Sunday, November 27, 2005


Bonking and Running

Bonking is the name of the movement required to be done continuously when one is dragon boat racing. It involves leaning forward as the paddle is inserted vertically into the water then sitting back up straight as the paddle is brought through the water thereby using your back muscles rather than arms.

After a few Sunday morning bonking training sessions, we were as ready as we’d ever be to compete in the Phnom Penh water festival, a huge 3 day holiday where about 400 boats from all over the country race each other down the fast flowing Sap River watched by a couple of million people on the bank and another many million on television.

The actual race was the least interesting part of the whole experience. We, having trained only a handful of times and being generally not as adept as the Khmer teams, never stood a chance. They should have put us against girl teams or other mixed teams or at the very least boats from land locked, non- riverside towns! As it turns out, we always came second (there are only two boats each race) - except for once when we came third because the winner of the next race pipped us at the finish line. But we did really well and managed to paddle in time and didn’t disgrace ourselves and most importantly didn’t sink in front of the King like they did last year. I saw one boat sink which was actually really funny. It was just racing along next to its opponent one second then the next second, it had stopped and all you could see were white caps at water level making out the shape of a boat. I am especially happy we did not sink considering the amount of rubbish that made its way into the river generated by the million spectators. In training the week before, we had to disembark into thigh deep mud next to a sewerage outlet and it was suggested we all take worming tablets... but the worming tablets I had were for children and were chocolate so it was not such a bad thing!

There was a really great atmosphere on the river when we were waiting to race alongside the nearly 400 other boats from all over the country all struggling not to get swept downstream to Vietnam. We said hello and good luck to everyone and danced to the drums some teams used to keep time. There were teams sponsored by various NGOs, restaurants, beer, cigarette, condom and concrete companies and many more but most t-shirts were only in Khmer script so I have no idea where they were from. There was also an all HIV-positive crew to raise awareness about AIDS in Cambodia. We all wore the red ribbons which one of the boat crews were handing out. Each boat had their shrine offering bananas, cakes etc the Buddha and some had what looked like human hair hanging off the back of the boat. I’m not sure what that was about. Some boats had dancing girls in traditional costume at the front. We had a huge blow up Kangaroo (about half our crew was Australian...). Being the only barang boat I think we must have been on par with the Cambodian national team for popularity. Or more likely the crowd just enjoyed laughing at us! An especially large crowd always formed to watch us to our warm up and stretching.

On the last night of the festival, we watched the fireworks from the boat then got out into the middle of the biggest crowd I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t bear fighting my way to the bar for the team celebration. I had such an overwhelming need to get the hell out of there. The moto home took ages as the streets even far from the riverside were nearly at a standstill with cars, motos and pedestrians. I’m very glad to have experienced the Water Festival here but would happily forgo the experience next time…

On the Tuesday of the Water Festival, only five days before the event, having not run once in 5 months, I decided to run the 10k race of the Angkor Wat Half Marathon. This involved a 6 hour bus trip to Siem Reap on Saturday then a 6 hour bus trip back on Sunday. Madness. I managed 2 training sessions beforehand and did the run in under 1 hour so was very happy. It was pretty special running past Angkor Wat, through the gates of Angkor Thom, past the Bayon etc. The run is for charity, “to bring Artificial Limbs to Mine Victims and Save the Youth from HIV/AIDS” so there were many wheelchair athletes and amputees running on prosthetic limbs. It was very inspiring. The official guide book for the race was clearly not proof read by a native English speaker and provided us with much pre-race amusement. The official web site is also pretty funny and under “How to apply” has the instructions to “7-Join to our official overnight party” (an overnight party – before a marathon?!) and “8-Please enjoy your running on the day of the race” … you can check it out at

So it was a pretty energetic and action packed week for me. It was lots of fun and kept me well distracted from the fact that Jono is away for a month. He gets back in a week!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


No left turn?

There’s an intersection of two main roads in the middle of the city. There’s a ‘no U-turn’ sign. There’s apparently also a ‘no left turn’ sign, hidden behind a tree. My colleague from work was driving and we turned left. The police were waiting just around the corner. This happened to me once in Australia. But of course it was a ‘no right turn’ - and there was a sign. That time I was given an infringement notice on official paper and I obediently but begrudgingly paid the $55 fine to the government It was only a no right turn between 3pm and 6pm and it was like, 3.10pm and it was really safe and they have since taken that sign down anyway so the cops that day were just revenue collecting – just like in Cambodia really. In Cambodia the ‘fine’ depends on your bargaining skills and there’s no paper trail. My Cambodian colleague offered 1000 riel (US$0.25) which was not accepted. The policeman wanted 20,000 riel (US$5.00). He started writing out some sort of ticket and said something about going to the station. My colleague then made me get out of the car to offer 5,000 riel. So in my limited Khmer I put on a dumb barang (foreigner) act and eventually with a subtle nod of the head from the superior officer I handed over the cash and the deal was done. So I’ve bribed a police officer. I feel bad but wasn’t keen to find out what the alternative would be. Still if everyone refused to pay then perhaps the police would start policing instead of seeking out money like this and maybe even form some sort of union to pressure the government to increase their pay from $10 per month or whatever it is so they wouldn’t need me to supplement their income.... Oh Cambodia – gotta love it.

My bargaining skills must be better than Jono’s though. He had to pay a cop $2 once but I’ll let him tell the story! And I just heard another AYAD's story where she had to pay $5 for driving the wrong way down a one way street (which everyone does anyway). The police in her case said pay a fine now or go to traffic school (whatever that would be here???) for 3 or 5 days then pay a fine. She tried to say 'I'll go to traffic school' but the cop, obviously preferring the on the spot fine straight into his pocket was very keen to negotiate the fine. Anthea also has a police encounter story on her blog...



View of half floor from downstairs

There are very few actual office buildings in Phnom Penh. Most offices, apart from government departments and the like are in houses. Most expats here would live within a stones’ throw from an NGO – or five. My office is in a tall narrow Thai or Chinese style house – I can’t remember which. That knowledge was gained during our house-hunting, which despite the happy ending, was a frustrating and traumatic experience so it’s all been wiped from memory. Because NICFEC is a poor local NGO with hardly any money, to save on electricity, the stairwell is kept dark, there is no air conditioning and lights and fans are turned off as soon as we leave a room. Quite sensible really – except maybe the dark stairs. To make matters worse, the power goes out at least once a day for at least an hour. All the Khmer staff, even those with little English now know the word ‘blackout’. I think when we finally get a generator and the blackouts stop I will miss my coffee breaks reading the paper at the cafe down the road.

Each morning at 8am there is an office meeting which I sometimes attend. It is pretty much a waste of time for me because it’s in Khmer and from what I gather involves people taking turns to stand up and paraphrase news items from the morning paper. Sometimes when the director is there the meeting is about work. Everyone claps which signals the end of the meeting when the lights and fans can be turned off and the work day begins.

Other ‘quirky’ things about my office are: When it rains very hard, the floor floods because there is a half finished room at the back which is full of rubble and open to the elements. The accountant’s office is in a half floor - Being John Malcovich - style, with a miniature door. Lucky our accountant is not tall. We all sit at our computers on blue plastic outdoor furniture chairs. No OH&S ergonomic consultants here... Because offices are also houses, almost all office toilets will have a bath or shower often with toothbrushes too – haven’t figured out whose those are yet.

I have just recently been assigned some projects to work on. One being the Parliamentary Watch Project and another a women’s rights/domestic violence program so I think I will now be relatively busy at work. Which is great – but a shock for me after a year of mostly bumming around!

Our AYAD profiles are on the web finally. Just go to and click on Meet the AYADs then Intake 14 etc.


Our House

I’ll always remember the moment I sat down to compose this blog post. I have set up my new laptop on our gorgeous wooden balcony and am enjoying the tropical view into the canopy of boganvillea, palm, mango and banana trees. We also have a custard apple tree but I’m not sure which one it is yet. It would be pure paradise if I were lying in the hammock but then it would be too hard to type. I never thought I ‘needed’ a laptop before but now I love it. I am addicted to ‘geeking it up’, as Belinda, one of my housemates calls it! The other thing I have become addicted to since being in Phnom Penh is riding my bicycle. I ride everywhere. I thought I would be too chicken to brave the PP traffic but it turns out I’m not. A huge revelation! The experience has also improved since I stopped trying to wear skirts to work. There’s too much to concentrate on without having to worry about the whole of PP seeing my undies. Besides being better for the wallet, environment, legs etc, it’s also surprisingly quick – and I ride slowly – I have beaten people on moto taxis to places before!

Our house is great and the best thing about it is that it came with dogs! The previous tenants had 2 dogs they couldn’t take with them and fortunately all 4 of us agreed to keep the dogs. They are really sweet. Except when we open the gate to get out and they escape and get into fights with other dogs and run through mud and eat rubbish and ignore us when we call them to come back in. I also don’t find them endearing when they get overexcited after parties and break through the doggie barrier at the top of the stairs and run around on the verandah being noisy all night.... or when they push open the fly screen door downstairs and head straight for the rubbish bin or jump up onto the dining room table. Naughty!

The dogs are sisters and one of them may be pregnant! We had an eventful trip in a tuk tuk to the vet to get all the animals* rabies vaccinations and Meika has a big uterus which means we might have puppies soon which is sooo exciting but then we would need to find them all good homes. Meika's the one with black around her eyes. The other, more blond one is Lara. It's been fun seeing their personalities emerge. I think Lara is more intelligent and she's my favourite but she's can also be a real bully to Meika and to the cat. The dogs actually have two names. They also get called 'bread and butter' in Italian (panini and bourini??) by our Italian neighbour.

*We have a cat too. Her name's Nobel (Bel). She’s nice as far as cats go and there’s a remote chance that during the course of the year Bel may help me slide along the scale away from being a pure dog person... but for the moment I like her being around because it’s fun spraying her with water when she does naughty things like jump up on the kitchen bench or come into my room. I can’t deny that in our case the cat is more “useful” than the dogs. Bel caught four mice one night – or maybe it was 2 then the same 2 dead ones retrieved from the rubbish – we’re not sure. So we let her inside regularly to catch mice but mostly she just lies around and cleans herself so maybe they were just a one-off housewarming present. I hope not because Belinda had a mouse in her bed and mouse poo (Microsoft Word doesn’t recognise poo as a word. It also doesn’t recognise recognise – I’ll have to change it out of American spelling) has been spotted in the kitchen...

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