A few words from my partner Richard
A very overdue welcome to you all pets. Now before I start venting about why I’m way behind I thought I’d start with a few of the reasons why I love Cambodia so much – then I’ll get onto some of the reasons why at times I really hate it.
I mean for those of you who have never been here and think Cambodia is all about Angkor Wat, rice fields and saffron robed monks (which is true) all you have to do is step a little off the tourist track to find some amazing wonders of nature which will leave you gasping in delight. To prove it possums, take a look at these little beauties which can be found popping up everywhere in the jungle just a hop, skip and a jump away from one of the best known tourist beaches in the country (Koh Rong).
Anyhoo, where to start and where to finish. So much has happened in the past 3 weeks! I should start with the fantastic time we enjoyed during Khmer New Year which was in the middle of the month. A fabulous 3 day festival, and this year the traditional Songkran festival was officially held in Siem Reap.
Needless to say pets, the town was packed tighter than a Chippendale’s G-string with people from all over the country and the world swamping the town. River Queen was more than overflowing with dozens of Khmers (some sleeping 6 to a room) and the town was awash with gorgeous boys from every corner of the nation. We had a few western guests as well and they delighted in watching the parade of lovely young boys all in party mode traipsing half naked through the guesthouse as the skipped between each others rooms.
The town was gaily lit with gorgeous 3 dimensional star shaped lanterns, constructed from rattan and coloured cellophane which were lit at night and everywhere you looked it was like fairy land. Pub Street was awash with white faced locals all throwing talcum powder over each other. We ventured down and had a thoroughly fun and crazy time. By the time I got home I looked like Patsy Stone after a bender pets!
But the best time was on the first night when we were invited to our friend’s traditional Khmer New Year Party. From the time we arrived we were treated like royalty. We had the best seats in the house, away from the cows and chickens and deafening boom box speakers. Our plates were never empty with an array of traditional food and our beer glasses were constantly filled. That was a blessing pet’s as by my fourth beer, I was putting things into my mouth that I never usually would and happily pulling spiny legs and god knows what from between my teeth with each mouthful.
I was grabbed by every man in the place from 16 – 60 (unfortunately mostly the 60 year olds) and made to dance nearly every dance. I even got to do a solo number with our host to a Khmer version of Jambalaya while the rest of the guests all formed a circle around us and clapped and giggled. It was a real hoot pets and a night I won’t forget for a long time.
Of course it’s not all play pets! Besides having to work extra hard during the festivities as we ensued that each of our staff had at least one day off extra to celebrate, I had a number of important events to plan for.
The first was my (third) media interview with the Phnom Penh Post which is the national newspaper to discuss my fabulous work with my ‘Clean up Temple Town’ campaign. Even before national exposure our group has been growing and it was amazing scrolling through our Facebook page in preparation for my interview to see how far we have come. The interview was great fun but I was a little bit miffed when the reporter decided that she would rather not use my photo and instead asked permission to use one of the page photos showing Khmers being involved. Of course she just happened to choose the photo of the Sofitel Hotel clean up Team who (the owners) just happen to be the amongst the most influential and wealthiest family in the country….of course that doesn’t hurt me possums as I’m sure they are pleased that I got them the positive exposure.
The following day I was invited to an Expo at the Shinta Mani Hotel where I participated by setting up an information booth highlighting the wonderful work of Clean up Temple Town and encouraging attendees to sign up. The theme of the Expo was World Climate Change. Important here because according to scientific research, Cambodia will be the second most affected country in the world after The Philippines.
We had guest speakers from numerous involved groups to help spread the message but our best help came from mother nature herself. Halfway through the event the sky blackened and the heavens opened. Cyclonic wind gusts and torrential rain blanketing the town for over 40 minutes. All of this happening in April which is not only our hottest, but also driest month of the year. We shouldn’t be seeing rain until sometime in June. But there you go possums, climate change is obviously upon us.
Luckily for us the event was held inside but that was only a last minute decision as the temperature that day was already hitting 40 degrees (about 105 F for my American fans). Afterwards though the sun came back blazing and even riding back in the tuk tuk (dodging fallen branches and New Year street lighting which had collapsed) we were drenched in sweat as the humidity soared. Suddenly at around 5pm the power went out.
Numerous phone calls to the Electricity company, whose ‘hot line’ (one poor Khmer girl on a phone) was swamped with calls and we found out that the storm had knocked down 20 power poles along National Rd 6 halfway between Siem Reap and Thailand (where our electricity is supplied from). The great news was that it would take at least 5 days to fix and we could expect to be without power for at least some of that time.
The town has it’s own generator in case of such emergencies and we were assured that they would share the power between areas during this time. Fortunately we also have the capability of being switched to the Phnom Penh power grid (which comes from Vietnam) but only during off peak times which is 11pm to 8am. We were lucky and on the first two nights we had power between these times. Which meant that we were able to charge our emergency lights, fill the rooftop water tanks and finally escape the blistering heat and humidity that we had to sit through all day and half the evening.
It was so hot that we invited our staff and their families to stay with us, which they all did. Poor things, living in tin and wooden houses on the town’s outskirts where no electricity was supplied at all. Unfortunately for the last two days the power went off at 7.30am (just as I was rushing upstairs to have a shower) and we went from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon before the power finally returned. Even then our staff opted to stay with us as we not only had rechargeable lights, but even without fans or air con our rooms were much cooler than their homes.
The most maddening aspect of it all was though that rather than sharing the power from the town generator it became apparent that this was being funnelled into the areas of the rich and powerful. Consequently some people were lucky enough to have power the whole time, while the rest of the population (the have nots) were forced to endure daytime temperatures of 40+ and night time temperatures which didn’t ever get below 35 degrees. Not to mention that without electricity many businesses were forced to close, street food operators either couldn’t operate and lost 4 days wages and many staff were simply laid off without pay until the power was restored.
This is when you really start hating living in a 3rd world country. When you see the inequality between the haves and the have nots. Across the river from us live some of the towns wealthier locals. It was bloody frustrating to see that they never once went without power, and even more maddening to see them flaunt it every night with their plethora of coloured light displays (left up from Khmer New Year) while the rest of us sat in candle light and melted.
After enduring 2 and a half days of this even moi’s normally sweet disposition was stretched to the limits. The only positive was that I got to eat out every night and as it was so hot even my usually stingy (with the alcohol) partner was happy to stay out and let me drink more than my usual medicinal supply. We caught up with lots of friends and made new ones and my cocktail vocabulary has increased significantly.
Anyhoo the power is now back on and life is returning to normal. Except that I’m in the bad books with my partner for being my usual over indulgent self. Not that I can blame myself. Yesterday we were invited to two events. The first was an all day Konigsdag celebration (for the Dutch King) held at Charlie’s bar. We went with a friend around 10am and my partner left just after 12, telling me to stay as long as I wanted. Bless him, I thought he was being nice as he knows how stressful the past few days had been and being a non drinker he was not having as much fun as I was.
Of course half the town was there and I ended up being shouted a variety of drinks from Champagne to Sangria jugs. What I didn’t realise was that ‘stay as long as you like’ really meant be home soon. I got a very abrupt phone call around 4pm telling me I needed to get home to walk the dogs….so off I stumbled (thankfully getting a free ride home with one of our friends who drives a tuk tuk) and when I fell through the front gate, in no condition to walk either myself or the dogs, I got a right telling off. Thankfully I wasn’t really in a position to comprehend much of it and he eventually left me (sat, sitting) downstairs with the dogs to feed and walk. I had to wait until dark before I judged it safe enough to stumble around the streets with the dogs without being seen by too many people and my gorgeous staff already had their food waiting when we returned.
Of course I was in no condition to attend the second party but god bless the host he was already as pissed as I was and fully understood when I rang him to apologize and say we couldn’t make it.
I was given the silent treatment all night by my better half (only about an hour and a half as I passed out – ha ha him!) but today he has refused to leave the apartment so I’ve been left to look after the guest house on my own.
Will I ever learn pets? In my defence darlings I did do some valuable networking yesterday and certainly after the past 4 dreadful days of being hot, sweaty and dirty I’m sure I deserved it.
So until next time possums, count your blessings, save the planet and stay glamorous and be fabulous!