Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sammy's first ever run through a monsoon...and Cambodia (Part III)...


And a good evening to you from across the globe amidst a CONTINUOUS DELUGE in the Lion City.  Feeling rather lazy and pathetic, the Bull went for his first ever "monsoon season" jog today, and it worked wonders for the pysche.  There's nothing like a good head-clearing, bone-drenching run to put one back in a good place, and I'm happy to report that I've bounced back quickly from my earlier melancholy.  The views of the clouds rolling through the city, as well as being the only one on the Merlion platform watching the storm roll through CBD, was a very cool experience.  It was raining so hard that I felt like I was on the set of Matrix Revolutions.  I was expecting Agent Smith to roll out and say, "Mr. Taylor.  Welcome back - we've missed you."  Bottom line - I'm in a good spot spiritually now. But just to be safe, I'll soon be ordering up an XL Boomerang Deluxe Pizza to keep the good times rollin'. :-)

I will say that, whilst the run was great for my mental state and EASILY the best run temperature-wise all year, I was sluggish throughout.  I ran 30 minutes, which was probably about 3.5-3.75, but each step was work.  I'm going to stick with low mileage for a bit and see if my stamina returns.  I think it's equal parts a) not running for 10 days before this week, b) eating like a CHAMPION in the month of October, and c) having run the previous 6 weeks on just the treadmill, but either way it would be nice to get some outdoor cardio back before shipping off for the states.

But enough of that, let's get back to the travel recaps - we return to Phnom Penh for our third and final day there, this one including a trip to arguably Cambodia's second most famous place - the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek.

The day started with another GREAT breakfast.  Seriously - I was convinced the seat was going to give way underneath me from all my exertions of shoveling bacon, eggs, and toast down my gullet.  However, in true "Tight Ass Taylor" fashion, lunch was NOT an option, meaning this had to see us through until Happy Hour.  Consequently, DOWN THE HATCH!
Typical street scene in Phnom Penh - mobile vendors are EVERYWHERE!
Knowing that the Killing Fields were 13 clicks outside of the city, we knew that the dreaded moment had arrived - WE NEEDED A TUK TUK.  Our plan was simple - find the first one that looked in halfway decent shape, negotiate a fair price, and hop in.  We stepped outside of our hotel to find a dude sitting on his tuk tuk, reading the paper, and trying to stay out of the sun.  As this thing had a) very wide seats and b) a picture of Che Gueverra on the front, I instantly knew he was our guy.  So imagine my surprise when homeboy DOESN'T EVEN LOOK UP AT US.  Seriously - this was the ONLY UNMOTIVATED TUK TUK DRIVER in the city.  Therefore, I was DETERMINED to ride with this guy.

Getting his attention, however, was just not that easy.  We wandered down, I made some shuffling sounds with my feet, and even went so far as to say audibly, "Well, shall we look for a tuk tuk?"  Normally this would have sent a pack of rabid, feral drivers running for us, but this cat casually looked up, saw us, and went back to his paper.  We finally walked over and said, "Hey, tuk tuk to Killing Fields, you can?", and the guy almost fell out of his chair with shock.  I mean, HONESTLY - this cat is NOT on the fast track to tuk tuk entrepeneurship.  Maybe that explains why we got the deal of a tuk tuk ALL DAY for $13 USD.  Amazing.

Check out the bike on the left - there are five, count 'em FIVE
people on that puppy!  Only the driver is required to wear
a helmet - that's consistent throughout Southeast Asia.
And so the drive out begins.  At first, it was truly amazing, as the tuk tuk tops out around 15 mph, meaning you can really take in the scenery.  Watching day to day life in Cambodia was truly amazing, as you definitely didn't get the feel that you were being given a showy version of the truth.  It was bustling, poor, frenetic, dusty, and real.  And we LOVED it.  Well, except the dust part, as the further out we went, the more the dust kicked up WITH A VENGEANCE.  When we'd first landed, our cabbie had said, "No tuk tuk to killing fields.  Is bad with dust."  We dismissed this a dude trying to get work (which he was).  However, in retrospect, homeboy did have a point, and we looked like the Sandpeople from Star Wars by the time we rolled up to the Killing Fields.

So there is no other way for me to describe the Killing Fields other than completely horrific and utterly fascinating.  The tour cost $5, which included an audio tour of the premises.  The tour took about 2.5 hours, and I was blown away by a) the quality of the presentation, b) how eerily this was reminiscent of our visits to concentration camps, and c) the fact that most of this happened IN MY LIFETIME and we'd never ONCE learned about any of it in the history books.  There was a tree where mothers were forced to watch while their newborn babies (proclaimed as enemies of the state) were bashed to death against trees before the mothers themselves were killed.  We saw pits where bodies with no heads were buried, and the areas where people were held in detention before they died.  They audio guide had quite a few personal stories about life during the Khmer Rouge (also called the Civil War), and it was just MIND BLOWING.  Needless to say it was just about as somber and depressing a place as we'd ever visited, and the fact that so few people in my generation even know about the Khmer Rouge and what happened makes promoting awareness of this place that much more important. 

Again - the beautiful blue skies and birds
chirping in the background didn't really
do justice to the horror of this place.
Not much is still standing there, as once the war ended, people ripped down all the buildings for firewood, building materials, and in a desire to remove the memory of the place.  Really the only building on property (other than a small museum) is the most haunting - it's a single column FILLED with bones.  We are talking EIGHT THOUSAND skulls - all excavated from one of the mass graves on site.  And if that weren't creepy enough:  we'd been warned by the video that, after rains, the earth moves and more bones and teeth come to the surface.  I was walking on one of the paths and looked down to find teeth recently emerged from the ground.  As I said - horrific.

We then rode back into the city, stopping at Wat Phnom - the most revered temple in the city.  This was decidedly unimpressive, as was the guard who let EVERY LOCAL through but stopped us the SECOND our feet hit the first step.  Granted, it was only 50 cents to enter, but still - that was a "farang tax" that we'd just paid.

The skulls, however, definitely drove the point home.
And interesting item - when we got to the top, a woman walked up to us and said, "Do you want buy my bird?"  I am so fascinated and morbidly curious that I look at this little pygmy, who's got a box of birds chirping their asses off.  It's basically $4 for a bird, which obviously I have no intention of paying.  I mean, what the hell am I gonna do with the bird?  But then she says, "You buy and make free!  Is good luck for you!"  I'm still lost until a tourist with more money and less sense than me walks up and buys one.  The lady takes the bird out of the cage, shoves it into the woman's hand, and then says, "Go!  Make free!"  And so the lady opens her hand and the bird flies off.  THAT'S IT.  And by "flies off," I mean it flew into the nearest tree, where I just KNEW that the pygmy bird seller had traps set up to ensnare the poor little guy again.  Oddly enough, I'd never seen this before that day, but we then saw it again in Chiang Mai.  Odd...that's all I'm sayin'...

We then had unimpressive strolls through the Central Market and Chinatown before ending up back on the river.  As it was 4:30 (the start of Happy Hour on the street - also affectionately known as "my favorite time of day"), we started wandering down looking for a place to have a drink.  And then, like a beacon of thirst-quenching, there it was - THE FCC!!! 

Don't worry, Tacy parents - 2 of those drinks are mine. :-)
This FCC, or Foreign Corespondent's Club, was the EXACT same one made famous in the movie "The Killing Fields," as this was the base for foreign journalists during the Vietnam War and the spot where they attempted to report the Civil War before they were tossed out.  It is typical French colonial, and whilst it was WAY more expensive than the other places (read:  $2 for a beer), we sat in the reading room and had a GREAT view of the river (in very comfy chairs, I might add).  We even had an appetizer here whilst watching the sunset before shuffing off for our final dinner in PP at a place called Karma.  They served some FIIIIIIINE Khmer cuisine, and some even better mudslides, which they'd dub as "Mekong Mud."  So guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).

Oh, and the most random item of the day - SEEING THE NORTH KOREAN EMBASSY.  Obviously there aren't too many of those around, but sure enough, we walked past it and I saw the big "PDRK" out front.  The building itself is pretty nondescript, and we were so afraid of some Jack Bauer style retribution that we didn't take any photos.  However, we DID stop to read the propaganda out front, which was HILARIOUS.  There were all these photos of Kim Jong Il in his ever stylish jumpsuit (please tell me there are multiple so that they get washed on occasion), and the caption below each was "Comrade Kim Jong Il giving advice to..." and you could see people on farms, in power plants, on assembly lines, etc. listening to him.  There was even a great segment about how "KJI had resisted the vehement oppression and aggressive from the Western Imperialists."  I mean, you gotta love 'em for trying...

So that's Phnom Penh.  Next up - the travel day to Siem Reap and then the highlight of the vacation:  The Temple of Angkor.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (confirmed in Melbourne but struggling to type on Sarah's iPhone) Jenny

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