that enslaved their people and created mass famine and unbelievable working conditions for all. Essentially, this is how this came to be:
The Cambodian people had been experiencing civil war and had been bombed heavily by the United States (as a part of the Vietnam war hoping to kill all North Vietnamese supporters). It was so heavily carpet-bombed by the US that Cambodia still remains to be one of the most heavily bombed countries on Earth (Laos having the extremely unfortunate title as the top of the charts). Rabble.ca reports “The United States dropped upwards of 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia, exceeding the amount it had dropped on Japan during WWII (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) by almost a million tons.” All of this in secret. Obviously the effects of this were devastating.
During this time, a young Cambodian man of privilege named, Pol Pot, was creating an army of followers to his extremist ideals. He trained young boys in the jungles and rural areas, aged between 12-16, to fight. He spent years doing so and on April 17, 1975, his forces captured Phnom Penh. They took over Phnom Penh in only 3 days. They made every single person leave the city of thousands. We wondered – how could this possibly happen? How could you clear out a city in this short amount of time? The answer was simple as people at that time weren’t listening when he and his army marched into the city on the first day. So to make people listen, he shot one entire family per city block. No one was spared. From that day forward, people were forced to listen and follow or be shot, tortured or killed in some way. The longer it went on the more brutal they became in their killing.
During the Khmer Rouge’s reign – they forced urban dwellers to relocate to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects. The combined effects of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population. In all, an estimated 1 to 3 million people (out of a population of slightly over 8 million) died due to the policies of his four-year reign. The reign fell only when Vietnamese soldiers began to invade Cambodia in order to help free them. Pol Pot fled to the countryside and lived there (with the remaining Khmer Rouge followers) until 1997. During this time, he held a seat on the United Nations and was determined to be the official leader of Cambodia. This is a fact that completely floors us all. How on earth could the UN allow for this and support him knowing what had happened in Cambodia? It is unbelievable, but it is unfortunately true.
We learned all of this about Cambodia’s history by visiting two remaining places where evidence of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge still remain. The first site was the mass graves of the Killing Fields – also known as Choeung Ek (one of thousands – there were many of these Killing Fields that were scattered throughout the country). After the Khmer Rouge were defeated by the Vietnamese, the Killing Fields were horrifically discovered and exhumed. It is estimated that over 1.3 million people were executed and discarded in these fields. Visiting this place brought forth many emotions for us all. There is such a juxtaposition to today where it is a very serene place and you can walk around in silence, only listening to the birds, and trying to imagine what life was like at this place and time. It is difficult to understand. We listened to a very informative audio guide that lead us throughout the fields. It was important to hear the information as you stood at the graves to help you make as much sense of a place like this as you possibly can.
From there, we travelled back into the city, and visited the Tuol Seng Genocide Museum (also known as S-21). This was a former High School that, during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, was turned into a place to torture people in hopes to find out “information” about their enemies. They tortured the people to the point where they would lie and make up stories to try to get the torture to stop. Over 20,000 people were tortured in the walls of this school – many of them succumbing to death from the abuse they had to endure there. Our guide was really wonderful in helping us to understand and try to comprehend the atrocities that occurred there. His parents lived through the Khmer Rouge reign and his own history is effected by what happened in Cambodia during this time.
All of this is just so horrifically unbelievable. We just couldn’t understand – how can humans treat each other in this way? It is so hard to gain a true understanding of it, but we did try our best. I know we all thought of what we would do if we faced a situation something similar. It is almost impossible to put yourself in that situation when you have not experienced anything like it in your life. However, learning all of this was a necessary part of coming to Cambodia. It is essential that every traveller try to learn as much about the genocide in hopes that history won’t repeat itself (but looking at history – this is sadly almost inevitable).
It made Thursday’s experience of visiting the People Improvement Organization (PIO) that much sweeter though. On Thursday, it was wonderful to witness how Cambodia can preserver and rise from the ashes of their very recent history. And it is able to do so through people who are willing to give of themselves to help their fellow humans around them. The PIO is a school and orphanage that helps children who live in the slums of Phnom Penh. It is founded by Phymean Noun who was there on Thursday to greet us and tell us about how she started the PIO. Our experience here was that of pure joy. We were able to see first hand the opportunities being provided to people who would never have them without someone’s help. Students attend the school FOR FREE. Children stay at the orphanage and attend school FOR FREE. They are given hope and opportunity and a way out of the cycle of poverty that would have otherwise awaited them. As a treat, we took the children who live in the orphanage to a water park in Phnom Penh. We piled in 75 children into tuk tuks and drove them to a water park that looked like it had been abandoned in the 60s. But to the children – it was the BEST place on earth. They swam, screamed, giggled and for a few hours – just got to be kids who didn’t have to worry about anything other than having fun. It was a beautiful thing. I spent the day with my sponsor child, Raksa who has really grown into a healthy young girl. She arrived to the shelter a couple of years ago terribly afraid and badly malnourished. She looks really fantastic and we played together for most of the afternoon. Kelso supports her older brother Cha Phrom and I was also able to spend some time talking football with him as well (in honour of Kelso who wasn’t able to be there).
On the way back to the PIO, Gwen and Pat’s tuk tuk was in an accident. A motorbike and their tuk tuk collided during the busy rush hour traffic. Everyone was ok – the man on the motorbike received the worst of the injuries of cuts and scrapes on his face and arms. Luckily, our friend Savi, raced back to save the day and to help my parents and the kids as people began to gather around the scene. Everyone was fine, but I think it was a very scary situation to be in (especially being a foreigner with young children who don’t belong to you in your care). All is now well and they have a very interesting story to tell everyone when they return!
Today we built houses. This was an experience all in itself and one that deserves to have a whole blog post dedicated to just this. We will write about this tomorrow.
We have seen people in Cambodia survive through their hardships and we are now seeing them to thrive in the opportunities that lay ahead. And it is amazing.
Yesterday was a full day of shopping, sightseeing and learning a bit about the culture and history of Cambodia. Our first stop was for a little retail therapy at my favourite dress shop – Ambre. My father decided against sitting and watching 10 women try on clothes for a couple of hours to instead drive around the city taking in the sites from the back of a tuk tuk. He really made it around everywhere and even enjoyed a couple of cold beers while doing so. He visited the water front, the Central Market, National Monument, National Museum, Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace. All by himself (only getting lost for a short while when he got dropped off at the Central Market to look around and came out the wrong side of the building). I was very impressed with his ability to navigate everything solo. Well done, Dad!
While my father checked out the sites, my mother and I really shopped our butts off. We both managed to find some really great stuff and a lot of it is getting tailor made just for us. We go in for our next fitting on Friday. Only in Asia can you get a beautifully custom designer piece of clothing made just for you in 3 days.
From there, we went for some lunch at Daughters of Cambodia. Daughters is a wonderful organization that works to help women exit the sex trafficking trade and supports them through many different initiatives so that they can make money and hopefully never return. They have a 98% success rate of keeping women out of the sex trade. Most of the women join Daughters and stay in the shelter when they are between 15-20 years of age. There was a short video to watch at the shop to explain what the organization does to support women. There is a shop where handicrafts that the women learn to make items for sale, a spa where girls are taught skills in aesthetics and a wonderful bistro serving up delicious food. It was yummy-scrumptious (as my friend Lisa would say).
We then headed up to the Tabitha office for our orientation briefing for our build. We got to meet Janne, the founder of Tabitha, who spoke to the group. She gave a history of the Khmer Rouge, painted a picture of what life was like for people in Cambodia of that time, and also gave some hard facts about the house build and interacting with rural Cambodian people. She scared the daylights out of my mother. However, Janne has to explain all of the extreme situations so that people have a sense of what it is we are doing and how important it is to remain culturally aware while out in these communities. She put it best when she said “we aren’t out there for you – we are out there for them. So we need to check our attitudes, comforts and ways of life at the door and be there only for them” (Roughly what she said – I’m paraphrasing). My mom is mostly worried about offending someone out in the community and (like all of us) the lack of a running water and a bathroom. But the reality is that if you are aware of your own actions and act with kindness and you smile (the other universal language other than Gangnam Style) then they will do the same in return. It’s really that simple. The toilet situation – well we really can’t do anything to help that. Just do your best in that situation. I guess we will have to just make due for one day. After our briefing, we did some shopping around the Tabitha shop. Tabitha is known for its hand crafted silk and there are lots of things to buy.
From there, we departed to catch a boat to take us on a sunset river cruise. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of a sunset due to the cloud cover, but it was a beautiful evening and the breeze from the river felt wonderful. It was amazing to take in the sights of Phnom Penh from the river and offers a different perspective to view the city. Our friends, Wan and Savi and their cousin, Nim and Brother-in-law, See (who are also our tuk tuk drivers) came with us on the boat. It was fantastic to share a couple of beers and chat while floating down the river. Savi leaned over at one point to let me know that he had never been on the boat and cruised down the Mekong in Phnom Penh before so it was great to share the experience together.
And, as it somehow usually does with me, our conversation turned to boxing. I learned that See was # 3 boxer in Cambodia in 2009 and Savi drove me to a boxing gym a couple of years ago – so he was sure to introduce us. We talked quite awhile about our favourite boxers and some of the recent fights that were shown on TV and he is going to try to arrange for me to do a training session with his old coach too on Friday. That would be pretty cool. 🙂
We ended our day with a dinner at a delicious Mediterranean restaurant – Ocean. Really lovely food and since there were 14 of us dining together, when we entered the restaurant, my friend Celeste mentioned to a man dining alone that we apologized in advance if we were a bit noisy. Through that conversation, we found out that the man was actually from Owen Sound, Ontario (Canada) which is only about 3 hours from where my parents are. What a small world we live in. I absolutely love it when things like this happen.
So – it has been a wonderful first day in Phnom Penh and our views of the city will always shift and change the more we learn, experience and immerse ourselves in this wonderful city.
Yesterday we spent the afternoon travelling to Tonle Sap Lake District outside of Siem Reap. This area is located along a riverway leading to the Tonle Sap Lake. The community is actually made of up mostly Vietnamese people living along the water ways. It is unique for two things: its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. The latter couldn’t be more true at this moment during the rainy season.
We drove for less than an hour as far as we possibly could until we literally ran out of road to drive on. The drive cut short by at least 25 minutes because the road simply ceased to exist. We ended up boating down where the road once was for over 30 minutes to reach the start of where the Tonle Sap community usually starts. We could easily tell where roads were because the trees lined the paths and poked out of the water. There was water EVERYWHERE. Literally all you could see were the tops of trees for kilometres. Every now and again, a house could be seen, often sitting below the water line, or sitting precariously just above it. It was really humbling to see this and try to understand what life must be like for people who live in this area during the rainy season. This isn’t the first time that this happened. It is a way of life. And definitely not an easy one.
The Global Post reports that “More than 100 are dead, roughly 850 square miles flooded and more than 60,000 evacuated from their homes, according to situation reports prepared by United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. To varying degrees, two-thirds of Cambodia’s provinces have been hit by a flooding crisis.” Globalpost.com
Travelling and seeing first hand the experience of those who live this harsh reality daily was very difficult to comprehend, but it made us all think about the houses we are about to build on Saturday and how desperately they are needed for people to survive in these conditions.
Despite these harsh conditions, everyone was waving to say hello. The kids were scrambling to wave and shout out greetings to us (while also demonstrating the universal language of dancing the “Gangnam Style” as we floated past their houses. We still can’t figure out how Psy and Gangnam Style has made it to this community but it has!
We have now travelled to Phnom Penh and the city itself is dry, but outside of the city thousands of people have been affected by the water that is currently flowing through Cambodia. We hope the sun stays out and dries this all up as quickly as possible.
Sunshine – do your work!
Yesterday was a very big day of sightseeing. We departed at 8am and returned around 6:30pm. Wow, what a day! We had a fantastic time with our guide Tom showing us all the wonders of Angkor. We learned so much in that time frame and all of the facts, tidbits and history really helped us to understand so much about this place during particular parts of history. As I had said before, I haven’t visited these sites in 9 years, but they were even more majestic than I remembered them to be.
Our guide, Tom (Mr. Theara) was phenomenal. (Check him out for your next visit www.angkorguidetour.com) He knew everything. Literally everything. Even down to knowing my camera so well that he not only was our tour guide, but he was also our new photographer for the trip. He has a true love for photography and I happily let him snap away on my camera for the day and he was in his element. He owns the same camera himself so he was quite the expert! And I need to take a refresher photography course!!
Throughout the course of the day we visited 4 sites. We began at the creme de la creme, the head honcho, the big daddy of wats, THE wat to see – Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was built in the 13th century. It took approximately 35 years, over 350,000 people and 5,000 elephants to create this masterpiece. It is absolutely breathtaking and a true wonder of the world when you consider how it could possibly be built using rudimentary tools to complete it and also the fact that all of the stone was brought from a mountain that is 60km away. The details in the carvings, layout and planning is astounding. It took us a few hours to get through all of the grounds, to capture all of the information and to sometimes just sit back and take a look around.
Our next stop was to Angkor Thom complex to see the Bayon temple. Bayon is remarkable for the 254 faces that were originally scuplted into the stone. Now, what remains is only a small portion of that, but they are still amazing to see. Each face represents the king who wanted the temple to be built for him. The symmetry in all of these temples is really phenomenal and I can’t believe how these things were measured out to ensure that they were in line. Brilliant.
After a lovely lunch break and an ice cold Angkor Beer to recharge our batteries we were off again to see two more temples. This was a really hot part of the day, however the long walk down the path to our next temple – Ta Phrom was lovely. There was an amazing breeze floating down the path and there was a orchestra playing beautiful music. When we got closer, we realized that the orchestra was comprised of victims of landmines who can no longer do their original jobs and have learned to play instruments in order to support their family. The music became even more beautiful knowing this. Ta Phrom is an amazing temple ruin. They are working hard to restore the temple one brick at a time. It is absolutely painstaking work and the mother of all jig saw puzzles to be able to lift, carry, number, plan and reset all of the stones in the exact same way that they have fallen out or been taken out. Unbelievable and no surprise why it takes many, many years of work. The jungle has really worked its way through this temple which makes it a beautiful juxtaposition of nature and man-made beauty.
Our last stop was to Bantey Srei temple. I had never visited this temple before and I was glad that Tom took us to see it. It was so different to the other temples and the focus was on the intricate carvings on every single piece of stone that made up its walls. The temple is a gorgeous red sandstone. The carvings are amazing to think of someone making it today, but this temple was even older than Angkor Wat so the tools that were used must have been very primitive. We were the only people here at this time and it was such a lovely end to a spectacular day of temple sight seeing – it was very peaceful and serene. Gorgeous.
By the time we were back to the hotel, we were very tired. But we showered up and headed to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) to end a wonderfully fantastic day in Cambodia. The FCC has been renovated from an old Govenor’s mansion and it was a step back from the busy pub street area. A great place to just enjoy the warm Cambodian night.
The beauty of Cambodia is truly a sight to behold.
Even my iphone can capture the amazingness that is Cambodia! (all photos of temples on this blog are compliments of my iphone!!)
We have landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Yesterday was a fantastic start to our Cambodia adventures. We were picked up by our hotel and met our wonderful driver and guide, “Tom” (obviously not his real name, but he says that his nickname is Tom). He is a character and had my parents laughing the whole drive to the hotel, while also explaining a bit about how Siem Reap has developed in the past 10 years. We drove by lots and lots of flooding. As we flew in, I saw that the countryside is absolutely drowned. There is terrible flooding all around Siem Reap and it reminded me of how important it is that we will be building houses, at the end of this week, that sit above the water.
Our hotel (The Mulberry) is not too far from the main part of town near Pub Street and the Night Market. It is down a quiet lane with family houses lining the small street. We arrived and were greeted very warmly by everyone that works at the hotel. Even the cleaning staff were waving at us and saying hello. I love boutique oasis-style hotels. Absolutely gorgeous. We were then shown to our rooms. The hotel really went all out for Mom and Dad as I had mentioned that they were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary via email weeks ago. They have been upgraded to the suite that is enormous. They also delivered a lovely bottle of New Zealand wine in celebration of their anniversary and decorated their bed with flowers (all complimentary!!). So we sat on the balcony enjoying a short sunset, watching the storm clouds come in and celebrating their 40 years together. Then we ordered another bottle of wine J
After the rain passed by, we decided to head out for some food and check out the town. The Siem Reap I remember visiting years ago was that of a small town. It is no longer small. Nor is it much of a “town”. It has really changed and tourism has really taken a bite out of the quaint place I remember it to be. However, despite the bright lights and music pumping from certain places, I was still able to find some things that reminded me of how it once was, and share that with my family. We decided to avoid the throngs of tourists on Pub Street and head to another quieter street lined with restaurants and shops, but with a much more down to earth atmosphere. We decided on a Khmer BBQ restaurant that allowed you to cook your own food at the table. It wasn’t much in the way of “traditional” food (as there seems to be some form of the hot pot or BBQ in most Asian cultures), but the food was delicious and it was fun to do together. We also tried crocodile (which is readily available in Cambodia near the water). Tastes like chicken! No, really it is a white meat and has a lighter texture than chicken and has a very mildly fishy taste. Talk about risk-takers on their first night in Cambodia!
After all that croc, it was then time for bed. We are just getting up to start our day of temple sightseeing with our new friend Tom. I am looking forward to seeing the temples from a new perspective and watching the looks on G & P’s faces as they see how amazing a sight the temples are to behold.