Its Alive!

Yup I got the Mac fixed! I managed to find someone in Korea who knew how to work on them and had the appropriate spare parts laying around. Its up and running good as new!

Now I am working on my graduate school applications which is taking up all of my free time right now. I promise, as soon as applications are done in mid December I will get working on this blog again. I know, famous last posts right?

I may also be returning to the US for short time in February depending on the success or failure of my applications. If I end up getting accepted somewhere then I will not be back in the States until August or September. If I do not get accepted then I will return to see the family in February during my spring break.

I am not sure where I will decide to work next year if I do not go back to school. China is looking more and more appealing these days but I am just starting to get a handle on my Korean language and would hate to try and develop a new one all over again!

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My Mac Died….

After serving me faithfully for almost six years my G4 PowerBook finally died. Its been through hell and back but somehow managed to keep ticking. I wish it had kept working for just five more months so that I wouldn’t have to replace it until I got back to the states but….

I just bought a desktop I found on Craigslist and will be updating the site more regularly after that. Until then just check out my crazyguyonabike journal. Its almost finished! http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/seoultoyeosu

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Yes, I am still alive!

I know there have not been any new posts since I got back from vacation. Thats because I have been working on something special. I am currently writing my very first tour journal for Crazyguyonabike.com! After spending countless hours at work and home reading others journals from that cite I have felt the overwhelming urge to give something back.

You can view the journal as a work in progress here:

http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/seoultoyeosu

I am putting a fair amount of effort into it so I will probably not post any pictures from my tour across Korea on this blog.

Enjoy!
-Eddie

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S-21 and the Killing Fields

The friendliness of the Cambodian people is in stark contrast to the savagery of their recent history. After visiting what remains of the Cambodian civilization at its climax during my visit to the Royal Palace and National Museum yesterday, today I explored their history at its lowliest. A powerful and sobering two days for me.

My firs stop was the Tuol Sleng Museum better known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). This site used to be a public high school before the Khmer Rouge took power. In 1975 it was then turned into a concentration camp and torturous prison designed to produce confessions from the enemies of Pol Pot who were, more often than not, Cambodian. Even today the place still reeks of decay. The high profile prisoners were held in their own former classrooms tied down to wire beds and forced to defecate on themselves. The rest of the prisoners where held in mass on the second and third floors of the buildings. If remember right only 14 people survived S-21 while the rest either died there or were taken to the nearby Killing Fields for execution. During its peak S-21 averaged about 100 victims per day.

After the S-21 I was very hungry and good thing too. My bad first experiences with Cambodian food the previous day put me in the mood for a quality Cambodian style meal. Unfortunately I think thats exactly what I got. The restaurant was empty except for me and was open to the road as seems to be the style. The menu was written completely in Khmer so I did what I always do in this situation, I asked the server what they like to eat. He didn’t speak much English but was able to recommend the most expensive thing on the menu, typical. Thats fine, it may very well be his favorite after all and I was in need of a good meal!

It was the most expensive thing on the menu because it was beef. Beef is relatively expensive in most of Asia and so far, Cambodia seems to be no exception. The waiter, in broken English, told me it was “Beef with red ants eggs,” sure I thought. I’m game. Eggs certainly don’t sound too bad and I always like trying something new. However, there were no red ant eggs to be found, only red ants! At first all I saw was an insect wing sticking out of one of my food. I was about to chalk it up to poor hygiene in the kitchen until I looked a little closer. The entire sauce was made of red ants. There must have been a hive and half in there. Oh well, good thing I was hungry.

After you stopped looking at the stuff the taste was actually quite nice. The beef was very juicy and the sauce was a kind of sweet teriyaki flavor. The ants themselves were not as crunchy as I had thought they would be. Perhaps they boiled them in the sauce to soften them? I tried eating a few of the ants by themselves to isolate the flavor as best I could. What I got out of it was that they had a very mild spice to them and that the texture was actually quite palatable.

In Cambodia anything that is edible is fair game. In their recent past they have been through so many famines that eating anything with calories has become a part of their culinary culture. I like the opened mindedness of it all and the meal, while not what I was expecting, tasted fine.

Next stop was the Killing Fields. I hired a moto taxi to take me as it was a little ways outside of town. My driver insisted on coming into the Fields with me. Perhaps he thought I might not come back to pay him or maybe he just wanted to ensure my business for the ride home? In any case, I don’t think that he had ever been there before. The Killing Fields, as a tourists attraction, have been highly criticized on the international level for being run by a private Japanese company. Again, Cambodia is quite corrupt and I am sure that some politician is making a good kick back. The Killing Fields themselves are such a painful reminded to Cambodians about their dark past but the fact that they themselves are not allowed to profit from it is just insult to injury. Moving on.

It was quite interesting seeing the reactions of my random taxi driver as we read the memorial plaques and informational signs together, his in Khmer and mine in English. He seemed to take it pretty hard. I had thought about asking to take his picture but he was in a fairly emotional state and I didn’t want to be rude.

The Killing Fields are where over 17,000 Cambodians lost their lives at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Many of them were former prisoners at S-21. While most of the graves have been exhumed and the remains placed in a newly built memorial stupa, to walk through the Kill Fields is to be walking on people. Every year the summer monsoon rains come and reveal a previously undiscovered mass grave or two. There are literally bones and clothes coming out of the ground all around the place. Particularly disturbing was the Killing Tree where infants were held by the legs and beaten against its trunk before being thrown into the nearby hole. In a glass case is a large pile of dirty baby clothes recovered from the same hole.

After such a emotionally charged day I decided I needed to end it somewhat peacefully and had my driver drop me off at Wat Phnom at the center of town. This was a great place for people watching and I again cursed myself for not having a better quality camera to capture the Cambodians at play in the park. There were several elephants getting a bath and vendors selling small toys and kites.

Nearby to Wat Phnom I went for my first of many massages in Cambodia and Thailand. I had been too worried about trying to find a legitimate masseuses in Vietnam to ever take the plunge. However, in Cambodia I new of a non-profit massage parlor called “The Healing Hands.” They train blind people who would otherwise not have any legitimate means of income to be professional masseuses. Some of them were born blind while others lost their sight due to Agent Orange or land mines. My masseuses spoke excellent English and seemed well educated. One hour set me back about six bucks. More expensive than most but its for a good cause and I knew I didn’t have to worry about too much sleaze. Plus my back really needed the attention. After carrying a backpack around 24/7 for the last four weeks the massage was a wonderful indulgence.

An elephant getting a bath near Wat Phnom

A colorful fountain at a school near Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom

Cambodia Traffic from the back of a Motorcycle Taxi

Bones protruding from the ground at the Killing Fields

A quite lake at the Killing Fields

Mass graves at the Killing Fields

A mass grave at the Killing Fields

The tree that babies were beaten against before being thrown into the mass grave.

Exhumed mass grave

Sign at the Killing Fields

Clothes and bones still coming out of the ground.

Baby Clothes

An exhumed mass grave.

More mass graves

More remains

More bones and clothes coming up out of the ground.

I can't believe they let people walk here.

The skulls of 17,000 Cambodians.

Wonder what made this? Hope it was quick.

Children begging for money from tourists at the Killing Fields.

The new resting place of the 17,000 Cambodians murdered a the Killing Fields.

Surprisingly not the worst meal I had in Cambodia and yes, I finished it all.

Cell block at Tuol Sleng

Tuol Sleng

Tuol Sleng

Tuol Sleng

I am not at all sure if this was here for the tourists or for the previous prisoners.

Tuol Sleng

A cell at Tuol Sleng

Someplace that I was not supposed to be at Tuol Sleng.

An image of one of the prisoners being held at Tuol Sleng.

An image of one of the prisoners being held at Tuol Sleng.

The very same bed as it sits today.

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Break Dancing Competition in Phnom Penh

Thats right, you read it right. I was walking through what I thought was a night market but turned out to be a special event. The apparently annual Nokia Break Dancing Competition. Entrance was free and the night market around the event was cool in-unto itself. Teams of Cambodian break dancers battled it out for over two hours with a half young and hip crowd mix with a bewildered older generation of onlookers.

I met a fellow English teacher (Kiwi) who was working in the capital with his girlfriend who was a volunteer doctor (British). They were friends with two of the MCs who were rapping on stage that night from New York. We all went out for drinks afterwards eventually ended up on top of a boat in the central lake of the city. The lake is actually currently being drained to make room for some of the first high-rise apartment complexes for the wealthy of the city. Did I mention that Cambodia was incredibly corrupt?

The pictures and video are not amazing which is pretty much how I feel about my camera in general. I can’t wait to go on some trips with the new camera! For you we will all just have to deal with what I got though.

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Phnom Penh: The Royal Palace and National Museum

The first day in Phnom Penh was a busy one. Besides walking around for hours trying to find an ATM (which ONLY dispense American dollars by the way) I made it to and through the Royal Palace and National Museum. Some kind of weird, “I’m in a new country!” energy over took me. That and it was also just a really nice day outside.

I invested a good chunk of cash into a quality rain jacket only to never get rained on once in SE Asia. Thanks for the advice Lonely Planet. To be fair though, I did use it a few times in Japan and Korea.

There is really not all that much to say about the Palace and the Museum other than “WOW”… Look at those pictures. Amazing. I read a lot of history books while in Vietnam and Cambodia so most of my thoughts swirled around the spectacular nature of the old Khmer and Vietnamese empires. The Khmer in particular is interesting because of its relative obscurity in my own American education despite that fact that it once occupied the vast majority of South East Asia.

At this point in time I would rather not try to relate why I found the history of these places so fascinating. If you are interested in such subjects pick up a history text book. In the future I will try to do a better job of bestowing upon the reader a bit more of the importance of such places as I visit them, but as my blog is already languishing over three months behind current happenings I will spare both the reader and myself the time.

Even on my first day I had a hard time finding a decent meal in Cambodia. I definatley could have been in all the wrong places at all the wrong times or my frugality could have gotten the better of me in this paticular country. In every other country I have found the street food to been superior to the much more expensive Western style meals that could be had there. Cambodia was a rare exception. My first meal, and I was starving, were cold noodles with a tomato sauce and gritty fish paste. The flavor was not all that bad, though it had little of it, but the gritty ground fish texture really put me off. I have eat a lot of strange things in my life (my entry about eating dog in Korea is still my most popular to date) but Cambodia took the cake, or rather I would have taken a cake had I been able to find one.

Another thing that stood out in Cambodia vs. Vietnam, besides the more friendly people, was the poverty. While many Vietnamese were indeed “poor” by our standards they still usually had fairly clean clothes, homes that looked like they could withstand a strong wind, and were more often than not working. In Cambodia much of this was different. I quite liked that Cambodians were more relaxed and not as workaholic as their neighbors but the poverty was noticeably worse. Though historically I doubt it could have been any other way with only the very recent departing of the Khmer Rouge. This impression could also have been bolstered by the huge extremes in wealth brought on by corruption on a massive scale in the capital city. Mothers with six naked children on the road side selling cheap crap to tourists while the children of the political elite drive by in their Lexus and Hummer SUVs.

All together I quite liked Phnom Penh and it was a nice change from being in Vietnam. Despite being labeled as one of the most dangerous cities in SE Asia I had no such problems and never felt threatened, even when walking alone at night (not by choice). I was getting quite excited to see what else this country might have to offer the adventurous traveler.

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Border Crossing: Vietnam to Cambodia

I was sick and tired of busses so I opted for a river boat crossing on the boarder between Vietnam and Cambodia. While it was a nice change of pace the boat was much slower and the engine, located right inside the passenger compartment, was loud as hell. I felt like I just got home from a rock concert by the time I actually got off the boat on the Cambodian side.

Before making it to the border town I stopped at a Buddhist cave temple just next to the boarder with Cambodia. Very nice and clean. The inside of the cave was a nice place to rest for a bit because of the heat during this time of year, as we were getting into the hottest part of the summer.

I arrived at the boat dock in Vinh Xoung after the last boat had already left. Some of the other foreigners who were also waiting for the next mornings boat went out for a night of Karaoke. Vinh Xoung was a tiny town but we managed to find a good place with help from a local tour guide who came out with us. This was my first encounter with a very nice French couple from outside of Paris. I would run into them periodically all throughout Cambodia and Thailand over the next month or so.

The next day I got on the boat and it was my first time every crossing into a new country via a river boat. Though I did go to Japan by sea. The passport checkpoint was even located right on the river. Though I left my hotel at dawn I still didn’t make it to my next hotel in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, until after dark. The boat ride was very long, as was the bus ride into the city. My motorcycle taxi got lost despite my best attempts at reading Cambodian which I must say was pretty futile on my part.

Right from the get go I could tell I was going to like Cambodia. The people were entirely more friendly and less prone to treat foreigners like walking ATM machines. When I got to my hotel there were about two hundred Cambodians doing group dancing in the park near my hostel. The park was huge and there were 5-10 large groups of synchronized dance groups grooving to different songs.

I found out over the course of my trip that this is actually very common. They do it in any public place at dawn and dusk. The dancers pay the DJ who brings his own equipment and music, teaches them the dance, and keeps up the atmosphere while they exercise. The dancers are mixed in age ranging from little kids all the way up to the elderly. The music is a mix of Western, Cambodian but what I heard most was Kpop. I had heard it was really popular in SE Asia but I guess I never believed it.

Sorry for the massive pictures in this post. WordPress has been having some issues lately and the “image gallery” feature was broken.

Two locals practicing their English on me during breakfast.

Another local who was interested in the foreigner.

My first Vietnamese haircut. I guess she thought I wanted to look like G.I. Joe.

I bought him coke in return for the pictures.

Cave Temple in Vietnam.

Cave Temple in Vietnam.

Graveyard

The Vietnamese side of the Vietnam-Cambodia border.

Cave Temple in Vietnam.

Cave Temple in Vietnam.

Inside the cave.

Inside the cave temple.

Karaoke with my tour guide.

My first encounter with the French couple.

Our cyclo-taxis for the nights entertainment.

We had to walk to the ferry boat but our bags got a cyclo.

Feeding time at the fishery.

I have no idea, outside of the minority tribe village.

Little Bridge

Minority tribe village

I bought some of their overprices snacks in return for the picture.

Finally got to see some water buffalo up close.

I was deaf after the six hour boat ride, the engine was right behind me.

My first taste of the local brew on board the river boat.

Welcome to Cambodia!

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