Thursday, June 30, 2005


Children and animals

Our area is getting more dangerous before dark and the assailants are getting younger. Remember our mugging incident where some of the local kids stole 3 cans of drink? Well now I am reporting on 2 separate incidents of indecent assault.

The first was on Jono. A very tiny nude child - maybe 2 years old - came up to Jono holding his hand out like he was asking for money, then quickly changed his hand position, reached out, grabbed Jono's balls then ran off laughing. A bit of a shock but kind of funny and no harm done. The second was on me. Jono and I were walking to yoga one afternoon and some of the kids were running after us and laughing and jumping and holding our hands wanting to be swung between us, like kids do... so it was all fun and games then one of the little kids - I'm not sure if it was a boy or a girl actually, jumped up and hit me on the breast. Also no harm done - except the tiny grubby black hand print it left on my t-shirt!

My contact with animals has been less violent but no more welcome. I have been reluctant to write about this because my mother will probably order me to come home (to Australia, land of funnel web spiders, dangerous snakes etc etc...) but we have had about 5 scorpions in our house. they are big and black and look like scary creatures from outer space. The pattern has developed where if a scorpion is sighted, we scream, to alert the others of course, then have someone stand guard to watch where it goes while someone else runs to get Narith, our guard/scorpion killer, who comes in smiling and laughing at us with these huge tongs which he then uses to effortlessly pick up the scorpion by one leg and carry it outside. I don't know what happens after that.

The other recent visitor we have had in our house is a tiny (quite cute really) mouse. I have no idea how to catch a mouse. We have dealt with this by just making sure all the food cupboards stay closed and hoping all the cats from next door eventually do their job. They seem to cut cats tails here so they are all short and curly. It's awful.

We also have a part time dog. Our next door neighbours have a dog and we have a lawn. Somehow, this dog mananges to open the gate (suspicious...) whenever it is feeling sick. It then proceeds to eat grass (which I understand is what dogs do when they feel sick) and vomit on our driveway. This has happened twice. We don't like it! But it is a very obedient dog and we have started showing him the door back to his place whenever he's in our yard and he happily trots home.

That's all the children and animal stories for the moment!


Where's the rain?

It's now the end of June and the rainy season was meant to have started at least a month or two ago. Every day on the ABC Asia Pacific weather report Phnom Penh is 36C and rain. Who prepares these reports?? We have had the very occasional 5 minutes of rain but that's all. My XXL raincoat is still in its packet. The 36C every day is more accurate. It's relentlessly hot.

Jono and I both had bouts of an upset stomach sickness in the last week. His lasted about 3 days, mine only about 24hours. We are both better now after doses of Norfloxacin and many glasses of gastrolyte...

While Jono was in bed feeling sick on Saturday, Anthea and I went shopping. This time, it was second hand clothes (and food, of course) shopping at our somewhat local markets called Boeung Keng Kang or as I like to remember it, Bong King Kong. Being non-touristy markets it was a real pleasure not to get harassed by constant cries of 'madam you buy' etc etc. I ended up buy 5 tops for $3. The shopping involved sitting on tiny stools at tiny stalls and going through piles of clothes that were occasionally hung up but mostly came from a garbage bag. It was very hit and miss and there were no change rooms or mirrors (only Anthea's good advice!) but I had a few hits. I decided to experiment and get some clothes I wouldn't normally choose since I was only paying $0.75.

There were a few beggars at these markets - as there are at all the markets - but on this day I had the unusual experience of a beggar giving me my money back! I sometimes give beggars 100 riel - which is about 2.5 cents (US!) - not much but it's the amount locals also give I think and they always seem to be happy with that. However this time I didn't have any 100 riel notes, I only had a 50 riel note so I gave that to a women and she looked extremely offended then gave it back to me! I later gave that women a mango which cost over 500 riel - so I guess she knew what she was doing to wait for something better!

On Monday afternoon - also while Jono was sick at home (I'm not a very dedicated nurse am I?!) I went to the opening ceremony of the first international sporting event in Cambodia since 1968! It was Cambodia, Canada and Australia in the Asia Pacific disabled volleyball championships. One of the AYADs, Andrew, works with the Cambodian team so he got us VIP tickets. I think we could have walked in off the street, but it was nice to feel special. The ceremony comprised of about 10 speeches which became 20 with the translation factor. Sok An, one of the deputy prime ministers who some say is the power in the country, was the 'guest of honour' but his speech was not translated to English. The Australian and Canadian ambassadors were also there and gave speeches, of course. I felt oddly patriotic when the Australian national anthem was played. The best part of the ceremony was the demo game, and particularly a Canadian player who is 7 foot 2 and the reaction of the crowd and the Cambodian players whenever he came onto the court - a kind of nervous laugh.

We are going to watch Australia play Cambodia tonight at the Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium. Apparently, you can have an Olympic stadium without hosting any Olympics!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Dolphins and Temples

I'm back in Phnom Penh now after a 4 day long weekend in Kratie and Kompong Cham provinces. Kratie is a quiet town on the Mekong River about 7 hours by bus from the Capital where you can see the rare fresh water Irrawaddy dolphins. We really wanted to go there or back by boat and asked anyone we could about the possibility but the response was always as if it was the most absurd request they've ever heard or that we were only asking as a joke... it was strange! Apparently the boats between Phnom Penh and Kratie only stopped running quite recently since the road has now been upgraded and the boat was slower and more expensive they just no longer had enough travellers - pity. We're definitely going to get the boat down the river to the Mekong delta in Vietnam! The bus trip was long... especially with the mandatory stops for breakfast and lunch. I could have tasted deep fried spiders at the breakfast stop but declined.

On our first night in Kratie we had dinner with a very international crowd who we met on the bus. They were from USA, NZ, Holland, Israel, Mexico and France. It was good talking to so many solo travellers and I am definitely feeling inspired. They all spoke pretty good English but when Jono said he worked at a training school for judges and prosecutors in Phnom Penh, there was a bit of a misunderstanding. There was some surprise that such a school existed. Yes, we said, it is unusual, we don't have such schools in Australia or USA etc, it's modelled on a French school in Bordeaux. Ohhhhh, they said. A short time later, it was revealed that a couple of the group had understood that Jono worked at 'a training school for prostitutes'! I don't think I need to elaborate on the joke potential following that one...

On Saturday, we had an early start to go and see the dolphins which are about 15kms by moto from the town. Jono decided to hire a moto for the day but wasn't confident to have me on the back so I had a driver/guide and Jono followed on his own bike. It worked out really well and we had a great day. The dolphins were really cute we saw quite a few fairly close to the boat but of course always missed the perfect photo! They are a bit smaller than the 'ocean' dolphins and have a round head and small dorsal fin. It was just so strange to see dolphins in a river.

It was quite expensive (for Cambodia) to see the dolphins - US$5 per person which was $3 boat hire (to go about 200m into the middle of the river) and $2 'entrance fee' for dolphin conservation (which we later heard is partly to pay locals not to fish...). There were 6 of us on the boat so in a country were a public servant earns $20 per month, somebody made a bit of money from our 1.5 hour boat trip. Anyway, our boat driver starts saying 'I have lived all my life in this area and know a lot about the dolphins but my family is very poor and I only get paid 2000 riel a day to drive the boat, so if you give me 2000 riel (50cents), I will tell you about the dolphins.' We all decided we had paid enough already and would instead email the dolphin conservation society and tell them that the boat drivers should be paid more to educate and be part of the conservation aims. After we didn't pay him the boat driver was very pissed off and uncooperative and used the motor even though he was not supposed to because it scares the dolphins away. Apart from all that... the dolphins were wonderful!

We then continued a further 21kms along the Mekong on our motos down a picturesque but potholed and bumpy country road to a large temple where we chatted with the caretakers (I don't think they were monks because they weren't wearing orange), who were old smiling men with the worst teeth I have even seen. They showed me an illustrated book in Khmer and English on the life of the Budda, so know I understand the meaning a couple of the images we see in temples. We then had a nice lunch in a tiny village restaurant with no menu where I learnt that the Khmer word for eat can also be used for drink. I got very confused with the women asked me in Khmer if I wanted to eat a coke! Jono's Khmer is really good now - he can have conversations. I'll still too shy and have been more slack with my study.

In the afternoon we went to another temple on a 'mountain'. Well really a very small hill - but it felt like a mountain by the time we got to the top of the stairs. We got back to town exhausted and watched a beautiful sunset over the Mekong from our hotel balcony. I will try to post some photos of Kratie soon.

That was Kratie basically 'done' and we had a day to spare as Monday was another public holiday - the King's mother's birthday. We stopped in Kompong Cham, another town on the Mekong on the way back to Phnom Penh. We had a recommendation for a guide from another traveller. He was great but has not stopped calling Jono since we got back but that's another story... So we found a room, had some noodles for lunch from a market stall then set off on another temple expedition. Jono was too tired to hire a bike again so we each had a driver this time. The road to the furthest temple was even more bumpy than the day before so he made the right decision. I really enjoyed the moto ride through the villages along the Mekong. Everywhere you looked there was something small but interesting to see, people cooking on the side of the road, baby buffalo being walked along, motos carrying anything and everything from TVs to pigs.

The second temple we saw was my first glimpse of Angkor period architecture (I think this temple was from the 11th century). It was an amazing site - a 'modern' temple (about 1911) had been built in the middle of the maze of Angkor era ruins. Then following the damage done during the Khmer Rouge time, some of the temple was rebuilt in the 1980's. So there was the contrast of today's flouro paint loving super kitch buddism alongside 1000 year old brickwork and sculpture. This temple has probably been my favourite site in Cambodia so far - but of course I haven't seen Angkor Wat yet, but as our guide pointed out - the site was free. At this temple there were more toothless old men and one of them told me and Jono (albeit through my driver who I don't think would count interpreting as one of his main skills) that we both looked Cambodian because 'foreigners have blue eyes and we have black eyes' and we are short.... well maybe we are closer to Cambodian height than some foreigners but last time I checked we both still have blue eyes....

The other interesting thing we did in Kompong Cham was just walk through the markets. Because they are not as used to foreigners as they are in Phnom Penh, everyone stared at us. They seemed especially fascinated by my nose...hmmm... I know this because there was lots of smiling at me and pointing at their own comparitively smaller and flatter noses... We sat down to eat at the markets and I started to feel a bit like a zoo animal. It was an experience though!

Friday, June 10, 2005


Monks by the Mekong

Monks by the Mekong
Originally uploaded by nat neumann.



I am sorry if I mislead anyone by my photo to think that either elephants are a popular form of transport around the streets of Phnom Penh or that they are even common here. I believe there is one (he has a name but I can't remember it right now). I have seen him on the street along the river on a couple of occasions only, in fact I was at a dinner last night and someone asked if so and so the elephant has died because they hadn't seen him for a while. Monks on the other hand are a very common and beautiful site around the city.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


Phnom Penh street life!

Phnom Penh street life!
Originally uploaded by nat neumann.
I am so excited that my photos are working! I must rush back to work now but will post more soon.


Some cute locals

Some cute locals
Originally uploaded by nat neumann.
One of the most fun things we can do is just step out our front gate in the early evening with the digital camera. There are always kids around and they have a great time posing for photos but the real hilarity starts when we show them the photos. It seems to be the funniest thing in the world to see themselves on the screen. In this photo I particularly like the little groover on the left!


Me in our kitchen

Me in our kitchen
Originally uploaded by nat neumann.
This blogging photo thing is very new to me. Thanks Paul for walking me through it but it's still proving to be a very slow process. I will try to post more but for the moment here I am posing in the kitchen dressed in some 'teacher' clothes I bought here!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


On Being an Interviewer and a Teacher

First of all, as I'm sure after the Schapelle Corby decision (poor girl), you have all been waiting impatiently for the result of the Cambodian Supreme Court in Visal v Tech... The five judges annulled the decision of the Court of Appeal, ruling, among other things, that it was illegal to have held a closed court. However the decision was sent back to the Court of Appeal at a time to be set and both sides are claiming victories because nothing was really decided about the presidency and all the international donors and Cambodian legal community are in the same position of uncertainty. Enough about that. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see previous blog post.

Last week my supervisor at CDP asked if I could be on the panel to help interview candidates for a new CDP accountant. This particular round of interviews was to be in English, bien sur. My understanding was that I was to observe and help assess how good their English was (important for the job to write reports to donors etc etc). Then I felt some pressure when I got an email saying "The recruitment committee has decided that only you would be allowed to judge ability of candidate in speaking English and score them". I have never interviewed before, know relatively little about CDP and even less about accounting yet I felt I was more or less conducting the interview and deciding who should get the job - it was quite fun!

I asked them some 'Australian' type questions that I have been asked many times in interviews such as 'tell us about a challenge you faced in a previous job and what were the steps you took to overcome the challenge' etc etc... I got very blank looks, even after I re-worded to 'how would you fix a problem?' Although one girl did answer if she couldn't solve a problem she would resign... They have clearly never been asked more than what's your education and what did you do in your last job? We interviewed the top 4 out of 158 applications. I was very surprised at their apparent total lack of preparation. They couldn't even say clearly what CDP did. One girl said she wants to work for an NGO to help people but when asked if they wanted to particularly work in an NGO the others mostly answered 'not at all, I just want any job' - not a great answer, I thought! But maybe it was just the language barrier... If I were interviewed in Khmer I would only be able to answer be saying I am happy and healthy and I like rice. I can also say I sleep a lot which is never a great think to say in an interview!

So I gave my report to the committee and the director has interviewed the top 2. I don't know yet who got the job.

My fortnight long teaching career is going well! Much better now that I have quit the weekend classes. It was way too hard to be at work at 8am Sat and Sun, especially after the very social Phnom Penh Friday nights! Also, that was a writing class for adults and I think I prefer teaching young people. It's more fun! So now I am only teaching 3 different classes at the one school. One class has only 3 students, aged 11, 13 and 16. The 2 youngest are very hyperactive boys probably from wealthy families. They are at the English school full time and I haven't figured out why they don't go to 'normal' school. Anyway, the 16 year old girl puts up with a lot! I walked into the classroom the other day and the littlest one had written up 'rules' on the board which included 'you can throw things at the teacher, you can hit and kick the teacher, you can steal the teacher's things, you can throw phones out the window'. None of this was serious of course but shows how cheeky they are. I corrected the spelling and grammar mistakes in the rules then wrote them all out again as negatives. I was proud of that technique - I think it worked well!

These kids speak pretty good English already and have finished their course book so the challenge is just to keep them interested and entertained. I copied some exercises from a book of idioms and taught them colour idioms like caught red handed and white lie etc. I quickly mumbled 'a blue movie is a pornographic film' and moved on so they wouldn't ask me to explain the vocab.

I am planning to keep working until the end of the term in about 3 weeks time then do some travelling! Bye for now....

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Court, Cambodian style

Today, as part of my volunteer work at CDP, I watched my first trial at the Cambodian Supreme Court.

Very briefly, the case was to decide who should be the president of the Cambodian Bar Association. A former CDP director and legal aid lawyer (Visal) won the election for president of the association late last year. However the incumbent candidate (Tech) who lost the election, appealed the result to the Court of Appeal and was successful in a closed hearing where no members fo the public were allowed in and the decision was not published. Tech apparently has close ties with the government and some, including human rights groups, are suspicious. Visal appealed the court's decision to take the presidency away from him and that appeal hearing is what I saw today. You can read a bit more detail about the case on this human rights group's web site that I found

The Supreme Court room is very simple. The entry is a very normal looking door off a carpark. There was no bowing when entering or leaving the court room as far as I could tell. Perhaps that was because the room was so incredibly packed. Which, compared to the secret appeals court hearing in this matter, is a very good thing. Well, it was perhaps a good thing for Cambodia but it wasn't such a great thing for me. I was squashed in the back corner near the door, sweating and trying very hard not to be pushed backwards and turn all the court lights off with my shoulder.

The 5 judges and many many barristers/lawyers were dressed very similar to in Australian courts. They were clearly very hot. One of the lawyers took his robe off after he finished his address, revealing a polo t-shirt... different to barrister's attire back home. I counted about 8 mobile phones ring in court - a huge no no in Australia.

Of course, the whole proceedings were in Khmer. Fortunately I went with a translator (the librarian from CDP). He is a very eccentric Khmer who seems to model himself on Dr Spock from Star Trek (is he the one with the bowl haircut?) - there is a Star Trek poster in the library and the haircut is suspiciously similar. It was difficult for him to translate everything in the crush of people but I got the general idea of who was speaking for whom. Tech represented himself (or at least he was one of the people to speak for the respondent), I'm not really sure what he said and will have to wait for the Cambodia Daily article tomorrow to summarize for me what I saw... The result should be out soon - stay posted.

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