End of Week 3

After 13 days in Kampong Cham for language training we're back in Phnom Penh for final classroom training, to visit our workplace and get a few errands done.  This is what we've done over the past week:

Last Friday our Khmer language class went with our teacher (Ly Pirith) to his village for the last day of the All Saints Day Festival.  We gave food to the monks.  It was a special moment kneeling in respect to these monks in an old holy building. There is a good chance we are the only Barang (white foreigners) to have visited there.  With our cans of Coke and packaged jelly cookies placed before the monks we clasped our hands together and wobbled in kneeling positions and heat to which it is obvious we were not accustomed.  I got a glimpse of my English classmate tactfully suppressing her giggles with great effort.  The locals must have thought "Who the heck are these big funny people with this stuff from the supermarket!?" and "Why in Buddha's name are they sprawled on the floor and perspiring so?" I know they will be talking about us for a long time.

We received some sad news on Sunday night.  Julie's little cat Raya that she has had for the past 12 1/2 years died suddenly at Julie's Mum's in Canada.  Seems as though Raya had a blot clot or something similar that traveled to her brain and she died very quickly. Needless to say, Julie is very upset as is her mother and grandmother.  As some of you know, Raya was a very special kitty, and Julie's little baby. We cannot believe that Raya is gone.  Julie is just glad that Raya did not suffer and her Mum and Nana did everything they could to save her, but it was too late.

On Tuesday, we travelled by bus back to Phnom Penh. What should have been a 2-hour journey, turned into a 6-hour journey, as the bus had a flat tire and then the hydraulics went later.  We stopped at a local rest stop and one of the English volunteers Sally purchased a snack for us to eat.  This consisted of deep fried spider, and the spider was huge, the size of Julie's hand.  Always being interested in exotic foods, we ate the legs of the spider. It tasted like crispy chicken (just kidding, it didnt taste much like anything)...Julie's stomach has been a bit upset since then... At the second stop, we needed to wait for a new bus, so we spent our time playing hacky sack with the top of a gourd. 

Yesterday, we visited Cambodia's mine removal training centrein Kampong Chanang.  We received a classroom presentation and a tour including displays of the unexploded shells, bombs and mines.  Reportedly, the US dropped so many bombs in the early 1970s that approximately 250,000 Cambodian's were killed by carpet bombing.  The US was trying to find the communist Vietnamese that were apparently hiding in Cambodia.  A lot of mines are left throughout the countryside, including those laid by the Khmer Rouge.  We also visited the dog training area where they use German sheppardsto sniff out buried mines and bombs.

Saturday, we are going to a party hosted by a VSO business-volunteer who already has an apartment. We'll be in Phnom Penh until Oct 6th when we go back to Kampong Cham for 3 more weeks of language training.  We are doing this from internet cafes and have not had the opportunity to download photos - we'll do so soon.  

So long!

Andrew & Julie          

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We've been here for two weeks already!!!

Choumreap Soor!  (greetings, formal)

Life in Cambodia has been very busy but fun.  Without a doubt we will miss the fall colours in New Mexico and Ontario and all the fun things you are doing.  I hope this entry finds you in good health and good spirits.

As you may have heard their has been what appears to be military coup in neighborhing Thailand.  Tanks and soldiers are in the streets.  The Thai Prime Minister has been prevented from re-entering the country and remains in London.  However, based on our own familiarity with Thailand this likely does not equate to major upheaval.  It seems that every several years the students, military or another group unleash their disatisfaction with the leadership by taking to the streets by protesting and even rioting.  The King who is widely revered and respected intervenes with a solution, usually asking the PM or a few other leaders to resign.  We suspect that the affected leaders are usually either given another post or retire with attractive incentives.  Within a short time people go about their lives as they did before.  Tourists who are aware of this are still entering the country assuming "Mi pen rai" (no problem), as the Thais say.  It would seem that the Thais are creative in unique ways and have mostly escaped civil wars, foreign imperial powers, and conflicts in the region.  They are a baffling people and in some ways seem remarkably civilized compared to much of the world.  They have some significant social and environmental problems but are have made extraordinary progress compared to many developing countries.  The sky train is being expanded, a new airport built and hospitals and the healthcare system are reportedly 1st world calibre.

Anyway, language class is very challenging and fun.  Learning by word association and regular misprunounciations make for many laughs.  A veteran VSO volunteer in secure livelihoods/natural resources told us that he visited a village last year to introduce himself.  He addressed the community by trying to say "I am here to help you!".  Instead he said "I am here to make love to you!"  A long silence followed.  He is probably the only Ugandan they have ever met.  One wonders what they are still thinking...he never went back to that village again. 

Two days ago we visited a Wat (temple) with our teacher's family to celebrate all saints day.  We paid homage on our knees as the people do with incense sticks and then gave food to the monks.  Being a foreign visitor in rural Cambodia makes you a novelty.  A large group of children followed us around all morning.  The schools are all teaching engish.  A bike ride we took last Sunday through a number of villages last Saturday required returning greetings of hello every 50 meters or so for several hours which left us neary hoarse.  "Hello!", "What's you name?". "Where (do) you come from?"  etc.  Delightful friendly people indeed!

We are going to sign off and hit the hay.  We'll write more later this week, our heads are still spinning from language class every day!!!

Love to you all.

Andy and Jules










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Sousdey (hello)

Sousdey (Hello)!

First of all, it was wonderfull seeing you all in New Mexico and Toronto over the past few weeks.  Having you all come to our parties reminds us that we are loved and that our friends and family support us in our overseas adventure.  We feel very lucky to know that we have all of you to come back to.  We are hoping that many of you be able to make it here
for a visit!!

Our first 5 days in Phnom Penh has been a very interesting experience.  People are generally friendly, curious and open to foreigners.  The VSO and guest house staff have been great.  Training has provided us with a lot of valuable information relating to all areas of work and living:  the structures and functions of the organizations we will be working with, how to find an apartment, what to pay for things such as bike flats and traffic fines, how much money to donate at  weddings, cultural dos and don'ts. 

It was interesting to find that Cambodians are laid back ppl and don't like to express anger or frustration in public.  When telling you about a frustrating or unfortunate event they are likely to start laughing and smiling  (ha ha ha ha ha !!!!!).  We have been told that if we get angry in public such as over a minor traffic issue or in front of a shop that
ppl are more likely to laugh at us or feel embarrassed for us for getting upset.  You white ppl are silly for wanting everything right now and are so picky!!!

The traffic situation is the greatest source of culture shock for a westerner.  I would say it resembles merging rivers (no stops or lanes) with many eddies (ppl going the wrong way along the edge of the road) so, everybody bascially just........goes!  Remarkably, there is almost no road rage as people are used to it and the notion of personal space is not as strictly defined as for us.

Yesterday morning Julie and I completed our introductory in-country training and got on the bus with the rest of the volunteers for the 2 hour trip northeast to the town of Kampong Chom for 2 months of Khmer language training.  A cranky clutch required a few brief stops on the way out of town.  Soon we had great country scenery as we followed the Mekong upriver passing villages, rice paddies, cattle and fishermen.  We arrived at our digs, a mansion with a nice garden, verandas, and common areas with beautiful wood furnishings.  We volunteers have pooled our money for
three yummy prepared meals per day from the staff at $4.50 per person/day.  The food is is a lot like Thai but with less spice.  Tomorrow we begin language training of 3-4 hours per day.  Veteran voluteers tell us the head
teacher is strict and old school which is probably a good thing lest we begin to think we are on vacation.

Will write more soon!

Missing you all.

Andrew & Jules

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Hello From Phnom Penh

Hi Everyone,

Andrew and I made it safely to Phnom Penh last thursday 7th after a 19.5 hour flight to Hong Kong (via Anchorage) and a 10.5 hr layover in Hong Kong.  We then had a 2.5 hr flight from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh and made it here.  Hong Kong was really cool, what a beautiful place.  There are 28 new VSO folks starting with us in Cambodia.  The new VSO folks are mostly British, a few Dutch, one young lady from Uganda, one young lady from Portugal, one Irish guy and of course 4 Canadians (the other 2 Canadians are a couple from British Columbia).  We are getting over our jetlag, and are trying to get used to the heat!!! I've forgotten how hot it is over here!!

On Friday, we had a 1/2 day orientation with the VSO staff at the VSO Programme Office in Phnom Penh with the 26 other new VSO folks. There are quite a few new VSO folks that will also be based in Phnom Penh, which will be nice.  We've been staying at a nice guesthouse with 16 of the other new VSO folks that is approx a 10-15 walk from the VSO office.  On saturday, the VSO organized a cyclo tour of Phnom Penh for the day, so we got to see the city from a rickshaw point of view.  The city is very busy but not as crazy as Bangkok, for one thing it is a lot smaller than Bangkok, but just as hot!! Wow!!  The french architecture here is amazing, the city is slowly being restored, and the boulevards are beautiful.  Phnom Penh was once called the jewel of Asia. The riverfront area is very nice.

There seems to be a lot of Westerners working here, its quite funny to go to the Lucky Supermarket and see all the westerners shopping.   I think development is coming very very quickly to Cambodia, within 10 years its going to be another great tourist destination like Thailand.  The people are very nice, as to be expected.  People are not aggressive and smile a lot.  I think andrew and I are a bit of a novelty here...

We have two more days of orientation and meetings with the VSO in Phnom Penh, then we head out to Champong Cham Province on Wednesday to start 7 weeks of language training that will last 6 days a week, yikes!!! We had a short briefing on some key words in Khmer, of course Andrew remembered most of the words right off the bat, I have to keep practising and I still forget most of the words.  Yikes!!!

We really like the other VSO folks here, they are from all different age groups, 2 women are 25 and younger, but most folks are in their late 20's, thirties, forties, fifties and a few in their 60's.  Amazing people.  Some of them have lived all over the world and have a lot of travel and work experience.  So far, we havent met any Americans here, I don't think Americans travel much to this part of the world, however we have met a few other VSO folks from Canada, one woman is from Perth, Ontario--too funny.  We do see CNN everywhere though...

We have a mobile phone, if you want to call us at some point  email me at my yahoo account and I'll give you the #.  I hope to get set up on Skype internet phone service soon, but probably after our language training. 

Also, my boss Catherine just told me that while I am in Cambodia for the next 16 months, my Tetra Tech email will not be working, so please send me emails at my yahoo account.

I'll send photos soon.

Miss you!!

Luv Andrew and Jules







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North American Send-off

defaultAndrew and I are almost off to Cambodia!!!  We leave Toronto tomorrow for Cambodia via Anchorage and Hong Kong.  Our friends in Santa Fe and family in Canada threw us some great going away parties.  Its been wonderful seeing everyone and spending time with folks.  

After months of preparation, its almost time to go.  Can't believe all the preparations we've had to do to go away, but we are glad all of that is behind us now. 

Will write more as we head down the road to SE Asia.  Yee ha!!!



Andrew and Julie 




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