Matthew's News and Gossip

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Monday, November 25, 2002

Catching up on past history. So I left the Hello guesthouse ($4 a night) and after a nice early journey on top of a fast boat past lots of floating houses on the huge Tone Slap lake, I arrived in Phnom Phen to be greated by more hotel touts than I've ever seen in my life! There after some screwing around I arived at the seedy and smelly series of guesthouses by the nice but small lake. I should have stayed by the river, but $3 a night one of the guesthouses was cheap enough, although the stench was sufficient that copious alchohol was required for sleep. Luckily the "Heart of Darkness" bar provided that and along with several Canadians and some other random ex-pats I achieved that state on my one night out in Phnom Phen.

The rest of the day in Phnom Phen was a little grisly. The major attractions in town are the Royal Palace (including the Silver Pagoda, of which the floor is silver but sadly mostly covered and no photos allowed, although I sneaked this one), the National Museum (in pretty good shape considering what happened from 1970 to 1993 in Cambodia, here's Heidi in the cafe), and then to remind you of the Khmer Rouge's little experiment, the Toul Sleng prison and the Killing Fields. Believe it or not, the Killing Fields are rather peaceful; strange to think that 18,000 people were shot or clubbed to death there in little over 3 years. The prison is not. It has plenty of art of the various tortures conducted there from an artist who was one of the seven survivors found in the prison by the Vietnamese when they took over in early 1979, and photos that the Khmer Rouge took of their victims (mostly other Khmer Rouge by the way), who were forced to "confess" in a fashion similar to Stalinist Russia. When my PDA shows up (soon I hope) I will soon write a little essay about Cambodia sumarizing an excellent book I read puttng the whole 1970-1979 experience in context. However, any way you dress it up, roughly 1 million people were evacuated from Phnom Phen in under 2 days and forced to work in the fields for the next 4 years, and although the killing was not totally sytematic, and the worst mass murders appear to be factional power struggles withing the Khmer Rouge, a combination of starvation and executions put paid to over 1 million people in under 4 years. And because the Vietnamese (rather humanely) stepped in and drove the Khmer Rouge to the border, the Chinese, the CIA and British secret service helped them run a guerrilla war for the next 12 years. Not a pretty part of western history.

The full set of photos (sorry, you'll have to sign in) are here

Leaving Phnom Phen was a good deal more amusing. We thought we'd bought tickets for a boat ride, so obviously we drove for an hour in a mini-bus next to the river instead of just going to the dock. Then it was chaos. All traffic stopped because a section of a bridge had collapsed. Eventually a guy from our boat company appeared and told us that we could walk around the bridge and get motos- a moto is a guy riding a bike, you ride behind, and it's the standard form of transport in SE Asia -- to the boat. So we put on our packs and walked to the bridge, then into the mud. I was doing OK, but Canadian starlet Vicki lost her shoe and, being the gallant gentleman that I am, I went to retrieve it. Soon I was knee-deep in mud and sinking fast. I thought it was quite funny, but I only got out by digging a clear space about my feet with my hands and then being hauled out by two locals!

The other amusing part was at the border. First we all got very grumpy when we had to go to the health department where an official demanded 2000 Vietnamese Dong from each of us. After a minute I asked the guide how much 2000 dong was. When we found out that it was 14 cents US, we decided to pay up. Then we went to lunch while the guide went to customs. The guide then told us that 2 out of the 6 of us had to talk to customs and bring our bags, which were sitting on the boat which was never searched. When we went to customs the very chatty officer didn't even bother to search our bags--and he wouldn't even let me bribe him with cigarrettes!

Soon enough we were in the Vietnamese border town of Chau Doc. (Here's a map of southern Vietnam, look bottom left!) There ain't many tourists in Chau Doc (in fact that river border crossing only just opened) and we were quite an attraction. Every Vietnamese kid knows "Hallo", and my "Chau Bans" were flying forth. The only confusing thing is that despite Chau Doc being on the Mekong and just down the river from Can Tho our next destination the only boat that would take us there belonged to a posh Hotel chain, would cost $50 and didnt go for three days. However, I did do a quick tour of the floating houses, fish pens, and floating pig pens (I kid you not!), all rowed past by my driver, a very aggressive 16 year old girl. Outside a Cham mosque (center of the very small muslim community in Vietnam) a kid kept on throwing what I thought was a badminton shuttle-cock at my feet. I had kow idea what it was until 5am a couple of mornings later when I was awakend by a steady clicking. The shuttle cock has a spring in it, and it's the local version of hacky sack. So it clicks when kicked, and the clicking was 4 Viet kids keeping it up in a metronome-like fashion on the deserted street!

That night we wondered around and eventually got snookeered into a drinking contest with 3 policemen. Their English was a little limited, but we got very into the whole "Cheers and 50%" phenomenon. Cheers in Vietnam is "Zo!", or at least that's what they said. All the other southern Viets we met say it's Yo! in the south and Zo! in the north. But the police claimed to be southerners...

Later we went out for a great meal, and were introduced to the new way of "pizza delivery". This we found out is the least of things moved around on a scooter in Vietnam. I've seen huge bags of fertilizer and several washing machines! The next day Vicki and I got up and went to CanTho, first stopping at Sam Mountain to look at the great view. We dumbly thought there was a road to the top, but our mini-bus dropped us off at a path that led to 1 million steps straight up, and I discovered that my much vaunted fitness campaign had stalled! Luckily we had some keen guides, but I was a little miffed to get to the top and find that there was a road from the other side! Also at the top was a house with a man watching two replayed English soccer games on two TVs at the same time, and a pair of unhappy caged monkeys! (In fact motley semi-Zoos with unhappy animals are standard in Vietnam). However the greatest cultural find was a poster of Andy Gibb (the one NOT in the Bee Gees) randomly stuck to an outside wall!

The bus to Can Tho was totally uneventful. Vicki went to sleep, actually she stayed that way for the next few days, only waking up to explain to the people on the next bus that I wasn't her boyfriend but was instead Satan. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We spent the early next monring (hence the 5 am footbag incident) on a very noisy cruise round some floating markets. Most of the amusing stuff was buying a cup of coffee on the water, seeing all the industrial activity based on the water, and watching our captain go overboard to clean weeds off the propeller.

Here's the whole Mekong Delta set (Yes, you'll have to sign in to Ofoto, sorry!)

And as has been mentioned in this blog before, $1.25 buys you a hairwash and an amazing head massage. A further $1.25 turns this into that.
posted by matthew  # 8:15 PM
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