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Home from Cambodia

Well it’s been a long time since I wrote a post here, but I do have an excuse. 🙂 The trip to Cambodia and Vietnam was wonderful…full of all sorts of new experiences, sights, sounds and smells.

Chris, Sam and I saying goodbye at the airport.

Got off to a bit of a bad start with both Chris and Sam feeling sick on the flight over to Singapore – turned out that it was a tummy bug that both Milly and Jake also had back home. But they soon felt better and it was such a joy to finally see Kate in Phnom Penh. 🙂 It was lovely to see all the different parts of her life there – where she worked for Prison Fellowship, the route she biked each morning (yikes!), the family home of the Hutchinsons (the family she boarded with), the markets where she shopped etc etc.

Top left – mangosteens – delicious!

The first morning there we shared at the Hagar devotions where my dear friend Sue works. What a great work they do. Check it out on

Then we visited the slum where Chris and Sam were going to do some work. That was an eye-opener! The plan was for them to concrete the 3x3m floor of a family’s house – a family of eight. When we first saw it, the floor was covered in rubble and coconut husks. We played with the children while Chris managed to organise getting a truckload of metal, sand and cement.

They loved playing with the guitar…

Sam plays with the oldest boy of the family.

The truck promptly got stuck in the mud of the slum and there were all sorts of attempts to get it out. Finally all the men lifted the back of the truck around.

They don’t use metal for the concrete – just rubble which you have to then break up.

They covered the ground with the rubble in readiness for the concrete while the little one slept on.

The next day Kate and I left Sam and Chris there to do the work. It was such a hot day – at least 37 degrees. Chris said later he has never sweated so much. But it looked pretty cool four hours later!

But it wasn’t all hard work – the mango lassi drinks were delicious!!

The concert at Kate’s prison went well – first we watched the truck being loaded up with the 900 basic needs packs that Kate organized.

I couldn’t believe how many of them there were!!!

It was great to be able to put a Cambodian book mark with a Bible verse  made by my mother in each one.  We sang to the prisoners in an open sided building (thank goodness!) – it was HOT!

Riding in  the tuk tuks was a constant source of entertainment – the traffic kept Chris laughing all the time. 6 people on small bikes; men carrying huge loads and long pieces of steel; chickens roped together and hanging compliantly off the side of the bike; small kids and babies squashed between tow adults or perched on the front…the small bikes can pull amazing loads.

Bikes of burden

Some random impressions and thoughts:

Grand elaborate gates; beautiful French style buildings; shabby tiny squalid huts in the slums at the feet of expensive houses. Tooting horns and traffic that just weaves in and out and flows like water. Rubbish everywhere. Why don’t they pick it up??!!

Bouganvillia and frangipani flowers; beautiful flowering vines. Temples with the most intricately carved facades and beautiful walls surrounding them – made of cement in carved moulds of gorgeous patterns. Industry everywhere – fixing bikes and tuk tuks; men straightening steel form wrecked buildings – they recycle everything (except plastic!!); women washing babies in large steel basins; food vendors; bikes EVERYWHERE!!!

Sam has coped amazingly well. It’s all a huge culture shock being faced with the different way of life in an Asian city, let alone the poverty and beggars and slums.

Took a six hour bus trip and went up to Siem Reap. That night we went down town and explored. Quaint paved streets like small Italian alleys. Food places everywhere. We finally chose an Indian restaurant. Had a delicious meal. The heavens opened while we were there  – thunder and lightning and heavy rain. We ended up running home in the rain. I ran behind Chris and at one point kicked up some water at his back just for fun – missed him though and got a man sitting in a café. 🙂 When we got back to the hotel we went for a lovely swim (the storm had moved off to a safe distance) Headed for bed earlyish since we had to get up at 4.3am to head out to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. As it was, clouds cheated us of the hoped-for glorious sunrise, but it was amazing nevertheless.

I was blessed by the everyday, common place miracle of  a new day dawning. Spent four hours walking all through the temples. It was cool for the most part thanks to the clouds. Had breakfast at a food house – just in time. Again there was a torrential downpour. Cooled the air for a while but within an hour the sun came out and then it was ghastly hot. Sam had his birthday elephant ride which was fun. (birthday presie from Kate)

The wall around the temple is simply amazing!! It goes on and on for miles. Having just finished building our own (pathetically small) wall at home, Chris and I were particularly impressed.

We did however spot a small area that needed a bit of repair.

The two builders were fascinated – So that’s how they do it!

Chris also tried his Sampson act.

And of course we had to take a photo at the temple where The Tomb Raiders movie was filmed.

Explored markets back in Siem Reap and then Chris and Sam insisted I visit Dr Fish – you put your feet in a tank full of little fish that rush in to nibble your feet. Oh boy. I freaked out. Chris and Sam forced my feet in, laughing wickedly, and I panicked well and truly. Laughed and cried and generally made quite a spectacle but honestly couldn’t help it.  Don’t want to do that again. Ever.:)

Found two others who were as pooped as us by the heat in the markets. 🙂

Once back in Pnomh Penh we did some more sight seeing – of the grim kind. We came face to face with many things today – opulence and wealth at the palace;

Kate comes face to face or nose to nose with a strange creature in the museum

Hinduism and Buddhism and idols ad infinitum at the national museum; redemption and stories of hope and transformed lives at Daughters; ghastly images of torture and depravity, cruelty and suffering at Toel Sleng, the highschool that became a prison and torture chamber during Pol Pot’s regime.  I was dreading that after being at Toel Sleng, but in actual fact I found it deeply moving. They give each of you yur own personal audio device and ear phones and you listen as a man tells you the history of every point around the place. You can listen to the many stories of eye witnesses, survivors etc, the confession of one man who acknowledges his responsibility in the death of 10,000 people. There are tourists everywhere but no-one is speaking. We all sat in the shade of beautiful trees and listened to our individual device, caught up in the tradegy of it all. It was desperately sad and I cried many times. But somehow it was healing to see how they have acknowledged what happened there and have so sensitively acknowledged the pain and the suffering. It felt right to walk in silence and just cry. I’m crying now as I remember some of the things I saw. I found myself singing the song No More Night as we drove home. “No more night, no more pain, no more tears, never crying again, and praises to the Great I Am, we will live in the light of the Risen Lamb.” Hallelujah.

Then it was on to Vietnam by bus. First impressions not very positive! (remembering I am not a mega-city fan)  Looked dirty and shabby (not that Phnom Penh wasn’t) and huge, with none of the beautiful French buildings that were everywhere in Cambodia. We met some doctors who are doing the overseas part of their training here – from Britain. One of them said that there are 7 million motorbikes in the city.

Can you believe it! 9,000,000 people here in this city. The roads are crazy and you feel like you’re taking your life in your hands to cross the street with literally hundreds of bikes and cars pouring towards you. But the swarm of bees makes way for you and you get there! We did witness two accidents though – the doctor told us that bike accidents are the most common cause of death. Why am I not surprised? Must confess to thinking, “What an awful place” that first night. Began fantasizing about Provence or the Greek Isles. 🙂  But I felt somewhat better when I asked the doctor what’s the best thing to do in Ho Chi Minh – his answer – “Leave.” 🙂 (Better add here for those of you who love Vietnam – we only had two days there and simply stayed in the city and saw nothing else. So, it’s no wonder…)

We went to a water park which had lots of pools and hydro slides etc. That was an experience! As Kate said, “The pools are just like the roads – congested and busy, busy!! Would have been about 20,000 people there. Easy enough to spot the whities since there were only about 8 whites there.

Then we visited the War Museum. Oh boy. It was awful. I cried so much. How awful war is. The photos were so graphic and disturbing. War truly must warp people’s consciences. I took a photo of one newspaper article that was a welcome break to all the other photos. The article began with his letter home – “Dear Mom and Pop, I’ve taken a very drastic step. I’ve refused to take part in this war any longer. I cannot in good conscience be part of it.”

The helicopters and tanks were huge

On a lighter note we went to a movie – it was hilarious. When it started I jumped – it was SO loud. The girl beside me giggled. Both Kate and I designed our own tissue ear plugs and thus survived. 🙂 Kate had warned us that they like their movies loud.

Then we had two days in Singapore – went to the zoo.

And to Sentosa island. Boy, has it changed since I was last there 25 years ago! I guess I’ve changed hugely too, come to think of it. 🙂

Then it was home to New zealand!!! Home to our darlings who were waiting for us with a big sign.

Jake laughed when he saw Samuel and said, “Man, you’re tall!!”

It was Milly’s 16th birthday so we sat in McCafe and shared out presents – coming home presies but also Milly’s birthday presents. Then we got some yummy food from the supermarket and had a picnic in the van (raining!!) Then we went ten pin bowling. That was a lot of fun.

Headed home at 3pm after saying goodbye to Elle and Monica. Sad that Ellie had to go back to Vision just when we got home. 🙁 But very special that Kate can be with us this week before starting her work at Vision. (for those of you who may not know, she’s been asked to come on staff and teach the vocal minors.)

Chris was delighted to find  the farm in great health –it all looks so green and clean!!! It’s been a fantastic two weeks – full of many adventures, sights, experiences, sounds and smells. But there’s no place like home!!

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