Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thought I'd try this format. Cambodia

This is the spire at the memorial in Phnom Penh, to the thousands that lost their lives to the maniacal evil of Pol Pot. How could one man spearhead such devastation in a matter of 3 years. How did it happen? I am reading a book that helps to answer that question. Under the Banyan Tree. I do recommend it. Cambodia had just come out of the devastation that the Americans wrought, bombing indiscriminately to try to attack the Viet Cong, hiding in Cambodia. So rampant bombing of innocent Cambodians. The war was over, they thought they now had peace. Black attired young "revolutionaries" took over the cities. Young boys, from the jungles, promised food and a job, came in, armed with huge machine guns, to move urban population to the countryside. Effectively rendering education, jobs, gone. Indiscriminate killings of the educated class. Pol Pot, a mad man, paranoid about allegiance, massacred the population, 3 million of a country with the population of 11 million. One in 4. The average age in Cambodia is 21. A whole generation killed.

This is the memorial to those 3 million lost. It is a tower, very simple, very awesome, filled with skulls! And bones. It speaks very simply to the devastation of the genocide. The power is in the simplicity. There are no words. I am having trouble with words.

On a walk near our hotel, (the White Mansion, the old U.S. ambassador's house, where helicopters landed to help remove Americans during the revolution 1970) in a gate of a house, a group was celebrating something, with music, and incense , and prayer. Lovely. Cambodians are so friendly. They invited us in. But having no idea what it was about, we just listened for a bit.

We went out for a walk one evening. It was other years a celebration of Water Festival. But two years ago, the influx of country folks to the city, and the crowds, caused a bridge to collapse, and people were killed. So they cancelled it last year and this. So instead of countrymen coming in to the city, many left for the country to visit family. But crowds still came to the river. The street was so full of trucks, people like sardines in a can, motor bikes with whole family on one motorcycle. The congestion! And that was with the gathering being cancelled and many not there.

Here we are with out Vernon buddies, Rae and Brian. And Tim taking the selfie. A new word in the Oxford Dictionary.

I am so in  love with the Asian children. But look, how could you not be. Barefoot, pant less, but the world's best dimples!

A stop on the road side to buy a treat. On our long 7 1/2 hour drive to Siem Reap- speed boat cancelled so hired a car. Long trip. Oh my.
But stopped for flat rice. They take rice, and stand on a log to stomp it with a teeter totter type thing to smash it flat. Then they toast it and it is sort of like pop corn. But only sort of.

This little pixie will go far. She picked me out of a crowd at the night market. Grabbed me by the hand. Hello. What's your name? Where are you from? Will you buy me some food. I don't want money, just food, please. My mother has a baby, no food so no milk for the baby. So sucker Jane was led in to a store and she pointed to Similac. I have heard that these kids do this, and when you leave they sell it back for the money back. After all it is $25! But she was so cute, I bought it. Then she wanted some treat for herself. I balked at the chips, then the candy and held firm on the Similac only. I would love to know if it really was for a baby, and I would love to know how she makes out in life. She was GOOD!

How can you not fall in love. No clothes, But eyes to die for. They love seeing themselves on the screen of the camera after you have taken the pic.

A group of lovely spirited kids.

I absolutely LOVE the lotus ponds. They are beautiful. The lotus is so important to them. They eat the flower as a salad. The stems steamed as spinach. The corms, the roots. AND they are so beautiful.

At the airport. A chanting chorus of monks, and praying people listening

Thursday, November 14, 2013

I am from BC not Toronto

Home has been in the news often in the last few days.

I listen to BBC World News. Canada/Toronto is rarely in the news. I remember the fear when I heard that the stage had collapsed at a rock concert that I knew Elizabeth was going to. It was amazing. She happened to send an email saying here is a link to the band I am going to hear tonight. I listened and got up to get my morning coffee and heard on th BBC of the stage collapse and one person killed. I texted Elizabeth to say tell me you are okay. She did and she was. All of that happened within an hour. It did make me feel I wasn't so far away.

The mayor of Toronto hits the BBC news. Even the audio of his ranting and swearing and grade school grammar! Now, when asked where I am from , I say BC. Well I do live there, and in fact am no longer a tax payer in TO. But if I were I would sure want to vote next election.

Canada is in the news about our PM not attending the Sri Lanka summit meeting. I am embarrassed to say that I traveled Sri Lanka, just the south and middle, but was unaware of the political history of war crimes in crushing the Tamil uprising in the north. Well Harper isn't, and so is not attending.

Then the cracking of the huge porn ring that is out of Toronto. OMG

So folks, I am from BC.

My friend Gwen has been here. We had 3 days. Did Chinatown, and a reflexology and neck rub, did Little India and did a oil treatment and head massage, and spent a day at the Gardens By The Bay. I like her style. The tasting the atmosphere by having massages. We are planning the day before she heads back to BC to go to the spa in Indonesia, where we jump on a ferry downtown, cross in one hour to Indonesia, Batam, where a spa picks us up, we have 3 treatments and lunch and ride back to ferry and we are back in Singapore 8 hours later. AND it costs $125!!!

She now is off to Malaysia for 2 weeks.

We meet Rae and Brian, our other guests, tomorrow in Camdodia for 5 days. This is like juggling a chess board. It might be that although Jensens and Gwen are both here, that they don't meet each other. And what are the odds, they are all from Vernon!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Next stop Phnom Penh

My life is not really that crazy busy, but I have had time this trip to read up a little on Cambodia before we get there. So here goes…

Kingdom of Cambodia. Nice ring to it, eh? I find I know very little about the places we have been visiting, just familiar references to a name here, a place there. So a bit more than that.

Cambodia we all know from the Killing Fields. And that awful evil that was 1975-1979.

Cambodia is an ancient country, used to be huge, most of Thailand, some of Burma (Myanmar), all of Laos, Vietnam. It was at it's zenith in the 11th Century. I visit these countries, and think they are backward, not developed yet. I am embarrassed to admit that. They were sophisticated, educated, artistic, well governed countries, or kingdoms, sometimes, way back then.

The recent history is the French took over 1863, Japanese occupied during WW II, French again 1945. In 1953 the French left and Sihanouk took over. There was a resultant split in Vietnam in to north communists, and south supported by US. Viet Cong hid in Cambodia, to strike the South from hiding there). So the Americans bombed the … out of Cambodia. There was a coup in 1970 and Lon Nol was leader. It is said that all the Americans knew about Lon Nol was that his name backwards was Lon Nol!

Pol Pot came to power in 1975 and his reign of terror and evil lasted 4 terrible years. Paranoia about allegiance caused barbaric slaughter of over 2 million Cambodians. The trial for the leader of the camp  (of horror), Duch, was as recent as 2010!

The guide books say it is difficult to absorb the horrors that are in the museums. I know in Saigon, I left moved to tears, half way throughout the tour of the museum. I am expecting to be very moved by what I see next week.

I have a ziploc of small ziplocs of all my 13 different currencies from the travels so afar. When I went to dig out my Cambodian money, (having been there in January with the kids), I couldn't find any. I went to the money changer today, and he said you buy $US for Cambodia. Duh! What a memory I don't have.

Cambodia has a long way to go. 35% literacy. The poorest country in Asia. There are a lot of charities in Singapore to aid Cambodia. One is a group Tabitha, that trains Cambodian women in sewing, and they sell purses, scarves, souvenirs. There are programs of visiting volunteer dentists and doctors, programs to send eyeglasses.  50% of the population is under 21.

We will visit the Killing Fields, the War Museum, in Phnom Penh, then we will go to Siem Reap, to visit beautiful Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious monument dating from when Cambodia was a thriving civilization.. The contrast is breath taking.

Also, I will be visiting Angkor Wat for the second time. I know I will see it so differently. But also, I know when I was there with the kids in January, I could not climb the stairs in the library, I was too stiff and "sick". I return now with legs that work. I anticipate enjoying the progress. (Incidentally, from January, not being able to do a lot with the kids, to February when I noticed I was no longer in pain, it is like the "curse" went away overnight. I don't know, but it was certainly between January and February. hmmm….. )

Mt friend Gwen arrives tonight and not sure how this visit will work. I think she plans to use our place as a hub, to travel out of. I will try to go on something with her. But our friends the Jensens are here too. Well not now. They are in Thailand and will meet us in Phmon Penh Saturday. we will do Phnom Penh and Siem Reap with them. I am glad we have 2 guest rooms. I am not sure that we will all be here at the same time. We will see. An interesting November to come!

Monday, November 4, 2013

yoga retreat

Well, it was as fantastic as it sounded.

Except I was sick. I had had a bug a few days before leaving. Tim had had the same one, and I got it a few days after him. An unpleasant digestive tract thing. Well, mine came back for a curtain call, three days later, my first morning there. How disappointing. Instead of trying all the things offered by the hotel, and doing all the yoga classes, I spent a lot of time in bed, just wishing this damn thing away. I am still doing that. It is 5 days later. Enough already.

We flew to Indonesia, to the island of Java, south and east of Singapore, and in the Southern Hemisphere, about 15'. As soon as you get off the airplane, walk to the terminal, you know you are in a third world country. The absolute chaos in the terminal is breathtaking. You come to immigration, there are no line ups, no wickets, no signage, nothing. Somehow we figured we "Westerners", the only ones on the plane, gathered at a desk to pay the entrance visa fee-US$25. Then to another crowd, and somehow past some uniformed men who did little, certainly did not look at our visa, and through a security desk with our luggage. No sign to pick up luggage, or where it might come, or anything.

But you know, some how, some how, it works. Amazing. And daunting. The crowd outside the airport was thick. To get through to our car was a feat. The heat was a reminder of third world. Why they don't air condition the outside of the airport the way Singapore does. A long drive along narrow roads, 3 vans, one with luggage, 2 with us, 14 of us. Winding roads, through one small town after another, each with their mosque and calls to prayer. No shoulders to the roads, many pedestrians very close to our vehicle, up and down and around very curvy road. 2 1/2 hours. A good half hour to get out of the airport traffic!

The hotel, MesaStila, is a wellness retreat on a coffee plantation. (the irony was I did not have any of their coffee- they don't do decaf, and I took my instant Starbucks decaf powder to an Indonesian coffee plantation!) The location was at the top of a hill. We looked out at volcanoes in the distance. The sunset was beautiful, not even so much the sun, as the mauves of the distant volcanoes. All around us were villages down below. Each village had their own mosque, and muezzin, sung from the minaret or loud speaker. The voices rise, and we , although feeling very isolated, were surrounded by the busy hub hub of the towns below.

The Salat, or Muslim Prayers are to be before sunrise, (4:15 a.m.), after sun passes the zenith (12:15), late afternoon (4:15), just after sunset (6:15), and early evening (7:15). The call is up to 15 minutes long, each town has their call at approximately near the same time. we above could hear all of them, overlapping. I found it just beautiful, but the hotel does provide earplugs for those who wish to blank it out. They have been singing these calls to worship, calls to communication with God, for 1000 years. The sound is so iconic.

The hotel is beautifully done. It has a main reception, which is an old train station, that was dismantled and rebuilt on the property. All the rooms are in fact houses, from around the island, brought here and rebuilt, and refurbished as lovely accommodation. Very elegant, spacious, cool tile floors, large decadent bathrooms, but very dark. Cooling, I guess, in the heat, but very dark.The wood carving breathtaking.

When I got to my room, with my room mate, whom I had just met, there was one bed. King size, but still one bed. When we were given our keys, I was Mr. Jane, so I guess they thought…. At any rate I had them make up our very elegant day bed, you know, where you loll and someone hands you apricots and cashews as they oil your body. So I slept alone!

I was feeling very limp but did muster strength to get to the spa. It was wonderful. I felt the whole retreat was a time warp, and we had travelled back a century, but a place warp too. To Turkey, or Mesopotamia, or such. My massage was a traditional Javanese massage. A steam bath, then a woman came in, washed me like a baby, washed my hair, gave me a back rub. I expected it to be a new experience. I expected to be very clean. But I did not expect the depth of relaxation I felt. It was superb. When done, I dressed and went to a room where I sat on a huge sofa-bed and ate dates, apricots, cashews, and drank ginger tea. It truly was fantastic.

We had a breakfast that was typically Asian hotel fare. Traditional Asian breakfast of rice, stews, chilli sauces, then also salads, and fruit. Also the western eggs, pancakes, crepes (with vanilla custard and chocolate sauce- a much nicer way to take caffeine and eggs in the morning). No lunch was served ( a restaurant was open if you wanted lunch) but there was afternoon tea- sweets -chocolate cake, pineapple strudel, delicious granola cookies. Then drinks and dinner, an appetizer, rice, and little bits of a fish stew, chicken stew, beef stew, a vegetable broth with greens. All lovely, but an awful lot of food.  Dessert was always a pudding/gelatin/dish, something you have to learn to love, I think. I bought a bottle of wine that would do me for the week. A muslim country, alcohol is expensive. An ordinary Australian Sauv was $120!!! And I didn't finish it. That is just how poorly I was feeling!

I did a side trip one day, to Borobradur, a huge Buddhist temple of the island. Long buried under ash and flood waters, it was discovered recently. It is huge, magnificent. But we got there at noon. It was 41', noonday sun. We rented umbrellas, for the sun. As we climbed the stairs- very steep- like the Great Wall. Those short people with little feet. The stairs are very shallow, only the balls of your feet fit on, but they are high, like to just under my knee- must be past theirs! Last year I would not have been able to climb this stairs. It was a nice measure of my progress.

I was so hot, my face was bright red. Really bright red. But we climbed to the top, and arrived at "nirvana" and there was a wonderful breeze. The view out to these volcanoes, it was beautiful. But then the climb back out of the breeze. A long hot day.

From Borabrodur, Buddhist temple, set in a valley where 3 rivers meet and surrounded by volcanoes. The eruption 2011 covered this in ash, but it has been restored. Lovingly.

The spa at the hotel. Not sure exactly what made me feel like I was a in Ancient Turkey.
But I did

Infinity pool, volcanoes in the background, surrounded by thick jungle, and plantations

I didn't realize that bougainvillias can grow in to huge 30' trees.

An outdoor "vita parcours"

The stones are the weight room! A sign warns to be careful of ants when picking up the rocks!

Some of the beautiful houses, many ready to be torn down, purchased by the hotel, and rebuilt as very lovely accommodations. Note very high ceiling, to deal with the hot air rising.

HUGE bamboo 100' high

 Our fearless leader, and her Mom. No.  Kate brought her daughter Scout. Scout is 10 months corrected to 8. She was 2 months preemie and when born was consuming 2 ml (that 's less that one tsp) every 2 hours. She is now a Buddha baby. There was another baby at the retreat. When I asked the age difference, the Mom said 4 months. Her Singaporean daughter was smaller than Scout. And I couldn't imagine she was 4 months old. She was 4 months older than Scout, and yet smaller. The Asian babies are little miniatures, tiny perfect miniatures. And Scout is not.