Friday, February 29, 2008


So there are a lot of beggars in town. Not an overwhelming number, but definitely a lot. It's not usually a very difficult thing for me to encounter them, as I have no problem looking them in the eyes, smiling, shaking my head and saying "no". I tell myself that the best thing I can do is to not reinforce the idea that food and money come from white people, and I do what I can to humanize them by encountering them as people.

This isn’t always easy, as there are many hard cases. There’s the lady with the huge goiter on her neck, the many kids with malformed arms or legs (agent orange?), the THOUSANDS of land mine victims with missing eyes, legs, hands, etc, the young mothers with their naked babies… the list goes on.

Well, the other day, on the way back from a quick trip to Saigon (so I could re-enter the country on an NGO visa), while we were waiting for the ferry to take our bus back across the Mekong, a young boy (8?), wearing some baggy shorts looked at me through the glass into my air conditioned bus and pointed at his open mouth. I did my usual – I smiled, mouthed the word “no”, and shook my head. He was really cute though, and turned up the pitiful face. I kept watching as he came up to the bus door and stepped up on the entry.

I was in the third row, and had eaten a lunch from the restaurant near the border crossing. I had forgotten, but in my stew was a big piece of liver(?) or something gross, which I ate around and kept in the to-go box. When I was finished with my lunch I had re-placed the rubber band around the box, stuck it in it’s plastic bag, and tied the handles. I stuck this under the seat in front of me to be cleaned up by the steward guy.

Somehow, the Khmer guy in front of me knew this bag of trash was under his seat, and he reached down and gave it to the shirtless kid. The kid stepped off the bus, back into my sight, and proceeded to scavenge through my lunch trash – something he was used to by the look of it – ripped through the bag and found this chunk of liver. His face brightened when he saw it. I then watched as he took a bite out of the liver and smiled at the Khmer guy as he walked off.

I don’t know if I’m able to communicate why this encounter moved me so much, but it was only through sobs I was able to tell Naomi about it later the next day. It wasn’t that the kid was in such a bad condition, but I think it was the accidental way I was able to see my world and this kid’s world interact. The thought that came to mind was “This is real life for this kid”. This isn’t just a vacation or a trip or some temporary adventure – this is his world. This is all he knows.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

There's a Method to the Madness

(click to enlarge)

As I've been learning the rules of the road here, there began to emerge a beauty to the madness of Khmer driving. I put this little diagram together to give you an idea what it's like. You probably won't find this diagram in a Cambodian traffic school (yes, they have a couple around town), but you should.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just a Groovy Little Motorbike

It's Not a Big Motorcycle...
...Just a groovy little motor bike

So now that we're getting settled in, Naomi and I decided to get our own motorbike, and here it is! It's a 50cc Honda SuperCub. I got it from an importer last week - it had a previous life in Japan, and now it's our new family car!

If you're familiar with the Beach Boys, you might know the song "Little Honda" (I've transcribed the lyrics below) in which they sing about shifting through the gears of his little Honda. I've always wondered why he stops at 3rd gear (first gear, it's alright/second gear, i lean right/third gear, out of sight), and now I know the answer: it only has three gears! My speedometer maxes out at 65 kph - or about 40 mph, gets about 100 mpg, and so far I've driven it about 300 miles just around town!

According to a show by the Discovery channel, the Honda SuperCub is the #1 motorcycle of all time. There have been like 50 million of them made, and it seems about 1 of 4 bikes on the road here is a SuperCub. (Daelim's make up another 25%, and then an assortment of Honda Chaly's and newer motorbikes and dirt bikes round out the pack).

Driving here is scary, but it got a lot easier after getting some advice from my Khmer friend Bora - he told me that when I was driving I looked so scared, and that I just needed to relax! RELAX!? I thought he was crazy, but then I realized what he meant: I was looking in my mirrors waaay too much. Cambodians, when they buy motorbikes, will take the mirrors OFF first thing. They get rid of them, because when you're driving, there's really only one rule that you can never break: KEEP YOUR EYES AHEAD OF YOU AT ALL TIMES!!!! If it's behind you, it doesn't matter. That's it!

All street signs, lights, stripes, etc are more or less like the yellow "suggested speed" signs in the States.
Seriously, all lane control, intersections, one-way streets, stop signs, everything else is treated more or less like a suggestion. But if you keep your eyes ahead, you'll be fine - just don't hit anything! It's pretty simple. Motorbikes are everywhere, and drivers are far more aware of mororbikes then in the States (given, motorcycles make up 80% of vehicles on the road), we Always wear helmets, and pray a lot as we ride.

So far, it's mostly just me on the bike, but Naomi and I ride together quite a bit as well. I've also started branching out and used the Cub to deliver some new chairs to our apartment... a very small load by Khmer standards, but I think I kept it in 2nd the whole way home!

Phnom Penh
24 February, 2008

Little Honda, by the Beach Boys

Go!! I'm gonna wake you up early cause I'm gonna take a ride with you We're going down to the Honda shop I'll tell you what we're gonna do Put on a ragged sweat shirt I'll take you anywhere you'd like me to

First gear [Honda Honda go], it's alright [faster, faster] Second gear [Honda Honda go], I'll lean right [faster, faster] Third gear [Honda Honda go], out of sight [faster, faster] Faster! It's all right!
It's not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motor bike It's more fun than a barrel of monkeys that two wheeled bike we'll ride on out of the town to any place I'll know you'll like

It climbs the hills like a Matchless cause my Honda's built really light When I go into the turns lean with me and hang on tight I'd better turn on the light so we can ride my honda tonight

chorus 2x

The Dollar Top 10 (week 4 edition)

Top 10 ways to spend a dollar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  1. 3 hours of internet access or a 20 minute call to the States at the internet cafe.
  2. Rice soup. Mmmmm... so good! It comes piping hot, with shrimp, fish pate', sprouts, ginger. Great stuff!
  3. A refil, delivered, for your 20-liter jug of drinking water.
  4. Getting your hair washed, complete with a facial wash and 5 minute shoulder rub. Very refreshing!
  5. Iced coffee (Only 3000 real) from Mr Bounarreth at the Russian Market. Best iced Coffee in Phnom Penh!
  6. A manicure of pedicure. I never knew my cuticles could look so nice!
  7. 1 KG of oranges
  8. A Moto-dop ride from one end of town to the other
  9. 2 Angkor beers from the ladies on the riverside.
  10. THE Phnom Penh Dollar!

The Phnom Penh Dollar

OK, one of things to remember about Cambodia is that people here eat just about anything. Anything! So, one of the common treats you can buy on the street or at markets is deep-fried insects! Which leads me to introduce: The Phnom Penh Dollar!

During our visit in September last year, we first encountered fried tarantulas at a bus stop between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. We saw these ladies with huge metal bowls on their heads. I asked them what they had, to which they enthusiastically replied "Spiders!".

Well, in Phnom Penh, on the Riverside near the royal palace, we then encountered these ladies selling just about every gross thing imaginable, deep fried! I asked to take a picture, and she said "No!" I then offered her a dollar and she said "OK". I took some photos, but while I was taking them, she began filling a bag with just about one of everything. I took the bag, and I now present to you:
(click to enlarge)

Legend has it that any man or woman (no way a child could handle this) who can consume the whole bag of goodies in 1 minute is destined to be the next king of Scotland. Or something like that..

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Temporary Apartment, in Pictures

Living room of our new (temporary) apartment.
Note the following: 1) Bars on the windows. Apparently, break-ins are common here, so just about every house has barred windows and doors. 2) The half-floor. The second floor of the apartment has 2 bedrooms with lower (8’?) ceilings. 3) The TV. TV’s are so common here that every house comes with one. And they are always made by “Sony”. Always. And when you turn them off, the sides close in like curtains on a musical… so you get a second or two to reconsider your decision. It doesn’t go “beeewwwwp” but you can almost hear it when you hit the button. 4) Wicker furniture – it’s everywhere. This came with the apartment. Very cheap but nice enough. 5) Every conceivable surface is tile. Nice.

Our current bedroom.
1) Bags everywhere. We just moved in today. 2)Bars on windows 3) The air-con unit on the wall. According to my dad, this is called a “Ductless split system”. In Asia, it’s called AC – this is the only kind there is.

Very typical for Cambodia. Note: 1) Showering is just done in the same place as everything else. Everything is tile here, so this works fine. 2) Toilet is a pour-to-flush type (note bucket, plastic pot, and lack of tank behind toilet). This really appeals to my engineering sensibilities – you just use as much or as little water as you need to flush the john!

Toilet, close-up.
Note bucket and pot as previously discussed. Also, note that nozzle thing next to toilet. Remember in Demolition Man that scene with the “Three Shells”? Well… in Southeast Asia, that nozzle is the 3 shells. And it’s awesome.

This is a really nice one, compared to the ones we’ve seen. Note: 1) small fridge – probably the biggest you’d ever have at a house here 2) bars on widows 3) Lock on door. I am in the house, but this is how they say I should keep it. This is funny, because we’ve NEVER felt threatened while walking on the street… and by all accounts intruders never mean harm to the residents… but petty theft seems to be a constant concern.

Close-up of lock.
It’s a “Solex” – as they all are, and huge. And it’s “Made in USA”.

Weird gate.
This is hard to explain, but there’s like 1 floor plan of houses in Cambodia that is very very common, and it’s like the one we’re in. There are several floors, in our case I believe it’s 5, and they are all connected by a stairwell. But, in our case, we’ve only rented 2 of the floors. So, the floors above and the floors below are separated from us by this funky gate – so theoretically the person upstairs could come down to the gate and still be in their house. It’s kinda weird, but that’s how it goes. There’s an outside stairwell for the folks above, and it’s really funky. Funky enough, that it deserves it’s own post.

Josh Svensson
Phnom Penh
January 31, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Last Day of Work... at the County

Well, it's been about 3 weeks, we're still doing great, making lots of friends, building our networks, and today (12 Feb) is my official last day of work. (Goodbye, paycheck ....*sniff*)
The process of stepping away has been SO GOOD. We reflect each day how thankful we are to be here, and are so glad and have been so blessed in the risks we've taken. (Faith can be fun?)
We still don't have internet access at home, but I will be uploading some photos in the future, thanks for your patience.