Saturday, May 05, 2007

Trip to Takeo Province

I had gone to Takeo province, a two-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh with Sok Lee, a very Westernised young Cambodian woman. We had met at an event where we had to make lamps out of natural products and recycled garbage (ours was made out of strips of leaves and coloured plastic woven together—very pretty!) I had gone with my Canadian friend Jolene, an artist, who was the brains behind our team’s design. Jo will be exhibiting a dress at a rubbish recycling fashion show—I’ve had a sneak peek and it is gorgeous. She may just win the contest!

Taking the bus to Takeo is easy. We met at 9am at the Sorya Bus Station near Psar Thmei (Central Market). Tickets cost us 8500 riels (it was only 7000 for the trip home for some strange reason). The bus was comfortable and the air-con worked! The only complaint is that although the road was paved, it was paved only with gravel, which made for a very bumpy ride. My back got really itchy from all that vibrating.

Sok Lee invited me to join her and two other men from an orphanage, to check out a piece of vacant land. We all had ideas of transforming the land for some use, either for the orphans or for Riverkids.

Takeo turned out to be as hot as Phnom Penh and everywhere I could see brown (as opposed to green) padi fields. Ming (Aunty) Vee, our housekeeper, informs me at her province, Baray in Kampong Thom, people start planting rice in May and it’s harvested after three months. The cycle begins again, but the hot season is not conducive for rice growing. Poor families who have no rice to eat during this period have to borrow, sometimes at 100 per cent interest. Ming Vee says they used to borrow 5 bags of rice but have to pay back 8 bags when planting season starts again.

The highlight of my trip has to be taking a lemorque (large cart with wooden planks laid across for benches and towed by a small motocycle). We got on board at the main market in Takeo and waited till the cart was filled with people. We finally took off but continued picking people up along the way. I counted 35 persons. At 500 riels (12.5 cents US) per person, the motocycle driver was making good money!

What struck me was how cooperative and friendly everyone on the lemorque was. Everytime someone tried to board, the rest would make space, lifting heavy baskets to place on their laps, just so that person would have a place on board. I can imagine people would make faces in Singapore. It always struck me as strange how on public buses in Singapore, people would insist on sitting on the outside of a two-seater, to deter others from sitting with them. It’s a big contrast to say, Hong Kong, where at restaurants, you would be seated next to total strangers and everyone would just get on with their eating.

The locals were very friendly and interested in learning about my country and kept staring at this barang. I got a bit uncomfortable when scrutiny turned to my age, marital status and why don’t I have any children? Khmers tend to have a very simple view about such things. Get married by the time you’re in your twenties and have many children. The expectation is the same for both men and women. And if you’re married but childless, they assume you’ve got fertility problems.

However, things will change in Cambodia, as they have in Singapore. Already with Sok Lee I can see how modern Khmer women can become. She is so tech savvy, she was chatting online through her phone on the bus! And she had a 1GB MP3 player which she used to record conversations with locals. It was just like being with a Singaporean.

We visited Sok Lee’s relatives and it really made clear how little there is to do for rural people. They get up early to farm and stop during lunchtime because it’s just too hot. Every house we visited people were sleeping, mostly under the house. There was one woman, a widow with five children. After lunch, they all slept under the house. She works at a garment factory so on most days the kids are left to their own devices. And there are no toys, no TV, no nothing. But kids always find a way to amuse themselves, running around the land, inventing simple games. Just like the kampong days in Singapore. We used to play with marbles and five-stones, 5 small bags filled with rice which we throw and catch, similar to the peanut game Aidan played with his bartender friend in an episode of Sex and the City). Then there is cha-tay and Cambodians play with the exact same toy, a small round rubber pad with feathers sticking out vertically. You’re supposed to keep kicking it and not let it fall to the ground. I suppose it’s not bad. Perhaps it is us city folk who don’t know how to enjoy life, with our stresses and excessive, useless, stimulation.

The land was good for growing palm trees, and you can sell the palm oil, palm sugar and can even make craft out of the leaves. The only problem was hiring someone we can trust to look after it and possibly children. It’s a big problem as everyone we know works in Phnom Penh. Eventually we decided we had to wait and see with regards this land.

I did do one thing though. I saw two very skinny and neglected puppies and arranged for them to be brought to Phnom Penh. I’ve since given one to Sipha, Bloom’s trainer and the other to Neang, the one who used to live in the cement bag house. I am so happy to hear she has upgraded yet again, to a USD15 a month room, with running water and electricity.The wee skinny puppy will have a good home with her as she loves dogs. She is always kissing and hugging Nessie and Austin, and I am happy she now has a dog to call her own.


sherietan said...

hello diana!

this is sherie, do you still remember us? (:

we're preparing for our presentation to tell the rest of the students about our project, on wed. then after that it'll be recruiting of people for our team, then our project will kick start proper with contributions from all the team members (:

hope you're doing fine!

<3 sherie

Diana Saw said...

Dear Sherie!

of course i still remember you and ashwin, fondly, too! i still think about being a teacher when i think of the two of you. you really made me laugh!

btw, i told ms lee i had trouble finding your principal's email online--don't have lah! if you can give me i will send him the email i said i would send.

i hope you're having a fun time at school and i look forward to seeing you again in dec!

ps: pls tell ashwin i got his email but the ppt chart was too big for me to open. will send him price list asap.


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