Sunday, 29 January 2012

Mother Who Works: The Trip - Part IV: Wat the...?

Mother Who Works: The Trip - Part IV: Wat the...?: Angkor is full of ruined temples. So many in fact, that despite their amazingness, it's not hard for wat-fatigue to set in fast. Here's my p...

The Trip - Part IV: Wat the...?

Angkor is full of ruined temples. So many in fact, that despite their amazingness, it's not hard for wat-fatigue to set in fast. Here's my pic(k); The Bayon, set in the heart of Angkor Thom. I loved the etherial, enigmatic faces that you know have been watching the progress of the last 800 years or so. From its hundreds of faces to fake windows and curtains, the endless, elaborate carved bas-reliefs, it's one beautiful ruin and not hard to pass time here just wandering and exploring.

My fav temple - The Bayon

Then of course the famous Ankgor Wat - built in 40 years, including the moat (which represents the edge of the world). 'How long?' my better half repeatedly asked incredulously. 'And by hand?! No way!"

If you do ever get there, like The Monastery at Petra in Jordan, climb to the top of the central tower, find the most central Buddha and say hi to our gorgeous girl, Jazzy.

It was the big guy's 50th birthday so I lashed out and booked the helicopter ride over the area. It was a bit hazy - and a bit annoying that a couple of the kids kept falling asleep in the warm cockpit, but don't worry, I was nudging them plenty and reminding them that this experience was VERY EXPENSIVE!

Angkor Wat from the air

As part of the itinerary, we were convinced a hike up a hill and a 2 hour wait in a queue to possibly see the sun set over the district would be a good thing to do. I say possibly as they limit the number of tourists allowed onto this particular temple at sunset.... allegedly. As it happens, as the sun sinks after a painfully close encounter with the front of the queue, it suddenly became a free for all - with groups of twenty or so being allowed to race up the steps. We did make it - and put in down as one of our top 20 travelling experiences that promised so much and turned out to be, well, a bit ordinary. (A subject for another post I think!). Anyway, here was the shot - I feel compelled to include it as it does represent a good 3 hours of my life....

For dinner, we headed to a place recommended in the guide book for Cambodian BBQ. It was cook-your-own, which didn't thrill the birthday boy, but the selection of squid, chicken, crocodile and snake was pretty good! The snake was sweet and pink - but a little chewy, and the croc firm, white and tasty. And the resulting soup just delicious!

Another day, another wat.... There were loads of gorgeous little kids selling their wares after morning school. We were nagged to death by some little girls selling bangles we didn't want but as we arrived at our van, I relented, okay - here's a dollar, and I got the bangles. A second girl had also been haranguing all the way - okay, as the door was being closed, you can have a buck too. As the door slammed shut and we started to pull away, a third girl - a recent arriver to the troop, welled up with tears as she proffered her wares and mouthed 'One dollar...'. 'STOP THE BUS!!!' I screamed, wrenching open the door with the fierceness reserved for a mother's instinct. I bought the bangles.

And finally, a question to ponder: in this ancient but not pre-historic place, how on earth did they manage to incorporate a single image of what clearly looks like a stegosaurus???

The little steg at Ta Prohm

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Trip - Part III

After the spiders, the rest of our time in Phnom Penh was sobering. 

We toured S21, the Tuol Sleng prison, now a genocide museum, which contains hundreds of photos of  inmates, all staring directly into the camera and giving you the sense that they're holding your gaze as you try to imagine what was going through their mind at that moment. The Khmer Rouge was nothing if not thorough with their documentation and the journalists who captured the images of the horror after the Vietnamese liberated Cambodia from the terrifying regime, brave and determined the world should have the evidence that this did happen. Of the 16,000 people who entered the prison and were brutally tortured, in some instances for crimes as benign as being labelled an intellect for wearing glasses, a mere 14 survived. We were privileged to meet two of them at the prison – and naturally I had to buy their relatively expensive books, but they were a worthwhile personal and moving account.

Then on to The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the glass tower erected in 1988 that contains over 8,000 skulls found in the surrounding mass graves. I’ll spare you the stories they share but I will say that for a tourist destination, it is a very, very quiet place.

We steady ourselves with a drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club, overlooking the Tonle Sap river before a stroll along the foreshore among the elderly European men negotiating deals and slipping into taxis with aging Cambodian hookers. Maybe they’re on the early bird special as it wasn’t even 7pm.

It’s Christmas day and we’re on a boat to Siem Reap. It sounded like such an adventure – it turns out to be like a long bus ride. We arrive later than expected so our guide here suggests a reshuffle in the itinerary, and a visit to a local orphanage after a late lunch.

The kids are gorgeous – I just want to take them home! – but instead we blow up the inflatable balls we’ve brought for them and our kids join in the games while we chat to the supervisors about their support, the kids schooling etc. It was a good reminder that Christmas is about joy - not a heap of landfill disguised as presents. We make a donation and round up the kids (just ours!) before heading back to the hotel.

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Trip - Part II

Firstly, sorry to the arachnaphobes and my friend Deb who reckons she nearly broke her iPad trying to splat that spider. But here’s where we were: this is the photo I took, I promise, not something I found on the web (ha ha ha!!!) as some (yes you Mandy) suggested.

And here’s what they look like fried and served with pepper sauce – far less impressive.

Ironically, on the kids' menu they had a dish called Impsy Wimpsy Spider – which was one fried tarantula with chips – I always though Impsy Wimpsy meant small?? We considered this option but at $US4.50 for the full serve of three, we thought what the heck and ordered up.

A family of Danes on the next table were quite jealous. They said they’d run out when they wanted to order them (which was curious given they were at the restaurant before us...) but, being Christmas Eve and feeling benevolent, we gave them one of ours.

We tucked into a few legs – E swears she had leg caught in her braces! – before the man on the family tackled the body (I caught it all on video). ‘What’s it taste like?’ we all asked. “Chicken!” he replied, and we all fell about laughing because of course everything foreign tastes like chicken. Trying to summons some courage, I looked and my legless body and convinced myself it was just like an olive. I popped it into my mouth, bit down on the leathery pouch that went ‘squish’ in my mouth….and I had to hastily remove it before I gagged. I know it was purely psychological, but that didn't help.

Another group of diners strolled past; an Aussie bloke with a baby on his hip (a symbol of his fertility) and a crowd of women. “What are they like? I wish I’d ordered them now,” he announced.
“Here!” we offered enthusiastically, “Have some of ours.”
He picked up a head (and eight eyes??) with a few legs and straight down the hatch, chewing with a look of consideration, then “Not bad”. How could he not with such an attractive audience willing him to love eating spider?

One of his party lent into our table, a beautiful Asian woman with an Australian accent – “I’m actually Cambodian, and I wouldn’t eat that!”

No more spiders from here on in....promise. MWWxx

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mother Who Works: The Trip - Part I

Mother Who Works: The Trip - Part I: Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and a fabulous break. We landed back this morning after 3½ weeks in Cambo...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Trip - Part I

Happy New Year! Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and a fabulous break.

We landed back this morning after 3½ weeks in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia. It was an amazing trip, but rather than bore you senseless with the whole thing now, I thought I might do a small series.

Liking as always to get the most of time off, we headed off on the Wednesday before Christmas that turned out to be the second last day of school and our work 1970s Christmas party (damn – never mind, clearly didn’t know that when I booked, because I would have known all the words to all the songs and been able to show off and show how old I am!). We had a 1.30am flight and were all so exhausted that when we got on, we all fell asleep. Ideal because god love Air Asia for being so cheap but you get nothing on board, including leg room. Exhaustion is a pretty good strategy. 

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur and desperate to go to loo, I noticed the only available cubicle was a squat toilet. “I’ll just whizz in there,” I thought – and promptly whizzed on my boot. I'm out of practice.
Not the actual airport loo, (this one has its own story) but it looks just like it!

A night in KL then off to Phenom Phenh where I discover you do pronounce the ‘P’ on Phenom. We head straight to the local market and take in all the aromas and sight – skinned frogs, fried bugs, lumps of meat, whole plucked chickens and strange vegetables and plenty of brightly coloured plastic bits from toys to kitchen utensils and other junk. It's hot so we settle down at a stall for some rice paper rolls loaded with Asian mint and tiny whole shrimp, BBQ chicken and pork straight off the tiny charcoal grill served on bamboo sticks – and beer. The holiday is starting well!

We find a restaurant I’ve heard about and make a booking for the next night – Christmas Eve. It’s a place where a dedicated NGO train street kids in the art of hospitality and then get them jobs in restaurants around town. They also have great art done by the kids – curiously none of which is for sale. To whet our appetite, the incredibly helpful manager brings out one of their renowned delicacies, yet to be cooked obviously. We can hardly wait...

Note tarantulas have 10 legs...go figure.

The Moroccan Bath

The girls and I have come up to Dubai for a few days to escape the Melbourne winter. It's in the 40s so we've thawed out - quickly. ...