Last days at Kampot with Chinese New Year
I am writing this last part already from home but it has to be added to the Blog. The last week in Kampot was marked, as I told you, by preparations to please the ancestors for the Chinese New Year.
In our hotel, where the relatives of the owners were expected, I think the preparations were also partly meant to impress the living family. And on the day before, 6 February, they all arrived from lunch to the evening, including a crowd of young grand-children. We had cleared our terrace because it gave access to the buffet display. When I left our room I saw them working on it and was very impressed; the owners allowed me to take a photograph (in the bucket).
Not only the family but also we were very kindly invited to a special New Year’s banana roll for breakfast, a luncheon and evening meal. We were glad that the dogs gathered around us as we were not used anymore to eat so much in the heat including tough meat.
Crackers and fireworks sounded deep into the night.
On New Years Day, a special band arrived with a masked man leading a dragon. They danced around the yard and went into each of the buildings on the compound to secure good luck and wealth. On each of the hotel buildings the dragon found an envelope fastened high above the door and he had to grab for it.
The days in Kampot had been filled with small outings, a bicycle- and a river-trip and we also had much more time than usually with nothing much planned to do. While I put messages on the Blog, Klaus sat in the Epic Arts Café (www.epicarts.org.uk) and enjoyed the company of deaf and mute youngsters with sparkling, happy eyes. This is an amazing place created by an English NGO: two English/Irish women run together with Khmers courses for the deaf to learn sign language, to be a waitress, to make milk shakes etc. The Irish woman gives also dance classes upstairs: about 40 youngsters stand opposite each other in two groups. The teacher shows a set of dance movements and first one group and then both execute them: the music comes from a laptop and the wooden floor of the room vibrates to the rhythm. The youngsters work with beaming faces. They have also professional dance/drama performances with disabled young people.
Downstairs a group plays games and the second English woman makes a video about them. At the counter we find free leaflets and booklets for visitors, a newsletter inviting to join voluntary groups in Kampot and what to do apart from site seeing, such as:
* joining interactive conversational English or French classes
* learning basic Khmer language
* helping to fund disadvantaged children’s groups
* visiting the traditional Music school (was closed at the time) – and so on.
* Rural enterprise centre
* Helping in the child development centre
* Recycled plastic bag product development project (!!!) What an ingenious plan.
There was also a leaflet “Stay another day”: 18 pages of projects and initiatives throughout the country. www.stay-another-day.org.
But the most overwhelming of all projects we learned about last minute when waiting for the bus to take us to Phnom Pengh. Someone had left a copy of a report at the hotel counter: the Swiss paediatrician Dr Beat Richner, with hospitals at Seam Reap and Phnom Pengh, informs and impeaches “The passive genocide of Cambodia’s children, an appeal for change in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) and other organizations’ policy and strategy poor medicine for poor people in poor countries.” There is a lot to find about him in Google, he is a most amazing person.
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Dr. Beat Richner (born March 13, 1947) is a Swiss pediatrician, cellist (Beatocello), and founder of children's hospitals in Cambodia.
Richner worked at the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital in Phnom Penh in 1974 and 1975. When the Khmer Rouge overran Cambodia, he was forced to return to Switzerland.
In 1991, Richner returned to Cambodia and saw the devastation that had taken place during his absence. He was asked to re-open the children's hospital by the King.
He has opened four children's hospitals in Cambodia, Kantha Bopha I and II in Phnom Penh and Jayavarman VII in Siem Reap. Kantha Bopha IV was opened in Phnom Penh in December 2005. A 5th hospital is currently being constructed (also in Phnom Penh).
Beatocello performs free concerts at the Jayavarman VII hospital in Siem Reap on Friday and Saturday nights. The evenings include songs, played on his cello, and talks on the health crisis in Cambodia. He asks the young tourists for blood, the older tourists for money, and the ones in between for both.
Richner and his work in Cambodia have been the subject of five documentary films by Georges Gachot: Bach at the Pagoda (1997), And the Beat Goes On (1999), Depardieu goes for Beatocello (2002), and Money or Blood (2004). In 2006, the documentary "Dr Beat and The Passive Genocide of Children" by Australian film maker Janine Hosking was produced with the trailer viewable at http://www.drbeat.com.au.
The Kantha Bopha hospitals treat 1 million children free of charge. Approx 100,000 seriously ill children are admitted. Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue fever and typhoid are common, often exacerbated by the presence of TB. TB is the number one killer. Mortality rate is an astonishly low 1%.
Kantha Bopha has 1900 staff of which only Richner and the head pathologist Dr Denis Laurent are foreigners. Hundreds of medical students have graduated from the Jayavarman VII in Siem Reap.
Dr Richner claims that over 80% of all paediatric health care in Cambodia is provided by his hospitals.
The hospitals are primarily funded by donations from individuals in Switzerland, where Richner is somewhat of an icon. Operational expense in 2006 was in the order of $17mill USD.
Richner has waged war on the large AID agencies claiming that their policies of poor health care for poor people in poor countries is not only immoral but illogical.
Richner was named "Swiss of the Year" in 2003.
- Kantha Bopha. Als Schweizer Arzt in Kambodscha ("Kantha Bopha: A children's doctor in Cambodia" , 1995, ISBN 3-85823-570-9 (How the re-opening of Kantha Bopha was made possible and why it is successful)
- Hoffnung für die Kinder von Kantha Bopha, NZZ 2004, ISBN 3-03823-047-2
- Hope for the children of Kantha Bopha: our third hospital, maternity ward, training and conference centre, translated from German, NZZ 2004, ISBN 3-03823-098-7
We would have loved to visit one of his concerts and the hospital when we were in Siem Reap – helas, we learned too late about it. If you are interested, I have made a PDF copy of his report easy to attach to an e-mail in either German or English.
21.2.08 18:40, kommentieren
We are approaching the end of our travels and - in contrast to previous journeys - we have stayed here in Kampot already one week and are taking it leisurely. WE saw one more amazing temple (7th Century) in a cave, under overhanging stalactites but not touched by them!
We also have seen the place where the pepper grows (as we say in Germany) but it was much nicer as the place we wish people to when we don't like them. We saw the abandoned and now scatted in old French resort - including the king's two empty villas - a goats’ town still with some good seafood restaurants along the mangrove beach.
Our pace has become so slow that I think Klaus wants to get me home healthy this time and I am not against it.
It has also a certain advantage, in archaeological terms, to not only to race from attraction to the next to record building marvels but also to have time to discover the Occupation - the time between Construction and Destruction, where only little events fill the days.
The nights when one is woken up by the dogs howling in concert, when between 3 and 5am the cocks start to ensure their territory an when around 6am the sun appears.
Here in Kampot people now care about preparations for the New Chinese Year starting 7th Feb. The Khmers after all their sufferings are enjoying all festivities, their own New Year will take part sometime in April.
When the New Year arrives it has to be greeted positively. The entire house has to be cleaned and all plants of the garden are sprayed and washed. Our domina really behaves like in Roman times the matron of the household would have done: she chases her maids and servants-cum-waiters around to the furthest corners of the property to clear out even the darkest corner: So I discovered that the spoil-heap in front of our side windows had been beautifully sorted (Georgia, this reminded me of your marvellous Swiss book "Kunst aufräeumen" : all five cock’s cages are now mounted into a tower. Beside it stand three replaced ‘loos, a pile of old wood for future fire use including a three-legged chair, a movable step pedestal ... and so on. The effort, however, stops before the 2nd window, where the old higgledy-piggledy continues.
Very important for this activity, I learned, are the Ancestors. They must be impressed to mediate and must be convinced that the still living do something to earn a good place in heaven (and further on in life as well!) New Year can bring new and better things to the families and watching are the house gods. House gods are pacified in our house in two ways, in little shrines, lovingly cared for outside on the premises with fresh fruits, coconuts, and incent sticks. These are for the Khmer ancestors. Inside the house is the Chinese altar, which contains figures of ?Buddhist gods, also fruits, water (or gin?) and even several dollars! You shall see the pictures if I can manage. The Blissful Guesthouse next door, where we have breakfast, has even acquired 8 new low tables, 32 comfy-chairs and a row of new plants - but where are the guests? May be there will be a special impressive party for the new furniture.
To mark the Sunday yesterday, Klaus hired two bicycles for the day for $3.- together and we had a great time to cycle along the river with mountain scenery on the way. We had best French coffee at a view spot and had a good time to chill out and observe two girls doing their washing. Astounding how much difference can lie in such a simple action: While one of them had soon very efficiently washed all the goods from bed sheets to t-shirt and jeans and blouses, she had brought washing powder and a brush, the other one borrowed from her and scrubbed only a few things taking double the time. Then came the cleaning of the girls themselves: the 1st one combed her hair, went into the river in her cloths, had a little shower under the little waterfall, washed her hair and body in her cloths and when coming out, washed the washing bag, cleaned even the plastic bag, folded everything away nicely and went to change her wet dress behind the rocks into a dry set. In a fine white blouse she reappeared as a new happy girl, washed the cloths she had been wearing before, laid all out on the rocks to dry and relaxed. Meanwhile the other girl still tittered around, didn't wash her hair properly and lost he plastic bag in the currents - one more to add to the plastic spread.
Anyway, Thank you all very much for following our journey. On Thursday we shall take the bus back to Phnom Pengh, on Friday we start the way back home - and following the light we shall be arriving the same day back in London.
Our website had 417 hits, THANK YOU!
All the very best
from Klaus and Friederike
This business is breathtaking... Sometimes it lets me sometimes not. But now I am connected so quickly run the story...
As we had one more day paid for Angkor temples, we went a bit further afield - with our beloved Touk-touk as transport this time. One sits very comfortably in it and the motorcycle driver sits in front and one “touks” along.
Sometimes roads are tarmacked sometimes not. Particularly motor cars - the ones who own one - do not care a fig for slower vehicles and pass by in full speed and one can only close all openings of the head and breathe deeply before the event. BUT it is very reassuring to know that Germany is also involved in building and improving new roads. I found a leaflet explaining all the projects they are involved in together with a road map - and there are really improvements made till 2007.
The temple we saw in Banteay Srei was really the cream of fine stone carving - in credibly delicate - I added one picture to the photobucket. We also went into the mountains to see carvings into a rocky river bed from the 7th century. Just amazing! Klaus suffered a bit because he wore - yes Joerg - his shoes from the 1980s - Bally very special and what we thought soft. But he came back with four blisters - poor boy. But on the other hand, some youngster who overtook us was full of admiration and recognised at once the speciality on the mountain and a friendly-trendy conversation reduced the pain. From now on the order of the day was then rather to wear flip-flops.
Good for our feet that we embarked a ship from Siem Reap to Batambang. Quite a thing to enter the boat via a plank with all our gear – apart from the two shoulder bags in the meantime including two baskets full of new curtain material... It was incredible that there was a water way through the country at all because on the map nothing looked like a passage through swampy wide fields. (In the meantime I have discovered that there is a river with a name, Sangkerriver, drying out during the driest season of the year.
This is an interesting area of floating villages, very poor; the only thing for the fisherman to sell is fish and fish paste. We saw the stuff drying outside their boats. They fish with interesting constructions of spider-shaped poles where the net is being fixed to. The journey took 8.5 hours - nearly as long as a flight from London and it was very tiring next to being very interesting. Hot and crumbed among rucksacks and people, and more being picked up on the way, brought by little boats from their houseboats.
During a short stay at Battambang we saw a cooking school in a restaurant, where 5 westerners learned the finesses of Khmer cooking: Paying $8.- for 3 hours, this included going to the market and preparing three dishes, which everyone who cooked them had to eat (best way to learn is to taste ones mistakes).
In Battambang we also met a man who had a brilliant idea: he grew up in a village where his parents were so poor they could not feed him and his brother anymore (the father had suffered badly under the Khmer Rouge). The desperate mother brought the boys to the monks. Monks are allowed to beg for food in the streets - we saw them queuing up when we bought the bus tickets, they were served by the bus ticket vendor being thanked in return by prayers and all prayed together. This seems to be a daily ritual because the women were prepared.
The man we saw I n the street told us that the monks had changed his life. He learned from them to read and write, eventually from someone else also English. He became a touk-touk driver for a while and then he fulfilled his dream: he opened a school for English lessons in his village. The parents allowed their kids to learn but they did not/could not pay for the lessons. So he is going round tourists now to collect money and ask them to come and give lectures and conversation. He showed us his budget plan: he has already over 250 students and several teachers he trained and needs$ 6888.- a year for more teachers and books. He want to widen his area through a mobile library by touk-touks In result this would help to make children employable in hotels, shops etc - with English the door to the world opens. Check out the website someone created for him, search Google for:
“I support Narath's English school in Slakram, Battambang, Cambodia” (I found two other travel Blogs there who had visited his school and enjoyed it.
After a short stay in Phnom Pengh we are now in the south where we shall have a rest. There is one more beautiful 7th century temple in a cave with stalactites to be seen. It is great that we have taken with us the fantastic catalogue from the German exhibition in Bonn, Berlin and Zürich. Apart from the beautiful reproductions of statues there is a lot of background to be learned.
One nice little story at the end. It is forbidden to make photos at the Phnom Pengh museum. Ruthless as we are we still wanted some. I had worked out that I would make the photos without flash (my little camera has a special button for museums’ items). And Klaus was meant to make a list of the names and dates accordingly. As it often turns out in real life, it was Klaus who made the photos with his big Nikon hanging in front of his belly. He just fixed the mouth of the flash that it could not open and made the rattling shots, while I ran after him making the notes with number ref. Then I had to check the photos whether they were focussed – nerve-racking on the small screen! - Now we have some nice and some impressionist results. It was a nice extra fun that I found in the museum yard the big boxes in which the statues had been sent (by Lufthansa) to Germany and further (by Schenker) to the destinations. I saw even a plan, where the statue had been placed (in the expos or in PhnPnh?) Anyway, great satisfaction.
Now we have settled in a lovely room with our own terrace. Yesterday we experienced the heftiest rain storm in the best fish restaurant we have ever experienced (both). Home in touk-touk through lakes of water - not much of drains are visible but today the water was mostly gone.
Fair well all of you! I hope to get through to you more pictures next time.
Very best wishes from Klaus and Friederike
I am so glad that today the connection has worked - yesterday I tried again and again - no chance.
We have reached the heart of our trip - the huge area of just amazing temples situated in parts of jungle. We saw Angkor Wat, the most famous (and the most densely visited) temple complex on our day of arrival after five in the afternoon. If one buys the 3-days tickets one can go in for free the night before. This was great because when we came most of the crowds had already left and it was more bearable to concentrate.
The proportion of the building activities (9th to 12th century) are just mind blowing. One arrives through the jungle at a huge water channel-enclosure around Angkor Wat being at the same time defence, water source for irrigation channels, but with a divine connection of water/power/life/ancestors/heaven. How several men who established themselves as conqueror, emperor and God, could think of such projects, activate all the necessary builders, bring in the materials (the landscape is completely flat, swampy or sandy and mountains are far away!) The entire concept is one of extraordinary far-sightedness, building on the construction skills of the predecessors with confidence. The aim is to conquer, occupy, convince, join together the people of the land and rain over them.
The temple of Angkor Wat itself and in its setting looks great from far and is very big but we have seen here several temples and also more impressive ones.
By the way, if you want to see some pictures I have not managed to bring them to this BLOG - it takes too long to copy each one separately across. BUT you can visit another website, where I have stored yesterday a few just to not disappoint you completely. The main sequence of photos is on Klaus' camera and I shall sort them out at home. But if you are curious, have a look at:
There are some photos, if you double-click on them they enlarge to a reasonable size.
Yesterday we saw the temple complex of Angkor Tom, of a later king. When Angkor town had been destroyed by Vietnamese intruders, in 1177-1230 the emperor Jayavartman VII re-established Khmer power and he built his temple Bayon on top of the destroyed burnt wooden town. The base of this temple is decorated with many beautiful sandstone freezes showing fights and daily live in the 12th century. But to really make sure that nobody thinks to get away from the emperor, he had put up 216 enormous faces of him staring in all directions. Although masses of visitors, many Asians but also Australians, Americans and some Europeans, incredibly crowded the corridors, we had a great and interesting time up there.
Today more temples – different and most atmospheric is Ta Prohm, created in the woods and the jungle having nearly taken over again: huge trees are overgrowing and partly destroying the walls - I shall try to bring more pictures into the bucket later on.
I hope you have a little idea of what can be seen here. It is however very sad to read in the Lonely Planet that only 10 % of the Million visitors' entrance fees goes back into temple conservation. The rest is shared by a Petrolium Company who manages the visitor business and to the Finance Ministry and who knows what happens to the money by then. The only excuse is that Angkor is the biggest industry and income for the country.
Very best wishes to all of you
Klaus and Friederike
1 Kommentar 20.1.08 12:22, kommentieren
Nothing is easy if you are using different keyboard systems with hardly any letters on them. So I wrote you a long letter yesterday and with one wrong move I have wiped it all out. So today I thought I shall be clever and tell you our story 1st as a Word document and copy and paste it across to the Blog - no way - on this machine there is no Microsoft Word. So I shall stagger again and hope for the best to keep you in touch.
After Phnom Pengh we wanted to make a long trip on the Mekong river but that failed: as they have built a bridge up north in Kampong Cham with a much improved road surface there after, no one of the locals wanted to spend 5 hours on the water if they could do it faster. This is a pity though because I am sure later, when tourists will be coming more frequently, they shall have to reinstall the facility.
We spent a night in Kampong Cham and had one stroll along the river, this is all one can do there if the boats are not running. But the best was the contact we made through the hotel manager to a friend further north in Kratie : her name is Dari and she introduces herself as "the only Female Motor Driver in Kratie".
This lovely 26-year old girl and entrepreneur became immediately our friend. She organised for us two tours into the country with herself and her cousin as drivers. We cycled around potholes along the Mekong and had great fun exploring the villages with houses on stilts - very necessary because at the height of the rainy season in October the Mekong floods often up to 10m and although their 1st floor rooms are dry they have to save their livestock and goods. It is strange and moving when travelling through dry landscape to see boats "moored" along the fields for rescue.
Dari loves this land outside the town and has many friends among the very poor peasants. So she took us to a field where a woman harvested rice and she and I tried cutting rice with a sickle. This is easier than binding sheaves - I still haven’t understood how to fasten the knot. The woman laughed to tears and had great fun.
A treat for us were coconuts freshly cut and brought down from the tree, it tastes like nuts. For the children we had brought shiny sweets that Dary distributed for/from us, two each. When I have organised our pictures you shall see their faces beaming with joy.
There are also temples here but they are all reconstructed and too brightly painted after the destruction during Khmer Rouge times. We shall see the cream of culture later in Angkor.
The next day we visited the sweet water dolphins living in only one area of the Mekong. It was a beautiful trip with eight people on a boat, cruising around little islands, watching out for dark shadows and lines on the water. If you once want to go, don't expect that they jump high like in the ocean; they only come to the surface to draw a snaring breath and one can see their fins, a bit of a snout and the tail. They are impossible to photograph but the main thing is that they are still there - a fraction of the original group because bombing and fishing for oil has reduced them drastically.
In the evening Dary brought us to a hidden place under a mango tree where locals eat their favourite Cambodian pancakes: Very thin and crisp around the edges, folded in is minced meat mixed with bean sprouts. You eat it with your fingers joined by a big communal plate of mixed greens, herbs and lettuce. All is being rolled up and dipped into a lovely peanut sauce – nyam-nyam!
So sadly we had to leave today for a long bus ride to Kampong Thum. Tomorrow we shall visit again on motor bikes a pre-Angkor temple complex and the time of real cultural treasures begins.
This is it for today. I hope it reaches you in good spirits and good health!
All the very best from Klaus and Friederike2 Kommentare 15.1.08 11:55, kommentieren
Just a short note to tell you that we have arrived safely in Phnom Phen. We have slept off the jet-leg, collected the lost bag from the airport and have seen already the pleasant sites in town: the Emperor's palace, all nicely redecorated and the highnesses are reinstalled. Then we visited the National Museum where there are many of the statues from famous Angkor.
Apart from masses of ramshackle buildings and a few brand-new villas and temples, the city still has a few pleasant French colonial villas, and although they are not very fond of the French they kept the good French cake and braed traditions and also they have French-style coffee. We are staying in a very pleasant riverside hotel and eat in a river-restaurant glorious seafood. Transport is via "touk-touk (motor bikes with a nicely painted roofed box attasched for up to four passengers). It is far better than using taxis with freezing air conditions just good enough to catch a cold.
Tomorrow we are en route north to find the place from which one can travel by boat on the Mekong river. Then two more places with remnants of pre-Angkor structures and then many days at Siem Reap Angkor...
All the very best to you allKlaus and Friederike
1 Kommentar 10.1.08 08:16, kommentieren
Dear Friends und Familie,
As I have learned from my dear nice and god-daughter Friederike (Frieda-auf-Reisen), the easiest way to communicate from the far end of the world is via a BLOG. So we shall try it as well.
As most of our friends from England, Germany, France, Romania, Russia and Ethiopia and family in Germany speak English, this shall be the language of communication.
I look forward to feeding this BLOG soon.
Klaus and Friederike