Thursday, May 30, 2013

Empty House

Yesterday, in just a couple of hours, we went from this... 
to this...
The last of 184 boxes.
 Loading the truck.
I am still in a bit of shock over how well our pack-out went and how great the movers were. I was so anxious about not having Kevin here to help and it turns out his absence didn't really matter. I can only hope we have the same caliber of personnel when we receive our shipment in Virginia. The movers had everything so well organized before they left on Wednesday afternoon and all they had to do yesterday morning was to load the crates and the truck. They left here about 1 pm and PeePorn and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting the house back in order. 

Our weight allowance for the sea freight portion of our shipment was 7,200 pounds. We moved here with 6,700 pounds so I had 500 pounds to work with. I was a little nervous that we would be pushing the limit for the return trip as I did buy a lot of furniture, porcelain and artwork. However, our final weight yesterday morning was 6,100 pounds so I did a good job of getting rid of a lot of stuff. And could have bought even more than I did!

Today, I am going downtown with a friend to do some shopping and have lunch. After three days of being tied to the house, I need to get out of the house and out of Nichada!

Have a great Friday and enjoy the last day of May! 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It's Really Real!

I was a whole lot of worried over nothing! Tuesday morning, the movers arrived thirty minutes early (the last time that happened was never!) and got right to work. I sent PeePorn out at noon to get them lunch, they ate and took a little siesta on our driveway before getting back to packing. At 4:00 pm, our first floor was completely packed and they had packed a few large items from the second floor. Yesterday, they finished packing the second floor. Today, they will move all of the boxes into crates, load the truck and take our stuff out of here! Our shipment will then be processed through Thai Customs and granted (hopefully!) the appropriate permits to be exported before it is all loaded on a ship bound for Baltimore. 

I know not everyone has a choice as to what relocation company they use but, based on our experience so far, I would definitely recommend Asian Tigers. A crew of 6, including an excellent English speaking supervisor, is working at our home. They are all nicely dressed, conscious about keeping the work areas neat and very hardworking. Of course, I really won't know how good (or bad) of a packing job they are doing until we get to the other side of the world but so far, so good. 
The boxes in the photo below will be sent via air freight and, if all goes well with Customs, they should be delivered to us shortly after we arrive in the U.S. Our air freight allowance was 700 pounds and that portion of our shipment weighed in at exactly 699.96 pounds! Yay me! The supervisor and I were carefully keeping track of the weight as each box was packed. Not realizing that he was telling me the weights in kilograms, after we totaled everything at the end of the day, I was so excited because I had a lot of weight left to use. Then he said, "oh, you probably want to convert that to pounds". Total. Bummer. Is the U.S. the only country left in the world that does not use the metric system?!?
The office and den all packed up!
Of course, in the midst of it all, is Sonder. He knows something is going on and follows PeePorn or I around the house, afraid to let either one of us out of his sight. I thought about leaving him with a friend during the day while the movers are here but didn't want him to think I was abandoning him. 
There really isn't much for me to do while they pack (other than to clarify if something is going or staying) so I read a book for most of the day and walked Sonder several times. It is nice to have this down time after being so stressed for the last couple of weeks.

I finally broke down on Monday and went to see the doctor about my stomach. It has been bothering me for two weeks now and has not improved even though I have been very careful about what I eat and drink. Some days I feel fine and can function as a (somewhat) normal person but there are other days when I feel fine, eat something (it doesn't matter what) and then end up in bed, feeling horrible for the rest of the day. The doctor ran some tests and has diagnosed me with giardiasis, an intestinal infection caused by a microscopic single-celled parasite. Most likely, I got sick by either drinking contaminated water or eating food that had been washed or irrigated with contaminated water. While it can be treated with antibiotics, if the infection is left alone, it will resolve itself in 4-6 weeks. Since I am already at two weeks of being sick, I opted not to treat with antibiotics just yet. We are going to Vietnam after school is finished and if things haven't improved by the time we return from there, I will treat with antibiotics. 

The doctor and I were discussing what foods I should avoid in order to ease the trauma on my stomach and he told me that this infection can cause (or further aggravate) lactose intolerance. So, I wasn't imagining the troubles I was having with my post-run chocolate milk!

Have a great Thursday!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Landmines and Lunch

Cambodia, especially in its rural areas, has a major problem with landmines placed during almost three decades of war. From the early 1970's through the late 1990's, landmines were placed throughout Cambodia by Khmer Rouge armies, Vietnamese forces and Cambodian factions that clashed during the Civil War. Although these conflicts ended almost 15 years ago, the landmines laid during them continue to pose a severe risk to the population of rural Cambodia. Although my guidebooks warned about the dangers of venturing off of marked paths and roads, I didn't realize the real and present danger of landmines and the extent of their impact on the Cambodian people. 

Cambodia has one of the highest rates in the world of amputees resulting from landmine injuries (40,000 people) and one of the highest casualty rates from landmines in the world. Most of the victims of landmines in Cambodia are males of working age living in rural Cambodia at the poverty level and with extremely limited access to good health care. There are almost no government subsidies or other types of aid provided to those who are disabled or otherwise in need. When a family has a contributing member lose a limb (or his life) or become otherwise disabled from landmine explosion, it puts a heavy financial burden on that family and reduces its capacity to improve its socio-economic situation. 

Even just the possibility that landmines might be present in the fields or in the forests prevents farmers from cultivating the land and expanding their capabilities to grow more crops or raise more animals. The threat of landmines renders perfectly good agricultural land useless and also restricts the population's access to water and other important natural resources, effectively limiting the population's ability to advance its socio-economic level. 

Sopheap told us it is estimated that there are between 4 Million and 6 Million landmines that have yet to be found in Cambodia. Most of the remaining landmines are found in the Northwest part of Cambodia (along the border with Thailand), the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. Since no records or documentation were kept to track where the landmines were placed, locating them is a very difficult task and dependent on a lot of financial investment and skilled human resources.  If the current level of funding ($30 Million per year) is maintained, it will take between 15-20 years for Cambodia to be cleared of landmines.

In addition to the dangers posed by landmines, Cambodians are mindful of the hundreds of un-exploded munitions that are scattered throughout the Cambodian countryside. Massive amounts of cluster bombs were used by the United States in the 1970's in Cambodia and Vietnam to attack columns of Vietnamese armored vehicles as they traveled along the Eastern border of Cambodia from Hanoi to Saigon. Although cluster bombs are intended to explode immediately upon impact, the detonation mechanisms often failed and many did not explode. These un-exploded cluster bombs pose the same danger as landmines to civilians as they can explode at the slightest touch from someone who may inadvertently come into contact with one during daily farming or land development activities.

Sopheap drove us to the Cambodia Landmine Museum & School ( for us to have a look around. From the organization's website...

The Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Facility (CLMMRF) is more than a museum.  It is also a home that provides education and support for dozens of at-risk youth and landmine affected children rescued by the CLMMRF NGO.  Many children who are part of this family suffered overwhelming hardships.  The Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Facility was created so that it might serve as a place of healing for bodies, hearts and minds.  We believe that love, support and education will help secure a better opportunity for the children that live here.

The Cambodia Landmine Museum is a Cambodian NGO, run by and for Cambodians.  
It exists for three reasons:
* To tell the story of landmines in Cambodia, how they have impacted the country’s past, present and will continue to impact its future.  The story is told through the story of Aki Ra, our founder, who was suppressed into the Khmer Rouge Army as a child soldier, and spent his youth fighting in the wars that ravaged his country for nearly 35 years.
*  To show the world that, no matter who you are, whatever your background, your education, you can make a difference in this world. 
* The Museum hosts a Relief Facility for at-risk village children.  The money raised by the museum allows this facility to continue.  At the present time (late 2012) the Museum supports a community of nearly 75 men, women, and children.

    The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Facility (Museum for short) was established in 1997 by ex-child soldier Aki Ra.  After years of fighting he returned to the villages in which he planted thousands of mines and began removing them, by hand, and defusing them with homemade tools. 

    In 2008 he established a formal demining NGO, Cambodian Self Help Demining (CSHD)  CSHD, a separate NGO from the Museum, which clears landmines in small villages throughout the country.

    While working to make his country safe, Aki Ra saw many children wounded by landmines and living desperately poor lives.  He brought them to his home, where he and his wife raised them as their own, alongside their own children.  Originally all the children at the facility were landmine victims.  Today the Facility cares for children who suffer from a variety of physical, emotional, and familial difficutlies.

    The Relief Facility houses over 3 dozen children from small villages in  Cambodia.  All children are educated, and are provided with continuing education.  The Facility has its own school  to augment the children’s public education, a computer lab,  a library,  English language classes,  a  playground, and a staff of 14."

    The following are a few photos that Christopher and I took while walking around the Museum.  
    The photo below shows some of the collection of landmines that Aki Ra has accumulated through his de-mining work. 
    The children in the school put together the exhibit in the photos below to show the different uniforms worn and the weapons used by the soldiers.
    After we finished our tour of the museum, Sopheap drove us back to Siem Reap. Along the way, he stopped the car and picked something from a tree growing by the side of the road. This was one of those, "you learn something new every day" moments...

    Guess what this is? 
    While we were all familiar with a cashew nut (the kids love PeePorn's Chicken with Cashew), we had no idea that an edible cashew apple grows attached to the cashew nut. The cashew nut is the "true" fruit of the tree and grows at the end of the cashew apple. The apple is called an accessory fruit and was very sweet and juicy. The texture and the juiciness reminded me of a tomato. 

    Back in Siem Reap, we toured the Artisans d'Angkor Chantiers-Ecoles. From their website, 
    "Artisans Angkor is a Cambodian company which was originally created to help young rural people find work near their home village. As the offshoot of an educational project called Chantiers-Ecoles de Formation Professionnelle, aiming at providing professional skills to communities with limited educational opportunities, Artisans Angkor has maintained its commitment to education by developing its own training program.

    Since its creation at the end of 1990s, Artisans Angkor has strived to offer good working conditions and social advantages to its employees. It has now opened 42 workshops in Siem Reap province and it provides employment to over 1300 people, including more than 900 artisans.

    Over the years, Artisans Angkor has become a real showcase of Khmer workmanship for its silk fabrics and garments, stone and wood carving, lacquer ware, polychrome products, silver plating and silk painting. Not only does the company revive traditional Khmer Arts and Crafts but it also offers a collection of hand-made clothing and home furnishings fitted to contemporary lifestyles. Artisans Angkor offers a wide range of high quality products that can suit every taste."

    Personally, I thought their products, although beautiful and of a good quality, were very overpriced compared to what I had seen elsewhere in town.  Sopheap took us to a shop that I had looked in the night before and we were able to pick up a few things as souvenirs and gifts without breaking the bank. 

    These water lotus flowers were on display in the shop  They looked so perfect that I thought they must be fake but they weren't. I cannot imagine the time and effort involved with folding the leaves to get that effect. 
    Then it was on to lunch at the Khmer Kitchen, located just north of the old market area in Siem Reap.

    The dinnerware was beautiful! 
    The beer was cold.
    And the food was delicious! 

    These were the Khmer version of spring rolls.
    Chicken Cashew for Christopher.
    Mango Salad for Kevin.
    Sweet and Sour Chicken for Caitlynne and I.
    As tourists in Siem Reap, we were very comfortable and had access to anything we could want (except for quality health care, which fortunately, was not needed). The end of the war and the stability that has followed enabled the tourist industry in Siem Reap to recover and grow. Sopheap told us that, before 1998, there was very little to offer tourists who visited Siem Reap and it was very dangerous. In addition to the danger from the wars and fighting, in order to strengthen their political position within Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge massacred almost every skilled and educated human resource in Cambodia. Sopheap's father was killed by the Khmer Rouge and two of his sisters died of starvation during the war. The Khmer Rouge also decimated the infrastructure and there were no facilities, no hotels, restaurants or shops, no electricity and the water was unclean. Since then, Siem Reap as been completely transformed with new construction and development, primarily to meet the needs of the exploding tourist industry. Everywhere we looked there were new hotels, restaurants and shops. All of these new services and amenities, as well as the hotels, restaurants and entertainment facilities are (as it seems most everything is in Cambodia) largely funded by foreign governments and companies. 

    Although Siem Reap has definitely experienced an increase in its economic growth due to its proximity to the Angkor temples, the town and surrounding area still have a long way to go as far as development. Electricity is only available in town and within a 3/4 mile radius. Water is still unclean and undrinkable and, in general, conditions are not sanitary. An overwhelming majority of the population is underprivileged and survives on poorly paid subsistence farming, fruit cropping and fishing. 

    All that being said, I would definitely recommend a visit to Siem Reap. The temples are amazing and there is a lot to do outside of the town. We didn't have time to visit Tonle Sap Lake where there are floating villages and a bird sanctuary that can be toured. Siem Reap was safe, it was easy to get around on foot and being able to speak English (and use the U.S. dollar) was a big plus! With the French influence on the architecture and food, my neighbor pretty accurately described it as feeling like an Asian version of New Orleans. 

    Have a great Wednesday!

    Sunday, May 26, 2013

    Another Creature To Worry About

    While I was cleaning out the water garden yesterday morning, I noticed some fluttering around in this potted palm.
    Upon closer inspection, I saw this...
    The mother bird was happy to sit up on the gutter and watch me first clean the water garden and then take photos of her nest. I used my zoom lens so I didn't get too close. Unfortunately, this is probably the worst possible place for a bird to build a nest. In addition to the pot being right outside our front door (= high traffic area), a snake or cat could easily reach the nest. I am giving my neighbor all of my plants when we leave and hope the bird will be hatched and out of the nest by then. 

    Although my stomach wasn't feeling the greatest this week, I was able to run four days and ended up with twenty miles for the week. While my transcontinental run has certainly kept me motivated to get out and run in the miserable weather here, I felt like I needed something "real" to keep me focused during this last month so I registered Kevin and I to run the Army 10 Miler in late October. The last time I ran this race (about 12 years ago), I think finished in about 1:35 and I have set that as my "reach" finish time for this October. If I remain injury free (knock on wood) and continue running at least 20 miles per week until we get home, I can then work on my speed and add longer distances when we are in a better climate and on improved terrain. 

    I usually have a glass of chocolate milk immediately after I finish my run. In addition to (supposedly) having the *perfect* ratio of protein to carbs for muscle recovery, the chocolate milk is filling enough so I don't need to eat anything right away. I am lactose-intolerant but this glass of chocolate milk (only on the days that I run) is the only dairy that I have (other than a small splash of milk in my coffee) and my body seems to be able to manage it, some days better than others. However, since my stomach has been an absolute mess for going on two weeks now, I am eliminating the chocolate milk to see if that helps at all. I recently read somewhere that coconut water is a great recovery drink and, when I saw some freshly "squeezed" at the Villa Market the other day, I bought a couple of bottles. 
    I am not a huge fan of coconut but the water tasted fine - certainly not a favorite flavor of mine though. The peels of coconut were a nice visual touch but they resembled worms with their shape and had a slimy texture which kind of grossed me out. While I won't go out of my way to buy anymore of  this, if I did have it again, I would definitely strain it before drinking. As far as a recovery drink is was cold and it was hydrating. I have no way of knowing whether or not the higher potassium amounts (compared to sports drinks) were of any benefit to me. However, since I am not a world class athlete, it really doesn't matter. The Villa Market also stocks a large variety of soy milks, including chocolate and vanilla flavors, and that is going to be my next try out.

    And lastly, before I head out with Sonder for a long walk, I want to give a shout out to my cousin John who, literally, as I type this, is marrying Sara in Atlanta. Best wishes for a beautiful day and a lifetime of love and happiness. Yet another family wedding that I am stalking on facebook! Fortunately, my sister in law and cousin in law are pretty good about posting real time photos. 

    Have a great Monday!

    Saturday, May 25, 2013

    Free To A Good Home

    Water garden with fish and plants. Two pieces. First come, first served. If you are interested, feel free to stop by (39/1025 Premier Place 2) and just take it away. I gave it a good cleaning this morning and it is ready to go now. I will leave the fish food out as well. 

    Friday, May 24, 2013

    Rural Cambodia and The Ladies Temple

    Sunday was our last last (and, in my opinion) best day in Cambodia. 

    Good morning Siem Reap!
    We were up early, ate breakfast, packed and checked out of the hotel before Sopheap picked us up to drive us to our first stop - Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei means "Citadel of the Woman" or "Citadel of Beauty" and is nicknamed "The Ladies Temple". The temple is located about 30 kilometers north east of Siem Reap. Sopheap wasn't in a hurry to get there and we just meandered through rural Cambodia. 

    Beautiful countryside. 

    Rice paddies, farm workers and water buffalo.

    Although it was not quite time for the growing season to begin, this rice paddy is fed by an underground spring and rice is able to be grown in it year round. 
    Rice about to be harvested (photo below). I had never seen rice still growing in the field and thought it looked very similar to wheat, just not as tall. 
    This was an unusual sight.
     These little piggies went to the market.
     A chicken and her chicks scratching for food.
    The Cambodian version of the Bat-mobile in the parking lot at Banteay Srei.
    Baneay Srei was built in the 10th century and is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. It was a much smaller temple, both in size and scale, than the temples we had visited Friday and Saturday. 
    Of course, there was a moat.
    Banteay Srei was built using red sandstone which not only gave it a pinkish glow but also allowed the elaborate wall carvings and detailed features of the buildings to remain intact. 

    The Ladies Temple was older than the other temples that we visited and a lot of the buildings and walls were damaged. However, I think the jungle did not encroach upon this temple as much as it did to the Tomb Raider temple or Preah Khan. So, while the Ladies Temple was falling apart, it seemed to be doing so to a lesser extent and wasn't as extensively damaged as the others.  
    As we walked to the exit of the temple, we passed this group of men playing traditional Cambodian instruments. 
    Each member of this group had been injured and /or maimed by a landmine explosion. Rather than simply beg for money, they put together this band and play music to entertain the tourists. More on that in my next post.

    I will write about the rest of our day - a visit to the Landmine Museum, the Artists' School and lunch - in my next post.

    Have a great Saturday!