March 28, 2002

First 24 Hours in Cambodia

Hello,

Since my last email from Portland, OR I traveled down to the Loma Linda
area where I saw some friends and relatives, packed up my suitcase and
carry on, then bought enough cereal and other food to fill a large 60
pound box as my second piece of checked luggage. Monday morning I left
Calimesa, CA at 6 am. I had an uneventful check in and security check
before having plenty of time to wait at the gate for the boarding call.
On my entire trip none of my bags were opened by security. The 12 hour
flight to Seoul went smoothly and I enjoyed a movie and two meals. I sat
next to a man from China who was a vegetarian, and next to him in my row
was a lady who spoke no English at all and I think was from Peru. I had a
couple hours in Seoul and found a place to check email for free while I
was waiting. The flight to Bangkok was 6 hours and I slept through most
of it. In Bangkok I found a corner and went to sleep for about 4 hours
with my arms looped through my carry on straps. I then got on the 1 hour
flight for the last leg to Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I landed after about
36 hours of traveling.

As we made the approach the landscape struck me as barren, but as we got
lower I realized that it was mostly made up of rice paddies that are dry
this time of year. The first paved road I saw was at the airport. The
others on the way in were all dirt. At the airport I was supposed to meet
an ADRA staff member before going through customs, who would have my visa
documentation. However, we landed a little bit early and nobody was there
to meet me. After waiting a few minutes a lady from the airport showed up
with my documentation and I went through immigration, picked up my checked
baggage and went through customs. It turned out that the person who has
the clearance to enter the restricted area of the airport was traveling
and the people who met me couldn't get in so they sent my documents with
an airport employee instead. After throwing my luggage in the back of the
ADRA pickup we drove to the house where I will be staying. I unloaded my
stuff, took a brief tour and then went to the ADRA office to meet some of
the staff and send email.

The place I am staying for now is a room in a large house. The ADRA
director, his wife, and two boys live in the largest part of the house,
but 4 volunteers including myself have separate rooms in it as well. My
room has a queen sized bed with mosquito netting, a fan (no AC), a large
clothes cabinet and a nightstand. I have my own bathroom and shower as
well. The volunteers share a kitchen area which has a 2 burner gas stove,
a refrigerator, a table and chairs. The house is kept clean by a maid who
also does the dishes in the kitchen area. The ADRA office is about 2
blocks away on the same road as my room. The office is a two story
building with several sections for different projects and groups. Several
of the staff members are in Thailand for meetings at the moment so I
haven't met everyone yet and don't know how many work here. So far two of
the volunteers, Sam and James have been showing me around.

After getting some email done I went back to my room to take a much needed
shower and unpack some things. Back at the house we had a lunch of
sandwiches before Sam took me shopping. We went to the shopping areas on
a small motorbike which is a very popular form of transportation here.
The motorbike ride in itself was quite an experience. Traffic patterns
here remind me a little bit of Sri Lanka, but they are not the same.
Basically, you have a whole bunch of small motorbikes everywhere with some
cars and the occasional truck, ox cart, and bicycle mixed in. There are
also pedestrians, a few of which are pulling carts. Only the major cross
streets are paved, minor streets are dirt, even downtown. The flow of
traffic is very fluid and seemingly random at times. It is quite common
to have an extra lane of motorbikes traveling against the flow of traffic
on the shoulder. Nobody takes any notice of stops signs, although they
seem to stop at traffic lights most of the time if there is a significant
flow of cross traffic. The rule seems to be that if you are in front,
then you have the right of way and those behind you have to worry about
avoiding you. It is common to see motorbikes going completely against the
flow of traffic, especially when "merging" from the opposite side of the
street. Crossing the street by foot is a gradual process of making your
way forward whenever a vehicle isn't coming. Pedestrians are kind of like
the rocks that stick up in a stream, the traffic just flows around them.
Moving cars are kind of like that too since the motorbikes pass them on
all sides as they move down the street. At some of the stop sign
intersections traffic actually flows in all four directions at the same
time with motorbikes making their way slowly through the intersection in
every direction using a sort of rolling yield.

The first stop on our tour/shopping trip was what they call the Russian
Market. I'm not certain why it's called that since I didn't really see
any Russians. The market was basically a whole bunch of little stands in
a building selling everything from $5 DVDs to $4 Northface day packs, to
$3 dockers pants, to shoes, cloth, souvenirs, and "rolex" watches. I was
able to find a nice nylon "sport" watch band for $2. Our next stop was
the main central market which is indoors. In this market people were
selling fresh fruits and vegetables as well as clothing. There was a
large selection of meat products ranging from fresh octopus to whole fried
rodents. I didn't explore very much of the market, but saw that there was
also a section of vendors selling ready to eat food. I bought some
bananas (50 cents for a very large cluster) and some fruit that I thought
was persimmon at first. It turned out to be something different, but
good. It's basically a cross between a persimmon, a plum and a mango.
The pit is stringy like a mango, but the fleshy part is more like a
persimmon and it's very sweet. On the way back to the house we also
stopped at a couple of western style super markets where you can get
pretty much anything for a price. They had a good selection of cereal,
even including grape nuts. You can get most American junk food and
toiletries and I even saw canned blueberries and marshmallows for sale.
The prices are a little higher than in the states, which is very high for
here, considering local food prices. They definitely have more western
things available here than they did in Sri Lanka.

After we unloaded the groceries (backpacks are very handy when you go
shopping on a motorbike) we came back over to the office and played
ping-pong for a while. For supper we had an improvised version of
haystacks based on what James usually has in Australia. The ingredients
were cucumbers, tomatoes, tortilla chips (I brought those, James is used
to using Doritos), cheese, sour cream and "sauce" that James makes from
canned red kidney beans and chili powder I think. Apparently this version
of haystacks is pretty close to what James likes to have back in
Australia. Sam on the other hand is from Germany had never had haystacks
before James introduced them to him. Sam is able to substitute his 1 year
as a volunteer here for the military service that is mandatory in Germany.
Sam works on miscellaneous projects while James is the current IT
volunteer.

After supper we started to watch a James Bond film that was on TV, but I
pretty much fell asleep as soon as I sat down, then the power went off for
about 20 minutes and I took the opportunity to go to bed. I ended up
going to bed after 8 pm local time which is 5 am Pacific Time. I slept
soundly until about 4 am when I woke up and layed in bed for an hour or so
before getting up to take a shower. I should be mostly adjusted to local
time in another day or two I think.

The office here has a full time internet connection from a local provider
using wireless technology. The connection speed is faster than a modem
(64k), but they do get charged if they go over 750mb in a month.

I should find out more about what they want me to work on here when the
ADRA Director and other staff members get back from Thailand this weekend.
Right now I'm going to go through a stack of 4 laptops that "don't work"
to see if I can get a computer to use when the owner of this one gets
back.

That's all for now!

Andrew

Posted by andrew on March 28, 2002
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