A Travellerspoint blog

Where's the summer???

Landed back home but not quite arrived, yet.

overcast 22 °C

There I am, back in Hannover since last Saturday. It's lovely to see everyone again but I'm also struggling with what people call 'reverse culture shock' I think. It hasn't quite sunk in that I'm not going back to Cambodia (for now) and I haven't even unpacked all of my luggage, yet. 'Normal' things like wearing proper shoes, drinking water from the tap, driving a car, using a dishwasher, throwing paper into the toilet, etc., feel still a little strange and I miss this crazy little country in SE Asia a lot. Of course not all of it but some things, so here's my personal list:

What I miss:

  • cruizing around on my little moto!
  • beer on ice (I think its probably illegal in Germany)
  • the 'normal' sights of daily life: fully grown pigs drugged with marihuana and strapped to the back of a moto, truck with no driver cabin but the drivers wearing helmets instead, 3 adults with 2 children and a dog on 1 moto, etc...
  • rice!
  • cheap Khmer massages
  • endless landscapes of green rice paddies and sugar palms
  • trying to communicate in broken Khmer to the great amusement and amazement of the locals
  • joining Cambodian ladies for aerobics by the river
  • Friday G&Ts in the balcony bar
  • great green curry for a dollar
  • the great people I've met, lived with, worked with, partied with!
  • perfect Cambodian sunsets

What I don't miss:

  • the increadible and several days long noise of weddings, funerals, baby showers, etc. in the neighbourhood
  • Cambodians throwing up on buses
  • mosquitos
  • flooded roads in the rainy season
  • dogs on the lose everywhere
  • people answering their mobiles in any situation: in meetings, on the moto, while giving massages, etc.
  • swimming fully clothed in public
  • deep fried intestines...

Here a few pics to illustrate some of these points:

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Ducks on the way to the market

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Rice field

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Leaving party 1

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Leaving party 2 on the roof

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Sunset on Rabbit Island

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At a wedding with some of our colleagues

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Swimming Cambodian style (fully dressed) in Ratanakiri

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Chicken feet for lunch, mhhh...

So what's next? Not quite sure, yet, but looks like I'll be in Hannover til end of August at least and then might head of to some other country again, hopefully on a proper job this time. The main thoughts at the moment are South Africa or possibly Cambodia again. But let's see. Hope it'll all become clearer over the next weeks. In the meantime, I'll try to get in touch with everyone again - if anyone's planning to come to northern Germany, please get in touch. Would love to see you!

Britta

Posted by Brizie 03:44 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Last night in Bangkok...

... and back home tomorrow.

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Amazing how time flies... it's been ages since my last entry. Two and a half months travelling flew by like nothing (let alone the past year...) and now I'm sitting in a wifi bar in Bangkok, having a Singapore Sling and can't believe I'm off tomorrow. Can't wait to get home to see everyone again and enjoy the long European summer nights. But I'll also miss this part of the world, which feels strangely a bit like home as well now.

Haven't written any stories while travelling cos didn't manage to get any pictures online - forgotten camera cable in Cambodia and snail-like internet speed in most places I went. So I'll do this later when back on ADSL at home...
But it was an amazing trip: 1 week northern Thailand, 3 weeks north to south in Laos, 4 weeks north to south in Vietnam, 4 days Phi Phi in Thailand and then back to Battambang for some final celebrations and many good byes.

There are too many stories to tell about all this, so just some of the highlights:

- Learned how to roast coffee in a wok on the Bolaven plateau in Laos
- got soaked with water with all my luggage in Vientiane during Laos New Year
- rode around the 4000 islands in Lao on a motorbike for 5 days
- got amazingly ripped off on the bus ride from Laos to Thailand with a ticket for a bus that didn't go to Vietnam at all but had some smuggled life tortoises, rare birds and very large geckos hidden on board (nice hour-long wait in the middle of the night on the side of a road until the smugglers managed to bribe themselves out of this...and I was the only foreigner on it!)
- fought hard to get away from the tourist craziness in Halong Bay and Sapa during a Vietnamese national holiday.
- loved Hanoi and Hoi An!
- did my first ever proper scuba dive in Nha Trang, Vietnam
- went around the Vietnamese central highlands with a motorbike guide for 4 days and finally found the Vietnam off the tourist trail.
- finally fell in love with the underwater world on an open water diving course on Phi Phi in Thailand and on my last dive there got very, very close to a Leopard shark. Beautiful!!!!

I'll add pictures for this soon. In the meantime, hope everyone is well and look forward to hooking up with lots of you soon when back in the real world. Will be in Hannover at my parents for a while until I see what comes next. A few ideas but no concrete plans, yet.

Big hug and hope to see you soon and hear your stories as well!

B

Posted by Brizie 07:01 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

The secrets of Cambodian ’cheese’

Or how to make prahoc, Cambodia’s favourite…

semi-overcast 32 °C

Suasardei everyone!

It’s late Thursday morning and looking like it’ll be another very hot day. For the last weeks, the temperature has been rising gradually again and with quite a bit of humidity, it feels almost as hot as it was when I arrived in Cambodia almost a year ago now. The same sticky heat where sweat breaks out at every form of physical activity outside, sometimes even while just sitting in a chair. But luckily I’m sitting in an air conditioned-room today and for most of the week. We’ve organised a 5-day technical training on fish processing for our NGO people and some of the village producer groups they work with. As my colleagues and me know nothing about this and wouldn’t even eat most of these things, we’ve hired some technical experts from the fisheries ministry in Phnom Penh. So me and my colleagues are in the back, listening with great amazement to the secrets of making proper (meaning mainly clean, bacteria- pesticide – parasite – virus- free!) fermented fish paste (called prahoc) and fish sauce. I wrote about this stuff before – the other key Cambodian staple food apart from rice, used by everyone in moderate amounts in almost every meal. In English, Cambodians also often call it ‘cheese’, which sounded weird at first. But I guess for them it is a similar thing to how we eat cheese in the west – which is also not much more than fermented milk, involving bacteria and sometimes even mould… its all as disgusting for them as prahoc is for us.

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During one of the fish processing training sessions

It’s amazing to see how this stuff is produced and how passionately people discuss the different techniques they use. As if it is their lifeblood. Most of the village people we have here, have been producing it on a small scale for family consumption for many years, so they know a lot about it. They wouldn’t buy it from large processors as the quality and hygiene are very poor they say, so they make their own when fish prices are low. Now they want to work together in small groups to produce more and go commercial with it but the need to realise that hygiene and quality will become more important and challenging as they start producing more. At the same time they will still be small scale producers with a lot less capital and turnover than the bigger guys and therefore not always enough resources to set up something that lives 100% up to the standards. So the groups will hopefully learn about a few new techniques here to help them make better products.

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Field visit to large prahoc processing company with appauling hyiene conditions

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Field visit to another large processing company with slightly better hygiene

You see, I’m really getting into this rotten fish stuff now… a year ago I didn’t even know it existed and would have thought anybody producing such stuff must be mad, I now organise training on it. But even though I learn a lot about it as well, I don’t think it would be a great success back in Europe – so no need to worry before coming round to dinner to mine next time!

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Fish beheading before processing in the prahoc market

Now only 3 more weeks to go – the clock is really ticking and it feels quite strange to finish so soon. The year has really flown by with so many new impressions, people and tasks out here. Before I left it all felt a little mad, like a big journey into the unknown and a new world that now has become so familiar. It has been very exciting and fun but I think that is also because I always knew that it’s only for a limited time. Staying long-term would probably drive me mad.

Anyway, after I finish here in BTB, I’ll pack up and go off to northern Thailand, then across to Laos and down south and then north to south through Vietnam as well. Just can’t leave this end of the world without seeing all these beautiful countries. I guess it’ll take me about 2 months to do this and then I’ll get on my way back west – maybe with a small stopover in India – another amazing place I haven’t seen, yet, and since I have an Indian colleague now, I can get first hand travel advice!

At the same time as studying different travel guides to work out my route, I started looking for jobs in development programmes or similar – in Germany, in Europe, wherever. If anybody sees any good ones – please do email them to me (will need a proper salary again at some point…).

Hope you’re all happy where you are and are getting ready for spring - finally. Take care and stay in touch. And if you get too depressed with the European winter, just come and join me somewhere down here on my travels!

So long,
Britta

Posted by Brizie 01:30 Archived in Cambodia Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Suasardei Chnam Chen!

Happy Chinese New Year!

sunny 30 °C

A new year a new blog article after all this time since the last one… I’ve been back in Cambodia for about 2 weeks now after a nice long Christmas break back in freezing Germany. It was lovely to be back home with everyone and so great to meet everyone I’ve met in the short time. A little strange at first being back in the developed world with endless choices and varieties of the same products in enormous supermarkets, motorways and traffic rules, hot showers and indoor heatings, trained hairdressers, washing machines, etc. The list is long but after a few days I settled back in quite well indulging Christmas time in the cold weather.

But then the time too leave again came sooner than expected and I found myself saying goodbye again which was quite sad. Not nice to leave everyone behind again and there at the airport I felt like not wanting to leave. The flight back was long as expected but this time the plane as full to the last seat with no space to stretch out a little. I had quite a bit of leg room thanks to a seat in the emergency exit row that made it better. Back in Bangkok I was completely tired though and still the bus journey back to the Cambodian border in Poipet ahead of me. I managed to shake off all the taxi drivers and found the bus terminal where I got my ticket and had 1h to wait. Sitting there right by the parking bay for my bus I did actually manage to miss it, which was surely due to the tiredness and not just stupid… It hadn’t gone for too long when I asked the staff but I expected them to say I’d have to wait for the next one in 2 hours. But instead the girl at the counter got her mobile out and phoned the bus driver asking him to stop and wait for me. So they put me and my heavy luggage into the front seat of another bus going in the same direction which dropped me off on the side lane of the motor way where the other bus was waiting. I was really relieved to get on this bus but you can imagine how embarrassing it was when I finally got on and everyone was looking at the stupid tourist… Anyway, I made it to the border, stayed with Elise, another volunteer, for the night and went on to Battambang the next day. And despite the sadness of having to leave Germany again I was also happy to come back here – crossing the border, being able to chat to people in Khmer again and seeing the cheeky smiles again.

After a day more to recover I went back to work on the Monday where 3 of our NGO people were waiting to have a meeting with me and my colleague. I had no idea what it was about and my colleague was nowhere in sight. Luckily Khmers aren’t really pressed for time so we chatted away about the holidays – or rather my holidays cause in Cambodia only 1st January is a public holiday. Everyone worked through Christmas. Eventually my colleague arrived and the meeting went on. The next day we held a workshop with rice farmers and traders in one of the communities here and discussed activities we can support them with in terms of business training. Lots of good suggestions and ideas and it was nice to get straight out to the field and the community again after coming back. These days out in the community are not very frequent (because our NGO partners do most of the field activities and we don’t want to distract that too much, so we work more internally with the NGO staff) but for me they are the best because you really get direct feedback on what is going on and what the needs are. And its great fun as well because of the chats with people and the funny unexpected things that happen. These funny things often involve animals wandering around the working area, like chickens jumping tables, cats playing with rolled-up flip-chart paper, dogs in search of attention from the trainer, etc…

Last weekend, Battambang and the rest of Cambodia and Asia marked the start of the new lunar year. It all started on Sunday with many people burning paper money outside their houses for good luck. But it wasn’t just paper dollars but also an amazing selection of paper gold bars, passports, place tickets, visa cards, etc. Quite some range of things. My landlady invited me to join them so I sat with the kids and burned it all. Then they set off large amounts of fire crackers and chased each other with them which I didn’t find that funny but hej, go with the flow I thought. Afterwards my landlady served up a large lunch with different delicious dishes. We sat down but people didn’t eat so much and a lot was left over. It was probably also more a part of the ceremony as well. On Monday the celebrations went on and there were a lot of dancers in huge dragon costumes out around town, dancing to some Chinese drums in front of the richer people’s houses, who gave them some money afterwards. Very Chinese and very un-Khmer but many Khmers have Chinese ancestors or family influence, so it is quite a big deal. And of course it’s an occasion to celebrate – otherwise everybody has to wait until the Khmer New Year in April…

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Photo: Burning money for chinese New Year - my landlady and the neighbours and their kids

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Photo: My landlady getting ready for lunch

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Photo: Traditional dragon dance at a house near our office

Last weekend I also went out on a moto trip to a temple in the countryside with a few fellow Battambangers. The rains have stopped for months now and the gravel roads around town are more than just dusty, especially when you have a truck coming past. We got completely covered on our motos and when we got off, trousers, shirts and everything where in various shades of grey and red. And the moto as well - apart from the area where I sat which was the only thing sticking out in black. But it was great fun to be on the road again. Anyway, I feel like I’m well and truly back in Cambodia now...

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Photo: Monks around the temple we visited

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Photo: Having a good afternoon!

Wishing everybody I haven’t managed to write or talk to yet a very happy and very belated New Year!!!
Will keep you posted!

Bxxx

Posted by Brizie 23:03 Archived in Cambodia Tagged events Comments (0)

School support

Slarkam English School, Battambang

semi-overcast 25 °C

Hi everyone,

As I wrote to many of you in an email a while ago, I've come across a small English school here in a village outside Battambang where a group of teachers offers English classes to the childreen and teenagers in the village for free. This is the onl opportunity for those from poorer families to get some education. Even though public school is free as well in Cambodia, many poor families can't afford the compulsory school uniforms, learning materials and regular bribes that many low-paid teachers ask for to have enough to feed their families.

Slarkam school however is open to all children and the 16 volunteer teachers there give lessons every day (Mon-Sat) in rooms rented from a public school after the normal school hours (4-6pm).

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The teachers receive no or tiny salaries per month and income for the school is only generated through small tuition fees that those families pay who can afford it. Money however is used for rent, teaching materials and generator fuel. Until very recently there was no generator and therefore no lights when it went dark outside before 6pm but they managed to obtain some small funding to buy one (at the cost of teacher salaries as well unfortunately). They've been running this school for a couple of years now without any state or NGO funding and they really do a great job at it and are very committed young people with many future plans on how to expand and make it better. After 8 months in this country I can honestly say that the drive and commitment they have, are not common at all, especially in the education sector, where so little change happens and salaries are at the very bottom of the scale. So this is why I think they really do deserve support to continue what they're doing so passionately already.

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They do have many plans and with the support many of you have given already - $800 in total for this project, we can achieve a lot. I will go out to meet them again before flying home for Christmas and how to use the money, probably some of it to top up salaries and buy teaching materials for the students over the coming months and then also some small investments in audio-visual equipment and teaching CDs for students to practice listening and understanding.

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I'll try and get hold of a leaflet with more information about the school and email it around for those who'd like to forward it on. Will keep you posted!

Have a great week!
Brittaxxx

Posted by Brizie 02:26 Archived in Cambodia Tagged educational Comments (0)

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