Monday, 21 July 2014

An Experience to Remember

Friday the 18th July 2014

Today is the day that sixteen students and four teachers are forced to depart Cambodia, as the trip of a lifetime is over. The trip has been an emotional rollercoaster filled with amazing times of happiness and serious lows of sadness. On our last day in Cambodia everyone was upset as the eleven NFO kids and one cook, had to leave after staying with us for a week in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Everyone woke up to have breakfast and spend the last time with the kids. Final words were spoken before they were on the bus and had to leave. Everyone was crying and sadness was in the air, as the bonds made with the kids were ripped apart.

After all the tears, we took the yellow submarine and our personal tuk tuk to a pagoda that was home of a reclining Buddha that told a simple story of its purpose. We then went to the main Buddhist headquarters in the country, where international meetings are held and the country's best Buddhist library is. Lynne explained that the head of the Buddhist Religion in Australia had also come to Siem Reap to study. We also went to the Old Markets next door to buy pepper and whatever else we could squeeze into our suitcases. I couldn't fit anything (like most people) but I still bought a few more things. We spent about two hours walking around in the three complexes and then we were all back on the bus and the tuk tuk, back to the hotel. We had about an hour and a half to get ready to leave for the airport. Everyone had a shower and did the final packing. Everyone's mood was still melancholy as the emotions of leaving were a constant source of sadness.

We crammed into the yellow submarine and our tuk tuk and headed to the airport. Siem Reap Airport was small and we spent along time checking our bags in. Once we made it to the terminal we realised that our plane was delayed for an hour. Panic mode now settled as we realised we might not make our flight to Perth, because of the time delay. We ate away our feelings, as there was a Dairy Queen in the airport. We all relaxed for a while and then it was time to go. We all got onto the plane for a short two-hour plane ride. Most people just went to sleep.

When we arrived at Kuala Lumpur, it was a mad rush to see if we would make it, luckily at the gate off the plane there was a man with a piece of paper saying MH 127, which was our plane number. We followed him until our terminal and we all got on the plane. Everyone was so relived to be on the plane and thankful that Malaysia was able to delay the plane for us. We spent some time playing multiplayer games on the plane, until everyone was basically asleep. The food on the flight was not on point, but everyone just ate it anyway. Lynne gave a speech to thank the staff on the Malaysia flight for coming into work after the devastating news of the plane being shot down over the Ukraine/ Russia boarder.

It was a long eight-hour flight, but everyone was excited to see their family. Once the flight had finished we all made sure how declaration papers were complete, but most of us were waved through without having to be inspected. The next nightmare was to see if all our bags had made it on the plane, thankfully they all were and we just had to line up to finally see our family. Hugs were everywhere after not seeing our families for two weeks. Everyone was thanking the teachers for their hard work and having to put up with sixteen kids for two weeks.

Overall the holiday was really a trip to remember. The amount of amazing opportunities we were able to have, was really something to thank Lynne for. It was the most amazing two weeks of our lives. The fact that we were all able to benefit someone else's lives by teaching them English and giving them our donations was an amazing achievement. We are all grateful for the time we spent with the NFO kids, getting to know them and their stories, was both sad and exciting. To see how happy they all were despite their circumstances was really enlightening. Being able to learn about Buddhist culture also helped to understand why everyone in Cambodia really appreciated even the tiny things in life. Everyone would agree the trip enabled us to put our own lives in perspective, and to make sure we really do appreciate everything that we have in our lives and to truly cherish our education. The emotional experiences really brought everyone together and by the end of a trip we were all one big family. We are all planning a reunion tour after year twelve.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fwd: Blog ~ Wednesday 16th

Wednesday 16th

A cloudy morning sky meant we didn't have to wake up at 4:30am this morning, much to everyone's delight excluding Clara and India who were unaware of the change of plans. Instead we rose at 6:30 and enjoyed another delicious breakfast. All of us piled into the two mini buses and headed to Angkor Wat - the world's largest religious structure. Here we were allowed to explore the magnificent temple laden with artistic treasures like the bas-relief galleries that lined the exterior walls and told enduring tales of Cambodian history and legends.

We also climbed up the central tower which offered stunning views of the gardens and impressive structures. After wandering around in the scorching heat for 2 hours we were all exhausted and met out the front in the shade. We walked back to the buses and drove to Bayon temple, not as big as Angkor Wat but equally as impressive and detailed. After exploring and admiring this incredible structure, it was time for lunch. Lunch in the jungle is great fun, packed and somewhat interesting when buses back into teachers....teacher 1, bus nil.

At 3:30 we all met downstairs and once again boarded the bus, this time heading to the 'Tomb Raider' temple.....Ta Promh.... As soon as we arrived the rain began to pour down. Soaking wet we trudged through the mud exploring the ruins. Smeone said "Tomb Raider Felix was around"....Then came the regular monsoonal rains, which always bring the potential problem of ruining plans......Because it was raining the teachers were unsure whether we would be able to do 'boom boom' cars but when we arrived at the fair, they were running. It was good to see all the Khmer kids and us having so much fun steering and crashing into each other. Some of us even rode the roller coaster which Lynne was not too pleased about. History teachers always remember history...!

After another busy day, everyone went to get a good night's sleep to prepare for sunrise tomorrow.....another early morning to be ticked off the "list of life's must do's"


Land mines and NOT the last word on Cambodia

Thursday 17th July
It was the earliest start we've had so far today, everyone was up and ready to leave by 4:45 to experience the famous Angkor Wat sunrise. The fifteen minute bus ride to Angkor Wat showed the tired states that everyone was in, as we all tried to take every opportunity to sleep. Attempting to get the best view for the upcoming sunrise among the massive crowd of fellow tourists and locals, we situated our selves along the side of the lake. I would describe the sunrise as pretty but not amazing as the weather was not working in our favour, though it is something we can all tick off our bucket list. This time of the year, brings clouds, rain, storms and a lot of wet walking experiences.

After returning to our accommodations we all dug in to breakfast and were given an hour to relax and get ready for the day, then we are all packed in to either the yellow submarine and as Connie calls it or the blue eyed white dragon for an hour journey to palm sugar village. At palm sugar village the majority of us purchased the delicious palm sugar sweets and quickly piled back into the buses to escape the massive bees.

We were on the road again to our next destination, the Land mine museum. The Land mine museum was an eye opening experience as we all learnt of the extent of how many bombs etc are still situated around Cambodia and how often injuries are still occurring. The mine museum was established by Aki Ra - an ex Khmer Rouge child soldier who set land mines as a ten year old child. This museum was an awakening we didn't expect.

Our short drive to the Bantey Srei temple allowed us time to explore and look around. This is the temple of women, of beautiful pink sandstone with amazing decorative art all around. With the heat, we all headed to our lunch spot and had no limit to our budget - resulting in ordering multiple drinks and meals, for a set price ably negotiated by our guide and tuktuk driver. The weather was against us today so we went back to our accommodations and were given hours to rest, during which time everyone had naps. By 4ish it became obvious that the rain was not stopping anytime soon so we waited it out then headed off the the markets. Our improving bartering skills showed off and we all left with more items and less money.

Dinner has become a cultural affair with groups sharing their meals just as the Khmer people do. It certainly allows a greater variety of foods to be tasted. We were then given the option to go back to our accommodations or head back to the night markets. Everyone that needed to get their last minute items, including me, went to the markets to continue improving our bargaining skills, we are all "professionals" now. After the markets we all went back to pack and get a decent sleep for our long travel day that would follow.

What did we learn today? That Cambodia is still suffering from the land mines of the 1970s and that nearly 30% of those mines planted are possibly still active. Something we all need to work on to eradicate.


Our first big day in Siem Reap- The Jewell of Cambodia

Tuesday 15th

We rose to be greeted by our first day in Siem Reap, and sure was it busy.
We began the day with a visit to the Angkor Archaeological Museum, which was filled with galleries of incredible history and culture in which we could immerse ourselves. The museum told the journey of development of religion and architecture during the Khmer Empire. There were many a piece of stone that had been forged into a grand example of the country's fine craftsmen during this period in their history. After the one and a half hour exploration (in which many wished we had more time to explore) of the museum all thirty-one of us hopped back onto the two mini buses and a newly acquired tuktuk, to help lighten the load on the buses.

We headed off to Artisan's Angkor Silk in which we learnt about the process of making silk. We began this learning experience, accompanied by a wonderful (and comical) tour guide, at the beginning of the process; the life cycle of the silk worm. We then strolled through the next stages in which the cocoon is refined and the new silk collected into threads which is then dyed in a glorious array of colours. The last stages consisted of creating the item by threading the tiny individual strings through a comb like contraption, an extremely long process! After this we were led into the gift shop, that was filled with beautiful silk creations (with a price tag to match), and out the other side where we ate ice creams at the Blue Pumpkin accompanied by the smell of frangipani trees.

The next spoof the day was lunch and then back to the guest house where we had a few options. Most went to the old markets for a hint of shopping. We all divided and headed our separate ways momentarily to be rejoined in a few hours for a busy evening.
The evening began with a bus ride up to Angkor Wat to purchases our tickets so that we could enter the complex in the days to come. Using our newly purchased tickets we entered the variety of archaeological sites and headed towards Pre Rup to watch the sunset over the forest. We all climbed eagerly to the of the temple and waited for the sun to set, although it was an enjoyable experience the trees and clouds made it a less magnificent spectacle.

Finally, we ended the day with dinner and put a hold on the bumper cars for another night as sleep filled everyone's eyes. The "boom boom" cars, as the NFO kids called them were a huge success for everyone, driving skills were put to the test - maybe Sino will be a champion driver one day!


Ganesh- to guard against problems and troubles

Friday, 18 July 2014

Saturday in Phnom Penh- The King is Home

King Ciaran's Visit Home

Our day began with a visit to the newly coronated King Ciaran's house, the Royal Palace. The sheer size of the site was enough to amaze us. We walked through various buildings and pagodas filled with luxury and elegance that we could only dream of. The height of this luxury being displayed in the Silver Pagoda which had been originally constructed with silver-tiled flooring. The flooring was unfortunately ripped out and sold by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The few tiles that remain have been discoloured, however their intricate detail is still very impressive.

We split off into several tuk tuks and headed to the Psar Orussey markets. These were very different to the markets in Takeo. These were 5 well organised floors of shops that sold anything from toys to jewellery to food. We were free to roam around in groups and were instructed to buy our lunch from the food court on the fifth floor. The Khmer kids stuck to their traditional food, whereas the majority of us Mount Lawley students headed for Hungry Jack's and KFC replacements.

The rain forced us to follow Lynne through the Russian markets, which appeared to be busier than the Psar Orussey markets. This made it even more important for us to stick together. Desperate to get out of the rain, we rushed into several tuk tuks and headed back to the hotels. The language barrier between us and some of the drivers made it hard for them to navigate their way back to our hotel.

In the evening, we visited Ounalom Wat. Ounalom Wat was like having a small town inside Pnohm Penh. Ounalom Wat is the religious site where many Buddhist monks live. We visited the various pagodas, each one as elegantly detailed as the next. As we walked through the beautiful pagodas and through the small town that had all its own facilities, it was surprising to see the monks talking on their mobiles and playing Candy Crush on their iPads.

After dinner, we headed to the night markets just down the road from our hotel. We walked through the aisles of stalls with each vendor offering us a "discount" while the NFO kids looked on and laughed at us being severely ripped off.

Tired, everyone headed back to the hotel in an attempt to get some sleep before waking to watch the World Cup final.


The Rocky Road and tarantulas

Monday 13th
A rocky road to Siem Reap.
An early start of 7:30 we filled the mini buses, The Yellow Submarine carrying 17 passengers and their luggage and The Blue Eyed White Dragon ( official name ) carrying 14. Squished like sardines in a can we began our 10 hour bus ride.Along the way we made three stops. The markets, where we enjoyed a delicious breakfast with the option of noodle soup or rice and chicken. Our second course, just as delicious as the first, was deep fried tarantula. As we walked around the markets a selected few had the opportunity of a young Cambodia girl placing nice big hairy tarantulas on our backs or hands. Our time at the markets was brief yet exciting, tarantulas where devoured, phobias were overcome and newly found friendships continued to flourish. Our second destination was also quick yet extremely necessary, we pulled over to have a stretch and embrace the scenery as you go to the " loo". Hitting the rocky road again we continued to drive for a few hours, jumping out of the bus heading into the restaurant we discovered there was several vicious insects buzzing around and it was certainly not pleasing for those who got stung. Once the attack of the insects was over we all sat down and enjoyed a pleasant lunch. The final stretch of the ride was filled with laughter and sing songs, Olivia and I sang for the next 3 hours against everyone's will, we then arrived at My Home guest house. Around 6:30 pm we set off to the vibrant night markets of Siem Reap, we went off in groups and bargained to our hearts content.
The rocky road was no longer in sight, tarantulas rest within our tummies and the light at the end of the tunnel was heading straight for bed.