So I have neglected this blog for an entire year and I have realized, unfortunately, that I miss adventuring. Now while I am stuck on campus finishing off my senior year, there is no reason for life to be boring! So I have decided to pick up this blog again in honor of my favorite type of adventure--cooking!
I love to cook and talk about food so I hope you feel inspired to try some new recipes! Everything here is vegan, sugar-free and absolutely delicious (I promise).
Oh and please email me any time with your adventures (kitchen related or not)! Email me at

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Day Two in Phnom Penh

Today has been a pretty interesting and eye opening day. I am still extremely jetlagged so as a result I woke up at 4am with no idea what to do with myself and have consequently gone about the day in a haze.

Anyway, I got breakfast with Margaret this morning. Margaret is an Australian (oops, not British) librarian who was first sent to Cambodia in 1986 by the quakers and moved here permanently in 1990. She has done a lot of interesting stuff, like helping the local universities set up their libraries and worked on the war crime trails for Khmer Rouge. Since she has been here for so long she is a good source of information and took me on a little driving tour of Phnom Penh.

To start off with the tour, it should be established that there are no driving laws in Cambodia. I saw a couple of traffic lights and crossing signs, but they are generally completely ignored. Motos dominate the roads and the cars usually stick to their side but it not uncommon to find them driving on the wrong side or straddling lanes. While being both in a car and on a moto is a terrifying experience, in reality the drivers are more aware then any driver in the US and accidents are apparently rare considering the mass chaos.

The architecture of Phnom Pehn is very interesting as I learned. The buildings are an odd hodgepodge of stunning temples, beautiful french structures, dilapidated buildings, and brand new construction. During the Khmer Rouge regime, all of the people were kicked out Phnom Penh (except prisoners and soldiers). The Khmer Rouge sought to turn everyone into a working peasant class and deserting the cities was one way of doing so. As a result when the Vietnamese came into Phnom Penh they found a completely empty city. Vegetation had started to take over the city and eroded many of the building. The Khmer Rouge gouged out many of the stores and burned all the appliances (because they represented capitalism...?) and sorted the contents into huge story tall piles. They also bombed many of the significant buildings, like the National Bank and the Cathedral. Now, during the rebuilding process, everything is under construction. As a consequence however, there is a steel, brick and skilled labour shortage which has resulted in massive funding from the Chinese and Japanese (strings very attached) and not from local agencies. Margaret showed me all of the notable sights in Phnom Penh via the car and I am excited to look at each site up close. Margaret also has many connections in Cambodia and when I come back to the city she is going to set up a meeting with me and some environmental field worker. It should be interesting and exciting.

After Margaret dropped me off I went to see Wat Phnom. It is a very beautiful temple that I enjoyed very much. An elephant rested at the bottom of the temple and giant statues hide among the trees. Since only foreigners have to pay to enter ($1), most of the people there were Khmers. Being at the temple it was apparent to me the poverty that plagues this nation. Everywhere you go you see amputees and homeless children, many of whom are spooning water from puddles into dirty plastic bottles. The poverty indeed is overwhelming, disheartening and frustrating. While many NGOs have now established themselves in Cambodia, their work is clearly endless. On a slightly lighter note, there are also many monkeys who inhabit the wat and eat the offerings for the Buddha. They are very used to people and I even saw a monkey and child cuddling on a mother's lap. I found this site both cute and disturbing.

After Wat Phnom, I went to the genocide museum across the street from where I am staying. I spent a full day preparing myself for what I would see and as a result managed to get through the first half of the tour numb. The compound is composed of three buildings, with a strangely beautiful sitting area in the middle. The first building is the site of the torture chambers, the beds left as they were found with pictures on all the walls of the people found in each room by the Vietnamese. The second building is now a gallery of sorts, showing mugs shots of the people who passed through Toul Sloung. The pictures were never ending and the more and more I looked at them, the more surreal the whole place became. The last building was the hardest, with crude paintings of torture methods displayed along side instruments and skulls. Perhaps the saddest part of all however is that once the S-21 commander was put on trial, he admitted in a ball of tears that he had no idea why he did it.

I am sorry that this entry was rather sobering--but much in this city is. Tomorrow I will go down to Sre Ambel (pronounced more like Shry Am-Bal) and learn more about dams, fish and forests. Hurrah.

I have many pictures, but I am too lazy to attempt to upload them now. Another time, another time.


momma said...

i can't wait to see the photos!

Melissa said...

I really like reading your descriptions of the places you see it feels like I can see them too-but I can't wait for the pictures so I can really see everything your seeing. It sounds like you're learning a lot and I can't wait to hear about it all when you get back.
okay good luck in Sre Ambel (i think that's right)
love you lots!

Jon-chan said...

karina, this is excellent.