Saturday, 21 March 2009

Chum Reap Lea Cambodia, see you soon.

I thought I would take the time to finish the blogging adventure now that I am home and settled.

I last left you in Sihonoukville, after having way too much sun and looking like a piglet. Fortunately, no one mistook us for bacon and we arrived safely back in Phnom Penh, looking a little less English Tourist Lobster and a little more Sun Kissed Aussie. We decided to take the cheaper bus this time, the difference was about $3 and the cheaper bus had no toilet (considering I avoided the toilet on the more expensive bus like the plague (it was really, really tiny and smelled of urine and farts) there really wasn't much difference). It turns out the cheap bus driver thought he was a rally driver, and manoeuvred that sucker like Meatloaf did in the Spice Girls Movie when they thought there was a bomb on their double decker bus. Fortunately, there was no bomb or Spice Girls (I would have had to kick Posh Spice in the skinny little shins), and we got to Phnom Penh in record time, 4 hours on the dot.

We checked into the Waterview and then into Bogie and Bacall's, making sure they had space for us to head to the Dump again the next day. John went to the Psar to get some soccer balls and I headed back to the Waterview to indulge in some quiet time, watching a movie (there was a channel on cable that was the "DVD Channel" and it consistently just played random DVD's). It was here that a movie called Americano came on. It's about a 22 year old guy holidaying in Spain, he becomes fascinated by Spanish culture and wants to stay however he as a great career waiting for him at home. Therein lies his personal dilemma, should he follow the beaten path and head back to his promising career and "Live the Dream", or stay in Spain and experience adventure by following the road less travelled?

The next morning it was time to visit Beautiful Dump Kids again. With soccer balls in hand, we eagerly jumped in the back of the truck for another rewarding and grounding day. This time I was on first aid duty, however, someone forgot the gloves. Here lies Shannon's moral dilemma: "Do I risk my health and possibly my life to administer first aid without gloves to these amazing children who just need to be cared for?" or "Do I refuse to administer first aid and attempt to help in other ways so I can protect myself?" Taking into consideration that these children are exposed to medical waste (used swabs, syringes, used gloves and other surgical paraphernalia) on a regular basis, I decided to protect myself and be the first aid assistant. Someone did have to administer first aid that day, the adorable little faces already lining up to have someone look at their scraped knee, administer a bandaid and let them know that someone cares. So Richard took the bullet, ensuring that he first did not have any cuts or abrasions on his own hands, then making sure he thoroughly washed and disinfected his hands after every patient. Fortunately that day there were no serious injuries to attend to, just some minor cuts and abrasions.

Being the first aid assistant meant I got to distract a few of the patients in pain by singing songs with them, handed out iodine, gauze, tape and bandaids. A couple of the little girls were fascinated with what was going on and decided to become the assistants assistant. They learnt very quickly what items were needed for what type of injury, made sure the patients were comfortable, stroked their hair if they were crying and also sung songs with them. These kids are truly beautiful.

Once all the food had been handed out, it was time to hang out with the friends we made last time and hand out the soccer balls (which went down a treat!). I gave out a couple of bamboo bracelets I had picked up in Angkor Wat to a few of my friends, they loved them and there were a couple of unhappy faces for those who had missed out. As David was saying goodbye, I noticed that the little girls were handing him some bracelets to say thankyou, they were the same ones I had just given them! These girls had absolutely nothing and were more than happy to give away what they did have to say thank you. The situation these kids are in truly breaks my heart. Their attitudes are an inspiration.

We said our goodbyes and when they said "We'll see you soon" I really, honestly hoped I would be back again soon.

Back at Bogie and Bacall's it was time to drown our sorrows at having to leave soon. David invited us to dinner with himself and his girlfriend Allie at his favourite pizza place. We met them out the front at 6pm and headed into "NGO Land". NGO Land stands out from the rest of Phnom Penh, in NGO Land, there are no street side food stalls, no rubbish on the side of the road and no Khmer people. NGO's are Non Government Organisations, basically charities who are based in Cambodia to help the less fortunate. Unfortunately, when travelling through NGO Land, you notice that their offices are quite luxurious, the 3 Hummers, 4 Lexus's and 2 Security Guards parked out the front are where your donations are going.

The pizza place was called Freebirds, and although quite nice, the food was double what you would pay in Phnom Penh. David informed us that it was frequented by NGO Staff. This was evident by the Lexus's parked out the front. Corruption isn't just rife within Cambodia's government, it's also rife within the "Not for Profit" organisations who are stealing donation money and attributing their gratuitous spending to "Administration Fees". Disgusting.

Even though Cambodia is a victim of corruption, there is some unbelievable good within the country. David and Allie are some of that good. While chatting to Allie over dinner (she is still learning English) she told me about how she had to drop out of school early so she could get a job and earn money. Even though she didn't attend school she managed to learn to speak Korean and Chinese fluently! She wanted John and I to come with her to visit her family back in Kom Pong Thom Province for Khmer New Year, unfortunately, Khmer New Year isn't until April and we would be back in Australia.

Allie decided over dinner that John and I were "good people" and that she would be very sad when we left. She gave me a photo of her to have so I wouldn't forget her. She's the same age as John and I but has this beautiful childish sweetness about her. David and Allie were heading to Sihonoukville the next day to check out the Rubbish Dump situation there. It's David's hope that he can find someone to set up the same project that he has going on in Phnom Penh. I hope he can find someone.

We decided to have a quiet last day in Cambodia, John and I were both not feeling 100%, starting to get runny noses and praying we hadn't caught Bird Flu! We had grand plans to visit an orphanage on the outskirts of Phnom Penh but the kids were at school so our plan was foiled. Mr Thai suggested the Russian Psar and then beers at a great bar he knew of (his payment would be in beers).

Mr Thai is a great Tuk Tuk driver in Phnom Penh, recommended to us by Richard. You can't miss him on the corner of St. 136 and Sisowath Quay, he has a Thai made tuk tuk (instead of a trailer in the back of a motorbike, Thai tuk tuk's are more like a golf cart, the driver sits behind a window on a bench and it has gears on the dash). He has adorned the front of his tuk tuk with some very fashionable bull horns. We did some last minute souvenir shopping at the Russian Psar, scoring cinematic brilliance with the likes of Eagle vs Sharks (The plural must mean it's a sequel, or Cambodilish), Burn After Reading, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Valkyrie and Slumdog Millionaire. Brilliant.

From there it was off to Maxine's, on the other side of the Tong Le Sap, run by an Australian Expat called Snowy. We were immediately greeted by the melodic tunes of The John Butler Trio and sat down to watch the sunset over the Tong Le Sap. Mr Thai is an incredibly interesting man. His English is great and his sense of humour event greater. He had some T-Shirts made up, the front saying "Tuk Tuk Driver Phnom Penh", with the Cambodian flag on the front. The back reads: "Not tonight ladies, I'm just here for a drink" it then has a picture of the bull horns from the front of his tuk tuk and the words "Oh Ok, Why not!!!"

The next morning it was off to the airport, chauffeured by none other than Mr Thai. He gave me a present just before we left, a black cotton handbag with gold elephants stitched around it.

I was feeling pretty ordinary that day, my nose was running like a tap and my head was aching terribly. Mr Thai made me promise I would get checked out by a doctor at home to make sure I hadn't picked up anything serious.By the time we got to Kuala Lumpur I had a fever. It turns out that not just KL airport smells like a musty cupboard crossed with urine, the bus we were transferred to our hotel smelled and then our hotel also smelled. The Concorde Hotel was a bit of a cultural "Melting Pot" which funnily enough was the name of the hotel restaurant that served "Beef Bacon" instead of real bacon. I found it very amusing that they were being culturally sensitive to the Muslim community by not serving pork, yet not to the very prevalent Hindi community who believe that cows are sacred? Just a sidenote: Beef bacon is terrible. Don't do it to yourself. It's just wrong.

Back in Brisvegus, it turns out I don't have bird flu, just some regular sniffles and some heart sickness for the amazing people we met.

Since then I have had the pleasure of getting stuck back into work. Part of this was a casual leasing gig at a local shopping centre for my work. While handing out free balloons to kids passing by, we ran out of the clips that go on the bottom of the balloons to help attach them to the sticks. In a sheer stroke of genius, and finger dexterity to rival that of a brain surgeon, I managed to tie a balloon onto the end of the stick. A small boy came up to ask for a free balloon, I happily handed him my invention, in which he promptly proceeded to turn his nose up at, make horrible squawking noises and convey through these noises that this balloon was not good enough for him. He wanted one that has a plastic connector. Resiting the urge to shove the balloon, stick and all down his throat sideways. I handed him another balloon, this one with our last plastic connector. As I handed it over, I thought back to the little kids at the dump, who were happy even though they had absolutely nothing. I wish I could have sent them all the balloons.

Love, hugs and a million balloons,


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