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Tasty but expensive Cambodian food...

Day 12 (part 2)

semi-overcast

We visited the translation office next, made up of about 10 members, just a single detahed house. They have to do their own housekeeping, while various pioneers come on different days of the week to help with kitchen work. We had lunch together. After that Wathana went for work while I went home to get some rest and watch some TV. Went out with one of the missionaries to a bible study during late evening. Very interesting.

Earlier during the day I had already arranged to have dinner with Wathana, thinking of giving him a treat for spending the morning with me on his fuel expenses. We went to a place called Boat Noodles for some Cambodian fare. Wathana ordered chicken wings and papaya salad, while I tried something called "cha greung". The dish is actually marinated beef or chicken stir fried with lime leaves, lemongrass, turmeric, onions, bean shoots and capsicum. The taste is very nice and unique! But also quite expensive! The meal burnt USD11 out of my pocket. The lighting was again too atmospheric (read: not bright enough) for me to take any meaningful pictures.

Wathana asked if I want him to phone up some friends in Siem Reap to arrange things for me and bring me around. Why not? Went back home and started packing for my early departure tomorrow morning. By now I already sensed that my holiday is coming to an end soon. Sooner than what I felt it to be. I have made a few friends in Phnom Penh, and tthat made all the difference, because without them, Phnom Penh will not be very memorable to me.

Well, maybe except for the genocide museums.

Posted by abellim 03:32 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Sad Day in Phnom Penh

Day 12

sunny

Staying in the Missionary Home gives me the privilege of joining them for Morning Worship at 6:50a.m., 10 minutes earlier than in Malaysia! Around 8 a.m., Wathana came by to bring me around. Wathana is 27 years old, speaks good English and regular pioneering. We will be going to some uncomfortable places today. Historically significant places.

First, Tuol Sleng. From the outside it looks ordinary enough, just an old school building located in the suburbs. But 30 years ago that was the most horrible place on Earth to be in. If ever there is a hell, I think this will be close enough to be one. The ordinariness of it all makes it the more terrifying. Looking into the eyes of the victims (in photographs) tells more stories than any pen can write; looking at the cell rooms shows that human can be more evil than any beast. How did the thousands who were imprisoned here felt? What was their outlook towards life, if any? Was there any hope in their lives?

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Entrance to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

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Just an ordinary school...

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... an ordinary corridor...

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... but instead of desks and chairs, innocent people were tied down...

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... some were kept in cells smaller than a toilet cubicle.

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These are the victims...

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... and these are the murderers...

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... who turned Cambodia into a river of blood.

Next we went to the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, 15km out. The Killing Fields, a term made famous by a movie, or rather a movie made famous by the term. Thousands were brought from various concentration camps to be executed here. Often they were bludgeoned to death, so that the demons can save their precious bullets. There is a stupa in memorial of these dead ones. Inside are thousands of skulls that have been unearthed, displayed for all to see. Imagine, the fear and horror experienced by those who are about to die, or knowing that their family are going to be dead. ~Shivers~

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Cheoung Ek Genocide Memorial Centre

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People were killed and mass buried in places like this...

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Stories about the Killing Fields...

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The stupa...

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... and its bones.

Posted by abellim 07:21 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Bye-bye Vietnam, Hello Cambodia

Day 11

sunny

I got a fright when I woke up. It's 6:30a.m.! I jumped out, got dressed and quickly checked out. I am supposed to reach the bus company 15 minutes before 7a.m., so no time for breakfast! I bought newspapers from a walking vendor, thus I am left with 55k Dong as memorablia.

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The bus that transported me to Cambodia.

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The bus tour guide.

I boarded the bus and was asked to fill in the embarkation card for entering Cambodia, when I realised I lost my pen again! The bus ride was interesting enough, with a guide introducing some of the places that we passed by. But what's even more interesting is the immigration clearance. After 2 hours or so we arrived at the Vietnamese customs. We took down all our luggage for scanning. Seems like the Vietnamese does the scanning of luggage for the Cambodians. After checking our bags, we pass our passports to the guide, and he passes the whole stack to the officer at the counter. The officer will then chop the whole stack of passport without even looking at us and then return the passports to the guide. The guide will then call our names one by one, return our passports, and get us back onto the bus.

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Immigration building.

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Vietnamese customs.

And with that, we officially say bye-bye to Vietnam.
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Then, at the Cambodian border, we alight the bus, bring our passports to an officer standing by the side of the road. He looked at our faces one by one, then looked at the passport, and then let us pass. He will then bring the passports somewhere to be chopped, return them to the guide, who in turn return the passports to us. Amusing. Just hope that the guide is not a crook.

And with that, we officially say hello to Cambodia.
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Scenes along the way to Phnom Penh...
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Another 3.5 hours and we reached Phnom Penh. Just like Vietnam, many motor riders crowd up immediately to get passengers. I went over to the office to get a ticket to Siem Reap on Friday. Then I walked to the missionary home, which is where I will be staying for the next two nights. Its location is very near the city centre, and quite easy to find as the streets in Phnom Penh are quite organised. On a map, the vertical roads are all odd-numbered, while the horizontal ones are even-numbered.

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Welcome to Phnom Penh!

I reached there around 1p.m., and Vern showed me to my room. Very nice place! There are 2 kingdom halls downstairs, and they are going to have chinese meeting tonight! So finally I can hear some Mandarin! Had some lunch and went out for walk around 3p.m. I walked past the royal palace, and strolled along the water front. After that just wandered around the city, tried some local snacks, and made my way back after 5p.m. to prepare for 6p.m. meeting.

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Missionary home.

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My room.

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TV show recordings at the water front.

Streets of Phnom Penh...
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Does this look like Digi?
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Surprise, surprise! The chinese congregation is made up of 100% Japanese. Despite not all of them speak good Mandarin, it is much easier to understand than the Vietnamese I have been hearing all week! Had a nice chat with Vern and Rossana later at night, and then its bed-time.

Posted by abellim 05:54 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Let's go to the zoo...

Day 10 (part 2)

rain

Then I continued my walk towards the zoo. Yes, I am going to the zoo. I caught sight of the zoo and it started to rain all of a sudden! Good thing I have my umbrella with me. Having walked so far, I am not going to turn back just because of the rain. I am going to the zoo. Despite the rain. Entrance fee to the zoo was only 8000 Dong, and the animals here are among the most active I have seen in any zoo. Except for the always lazy crocodiles and hippo. Sure, they don't have the budget for polar bears and penguins (these are very high-maintenance creatures), but for less than RM2, I really have nothing but good things to say about this zoo. It's actually a two-in-one, botanical garden + zoo. I am happy to be here.

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Zoo entrance

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Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

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Hyperactive tiger

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Cute elephants

Show you a video of the elephants. Very cute!!

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Locking horns

It's time to go back and I took the route by the riverside. The river is not something worth mentioning about, but there are a few nice hotel buildings that oversee the river. I reached a point when I got really bored of walkingand got a motor to bring me back to my hotel.

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A school opposite the zoo

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A not-so-pretty riverside view

It's already 5 p.m.+ so I better hurry to prepare myself for meeting. Iwanted to borrow an iron to straighten my shirt, but the hotel did not have one. The guy manning the counter says he will ask around, and within 15 minutes I am ironing my shirt. This is what service is all about, isn't it? I am glad not to be an inch taller than I am otherwise I will be terribly uncomfortable in this room. I got ready and it started raining. Again. Never mind, I have an umbrella, and I walked to the Hall.

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My super low-ceiling room

Meeting starts at 7p.m. What a crowd! There were a hundred in attendance. Made some friends and had an enjoyable evening, despite not understanding 99% of the conversation. Bought kebab for dinner on my way back and ended my last night in Vietnam.

Posted by abellim 06:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Museum-hopping and the Poo Drink

Day 10

sunny

I thought I might wake up late without the alarm, but woke up I did at 5 a.m. I have no idea why, I tried to force myself back to sleep but just couldn't. After tossing around for an hour or so, I decided I am now too awake to go back to sleep. So I got up, took a shower, got dressed and marched towards my new room tonight. Checked-in, left my luggage, and started the day's activities.

My first stop is the Reunification Palace, had pho for breakfast along the way. Tastes better than those in Hanoi, but still nothing incredible. It took me 30 minutes or so to reach the palace. Seems like I am the first visitor! Spent an hour walking around in there, and by the time I left, there was a considerable crowd already.

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The Reunification Palace

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Conference Room

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Cabinet Meeting Room

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Banquet Room

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Map Room

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President's Office

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President's Bedroom

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Library

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Cinema

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Outside View

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Commanding Room during war time (basement level)

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Spare Radio Station, in case the radio station is destroyed by enemies

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President's bedroom during combat duty. So where will his wife be?

Next stop is the War Remnants' Museum. It's a museum more focused on pictorials rather than artifacts. Quite well done and pretty informative. Telling history by means of pictures is moving and overwhelming at the same time. Some of the pictures -- people crying beside their dead loved ones; brave photographers who died or went missing in the course of war; soldiers holding up heads of those beheaded; the tragic fate of Agent Orange victims… It just brings tears to the eyes. I spent a good two hours there, registering the power of photographs.

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War Remnant's Museum

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War statistics

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By now the weather has turned hot again, and I am feeling hungry. It's not even noon yet! I wanted some air-con, so went to a café for lunch. With meals being priced in the middle-range, I can't understand why the staff here don't know a word of English either? I have gotten quite used to this anyway, so I just pointed at something on the menu. Turns out to be pork-chop rice. Tastes ok.

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Saigon traffic. Everyone is a masked crusader!

There is a famous coffee place nearby which serves weasel coffee. What is weasel coffee? Well, elsewhere it is usually referred to as civet coffee, but there is no Vietnamese word for civet, the closest being weasel, thus the name. Then, what is civet coffee? Well, civet coffee is coffee made from coffee berries which have been eaten by and passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet and other related civets. The civets eat the berries, but the beans inside pass through their system undigested. So basically the coffee beans come from the civet's poo. However, there is so limited civet, and even more limited civet poo, so real civet coffee is extremely expensive. The company that owns this famous coffee place is Trung Nguyen, which developed an enzyme treatment process that mimics the changes produced in the coffee beans by the civet and produces a coffee every bit as distinctive and good as the genuine article but at a much cheaper price (and, fortunately, without any involvement from the weasels!).

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Trung Nguyen Coffee

Ok, all the talk about weasel coffee. So how did it taste? Sorry, sold out. So I didn't have the chance to try it. Very disappointing!! I settled with something else, and I can't remember what it is. Anyway, that gives me something to do when I come to Vietnam again next time.

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The coffee that did not leave a deep impression.

Posted by abellim 04:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (11)

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