A Travellerspoint blog

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Nov 29. How to spend a weekend?

29th of November, Friday.

sunny 31 °C

Friday - the week has slipped away, though it has been jam-packed with activities. We had a lazy start, but still managed to have breakfast by 8 o'clock. Then we headed to the market to look. Danielle wanted to buy some gifts, so we wandered through tiny stalls packed with clothing and interesting handiworks. We bought colourful trousers with elastic at the ankles - lounge wear at home, some beautifully woven straw baskets, and hair clips for the girls in Danielle's class.

market stalls - Maybe some pictures later.

We came upon many manicure/ pedicure/massage places and finally decided to treat ourselves. We had a wonderful deluxe treatment that started with our feet being washed in lemon and jasmine water. We relaxed in the cool room for just over an hour while our feet were pampered and our nails polished. The young ladies were so attentive and gentle, and did a superb job. The price: $5 each. The $3 tip was considered too generous, but it was worth more!
Danielle is enjoying the luxury. Me too!

Oh, I could have this done every month if I were to stay in Cambodia.

It was getting close to 12:00 so we headed off to ACODO. Today went smoothly, with Danielle and I sharing the teaching and enjoying getting to know the kids better by spending one-on-one time with them in the classes. Th 5 hours of classes were soon over - a breeze with 2 teachers.

We headed back to the hotel to change and to head to town for a light supper. Indian food this time. We chatted to the owner of a tiny establishment, and were soon looking over a fine and varied display of wonderful aromatic dishes - too much for us to finish!

We didn't linger all that long, as we had booked tickets to see "Rosana The first and only International Cabaret" We dressed for the evening, and took a tuk-tuk to the site. We were ushered into a large grand theatre, and sipped on a cool drink as the seats filled up. Soon the show began. We were in for a treat.

The show started and soon, in one number featuring brides, the brides all came up the centre aisle and one came through each aisle and daintily shook hands with each of the audience members. They are "lady-boys" but most Canadian brides don't look so luscious and striking.

There were grand and graceful waltzes.

A Chinese Opera.

Sultry Brazilian, and West Indian "Carnival." Rumba was a hot number.

Bollywood - As good and as showy as I've ever seen!

This dance was actually the opening number. One that is often featured at the ACODO orphanage. I watched it so carefully, as I had been told that some of the girls that had left ACODO were performing at this show. I studied each face, but these girls (yes, actual girls in this number only) were not the ones I had gotten to know in January.

The peacock dance is a traditional Cambodian dance. So very graceful.

The show was alive with energy: The curtain on the stage hardly touching the ground before it rose so reveal another ornate set featuring 20 or more splendidly dressed ladyboys. One of the spectacular numbers was one that was pumped with energy and was more than 5 minutes long. A marathon of dances. I will add that to today's blog as soon as I find a chance to upload some of the video I filmed.

Well ! Not a bad start to the weekend!

Posted by Sue McNicholas 23:02 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Nov 30 ACODO Farm

Saturday, Nov 29

sunny 33 °C

Today had an early start, as we had arranged to meet Veasna at the orphanage at 7 o'clock. He was going to the farm to bring 4 of the boys out. They were spending the weekend at the farm, helping with the rice harvesting. We arrived and piled into the van with boys from the class that Danielle had been teaching. There was lots to see along the way but the boys and Danielle spent an hour catching up on sleep.

A popular mode of transport for everyone!

A motorcycle of chickens all bound for the market. I figured that there were at least 80 chickens.

As we got into the countryside, we saw rice being dried in the sun.

Sokai and Honghav are missing the countryside. The other 2 boys, Poeurng and Chen, as well as Danielle also caught up on sleep.

Most of the countryside in Cambodia is farming area, so we saw many animals on and beside the highway.

We arrived at the farm and the boys collected scythes and headed out to the rice fields. Veasna asked if we would like to be shown around the farm. We had a look at the cooking and the eating area, which were actually primitive, but apparently adequate. We then headed out to view the fish ponds, which were arranged as moats surrounding the square rice fields. Veasna gave an animated explanation of the methods and the plans of the farm. He explained the reason for the type of fish being grown - different varieties, so that they can take advantage of various prices at the market, and fish harvesting time also to coincide with better prices in the market. We found a fish feed bucket, and when it was put in the pond a wild flapping and jumping of fish ensued. I put my hand in the water to see if these fish were like the fish-massage ones of the night before. Well, these were certainly a robust version and it is a good thing that I had not done this with older and bigger ones. My fingers were pulled and sucked - but no teeth, thank goodness!

We went down a bumpy dirt road and arrived at the farm. These buildings are the eating area, bedrooms and bathroom as well as a repairs building.

This is the kitchen!

Danielle and I headed out with Veasna on our tour of the farm.

Veasna attracted the fish with a fish feed pail, as Danielle and I looked on.

You can see these ravenous fish going wild for the unscheduled feeding.

The fish appear to be carp and about 10" long. They can grow to 10 times this weight, but will go to market at about 2 pounds each.

We continued along the roads separating the fields and soon came across the rice field that was being harvested. There we were hailed by the overseer, the four boys as well as several hired labourers. We found a spot to cross the moat and walked upon the field towards them. Veasna explained how the rice was grown with flooding and drying of the field, protecting young rice plants from insects- mostly grasshoppers- and allowing the fallen grains to become food for mice and rats, which are also eaten in this part of the world. Who wouldn't want to eat free range animals grown organically and fed on grass and grain all their lives.

We continued along towards the rice field where we were welcomed by the rice cutting crew.

The overseer hailed us to come over and have a closer look.

We caught up with the crew and watched them cutting rice in the relentless sun. We were invited to have a try. Nothing to it, if you want to cut a bowl of rice, but apparently one field gives about 3 - 4 tons of rice, so the work is from early morning until 5:00. We chatted to the fellows, and kidded around a bit. Veasna told me that he is ok at cutting rice, but when I asked my student, Honghav, he laughed and said: "He's no good. He spends too much time in the office. Ha, ha!"

I was shown how to harvest rice.

Danielle tried her hand at harvesting. She decided to cut enough to get a small bowl full of rice to cook later.

We continued along to the barns, where we saw a herd of white cows. The herd has greatly increased in size since I was here in January. The animals are gentle, though I am glad there is a fence between us and them. We fed them some of the rice plants that we were carrying.

Veasna explains more to Danielle; how the plan of the farm is to do the cycle: Rice for harvest; leftover grain eaten by mice and rats which will be eaten; stalks (the hay) given to the cattle; manure from the cattle to enrich the soil for growing the rice. In addition, the fish in the moats surrounding the rice fields add their own organic fertilizer to the fields, and grow in the water feeding the rice. Chicken hatcheries also come into the equation.

Danielle has one solution for all animals - Feed them!

The cattle in this part of the world are beautiful and exotic looking.
These ones are bread and end up working on the small plots of land owned by farmers in the area.

We had spent 2 hours looking around, and started back towards the van to head back to town. When we arrived there, I met Hengchhea Chheav , the founder of ACODO. He was feeding fish in small enclosures. He greeted me, and explained that he is trying different varieties to see which fare the best, and also to take advantage of prices in the market. He is an unassuming man, whom I was happy to meet again. I was pleased to see that the farm is progressing, and that, though slow, there is growth and success here.

Tour nearly over, and we were back at the entry to the farm. These pens hold small fish, which are carefully fed and monitored before they will be introduced to one of the 'fish moats'.

Hengchhea Chheav is the founder of ACODO. He spends a lot of time on the farm, coaxing it along. Here he is feeding the small fish.

We headed back to town, just Danielle and me and Veasna. I watched the roads for different modes of transport, groups of children leaving Saturday school (!) and interesting sights beside the road.

We are heading back to Siem Reap - around 70 km. We see school kids finishing their Saturday morning school and heading home by bicycle.

Back to the city, where we face the traffic of a around 300,000 inhabitants.

Veasna dropped us off at our hotel, and we soon headed off towards town. Our Khmer Cooking class at Le Tigre de Papier was about to start. I will tell you about it in the next blog, as this one is getting a bit long.

Till then ......

Posted by Sue McNicholas 16:40 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Nov 30 Khmer Cooking Class

Nov 30, Saturday afternoon

sunny 32 °C

Danielle had looked on line for things to do in Siem Reap. A Khmer cooking lesson appealed to her, so we booked it for Saturday afternoon. We headed to Pub Street, where we found an appealing little restaurant called "Le Tigre de Papier".
A nice little spot under the yellow umbrellas

We arrived and were seated with a small group of would be chefs. We relaxed with a drink and perused the menu to choose a starter and an entree that we would prepare. Once we had chosen, we met Chenny, our master chef, who said that we would go to the market to see where cooking a Cambodian dish always starts. We wandered through, smelling fresh ginger root, leeks, unusual mushrooms, fragrant spices and mountains of wonderfully fresh vegetables. Some of us purchases spices to take home. Those who didn't vowed to return to the market later.
Chenny shows us around the market. Here she presents a banana flower.

My crew looks at trinkets before venturing deep into the market.

The market is cavernous, and a sense of direction is needed to navigate to the fruit and vegetable spots.

We wander past mounds of just picked produce

Ready made sauces.....

Squash, tomatoes, sweet peppers, aubergine .......

All these I can identify. But there are plenty more in the market that are new to me.

Mangoes, bananas, ginger root and lychees.

Ladies selling their wares were good at multi-tasking.

Once we returned to the restaurant, we were ushered upstairs where Chenny had us wash our hands in lemon water and don hats and aprons. We then sat at a long table and were presented with our plate of ingredients to make our individual dish.
Chenny promised to be a good orchestrator of the Kitchen Dance.

The happy chefs, with Chenny at the head of the table.

Chenny got us started: "First, banana flower salad people, ...this is ginger - peel like this - chop fine like this - this is banana flower- peel off like so - chop chop very thin slices......" Then we were under way in out tasks, she sought another would be chef: "Please! Fresh spring rolls. Who make them? ..." Soon we were lined up and chopping and laughing. Some ingredients were familiar and others were not found in your average Canadian supermarket. For the next two hours, we sat at the table chopping or relaxed and looked at the goings on at Pub Street, below, or we ground spices with a mortar and pestle. In a beautifully orchestrated way, we were brought to the gas stoves at the sides of the room, where we sautéed or steamed, adding plenty of coconut milk or fish sauce. A dizzying number of fresh bits and pieces were added, and it seemed to be a beautifully choreographed dance of chefs with Chenny gently leading us on.

Chopping, slicing, peeling and tasting was about to begin at a dizzying pace.

Banana flower must be sliced very thinly, then soaked in lemon juice. Warning: it is soooo bitter if tried before the lemon juice soaking!

Julienne the carrots. Thinly slice the hot peppers.

Chop the leeks. Squash, then chop the garlic. Plenty of garlic!

At the gas stove, veggies were added along with plenty of coconut milk, and stirred.

At last, the dressing for the salads. Erlin (from Iceland) is given the task of grinding the spices with a mortar and pestle.

At last, we had completed our preparations and had cooked two Khmer dishes each. We removed our hats and aprons and descended the stairs, where we were once again seated at the comfortable table inside the restaurant. We settled in with our new friends and cooking companions to enjoy a feast - too much for me to eat. And the price of this wonderful three hour experience including the lovely meal: $14.

Presentation is an important element of a fine chef's craft. We use palm leaves and flowers to make the presentation complete.

Downstairs, we are seated and our lovely dishes are presented to us.

Certificates of our culinary training were presented and we each wrote our email address, so that all recipes could be forwarded to us. You should check it out: Le Tigre de Papier
If you are in Cambodia, you surely should try it. If not, you may be interested in some of the recipes that are offered.

We parted company, and Danielle and I decided to stroll along the downtown area for an hour. With full bellies, and darkness setting in, we headed towards the night market for a last look at trinkets, then back to the hotel to relax, do some reading and to have an early night.

Not far from Pub Street, the night market attracts plenty of tourists.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 23:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

1 Dec Jasmine's village and the Silk Farm

Sunday, 1st December

sunny 32 °C

Today Danielle and I are going to visit Jasmine's village. Her sister lives there with two little children and her husband.I have met them before and they are darling - the kids too. I thought we would bicycle there, but Kosa, the husband, arrived on his motorbike and away we went with him.
We arrived in the village, about 10 km from downtown Siem Reap

We reached Kosa's house to find Jasmine there already and holding her new little 6 week old niece. A baby who never cries - Danielle just loved that. Cosa is wonderful to talk to and when asked, he told us about the well building that he has been doing over the last 6 - 8 years. He has just completed several within the Angkor Wat area, where a number of families have always lived - without wells. He has also been involved in an English language school - well, that is a classroom. He promised that he would take us there to see it. We played with the baby and tried to speak with Visilili, the 5 year old little girl, but she was too shy. We sat on a raised platform and had an unusual lunch of mussels and fish and spicy hot vegetables. Not anywhere as good as the crickets I ate when I visited in January. Danielle was relieved, because she had lost a bet and had promised to eat crickets. In talking with Kosa, I found out that he had been a monk for twelve years. His father had let him start when he was 10, because the family was poor and Kosa wanted to study to make something of his life. I learned about the monk's day and purpose - to be harmonious and bring peace to people that they spent part of every day visiting. A number of hours of study was done every day. I was shown Kosa's "monk identification papers" (for lack of the correct terminology). He really is a patient and peaceful person.

I'm sitting with the baby, her mom, sister Visilili, and her dad Kosa.

Danielle loves sitting with this little baby who just never cries!

A happy little person!

Visilili is a bit suspicious about sharing her little sister.

This really is a beautiful family.

Jasmine is doing the wash-up while the rest of us play with Visilili's baby sister.

Jasmine always has a smile for everyone. (Beside her is one of the pumps that Kosal has put in in his community.)

Kosa's wife does everything so cheerfully - even stepping into the pig's pen to clean up.

After a relaxing hour, we bid goodbye and found we had 2 motorbikes with drivers to visit the wells and classroom. Kosa's neighbour had agreed to take me there for a very few dollars. I hopped on the back of Kosa's bike, and was engaged in conversation as we rode towards Angkor Wat. We were let in to the area with Kosa - no fees- as we are sort of tourists, but not really. We took a back pathway behind the famous temple and discovered very basic housing. Kosa was greeted warmly by several people we met, and he showed us a number of the wells that he had installed. I told him that I was happy to pay for one.

Here Danielle is trying her hand at pumping the well that Kosa installed two months ago for three families living behind the Angkor Wat Temple.

We went on following a small dirt path until we came to the "School". It is a one roomed building made out of thatched walls and a tall steel roof. The desks are well built, and anchored to the cement floor, perhaps so that they will not be repurposed! There is now someone who I believe is from Belgium and who teaches the kids every day. Kosa seems to have managed to make that happen. I enjoyed speaking with Kosa, but as our other driver spoke no English, I thought Danielle would like to swap. We did so and continued on.

This is the school where local children learn English.

It is well built. The room is cool and airy, and has sturdy desks.

Danielle is told that the thatch that makes up the walls comes from the palm trees around the school.

Further along Kosa asked Danielle if she would like to see elephants. You know the answer. We came upon them in a large shady enclosure. They seemed to be simply standing around and eating. These elephants often walk around the temple with a trained rider on their back. I believe they take tourists on rides. Danielle was disappointed that she didn't get a chance to feed these animals.

As we rode along the path we were impeded. It seems like a water buffalo figured he had the right of way here on the path. Do you see him in the shadow?

There were about twelve elephants in the enclosure.

I believe Danielle was contemplating stepping over the fence to go and visit the elephants.

Here we are heading away from Angkor Wat. You can see the temples of this world heritage site in the background.

On our way home Kosa turned off the road to a temple. We drove into the grounds and passed by a shrine to the victims of the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970's.

We drove around the grounds of the temple. Kosa told us that this is where he spent a large part of his twelve years as a monk.

We were certainly enjoying ourselves, but knew we had to go. We had booked a tuk tuk driver for 3:00 to visit the silk farm. Kosa took us back to our hotel with time to spare. I happened to ask him about getting a cell phone for Cambodia. No problem: "Hop on the bike, and we can get one right now." We drove about two blocks away and spoke to a Chinese man with a hairy mole on his face (A SIGN OF LUCK!). I bought a new Nokia for $21 and a sim card for phoning Canada for 10 bucks. It is working beautifully,and has crystal clear reception. Over the week I called Canada and England quite a few times, and there is still plenty of money remaining on the sim card. (Eat your heart out Bell Mobility and Rogers!) Back to the hotel, and we parted company warmly. I will visit his family again when I am here next. He said he will show me the well I helped with.

A few hours later, heading to the silk farm .....

Our driver, Kolab, had driven me in from the airport, and Danielle, too. He had arrived with a tuk tuk, and soon we set out to the silk farm. We arrived at the entrance gate of "Artisans Angkor" and were told there is no entrance fee. Danielle and I were greeted by a young man who said that he would show us through all the stages of silk making. If he is like the last young person who guided me through here two years ago, he will be well worth tipping. The labour intensive production of silk is fascinating. The pictures will tell much of the story.

The whole process of silk making starts with silkworms. Here they are munching away on mulberry leaves.

So that they can be harvested easily, the silkworms are allowed to spin their cocoons on these baskets rather than in the branches of mulberry bushes.

Our young guide shows us how the silk filaments are unravelled from the cocoons.

The filaments from twenty or so silkworms are twisted together to make "single" silk threads that will be used in the manufacture of silk cloth.

This is the chrysalis stage of the silkworm, with its silken cocoon removed. It has a nice buttery taste, and is eaten as a snack in the countryside.

Bits and pieces of debris have to be picked out of the skeins of silk thread.

Skeins of silk are dyed and then spun onto spools so that they can be used in weaving the cloth.

Alternatively, silk threads can be tied and then dyed to produce coloured threads to be used in weaving certain patterns in the silk cloth.

The "warp" threads are put in place by hand. With as many as 450 threads per inch, this process requires speedy and deft hands,

Weaving is then done at a dizzying pace.

The shuttle flies back and forth as the position of the warp threads are changed by feet pressing on treadles.

One of the last steps in silk making: The fringe or tassels on the ends of a silk scarf are twisted by hand.

Next time you look at silk, you might notice the delicate pattern of the threads, in addition to the colours woven into the cloth.

I did a bit of research on the silk farm, which is part of Artisans Angkor. Decades of war, culminating in the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era from 1975-1979, created a severe disruption in education and resulted in the deaths of more than 90% of Cambodia’s artists. Artisans Angkor is a Cambodian social business whose purpose is to create job opportunities for young people living in rural areas, while reviving traditional Khmer craftsmanship. The company, whose story began in 1992, regularly provides young Cambodians aged from 18 to 25 years-old with free vocational training. The compensated training period lasts from 6 to 9 months and at the end of this apprenticeship, the trainees are granted the status of “artisans”. If they wish to, they can then integrate Artisans Angkor where an employment opportunity is guaranteed to them.
In 2013, Artisans Angkor employed more than 1300 people, of whom 900 are craftsmen and women working in 48 different workshops situated in the Siem Reap Province. The company provides a higher salary compared to the average wages in the sector and provides its employees with medical insurance and other social advantages.

It has been a complete day, and my head is feeling full, but Danielle's tummy is not. Tonight we found and ate at a Mexican restaurant called Viva! Tasty and of course, a good price. We didn't stroll the city this evening. We headed back to the hotel. Our arrangement to go to the nightclub with Khamera was postphoned. He had been too tired, and just as well, as we were happy to have an early night.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 20:18 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

2 Dec. Just a regular day

Monday, December 2nd. Our first teaching day in December.

sunny 31 °C

Monday has snuck up on us again! We decided to spend our morning by the swimming pool. We lay in the sun, reading. Danielle with "Gone Girl" and me with "The Elements of Murder" a history about the chemical elements and how they have been used in poisoning kings and rulers or superfluous husbands or wives or lovers. An entertaining and relaxing morning.

At midday we headed to ACODO. We arrived to find that the kids we had come to teach were all piled into the van, each dressed in their school uniform. Nobody had mentioned to us that classes in town change around between mornings and afternoons at the beginning of each month. We would not be teaching until our 3 p.m. class.

We decided that a stroll through the market would be just peachy. The display of goods is a bit overwhelming. We looked for gifts for Danielle's beau's family. Silk scarves - Taking the time to look almost always results in buying. When not quite sure if you really want it, one usually hears: "What you pay, lady. I give you special price." and the price is soon irresistible. We bought two scarves and then wandered on past other stalls. Later we came to a jewelry store. Again we found a lovely jade necklace and a silver bangle decorated with elephants.

Market stalls are overstuffed

This young lady was charming and she really wanted me to buy a little bit of jewelry. I couldn't resist.

I bought a silver bangle and Danielle bought a silk jewelry travel bag.

Danielle was sorely tempted to buy a ring. Nice hands to show off....... mine are definitely farmer's hands.

This was getting to be hot work, so when we saw the massage parlour next door, we decided that a foot massage would perk us up. Oh, my goodness! This is the ultimate 10 minute break - First, feet and legs washed, then gentle hands of steel rubbed and kneaded the muscles relieving all tension. I could go for this again and again, and for less than the price of a "Tim's"

Who can say no to a foot and leg massage for a buck?

We cut through the market - finding more of the interesting market stalls. We found beautifully woven baskets, and bought one. Then it was getting close to teaching time. With rejuvenated legs and feet, we walked the kilometre and a half to the school past our hotel. This time of the day it is usually around 34 degrees. There are plenty of tuk tuks and bicycles on the road. We walked on the dirt path beside the river watching some boys fishing there, until we came to ACODO orphanage.

Kids and adults are always fishing in the river beside the road.

The kids are happy to spend an hour learning English.

Danielle has been taking the afternoon's first class. These kids are older and keen to learn to improve their very good English. The first hour was spent doing countable and uncountable nouns and the use of some, any, few, and a few. Danielle has taken to this like a duck to water. She has learned the names of the 7 kids in this class, but each day the number increases. (?) All was very satisfactory. The next class was mine. They are doing the same work as the previous class, so I lucked into an easy ride. Classes finished up and we chatted to the kids from both classes who were around to just hang out with their teachers.

We walked back to the hotel at 5:30, but we didn't have time to spare, as the owners of the hotel, Sona and Samnang (it means Good Luck) were taking us out to their favourite vegetarian restaurant. They also invited Helen. Samnang drove us, and soon we were seated in an aroma filled room with menues entirely in Khmer. Lucky for us, there were pictures. In the end Sona and Helen chose the dishes, and it seemed we would share them. Well, the mushroom dish would make a carnivore's mouth water! In all, the food was excellent and spicy and crunchy. Hard to adequately describe. We sipped a very scented clear tea after the meal, then ambled out to our find our car. Samnang drove us by "The Butterfly Garden" which is now on our list of places to see, as it is a fine place to relax and dine and the fact that its social mission is to contribute to building a promising future for children and youth in Cambodia. Have a look at butterfliesofangkor.com Best to come here during the day and sit amongst the butterflies while sipping tea. We were home by 8. We thanked our kind "aunty and uncle" as Khemra calls them, then we decided to go for another stroll in town.

Sona, me and Somnang. We enjoyed a great vegetarian meal with Danielle and Helen, a lady from Australia.

I was keen to find the restaurant "Geneveve's" where Sovy is known as the singing waiter. We did find it, but it was booked out for the evening. I asked if I could simply have a look in, and say a quick "Hi" to Sovy. The owner was happy to oblige, and we did. We left quickly, as there was the usual hubbub of serving dinners to several tables. We booked to return for supper tomorrow night. On to the 'Night Market', and Danielle bought her last gift. Now, it was really time to head home and turn in.

Posted by Sue McNicholas 03:01 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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