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22 Dec 2010

Merry Christmas

 Christmas hat party, it's a 'tinsel teapot' and a wise (wo)man

A little message from us to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.  Since we have arrived here our sense of shame has declined significantly, but our familiarity with all things Cambodian has gone in the other way.  Here are a few of our 'favourites'.  (NB. We'd been planning this for a while when something similar popped up on Oly's blog, great minds...)

The 12 Days of Cambodian Christmas.
Merry Christmas!!!
(Video out-takes at the bottom of this post...)

12 hammocks swinging.  Currently we have only two at home though.

11 frogs a-grilling.  Not in our kitchen (yet!).

10 cans of Angkor.  Yes please!

9 monks a-texting.  So much for denouncing material possessions...

8 ice-men cutting.  Good riddance.

7 long siestas.  As expertly demonstrated by Sam...

6 bucket showers.  Per day when it gets really hot.
5 rambutans.  Among other exotic fruits.

4 foetus eggs.  We have vowed never to eat one of these.

3 red ants.  And biting ones at that.

2 Honda Dreams.  Cambodia's bike of choice.

No animals were hurt in the making of the above video, but some pride may have been dented...

Check out Sam's face at the end (and the still!)...

The 12 tongue-twisting days of Christmas...

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

18 Dec 2010

Wrapping Paper

 More from these two later...

Cambodia is a country full of surprises and the latest one for me was on a mission to Kratie market to find something to wrap Gilly's Christmas presents in.  My expectations were very low, to be honest I was planning on buying a newspaper and using that.

Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon the town's stationery queen, she even had sellotape!  After choosing some sheets for myself I called Gilly to ask if she wanted some but, more importantly, to rank on a scale of 1-3 exactly how cheesy she wanted to go.

She said '3' so here's what she got...

 Sheet 1: Dressing up a young girl as though it's her (Western) wedding day.

I'll zoom in on that for you to give the full impact.

And a little closer, note the faux sun in the top right corner.

 She looks a little confused about what expression she needs for this pose.

 Sheet 2: X-Factor eat your heart out!

This is what I call a boy band, a B.O.Y band in fact.

And not forgetting the girls, which one is Wonder Girl?

 Sheet 3: Random kids in very random clothes, with some fascinating after effects added in photoshop.

 Pyjama (and velcro trainers) party!

 Thumbs up for the sun! (What exactly are they standing/floating on?)

Check us out!  We're floating and posing in a fish bowl.

As I was writing I realised I hadn't done a close-up of the next one, how could I let you miss out on it:

What is with the half eaten apple, green devil and snake in the background?  The kids don't even seem to have noticed.

Sheet 4: 'Cute' babies

 Modesty preserved by a pink rose, I hope they removed the thorns from the stalk...


 For me, this is all about the kid's expression and the outfit selection, I think Gilly has the exact same hat, only a couple of sizes bigger...

 He lost the rose but fortunately this cloud was passing just as the photo was taken...

I'm running out of ideas, caption contest anyone?

Before we left to come to Cambodia both Dan and Grant told me to look out for import/export ideas while I was here.  I think I've found it guys, novelty Cambodian wrapping paper!

I can see a massive market for this in the UK, it's just a shame we're too late for Christmas this year.  You find out about how much you could sell this stuff for, per sheet, and I'll get some costings and transport quotes.

They do nice stuff too...

Sadly we're not getting to wrap any of the presents for people back home, you'll just have to miss out on tearing some of these treasures of your goodies, this year at least...

14 Dec 2010


Lots of this to come I fear...

With the seasonal flurry of bank holidays back in the UK almost here, VSO Cambodia have released details of the Cambodian public holidays we can look forward to in 2011.  Feast your eyes on this, I'll keep a running total beside each date!  

(NB. As in the UK, where the holiday falls on a weekend the Monday becomes the day off.)

1st January (1)
International New Year's Day

7th January (2)
Victory Over Genocide Regime

18th February (3)
Meak Bochea Day

8th March (4)
International Women's Day

14th, 15th & 16th April (7)
Khmer New Year's Day (or should that be days, plural!)

1st May (8, this is the total number in the UK)
Labour Day

13th, 14th & 15th May (11)
Birthday of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath NORODOM SIHAMONI, King of Cambodia

17th May (12)
Visak Bochea Day

21st May (13)
Royal Ploughing Ceremony

1st June (14)
International Children & Cambodian Children Day

18th June (15)
Birthday of Her Majesty the Wueen-Mother NORODOM MONINEATH SIHANOUK of Cambodia

24th September (16)
Constitution Day

26th, 27th & 28th September (19)
Pchum Ben

29th October (20)
Coronation Day of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah
  Boromneath NORODOM SIHAMONI, King of Cambodia.

31st October (21)
Birthday of His Majesty King Father Preah NORODOM
  SIHANOUK of Cambodia.

9th November (22)
Independence Day

9th, 10th & 11th Nov (25, I guess the 8th or 12th will become a holiday because of the overlap with Independence Day above...)
Water Festival

10th December (26)
International Human Rights Day

So that's 26 in total.  Even with the royal wedding bonus next year this is still three times as many as the UK, even more if you bear in mind that two or more bank holidays in a week means that lots of people will see that as fair game to take the whole week!

8 Dec 2010

Koh Preah

Excuse the wonky picture, this map was on a very low ceiling so the picture was taken without the view finder...

So Gilly has been very busy on the blog front (here, here, here and here!) so it's time for me to have a go, see photos below.

I've been spending some time with the great people at the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT for short).  They are a passionate and entrepreneurial bunch working to help the poorest communities in Cambodia develop sustainable livelihoods.  They do this through increasing food security, access to water, sanitation and renewable energy.  All of this is done with a strong sense of raising environmental awareness, especially in areas around the Mekong where human activities are damaging the rare and diverse habitats of many species, most famously the Irrawaddy dolphin.

One aspect of their work is helping communities create eco-tourism initiatives and these are currently located on two islands in the Mekong, Koh Pdao and Koh Preah (Koh means island in Khmer and also in Thai e.g. Koh Samui).  Another crucial dimension of CRDT's activities is environmental education which is done through the medium of drama.  Working with a local arts group they put on night plays which help people understand the importance of respecting their own environment and realising the impact of their actions more widely.  Using theatre to do this is especially insightful when you consider that many people in these communities are illiterate.

These two strands of CRDT's work came together on Monday night this week as the arts group from Koh Pdao made the five hour journey to Koh Preah to share their message about managing waste on their island.  I took the opportunity to join them and this is an account of the experience.

The trip started with a bus journey to CRDT's Stung Treng office, about 1.5 hours on a mainly bumpy dirt road.  When we arrived some pigs next door had just given birth.  Pig raising is one area of CRDT's work so these piglets are a sign of their success.

Piglets at play

Stopping for a snack

The journey then continued by boat, a really nice stretch of the Mekong and a sense of excitement among the arts group.  The guy at the front of the picture is Samnang who runs the environmental education programme for CRDT.

There were a few groans when it became apparent that there would be some wading required to get to shore.

The community has prepared lots of these distinctive blue and white signs in English and Khmer which identify places and directions around the island.

The locals are never far from an animal: water buffalo (pictured), cows, chickens and pigs to name some of the domesticated kind...

Walking and cycling are the main modes of transport and a great way for tourists to explore the beautiful island.  Here's Abi going over one of the many bridges used to cross temporary streams that form during the rainy season.

Rice is Cambodia's staple and now is the harvest.  Many are saying that yields will be down this year and it is communities like those on Koh Preah that will be hit hardest.  Cutting the rice looks like back breaking work and back home these women would be enjoying their retirement.

Time though for a little photo opportunity.

Once cut, the rice is bundled up and laid in lines across the field ready for the next stage in the production of what ends up on our dinner plate.

The housing on the island is of variable quality, this being a particularly picturesque abode.

After our bike ride it was rest time (Som Rak) and this was the view from my very comfortable hammock. Zzzzz.

Next it was up again and on the bikes to head in the other direction where we passed the island's pagoda and the setting up of the stage ahead of the night's performance.

A short way away is the local primary school with the day's lesson still on the board.
We got the bikes back home just before dark and a short walk down to the river front led to a very nice sunset.

This family were washing themselves in the river which we also did, albeit near the bank and not on a boat.

This boat was making a dash home before dark.

Last sunset picture, promise!

Here's where we stayed.  It's not exactly the Hilton but the family were very friendly and I got a surprisingly good night's sleep.

After a wash and a bite to eat it was back on the road and cycling by torchlight to get to the performance.  Just as the show was about the start the heavens opened and it looked as though rain would stop play.  The pessimist in me thought the show was over but after 20 minutes the rain had stopped and the entertainment was about to start.

The audience waits in anticipation of what lies ahead.

Sound check, the technicians at work.  They did well keeping the electrics working despite the rain.

Before the play was a series of 'karaoke' performances.  These were introduced by Pheaktra (a.k.a. Dermot O'Leary, on the left of this picture) and it was a bit like watching a Khmer X-Factor.  The guy in the middle of this picture got some sort of prize, see what you make of the following acts, in no particular order.  Who would you send to boot camp?

Khmer Karaoke 1

Khmer Karaoke 2

Khmer Karaoke 3

Khmer Karaoke 4

Get into the groove...

It was then onto the main event and the performance which showed a community learning to keep their environment clean through the changes that this brought to the health of the fish and dolphins.  This was coupled with the side effects of more satisfied tourists, as played by these two guys in wigs and big sun glasses.  The caricatures of the tourists were hilarious (even in Khmer) and a bit too close to some of my own behaviour for my liking!

I was doing some amateur film work for CRDT so don't have any video of the show yet but here are the actors at the end about to take their bow.  It is also worth noting that a group of traditional musicians also accompanied the performance, they were significantly older than the actors.

After a late night (11.30pm!) it was home to bed.  No need for an alarm clock though as these chaps pull together as a team to make sure you know it's 5.30am.

The arts group all together the next day, what a great bunch of people, I was even able to crack a few jokes in Khmer with them, admittedly one being of the slapstick variety.

The boat home, Samnang, me and Abi are all smiles.  I can assure you the glasses are her own and not stolen from the props box...

Before the day was out we were shown this activity next to the new born pigs.  It's rice wine being made, the tank on the left being filled with rice, water and some other secret ingredients.  This is heated and the steam flows up the pipe, condenses and drips into the second tank.

The second tank has a tap contraption which drips the hot liquid through the muslin and into the container.  What happens next I don't know but I'm sure I'll be drinking the end result at some point over the next two years.

So, all in all a great excursion and a big thank you to Samnang and the team at CRDT for offering this insight into your work.  Long may it continue.