Friday, October 31, 2008

100% Pure New Zealand

(Richie McCaw holding the Bledisloe cup aloft

I am at home for the weekend eating chocolate and watching a slightly dodgy copy of Eagle Eye while J is on route to Hongkong and the Bledisloe cup.
New Zealand has already won the cup, after beating the Wallabies in two out of three games, but as in all games between such intense rugby rivals there will undoubtedly be fire, passion and atmosphere. The last game was close, nail bitingly close, and tomorrow night's (Hongkong time) match is sold out. The All Blacks and the Wallabies legendary rivalry is almost a century old and this is the first time the teams have fought for the cup on Asian soil.
If I am beginning to sound a bit like the green eyed monster is sitting on my shoulder it's because I am and she is. I am on the New Zealand organising committee for the schools International Day; food, a themed and decorated booth and a performance, and I havent been 'home' for nearly two years.
Here's what I am up against

Now all I have to do is work out how I am going to be able to watch it on the day without tearing up every 5 minutes!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How much can you carry?

I spend quite a lot of time in the car going backwards and forwards from town to home and back again. I am not the only one. Everyday we see people ferrying their goods from one side of town to the other and back again.

Spotting who has the biggest load helps to pass the time.

The cyclo guys never cease to amaze me. Rain or shine they sit perched above the traffic, legs stretched and toes pointed to reach the bottom of the cycle rotation, pushing the most unlikely loads across wide intersections jam packed with honking vehicles bigger and faster than they are.

This cyclo guy can bearly see above his load of material.

Some passengers have a one storey view and a soft perch albeit an often tenuous one.

And yet they look relaxed and casual and I guess ready to hopefully hop right off should paths cross too close!

The balloon men never fail to make me smile. Mary Poppins or ET should a sudden updrift catch the Hello Kitties.

I dont know what this guy had in his orange boxes but imagine how difficult it would be to remain balanced if it was liquid of some sort!

J has a go at me for loading up as much as I possibly can, when going from car to house, so I only have to make one trip so I understand. Time and energy is money. If it can be done in one trip then there will be time to find another job and earn a few bob more for the day.

Just be careful when you stop.....!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pyjama daywear

Pyjamas during the day are de rigueur here. It is common to see women going about their daily business wearing a two piece suit out of cotton or polyester (the shiney kind) finished with a pair of dainty sandles and a handbag.

Sometimes just the bottoms are worn. These long shorts are very common I've even seen men wear them.

They wear them because they are cheap, comfortable, loose, cool and above all modest. Pyjamas as daywear can be seen across South East Asia and in China although not for some reason in Taiwan.

They come in all colours and patterns, some more sleep like than others.

I can't see myself wearing pyjamas to town but I understand the comfort factor. It is hot here and zips and flies, lycra and denim are not the most breathable fashion trends. Khmer women work often sitting down or squatting in a hot market for hours. An elastic waist and loose pants make life just that much easier.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The cryptic in me

I love word games. A few years ago, while living in Samoa, J and I taught ourselves to do cryptic crosswords using The Listener (a weekly New Zealand magazine) crosswords and got hooked. The whole magazine was read backwards and forwards and then the crosswords were attacked, first the easy quick crossword as a warm up then the cryptic. The obvious ones, any anagrams and hidden words, were written in quickly. The harder ‘cryptic’ clues were done over a period of hours or days picking the magazine up when there was a spare minute and pondering over a clue or propped up on the bed before lights out. Mulling over a clue while doing the daily rounds of school and work drop offs or peddling furiously at the gym became a relatively enjoyable way to calm the nerves and distract from the non air-conditioned heat.

At first my mother used to get our weekly subscription and send them on but despite being able to read them first she soon tired of the regular stamping of big envelopes and began to hint that we should find another way of getting our hands on our weekly fix. J conned a friend who still worked at the New Zealand version of 'the company' (red) to send them by internal mail every now and again on the proviso that they could read the coveted mag first (thankfully neither S or her partner were even remotely interested in the all important crossword). This worked a treat, even when we then moved on to Singapore the internal system spat out correspondence from New Zealand regularly enough to be able to keep up with a weekly rag which was just as well as none of the local papers in Singapore sport a crossword even of the quick and easy variety.

I was told by a Singaporean classmate in my English class that Singaporeans have neither the time nor the language to be able to enjoy doing a crossword even though for many English was their first and strongest language! Despite having been at an American University for as long as it took him to collect an undergraduate and a masters degree he had never even heard of a cryptic crossword. Another classmate of Korean origin said Korean papers have crosswords (in Korean I presume) but again she had not heard or seen a cryptic crossword.

Now we are in Cambodia and the daily crossword is back in both the Phnom Post and in the Bangkok Post both of which are readily available for a dollar or two each. This is just as well as J is now with the competition, the company (blue), so our safe and cheap way of getting The Listener has finally dried up.

Monday, October 13, 2008


This is what rubbish collection looks like in New Zealand.

When I was a teenager being a rubbish man was a repectable occupation in New Zealand. In Wellington there were a few well known friendly, grinning rugby players (this was when they played for pride and love not the big money they play for now!) plowing through the cities hedges, running up our hilly roads, leaping garden steps three at a time and ducking through our backyards with huge sacks of our rubbish on their backs. It was a popular job because it was physical, well paid and it was all over by lunchtime.

(file photo)

And then New Zealand began to recycle.

In Singapore many people have a chute.

Anything and everything went into the chute and, in our case, then fell 19 floors to the huge bin at the bottom which got wheeled to the curb for daily pick up. In our condo we had recycling bins too for glass, paper and cans and as at home we sorted things upstairs and carried the contents down to the ground floor every week.

The perception of Singapore is that it is (like New Zealand) a clean place. This is partly true it is clean but only because there are so many people doing the cleaning. Every day in the papers there are articles and letters about the litter crimes of its citizens. Regular items jetisoned out the window are used cotton buds, tufts of hair, used sanitary pads and nappys, wads of tissue, cigarette butts, fruit peel, egg shells and plastic.

(from the Straits Times Jan 2008)

This is what Singapore can look like in the early hours before the army of foreign workers employed to clean up after it's citizens begin work.

Singapore has just begun to use recycling bins. It is taking a while for some people to catch on!!

This is the age old way Singaporeans have recycled, the karung guni man. He or she makes daily rounds of homes and places of business to collect anything and everything that can possibly be recycled.

Phnom Penh isnt as dirty as you may think. These are rubbish barrows waiting for the rubbish truck.

Household rubbish waiting to be collected in a tidy pile. Sometimes the piles get out of hand or the dogs get to them first but they are trying.

This couple are Phnom Penhs version of Singapores karung guni man. They can sell their collection to various depots on the road leading to the dump (more about Phnom Penhs infamous dump in another post).

Entire families can often be seen collecting the recyclables. This young lad was on his own on Sunday.

So was this even younger jaunty wee lad. He had a real bounce to his step even in the midday sun.

This street sweeper is going to walk right past the pile of rubbish near the 'pond'. Maybe he thinks his bin's too small?

This street sweeper is doing a great job!

They even sweep up the dust.

And scrape up the mud all for a few cents a day.

(from sprep)

The Samoans could learn a thing or two.

Friday, October 10, 2008


We have just been fogged.
It happens every couple of days at dusk. I can hear it coming and before long the smell begins to eek its way into the house through ill fitting windows and walls that hover millimetres above ground. We got fogged in Singapore too, about once a fortnight, but on the 19th floor I didn’t even have to move the washing.

Fogging, with noxious insecticide, is used to drive the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the carrier of the dengue and the yellow fever virus, away. It is commonly used in areas where the dengue virus exists but some countries are beginning to question its effectiveness especially considering its toxicity. Singapore’s ‘If they breed you will bleed’ (referring to the possibility of contracting the more serious hemorrhagic version of the virus) campaign is probably one of the most militant and relentless yet there are still outbreaks every year often reaching epidemic proportions.

Aedes aegypti is around all day but most active during the muted hours of dawn and dusk. I say ‘she’ because it is only the female mosquito that bites and Dengue is only the result if she has picked up the virus during her bloody travels. She is a clever little vampire who has, over the years, adapted to become a frighteningly efficient biter and breeder. She prefers to bite humans so much she has developed some sneaky tricks to make sure she gets her mark. Firstly, unlike other mosquitoes, she is quiet, no distinct ‘there’s a mossie in the room’ whine. She is smaller than the average blood sucker and she likes to attack from below, from under chairs, tables and desks, and bites low too, on ankles and tropically exposed feet. She is a speedster, completing her covert mission faster than other mosquitoes and she never strays too far from her prey living less than 90 meters from her food source and often in the same building. She prefers to lay her eggs separately (rather than attached in a raft like form as other mosquitoes do) in clean, even chlorinated water to enhance their chance of survival. What’s more, her eggs, which can also carry the dengue virus, can survive dry for more than a year.

We became acquainted with dengue while we were living in Samoa. We are a disgustingly healthy bunch usually (I blame the breastfeeding!!) even a cold is a rare event. One day I picked a very, very hot, lethargic headachy M up from school. I ripped his shirt off straight away looking for the telltale rash.

‘You have dengue’ I announced.

‘You have dengue’ the doctor said again later that day.

M couldn’t muster a response at all (and he’s the talker).

‘Home to bed’ said the doc. Panadol for the fever and the aches (it isn’t called ‘break bone fever’ for nothing) and water, lots of water.

His temperature kept rising until the thermometer read 40 C, 40.5C, 41C. We had a routine. For four days we arranged ourselves in lumps on his tiled floor and administered the panadol and water, he threw it back up, we put cold flannels on his forehead, he said he was cold, he slept, we slept, he had night terrors (on the rare occasion he has had a temperature this has always happened) we woke and then we began all over again. After four days he sat up and announced he was hungry. A couple of days later he was complaining of being bored and announced he wanted to go back to school. We were lucky but now if M gets it again there is a greater chance it will develop into the potentially fatal hemorrhagic version.

Dengue is actually caused not by one but by four related viruses. Compared to malaria, dengue is considered to be a minor problem. More than 500 million people die from malaria a year, for example, while dengue kills just 50 million, a ‘death rate’ of only around 2.5 percent of suffers. The economic costs of keeping it at bay and controlling outbreaks, however, run into the billions. And dengue is spreading, reappearing in countries that have been without a victim for over a decade and it seems to be more lethal. There is currently no cure but according to the Wall Street Journal (Nov 6 2007) there is a potential vaccine on it’s way. A small trial, carried out by French company Sanofi-Aventis, of 25 healthy adults ‘generated a protective immune response against all four strains of the dengue virus’.

There has also been some suggestion of genetic engineering, breeding male aedes (because the males don’t bite humans and therefore there is no risk of transfer of the GE gene) with a gene that becomes lethal at pupa stage should a crucial dietary ingredient, a ‘switch’, a way of controlling the rate of spread, be absent. According to the New York Times (Oct 10 2008), this mosquito has already been created, with a tetracycline ‘switch’. Raised on pools with the antibiotic present the mosquito will self destruct in the clean pools it prefers outside of the laboratory.

I’m not a big fan of genetic engineering and vaccinations are not without their own controversy but something needs to be done. Every year dengue makes millions of people around the world miserable and scared. In Cambodia, as it is in many developing countries where dengue reigns supreme, most of the victims are children. By mid October last year dengue had infected more than 38000 people and killed 389. Even if there were a vaccine it is doubtful the Cambodian Health Ministry, with an annual budget of AUD3.40 per person, could afford it. Instead they focus on education: use mosquito nets, keep an eye on the children, burn rubbish, do not allow pools of water to collect- but living conditions are often primitive, impossible to keep dry and parents are working and unable to keep a constant eye on their littlies.
‘Bird flu is a threat to the Western world, so they pour money and commitment into that,’ says Dr Richner's of Cambodia’s Kantha Bopha hospitals(

‘But dengue? There's no threat to the United States or Europe so nobody's interested.’

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bayon, Ta Keo and Ta Prohm

On Sunday, in an effort to get ahead of the heat, we had organised to meet our tuk tuk driver at 7am after we had all had a decent go at the scrumptious Victoria buffet. He was there waiting with a wide grin and a map of the Angkor complex. The walled city of Angkor Thom and the incredible faces of Bayon first, he suggested, then head towards the dizzying heights of Ta Keo taking in some of the smaller temples and structures between before finishing at Angelina’s leafy and mysterious Ta Prohm and off we went.

Angkor Thom is enclosed by jayagiri (square wall) which is surrounded by a jayasindhu, or moat, said to have once been inhabited by ferocious crocodiles. There are five 20 meter tall gates decorated with elephant heads and crowned with four faces, belonging to Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, facing east, west, north and south.

Our driver let us out before the bridge so we could walk past the bulging fearsome stone demons and round eyed gods who are hauling on the body of the naga (snake), symbolically ‘Churning the Ocean of Milk’ (see footnote at end of post) and through the gate of the southern entrance. Back on the tuk tuk we sped towards the 54 towers and 216 faces of Bayon. Built by the megalomaniac Cambodian king, Jayavarman VII, Bayon stands dead centre of the city of Angkor Thom. Not a lot is known about the faces with the secretive almost smug smiles except that they bear more than a passing resemblance to the king himself. It is suggested that at the time there were 54 provinces and the faces, in every direction, provided the king with an all seeing appearance

The three levels of the temple are entered via a raised walkway. Each level can be reached by climbing ancient crumbling precipitous steps at each compass direction some with a bigger step than others! Once inside the wall you are constantly aware of the faces quietly watching from every angle but curiously it is not ominous but rather in a peaceful unruffled kind of way

The outside walls are covered with wonderfully detailed bas reliefs picturing daily life, chronicling wars and victories.

We walked down a dirt path past a huge saffron draped Buddha to Baphuon a pyramid shaped temple representing mount Meru which is largely closed off due to restoration work. We walked around the outside to the western side of the temple where a part of the wall that was fashioned into a reclining Buddha is currently being restored.
Running the gauntlet of the tiny tenacious souvenir touts along a dirt path under some huge trees we made our way towards the Terrace of the Leper King a 7 meter high platform topped with a sexless statue thought to have been the god of death presiding over the royal crematorium housed beneath. The walls are again meticulously ornate with seated aspara, kings armed with short double edged swords and accompanied by pearl adorned princesses. Next door The terrace of elephants a 350 meter long viewing stand adorned with elephants, life size garuda and lions conjures up images of the pomp and ceremony of the Khmer empire.

Opposite on a huge piece of grass we could see laterite towers known as Prasat Suor Prat which are believed to have once contained a linga. It is thought that performers may have performed on strung ropes between the towers and disconcertingly that they may have been used to publically settle disputes whereby the two parties would be made to sit in a tower each until one or other succumbed to disease which would prove his guilt. These would however have to be explored another day as the sun was rapidly climbing and we were slowly melting in the Cambodian heat and Ta Prohm was ahead.

(A nun offered us some incense for her little buddha statue. J offered her a dollar)

(It's not the going up that takes courage it's the coming down!)

The steps of the temples were built intentionally steep to encourage those ascending to climb 'on all fours' and to encourage descent backwards as if you are bowing your way out of a room. The women's steps were less precipitous than the men's.

Ta Keo, unadorned and unfinished but magnificent all the same. It was built by Jayavarman V entirely out of sandstone and dedicated to Shiva. It's summit (which we all climbed) is 50 meters high and is reached by a couple of levels of steep steps. The view was worth the effort but the heart certainly stopped beating a few times during the descent.

(I took this photo of M from behind him ie I was up there too!!)

The entrance to Ta Prohm is along a wide dirt path flanked by jungle. The crowds seemed the worst here maybe because they were all concentrated along the wooden boardwalks that have been erected to try and preserve the fading temple that is delicately entwined with several huge fig trees. Built in 1186 as the Rajavihara, monastery for the king, Ta Prohm was a Buddhist temple dedicated to Jayavarman’s mother and is one of the only temples in Angkor to have been found with an inscription providing information about it’s inhabitants.
Ta Prohm’s intimate size, it’s congested corridors and towers entangled with tree massive hugging roots and piles of moss greened rubble make give it an otherworldly fairytale appearance (perfect for a Hollywood movie perhaps?). Sadly the wooden boardwalks although provided for very good reason give it the feeling of a Hollywood set.

After 5 hours of temple hopping we decided our day was over and a nice cool soak in the salt water pool back at the Victoria was in order. Angkor could be explored again another day, we still hadn’t even scratched the surface of the many temples in the greater area of the park and beyond.

The Churning of the Ocean of Milk,

In Hindu mythology, 13 precious things including the elixir of immortality were lost in the churning of the cosmic sea. To find them required a joint operation between gods and demons with the aid of Vasuki the giant serpent who offered himself as a rope. The serpent was yanked back and forth over Mount Mandara, represented by a tower, in a giant ‘churning’ tug-of-war that lasted for a thousand years.
This story is also represented in a bas-relief panel at Angkor Wat. The front end of the serpent is being pulled by 91 truculent asuras or demons, who are anchored by the 21-headed demon king Ravana. Pulling the tail are 88 doe eyed devas (gods) who are, in turn, anchored by monkey-god Hanuman. Vasuki has wrapped himself around Mount Mandara, the churning stick which is represented by a tower. At one point Mount Mandara began to sink, and had to be bolstered by an incarnation of Vishnu characterised by a giant tortoise. The Sea of Milk, or the Ocean of Immortality, is represented by innumerable fish and aquatic creatures, torn to shreds as they swim close to powerful air currents near the churning stick. At the centre is four armed Vishnu (remember him from Angkor Wat?) with the smaller figure, above him, of Indra, god of the sky.
The gods and demons pull Vasuki causing the mountain in the middle to spin and churn the sea which eventually creates the elixor of life and essence of immortality called amrita. Beautiful and seductive Apsaras (Khmer celestial dancers) are also formed.