Monday, 23 January 2012

Last Bicycle Day

Monday January 23: Today was our last day as a group. We went to Phnom Tamao Zoological park, about 40 km from Phnom Penh. It is a zoo where they care for and house animals rescued from the illegal trade of animals and animal parts. This is the place that Michaela discovered on previous trips to Cambodia and encouraged us to support with bicycles. Being as today was the Lunar New Year the zoo was extremely busy. The entrance road was lined for kilometers with beggars who threw water onto the dusty road in the hopes that they would be rewarded with money. Cars in front of us were throwing money out the windows and the beggars scrambled to pick it up. The money was likely 100 "real" notes which are worth 2.5 cents each. First we distributed 100 bikes to local area school children. The recipients were the very neediest students from 11 neighboring schools.  The children were very polite and well behaved. Then it was off to lunch in the zoo at a picnic area where there were all kinds of creatures being cooked - spiders, frogs on a stick, whole chickens including heads and feet, many other unrecognizable bugs etc. Linda had rice, I had nothing as I was feeling very good today and didn't want to spoil that. The chicken heads did look good though. We were being hosted by an organization called "Free the Bears". We gave our surplus food to the kids who go around and collect recyclable cans. Then we had a VIP tour of parts of the zoo. We saw elephants including one who had a prosthetic leg since he lost one front leg from being trapped in a trap. Next off to see the  Indo Asiatic tigers. They were very beautiful and we got very close to them.  One of them roared and lunged at Keith Montgomery. Then we headed to the main event which was the sun bears. They are the worlds smallest bears and are often killed for their gall bladders or to make bear paw soup. They are quite funny and seemed to want to perform for us. We also were taken to a private area where the keeper brought out a very tiny baby for us to see and photograph. We also saw some kind of fox, wild water buffalo which are different from the domestic and, gibbons. Most of our group is heading out tomorrow (Tuesday) and we head to Vietnam on Wednesday. Can't believe the Cambodia part of our trip is over. Linda got quite weepy at dinner tonight while giving a farewell thank you to the team. A few others spoke as well of how much they loved our time together helping 1097 children. Although this is the last post for our bicycle distribution project, please stay tuned to our blog for news on our tour of Vietnam. Posted by Dave

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Cambodian Dump Children

Sunday, Jan 22: Another great and varied day of activity was had by all today! In the morning, many of us headed out for some serious shopping since time is running short now. Soapea, our favorite tuk tuk driver led a group of us to a beautiful multi level store that sold a variety of beautiful arts and crafts and antiques.  Many of us bought buddhas, silver jewelry, silk scarves and runners. Then we were taken to another store near the central market for more shopping.  We got back to the hotel just in time to hop on the bus to take us to Friends restaurant, which is the number one rated restaurant in the city.  The concept is that young people train other young people the skills needed to work in restaurants with very high standards for quality of food, service and hygiene. They also run a store that sells crafts made by young people. Lunch was great!  Many people bought the cookbooks. Everywhere in the city we see celebrations for new years.  Many establishments are closed, red lanterns and banners hang everywhere, people burn fake money in outside burners, trees with yellow flowers are on display with ornaments hanging on them and the offerings at the spirit houses are especially elaborate!  At our hotel, they had a whole suckling pig and a roast duck place in front of the house. Then we had the bus take us to just outside a huge dump in the city.  We got off the bus and walked through a very poor small village to a school and orphanage run by a lady who was nominated and won CNN hero of the year.  She was out of the country visiting a rotarian in Canada! She is making it possible for children who work with their parents picking through the dump to get to school for full days. She works to help parents with food purchases so that they don't need to have their children working alongside them each day. The school was closed today but it is very impressive looking and about 4 floors high.  They study Khmer in the morning and English in the afternoon.  There were only 50 or so children there since it was Chinese New Year.  These children were beautiful and really engaged with us individually as we moved through the group giving each child a Canada pin.  I sat on the floor singing the little English ditty "if you're happy and you know it" with about 6 students. We talked a little too and their English skills are quite good.  Some little girls walked up to Dave and put their little hands on his knees and asked what he did for a job.  One boy looked wwwaayyy up at Keith and said he was very tall.  We did the bicycle distribution of the 51 bicycles fairly quickly and then the children clapped and said goodbye as we left.  Some followed us all the way back to the bus. More amazing memories to add to the bank!! Posted by Linda

The King was not at home

Saturday Jan 21: We left the beach and took a four hour drive back to the Anise Hotel in the city. Along the way we passed many signs of people preparing for Chinese New Year which runs Jan 22 to 25. Also many textile and garment factories.  It took a long time to get in to the city...the traffic was very heavy. We dropped Porum off to catch a very crowded shared mini van back to Takeo.  For the first hour he had to ride standing up on the back bumper! There were several people riding on the roof. After a lovely lunch at our hotel oasis resto, many of us boarded the bus to visit the Royal Palace.  It was very hot 35 degrees and crowded. We heard from the guide that the king was in Beijing visiting his ailing father, the previous king. The current king is 59 years old and unmarried with no heirs. He spent 20 years in a ballet troupe in Paris before becoming king. But never fear, his father had 4 wives and has another 17 children to choose the next king from! We toured the very opulent Coronation Temple which had a lot of gold, crystal and jewels, the Silver Pagoda where the floor was covered in silver tiles and there were thousands of buddhas on display. One was made totally of emerald which was mined in Cambodia. Another was made of 90 kg of pure gold and had very large diamonds and rubies encrusted in it. Then on to the White Elephant stable...the Khmer rouge killed all these rare beasts during their reign of terror so there is only a concrete replica on display. For dinner, 9 of us went to a very good italian restaurant where Steve said he had the best lasagna ever and Socheat had her first visit to an Italian themed restaurant. Tomorrow, we will do a distribution of 97 bicycles for the students at the school near the dump here in the city.   We are all looking forward to being "back to work"! Posted by Linda

Friday, 20 January 2012

Another day at the beach

Friday, Jan 20 Today, the bus was put into action again for a morning run to the market and an afternoon run to the quiet beach, Outras Beach. Those who didn't go to the market walked to a big modern supermarket to stock up on provisions for an afternoon party.  This store had everything, including a bottle of liquor with a small cobra holding a scorpion in its mouth inside the bottle!  Also a huge jar of snake repellant and a gecko trap. Outras Beach is certainly beautiful and quiet too. The Walton's and Brouillettes stopped at the first available shady spot and Linda went to buy some cold beer. I smelled a whiff of weed and noticed that the top item on the menu was "joint $1.50"!  So we quickly finished our beer and moved on to a more mainstream location(I had to drag Dave by his ear)  We had lunch with Lisa, Socheat and Porum.  They allowed us to share some of their interesting food selections.  We also shared some very interesting conversation about Porum and Socheat's life  experiences with marriage, medical and careers. After some swimming and sunning we headed back to the hotel and prepared for the surprise bridal shower celebration for Stephanie.  We popped the cork on some bubbly and raised our glasses to wish Stephanie and Nat a long and happy life together.  There were some gifts where the theme ended up being Canadian and tea towels in addition to other lovely items. Then down to the beach BBQ for our last sunset and dinner! A little more subdued since we knew we had to be at breakfast the next morning at 7 am before getting on the bus to return "home" to the Anise Hotel in Phnom Penh. We found out that we have no more bicycles to assemble and some expressed disappointment since we have gotten very proficient at it! We will have to write a manual for future groups.  We will just distribute them at two very interesting sites, the Bear Rescue Centre and the school for dump children. Posted by Linda

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Chillin on the boat and at the beach

We are making the most of our time at the sea! Today 13 of us took a 20 minute tuk tuk ride north to a boat dock where a 3 story junk looking boat awaited us.  It took us out to a couple of islands quite a ways off shore to first snorkel and then swim and chill at a deserted white sand beach.  It was one of the most beautiful beaches Dave and I have ever been on.  The water is also the warmest we have ever felt! On the way out there was a lot of side to side motion that caused a couple of us to feel queasy! Ron was especially brave since he often gets sea sick when on a big boat but chose to join us.  Dave had a nap on the beach and many walked either direction to explore the shore. After a swim, Jan said her knee felt much better and she and Peter went for a long walk in both direction.  A few locals live out there and on the way back a mother and three little children hitched a ride to town. They also brought a tree along as well(???).  Several walked a long way to a pier where a family was building a large teak boat. We passed a tiny island completely covered by a resort where rooms cost $300 to $3000 per night! Tonight some went by tuk tuk and tractor taxi to a resto high above the sea with a great view of the fisherman's village. Others of us had BBQ  dinner sitting right on the beach. It was beautiful and very cheap! Some shared jugs of rum drinks and conversation got quite animated! There are quite a few beggars, mothers with their children approaching us to buy fireworks or simply donate. Tomorrow the bus will take us to the market in the morning and then to a quieter beach called Outras Beach for the afternoon. So don't fear folks, we are having a great time...wish you were here! Posted by Linda

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Lotus Flowers and Water

You see beautiful pink lotus flowers everywhere. They grow in all the muddy little ponds in front of the houses.  The contrast of the beauty of the flower and the quality of the water is striking!  We did find out that the lotus plants are not grown for aesthetics -they are food just like pretty much every other living thing. We have never seen what we would call clean water in this country yet.  I guess we will once we reach the beach... You see people bathing, standing fishing up to their necks and children playing in this water.  We are not sure what they drink...there are big concrete cisterns pots at each house too - I guess they collect the rain water during rainy season. Also, we have come upon wells in our travels but I don't know how plentiful these are. Rotary could certainly help by providing clean water in Cambodia. We also heard that there is a real need for "family mosquito nets" since most families sleep together on their raised platforms. The cost is the same at $5 for a family net or individual one so let's go for the big ones! Posted by Linda

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Another 110 bicycles for Cambodian Children

A fairly nice stall at the market.
 After a morning off when some went to the market and some went on the canal boat adventure.  Linda and I went to the market where we were overwhelmed with sights and sounds.  we chose to show a picture of a nice fruit stall rather than the pig intestine shop.  

We boarded the bus to return to the site where we assembled the 110 bicycles yesterday.

The bicycles had been moved to the local primary school where all the students and parents were assembled to greet us warmly. There are 350 students attending this school and hardly any already had bicycles.

In all it took as long to give the bicycles away as to assemble.  There is the usual two step verification and paperwork process with the school officials.  The children are put into several long lines and asked to kneel or squat down, luckily under a shade tree. They were very good and patient as usual.

Rotarians had to line the perimeter around the bicycles to keep parents and other children from getting in to possibly knock down bicycles or try to choose their child's bike. It felt a little awkward but we tried to be friendly and smile to all.

This school was visited for the first time last year by Lisa and Dr Pisal.  The school officials said this was the first time anyone had ever come to help them. Lisa promised to bring back bicycles and today she fulfilled her promise.  The school had started a guest book and Lisa was the first to write in it! 

Tomorrow we head to the beach - yipee.  three days of much deserved R and R.

110 bikes distributed at Wat Vihear Kpous Primary School