31 October, 2010

Nepal Arrival

After my much anticipated Chia, CM ji arrived and we caught up a bit on what had been going on since we saw each other last in DC.  In typical CM style, he laid out my itinerary for the next couple of days starting with dinner that night with 2 of his colleagues.  In further CM style, once finally finding the restaurant, the dinner party of 4 became 8 and it became apparent my idea of a quick dinner and early bedtime was not in the schedule.

During dinner I was introduced to the others at the table; a young woman who was a student at HVP-Kathmandu school for 9 years and her husband who were in town from their home in England; a holistic doctor who every evening, closes his shop and feeds hundreds of street children (a ritual he has had for many years), the doctor’s brother who’s visiting from Seattle, the doctor’s uncle, and a young quiet man, I didn’t really meet. 

With the simply awesome vegetarian dinner well settled in my stomach, we headed off to see the ‘uncle’s’ new sari shop.  The new shop was housed in a 6 story high by ½ block long building.  I was told that the uncle owned the building and the first 4 floors will be turned into other shops (as this area is the main local shopping area in the city – or as they said “Prime Property”).  We proceeded up to his house on the 3 floor and had CHAI!  I was told that the uncle’s great-grandfather brought the first vehicle (a jeep) to Nepal and how it wasn’t driven, but carried by many men into the city as if they were carrying in royalty.  I believe the jeep was for the king and the year was around 1950.  His great-grandfather was the ‘middle man’ in the process and we looked at photos of him and the then King. 

Chia finished, we then proceeded to see the uncle’s soon to be home.  He and his family will be moving their house from the 3rd floor on up to the newly remodeled 5th and 6th floors (5 years in the making).  It was stunning to say the least; beautiful tiled floors, hand carved wooden staircases; a very well done mix of modern and cultural design.  By that time I was again a walking zombie, but since we kept moving, I appeared alert and alive!  As the doctor kept saying “only 10 more minutes” we then walked to see his office, so he could prepare some holistic medicine for his brother’s trip the next day back to the USA.  I saw the courtyard where the street children gather each evening to be taken to a nearby restaurant for their nightly meal and the very old building that the doctor’s ancestors built.

The evening finally came to an end and as my head hit the pillow, I once again gave thanks for another beautiful day of life.

30 October, 2010

Another Night in Bangkok…

I arrived at the Bangkok airport at 9:30pm and prepared myself for my 13 hour layover…although visions of a lonely vacant airport quickly were diminished. I stared in awe at a 4-story monstrosity complete with a ‘temple’ coffee shop.





I adjusted my backpack and began to walk. I walked and walked around this airport that could rival the greatest of malls and which had the cleanest nicest bathrooms in the history of airport bathrooms!


I rode up and down escalators, walked up and down seemingly endless corridors and viewed shop after duty-free shop.





I passed up a Starbucks (realizing the last thing I needed at that hour was a coffee!); shed a tear at the burger king; opted out of the free suitcase you would get if purchasing 3 bottles of Johnnie Walker liquor;


And the life-size cement dog. 

I was taken aback at the Eminem soundtrack blaring from one of the electronic shops. Not being a fan of the rapper and knowing he is far from the “melts in your mouth; not in your hands” candy, I relied on my Microsoft Word program which promptly spell-checked the name for me.

I sat for a spell to get on the computer and was struck by that “I forgot something” feeling…and after complete inspection of my backpack; which I knew all along would not end in happiness, I zipped it all up with a sigh…my power cord was sitting in Kate’s apartment back in Phnom Penh. I remember distinctly thinking that I mustn’t forget to pack it, but, alas…I did.

I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look around and see if I could buy another one; although also knowing it would probably be more expensive than the computer. I found a Computer shop and to my delight they had a multipurpose power cord that can power anything using a USB port or one of the many plugs it comes with. As I looked at the price tag which was around 4,000 Bhat the guy informed me that it was around 200 USD and my heart sank. Realizing by the look on my face that he was not going to make that sale, he produced another version of the cord. To me it looked identical and since there was no point in comparing the two after hearing the 68USD price and verifying that it worked, I promptly bought it.

I then asked the guy if there was an outlet I could charge my computer with. He said they were around the airport and I should look for a metal plate on the floor or a tile that opens. I glanced at where he was pointing and thought; “Are you serious?” I didn’t really want to go around trying to pry up miscellaneous areas of the airport floor. There are many places in the world I simply do not have a desire to visit and a Thai prison is high on the list! I was on the lookout for a charging station which I have seen in other airports, but after 20 minutes of walking and none in sight, I started glancing at the floor. There were big screen TV’s everywhere which had to be plugged into something so maybe the floor thing had some merit. I found a couple but it looked like someone (who’s now serving 20 years) had tried to pry open.


I saw one of the tile opening things, but still bogged down by “homeland security” fears, I passed on by.




About ready to give up, I leaned up against a window to rest and low and behold, the computer guy was right! I saw one that was open and it did indeed have an outlet! Unfortunately there weren’t any seats nearby and there was a huge air vent blowing arctic winds on me, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay there.







As I walked away with a new knowledge of understanding, I saw the official plug station I was previously looking for!

By that time it was 2:00 AM and while my computer charged; I amused myself by taking photos of in the glass ceiling

…that didn’t last long, so I dozed on probably the hardest metal seats in the airport; surely put there to discourage people from hogging the plugs for hours by dozing. After about an hour and freezing cold, I moved on for no other reason than to get warm blood moving throughout my body. As I walked, I saw that many shops were still open although the airport was clearing out of travelers walking around. As in a maze, I trudged on turning this corner or that; walking up or down. I was completely and utterly over stimulated at that point and walking like a zombie, but once a vision of coffee entered my mind, I knew I needed to calm down and find a place to get at least a couple hours of good sleep.



Eventually my 10:30am flight made its way on to the digital flight lists and I headed closer to gate C4. As I got near, I stumbled upon a sleeping area! Big lazy-boy type seats that reclined! I settled down in one of the chairs and to my dismay, the chair I was in did not recline…obviously why it was empty…because it was dark and I didn’t know that there was 3 more areas of chairs further down the way and at that point I was too tired and almost physically unable to move by butt out of the chair, I curled up best I could and crashed!

Around 7am the place started hopping and as I rubbed my sleepy eyes and sat up, I was startled by all the new faces sleeping in the chairs around me. The words of Dorothy Gayle “People come and go so quickly here” crossed my mind as I set my IPod alarm for 8:30 and went back to sleep.

After freshening up and buying a $7 coffee and bagel (both were quite good – not really worth 7$, but oh well, what’s a hungry girl to do?), I settled down once again, this time at my gate. My flight was uneventful and I arrived in Kathmandu at 12:30p, took a taxi to HVP School and was met at the gates by Jagannath. As it’s a holiday in Nepal (a month long!) the only one at the school, Jagannath, showed me to the room I would be staying in. I took a short snooze then went upstairs on the roof deck to enjoy the last bit of sun before it started to get cold. Ahhhh…..chia at last……

22 October, 2010

Traveling…

I get to be a tourist for a week or so; seeing the sights in Phnom Penh (Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) with my longtime friend Mark; who will be coming to Cambodia from Japan. After a few days in PP, we will head to the town of Siem Reap and then on to walk forever around Ankor Wat. I’ve wanted to see that place ever since catching a glimpse of it in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and now I get the chance. There is so much to see and do in Cambodia, but we only have 6 days, so many things will be left until I come back.

I leave for Nepal on Oct. 29th and after my now ‘normal’ overnight in an airport (Bangkok,Thailand this time) , I arrive in Kathmandu on the 30th and then on to CPH around the 3rd or 4th. I’ll be in Nepal for a few months; with a side trip to India the end of November! And then back to Cambodia long term on Jan. 15th, 2011.





Photo's will be posted in a week or so but in the meantime, enjoy these taken at Phnom Chisor Wat which is within walking distance from Wat Opot Children's Community.  You can catch a glimpse of the Wat in the 2002 Matt Dillon movie City of Ghosts which also stars "Sok" who is a tour guide/driver in Phnom Penh and I have had the pleasure of hiring.  Sok will be our tour guide for the day while hiting all the tourist spots in PP.










20 October, 2010

Ralphie Part II, the saga continues...

Sooo I woke up this morning and remembered that Ralph was gone and wiped away a tear while heading to breakfast. On the way back to my room, who should appear but RALPHIE!!! His tail was wagging so much his whole butt was moving side to side as he ran to greet me. I was so happy to see him as I scooped him up into my arms. It had previously crossed my mind that he would run away back to his posh life at Wat Opot but when I didn’t see him by my door when I awoke, I figured the infamous Mr. Wat had secured him.



Ralph hung around all day but I kept him mostly outside, as I didn’t want him to get to comfortable again. He was content to lay outside the dorm door in the shade and wait for me as I came and went. His stomach was huge, so I assumed that the kids had fed him plenty of food for lunch.



This afternoon, I was working in the craft room when our two newest members of Wat Opot came wandering in. Channy (pronounced Johnny) who’s around 8 and her baby sister, Rortana, about a year and half came to us a couple of weeks ago after their mother died of AIDS. While the mother was alive, they lived in the slum area and Channy; the sole bread winner ‘worked’ selling flowers to tourists. Rortana is the quietest most content baby I have ever seen, and I have seen hundreds of babies! She must have had to entertain herself all day long while her mother was sick and her little big sister was out trying earn a living for the three of them.  Channy could play the part of Mogli from the Jungle Book any day!  She is just adorable!!


Here at Wat Opot, Channy can be a little girl again and not a mother to her baby sister and a caregiver to a sick mother. She is going to school for the first time and is able to run and play instead of work. Ratana is passed from one child to another (or one volunteer after another) all day long. The kids love her so much especially since she’s so passive. The other day, 3 year old Way was walking with her hand in hand to lunch. It was probably one of the most precious things I have ever seen…especially when he called my name and when I looked their way, Way gently put his arm around her as he grinned at me. 






Well, when Channy and Rortana arrived inside the Arts and Crafts room, Alphie ran in after them and playfully started nipping at Rortana’s dress. When Channy went to knock him aside, I showed her how to lure him away from her with some string.















As Ralphie tugged on his end of the string, both girls giggled in delight! They had so much fun with him and 15 minutes later as they scooted on out the door, Ralphie flopped down for a well deserved nap.

 
















With Wayne in Phnom Penh, after dinner I headed to the kids dorm to give them their medicine and snack. After snack and in stride; Socheat came up to me saying “Melinda DVD, DVD”, which sounds more like dividy, dividy!  Soon, a couple of the other boys came in saying dividy, dividy.  When I said, "I already gave one to Socheat" Tia said, "no, Melinda, no DVD".  Knowing language barriors, I went to the TV to investigate the problem; which was not the DVD, but the kids showed me that the DVD player was gone. I said “Where is it” and the answer threw me for a loop!

They said “Mr. Wat has it”. I was dumbfounded and thought “Who in the Sam Hell is Mr. Wat and WHY in the hell does he have our DVD player!” Wanting to get to the bottom of this, I turned to 16 year old Srey Lak and said “Where does Mr. Wat live, I’m going to get it back.”

Srey Laki pointed over near my dorm room and gradually, the confused look on my face changed into that look you get when you all of a sudden remember where you left your keys. It all of a sudden hit me! Mr. Wat is not some old geezer who lives down the road and eats dog, instead Mr. Wat is 17 year old Vath who lives on the property.


Wayne had told me a couple of times that he thought the puppy was Vath’s (pronounced Vaht) because he has some little black puppies. Since the kids referred to Vath as Mr. and pronounced his name with a W instead of a V, I didn’t put 2 and 2 together. I walked to Vath’s room and there was the player hooked up to their TV which was surrounded by teen-age boys adn young monks. They handed it over to me with the “I am sorry, Melinda” theme that I have heard so many times before, to which I replied my own theme of “It’s okay” followed with a smile.

After handing over the DVD Player to its rightful owners; I headed back to my room shaking my head about the events in this past week. Mr. Wat, Vath, Ralph, Alphie, sweet little puppy, dog meat, etc…I am forced to realize that many times my life is like a big circus complete with animals, little people and many things that are not as they seem.  Ralph lives at Wat Opot and I can play with him to my hearts content for the next day or so. 

Sweet dreams Ralphie; stay safe until I return in January.

The Wat

Every Saturday the Wat Opot kids clean up the Buddhist Temple adjacent to their home.  Everyone joins in (although some tend to watch more than actually help).  



After the clean up session outside, it’s time for the inside


It’s always nice to look your best while in the temple and Saon is no exception, sporting the paper headband he found laying on the floor.


The temple is colorfully painted from floor to ceiling




After all is spic and span clean the kids slowly make their way to a spot on the floor,



or a lap


and gather for chanting/prayer led by the head Monk with a short meditation following.


Anyone who says children can’t be quiet for 15 minutes should come to visit on Saturdays. Although there is the occasional ‘coughing relay’ mostly there is silence, giving the kids time to reflect on their life, the current day, their future, or what’s on the menu for dinner.

Even though I do not understand the words, their chanting moves me like no other.

19 October, 2010

Where Oh Where has my little dog gone...Where Oh Where can he be...

Princess Fiona saved a puppy…




This little guy was hanging around the kitchen for a couple days devouring anything he could get his mouth on. He was in bad shape; to put it lightly and wasn’t ready to be weaned from his mother yet, although no mother was in sight. He had a raised scar on his head and his pink belly was full of green puss blisters.


Going along with the theme “every child (creature?) deserves a second chance”, Fiona scooped up the little fellow and brought him into the volunteer dorm. She fed him antibiotics she had with her (1/3 a pill) not knowing whether they would help him or kill him, but since he was close to death already; it was worth a try.

 


Deemed Ralph (a.k.a. Ralphie or alphie), a box was made up for him and he slept in it quite ummm...comfortably?!!






Within a couple of days there was a marked improvement in his activity level and the blisters began to dry up. With the help of ClimbOn! his belly and head started to improve. With an old pair of my dad’s barber scissors, I went to work on his fur which had a ring of tar around his neck (assumingly a sort of a brand by his former owner).

 After a week, he was running about and playing like a puppy, posing for the camera and of course being loved by all. He was encouraged to chew on some toys since sharp little puppy teeth on skin is not desirable!

 
















He has made himself quite comfortable in the room finding places to take a little nap while keeping one eye out for his next meal.



We took him to the ‘big city’ (Phnom Penh) for a couple days and although he liked riding in the car, he definitely prefers the country.


Alas as the saying goes; “all good things must come to an end”, some of the older boys have told me that a certain Mr. Wat, wants his puppy back. Here lies the dilemma…on one hand, the puppy was near death, so we should rightfully be able to keep him, but we have no way of knowing if the puppy was dumped here (as I assume). I have been told that being a Buddhist society, no one wants to be responsible for the death of an animal, so the sick or unwanted ones are dumped at the adjacent Temple and they wander over here (in the past, a 2 legged dog and 3 legged pig). Now that Ralphie is healthy, his owner wants him back either because he misses him (doubtful) or because dogs in Cambodia are part of the human food chain (dog meat is usually eaten at weddings). Mr. Wat has made no move to come get him maybe because in a year, once he is healthy and big, he can then come claim him (as was the case with the pig).

Politics come into play everywhere…Wat Opot is part of the surrounding community and we must keep the peace so to speak. One thing Wayne doesn’t need is for the villagers to start to claim that ‘the foreigners’ are stealing their animals.


I don’t eat animal products and am impartial to the subject of dog meat. Why should a dog be exempt from being used for food when so many other animals are not? I shudder to think of any creature’s flesh being eaten, so to allow myself to feel more sorry for Ralph but not for the other animals that live at Wat Opot or those down the road just doesn’t work. Even though I think Ralphie is the cutest non-human on the property (next to Kitty Porn), I am aware of the limitations surrounding what I can change; I don’t have to like or support it, but I accept that it happens.

I leave Wat Opot in 2 days so I had to do something before then and options were slim. The only opportunity to assure his longevity was to buy him from Mr. Wat and find a family in Phnom Penh that wants him as a pet instead of a meal? As I was pondering what to do, the decision was made for me. One of the boys came to my door and said that he was to take the puppy back to Mr. Wat’s house. Ralph was a joy to have for the short time that I was able to care for him.