Saturday, February 28, 2004
27 February 2004 Phnom Penh

Arrived today back in Phnom Penh, back to the hordes of guesthouse-commissioned moto drivers hustling for business. One poor guy was holding a sign for a "Mr Shakalaka Boom".

I have been told these Austrian backpackers have a scale of one to ten of bowel movements whereby one is watery acute diarhoea, and ten is constipation. I am currently at about a four. "A good friend of mine" who I am traveling with has been fortunate enough to have had the past two weeks a steady average of five. This is because the first ten days she had about an 'eleven', and then the past two days a solid 'one'. So on average, pretty good score!

In Siem Reap i went to a fantastic land mine museum, though you wouldn't know it existed if you didn't know to look out for it, as the gov't won't let them advertise or promote it. Compared to the temples of Ankor, land mines are not high on the list of what they want the world's eyes to be concentrating on. It is a problem as fascinating as it is horrible. I returned to the museum the next day with my mini-disc but it may not make such great radio. The museum did however sell me my first Cambodian activist t-shirt "land mine museum relief fund". It's not a bad t-shirt actually, a nice lemon colour, though in typical Sam fashion, I wore it out that same night and spilt pink cocktail down the front. Anyone got stain remover?

Thursday, February 26, 2004
26 February 2004 Siem Reap/Ankor Temple

Am thoroughly 'templed-out' at the moment after two good days the Ankor temple complex. You get the picture of all these temples after a while,and if you don't you can always buy the postcard (cheap cheap 2 dollar?). Seriously though it would have been incredibe to be among the first to see the temples...or at least to have preempted the hordes. The whole place is owned by a petroleum magnate, and while prices are steep, it is worth it. I also learnt new Khmer phrase, bringing my total vocabulary to four. I learnt "I don't want to buy it" which is an exceptionally useful phrase around here.

Early morning today saw as up before dawn waiting for a sunrise at the famous ANkor Wat. It was the first time i had been up before dawn since remembrance day - when i was still running through the botanical gardens in my pyjamas by the time the ceremony had concluded. Suffice to say I was more successful today and took some photos identical to ones you see on t-shirts, hats and the national flag.

Elin and I came up here with boat, a seven hour trip from Phnom Penh, the only stops being those when it was necessary to pull river weed out of the motor as the water was so low. Competition for guest houses is very strong. When we arrived at Siem Reap, there were numerous placards awaiting us as we got off the boat. I had given my name in Phnom Penh as "Mr Dick Features".

That's not quite true, but one did say "Fan Davie".

In SIem Reap i have continued my new past time of vomiting after dinner, as if it were a complimentary mint or something. Three in a week is not bad going. Elin is both happy and sad about it, for this was the first occasion I was not lying in bed when I spewed.

Saturday, February 21, 2004
21 February 2004 Sihanoukville (again)

We are in Sihanoukville today, my 'favourite' beach side resort. Actually has been good today, save for three fat people in speedos. I saw the tourist police on the beach and asked him to do something about it -maybe press charges or something....he suggested I report it to the 'fashion police' instead.

We are staying in relative luxury this weekend. Hot water, double bed, and thirty roosters who woke us up this morning at 5:30, and, just like the snooze function on any bad alarm clock, they refused to shut up until we were out of bed, showered and ready for the beach. May their pens be struck down with bird flu.

Last night ate a meal on the beach. They lured us in with complementary "happy cigarette" or fruit salad with every meal. Well, the meal was less than average, and Elin felt that way too after smoking the cigarette.

The other night we were on Bokor mountain, a French ghost town at the top of a mountain range. A fantastic, but eerie place, so i won't even bother trying to describe it further. En route the driver showed us a 600 metre drop where the KR disposed of 1500 people during their revolution. Nothing like a kick up the pants to get a job done it seems.

The night we stayed there, we shared the ranger station with 40 wildlife rangers -guys who patrol the park to prevent poaching and logging. It was there end of basic training celebration, so they had a huge party with lots of grog and dancing. I drank one beer, danced with 40 guys, said 'cheers' to 40 guys, then when the novelty of being really really tall wore off, I went to bed. Half an hour later i spewed up everything, so it wasn't the most ambient party mood for me!

Lastly, last night was also the first night in a week that an animal didn't jump out from the toilet seat. On Tueday night in Kep, I had a half hour session fighting of a giant tarantula using a 'bum gun' (you know those bide hoses) while I sat glued to the throne. Water cannons are a simple but effective weapon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
20 February 2004 Kampot

Just arrived from Kep, a dillapidated resort town from the 1950s. Elin and I are here on holiday. Yesterday we went to rabbit island, a 15 or 50 minute boat trip from Kep -i couldn't hear which one he said. Either way, both were correct. This was because 50 metres out from Kep our rudder fell off, then we started taking water. 50 minutes later we arrived to a relatively sandy beach inhabited only by sand crabs, three bungalows and a group of French backpackers.

Last night we nursed sunburn and ate a lunch/dinner of squid hoodle soup and shrimp. We were tempted by the crap hoodle soup or else the riee chick on reg batel soup.

Our room was an experience. Imagine plywood walls held together with chewing gum. We slept under a mozzie net. I hadn't showered so still had sand which rubbed on my sunburn. I'm not sure why, but electricity in Kep only runs from 6pm to 6am. When I woke up this morning in desperate need of a pee, i quickly realised it must have been shortly after 6 as it was still dark, but there was no lights working. I do not have a torch, so i would need something to light up the bathroom if i was to avoid peeing all over the place (all boys have impeccable aim, but just in case you know!). I fumbled around on the table and soon found my osama lighter. It worked a treat, and for a brief moment this morning, the entire guest house was treated to a striking two tone rendition of fur elise accompanied by the sound of boy peeing near toilet.

This afternoon we will probably go to Bokor national park. Ít's an old French ghost town in the mountains. We just have to work out how to get there without getting ripped off.

Thursday, February 12, 2004
12 February 2004 Phnom Penh

Last night I was victim of assault. The perpetrator was half a happy pizza, ordered very very happy. I awoke feeling like I’d been drugged, which is not surprising considering that’s exactly what had happened. The drinks were to celebrate our departure from the two Aussie photographers Adam and Megan. We bought a bottle of Gordons Gin at Pencil Supermarket for $6.50. It was a tough call. Bombay sold for $9.50, but we were skeptical of getting through one litre. We sat outside our guesthouse and drank it, then we went to the quay for a bite to eat.

This morning I awoke in my new awesome room. And then went and sat on my awesome western toilet for twenty minutes alternating between reaching for toilet paper and reaching for the door to rest my sleepy head on. My room is five floors up, with a view over one third of Phnom Penh. The 112 steps would have been a good exercise substitute had I moved here earlier.

Seeing an earthworm in my bathroom was the final straw at that previous room, after I successfully cultivated mould on my backpack and saw a three inch centipede when I was having a shower (he retreated to a crack when I shot him with the bum-gun).

Today is the last day for Georgia and myself, though I will likely stay on another issue when I come back from my two week holiday. Tonight we all will try happy pizzas again to celebrate…or given the brain damage, perhaps that should be cerebralate. Can’t get enough happiness here!

Saturday, February 07, 2004
7 February 2004 Battambang

Today we find ourselves in Cambodia's second largest city, up here for journalism research/ holiday. I plan to do a few minidisc stories while i am here and had a ripper day today. I basically followed liam out all day, he wanted to find a witch doctor to put a charm on his ex girlfriend. Well, he had a surprising turn of events, but you'll have to listen to the radio to hear about it. Then we went to Boat Mountain, a fantastic Pagoda atop some sheer limestone cliffs. They are in process of carving a huge buddah into the cliff face, ala Mount Rushmore. They reckon it will take seven years. Before i knew it, Liam was interviewing them all about it, and i found myself shimmying up this precarious bamboo structure, about twenty metres (no shit) up this sheer cliff face to get some photos. I doubt travel insurance would have covered me if i fell.
6 February 2004 Phnom Penh

I hesitate to say i woke up this morning...it's probably more apt to say "came to", at 8:55am, late for work!

The last night we went on a bender, all in the name of research. For dinner we ate lamb and three veg, better than any time i'd had it in Australia.

The company was good as well. To Brisbane Photography students and this larger than life photographer relic from the Vietnam War named TIm Page. In fact, most people here are larger than life, it's kind of a prerequisite.

I'd first read about Tim in Gecko Tales, a travelogue written by some journo who didn't quite make it. "Oh that scrag," said Tim. "When I was living at the PP Post, I used to have to tell Michael Hayes to lock the downstairs door so whe owuldn't sneak in and try to seduce me."
Some things are probably better left unsaid and unwritten.

After dinner, during which time Page and all the other older and far better established media community here consumed a massive pile of weed, us journo interns took the photographers out to shoot photos i'm doing on a story about western influences on young Cambodian consumers.

At the first joint, Martinis, there was certainly Cambodians under the influence of Westerners. We weren't allowed to take cameras in, no wonder either, as this place was easily the seediest place i've ever been to. The average age was 35 years old, only because I work out averages by adding the highest and lowest ages and dividing by two. Hence, 70 + 10 /2=35.

Megan (photographer) and I stood at the bar, sipping vodka sunrises and spying on an old man slide his fingers fown some girl's pantie line. This prompted some discussion from us, at which point a man, who actually was about 35, chimed in with "if you don't like it, don't come here".

I can draw an analogy to watching a Julia Roberts Film. Before you see it, you know it's going to be bad, so why make the others who do like it feel annoyed and irritated (as weoll as very guilty) by paying out and whinging about it.

After this unique experience, we went to another joint called U2. Here I thought i would give back to the Cambodian coimmuinity who had taught me so much the previous month. In no time i had a circle going on the dancefloor, and was teaching Khmers how to do breakdance throwdowns. Well, i had a pretty successful turn on the floor, during which i lost Georgia's wallet and my new pen. She found her wallet. I didn't find my pen.

So, this morning i once again awoke with a bruise on my chin. I don't think i'll ever learn that doing the worm is bad news all round.
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
The good news I have opened up my heart to the world and am sponsoring a Cambodian baby. I have named him Herbert, and he is a parasite who lives with me now 24/7.

Unfortunately for Herbert, I am afraid my lifestyle may not make me the greatest host. Last night Georgia and I went for ''one'' beer after work. Well, the moonraker cocktails were out by 9:00, so perhaps that's why i am retarded by lethargy today. Tonight, out again to nightclubs, all in the name of research. Am doing a story on Western influences on Cambodian consumer youth....Any reason to go to a nightclub other than "so i can dance, man".

The Post is still great fun, though got a bit blown out of the water the other day. A german doco maker contacted Michael Hayes, the legendary Post publisher, about an article I had written on evictions of vendors at the beach in front of a major resort development at Sihanoukville. He had done a bit of research which didn't equate to what I had written. I went to Hayes' office to talk about it, thinking I would get dragged over coals, but he said "Mheya, the only issue is what you write back to him". Sorted. While there is no real excuse for errors in stories, I honestly thought what I was writing was correct at the time, given the not infrequent language difficulties I had to deal with.

Otherwise, am contemplating staying here another week or two. Have started making a radio story on a Ry Cooder-esque guy matching old musician masters with hip hop and jazz groups. Very interesting.

This weekend maybe going up to the country and ride one of the legendary cambodian trains. Apparently it takes 12 hours to cover what a minibus does in 2. Sounds like Connex is involved. Trains also sprung to notoriety here when three western backpackers were kidnapped from one by the Khmer Rouge, and then killed. SO...it's going to be a fun weekend!

Georgia won't be coming with us though. She is covering a press conference on Sunday for Minnie Driver, the latest celebrity to attach herself to a cause in the name of goodwill....does she have a film or something coming out soon? So far, the best celebrity endorsement I have encountered here is Roger Moore, doing his bit for "iodised salt".
Sunday, February 01, 2004
This weekend has been dedicated to getting into the "real" Cambodia. This means escaping Phnom Penh up the Mekong river, swimming with endangered freshwater dolphins in the Kratie Province, eating tarantulas in spiderville, and then taking my first Cambodia "bus" home...ie a minibus so crowded it drove on a permanent 30 degree angle sideways...Boats as much as possible are the way to go in the future I think.

Aside from the spiders, Georgia and I stretched the limits of our drawing skills trying to ordera meal at a restaurant in Kampong Chom. We vowed to stray from the lonely planet when going to a restaurant, but it was harder than expected. The first restaurant didn't have a menu. The second one didn't have a cook. The third one, we didn't know what we ordered, but this gas burner appeared in front of us and some raw meat and veg. Then a woman threw it all into the pot and cooked in a soup for a couple of minutes. Then waht followed was one of those excruciating awkward moments when you teeter on the edge of cultural embarassment. I was probably being anal, but gee i felt really unsure about eating that meat. Particularly after seeing other 'meat' at the market earlier...a flyblown cow hoof! the thing was, since the entire family was standing around us, about 7 or 8 people, we had no choice but to eat it...to their credit, I didn't feel iull the next day, maybe a lesson in not being too anal about what you eat.

Next day we took a boat up the Mekong, sitting on the roof for three hours...you don't want to be trapped inside if it capsized! i have been reading this swedish crime novel and was quite proud of almost getting to the end. I had only 40 pages left to read and I had reached a crucial moment in the narrative. As i reached for my boat ticket to give to the attendant, i caught a glimpse of my book flying away down the Mekong. The previous book I had bought, I left on the plane.

Well, the provinces were otherwise fantastic, and we found a bookstore to buy more pulp fiction as well as ample supply of travel books written by journalists who had found the real Cambodia. Quite boring really, remind me never to write a book.

Work again tomorrow, take it easy, write me a mail at jeanclaudevansam@hotmail.com

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