Monday, January 02, 2012

Floating Villages - Updated

I will update this post later this afternoon if I have internet connection. I'll modify the title if I do.

We both slept quite well last night. No rocking of the boat at all. Apparently, this is the norm on river cruises. I woke up early to see the sunrise. I was up on deck around 6 am, watching the horizon turn purplish red, then orange, then yellow. Finally, the sun burst through the clouds. It was cool and breezy but the air warmed up fast once the sun came out.

I took my shower at "rush hour," so water pressure was a little light, but no problem getting warm water. The breakfast buffet was nice, though I just had toast and cereal, but also some lox. Dad had them make him an eggs and lox omelet.

This morning's excursion was to a floating village near Kampong Chhnang on the Sap River. Home to over 6,000 people and over a thousand year's old, the entire life of the village revolves around the water. We saw people bathing in the river, cleaning their infants in the river, fishing from the river, and using the outhouse over the river (that gentleman certainly wasn't "pee shy" as 26 people sailed by in the tender).

A few months ago, the water was 4 meters higher and you could see the dead lotus leaves hanging from the trees that only recently were under water. It reminded me of the Spanish moss hanging from the trees in Savanah. Several of the houses on stilts weren't high enough to keep them out of the recent flood waters, and you could the waters came up one meter over their floors.

Most of the villages make their living from the river, and their homes varied from simple shacks to elaborate homes with blue-painted paneling and satellite dishes. Most of the homes were filled with small children, who often waived to us. There were also small to mid-sized dogs.

Next to the floating village is a land-based town, much higher than the river. At the harbor, our nostrils were assaulted with the intense odor of dead, rotting, and decayed fish (as well as some fermented fish). Children ran in the muck, while people filleted and salted fish. We climbed a muddy path reinforced with bamboo rods to the street. The farther we got from the harbor, the weaker the smell became.

On the street we saw a blacksmith shop, where they were beating old car parts into knives and scythes. One guy was pressing canes to make cane juice. Other people were selling bitter nuts and bitter leaves, which are chewed along with shells to make a kind of cement (though it ruins your teeth). On several occasions, I walked up to people, made the namaste gesture and then pantomimed taking a picture with my camera. They always agreed, and then they smiled when I showed them the photo I took. I got a really nice shot of a Buddhist monk.

After 20 minutes, we went back to the tender and returned to the boat. Now they're giving us a briefing on Cambodia and this afternoon we have an ox-cart ride and then visit a large pagoda. If I'm able to update the blog this evening I will. Otherwise, we may not have reception until we get to Phnom Penh tomorrow afternoon.

First Update (6:00 pm, Cambodia time):

Lunch was pretty good. Dad and I both got the khmer fried shrimp, which were tasty, but a little over battered. The chocolate mousse for dessert, though, just tasted "off." Like the ice cream last night, it didn't taste "chocolate" enough.

The ox-cart ride was fabulous! It was kitschy and touristy and a blast. After we took the gangplank off the boat, the carts and oxen were all lined up. I got in first and dad followed. We sat on a fabric mat over a cushion of straw. The ride itself was only 15 minutes long, but it felt just right. We both really enjoyed it.

Afterwards, we got on the buses for a 30 minute drive to the monestary in Oudong. This was a large, beautiful complex. We got a bathroom break first, though, in what amounts to a uni-sex bathroom: women's stalls were on the left, men's urinals on the right. When we all regrouped, I looked around for dad and didn't see him. I searched all the bathrooms without any luck. I just hoped he would eventually show up.

We went up to the main temple, a large, tall, very ornate, gilt-encrusted structure, with an elaborate pointed roof composed of many stylized parasols. Inside, all the other groups from the cruise had arrived and were already shoe-less and hat-less and sitting on mats, waiting to receive the blessing from the two orange-robed monks. We quickly joined them and I spotted dad hovering on the margins.

The monks started chanting in rich, wavering, sing-song voices that were too varied to be monotone, but too similar to be a clear melody. After 10 minutes or so they blessed us by throwing jasmine buds at us. After they finished I had a chance to take some up-close photos, as well as more detailed shots of the temple's interior.

The most striking element was the statue of the Buddha, who was not only on a raised platform, but was also surrounded by an elaborate light display, including a hypnotic rotating halo behind his head, chains of what kind of looked like Christmas lights (if they had been in Christmas colors) and flashing neon-like pillars. Dad thought it reminded him of Vegas.

Mr. Krohbuy (see the earlier blogs) was heard to remark "where is the monkey house?" I guess he thought he was making a joking reference to monks.

From the temple, we went down to visit the shrine to the monk who had founded this monastery and who was killed by robbers four years ago. I chose not to go up to see his mummified corpse. After that we walked to a school, where we saw nuns studying. Many children attend monasteries for free education and many widows come her for a place to live and eat if they cannot be supported by their children. We also saw many large and elaborate stupas, which are a kind of funerary monument.

I have to say that everyone we met was exceedingly kind and generous, and not just in the monastery. All of us have remarking on how nice, kind, gentle, and friendly everyone we have met in the country has been. It really is quite extraordinary.

Afterwards, we returned to the boat and set sail down river towards Phnom Penh, where we will moor tonight. Tomorrow we visit a silk-weaving village in the morning and tour the capital in the afternoon.

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