Please, No More Temples

We have a new driver today, Somat, the tuk-tuk driver who will ferry us around for a reasonable $8.00 for the day. First things first, we went hunting for breakfast and when we returned our smiley driver was waiting. After a greeting, he thanked us for giving him work again today. Each driver seems to have their own ideas of what should be seen in the temple area, but none of them take into consideration that this may not be your first day. When Somat gave his ideas, Ron had to pre-empt them with the fact that we had already been to each of the places he suggested. He took us to Angkor Thom, the oldest city in the empire. Inside the city walls are the Byron temple with 216 faces, the terrace of the elephants and the terrace of the leopard king. Really we were at a loss for where else he should take us; each of us were getting templed out. When he suggested something, we admitted we had been already our first two days. When tour books recommend a seven day pass, saying you need this much time to ‘do justice’ to the area, I have to strongly acquiesce that this is beyond my capabilities for maintaining an interest. After two days, I could have finished off seeing temples and have been perfectly happy, but with the choices of 1, 3, or 7 day passes, there seemed to be a need to utilize that third day. If nothing else, the drive around the area is worth observing. The descendants of the area are still living there and by western standards their conditions are deplorable. However, it does not keep the people from smiling and waving as you pass them by. By 12:30, we were ready to return to the hotel. Somat seemed unnerved that we did not use him as long as he anticipated and I suspected he feared of losing out on his full $8.00. When I gave him a $10.00 and told him to keep the change, his reaction was better than seeing a child’s on Christmas morning. He bowed three times and told us how happy we have made him giving him work for the day. We arranged for him to pick us up again for this evening. The staff at our hotel is absolutely adorable. One of the young men who attends the desk in the later afternoon has a book My First Book of Animals. He is trying to learn animal names and has his book open and is studying every time we come in. The young women who work the morning shift are all smiles and cheerful each time they see us. When they hand us the key to the room, they hold it on two open palms. They are the sweetest staff we have come across. None of them can be over 25 years old, yet I wish we could take them with us to do training for other staff in other parts of the world, starting with Budapest. The Blue Pumpkin called to us to check e-mail, upload the blog and have a real brewed coffee. The afternoon is not the time to go. They have six tables on the patio and four on the first floor. They were all occupied. They do have two other levels, with tables and full wall and deep white leather sofas where they serve you on breakfast tray tables. However, I was scouting for a plug to electrify my computer; the battery only lasts for 1 ½ hours. The closest I could get was one table away where a woman and her son were busy writing out postcards. They had a stack that even at the impoverished rates here, would cost a king’s ransom to mail. They must have had fifty cards in their stack, but they were prepared with pre-addressed mailing labels. I quit sending postcards ten years ago, so it was beyond my comprehension why anyone would send so many unless they were from Luxembourg and promised one to each citizen in the country. When a table near a plug finally became available, I was working feverishly and then the WiFi stopped. I thought it was my computer, but then realized I was working on battery power once again. It was a few minutes later that Ron noticed all of the lights were off. The woman working behind me noticed too and asked a waiter. He said sometimes the electricity goes out for an hour and at other times for hours on end. There is never any way of knowing. Looking out the window, we could see the lights were off in all of the shops across the street also. With no Internet, it was time to leave and go shopping instead, carrying my laptop along the way. At 7:15 pm on Saturdays, Dr. Beat Richner gives a cello concert for free at the Children’s Hospital. Somat was waiting for us at 6:30 and gave us his award winning smile when he saw us leave the hotel. Although the traffic was horrendous, we were still early to the magnificent complex where children are cared for from neo-natal onward. Bright, modern, and well designed we went to the auditorium, but it was freezing cold, so waited outside until it was time. Dr. Richner is a Swiss medical doctor who worked in the Kantha Bopha I children’s hospital in Phnom Penh before the Khmer Rouge took over. After their fall, King Norodom Sihanouk asked him to restore Kantha Bopha I children’s hospitals in 1991; it reopened in 1992. Since then, Dr. Richner through fund raising has since opened more hospitals including this one. In 2008, the fifth children’s hospital will be opened. Their annual statistics are impressive: 600,000 visits by sick children, 55,000 hospital admissions by severely sick children, 9,000 surgeries, 100,000 vaccinations, 5,500 births. They sum this up by stating that each month 2,800 children would end up dying if it were not for these hospitals. The concert was a combination of concert and fund raising event. Dr. Richner would play a song on his cello with expertise, and then gave us statistics of the hospitals. He stated that Princess Anne from Great Britain who is Chair of the Save Our Children Foundation came to see the hospitals. She said she believed the technology used was too advanced for Cambodia. She told him that the technology should be on par with the economic status of the people it was serving and the technology here was better than they had in Britain. He said he told her that is why the Brits go to France for health care. Dr. Richner stated he has heard the same comments from the World Health Organization and they will not assist in funding since the technology is above the standards for the country. However, Dr. Richner argues that if they were on a level of the country’s economy, they would not be saving lives. He returns to Switzerland twice a year to perform a concert and fund raise. The auditorium was packed full and he received a standing ovation when he was finished. Outside was a jungle of tuk-tuks waiting for their fares, but we did not have to worry. Somat was waiting close at hand ready to escort us to the correct tuk-tuk. Our ride there and back and his choosing to wait an hour and a half for us to reappear cost us $3.00. I gave him a $5.00 bill and he again did the triple bow with unadulterated humility. If anyone reading this blog should come here, look for driver 6325. You will not be sorry. Dinner tonight was a diversion; we ate at the Mexican restaurant. Mexican food in Cambodia is about equal to Mexican food in Budapest. It was as good as it gets when you are not close to any authentic Mexican food outlets. As we were sitting on the patio, two little girls about 7 and 9 years old, came up to us selling bamboo and reed bracelets. We told them we did not need bracelets, but one little one persisted. She and Ron went round and round with bantering. She asked where we were from and Ron said Hungary. She immediately piped up with “That is in Europe”. He then said we were originally from the U.S. and she responded with “Washington, D.C.” is the capital. He then started throwing out other countries and she responded with the correct capital. Then she went back to bargaining for the sale of her bracelets. When he held strong that we did not have a need for them, she suggested they play three games of Tic-Tac-Toe. If he won 2 out of 3 games, she would leave us alone. If she won, we would fork over the money and get bracelets in return. The results were 1-1 with one null game, no winner. So to break the tie, our young sales woman suggested three goes at Rock, Paper, Scissors. We now have 10 thin bracelets and five thicker ones. It was worth the $5.00 for the entertainment value. I am now wearing one of the thin bracelets since I was assured it would bring me good luck. Actually, I am wearing it as a reminder of the harsh circumstances children have in different parts of the world that many of us are not even aware of. She is out selling cheap little bracelets until god knows what hour and still has the ability to learn country capitals. What would her life be like if she could get a proper education without having to spend her evenings out hawking goods?