After the emotionally taxing genocide experience, I think all the boys slept well as I did. Our travels today would see us cover almost 300 kilometers from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham in a north easterly direction. Firstly, we were guided through the extravagant Royal Palace or Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol in Khmer language. I think Royal Palace will do. While I’m on language I think the Khmer language can be best described as one with many elongated vowels and shortened consonants which when fluently spoken seems to bounce around. While in the Royal Palace the sheer size of it closes in on you and you’re constantly presented with mountains of gold and silver. One pagoda known as the Silver Pagoda has more than five thousand silver tiles covering the entire floor. Each tile weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. It seems as if the divide between the rich and the poor has a strong historical foundation, led by the Royal Family and their exorbitant taste. Every turn led to a magnificent mural or a delicately crafted free standing structure that reaches to the sky in order to be closer to heaven and the spirits in the sky.
What I found particularly amusing was the seasonal costumes worn by the security guards during the ploughing season. To this day they still wear the same costume which resembles something you might see from a wiggles concert, except rimmed with gold and adorned with sequins. All this to assist the thrown bearers whom carry the king on his solid gold throne, all 25 kilograms of it.
The bus trip to Kampong Cham via Skun saw the countryside change and I was very pleased to be presented with surroundings that much more closely represent the stereotypical images of South East Asia I have seen in movies and in magazines. The tropical climate during the wet season fills up dykes and floods low lying areas to reveal locals picking Morning Glory through the thick swampy mess. This is then loaded onto bicycles in a crazy fashion and this is a sight to see. Occasionally, an elaborate house sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the dominant, poverty stricken, dilapidated houses. It’s still a hard thing to see as the divide is so prominent. Once in Skun we all exited the bus to be greeted by many of local children holding bags of fresh fruit saying, ‘You buy, you buy’. After a while you look a little closer and in the other hand they are holding tarantulas. A brief broken conversation with one young girl, from a distance, informed me that they can’t bite. The have their teeth cut before they are taken to the market. The piles of tarantulas filling the steel bowls soon saw their way into the mouths of our boys. Many of them enjoying the spicy crunch. I ate some legs and that was enough for me. One of the boys described it as overcooked KFC. I must admit they did taste pretty good, but not something I would go back for seconds. It was impressive to see all the lads immerse themselves in the experience. They constantly make me proud how they lead themselves with such maturity particularly considering the events from the day before.
Once in Kampong Cham instantly the mood changed for the better. The reduced traffic noise seems to make the place feel more like a country town even though it doesn’t change the way they drive their scooters. You must have your wits about you when crossing the road. We travelled near the work site for the first time today and had the Buddhism and Society Development Society (BSDA) orientation which consisted of a brief PowerPoint presentation and the chicken dance. A once in a lifetime experience only Cambodia would provide. Seeing approximately 70 young men fully engaged in the chicken dance in a 35-degree hall was a funny site and demonstrates their commitment to this adventure.
Once at the official site, group 2 got to meet the family whom this house was being built. It was quite an unreal experience and upon reflection some of the boys shared with us that it made them feel a bit uncomfortable. Some of them are really starting to open up and I know the staff are really appreciating seeing the boys in a different setting. It is bringing out the best in them. Today (Wednesday) we start work on the house and seeing that there was not a wheel barrow on site, I asked the team leaders to see if we might be able to get one. If you’ve ever mixed up concrete before you’ll know that the right tools can make all the difference. The photos to come should show some progress on the house and I look forward to construction.
Apologies for the rough draft and lack of images. I’ll get them up soon.
Can we build it,