Sunday, 27 November 2011

Cambodia - that's all for now (hic!)

This is the final post from my Cambodia trip photographs. I want to move my blog on to Christmas and things I am making for the festive season (feeling ever so slightly Christmassy!) Plus I have a really exciting Christmas blog coming up next week featuring some bloggers you may know, my first guest-post...eep!

I love food. This is a problem for me in some ways, and why I am on the Weight Watchers program (lost two stone so far - let's forget I put on 5 and a half pounds in one week in Cambodia - I blame the beer entirely!) I wish I could just be all virtuous with food and only eat the quality foods I love, but the fact is I will eat practically anything and often too much of it.
I was intrigued by Cambodian food, and wanted to get straight to the nitty gritty of it, so persuaded my group to eat street-food on our first night. We had had a lot of beer before hand, so they were up for it.

Bun Lay was very keen to encourage us to eat as many traditional dishes as possibly, it was ridiculously cheap and we filled the table with food. Best looking food went to my impressive Amok Curry - pictured above in it's coconut container.

Street food that I wasn't brave enough to try looked like this and was plentiful. Some tongues look pretty scarey enough, maybe it's better if you can't see them whole. Who knows what I will try next year?

After a long 'conversation' involving some sort of sign language, I was able to get myself a Diet Coke - amazing! I fully prepared myself to say goodbye to such things.

And, really yummy ice-cream. Surprised.

Surprise again by the delicious (understatement) breakfast at My Home Inn in Siem Reap. How was I to know (the guidebooks failed to mention it - twits), that Siem Reap still hangs on to some traditions and FOODS from French Colonnial times, such as baguettes for breakfast, with butter. At My Home they served this with super-strength coffee and gorgeous veg-filled omlettes. Even now I am craving that breakfast. When I get my sketchbook scanned in I will post a really nice page based on this photo. Something called 'Morning Glory', a vegetable that tasted everything like Spring Onion was prevelant in lots of dishes. It is delicious. I can see it waving at me in that omlette....soon!

By far one of THE most delicious meals I have ever eaten was this simple veg-filled noodle soup. I have made this at home since, as it really is simple. This is my version: rice noodles, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, spring onions. A coconut milk and curry powder soup made with chicken stick, ginger and lime as well as chilli and soy sauce...mmmm!
The original was eaten at Beng Mealea Camp, cooked by the lovely ladies there.

This might have something too do with the weight gain, beer and chocolate cake in Phnom Penh.

I found these supermarket foods so intriguing. Such care taken with preparation. I wanted to eat it all!

This was the inside of the Old Market in Siem Reap. Again, I want to eat everything!

Except this.
No....even this.

Of course we had plenty of posh food too. The Blue Pumpkin is a chain of resturants and cafe's all over Cambodia. If you fancy a treat for very little dollar, this is my recommendation. Four of us ate like Khmer Kings for $15 U.S each with two bottles of wine too. Bargain is not the word. Well....maybe it is.

So goodbye for now Cambodia and my lovely new friends: Anth, Bun Lay, Kate and Sarah. See you all soon x x

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cambodia Take Three: Not-So-Tiny Temple

Or...'Its time for temples'. This was my second choice of a post title.

Cambodia has an impressive heritage, and major cultural and historical signifigance (everything I say here sounds like a cheesily written understatement). In reality it is seeping in tradition and monuments, the people themselves are part of that. They have had so much cultural identity wiped out during the wars, and Khmer Rouge leadership; Cambodians are now taking that back, rediscovering their own identity. They love to share it!
As Anth showed us around, I got a very strong sense that this is a place that won't stay untouched for very long at all. Cambodians are so sociable, open, friendly and hungry for their country to grow...its only a matter of time until the quaint and beautiful Siem Reap becomes a mega-tourist destinantion.
There already a lot of Ex-Pats setting up business there, and so much building going on. Everyone falls in love with a place like that at once, and the Temples of Angkor are a massive draw for Siem Reap.

We visited Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Terrace of Elephants and Bayon. It's a bit geeky but I have added a map so you can see just how massive the site is. We saw lots of construction work going on there, as time has not been a good friends to the temples, and during years of civil unrest and neglect, the jungle has reclaimed a lot of the buildings.

I was so excited to visit them...

This is the view of Angkor Wat that Bun Lay shared with us, and Anth argued was a waste of time.


I loved all the shrines I came accross, some Hindu, some Buddhist; they are all so bright and glowing with warm colours and feelings. I burned incense at Angkor Wat at a Buddha shrine and had another bracelet good-luck blessing by a monk too. I felt very open to it, I am quite open to all spiritual Mum would say I always have been.
I loved these shrines from both a spiritual and artistic point of view, as I have long been inspired by collections of objects: accidental still-life set ups. Actually this reminds me, when I was at Art School and going through my 'Eastern Spirituality' phase, I made some shrines like the one at the top. I was fascinated with the idea of devotion.

:Views Through:
Another artistic obsession for me. Anything rustic, rusted; any doorway, window, opening...I'm on it with my camera. For me this was the best part of the visit to the temples: sooo many 'views through'. I was snapping like crazy. The light was terrible so I have messed around with these images, let's say A LOT. I wanted to do the scene/ compsition justice and processing them (for me) brings out some of the emotional experience too. These and the many others I took will become Textile work in the future.

I took hundreds of photographs on this visit. As Bun Lay showed us around he told us all the tales, in his 'storyteller' way, of thie times that these walls were covered in beautiful pristine plaster, and painted or covered in silver and gold. I was captivated by the surfaces, imagining the times of the Khmer Kings and the great commanding city of Angkor which used to be the strongest nation in South East Asia.

And a final view me x

Friday, 11 November 2011

Cambodia Take Two - sensory overload

I'm glad you are enjoying my Cambodia pictures, I've had a lot of positive comments so far...thank you : )

Today I want to share the weird and wonderful sights of Cambodia. To Khmer people these may seem ordinary, but to me they were fresh and new and usually very colourful.
All my life I have dreamed of travelling to South East Asia. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I have been a massive Beatles fan, and read with interest how visits to Asia changed the band's viewpoint on spirituality and culture. Then, whilst at Art School my friends would go off travelling to India in the Summer and come back with colourful tales and photographs. It is strange to feel a deep connection to a place, culture, people I have never met...but this is how I felt as soon as I got to that part of the world. It is INCREDIBLY different from everything I am used to, in so many subtle ways. Even as we got to Singapore there was a feeling of lightness and space. But I lost my photographs of Changi Airport, so you will have to wait till next year for that blog.

Everywhere you go in Cambodia there is food. There is a national obsession with food. Cambodians must eat all the time. I didn't understand this until I read 'First they Killed my Father', and now I can see that through the Khmer Rouge times people were so hungry: starved in fact, that food must be very important to remind them of safety and freedom. Plus Cambodians just love food and BunLay told us they have always been that way, food is a very important part of their culture.

In 'Spider Town' we came accross a bustling roadside market selling all sorts. We were all persuaded to buy things from some incredibly sweet young girls who could charm Alan Sugar off his boardroom chair any day. We bought bananas, pineapple and mango as well as some small green tree fruits that in the Caribbean we called Akees.

I actually didn't buy one Rambutan whilst in Cambodia, although I was very excited to see so many. Next time.
All the fruit we bought was fresh, peeled and prepared and in bags. It was delicious, and none of us got sick from whatever water it was washed in. In fact I didn't get sick at all on my trip, and was very pleasantly surprised with hygene generally - everything is clean and in some places they have built western style loos for tourists. However I was a bit pissed off when we stopped at one of these toilet blocks. It was right opposite out community school in BengMealea. The kids aren't allowed to use the facilities, and only have two long-drop toilets for the entire school!

In Spider Town (Skuon) we had a hideous coffe experience that I can recall to this day. Cambodians love coffee..rrrreeeeally strong, and with condensed milk lurking in the bottom. This I got used to but they did something else here that rendered the coffee undrinkable. On the plus side, look at it!
And of course, this was where I saw the fried spiders for sale, as well as the crickets and other bugs.

No I didn't.

In the end the most spiritually touching experience for me was this. We had a water blessing by a monk at the nearby Buddhist Pagoda in Beng Mealea. This gentle, quiet but obviously quite cheeky little fellow swanned around the camp to see what had been built there for the students, nodded approvingly, then set about blessing us all with 6 months good luck - surprised at the specific time limit to the luck...should just need topping up when I go back! He was offered some goodies, as is the norm: can of pop, money, candes and some cigarettes. I have to sa I was not too impressed that with all their beautiful wisdom they are fine with smoking fags! But I'll let them off for doing such a good job of orange.

I have a few more sets to share: temples, floating village and new friends to mention a few.
Me x

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Cambodia Take One - the people of Beng Mealea

Cambodia is the most amazing place I have ever experienced. It was made all the more interesting by having a fascinating story teller of a guide show us the sights, sounds and culture: Bun Lay.
Here he is getting us to tuck into some local cuising (and beer!), in Siem Reap's busy Pub Street.

I was incredibly lucky to get to go on this trip for free, so I wanted to make the most of every second, every experience and taste! I travelled as part of the Teacher Recce group for a longer expedition that takes place next summer, on which we will be joined by pupils from three schools who have all raised £3,450 each for the priveledge! I am sooooo lucky that I get to go both times for free, as a teacher travelling with those kids. The trip has been organised, run, planned and developed by a company called Camps International. Our leader for the recce was Anth, who took very good care of us for the week (and provided much hilarity, although he was far too modest to admit to being so funny).

We will be doing valuable project work within a rural community outside Siem Reap called Beng Mealea.We will be working on a school and other projects within the villages, for example: a new kitchen is needed in the school as the current one is too small and ill equipped to deal with the volume of food required on a daily basis. This is the 'kitchen' at present!

The local kids look so smart in their uniforms, amazing when you think they probably have no running water, electricity or sanitation in their homes.

In the village of Beng Mealea the locals found us just as interesting as we found them. We had this weird 'stand-off', checking eachother out...old and young.

Local housing may look very pretty, but is incredibly basic to say the least. With chickens living under your house and water collected in a large pot from rainfall on the roof.

Some local 'dudes', probably the hotties of the village!

Everyone wanted to say 'hello', in fact they can all say hello, goodbye and a handful of English words. Bun Lay told us all kids learn some English in school.

 The friendly faces asking us for 'candy'...cheeky wotsits!

Children have many chores to complete during their day to help with the running of the home. Most children only go to school for a few hours each day, either in the morning or afternoon as there are not enough school places for everyone to go all day.

 All villages grow produce for their own consumption: banana trees here.

I was so impressed by these people, how welcoming and friendly they were to us as total stranger and weird looking foreigners. It made me think about home, and how hostile things would feel if they came to a village by me and just walked around looking and saying 'Hi'. We may feel like we have a lot of freedoms in England, but I felt a strong sense of it from the people that seemed more real, genuine and more like something that I want to experience. I guess it comes from the fact they they provide for themselves, and can support themselves in their basic standard of living. They don't have cars, Sky TV, or Christmas to worry about....
Does that make them more free? I did also struggle with the question of: should we help them then, if they are happy and self supporting at this level, is it right or wrong to intervene? In the end I decided it is right to help, as in helping we have a mutual relationship, and people like me get to learn these amazing lessons from their ways and culture. The help that we will provide is assistance that is guided my the village elders and chiefs, the school Headteacher, as well as Camps International's own employed locals, like our Camp Manager and local legend: Han.

There are many more photo sets to come. Love me x

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