Saturday, December 10, 2011

Same Same, But Different (SS-BD)

In Cambodia, they have a phrase "Same-same, but different!'.  Amazing how many times I've used it over the past few days!

Although our flight was booked for December 6th, we closed up our home for the winter on Sunday Dec 4, and left it in the capable and trusted care of a local man, a former policeman, who makes a small business out of keeping watch over residences of a few snowbirds.  This year we left our car in the garage, and were picked up by my brother-in-law Bill, who brought us to Sarnia, where we spent the day at my Mom's.  On Monday, Bill (assisted by 'Susan,' our friendly GPS), drove us to our hotel in Detroit, where we spent a leisurely evening.  I programmed 'Susan' to get Bill back home, and when I chatted with my sister recently, she joked that Bill was still driving around Detroit trying to get home.

It's our third tour of duty volunteering in Cambodia, and our fourth time (SS), but it's the first time we've flown out of Detroit (BD).  Kind of nice for a change, since our flight left at 10:30 am,so we actually got to enjoy the free continental breakfast before leaving our hotel.  In past, we've flown out of Buffalo and had to crawl out of bed at an ungodly hour, so sleeping until 6 am was a real luxury.  

We took 2 large jam-packed bags each, mostly supplies for our volunteer work (SS).  Sadly, United Airlines has begun charging $70 each for our 2nd bag (BD).  Even though we begged them appealed to them on the basis that we're volunteering and carrying much needed medical & construction supplies, they refused to consider waiving the extra baggage fee.  Apparently there are cut-backs everywhere :-(

Three flights and one day later , we arived in Bangkok just before midnight (SS).  This time, our first two flights were delayed, resulting in a wild and hairy race through the long corridors and security inspection of Narita airport (BD).  They held the plane for us, and the man who'd nabbed our (apparently) unoccupied seats looked rather disappointed when we showed up to claim them.

We grabbed a few hours of sleep in a hotel in Bangkok and left for Cambodia the next morning (SS).  This time we decided to go overland, since the flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap is quite costly, so we hired a taxi (BD). 
It was a wild four-hour ride to the Thai-Cambodia border.  On top of the fact that Thais drive on the left,  I am convinced our driver was practicing for NASCAR.

Thai Taxi

At the border, we had to go through the usual passport check and visa application process (SS), but the walk across the border and between each 'checkpoint' was quite a distance (at least 1/2 mile total), and this time it took an extra 'fee' (ie greasing the palm of the official) to get the final OK (BD).  There is a similar feel here to crossing the US-Canada border.  A certain tension hangs in the atmosphere, even though most of the officials seem bored to tears; you only speak when spoken to, and make direct eye contact while trying to look pleasant an innocent.  It was well worth the $5 'fee' to get out of there and get on with our journey.

Luckily for us, there were Cambodians waiting on the Thai side anxious to arrange our taxi on the Cambodian side of the border, who walked us through the border-crossing process for a small tip.  In addition, two little boys with a rickety trolley were delighted for the opportunity to truck our 4 heavy bags across the border.  In retrospect, it was well worth the $6 we paid them. I 'm sure we'd have died trying to drag those huge bags through that LONG process ourselves.  I had a few moments of panic wondering if our bags and taxi would be waiting for us on the other side, but in true Cambodian fashion, these young lads were very trustworthy, and everything was exactly as they said it would be. 

We piled into the back seat of our taxi for yet another wild ride.  In Cambodia, cars drive on the right side, but typically spend at least 30% of the time in the left lane, all the while honking their horns to warn other cars, motos, bicycles, pedestrians, and/or cows they are passing.  I spent most of that day with my eyes closed.
Relaxing in the restaurant of our guesthouse.  Do I look tired or what

Since we've arrived, I've noticed so many things that are SSBD.  We're staying at the same place (MotherHome Guesthouse), even on the same floor, but we're in the room at the end of the hall, instead of the one right near the main staircase, where the comings and goings of the guests was often disturbing.  It's a corner room with windows on  two sides, and the floor plan is reversed from last year which has me a bit disoriented. Whereas last year's room had all painted walls, this one has dark wood wainscotting and maroon brocade drapes, which  I find it less cheery. (I'll take quiet over cheery any day.)  There are a lot of new staff members, since many of the more experienced ones have gone to work at the new MotherHome Inn, but a few familiar faces are still here, and we were warmly welcomed back by them with hugs,sompeahs (bowing) and much happiness all around.

We have a lizard sharing our quarters.
 He's about 5 inches long and usually hides behind the drapes.
He's usually pretty quiet and only chirps when we turn on the lights at night.

The neighbourhood is almost the same, but a few new buildings have gone up.  Still the country atmosphere in the midst of the city remains, with roosters crowing, big palm trees, and hens and chicks picking in the dirt road.   Our guesthouse is around the corner and down a narrow lane from the main road, which still has not been paved.  For the first time ever, we were here early enough in the season to experience a heavy downpour, and the red dirt roads were mud-holes for two solid days.  I won't bother to describe what our shoes and feet looked like, but it wasn't pretty.
The street leading to our guesthouse

It got worse the second day....

Mostly we've spent the pasts few days setting up house, shopping for some basic supplies, and trying to catch up with old friends and acquaintances.  We've reunited with many of our old friends, all with joyous hugs and squeals of glee... Everyone is so warm and all are so expressive in their delight.  Mostly they haven't changed, though some are sporting new haircuts and one friend has slimmed down considerably, not from illness, but from exercise.  Unfortunately one of our friends is quite sickly, still getting over a debilitating bout of Dengue Fever and Typhoid.  I suppose everyone notices that we're slimmer too, but they probably wouldn't mention it, since to Cambodians plumpness is a sign of affluence, and they're either too afraid or too polite to question our weight loss.

We've been to the orphanage for a brief visit to drop off a load of supplies.  So many things are the same, but SO different!  A huge number of changes have taken place, which I will try to blog about separately with more pictures.  There has been a lot of construction going on and a fourth house is in the beginning stages of being erected.  Although I'd hoped to see the children, most of them were in school that afternoon.  Only a few were there that I recognized from last year, and I was almost knocked over by three little girls who ran to greet me and threw their arms around me.  That was true joy!  The number of resident children has risen from 32 to 46, and a lot of village come to the site for English classes now, so I will have a lot of new names and faces to familiarize myself with. 

Amazingly, I still remember a lot of the Khmer words I learned last year, andwe both are working hard to increase our vocabulary and speaking ability.  It's quite a challenge, but we keep plugging away.  Everyone is so ready to teach us, and it's a lot of fun to learn.

One thing we have learned is that life here in Cambodia is all about change and challenges and making the best out of what you have.   Truly every day is 'Same Same But Different' and it makes getting up each morning a real delight. 

Unloading wood - Most cooking here is done with wood fires.
(And I thought I had it rough?!)

Eating in restaurants here can be quite an experience. 
The resident cat decided to curl up on my lap for a nap.


  1. Dorothy, love reading your update. It sounds like the corruption at the border is a bit worse than it was two years ago. Funny, I can't recall a half mile walk - this is Aranyaprathet-Poipet I assume.

    You may be able to qualify for two free checked bags each next year if either of you accumulates 25,000 miles during 2012. With your return from Cambodia plus the two other trips you have mentioned to me, you may be able to reach that level for 2012. You only really need one of you to qualify. Then book both tickets at the same time and both passengers get the perks. If you qualify at any time during 2012, the favorable rules will apply from that point on plus through all of 2013.

  2. Absolutely vivid! It's a real blessing to have you tell the story Dorothy. Cambodia is still so mysterious and, unfortunately, there is still that stigma hovering over it from the KR. Thus you are like Athena - bringing wisdom like the dawn to dispel the stubborn fog of ignorance.