December 30th, 2009
|06:39 pm - Call of Duty|
It's sobering to know that in a year when development budgets have been slashed and many projects forced to close, the computer gaming industry is holding up. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a first person shooter, earned $550 million worldwide within five days of its release in November 2009. Enough to keep a small country afloat.
May 2nd, 2009
|03:20 pm - Out with the old|
Pick up just about any guide book on Cambodia and you'll find Battambang described as a sleepy provincial town with nice French architecture. Both parts of the description are somewhat true, but don't expect to find a French Quarter to rival New Orleans. Still, there are some fine old colonial-style buildings scattered around the town and now, after years of neglect, they are being restored instead of torn down. How nice it is to see buildings with fine proportions and a certain style instead of the anonymous concrete and glass monstrosities which pass for houses these days in many parts of the world. Blimey, I'm starting to sound like Prince Charles :)
April 15th, 2009
|01:35 pm - New Year|
It's April, it's hot, and it's Khmer New Year. For us this is a quiet time with all the schools closed and most people gone back to their homelands. Of course for Cambodians this is the big one, despite following close on the heels of Chinese New Year and January 01.
It's very much a time for family, so we don't expect too many visitors out here at the factory in Takhmao. But we do get a few. Today, "small boy" Keang came bearing gifts of fruit and curry. We chatted and the clock ticked on towards midday. For lunch we devoured his curry along with large bowls of noodles, then carried on talking into the afternoon - well, we hadn't seen him for a while!
The factory is closed for eight days and the Internet has shut down with it. Can we survive for more than a week without the 'net? I have to say that it is inconvenient, there are so many little things we would like to check but can't. On the other had, without the Internet we are driven to do other things such as read a book or simply relax...
February 10th, 2009
|06:19 am - Goodbye old friends|
Parting is such sweet sorrow, or so it's said. Last week we said goodbye to two old friends who we have known almost since the time we arrived in Cambodia. You could say we've grown up together. We've laughed and cried, taken photographs, we've shared our food, even scratched backs. And then - sudden separation.
The day started like any other, early breakfast, off to school. When we got back to the factory we knew something was wrong for we could see a small crowd at the end of the accommodation block. Management. Uniforms. Trucks. Onlookers. Sad faces.
We glanced at the guard and asked "what's up Doc?" to which he replied "klakmoum". The bears. We rushed forward to see what was happening. Had they escaped and mauled someone?What could possibly have happened? Why so many military police?
It turns out that the factory was being "raided" and the bears taken away to the local zoo. "It's illegal to keep bears here." we were told. It was already all over, the bears had been tranquilized and lay separately in the backs of two small trucks, eyes flashing, tongues lolling. How confused they must have felt. How fearful.
We felt confused too. We've never been comfortable with having wild animals in a cage for people to gawp at. But these bears - we knew them. We tried in our small ways to make their lives a little more tolerable, to ease their pain. We just knew that we were going to miss them.
On the other hand... although they had been well looked after here they just might be better off at the zoo surrounded by other animals. No substitute for the jungle of course, but they couldn't survive in the wild if they were released anyway. So we said our goodbyes and wished them well. See you in the next life.
January 28th, 2009
|02:58 pm - Toilet tales|
I don't want to get too earthy, but this is a tale about our toilet. Look away if such things offend you.
See, our toilet here in the factory accommodation block has been giving us trouble for a while. First of all the flushing mechanism broke and it took several attempts and several months to get it fixed. Maybe it felt unloved, because around the same time it started to block on occasion and would take many attempts to flush it clean. Then mysteriously the blockage would clear of its own accord and all would be well for a few weeks. Sundays became something of a nightmare as we were never sure if our twelve student visitors would be able to make use of the facilities...
Anyway, over Chinese New Year the toilet finally blocked in a big way. Not a pretty sight I can assure you. We called admin but help was slow in coming as everyone was on holiday. For two days we pee'd down the drain or made trips upstairs to use the toilet in a spare room. Eventually we got fed up, found and repaired a toilet plunger and gave a good heave-ho. Luck was with us and the blockage was at least partially cleared and Ming could clean up - fussy as she is with toilets! The workmen came the following day to help us out of our mess (pardon the pun) and we didn't stand in their way as there were five of them including the boss!
As well as a toilet plunger they brought with them a plastic bag with something black coiled up in it. When I heard Ming scream I wondered just what could be going on, and then I heard the word "snake". No, not a snake explained one of the young men. In fact it was a large eel and they dropped it down the toilet. That's the Khmer way of clearing toilets he explained. It burrows its way through the crap and, once it's done that, a few pumps of the plunger and all is well.
But what happens to the poor eel? We have nightmares of it swimming back up and taking revenge while we're sitting there... those things have got teeth!
November 13th, 2008
|02:45 am - Full moon|
It's November and it's the Water Festival. The country stops for a few days and half the population converges on Phnom Penh to watch the boat races. We usually stay out of the way in Takhmao and have a bit of a rest, though nowadays we get quite a few visitors so the time passes quickly.
Yesterday we got an sms: "May the full moon tonight make u happy and longevity in ur whole life. From Champa." Of course many festivals in Cambodia are connected with the moon, just as they are around the world, but I had never thought about the Water Festival in this context - we just think of it as the end of the rainy season.
After dinner we ventured out into the factory yard to do a bit of sky gazing. There were not many clouds so we got a nice clear view. There's something primevil about a full moon, something mystical. Perhaps we sense deep down that the moon has been waxing and waning for longer than we can imagine. It puts us in our place.
November 1st, 2008
|08:28 pm - Tell me why|
Today I went to the internet cafe to do a bit of research on free DNS servers. Yes, I don't know what they are either, or at least I didn't. Anyway, as I sat down the young man at the next computer asked if I could help him set up a password for his new Facebook account. It's one of those sites which needs a complex password and 123456 just won't do. Anyway, help him I did (and at several additional steps) and he finally completed the registration and logged into his new Facebook account.
A little message popped up to say that he had to confirm his application by clicking on the link in the confirmation email that had been sent to him - pretty standard these days when you set up new accounts on the net. He didn't seem to know how to do that, so I opened Yahoo and told him to log into his account. A few minutes later another call for help. He doesn't actually have an email account and the one he entered when setting up his Facebook account was fictitious! Luckily the internet cafe owner had intervened by this point and helped him to set up a real Yahoo email account and then go through the Facebook application again. Finally he logged into his new (new) Facebook account. Success at last!
A couple of minutes later he called again, a puzzled look on his face. "What do I do now?" says he...
Facebook has 72 trillion users apparently and is worth more than the Bank of England. I wonder how many of those users know why they signed up?
June 2nd, 2008
|09:27 pm - No connection|
The other morning we were eating breakfast on the baclony at around 7.00 a.m. when little band of street kids - boys of about twelve - sauntered past on the muddy street below. Each had a small plastic bag wrapped around his hands. As I watched, one of them poured something into each of the bags and then the boys began to inhale. I need my coffee in the morning, they need their glue I guess. It was the casualness of it all that struck me. I tried not to wonder if they will live long enough to switch to harder drugs...
While we were away in Phnom Penh our house in Battambang was burgled during the night. A single bar on the kitchen window was pulled out by someone strong and somebody very small crept through the opening. Once inside they had free run of the upstairs floor. They crept into each bedroom and stole small items such as handphones from under the noses of the sleeping occupants. Were the perpetrators poor I wonder? If they were you could almost forgive them... but then, it wasn't my stuff that got stolen.
A few days later the landlady came round with some workmen to look at beefing up security. A week after that they returned and we now have spiked fences and razor wire along the side of the house, giving the look and feel of a prison camp. I know that it was done with the best of intentions, but I have to ask: what price freedom?
All countries face similar problems. Distribution of wealth is one of them. Just how rich should a rich person be? Personally I cannot accept that it's ok for the likes of pop stars and footballers to earn millions of dollars, but I'd be hard pushed to say what the upper limit should be. Is anybody worth that much?
Cambodia seems to have no such qualms. Clearly, the rich are getting richer. Over the last few years there has been a veritable boom in the number of mega-houses being built, an in-your-face display of wealth. Who knows where these people get their money from? Does anyone care? Here's a picture of a house recently built overlooking the river in Battambang. A modest little town house, wouldn't you say? It pales in comparison with some in Phnom Penh though...
May 31st, 2008
|05:28 pm - Croak|
The rainy season has arrived and we often get a downpour in the late afternoon. Once darkness falls the frogs start their chorus. It's a strange noise, half bark, half croak. Although we live in the town centre not one hundred meters from the train station, you'd think we were in the countryside from the din they make.
Yesterday the rain was especially heavy, though we were out of town at a school so we didn't witness it first hand. But as we got back to town we noticed the puddles stretching across the road, and by the time we reached our house and got out of the car we were ankle deep in water. It's the first time I've seen water actually come into the house, so Prema and Co had a big cleaning up job to do. Still, I have to say that everyone took it in their stride and many even seemed to be enjoying themselves. Especially the frogs. Last night they were deafening.
April 24th, 2008
|04:00 pm - Coffee crisis|
Shopping in Cambodian supermarkets is strange. Different from "back home". Over there you are spoilt for choice. Too much choice. Really.
Here you go round the handful of supermarkets looking for, oh, let's say, digestive biscuits. You find a brand you can afford and you buy it. You enjoy it for a few months, and then it slowly fades from the shelves. Everywhere. A few months later you see a new brand, but 50% dearer. You treat yourself to the odd packet, maybe even convince yourself that it's worth the price. Then it, too, fades away. A while later you see the real thing, McVities, appearing on the shelves. No way you are going to pay $2.50 for a packet of biscuits.
Currently there is a coffee crisis in Cambodia (I resisted a brewing pun). At least, there is in my mind. The story is ominously familiar. At first I could buy Nescafe Classic (granules) and I was happy. Then it disappeared. I had no choice but to switch to Gold Blend at nearly twice the price, but certainly a tasty treat. And now... you've guessed it, Gold Blend has disappeared from the shelves leaving only Gold Blend Premium from Switzerland at $15 a jar. Now, I'm one of those people who can't function in the morning without a cup of coffee, so I've been reduced to drinking packets of Nescafe 3 in 1...