Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Beach Time!

25 March 2015

Sometimes life gets in the way when you’re making other plans.

I woke up today quite ill.  Coughing, sick stomach, headache, bone aches, chills.  We waited a bit, hoping it was just something I ate and
would resolve itself.  Didn’t.

I finally told Richard it kind of felt like dengue fever - having had that twice in the Caribbean.
So he talked to the hotel, found the name of a hospital, and we headed there in the afternoon.

The usual testing, and yes, I have dengue.  My third round.  The best
news is that there are only 4 kinds of dengue, so I have one to go - and then, theoretically, I’ll never get it again.

Anyway, after a
few injections and three bottles of IV fluid, with my usual baby vein issues, I’m feeling much better.  Absolutely the right thing to do. 

There really isn’t a cure for
dengue, it’s a virus - but the IV fluids, painkillers, stuff to bring down the fever, all make a big difference.  Plus they gave me a massive dose of vitamin C, and I have B complex tablets for the next three days.  I’m perfectly happy to take vitamins if they’ll help keep my platelets healthy.

We had a very
nice tuktuk driver, the same sweet man as yesterday, who took us to the beach.  Today he took us to the hospital and waited around for a while.  We told him this might be hours, so he left.  But came back every few hours to see how things were going.  Took Richard back to the hotel for dinner, brought him back to the hospital to pick me up later in the evening.  (And Richard had the café next door bring over a sandwich and cake for my dinner - quite a surprise!)

So we didn’t get another beach day, we spent much of the day in hospital.  And will go back tomorrow.  Dengue is one of
those things we don’t want to mess around with, so I’m resigned to a few days of outpatient.

And it’s all because
mosquitoes just love me so much.  Well, and I sat by the pool one evening for better internet reception, and didn't realize how many mosquitoes were biting me til I guess it was too late.

24 March 2015

Before I talk about the beaches, I want
to describe something interesting I saw this morning.

There are Buddhist monks we walk around at various times of the day - younger monks in
training, middle-aged monks, and very infrequently we see an older monk.  They all have robes in some color in the orange-to-saffron-or-ochre range, with the youngest monks in the brightest colors, and older monks in the more muted tones. 

So today, this middle-aged monk in yellow ochre robes
comes to our hotel and restaurant, and says something to some of the staff.  Three or four of the young people gather, and I notice one young woman kneeling in front of the monk, eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer pose.  The monk started chanting something, and the people stayed in their prayerful pose (though I couldn’t see if everyone was kneeling).  Then the monk, who was holding a handful of red string bracelets, kissed the bracelets and proceeded to tie a red string around the wrist of each of the waiting people.  I’m not sure if they gave him monetary donations, or what.  But this seems to be a ritual, and I guess the monks walk around at certain times of the day doing this.  Maybe it gives the people a blessing?  Or protection?  I really don’t know, and it seems rather intrusive to ask.  It was just one of those interesting things to see happening, and wonder about.  (Note:  26 March - two monks showed up at the hotel restaurant, but apparently had no takers today.  And I'm rushing through this to tuktuk back to the hospital.)
Okay, so our hotel is near Serendipity Beach, in the town of Sihanoukville.  The next beach, which pretty much is attached to Serendipity Beach, is Ochheuteal Beach.  (Sounds like oh-choo-TEAL, but I’m not sure.)  Anyway, these are the big party beaches, lined with bars and restaurants and clubs, music booming all night long, lots of young people drinking and partying late into the night.  Or to the early hours of the morning.  Periodic random 
fireworks, which we can sometimes see and often hear.  Just, the usual wild crazy 20-something party on the beach crowd.

Down the road and around a headland is Otres Beach (pronounced OH-trez), which is the mellow
beach.  The sand is cleaner.  The water is clearer.  There are fewer restaurants, and the partying doesn’t go on to the wee hours of the morning.  This is the relaxing beach, the mellow beach.  The family picnic beach.

We spent an afternoon checking out Serendipity and Ochheuteal, pre-party, and the hat was okay with the beach.  The water didn’t look clean enough for either of us to want to swim, having been spoiled by the Caribbean.  So we walked along the beach, enjoyed the water and waves and breeze, and wandered home.

Today, we had planned on a boat trip out to some of the islands off the coast.  They're all supposed to be gorgeous, and some of the young people we’ve met have told us how wonderful it is to stay in a bungalow on the beach on these quiet little islands.  If we had more time, we might consider it - but Cambodia only gives 30 day visas, so we’re feeling the time crunch already.  Anyway, we thought we’d do a day trip to see a few of the islands.  We had our tickets, we packed our stuff, and we went to the pier.  And saw the rickety old wood boat, with narrow wood benches for passengers.  We looked at each other.  We had half an hour before boarding, so we sat on a bench and talked.  Neither of us were enthusiastic about this sad looking boat.  I think both of us had imagined something more seaworthy.  And perhaps, having been stranded in the Solomon Islands for several days while the ferry wasn’t working, we both were a little unwilling to commit ourselves to a boat that appeared to be barely seaworthy.

We agreed to give it a pass.  Might go tomorrow, might not.  Tickets are non-refundable.  But, well, peace of mind is worth a lot.  After age 50, comfortable seating is worth even more.  We’ll see if we’re feeling super adventurous tomorrow, or not.

So today we took a tuktuk to Otres Beach, which I wanted to check out.  And this is the quintessential tropical beach.  Just so gorgeous, with water like glass and bright colored boats bobbing in the harbor.  Mellow cafés with thatch-umbrellaed tables.  Fewer people, less music, and miles of scalloped beach to walk.  Miles of almost empty beach!!!

We found a little place to hang out (The Happiness Café), and Richard settled down to watch our stuff while I walked the beach.  Just so so gorgeous, indescribably beautiful, with the occasional silvery fish jumping out of the water, white and purple and pink and coral shells on the beach, soft golden sand under my feet.  And warm crystal clear water, shining aqua in the shallows and blue in the depths.  Plus a constant breeze so the sun never became too hot.

I walked a mile or so down the beach, past all the cafés, to the area where the beach was the only thing in existence.  Just beach, water, and the occasional person.  Not even sea birds, just quiet waves lapping the shore.  Paradise!

As I walked back, I saw the occasional jellyfish.  Which reminded me to pick up plastic bags as I walked - plastic bags in the water tend to look like jellyfish to turtles, who really love jellyfish for a meal.  But the plastic bags get stuck in their throats and essentially kill the poor sea turtles.  So I collected two handfuls of plastics, which I delivered to the friendly guy at the café where we hung out.  He thanked me profusely, saying that he’d like to spend a whole day cleaning the beach, that the high tide brings up the plastic, and thanked me again and again.  I explained about the turtles eating the plastic by mistake, and he agreed that we needed to keep plastic off the beach.

We were there during a very high tide, so the waves were coving much of the beach in some areas, and we could see that erosion is a constant problem.  Some of the problem is that trees have been removed, but also the angle of the beach was just prone to erosion.  People have made sort of levees with sandbags, trying to keep the waves from eroding the area where the cafés are located.  Doesn’t seem to be working too well, but, well, rising sea levels and occasional storms and human development tend to make a mess out of coastlines.

We played in the water, hung out on the beach under the thatch umbrella (which was built around a huge tree), and had lunch.  Watched the boats.  Watched the people start showing up in the early afternoon.  Watched boats load up with people to go to the little islands.  We read.  It was wonderful.  Had a fabulous day.

Then our tuktuk driver picked us up as pre-arranged, and he took us back to our hotel. 

Just a perfect kind of a beach day.  Without worrying about being stranded at sea on a rickety old boat.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Beachy Atmosphere

21 March 2015 

We took the bus to Sihanoukville, a long 5 hour drive.  It isn't too bad a bus, though we were on the mini-bus.  But they have pre-selected seats, as on an airplane, so it saves some confusion and time.

The bus also picks people up at their hotels, and we were the first pickup.  We had a great little tour around Phnom Penh, complete with fabulous views of the big temple near the imperial palace.  I'm also intrigued by the statue and shrine shops that we passed.  You can buy a life-sized lion statue, somehow always in pairs.  Or elephants.  I even saw a tyrannosaurus rex statue.  I'm not sure if these are carved or molded concrete, or carved from stone, or what.  But they are huge, and most of them are pretty nicely done!

We also passed a temple along our way - they obviously selected elephants to guard the entrance gate.

The area south of Phnom Penh is greener than up north, between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.  Maybe more rivers, definitely more hills.  It was pretty scenery, and I kept looking for monkeys in the trees.  Didn't see any, though the driver periodically pointed at something - I have no idea what, he didn't speak English.

The only "wildlife" we saw were cows.  Or oxen.  Or Brahmin cows.  A few times we had to stop for the cows crossing the road.  Sounds like a joke, doesn't it?

And then we arrived in Sihanoukville.  We're in a hotel about 5 minutes from Serendipity Beach, which apparently is the party beach.  The quieter beach is Otres, and we'll probably visit there later in the week.  We also can take trips to the various islands in the bay, snorkel, dive, that kind of stuff.

That's about it.  Weather is a little overcast, not as hot as Phnom Penh (which hit 99 F the other day - 36 C I believe).  

And of course we're enjoying the beachy atmosphere.  

How can you not like a town with golden lions in the middle of the main roundabout????




Thursday, March 19, 2015

Misadventures in Eating

19 March 2015

 We're still enjoying Phnom Penh, although I think we've agreed we've seen enough of the sad and depressing history of Cambodia, and we'll try to focus on the present.  Maybe even the future of this interesting country.

We attended a photography exhibit about (of all things) Jewish communities in Asia.  I know, who expected to find that?  The photojournalist is a young woman from North Carolina who found it difficult to explain her Judaism to Cambodians, and she spent a year exploring various Jewish communities throughout Asia.  Here in Phnom Penh, there is a Chabad group, or at least one family.  Most of her photos focused on the few small Jewish communities in India.  It really was quite interesting!

We leave tomorrow heading south to the coast, to the beautiful beaches around the town of Sihanoukville.  (Pronounced shee-ah-NOOK-ville.)  Sihanouk was one of the former princes of the kingdom, and the town was named for him.  We're hoping to just enjoy the beach and the ocean, or rather the Gulf of Thailand.

Something happened today that is sort of symbolic of the funny and crazy things that happen when one travels.  Especially in places where one doesn't speak, or even read, the language.

Okay, one of my new favorite SE Asian foods is banana flower salad.  The blossom on the end of the banana stalk is picked before the actual bananas grow, the flower is peeled and soaked (I think in vinegar), and then sliced very thinly like fine noodles.  Tossed with hot pepper, cooked chicken, maybe some pomelo or cucumber or something, and then dressed with fish sauce and sprinkled with chopped peanuts, and herbs (coriander, basil, mint).  The picture here is from the banana flower salad I had in Siem Reap.  Delicious stuff, light and perfect for hot weather.

So we found a small restaurant today, and after checking the menu we both agreed to try it.  Everyone in the entire place was Cambodian.  No one spoke much English.  But we figured we could do this.  So Richard ordered his fried rice with sausage, and I ordered the banana flower salad.  Nice waitress came back and said banana flower salad is all finished.  Okay, I looked at the menu again and pointed at the grilled duck.  Waitress nods, goes to the kitchen.  Returns to say so sorry, the duck is all finished.  I looked at the menu again.  "Fried chicken bosom."  Okay, sounds like it would be fried chicken breast, right?  I could eat that.  So I point, and the waitress nods and goes off.  The chef comes out to double check, and I say yes, and point again.  (I should have known.)  Eventually, I get a plate.  Of, well, I'm not sure what.  There were bites of chicken liver (I hate liver!), and maybe chicken giblets?  And the yolk of hard boiled egg, I think.  Round yellow things, in the gravy with various chicken innards.  I did eat the green beans, but after eating a bite that turned out to be liver (ugh!), I just ate some rice.  And left the rest.

We laughed about it on our walk home - it was just too funny, the fried chicken bosom that turned out to be what we call, in Yiddish, kishkes.  Guts, essentially.  I have no idea how they came up with chicken bosom on the menu when they meant kishkes.

Anyway, it was one of those travel misadventures that was just classic.   

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Sad Day In The Neighborhood

16 March 2015

 We've been exploring our neighborhood, and found several nice places to eat or grab a cup of coffee or tea.  

We also found the local market nearby.  Crazy, hectic, crowded, a jumble of color and action - markets are always exciting!  I liked the hammocks all twisted up into braids of color, all piled up and looking like curls of paint.  Love it!  There was also one section for beautification - women in tiny shops and stalls having their hair done, or manicures, pedicures, facials, massages - all in the middle of the market!!!

And then we found the chocolate store.  The Chocolate Shop.  Really, that's the name of the place.  With wonderful, incredible, fabulous chocolate, made right there.  SO good!  I had a few pieces of dark chocolate, the best being the cacao pod shaped dark ganache - just very dark, with a thin layer of cocoa nib stuff in the center of the bittersweet ganache, covered in bittersweet couverture.  Richard, the milk chocolate guy, had a couple of pure chocolate dinosaurs.  Yes, chocolate animals.  He picked the dinosaurs, because he said the koalas were too cute to eat.

Anyway, this is THE chocolate place in Phnom Penh.  Definitely wonderful chocolate!  They have a few locations in the city - here's their website: 

Okay, I can't get the spacing to do what I want, so I apologize for the weird gaps.  Sometimes the website just won't cooperate.  Or something.

Anyway, we're in what might be an older part of the city.  Not really old, because the major temple and monuments and the palace aren't nearby.   But there are fancy homes with huge gates, and I find the over-the-top ornamentation just wonderful.  Pillars topped with princely crowns, gates covered in gilded grates and curliques.  Just so overly decorated, the epitome of nouveau riche kitsch.  Love it!

Plus we have this painting in our hotel lobby, what I think of as a modern-day Buddha.  Seriously, the face is straight off one of the temples, just that serene and placid face of eternity.  On a modern body, in suit and tie.  How else to interpret it?

Among all this beauty (and overdone beauty), and all this interesting bliss and Nirvana, the mundane intrudes.  Or not even the mundane, those with evil intentions.

I was happily walking down the street, taking photos, chatting with Richard.  He crossed the street, I paused to take a photo.  I gathered my stuff and started walking.  Now, to keep things simple, I carry a small clutch bag with a wrist strap - a wristlet.  Easy to keep track of, always attached to me, small enough to not be in the way, large enough for wallet, camera, notebook, tissues, glasses.  So as I start walking, I suddenly feel a hand slide between my body and the bag, I yelp as a motorcycle accelerates, and I feel my bag start to move out of my hand.  It occurs to me that someone is trying to snatch my purse, and it is still currently on my wrist, with the strap pulling.  Well, I don't get scared in these situations, I just get pissed!  So I yanked back on the strap and watched as my bag slipped out of the guy's hand and back into mine, as the two young men on a scooter zoomed off down the road.  As Richard said, they didn't know who they were messing with!  I'm glad I have my stuff, but my wrist and thumb are a bit swollen and bruised, despite our icing my hand as soon as we got back to our hotel.  And yes, I'm still a little jumpy today (this happened yesterday) - but I'm glad I have my purse and wallet, and don't need to replace all my stuff long distance.  (One of those worst case scenarios when travelling.) 

 So, we visited the killing fields.  If you are at all sensitive or get nightmares, please stop reading now.  The story is too sad, too depressing.  Really, you don't need to read this part.

If, on the other hand, you are a history junkie or expect the worst from humans, please continue.

There are killing fields all over Cambodia.  These are the areas where the Khmer Rouge took their prisoners after torturing them, and very systematically killed the people and buried the bodies in mass graves.  The largest was here, about 15 km (10 or so miles) outside Phnom Penh.  

It started out interesting but sad.  There are audio sets everyone gets as part of the admission fee, in the language of your choice.  You click the number of the sign and the recording tells all about the events, the site, what went on where.  I was okay with the abstract history.  But then things became too graphic, the numbers of those killed was appalling (an estimated 20 million people killed), and the personal stories just got to me.  Plus displays of bones, skulls, personal belongings that were dug up when the graves were uncovered - after a while I couldn't take any more.  There are some musical selections on the audio thing, so I just listened to that and walked around.

I think what is most appalling is that the Khmer Rouge were deliberately targeting anyone educated.  They wanted to rebuild a "better society" of farmers and laborers, and thus wanted to eliminate anyone with a college degree, or who spoke a foreign language, or any of a list of attributes or careers.  The talented, the intelligent, the ambitious were all killed.  So that no one would be willing to challenge Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge.

Again, if you really like history, this place is for you.  If you don't mind learning about how horrible people can be to each other, fine.  If you find places like Auschwitz interesting, you'll be okay with the killing fields.  

If all those things move you to tears, wreak havoc with your stomach, or give you nightmares, then give it a miss.  Or walk through and enjoy the flowers, the bird songs, the children's voices from the school down the road.  

All life-affirming sights and sounds that help lift me back out of despair.