Trying to decide which is our favourite pen…Bic, Sean or Phnom, 247 days in.
Dear readers, I can stand it no longer and I’m sure you more than likely thought it a bit odd from the off when reading my posts. So I will put an end to it from this moment forth and from now on shall no longer refer to myself in the third person. I thought it would be fun, so that you would not know who had written it, and as well as that, when looking back in the years to come it would be clear who had done what rather than having to remember who had authored that particular entry. But it has it’s limitations and my affair with the third person is now over. Mike is I, init!
Phnom Penh was a hotch-potch of new glass fronted buildings housing banks and commerce for the Range Rover set,to grotty side-streets full of rats, grime and food stalls all vying for space along the confluence of Tongle Sap and the Mekong riverfront. It is truly incredible how many top end luxury 4×4’s bully their way through the hustling motorbikes, perhaps emphasised by the lack of any mid range cars in-between; you’re either massively loaded or simply scratch a living.
Arriving at the weekend made little difference to the guesthouse bubble where we located ourselves, with the streets full of restaurants, hotels and somewhere for the lonely hearted men to go later at night; but it did mean the locals were out in force, picnicking along the pleasant waterfront and Sisowath square with vendors of all sorts of food and toys and barely a space left unoccupied. It was a colourful affair. We later on discovered that the small winkles that were being knocked back by one and all were “oysters”, it sure lead to some disappointment when our “oysters” arrived at our table a night later, but they tasted okay (although Helen’s stomach would probably disagree).
The main attraction in town is S21. The school turned torture site of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. I had been before, 11 years ago and the prison cells were as haunting now as then, empty save for a solitary iron bed frame where ‘confessions’ were extracted out of up to 20000 people, virtually all of whom were later executed by pick axe at the nearby site of Choeung Ek. The story is an evil one, but told extremely well on the audio guide and exhibits at the museum. It’s shameful to discover that for years during and after the atrocities that the UN and our western nations actually supported the leadership and still to this day only a handful of trials have resulted in the prosecution of it’s leaders, with none of the guards, executioners or torturers behind bars despite many years of court appearances and testimonies. We mooched around for the rest of the day with the odd sense that anyone older than me would have been caught up to some extent in the regime, maybe supporters, maybe victims, and now they were chopping cabbage for my fried rice.
We next headed north to the quite town of Kratie on the banks of the mighty Mekong. The main reason tourists show up to this quiet town is for a chance to see Irrawaddy dolphins and who are we to question this. So with our friendly tuktuk driver we boarded a small boat 30 minutes journey out of town. At this point the Mekong is about one kilometre wide and has a strong flow and so with the engine off the boatman had a job keeping us in position. But the old man was a dab hand and soon enough the Dolphins were coming up for air nearby. Of course, like all wildlife in this world the Dolphins are under threat (by Muslims and the Vietnamese according to our Khmer guide) – fishing and getting caught in nets being the main problems, and so tourists pay $9 each to help protect the area; I just feel l that perhaps they should tell the Dolphins then they might put on more of a show! There was no leaping out of the water or backflipping to see.
On the journey back, Sey invited us into his home, a stilted, corrugated roofed, two room wooden building, with no electricity, mains water or, well, pretty much anything, save some family photo’s and two Buddhist mini shrines. But in the summer it’s too hot to sleep inside anyway, and having little in the house means the kids are always out with their friends just as soon as school is over!
Although we have no running events lined up, I try to keep up the training and for the first time in eight months I returned back from a ten kilometre tempo session soaked by something other than my own sweat; rain! Not that we haven’t seen rain for eight months; it heaved it down to biblical proportions back in the Philippines, but it has been a rare event, with just a few wet days in Nepal to report from the last four months. Either way, running out of the towns into the small villages and communities that stretch out along the roadsides is great fun, and the rain only makes it better. The marriage of running (a sport still pretty novel outside of the capital) and being a westerner (only seen through the window of a bus) makes you quite the attraction for the fleeting moments you jog past someone’s home, and with most homes being open fronted shops, that adds up to be a lot of fleeting moments! Kids shouting hello, young girls waving, teenage boys giving a casual nod, women smiling and old men laughing, and all in return for a quick wave. From time to time a young boy in just his pants will run alongside you for a short while (never allow yourself to be behind in these situations), and on other occasions bicycles might catch you up briefly before going back on their way. It also allows you to travel without hassle; walking allows tuktuk drivers and street vendors to tout for your custom, but running is your pass card through. The only disappointment with running in Cambodia so far…a drought of hills means no punishing hill reps, I can only dream of the Clumps back home!