Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Muttama Princess

And 10 months later, I return to Muttama Station to be a harvest cook. After a lifetime of travelling from South East Asia to arrive here (6 days baby!), i arrived to the most disgusting sanitary situation in the house. This coming from a girl who's lived in a developing country for 7 months. That should say a lot.

I got the place all sorted out anyway, (4 hours to clean the stove/oven!). That night I went up to the farmhouse with one of the farmboys for dinner with the farmer and his wife. There is one boy who is the same from last year.
I wasn't confident on the cleanliness of the kitchen in the quarters so I didn't want to attempt food cooking there. I had a good chat with them.  Their favourite story was how a fellow teacher friend of mine got mugged. By three lady-boys on a moto. The farmer and farmboy never tire of re-enacting the scene. It keeps me in stitches. Sometimes I just randomly ask farmboy to do the ladyboy accent, and generally, well actually  ALWAYS, he obliges (never mess with the lady who is in charge of the food). It makes me laugh so hard. 

As for actual day-to-day life out here, it is pretty quiet. I originally had four Irish lads and one Aussie guy, but the Irish "needed to take a spoonful of cement and harden up" (Farmer Tom's words, not mine, my description was more along the lines of "bunch of pansies") and left.  The one guy in particular wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and he was the catalyst for the whole mutiny thing. What happened was Farmer Tom told him to knock off work at 7pm as he was going to pull a night shift on the hay baler. So this clever lad waltzes home and proceeds to sit in front of the TV. Puzzled, I asked him if he were going to bed as I can turn the music off etc. He said, "No, it's worse if I sleep. It's better if I just stay awake the whole time."  

I tried to tell him that temporarily he might feel ill, but at 4 and 5am, he would be really happy that he had slept. He didn't listen. In fact he drove to town and bought 5 RedBulls. Then he sat down and downed them.  Sheer brilliance.  He went to work, then came home around 6am and went to sleep. At 1130am, the Farmer told me to wake him up. So I did. Genius boy was so upset, he muttered and complained the whole time. Then when he joined the group at work, they were waiting for a truck or something, so they were all standing around. This upset him to the point where he stomped back to the quarters and grouched about it to me. I politely, and delicately reminded him that he had the 5 hours the night before to sleep, which he didn't. The Aussie Farmboy came to the quarters and was like, "Soooo, are you coming back to work because we sort of need you?!".
Irish guy,"Ummmm...I have a headache and need coffee". Awkward silence where I avoided eye contact with everyone and looked for the nearest exit to make my escape, then Aussie farmboy left. 30 minutes later the whole lot turned up at the quarters full of laughter and jolliness. They told me they were out and wanted to know if I wanted out too. Pansies. They got all worked up over the way they were being treated.   I knew Assistant Farmer had no clue, and there was gonna be a scene.  I really wanted out, but unfortunately, the quarters were not the biggest place. When I saw him coming I quickly retreated to my room where I could hear a ruckus in the kitchen that involved a lot of swearing and shouting. I hid out until it quieted down then made an appearance. The Irish boys had their music pumping and were well on their way to getting wasted. They packed up and left a few hours later. Good riddance was the general consensus at the farm. 
 So currently I have two lovely Frenchies (who wash their dishes...WITH SOAP!!!) and the one Aussie.  Because the Frenchies are so tidy, it leaves me with little do. Lately I have been doing catch-up with family and friends from back home. My life in Cambodia combined with the internet situation made communications difficult. Also, I have been doing hours of navigation online trying to sort out school stuff from afar. Turns out I am terrible at this stuff. I really am way more comfortable face-to-face. Alas, being in the bowels of Ozland makes that a wee bit difficult.  Also, Farmer and Assistant Farmer both have kids so I have been doing some minding for them. Emma, the Assistant Farmer's wife is close to my age and we get along famously. Like a house on fire really. So we hang out and exchange gossip and recipes.  She has got two really lovely kids, Maddison and Angus. They are both close to my nephews and nieces age so I really like to hang with them. Farmer Tom and Steph have four kids, but the two older boys go to boarding school, so I see the two young girls, Abby and Gilly (10 and 9). They are absolute gems. They are currently taking dance and so the other day I was over and we had a free dance session to Adele and they ripped out all these groovy ballet/hip-hop moves and were quite good. So, anyway, it feels very homey and comfortable here. 

Usually in the mornings I clean up and try to bake a little while it's still cool.  Harvest is nearly finished and during that time the boys worked incessantly. One guy worked 24 hours straight, then came home and slept 18 hours. Poor bloke. These guys work so hard! I saw one of Frenchie's time sheets and he had worked 96 hours in one week! Yikes. Mind you, that would be some good coinage. I have hinted (never seriously) to Farmer Tom to let me drive the header (Combine for you Canadians). But after having driven him somewhere in the Ute and gearing down, then keeping the clutch in WHILE I turned the corner (apparently this makes it so that you have less control, somehting to do with compression, and my argument of saying I had full control because I am steering the steering wheel didn't fly), he says he doubts I am fit to drive the John Deere ride-on mower. Darn. I should,however mention, the header is 3/4 of a million dollars to purchase....
 On the weekend, the boys had been out there for a bit and Tom needed me to farrier the ute back in forth so he could get the road trains onto the paddock. While I was waiting in the paddock, Tom told me to hop up with the boys in the header. He says it was to show me how cool it was. I say he wanted me to talk their ears off and keep them awake. I got bored after an hour or two. But I am glad to have my part in this whole production, even if it is to make sure they aren't falling asleep.  

During harvest, they take turns coming home to eat and then sleep. I feel bad for them because they have been sitting in their tractors ALLLLL day with no one to talk to, so I usually sit at the table with them, drinking tea and checking on their day. Some days I feel like the only thing I did was sit at that table and drink tea:D  (And in case you didn't read into that it's more like I had no one to talk to allll day and there is a backlog of words stuck in me, so I have to get them all out, I just disguise it as an altruistic gesture of keeping them company...hah). 
The other night, Tom and Steph had myself and the three boys up for dinner. Steph is an awesome cook, so I always look forward to her cooking.  I was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt (it was like 17 degrees out and I WAS FREEZING), but when the Frenchies came out they were all spit and polished up. So Aussie boy declared he couldn't be shown up by the Frenchies, and changed. So then if course I had to too. So there the four of us rocked up to the farmhouse in skirts (with gumboots as it was rainy) and "grade A" clothes...we looked good:D Steph served up  Indian food, although it didn't quite outshine the Shandhar Hut's food, it was delicious nonetheless.  We had such a good time up there. I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt by the end of the night. Tom and Aussie farmboy love to speak in French accents and imitate French stereotypes and it's so funny!The French boys just politely look on and take it with good humour. We all just had a really grand evening, and it felt very homey to all of us. As the Frenchies summed it up, "we feel belonged".  We do indeed. 

  I have seen my usual array of kangaroos, wallabies, tons of foxes, emus and an echidna!  I never tire of seeing them. The other day I was on a dirt road and decided to race the roo hopping beside me. He was going over 60 km/hr!  Impressive. 

Just on one last note, there's that part of the poem by Wordsworth, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud", in the last stanza it says " as I lay in vacant or in pensive mood, they flash upon the inner eye, which is the bliss of solitude", which I totally get now. There are certain sights that are so awe-inspiring that you think about them repeatedly.  I have never seen the likes of the sunsets and the stars that I see here. Every night, I stare out the back window, or sit on the steps and watch the sun sink into the wheat-filled paddocks with the silhouette of emus and wierd foreign looking trees and am thankful for the opportunity to be out here. Then, when it becomes pitch black, the stars are so close and big that I can just stare and stare and it never ceases to amaze me at how gorgeous the scenery is in our world.  God, the ultimate artist, sure knows how to do things right!

Found: One kanga in the paddock
Baby Kangaroo
Me and Mia, the baby Roo

In the quarters, chillin' with local wildlife

Tina, the sausage the wiener dog checks out roo

Friday, 12 August 2011

Barangs on Bikes

Moi on me moto! It's name was "Elf"
This post is for any potential moto drivers who want to test their expertise in Phnom Penh.  This is my first-hand experience of driving in a country whose #1 fatality is from moto accidents.
Barang is the word that the Khmer use for foreigner. I am not sure what the literal translation is, but I will try to find out this week. It will be something good I am sure.
So I am going to paint the picture so you can really "get" how to drive here!  The analogy is an under the sea theme (my students made me watch the Little Mermaid this week, and I am guessing that is what prompted this!).

Picture yourself under the sea watching a school of fish swimming with a big fish like, maybe a shark or whale, which at any moment can turn on the helpless school of fish and gobble them down (not sure if whales eat anything other than plankton, but just go with it, marine inaccuracies and all). Above the sea, there is a fisherman doing some illegal dynamite fishing (which isn't technically illegal here if you pay off the right people), the fishermen use the stick of dynamite indiscriminately, but also they have a special net which they cast to catch a particular colour of fish from that school. Namely the white ones, because the white ones are fleshier and have more meat.  Also, this species that consists of the school of fish live in harmony most of the time, and work together to protect each other from their nemesis (anything bigger than them), but occasionally, they can and will turn on each other. Got the visual image??
Well, this is driving in Phnom Penh.  (Moto's are the school of fish, and cars and trucks are the sharks/whales/big fish.  White fleshy fish are Barangs. Fishermen=Police.)
So as I am driving, I tend to stick within a cluster of the motorbikes, of a car makes a sudden movement, you see this group of 30-40 bikes swerve in unison, often with nothing more than 3 inches between them (sometimes less!).  The key to maintaining balance in these situations is NOT TO LOOK DOWN! If I glance down to see how close the bike next to me is, (because sometimes I can feel the drivers breath on me and smell his breath), you wobble, which is detrimental in this group.  Always look into the distance, keeping your eyes peeled for gaps in the group which will allow you to pull ahead.

When it some to crossing a busy intersection with so street lights, you pull into oncoming traffic a little tiny bit.  This has a domino effect as the oncoming traffic starts to swerve around you. Once you get far enough into the oncoming lane, there is a 'Y' of traffic that flows around you, behind you and in front of you. It is a thing of beauty really, that I do this often and am still alive. Obviously at nighttime it is a bit sketchier, but everything is a bit sketchier here at night.  Ideally to cross a busy intersection it is best to wait fro some fellow moto-ers and you all crown close together and bully your way across the street, forcing oncoming traffic to stop and allow you to cross ensemble.

 I hate being on the outside wall for this one as the cars hate stopping. I had one run my moto over partially (it got my foot rests and kick start under it's bumper).  I couldn't move as there were too many moto's close to me, so I imperiously waved my hand at the driver telling him to back up. He also didn't have much room, but the inch or two he gave me allowed to motor on quickly. At least before he could get out of his car and check for damage (which there was, oops!). But it was totally his fault and my foot rest thingy is all gibbled now, so I didn't have the slightest qualm about it!  Ok,, but back to the shield. So we move in unison to get across the street. And Voila! Onwards we go!

Whilst driving, some of the things you have to remain alert for are the following:
-moto's coming in the opposite direction on your side of the road
-moto's with no breaks or breaks that don't work very well
-Drunk moto/tuk-tuk drivers (easily seen by their erratic driving). If seen, either slow waaayyyy down (but if it's night, it's safer to go faster and be slightly erratic yourself to prevent purse snatchers or moto-stealers from doing their thing) or speed up to pass them
-Copious amounts of LARGE potholes in the roads.
-The texting moto driver
-The moto drivers that are driving 2 or 3 abreast having a rollicking conversation amongst themselves......going the opposite direction on your side of the road! (Yup, not an exaggeration, totally seen that!)
- The little kid vendors at the street light who dart in and out of traffic
-The physically challenged beggars at the lights who are slower moving to get out of the way
-At lights, it is a common practice to run the lights and do it fast to avoid the police stationed at every intersection...almost been hit or hit them too many times to count
-Cars with RCAF plates (government plates) as they don't move for you, you move for them. Also they don't stop at lights and police can't stop them
-Large dump trucks, they are ALWAYS spitting dirt
-Moto's with more than 3 people aboard as the swerve a lot after coming to a direct stop in order to get going again
-The driver who hocks up a loogi and the wind is blowing in your direction and it lands on your foot and then you throw up in your mouth.
-The Police-Their like the meanest sharks in the water with authority issues. And they really don't like barangs, well, sorry, not totally true, they love to pull us over:D

So these are just a few of the cautions I can think of off the top of my head. If you think I have been remiss in mentioning anything, please don't hesitate to inform me.

So let's talk law enforcement for a moment or two. If I go on longer than a moment I tend to rant, and that is just plain unattractive.  Speaking of unattractive one police guy that pulled me over had a mole on his cheek that had about 5 hairs sprouting out of it that were at least a foot long. They swayed in the breeze like  Pantene Pro-V Models' hair swirls in front of a fan...only his didn't look so well conditioned.
So, I have only been stopped about 5 times. An average of once a month. Not so bad I suppose. One of the foreign teacher's at my school said he has been stopped no less than 50 times in 2 years. That's a lot of bribes, er, fines to pay. Anyway when they stop you the first thing they do is take your moto and tell you they are taking it to the station. The first time this happened I understood that they were taking me to jail and had a mini-flip out.  But what they do is impound your moto and then you have to wait hours (the average is 6-8) and then pay 30-50$ to get it back. So it's best to just pay them then and there. Once they take your moto out of your hands they have the advantage over you. So the last time I got pulled over, I didn't jump off my moto at their command. I simply sat their asking "Ma-an, Ma-an" over and over again.  They kept motioning for me to get off. But I blankly smiled and sat there sweetly. And, then eventually I got off as if it were my idea all along. My experiment worked, the power had shifted to me.  Muahahhaha. Anyway, I paid them with relatively few complications. So the best way to handle to police in my opinion, is to be firm, and repeat "T'la Na'a" over and over (too expensive). (The worst thing you can do is point out all the others doing whatever "mistake" you did and then ask why they aren't pulling the others over...)
Also use as much Khmer as you know so then they know you have been there awhile and they won't take as much of an advantage of you (usually!).  Ok that's all I am gonna say on that topic. Swine. Ok, and that too.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Funny Things my Students Say

Setting: GEP Level 7
Me (trying to get student to guess the vocabulary word barbeque for a crossword puzzle): Ok, you need this thing to cook outside
Student Male 21 years old (nodding and smiling): Yes
Me: No, what do you need to cook outside?
Student: OK
Me: Um, ok, look at your list of vocabulary words and show me which one I am talking about.
Student (looking puzzled): No?
Me: Um, ok, you have some meat, you are outside at the park with you family and you want to cook your meat. How will you cook it? You need this thing.
Student: 'Cha....(looks at me pleadingly) I not understand.
Me: Ok, this thing is VITAL to having your dinner cooked. You cannot cook without it. You MUST have this thing otherwise you will go hungry and not have any supper.
Student, visibly brightens: Ah....... woman!
He looks immensely pleased with himself. Then quickly looks hurt when I burst into uncontrollable laughter, obviously he has never been around the Marks' sisters.

Setting: Grade 5, Space Unit
Me (trying to facilitate conversations): How would you guys like to live on the moon?
Student 1: Teacher, but where would we go to the Pagoda?
Me: Um, well, I guess you might just build one.
Class pauses and thinks about it.
Student 2: But where would we put the dead?
Me: I guess you would just release them into space where they would float around.....?
Student 1: But we can jump very far with no gravity?
Me: Yes
Student 2: I would like to go then.
Me: And I would like to send you!
Immediately the class begins to discuss who they would like to send to space...big insult of the day becomes " I want to send YOU to space!".

Setting: Kindergarten 2
Children all quietly doing their assigned work.  Classroom very orderly and all behaving well. Out of nowhere I hear this chant set to the tune of the bread peddlers who blare a boombox tied to their bikes as they wander the streets trying to sell their baguettes.
2 students in unison: " I wuv you...Teacher Becca, I wuv you...Teacher Becca,   I wuv you...Teacher Becca". Before I can even understand what they are saying the whole class is shouting this and banging their little hands on their desks to keep time...." I WUV YOU TEACHER BECCA!  I WUV YOU TEACHER BECCA!  I WUV YOU TEACHER BECCA!". Oh my goodness, these kids sure know how to make a teacher feel good. I joined in the chant but we said it for every student. Then I regained control of the class and put them back to work!
Setting: Kindergarten 2
I am standing up, talking to the TA when I feel some breezy-ness on my backside. I quickly spin around and there was one student lifting up my skirt while 3 students looked! Luckily I wear shorts underneath for when I ride my moto!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

School and Sihanoukville

Kinder class hard at work

Kinder Class

There was a fight and this is what gathered! Kinders!

Khmer Dancing Class

Learning to Khmer Dance

Testing time (These were the best students)
Morning Greet
Erin, Pastor John and I

Yeah, just me and the ocean at Otress Beach

The road to the beach

Paved schmaved
Otress Beach, Sihanoukville

On the way to the beach!

The Ocean

I so cool

She so cool

I so BIG

Forgot sunscreen

The Luchkins and I

The Ladies and I

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Devin the Poet!

After reading my blog, Devin sent me an email containing this poem. It basically provides a Dr. Suess style synopsis. So if you only read this one post, you will know about everything that has been going on:D Reprinted WITHOUT the permission of Devin Masyk-Neumeier...xo

BECKY SHMECKY puddin' and pie, 
Looked at the animals up in the sky.
One little monkey threw out a rock at you,
So funny that you almost had to jump in poo!

Okay so the monkey threw it within the cave 
But your reaction must have been all the rave. 
You seemed to have survived amidst the leech 
And now sound like a really great TEACH! 

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Teaching in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I have been in Phnom Penh Cambodia for 1 whole month now. This means I have been on the road 6 weeks now. Hardly feels like it! It has flown.
The first week I arrived in Phnom Penh, Olya and Andrey picked me up from the bus station. Funny thing was that I was supposed to arrive at 7pm and arrived at 1030pm. Also, no one ever knows where the bus will drop you and there was a definite language barrier. But I finally figured out (with the help of all 40 passengers gathered around to watch the foreigner make a spectacle of herself) that it would be O'Russy Market.  They found me:D Thankfully, as I didn`t have a phone to call them on.

The Chum People (Live and work on the Mekong River) 
Because it was Khmer New Year, nothing much was opened so I was unable to apply for jobs.
We went to Silky Island, with Olya, Andrey, Erin and John and the kids.  It is this island where they make silk on looms!  I tried my hand at it:D I would hate to do it for a living is all I can say. There was a little boy there who has befriended Erin, named Joe who showed us around his house. They brought out some music and tried to teach me Khmer dancing. Pretty soon the whole village gathered to watch and laugh at our crazy antics.  Also, Joe was very proud of his mango trees that he owned. It was an interesting insight into his life!
The expert weaver

Doing her thang'

The Loom

Banana Tree in Joe's Backyard

Joe's Yard

Joe proudly showing us HIS mango tree. He is very entrepreneurial and sells the fruit from his tree.

Hanging out in the Mango Tree

To the amusement of all I try my hand at weaving

Well, I now know what I DON'T want to do when I grow up. 

The audience

The crowd that gathered when they heard there were foreigners about

The following Monday, my trusty chauffeur and receptionist Olya, drove me around dropping off resume`s like crazy. Nothing much is done here via internet, it is all in person. Within 2 days I had an interview. The following Monday, I started my new job teaching English at Western International School. I teach grade 5 in the morning (two classes) and kindergarten in the afternoon.  On my first day, I loved my grade fives, but the kinders freaked me out. I told Western I didn`t want to teach the kinders, and they were bummed out and tried to talk me into it. I had another interview, but it turned out I didn`t want the job and so went back to kinder for the week just to help them out till I found something better. In that time I found out that I could do whatever I wanted with them, with only a little book work. Well, that was a different story, and so now I have fun with them. We sing, play games, do the hokey pokey and colour and play some more. It`s great fun. I walk into the classroom and they swarm me like bees and honey. It is so cute, but on the especially hot days they are so sweaty and I am so sweaty it isn`t that pleasant. So I have them trained to hug me once I am inside the air conditioning...so high maintenance eh?!

 The days are long. I start at 830am and end at 7pm. My classes aren't close together and so the 5.5 hour day is spread across 11 hours. I do so much work outside of class time (unpaid of course) that is isn't even funny. It will pay enough for me to live and buy a ticket to the next place but I won't get too much travelling out of it.

I get up at 7 am and leave my house by about 8am to be at school for 830. The bell rings at 840 and i waltz into class where the children (usually between 10-20 students) all rush to their places and chant in unison "Good morning teacher Becca." 
Where I respond "Good Morning class, how are you guys?" 
They say "I am fine. Thank you teacher and you" and I say something different every morning like "I am peachy keen" or "I am just swell" followed by "Thank you class, you may be seated".    
And so I start my day with a big grin. They are really nice and respectful students. I have a favourite in each of my grade 5 classes. Arun and Oudom...one from each class. My kinders I can't tell apart because they are all so little...so no favourites there yet.  I think it is obvious which is my faves. because I was marking their exams and one of the students noticed that I marked Arun's paper right when actually the question was wrong. This kid had the same answer and I had marked it wrong. Oopsies! It is sub-conscious though as I try not to look at who the paper belongs to. Arun isn't a strong student, so I think I am trying to help him out! 
 I do have a teacher's assistant in the class who help with disciplinary actions. Mostly they just cause more hassles. Like one time, i was giving a quiz, and i have a strict no talking policy. I left the room for 60 sec. to grab some water, i came back. Everyone was talking including the TA. I scowled and said " I said NO TALKING" and they shut up really fast. Kinda funny!
The crazy thing is that in the kinder class one of the TA's whack the kids. It is so sad. The children are afraid of her...poor little tykes. 
At 940 I go to the next class and teach the exact same thing. At 1030, i go to the teachers room and mark and enter the grades. Make up tests and prepare lesson plans etc. 1130 I go eat in the school cafeteria with some of the other teachers for 1.50$. (Usually vegetables, rice sometimes a little meat!)

 Then I head over to the next campus to teach kindergarten. I chat with the other teachers for a bit. Then enter the little class. The kids stand and do the same adorable chant! Except my kinders think my name is Teacher Beckham:D
 Then I usually sing songs and do a worksheet and colour and play games. More exhausting than the grade 5's if you can believe that. At 2:30pm I hop over to the other kindergarten class and do the same thing. Then I kill one hour, then head to town to the next campus 1/2 hour away. Beltei International Institute. I teach level 7 General English Program (GEP). The ages ranges from 12 - 23 years old (and there are only 6-7 students in this class!). But their level of English is quite low...so it is challenging.  I finish at 7:00 and am home by 7:30pm. Through the 11 hour day, I only work 5.5 hours....they say I will be getting more hours in the next 2 weeks which i am looking forward to.  
I live about 1/2 hour away from work, but this is because I am staying with the missionaries way out of the way. They are being very kind to me. When I come home from work they sometimes have dinner all made for me! I am getting spoiled!
In order to get around, I stand on the side of the road and hail a "motodop". Basically i just start walking in the direction I want to go. I never wait more than a few minutes and some dude puts his finger up, if i nod in response or put my finger up too, he comes over. I tell him wher I want to go (usually i have it written down as english is limited) and ask how much (in Khmer)... We barter ( I know how to say "how much" and " too expensive, please go lower" and my numbers of course), and once we settle on a price, i swing onto the back of his motorbike and away we go. I know my directions too "turn right", "turn left" and "go straight" as well as "stop stop!", so we get along magnificently. He drops me off where i want to go (it's usually not this straightforward, 70% of the time he gets lost). Anyway, once i get to my destination, I pay him and we part ways with a chirpy "akun cheran" (thank you very much!). It is quite convenient as the motodops are faster than any other mode of transport and cheapest. Next week i will start renting my own motorbike monthly, this should be interesting as I don't know my way around quite yet, so let the adventure begin!
Also, I just found a flat I will be moving into next week. It is near the riverfront, and a safe (expensive) area:D My roommate is a French girl doing an internship at the French Embassy. We met and got along famously...so I am excited to move into my own place. Erin, the missionary is an amazing decorator. She said she would take me to the markets and we can make the room homey for 20$. So this is what we will do!  Brighten it up a little...
Also, just as a side note, auto accidents are insane here. I see a body a week on the side of the road with a crowd gathered around. As a foreigner if you happen upon an accident, you turn and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. If you try to stick around and help they blame you (even if you just arrived) and make you pay a stack of money.  It is just not a situation you want to get yourself into, and then the police arrive, and it isn't pretty!  It sucks, because you feel so helpless and want to do something, but you simply can't.  The other week, I was walking to get a motodop and I heard a smash!, looked up and there had been an accident between a scooter and a bicycle...the bicycle guy was lying motionless on the ground. Immediately a crowd gathers and no one does anything. I talked to a Khmer girl and she said that because the Khmer believe whole-heartedly in Karma, that they don't help because "that person must have done something bad and deserved it". So no one much cares. Different mentality.
I think this is the latest update. All I have to say really! 

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Goin' Jungle

Irra and Waddy, Usman's twins were on their way home from school when we got picked up. Sweet school bus!

Amazingest adventure ever!  Melody, Kerry, our newest addition, Aussie Mark, and I were all wishing to take part in a river cruise on the Kinabatangan River, the second longest river in Malaysia.  We had heard many good reports from fellow travelers and really really wanted to do it.  We went from hostel to travel agents to hostels again looking for the best price...they were all quite pricey.  Finally we decided to bite the bullet and book with Uncle Tan`s. Right after we booked (with no deposit) we talked to this British couple who had done a home-stay.  Their account was fascinating and it sounded like a more cultural experience than the commercialized tour group. We then cancelled Uncle Tan`s and re-booked with the home-stay family, Usman, Yanti and 6 children. Best decision ever!  They came and picked us up from Sandakan, and drove us about 2 hours away to the river in Sakau.
the backseat babes on the way to Usman's

 From there, the roads stopped and we hopped on a boat and motored up to Usman`s house. It was perfect timing. The heat of the day was quite intense so after we were fed yummy food from his wife, Yanti, Usman suggested a nap. Kerry and I crashed immediately. Mark and Melody were fascinated with the cats (1 momma and 5 babies!) and Usman's 6 children.  
Our first meal...best food I had in Malaysia
When we woke we went on our first boat cruise. We spotted so many different things.  Usman had the craziest eyes. Not crazy eyes, but crazy COOL eyes. He would spot things camouflaged on the opposite bank, bring the boat right up then show us what he saw. Often it still took me a while to figure out what he was pointing to! Once he saw a motionless monitor lizard from across the river sitting in a tree. I asked him if he planted the wildlife just to please the tourists. He said no.
(Irra or Waddy with a kitten, check out kitten's face!)
(Out front yard, no road access, only river!)

We saw tons of monkeys too. We really enjoyed just sitting there observing them on the monkey bridge the locals had built. I guess the river was claiming too many vicitms. Usman said he kept seeing baby monkey and grown monkey bodies float past his front door in the river. They try to leap across but the river is too wide, so they would drown. Hence the monkey bridge!  We also got to see the unique to Borneo Proboscis Monkey. They were 
The Monkey Bridge
Proboscis Monkey!
ugly I felt sorry for them. Their noses are soooo big, it was comical.  They also sat high up in the trees so it was a bit difficult to capture them on film. They travel in two kinds of troupes. The Harem (all female) with one sugar daddy and then the boys club (all males).  Usman loved to point out which we were viewing. Whilst we were observing the monkeys, another boat went by filled with all guys. Usman looked at the boat and grins, pointing and says, "Boy's Club!", then looks in our boat which had 3 females and one male (excluding Usman) and says "Harem!". Then he giggled for about 15 min scaring away any and all wildlife, as well as attracting glares from the more serious tourists with their binoculars and telephoto lenses. Oh he thought he was clever. The funny thing was that the "Boy's Club" boat really was a "Boy's Club"...I don't think he realized just how funny it actually was.  
Ok, before I forget, I wanted to list everything that we saw. They are as follows: Monkeys (Macau: long tailed and pig tailed), Proboscis Monkeys, Orangutans, Monitor lizards, Crocodile, Mangrove snake, Rhinoceros horn bill bird (my fave bird ev!), assorted types of tropical birds, annndddd, I think that's all. We searched high and low for the elusive Pygmy Elephant, but to no avail. Usman tried his hardest by find poo and sleeping marks...I was ok with the poo.  Closest I ever got to a wild elephant.
One funny thing was that Usman really had to go to the bathroom...but we were very far from home. So he dropped us at a steep bank and said he's be back. So there the four of us were, in bare-feet, huddled together in the middle of the jungle. Crocodile infested waters below us and rabid monkeys before us. We joked around saying,"Haha, what if he doesn't come back for us..haha..ha....haaaa...".  But then the thought struck us all at the same time....and we anxiously looked around for poisonous caterpillars, crocs and strained our ears for the sound of a motor. Boy, were we relived when he returned looking less pained! 
That night we had a traditional Malay meal. 
Feast for Royalty...neti-pot thing is for washing hands

River prawns...biggest I have ever seen!

Yummy yummy in my tummy
 The girls sit with legs to the side, and men criss-cross-applesauce style. We ate with our hands, as you do, and it was messy but fun!  I especially enjoyed the prawns, you had to tear the heads off, then the tail, then peel the body. It was a bit barbaric. but delicious!
The next day we did an early morning cruise and trek, then went to the Gomanntong Caves.The morning trek was interesting. Because it has been so rainy lately we were in shin-deep mud. Luckily I had bought a pair of soccer socks to cover my legs as my pants weren't long enough.  Usman provided Rubber boots.  The one thing you had to be careful about was the leeches. They were nasty. Leeches remain stationary until they sense carbon dioxide in the air then they start moving. Generally they are on leaves and such. As soon as they sense someone or something go by they latch on to you. Then they search your body until they find a warm susceptible place and latch on for dear life. You don't feel anything until they bite. Because their bite contains an anti-coagulant, if you pull it off after the bite you bleed for a few hours which can be a nuisance.
  Us girls were extremely paranoid.  This behavior resulted in spluching in the mud then stopping and yelling to the person behind you "LEECH CHECK!??" upon which you waited nervously until they pronounced the sweetest words "All clear!".  Poor Mark. He was at the end of the line, so I don't think anyone was doing 'leech checks' for him. He didn't realize he had collected a new friend until it was too late. He felt it latch on to his bellybutton!!! Even writing about it now makes my face scrunch up and my stomach queasy. Ug! Nastiest thing ever. When he showed us I felt the bile rise i my throat. Yuck! It was so gross. Again, poor Mark. He had three girls surrounding him gagging and saying ew! must have done wonders for his ego. After a few hours the thing bloated up and fell off. Mark still bled for a bit, but not nearly as much as if he had pulled it off immediately after it latched on. He was very nice about the whole thing and said more than one, "I am sure glad it was me and not one of you girls!". Thanks Mark for taking one for the team!

Usman, our fearless leader, except for caterpillars, hates those!
 *Crazy story alert* So the Gomantong Cave was nasty nasty NASTY!!!!  There are swifts that rule the roost by day and millions of bats that rule by night (or would it be vice versa?). The swifts are plentiful and nest there. The nests are actually harvested and certain Asian cultures value them as food that provides longevity and assorted health benefits. Because of these animals the cave has hills (literally) of bat and bird poo. It stinks. Now because of the poo, it is a perfect ecosystem for billions and BILLIONS of cockroaches.  And because of the cockroaches, there are millions of killer caterpillars that feed off the cockroaches. If the caterpillar were to bite you you would become very ill. One of Usman's friends was bitten and spent a week in hospital! Also, picture the pitch black cave where the circular boardwalk is covered in slippery poo and you guide keeps flicking cockroaches onto you. Well, we had just rounded the boardwalk and were standing opposite to where we had been a few minutes earlier.  We heard this thunderous CRACK, BANG, WHAP! We all froze. It was soooo loud it hurt your ears. We peered into the darkness and a second later a large piece of timber bounced off the boardwalk then into the poo pile. Oh I forgot to mention that there are workers who live in this stinky dark hole and guard the swift nest and harvest them. So when we heard the loud noises we also heard shouting. Our guide, Usman got really nervous and starting saying, "Let's go, now, now....I don't know what that is!". I thought the cave was caving in and was worried I would have to jump into the poo pile to save myself. If my guide is nervous then so am I. I walked as fast as the slick poo covered boardwalk would allow (again, worried about slipping and falling into poo pile). Then we heard more loud sounds. Rock on rock, and banging and yelling. Again we froze (the flight part of Fight and Flight ANS not kicking in so well). Then a massive boulder fell onto the boardwalk we had just been on and then bounced into poo pile! I just booked it out of there. Mark and Melody were more concerned with a good photo op and had to be dragged out....(sorry to break it to you Mrs. Phipps, but Melody is a dare-devil!). Turns out the Macau Monkeys were irritated with the workers in the cave and were throwing things at them.  When the items thrown hit the walls if the cave I suppose it cause smaller rocks to fall as well, this combined with the echo in the cave made it sound more scary than it really was. 
Anyway, that was our adventure. The next day the four of us headed to Sepilok to the Orangutan rehabilitation centre. We were pretty excited because our hostel had a pool!!!
ferocious jungle cat

Melody's Infatuation
Oh and one more thing. Usman said he switched to cats because his dogs kept getting stepped on my elephants.  He lost 6 of them this way before he switched to cats.