Who Stole the Cookies

I have yet to speak of a highly unusual orphanage character. This individual is the orphanage caretaker, who sports cut-offs, button-down shirts, and a rocking 80s mullet.

It took me four days to learn that this person was a woman. And it took me even longer to learn her name, which is why her nickname stuck. I call her Manlady.

I met her on my first day. Lounging on a dirty mattress on the floor, stuffing three slices of white bread that another volunteer had brought into her mouth, She began listing all of the supplies She deems imperative for the orphanage. “We need new laptop, we need new printer. We need whiteboard, we need radio,” She said between gulps.

No. What these kids primarily need is food.

The children at the orphanage are severely malnourished, noted in their jutting bones, lightened hair, and short stature. I was treating most of them like toddlers–holding them, carrying them, singing them Mother Goose nursery rhymes–until I found out I was lowballing their age by at least seven years.

Other than a reasonable amount of rice, the kids are provided 15 dozen eggs a week. That’s only two and a half eggs for each orphan, to be rationed over the course of seven days.

I leave eggs and milk in their kitchen, and lock boxes of cookies in a cabinet for which only She has a key. I went to the cabinet this afternoon to retrieve a box and noticed one of them gone, and another one half-empty (or half-full, depending on how you look at things, am I right?)

She suddenly popped out of nowhere and saw that I was peering through the opened box. “The children, they take them. They take cookies from table and eat them. So I lock them away,” She stammered.

Hm…I don’t know, man. Lady. I had locked them away in the first place. Something tells me She is stealing cookies. And by the looks of her, something tells me I might be right.

Readers, behold: Manlady.

She does a great job in caring for the kids, and I have made a mental note to bequeath her with her own supply of cookies and treats.

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Fitting in the Harem

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Gregarious

My advice to the dimmer of you is the following: if you wish to come across as slightly brighter by expanding your vocabulary, don’t go about it by picking a single word and sticking to it.

Case in point:

We’ve been coming across a slew of young, professional types, traveling through Southeast Asia on their last hurrah before getting married and settling down.

Take Goff*, for example: a late-20s (manageable), athletic (doable), financier (perfectly acceptable).

Chlo and I took him out for a couple of Angkors and a chat. (We’re kind of a two-for-one deal here in Cambodia).

At first, Goff seemed pretty sharp–well-travelled, well-educated, well-disposed.

Even when speaking of his ex-girlfriends, Goff had only good things to say.

“I dated this 2nd-grade schoolteacher. She was a great girl, really gregarious.” How sweet. And how smart. Gregarious! I wondered what that meant!

Then he started talking about one of his buddies. One of his best buddies. A great buddy, “a really gregarious guy.” Hmm, that word again. Gregarious. Gregarious. I nodded in understanding but between you and me, I cursed myself for not carrying a pocket dictionary. Because along with saving me in these types of situations, it would also make me super cool.

At the end of the evening, we returned to our guesthouse, where he politely said goodnight. “Thanks for letting me come out with you guys,” he expressed, “you girls are really gregarious.”

As soon as I entered the guesthouse, I pulled open my laptop and looked up the mysterious word:

Gregarious:

“Fond of company; sociable” or: “Living in flocks or loosely organized.”

I really hope he meant the former.

In hindsight, I’m the fool. Instead of spending time criticizing good-old gregarious Goff for being redundant, I should do some more reading and dictionary-flipping. Sorry, Goff.

___________________

*Goff: not his real name. I will be deleting this post soon as Chloe has disclosed her contact information to Goff. And he may be reading our blog as I type. This. W-o-r-d. Hi, Goff.

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(On a More Serious Note): S-21

We can’t be in Phnom Penh for a month and completely bypass the mention of its tumultuous past. After visiting the S-21 museum yesterday, it’s time we shift our tone, and talk about the Khmer Rouge:

So.

Backtrack to 1975, when the Communist Party of Kampuchea, a totalitarian ruling party, took over Cambodia. On April 17, the party’s members, known as the Khmer Rouge, seized Phnom Penh, capturing its inhabitants and instigating a mass genocide in a former high school: the S-21 prison.

One of the larger cells

The Khmer Rouge threw 20,000 Cambodians into the prison, where they were confined to cells roughly four feet long and three feet wide, and shackled to the concrete floor. They were not allowed to speak to other inmates. But that was the least harsh of their restrictions.

Of the 20,000 prisoners at S-21 over the course of 4 years, only 7 survived.

We’ll spare you the details as to the

the smaller cells

gruesome conditions under which these prisoners lived, or the torture they endured.  We’ll say we were very shaken up, and seeing the prison was an emotionally taxing experience.

prisoners' rules

Our tour guide escaped from the Khmer Rouge regime as a child with her mother, finding refuge in Vietnam. Her father, siblings, and the rest of her family, though, were captured and killed.

The effect of the Khmer Rouge is still at the forefront of the country’s politics today, with the trial of one of the party’s leaders taking place in the next couple of weeks.

It only takes a day in Phnom Penh to see the lasting effects of the Khmer Rouge.  Phnom Penh has been recovering for just over a decade. We note the tuk-tuk drivers not knowing where they’re going, the grave disparity in infrastructure, and the thousands of displaced people not knowing where they stand in society, (the girls trafficked and prostituted at the women’s shelter, and the abandoned kids at the orphanage).

We don’t need to delve into history books to find out about the situation; we get a first-hand account simply by speaking to anyone over 40, (Chloe’s bosses, Mama Tat—the woman who runs our guesthouse), who were all personally and very seriously affected by the regime.

Everyone is struggling to bring Cambodia back. What remains is the people’s positive attitude towards their future, and their pride in calling themselves Cambodian.

Contributing Writer: Chloe (can you tell?)

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Statistics

We’ve had two full weeks in Phnom Penh, and we’ve deemed it appropriate to lay it all out on a bullet-point list, for your easy viewing and quick gratification. If you’ve any questions or wish for elaboration, feel free to comment. Really, comment. Go ahead. Comment.

Let’s talk logistics.
•    Number of weeks we’ve been here: 2
•    Number of weeks it feels we’ve been gone: 18
•    Number of weeks we’re extending our trip: 3
•    Number of countries we plan on seeing: 3
•    Number of countries we’ll end up seeing: 1

Let’s talk work.
•    Number of pages of proposal Chloe has to write: 24
•    Number of pages of Chloe’s proposal so far: 2
•    Number of days till Chloe has to turn in proposal: 4
•    Number of children MJ can legally take back home: 0
•    Number of children MJ will take back home: 3

Let’s talk adaptation.
•    Number of punches we’ve witnessed to our tuk-tuk driver: 2
•    Number of Chloe’s hearbeats per second when witnessing punch: 1
•    Number of MJ’s heart beats per second when witnessing punch: 3,423
•    Number degrees in our room: 146 (Celsius)
•    Number of fans in our room: 2
•    Number of working fans in our room: 1
•    Number of hot showers we’ve had: 1 (see Kep post)
•    Number of garments MJ wears to bed: 4
•    Number of garments Chloe wears to bed: 1, on cooler nights.

Let’s talk entertainment.
•    Number of times we’ve watched TV: 1
•    Number of weeks it took us to realize we had TV: 2
•    Number of books we’ve read: 1 each (almost).
•    Number of True Blood download attempts: 4
•    Number of True Blood download successes: 0
•    Number of Parent Trap download attempts: 1
•    Number of Parent Trap download successes 1
•    Number of times MJ contemplated admitting to having downloaded the Parent Trap: plenty.

Let’s talk Family.
•    Number of parents who’ve talked about joining us: 2
•    Number of parents we’ve talked out of joining us: 1 (sorry, Pepin)
•    Number of new family members in our lives: 3, Tat Guesthouse employees, namely Mama Tat and Yee, (MJ’s little brother and Chloe’s nightly visitor)
•    Number of sisters we miss: 2 each (3 on MJ’s part, but we don’t talk about Sonia, Poli’s dirty secret).

Let’s talk love:
•    Gary and Larry 4ever

Just something to tie you over. On a heavier note, heading out to see the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields from the Khmer Rouge time. More, later?

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Poor Chloe

I awoke last night to the sound of a small child breathing heavily and whimpering.

“M, are you awake?” the voice asked, barely audibly.

My mind immediately reverted to Mai-Mai, my favorite little girl at the orphanage.

“Mai-Mai?” I asked in the dark, “You speak English?”

Then I realized it was Chloe. Poor, little Chloe, suffering from severe chest pains after a bout of 72-hour food poisoning.

She could barely breathe, let alone speak. I turned on the light and saw her curled up on her bed, her legs covered in a red rash.

“We’re going to the hospital,” I said, excited at the chance to venture out into the 4 am life of Phnom Penh–somber, silent, solitary, and scary. Chloe refused, claiming it would be better to wait until morning. But I slapped her across the face, splashed some water on her head, and knocked some sense into that girl.

After calling the a 24-hour hospital, “the best clinic in town,” according to our Cambodia information sheet, we gathered our belongings and stepped out into the humid Cambodian air.

Not a car in sight, not a street light on. In the distance, I saw a single tuk-tuk, and a man asleep inside of it. Chloe stood on the sidewalk as I approached the slumbering man. “Tuk-tuk?” I whispered, and received no response. “Tuk-Tuk!” I shouted, and shook the moto with my foot. The man awoke in a hurry, and we explained where we needed to go. He nodded, but we could tell he had no idea. They never really do.

After half an hour, we arrived at International SOS. “WAIT HERE!” I barked at the tuk-tuk driver, and escorted Chloe inside. She filled out her paperwork and then met with the doctor, a small, sleepy, Cambodian man with more broken English than Mai-Mai herself.

The following events took place:

Dr: Your name is Ch…Ch…

Chloe: Chloe.

Dr: Ch…Ch…

MJ: CHLOE.

Dr: Ch-low-ee.

Chloe: Okay.

Dr: What problem here?

Chloe: I have severe pain in my chest. Right here.

Dr: You have pain. In chest. Proceeds to write down “pain in chest” in beautiful, elaborate cursive. For about ten minutes.

Dr: You have pain in chest. He repeats, and stares at Chloe, who nods exasperatedly.

Dr: So. Pain. in the chest.

This conversation goes on for about twenty minutes, with the doctor not saying any more, but continually filling out his notebook in exquisite penmanship.

MJ: Tell him about your rash.

Now this, ladies and gentlemen, was the best part of the night. I only wish I could have taken a picture.

Chloe turns around, pulls down her pants, and bends forward slightly. The doctor takes out a small flashlight and squats behind Chloe, closely examining the back of her thighs. Time stood still for a few minutes, with neither the doctor nor Chloe moving or uttering a word. The doctor squinting, Chloe looking like a sick puppy.

It was the best thing I have ever seen.

We left the clinic knowing what we already knew: Chloe has heartburn. And very attractive thighs.

Note to Chloe’s fans and family: she is recovering well. No need to worry until further notice.

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Tomb Raider

Whoah. What a day. I feel truly knackered, as my new friends the hot guys that stayed at the guesthouse but went back to England before I could establish any sort of bond say. Woke up at the crack of DAWN, known to me as 8 am, and got ready in a matter of seconds, as per usual. Chloe takes slightly longer (read: a lot longer), so I use up the time before she’s ready to take advantage of the included breakfast buffet.

As an interested and fascinated pair, Chlo and I organized a tour around Kep, making sure to stop at the Caves of Kompong Trach, and Rabbit Island–two must-sees, according to our travel guide.

I thought Chloe was on board in that we were seeing the caves to say we saw them, not because we were genuinely interested. I mean. They’re caves. Which is why, when we arrived, and the tour guide asked if we had brought our own torch, I spat a (sardonic) “Yeah, riiiight here,” and simultaneously mimed whipping a torch out from my bag and nudging Chloe with my elbow.

"Hmmm, Mr. Bening, I gather it IS a turtle-shaped rock!"

But to my utter shock, I watched Chloe quickly unzip her backpack and pull out a flashlight. “Let’s do it!”she yelped. Before I knew it, I was following Chloe and Bening into a batcave. So we had Chloe–Tomb Raider, Bening–her trusty guide, and MJ–clad in a white moo-moo and a Pamela hat, I was simply inappropriately-dressed and in a bad mood, channeling Jill Zarin from the Real Housewives of New York City.

Finally, the tour was over. I ran and jumped onto the tuk-tuk, yelling at Pancho to step on it. Meanwhile, Chloe was still finishing up her chat with Bening and sweeping away dirt from the cave walls with her archeological brush. What a loser.

Posteriorly, our travel guide, whose name I cannot currently place so we’ll call him Pancho, drove us to the pier, where we hopped on a motor-canoe that dropped us off at the island.

The ride lasted 30 minutes, but only spanned a 50 meter distance. (Result of a small motor-canoe, lack of gas, tiny engine, and captain on his cell phone).

After docking, Pancho immediately motored away, leaving Chloe and me on the isolated shore of Rabbit Island, with small pebbly sands and dark brown waters lying underneath a vast mountain jungle skyline.

What a description!

Alone on this island, we spotted a trail leading to the jungle. Assuming that was the way to the beach and humanity, we started on the trail, and wound up on a beach with little huts, people, and a restauraunt.

I made a bee-line toward the restaurant. And ordered the following–feast your eyes on this:

I began to eat it as it stared at me with its mouth open, baring its teeth. I thought that would be the worst of it. But then along came two flea-ridden beach dogs with furless patches of skin and ribs protruding.

They were hungry. And they settled right at my feet, nuzzling their mouths near my plate of fish.

It was a lot of fun.

PICTURES!

old people!

that's me and pam.

those are huts.

Alright, better post later. This was just a little update, you know? We’re heading back to Phnom Penh in a few hours. Talk to you then! BYE!

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