Cambodia, Day Five (Aug. 2, 2007)

Woke up early and sat on our balcony writing, listening to the roosters crow. Had breakfast of hot tea, potato omelette and a baguette.

We made arrangements for Mr. Vanna and Su to drive us to the Tonle Sap Lake. We thought we would be going through the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary, but it turns out we only chartered a boat to the floating village of Chong Kneas. The village was scenic, when you weren't overwhelmed by the smell of fish and rotting garbage,* but it wasn't quite what we expected. Oh well, no point in being a spoiled, whining tourist. They truly need the $15, and we learned about fishing and about life in the rural village from our young captain who spoke excellent English. The village has a primary and secondary school,** but the older students take a bus into Siem Reap every morning to attend high school. The children were adorable, and one 5-year-old girl stole my heart when she blew a kiss to us as our boat pulled away from the dock.

We had another great meal at an ex-pat restaurant called The Red Piano. (I can't believe how much weight I've put on in less than a week.***) I had Mekong fish in lime-cream sauce, and Brad had a chicken amok sandwich on a toasted baguette.

We had no plans after lunch, so I asked Mr. Vanna to drive us to Artisans d'Angkor and Chantiers-Ecoles silk farm. The school works with teachers all over the country to bring poor, rural students with artistic ability to Siem Reap for a one-year training program. The deaf-mute students learn to paint silk, and other students learn stone and wood working and silk weaving. The school is self-sufficient, running off profits from the store.****

After visiting the school in town, we drove 30 minutes out in the country to the silk farm. We saw the cultivation of mulberry trees, silkworm feeding (they eat for three days and rest for one), spinning of the cocoons (you can tell a worm is ready to spin when it turns yellow), separating of the thread, and dyeing and weaving of the silk. The outer silk on the cocoon makes coarser, raw silk, and the soft thread the worm weaves while it's inside the cocoon for two weeks makes fine silk.*****

Back at the hotel, we said goodbye to Mr. Vanna and Su, thanking them for their good advice.****** We learned a great deal from Mr. Vanna -- especially sitting in the courtyard at Artisans d'Angkor. He's a father of six who used to be a farmer, but he had to give up farming when he could no longer support his family. He knew no English when he began driving tuktuks three years ago, but he started reading English workbooks. He talked of how frightening it used to be, approaching foreigners when he couldn't communicate. He's been seriously studying English with a friend every night for the last four months, and it's incredible how much he's learned. I know very few people in the U.S. who would work so hard for so little money.

I'm constantly reminded of how spoiled and lucky I am, and if I don't take full advantage of the opportunities I've been given -- which I've certainly done nothing to deserve -- then I'm not worth a damn.*******

Brad's footnotes
* Not in that order.

** And a floating basketball court!

*** Not as much as you might believe from reading these journal entries, bookended with lush descriptions of meals.
**** If you visit, save room in the suitcase to bring something back. It's not cheap, but the cause is wonderful. That said, you won't believe the cost to ship stuff directly home, and buying online from home, the prices are much higher.
***** She's trying to spare you the story about how the locals convinced me to eat a boiled silkworm by saying they taste like coconut. They don't. They taste like gooey worm.

****** Actually we bought them a couple of beers and hung out with them. It was Phil's idea. They seemed to really enjoy it.

******* Hear, hear.

No comments: