BootsnAll Travel Network

Phnom Penh, Cambodia


June 15, 2007

There was nothing on the docket for the morning, so we all set off on our own and did whatever we wanted.  I thoroughly enjoyed a bit of free time alone, as I have passionately mentioned in this blog.  I was a little tired and didn’t feel like getting up at 6am to go to the Russian market or anything so I took the day at my own pace.  I ended up getting up fairly early though (again before 8am) because Morrie got up, woke me up and then I was up.  I got dressed, got my headset to make calls through skype and was off.  I decided to try and find another internet place than the one I used the night before.  The one the night before was extremely slow and once you opened up multiple programs the darn thing just froze right up.  Eventually after walking a good distance down the river I found a small place that was open.  It was before 8am so not everything was open, but by this time, many vendors were unlocking their chained doors, opening up the shops, putting out chairs, and just preparing for another day in the life.

This internet place was a makeshift one in between a restaurant and a pharmacy.  I had no issues as it was relatively fast (for Cambodia) and I had the ability to use skype.  I called Mom and Dad back home to say hi.  They were happy to hear from me as I hadn’t called home in about a week or so.  I also called Jenny who of course was on the go to meet her friends in the city.  Calling her is like calling the pope.  It is either “oh sorry my phone was turned off,” or “oh I didn’t have service,” or “oh I was on the train,” yea, yea, if your brother is calling from Southeast Asia, pick up the damn phone girl!  Ha, ha, anyway, it was nice chatting with her briefly and she told me that she would come with mom to pick me up from the airport on June 23rd at night.  I’m sure she will have to cancel dinner plans or something to do it, but that’s all right, she did miss my college graduation J

I was at the internet place for about an hour and a half.  It was hot out, the café was fairly cool, and I really did not have much to do.  After the internet place, I had a bit of a wonder back towards the hotel and passed it.  Familiar territory as I had commonly walked passed several of the same shops on the same blocks for the past day or so.  I stopped at a DVD/CD shop and had a bit of a look inside.  They had everything.  From dvd movies, to TV shows, to all types of music, and software.  I was interested in purchasing some software to take back home with me, so I picked out two such dvds and paid 9 dollars for them.  It was a little steep but if it worked, I would have gotten thousands of dollars worth of software for only 9, look how much money I am saving!  Well when I got back to my hotel room and popped them in, they didn’t seem to work.  It is not that they didn’t load up, but it wasn’t the software as advertised on the box.  After fiddling with it for a while, I eventually just brought them pack in the original packaging to the store and told the girl at the desk that I wanted to exchange them for some movies.  She asked me why they didn’t work and I told her that it didn’t give me the software on the box.  She smiled/smirked and told me to pick out some movies in exchange for the software.  She would even through in one for free.  Well unfortunately I did not stop at only 5 movies.  When it was all said and done I had bought, including the 5 I got initially, 64 movies/tv shows and 7 new music cds.  The movies ranged from all the Rocky’s, to all the Star Wars/Die Hard/Mission Impossible movies, to seasons I and II of Weeds a show on showtime to the first two seasons of Entourage and My name is Earl.  It was fantastic.  In the end I did not end up paying as much as you probably think, but I do think I should have bargained more.  I ended up paying 1.50 each, they wanted 3 for each movie, so getting half price isn’t so bad.  So far the cheapest I have paid for a movie that actually worked was in Hanoi I ended up paying about 80 cents a movie.  The most I have paid was in Bangkok paying about 2.30 a movie.  While I haven’t tested all the ones from Bangkok, I know some will not work, the quality won’t be great on all of them, but I do know that the others I have bought work perfectly.  In total after figuring out how many movies/tv shows/and music cds I purchased.  The grand total for this trip is 120!  All that cost me roughly 168 dollars or about 1.40 a movie/tv show/music cd.  Not too shabby.  I would have like to pay a little less, but at least I know that about 110 will work perfectly and the other 10 are touch and go.

So after I bought all these movies and such I had to bring them back to the hotel room and hide them.  I didn’t exactly want to be walking around with 70 cds in a bag.  On the way back to the DVD place the second time when I returned the software, I ran in to a tuk tuk driver who offered me a ride.  He seemed nice, so I threw him a bone.  I negotiated a price to take me to several key landmarks for a small fare.  When I got back to the hotel to drop off my stuff, the tuk tuk driver was waiting for me and that was when I found out that some of the places I wanted to go were closed.  The Royal Palace was closed for lunch but Wat Phnom and the National Museum were opened.  Because the driver would only take me to two places, we had to re-negotiate the price down a little bit.  So the first stop was Wat Phnom.  This Wat or temple was responsible for the name Phnom Penh.   It is a famous Wat in Phnom Penh and quite beautiful.  It sits in the middle of a big park, which is rare for a city like this.  Normally there isn’t space or the ability to upkeep such a park.  I walked around for a bit, explored the grounds, snapped photos, went inside and saw the Buddha (leaving a little offering for good luck), and then something remarkable happened.  Like I said this Wat Phnom sat in a park.  Well behind the temple I saw these things running around from a distance.  I thought to myself “what the hell are they?”  As I got closer I realized that they were wild monkeys!  I quickly scurried down the steep, stone, makeshift steps, slipping a little bit along the way and down to their level.  There were monkeys in the trees, on the pavement, in the grass, there were so many.  Of course where there are monkeys in a public park there is food.  There were ladies throughout the park selling bananas and lotus seeds to feed the monkeys with.  I decided to buy lotus seeds, and now I must interject another story.  About once a day I got ripped off big time as a tourist.  It normally only happens once, usually my first purchase or so, because I am not on my game and ready to get down and dirty with the bargaining.  So I walk up to this old lady at her little stand at the park and basically gesture that I want to buy lotus seeds.  These seeds come in a bushel of three and they are inside this plant like structure.  She said “1 dollar.”  I thought that was a little pricey for lotus seeds!  In the end she wouldn’t budge and I had to pay a dollar for 3 lotus plants which had X number of seeds in them.  I went up to my first monkey, pulled out some seeds and handed it him.  As I handed it to the monkey, with his other hand he quickly pulled the whole bushel out of my hand and ran up a tree!  The locals around me were laughing and I was out of my lotus seeds to feed the monkeys with, and I had paid a dollar.  So here comes the punch line.  Next to me was this girl holding her daughter.  In broken English she asked me how much did I pay for the seeds?  I told her a dollar and she started laughing, asking me “isn’t that expensive?”  I said “yes extremely expensive, I got ripped off, but she would not lower her price.”  She asked me if I wanted more seeds to feed the monkeys I said yes.  She said “give me 1000 riel and I will buy more for you.”  At that point I knew that I had been severely ripped off.  The old lady charged me 4 times more because I was a tourist then what a local would know to pay and be able to pay.  So I handed her the 1000 Riel and she slyly handed me the bushel of lotus seeds without the old lady seeing.  I was back baby and ready to feed some monkeys.

In the end I was able to feed the monkeys and video tape it at the same time.  I ended up spending like an hour feeding the monkeys in the park.  Don’t worry they were extremely docile with the humans, only fierce between each other.  I was also able to see monkeys doing it like monkeys (if you know what I mean).  They were basically just living their life in this park and that was extremely cool to watch, photograph and videotape.  After I was done with all my lotus seeds, I started chatting with this weird fellow who lived in Cambodia, was married to a Thai woman and was originally for California.  He reminded me of the guy from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.  You know that crazy hick who finds Harold and Kumar and says that he can fix their car with that pickup.  Then his wife is like really hot and that whole seen.  Well this dude kind of looked and spoke like that guy, minus the boils on his face, but didn’t have teeth either.  We had a nice chat and eventually I said I had to go.  Time was running out before I had to meet the group for the included afternoon activities.

My next stop was the National Museum.  It was 3 dollars to enter and 1 dollar to take photos.  I refused to pay the extra dollar to take photos inside the place.  I mean why the hell am I paying 3 dollars to enter in the first place, if you are going to hit me up for more money?  After going back and forth with the dude from the museum, at one point I said to him “Do you work for the museum?  Well I don’t believe you so show me.”  He pulled out his badge and I just hissed at him and walked away.  The museum was really cool.  It had artifacts from as early as the 7th and 8th centuries.  A lot of their artifacts come from the Angkor Archaeological Site, in Siem Riep, Cambodia.  You know the famous Angkor Wat temple.  The Angkor Wat temples are one of the 7 Wonders of the World (either Ancient or regular I still have googled that one yet, anyone know?)

Anyway after the museum, I jumped in the tuk tuk, the driver took me home and I was back with plenty of time before we had to meet at 130.  I decided it was a good time to back up my photos on to my external hard drive that I bought in Hong Kong.  No matter what happens to this computer, if my photos are safe, who cares right?  I sure don’t its only a computer, it is not “just only photos!”  130 rolled around and I had forgotten to shower.  It was fine it was looking like rain so I didn’t bother.  This afternoon was going to be an extremely confronting and emotional one.  This afternoon we were set to visit the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh as well as the Killing Fields of Cambodia.  I had always joked that I wanted to see the Killing Fields of Cambodia to my dad, but never realized what they really were.  For those who don’t know about the genocide of Cambodia during the 1970’s just google Pol Pot, look on Wikipedia and read about it.  It has the potential, if the numbers are correct to be the second worst genocide since the holocaust.  Granted I have no idea how many died between the Hutu and the Tutsi, or with Darfur, but a rough estimate has about 3,000,000 Cambodians being killed during the Pol Pot regime.  He basically killed every Cambodian who was educated, wore glasses, or who’s skin was not darn.  If you were educated you were killed because Pol Pot didn’t want the educated to try and rise up with the local people to overthrow him, so they killed every doctor, teacher, lawyer, anyone they could find they killed.  If you wore glasses again educated so he killed anyone who wore glasses.  Finally if you got passed the first two, if your skin wasn’t dark, you were never a farmer, therefore educated (probably worked in an office or school or whatever) and you were killed.

Very tragic stuff that most of the world at least my generation and younger has absolutely no clue about.  You ask anyone 21 or younger who Pol Pot was, do they know about the Cambodian Genocide or the what the Killing Fields were, they were just look at you dumbfounded.  It is a shame we do not teach our children about such a travesty.  The sad part is the that world knew about and did not do anything about it.  Pol Pot regime ended when the Vietnamese eventually invaded Cambodia and overthrew Pol Pot who ran away to the jungle and eventually died of Malaria from being in the jungle for so long.  He was never tried for any murder and all of his soldiers and high ranking officials were either given amnesty by the King afterwards or were defected in to the current government and most still even work in the government today!

So our first stop was the genocide museum where basically during Pol Pot he turned most schools in to prisons.  We got to see one of the prisons.  It was horrific to see the pictures and the stories from our guide Ron.  He was my personal favorite out of the entire trip and knew everything about Pol Pot and the genocide.  He had personally lived through it, so that added a bit to it.  He lost basically his entire family; 5 brothers and sisters, father, aunts, uncles, the whole lot.  He was only 5 at the time and still he told us he had to work in a teenage camp working the fields all day, no food, minimal water, many starved to death.  I can go on and on but the only reason why I stop now and mention this in the first place is that I hope that even if one person who reads this entry goes and googles Pol Pot and reads about what happened, that I have been successful in trying to spread the word of these events.

Our second stop were the Killing Fields; again very confronting.  We were shown the mass graves that the people had to dig before they were killed and thrown in, or just thrown in anyway and buried alive.  There were so many in just one field, and Ron told us that there were about 43 mass graves still kept in the ground and that they would never be excavated.  All in all I think there were approximately 19,000 dead in the killing field I went too and Ron said this was just one of hundreds.  There are hundreds of such killing fields in Cambodia and a few sites that have been dug up and dedicated to the dead and murder with a stupor or some monument.  Another quick story.  The way Pol Pot kept the Cambodians from going in to Thailand was that he buried millions of landmines along the border.  While many have been dug up and defused, Ron said about 600 people a year are killed from stepping on landmines still in the ground.  Ron told us that the soldiers would not just bury one in one spot, but would pile 6 or 7 vertical in a row, making for a massive explosion.  Another reason why there are still mines in Cambodia is that it is really expensive to defuse them.  I think the expression is something like “it takes 3-4 dollars to plant a landmine and a 1000 dollars to defuse it.”  That is the main reason why there are still landmines.  Another reason is that Pol Pot used plastics a lot and machines cannot find the plastics, well maybe today they can, but Cambodia just does not have the resources for such equipment and etc…

While we were leaving the Killing Fields it started to rain.  It rained like I have never seen before.  I know I have wrote that before on this blog, but this was some serious rain.  It was completely dark out, rain clouds like I have never seen and it was down pouring.  The roads immediately began to flood with water.  You did not see any drains in the street and I wondered where all the water went?  When we got closer to town traffic was seriously gridlocked.  Oh yea Cambodia really doesn’t have traffic lights so that is a problem when you have many lanes trying to get through, some going straight across, some making turns, usually there is traffic police to help direct, but in this rain there weren’t any to be found.  It took us quite a while to get close to the hotel and when we were finally pretty close the bus driver did not think he could get through to the hotel.  The roads were so flooded and the water was so high, kids were swimming in the streets, the waves from the buses looked like tidal waves and would crash in to open shops, and on to people.  The motorbikes were still trying to make their way through and most were able too.  These damn motorbikes are like wonder bikes.  They can do it all and survive anything, even torrential rain storms.  The bus driver decided to give it a shot and try and make it through.  We were all ready to get out and walk, even though the water looked gross and the amount of bacteria in the water was probably enough to kill us all, we were ready for the challenge.  Before we got that chance, the bus driver decided to give it a shot.  We made it back to the hotel, but it took awhile.  Of course this was the one day I decided not to eat breakfast and did not have time for lunch so I was pretty hungry and a little crabby.  When the bus stopped I immediately ran to the restaurant next to the hotel which remarkably had not flooded at all.  Come to think of it, none of the roads near the river and around the hotel were flooded at all.  Boy they were lucky.  I ended up ordering spaghetti with meat sauce, some French fries, two beers and water.  I needed it all, and was quite satisfied after dinner.

I elected not to join the group for dinner since I had already eaten dinner, and apparently that was a good choice.  Morrie had said getting to and from dinner was a whole project and that they had to take a tuk tuk through the murky and diseased water.  Score for me.  I ended up staying up, relaxing and testing all the movies/shows/music cds I had purchased earlier in the day.  All of them worked except for three.  I had to get up, put clothing on and run to the shop in the pouring ran to exchange them.  It was no problem and the girl apologized and handed me three new ones.  She tested them for me and they worked.  I have a inclination that it is my dvd player in my computer and not the dvds or music cds.  Just like when I tried to use my new SD memory cards in my slot and they didn’t work, but in a newer computer they did; probably the same thing; the dvd player is a little old and the technology on the dvds is probably new, so I think they will definitely work great on my small dvd player at home.  I can’t wait to get home, lay in bed, in my cool air conditioned room and just watch movies and tv shows all day and all night.  Ahhhh the life.  As Uncle Jay says “I hope I can grow up to live like you.”

That was basically my night.  I also opened up my music cds and put them on to my computer and then on to my IRIVER.  I still have to put a few more on, but was happy to get those on as well.  I also figured out finally after a few years how to maneuver my way through the IRIVER, which was nice and was able to delete some music and clear the way for some new stuff.


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