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NorthShore Garden 2
Aloha, and Greetings from Oahu: I just came across this interesting tool, that allows me to post text and images, in a way it appeals to me: instead of sending out an e-mail with my travelogues or updates, I am now able to design the pages the way I want, enlarge or reduce each image, add elements, that help me to tell the story and reflect upon my experience. By providing you with a link to the online journal, you can actually flip it page by page, you are able to enlarge individual pages/images and can go back and forth between spreads. - I think that is absolutely fantastic and I am extremely happy to have found this creative portal. Please continue to give me your feedback; I am always looking forward to hearing from you, get your perspective, and of course your thoughts and input.. Mahalo, a nui loa, Harald-M. Lehnardt 3
A beautiful rainbow spans across Sunset Beach on Oahu’s NorthShore. It is 7:00 am, I am heading to Banzai Pipeline -- my early morning jogging session. Is this really happening? The moon, that is still visible in the morning sky, is positioned right at twelve o’clock, beneath the pinnacle of the rainbow, framed by the endless and always inviting ocean with gentle eight foot waves in the distance. What a beautiful morning, and what great view to start the day. I don’t think I can ever get enough of it: life on the NorthShore is as good as it gets, yet worlds away from my former morning commute to the office in Manhattan. What a contrast! I am so thankful I am here and not there. New York will always hold a special place in my book of life; my life experience, and of course my heart. I think we all change perspective over time, evolve
[Mother’s beach] Behind the house
and decide for ourselves what feels right, then adjust. At times unintentionally, at times subconsciously. In my case it was created by the end of a relationship, that to this day is not forgotten. I had the urge to leave Manhattan -- the desire to take a chance, cross oceans to find content and happiness. I wanted to look at all that was happening in my life as challenges and opportunities to grow. Often easier said than done, but living in a more remote place like the Hawaiian Islands is certainly a contributing factor to make peace with the past, yet still stay focused and open to new opportunities and challenges. Life is generally good and according to my experience, things do happen for a reason … things work themselves out. The circle of life with all its ups and downs is such an invigorating experience. It blows my mind, to know what I am going through at times, and how things come together in the end. I certainly have learned to trust and to have faith. It feels good. Hawaii, now home for more than four years is comfort for my soul. It nourishes me every day: it connects me with my environment, the surroundings and teaches me to enjoy the moment. ‘Take it all in and celebrate life … evolve and reflect; be humble and respect one another.” Here I am in Hawaii a minority, a “Hāʻole” -- a foreign white guy. Well, I don’t take offense to it; 14 years in New York City gave me plenty of time to evolve from the European perspective. If I had 30 people over for dinner in my Manhattan loft, they were from 25 different countries and we all shared the same affection and love affair for the big city. We all shared the passion -- the daily love/hate relationship with New York City. Hawaii offers a similar spectrum of cultural and ethnic variety: a mixed bag of people and an environment I prefer. I am so comfortable in the Hawaiian multicultural environment. I am home here.
It’s been almost four weeks since I got back from Southeast Asia, though it feels like many months ago. Time seems to fly and memories slightly fade, yet the core will always stay with me. Once you revisit the many visuals that I captured with my iPhone on this trip, the pictures, the video -- even the sounds -- it brings me right back to “Kampuchea Krom”, the oldest land in Southeast Asia and my favorite of all the Southeast Asian countries I have visited over the years. Kampuchea-Krom means “Cambodia Below” or “South Cambodia.” It was the southernmost territory of the Khmer Empire, [www.sknparty.com/history.htm] Cambodia grows on you, it draws you back each time. In a way it’s a mystery, but also a love affair, that pushes the limits at times and casts a spell: a very good one. I clearly remember the day in 2001, when my friend from Hamburg (Germany) quit his job as marketing executive, and decided to travel throughout Southeast Asia for almost half a year. I got an e-mail that announced he was heading to Rangoon, and would stay in that area for a while, follow his instinct, and explore Southeast Asia. I was shocked, I did not expect him to throw down his job and go on a trip like that. I did not even know that he cared for that part of the world. Bangkok, Rangoon, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong? I glanced at his itinerary and roughly followed his path. Once in a while we were able to communicate via e-mail and I could follow his journey -- but it was very sporadic and not reliable. I was excited to hear that he would visit me on his way back to Germany. In fact, he stopped in New York, just in time for another crazy Birthday Party at the midtown loft. That year it was the ‘Wig Party,’ and we all went completely way out -- over the top. These were the wild times, completely crazy in hindsight, but fun and full of expression. Gosh; back then I simply did not know what would be ahead of me -- all these journeys to Asia, now living in Hawaii.
[banzai pipeline] in da morning
The miracle of life is just wonderful and actually quite fascinating and encouraging. We simply do not know what’s around the corner , what’s there to come and what will become of us. It is so exciting to be passionate about the future and the drive to live it. I seriously think that the unknown gives us partially the fuel that we need to go out there on a limb at times, follow our dreams and breathe the air we are longing for. When I asked my friend about the favorite part of his trip, he referred to Cambodia; the temples of Angkor, the people, the smiles of the kids selling postcards and other tourist memorabilia. He was immersed in nostalgia when he reflected on his journey. I have to admit that I did not know precisely where Cambodia was located, I sort of knew ‘somewhere in Southeast Asia, but for sure I could not register its neighboring countries. When I was a kid, I remember hearing about shootings in Phnom Penh, and I only heard about Angkor, in the Tarzan movies where we were told the elephants go to die. Yap.. Angkor … a big elephant cemetery. From the moment he shared his fascination and passion about this country I started to do research, read as much as I could to learn more about the country, and three months later I was there myself. It simply took my breath away when I walked through the old temple grounds that were hidden in the jungle for many hundreds years. Built in the 12th century and abandoned in 1431, Angkor succumbed to the encroaching jungle until the great temple complex was rediscovered in 1860 by French botanist Henri Mahout, who was stunned by its vast size, soaring towers, dramatic carvings and endless courtyards, avenues and buildings ; he could hardly believe his eyes. He wrote of “ruins of such grandeur, remains of structures that must have been raised at such an immense cost of labor, that, at the first view, one is filled with profound admiration...”
Over the years I became fascinated with the entire complex, and visited Angkor many times. I usually took a vacation in May, and spent a few weeks in Cambodia, where I had the chance to learn more about the country, but also developed a very close bond. Almost year after year, I went back in spring and fall. I experienced extreme heat and also torrential rainfall. I have to admit that I loved it all. One of the best aspects of traveling in that part of the world is the fact that you usually meet people that are interested in culture; people that dig a bit deeper to understand history and the cultural aspects off their destination. This, to a certain extent, was also a great adventure in itself: I often wondered before the trip what connection I would make, what kind of travelers I would encounter. Maybe I would make new friends, learn
about other peoples perspectives and what draws them back to Cambodia. This time it was my seventh trip to the region. I checked my passport and realized that I have been to Cambodia six times. Wow! For sure there will be #7, maybe# 8 . And who knows what the future will bring? There is still so much to explore. Laos is also in the back of my mind. Burma yet to be discovered. And Vietnam is calling me already. What about the South Pacific and the rest of the world? Europe, the Middle East? Gosh there is so much to discover and explore, but somehow I am drawn to the culture, the vistas and the culinary delights of Southeast Asia. That is the driving force as of now. It might change in the future, but I simply donâ€™t worry about decisions like that since life has treated me well so far and has taken me places I never imagined I would go. What an incredible journey it has been! Waking up to the sight of rainbows, stopping the car, just to watch the sun go down. Hawaii no kaoi; I think I feel it every day. 11
On August 21st 2009, when Hawaii celebrated the 50th anniversary of Statehood, I celebrated my 18th anniversary in the U.S . Isn’t it bizarre, that this date has such significance? I mean, was it already laid out back then, on August 21st of 1991 that 18 years later I would be celebrating on Oahu in Hawaii? I remember my ride to the airport back then, heading to Düsseldorf, then directly to New York City on Lufthansa. I even got an upgrade to Business Class because I arrived so late and my seat assignment was taken. Moving to the U.S. via Lufthansa, Business Class … ha-ha … fond memories. Unfortunately the first class treatment did not continue and the first few weeks I was sleeping on hard wooden floors, before me and my future roommate found our own little paradise in the heart of Manhattan. Fond memories … I love to relive those moments. I love to kick back and relax, think back and remember it all. What a colorful life! 12
Now almost four and a half years on Oâ€˜hau. Wow, who would have thought? Living life in paradise! A paradise that can be quite a challenge when you are on your own. You have to find your own assignments as Designer and Art Director; build your own client base; work hard and deliver. It is a small island community; if you screw up, everybody knows. But what a life it is to wake up to the sound of birds singing, the waves crashing in the background. You know every day is a gift, a blessing. Life is good; very good. One does not have to be a millionaire to grasp it or to experience lifeâ€™s greatness. We all carry it in our souls and our minds, ready to burst out and to be experienced, but it is up to us to light the fire and live aloha. It does sound like an old record and a cheesy phrase out of a bad commercial.
Live Aloha! What does it mean? Well, it means more than Mai Tai’s and swivel sticks, more than coconuts and surfboards, more than palm trees and Hawaiian shirts. It is like a great book where you read between the lines. It is more than a prayer that was answered, it makes you a better person and you simply want to share this beautiful feeling with the rest of the world, contribute with kindness and share yourself. Having the beach right behind the house isn’t a bad thing. I don’t have to remind myself how lucky and how fortunate I have been. So many adventures came my way, so many memories were built. I found the love of my life, then it was lost, yet it stays in my heart forever. Somehow, as fate would have it I ended up here on this beautiful aina. To tell you the truth, I am excited every day: I open my eyes, take a deep breath and thank God for the wonderful life that was given to me, and the incredible things I was able to experience so far. Life is good, really good.
November 9th, 2009
After almost two weeks in Southeast Asia I arrived in Hawaii After almost two weeks in Southeast Asia I arrived in Hawaii. I am back home. I am so happy to be here, the past few days in Bangkok were a bit rough, didnâ€™t really like the contrast to my remote country lifestyle in the south of Cambodia. Bangkok was to busy and too seedy. Somehow I got really depressed being around all that and I just could not wait to come home to Oahu. I am so thrilled to be here. The flight back was a bit of a drag: from Bangkok (Thailand) to Taipei (Taiwan) via Tokyo (Japan), then finally arrived in Honolulu. It took like 24 hours and I pretty much passed out a few hours after I arrived on the NorthShore. I was almost in a coma for the past 36 hours, so jet lagged! Somehow I did not do anything productive for the past two days. What a luxury it is not to have to report somewhere in an office at eight oâ€™clock
in the morning. Being self employed has its advantages, for sure a flexible schedule, but if you don’t work, don’t acquire new assignments and build up the client base, well it won’t last and self-employment can easily turn into unemployment which I simply cannot afford. Having a break from time to time is good for the spirit and empowers your creative senses. I am a bit moody, which is strange, because I have paradise just behind the house. The weather is amazing and the surf’s great, yet I miss that rain and the muddy roads, the Khmer food, the interaction with the people. I really had a great time down there. Post Vacation trauma? Hopefully not; I’d rather blame it on the still existing jet lag. I’ll get some sleep, then brush up on my travel logs and finish the missing parts. I hope i will find my way back into my professional life soon.
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As expected, another big adventure in my book of unexpected things that life throws at me. I truly feel blessed being able to experience all these endeavors that often come out of nowhere. In a way it is these encounters that I seem to look for; these encounters that I seem to attract and take them in as much as possible. Words can only describe or document what happens, the true adventure -- the encounter -- is more intense and authentic. After traveling from Honolulu to Bangkok via Taiwan, I arrived to a humid and sticky mega city. A city that is booming with construction everywhere, and a food-stall on every street corner. Som Tam is my salad of choice. The locals always give me a funny look when I order it as most Western people cannot take the
spicy flavor. Well, “Thai” spicy food is what I love. Even at home in Honolulu I enjoy manapua (steamed Hawaiian pork bun) with fresh Thai chili peppers and hot mustard for breakfast. I remember those early mornings at Info Grafik, when one of us would go downstairs to get fresh steamed pork manapuas from Char Hut Sun, the best place on the island, which happened to be just down the block from the office. Their manapua was out of this world, along with fresh Thai chili peppers from Noi at “Hong Fa”, the Laotian Green Grocer below the office. Well that was an unbeatable combination for me. Being in Thailand, I have so many choices in terms of spicy food, really a no-brainer here since pretty much everything here meets that standard. The food is simply amazing. Thais like to snack, that’s why you find
so many vendors everywhere, and most of them are busy and have a good reputation. Hygiene? Well, of course that is an issue to the Western mind. I am sure that most locals have developed a high tolerance and that’s why we Westerners call Pepto Bismo our good travel companion, at least the first time we enter into this world of street hawkers and impromptu snack attacks. If you see a line of people waiting to get served that’s a good sign and that’s where you want to eat. I love Thai food and I am always on the lookout for another authentic encounter. On Saturday I went to the optician, to get a new pair of progressive lenses for yet another Alan Mikli frame (I continue to collect). Yap: I joined that age group where reading the fine print is often an embarrassment. Trying to figure out the check in a dark place, a restaurant or anywhere else, that isn’t that easy anymore. A spare set of reading glasses comes in handy, but I simply decided to have at least one pair that includes it all -- two in one. Living it up! [yeah, whateva!] I had a good expedience with a particular eyewear shop in Bangkok from the year before, so I decided to visit them again to order my new lenses. It was quite a scene, when the entire staff remembered me and they all welcomed me in sync with “Aloha”. It was something else: priceless! Visiting friends, buying this and that .. all that in the heat and humidity that Bangkok has to offer at this time of the year. We took care of the prescription and I also got a quick lesson on “progressive lenses;” actually a completely new game that requires some “getting used to.” They should be ready for me by the time I get back from Cambodia, on my way back home to Hawaii. I promised to bring the computer, so I could show some beautiful Hawaii images to the staff, unfortunately none of them had a computer and “Google” sounded like a foreign dish to them: no idea. 21
The day went by quickly with running errands, buying this and that, and of course more spicy Thai food. I enjoy the authentic dishes that street vendors offer, it is so very delicious, so spicy and simply amazing and it is entirely what I love: such an adventure to explore new stands and new dishes, but also to go back to old places and nurture those memories with culinary specialties. Every trip to Southeast Asia is different, and the people you meet along the way are always an interesting mix, sometimes eclectic, yet some elements will always be the same: sitting on a sidewalk, in a small plastic chair, enjoying a meal that is cooked in front of you enjoying an ice cold Shinga beer and the scent of stinky Durian fruit and other typical scents. I hope I will be able to experience and enjoy this for a long time to come. I always want to come back here, I think I had Anthony Bourdain blood in me way before he got famous (back in my New York years, I actually ate quite often at Les Halles in the Flatiron district, his domain). On this trip I also wanted to follow Tiziano Terzani’s footsteps. In my favorite book ‘A Fortune Teller Told Me’, he talks about the time when he and his family lived in the former Jim Thompson House, right in the center of Bangkok and now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. Jim Thompson who was largely responsible for setting up the Thai silk industry disappeared mysteriously in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia in 1967. Later his housing complex was turned into a beautiful museum, featuring Thai architecture with Western elements. The book allays referred to the former Jim Thompson house as Turtle House, but somehow I could not connect the dots, and I think there must have been a misinterpretation in the book. The Jim Thompson Museum does not really resemble the Turtle House, described by Tiziano Terzani; looks like I will have to do more research on that subject, and maybe plan another trip to Thailand’s capitol.
In any case, I had a wonderful time at the museum and was impressed that tours were offered in 10 different languages: I took the English tour, not the German, which is also my preference when it comes to movies. I simply cannot watch movies dubbed in German (unless they are from and about Germany) Go figure. I moved to the States in 1991, lived in New York until 2005, then moved to Oahu and I am quite happy about it. Here and there I am in a situation where I can speak German, but it is mostly English (still with a bit of a funky German accent). So after I spent the weekend in Thailand’s capital, I made it to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, just about in time for dinner. My dinner place of choice: somewhere on a sidewalk, in the streets of Phnom Penh, having some sort of meat on a stick with incredible “Bok l’hong”, green papaya salad (Khmer style), a duck egg 24
and delicious French baguette. It was so incredible; about $2.25 and I also had a glass of squeezed sugarcane with lime juice. Delicious! Mission accomplished: I was so happy with my authentic dinner. Somehow I did feel so silly because I actually ended up eating a ‘Whopper Meal” at the airport in Bangkok, right before I took off for Phnom Penh, and of course you feel sick after ten minutes. You know it’s going to happen but somehow you still do it. What is the matter with the human mind .. or with my mind in particular? Besides: almost eight bucks for a Whopper Combo -- the U.S. ‘haute cuisine.” At least that’s what they think of it in Thailand. Pathetic and sad. I did make a promise to myself that it will be ‘NO’ to the Whopper from now on and if it has to be a burger, then it will be one from Kua Aina in Haleiwa. Basta !
I decided not to go out last night; I was actually pretty shot. At 8:00 pm I hit the sack and woke up early in the morning to the sound of street activities -- the hustle and bustle of Southeast Asian morning noise. Music to my ears. As planned, I went to the U.S. embassy this morning to transfer my newly approved O-1 work visa for the States. I had breakfast and then it was almost like a movie: the Buddhist monks walked by asking for their morning alms (food) and prayed for people in return. Beautiful images. I then hopped onto the back of the typical moped taxies and hit the traffic. It was the usual chaos, always an adventure with simply no logic. The only rule: GO! Somehow you manage to actually make it to your destination. I remember my first trip to Cambodia. I tried to cross a busy intersection; I would wait and wait. It just wasn’t happening. I observed how people just go with the flow, make left and right turns sporadically, almost naïvely, like the oncoming traffic was no threat and could not hurt you. I just couldn’t fathom how this chaotic system really works, but it does. Imagine a thousand PacMans, moving and turning … insane. The moto dops, or moped taxis that are so popular are basically everywhere. The moment you get noticed as a Westerner you have a throng of guys on mopeds following you, or they simply stop in front of you, offering their services: “Mister, do you need moto?” This question will accompany you basically all day long; I guess the goal is a to get a good old-fashioned Walkman or have less eye contact. Still, the moto taxis come in handy when you need one, since that’s how you get around in town. You raise your arm, just like hailing a cab in New York and the race begins. An army of available moped drivers tries to make a buck, and it’s up to you to pick. It’s quite often a chaotic scenario. 26
Then you ‘hop on the back seat, and off you go: crisscrossing Phnom Penh’s traffic … with no rules at hand. Quite an adventure, that becomes a routine after a few days of proctice. As previously scheduled, I entered the U.S. embassy at 8:00 am, presented my papers, proceeded to the scanner and followed the staff’s instruction. Somehow the security dudes at the embassy managed to loose my application. My folder with the original approval, all other documents I needed, as well as my passportsize images were missing. I realized I left that folder on the counter at check-in, then some other visitor swiped it (by accident?) Nobody knows! The embassy tried to assist as much as possible, reprimanding the guards on their missing focus. I had all the old files here with me in my computer … still it is a big headache! In a way it was strange, that with all that security at the embassy something like this was possible. There is actually a chance that a woman who entered the first security section, but then went back outside took my folder by accident. What a nightmare. So for the next couple of hours I am trying to solve the problem. I am back and forth between my hotel, where I find back-up copies of the documents and applications ... then try to run a PDF on a MAC thumb drive where print shops only have PC’s, and my flash drive won’t read (so that I can print the docs). I finally realized I could buy a blank CD, burn the data, then open the CD at an Internet cafe and run the prints. Now back to the embassy, and more headaches. Finally they send me back. I need to confirm the hotel number, so that they can call me tomorrow, or whenever all the stuff is finally processed. Then off to the next headache. The rental agent around the corner from my hotel decided NOT to rent my motorbike because I am not in the possession of MY PASSPORT even though we had the same transaction three years ago when I simply made a credit card deposit for the motorbike. She just does not want to 29
do that anymore -- she wants my passport. I could kill her. I am so mad, really, really mad. What a day! Now I am in my cool hotel room trying to calm down. I am here and it’s good. Hopefully my mood will change and I will go out tonight to party, have fun, get my passport the next day, and then rent the bike for a quick trip to the Vietnamese border on Wednesday. Right now it all sounds stressful and dramatic, but it’s just the bad mood talking: in a few hours I’ll be better. I realize that I am actually quite a lucky guy to have a chance to live in Hawaii and experience so many adventures. Life is still truly amazing. Think I will go down to the bar and have a cold beer now, then head to the Central Market in Phnom Penh. I’ll take a tuk tuk, or hop on the back of one of those moped taxis and search for inspiration, maybe just something unusual to eat. I am confident it will be another great day. I just can’t wait to get the bike and get lost. The journey is the destination, and in my case it really is. I have been to Kampong Som and Kampot before, but the trip itself is always the highlight. Stops here and there, getting to know some villages, communicating (somehow) with a food vendor in the middle of nowhere, it all sounds good and is always a welcome adventure. Soo-ah S’dey! A good day today! I feel I finally submerged into the scene. ‘Had many great encounters with locals and was able to listen and learn about their daily habits, their routines and their perspective. The US embassy called me in the morning at 7.30 and delivered the wake-up call. Visa OK: ready for pick up at 4pm. I love those guys at the US embassy in Phnom Penh, I actually prefer that embassy over the US embassy in Berlin, where they are so rude and treat you ilk cattle. Here in Phnom Penh it is a more personal affair, more intimate and approachable. All papers and important decision have been dealt with at this point by 30
my attorney in New York. The approval process for my Visa took a few month because I did not want to shell out the extra $1500 bucks for premium processing. Anyway, everything worked out fine, I got my papers as expected and now I am in Cambodia to transfer the actual vis into my German passport (only possible at an US embassy outside the US). Kudos to the US embassy, though the Khmer security guards screwed up my documents, the actual embassy members were fantastic and I just donâ€™t know why I go on an on about it here â€Ś.well, anyway. So I decided to take an extended breakfast as well as an order of fresh cold beer with my ham and eggs. I sat outside the hotel lobby accompanied by laptop and a way better mood than the day before. I wanted to take a walk to the Central Market, and just snoop around: look at things, but also drop of 32
my pants at the tailor, since they needed some fixing. Hot and humid, must be over 100 F - almost 40C ! Damned, no breeze .. and the sweat is crawling down my neck. The market is huge. Actually a beautiful art deco structure with an additional array of shacks and tents around it .. you can find almost anything here. From a new engine for your moped - to hard boiled duck eggs and brand new fake diesel backpacks. Simply insane! I was looking for a tailor, to fix a hole in my pants, and also to fix up another pair of shorts. My first stop turned out not to be successful, they did not want to do it: Impossible .. bad choice. But I did not want to give up. Next stop: Winner! The women was skeptical but said she could do it. We had a brilliant conversation in something between hand-language and broken English .. it was amazing. Big adventure. I pointed out what is important - so that I donâ€™t end up with a red patch on my tan colored pants. Deal! 33
She told me to pick it up at 3 pm, in a few hours. Now it was time to get some food; the vendors are basically everywhere. I was in the mood for a Vietnamese sandwich and settled with a lady on a sidewalk near by. She prepared everything for me, toasted the baguette on a grill that looked like it was before Cambodia was established as a kingdom. My god, all the tools they are using here are so old .. but they all get the job done and are very inventive. I took the sandwich, rolled up in recycled paper (you could still see the Math Equations on it .. kind of comical. Hygiene? eh .. never mind. Well, ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’. Though I was actually in Cambodia, it was time for a Vietnamese coffee. Yes, the best coffee there is. I headed for a place where they sold fresh Vietnamese coffee, in a small glass .. almost a shot glass. I negotiated for 2 shots of hot coffee and later for an iced coffee. 1 dollar... total, the sandwich was 2000 riel, which is about 1/2 dollar. I had a great conversation with the people hanging out there, and they seemed to like me as well, and not just my money. The women I was talking to shared my perspective and once again it was a great adventure; another round. Life is good. When I picked up the pants from the tailor, I also gave her some candy - in addition to the 3 dollars for the job. She smiled and was happy, it is so nice to be nice. Often you just don’t want to negotiate the price, because you know how hard these people have to work. I am sure she would have done the job for 2 dollars. Sometimes you draw the line and don’t haggle. Think about it. 3 dollars; … make you think. Time to shower, and off to the US embassy to pick up my passport with my new visa. Everything worked out fine; the guys at the security gate remembered me from the day before and waved me in. It was like coming home. I loved it. Within minutes I got it all done - went back home and took a nap. 35
After all these sandwiches over the past few days, I started to miss my beloved Thai Food. I decided to go to a nice Khmer Restaurant that serves a combination of Khmer and Thai. Delicious papaya salad, sticky rice and Penang Curry, that tasted very different compared to the curry in the US, or at “Schwetty Betty”, my most favorite Thai/Viet restaurant at the Maunakea Marketplace in Honolulu’s Chinatown on Oahu. The food was absolutely amazing and also super hot. I needed beer .. lots of it. The bill came to 7 bucks with a 1 dollar tip. Great evening. Later on I went for a couple of drinks to the “Heart of Darkness” a famous club in the neighborhood - beautiful design inside .. and good music, good crowd. But before I got in I was padded down and checked for guns. That was funny .. there was also a sign at the door: no guns, no hand granates .. and for some reason ‘No Slippah’s”. Another great day: I picked up the bike and got my gear in check for tomorrows trip down south. I wanted to keep it minimal, so only the absolute necessary things will be in a small backpack, with a larger plastic bag at hand - because sooner or later the rain will hit, and it will hit hard. Its still the official Raining Season. Since January of 2009 the rules changed and one has to wear a helmet, which is actually good for safety, but also a rather “schwetty” affair. With my passport on hand there was no more problem with the motor bike rental agent, we haggled about the price and I got a confirmed daily rental rate of $13/day. My bike of choice: 250 Honda Baja with double spotlight in front and electric starter. Everything went well, and after all was settled, I had another special thing on my agenda; something I do on every trip to SouthEast Asia. I donate blood. It is a very easy thing to do, saves lives, and in a way is also a way of giving back to the people of Cambodia for their kindness and wonderful memories. I initially had a hard time to find the right 37
place again, but after cruising around on my motorbike, I finally located the clinic. It turned out the staff was on a lunch break, but somehow a friendly old lady managed to get the doctor to come downstairs into the facility and take care of business. They tested my blood first to analyze the type. Iâ€™m O negative, good blood, they said. Wow, what a compliment. I also got a new blood donor passport, since the old one was almost full. The blood was drawn and it did not hurt at all, a fairly simple procedure, 15 minutes all together. And then I was even rewarded with a T-shirt, breakfast and a wonderful conversation with the old and very charming nurse. Unreal: the old lady was so kind and loving and welcome. It almost broke my heart. She directed me to a room where I was supposed to sit down and have breakfast: three bananas, a Coca Cola, a bottle of water, two hard boiled eggs (with salt and pepper already mixed, Khmer style), 38
and some sort of curry/beef croissant. It all was delicious and when I left she wanted me to take a can of condensed sweetened milk. I just did not get what it was for since I could not see myself having shots of condensed milk in the middle of the day, especially without any coffee at hand. It was just such a nice gesture and overall very heartfelt. Next stop: the Russian Market in the south of Phnom Penh. A few weeks ago I lost my ring, the one I bought seven years ago on my first trip to Cambodia. I wanted to replace it and that particular market is known for good silverware, but it turned out to be difficult finding the design that I remembered. I must have driven those vendors crazy. In the end I settled for something nice, but a totally different design.
When I parked my bike somewhere, I got a small ticket stub, but all the stands looked all the same and I had a hard time finding it. I remember a few years back my bike was locked in the market after it closed at 4:30 pm. You can only imagine what a terrifying experience it was to manage getting the bike back, finding the guys with a key for the garage. My god: that was something else. I simply wanted to make sure not to repeat that experience this time around. I was ready to leave anyway, it was so hot inside, the ceiling of the market is very low, not as high as â€˜Psah Thmayâ€™, the Central Market in Phnom Penh. I was sweating like a pig. Insane! I also hate shopping -- so sorry: no souvenirs for anybody. Just really, really hot in there; interesting, but too hot. I needed to get out. The combination of humidity and raw meat, sweat and fish sauce .... well, pretty authentic to put it mildly. I had to leave ... fast. Once I located the parking stall for the bike, I was off for a more relaxing place: a nice open-air coffee house nearby. The coffee was so good, I pulled out a cereal bar and I was in heaven. Well, actually I shared that cereal bar with a peddler that was begging for money. A young guy, maybe 14 years old, he looked kinda weird, no shoes and came across as a bit retarded. I gave him some money, then half of my cereal bar. He smiled and once I took a closer look at him I saw his open wounds and realized that he was really a poor fellow. I gave him an extra dollar and he thanked me; 4000 Cambodian riel are about $1, so usually you have a wad of smaller Cambodian notes in your pocket, 100, 500 -- the demand is high, since you are basically surrounded by very poor people all the time. Even if you give a little, like a few hundred riel, which is just a few cents , that is still better than being the ugly cold hearted Westerner that does not care. I have learned my lessons over the years. I am also starting to love this country and its people - and like to share whatever I am able to share.
First thing, after I arrived back at the hotel was a nice shower. I was so very ‘schwetty’ and dirty ... time to clean up. About an hour rest, 22 e-mails to friend and family and 1 beer in the hotel lobby I was off to have dinner at one of the best night markest in the city, known for its variety of food vendors. The D’orussey Night Market is simply amazing, so many different ethnic foods with BBQ on every corner. I thought it’s time for pork, beer and bread. The Anthony Bourdain in me was speaking, but a nice sausage and a beer was simply what I was in the mood for. I selected the right place: a few sausages on a stick, another little stick with five pieces of meat, a can of cold Anchor beer, and a side salad. The combination was of papaya salad and sauerkraut on a small baguette that was roasted on the grill. I was in business and loving every bite of it. I paid $2 for my dinner. A good choice, even though there is a great chance to need the Imodium pills the next day, it was well worth it. Besides, I had a great conversation with the locals that were curious about the only white long-nose in a sea of brown people. It is so cool riding a dirt bike in Cambodia, you feel like a cowboy - with an iron horse. I was having a jolly good time. On the way home I saw a huge neon-lit palace: “Massage” in bright green letters. Somehow I thought it was time to check this out. I parked the bike and went inside. On the first floor, the concierge asked me if I wanted foot or full body massage. I replied “full body.” It sounded a bit kinky but don’t get too excited, this was a clean establishment. You get your locker, change into “golden” colored shorts and hit the steam room/spa. A great place, like a cave, with hot water pools, in which you stand or dip into, take a bowl and pour that hot water over your body or stand under the hot streaming water waterfall. Very fancy. It really looked like a cave and was decorated that way. Of course there was a big screen TV
nearby, with some weird Chinese soap opera -- totally tacky. The service boy asked if I wanted a drink, but I declined. I guess the etiquette would have been to order ‘Mekong Whiskey,’ but I just wasn’t in the mood for that. I wanted to relax. Now it was time for the steam room, then sauna, then shower again and finally my one-hour massage. Wow, that really hit the spot. I changed clothes again and another set of golden disco pants were given to me, this time with a top, kimono style. Was I about to hit a stage? It was very strange looking. I just followed the rules. A small little room with a massage table and clean sheets. Good! A few minutes later, a small built girl came in and I asked her what to do. She somehow explained to me that I should take the top off, but keep my golden disco shorts on. It was very funny. We both smiled. The massage that followed was one of the best ever: a combination of Shiatzu and Thai massage: very relaxing, and no funny business. When I left, I really felt rejuvenated; I was glad I stopped by. All together, seven bucks; I left a $2 tip and everybody was happy. What an experience; just great! My plans to go out later that day changed since the nap that I took to relax for an hour turned into a few hours. I woke up at 4:00 am: too late ... decided to sleep until 7:00 am, pack my stuff and leave for my bike trip down to the Vietnamese border, heading south to Kampot, the heart of Kampuchea Krom. Soo-ah S’dey. I had my usual breakfast outdoors, in front of the hotel, finished the last batch of e-mails taking advantage of the wireless connection. It was great to enjoy breakfast while reading the news, I kinda missed that. I will leave my belongings at the hotel and just travel with a small bag, strapped onto the back of my bike. I am almost ready, checked the oil, filled the tank. Gas ain’t that cheap here anymore.
Years ago it was about less than 50 cents a liter, now we are well over a dollar. I can only imagine how hard it must be for the many people that depend on using a car or even a moped with gas prices like that. I made sure I had on a light long-sleeve shirt, to change later on, as well as a set of shorts and shirt. The sun is pretty strong and though you don’t feel it while riding the bike, the sunburn will come eventually. I also used SPF 50 and kept it handy in my small backpack so I can easily reapply it. I have learned from experience years ago that after riding all day, I looked like a lobster and the pain was horrendous. Heavy traffic dominates the inner city landscape of Phnom Penh. Thousands of mopeds, not so many cars. The iPod plays Lady GaGa ‘Just Dance” and my bike takes the lead. I am getting more and more comfortable
to navigate the heavy traffic, as chaotic as it can be. Once I leave the city, the truck traffic increases. Big trucks are in front and in the back of me. At times I feel a bit uncomfortable, and when traffic allows it, I actually pass them, so I have clear sight of the road. It is an amazing feeling to cruise along the Cambodian countryside, listening to music with a cooling breeze. Kids greet me, wave at me, and I wave back at them. At times I am feeling like Royalty, waving to the right and to the left, but how long can this go on? Every parade has an end at some point. Still, I take it all in and enjoy my adventure. What a wonderful day.
The sun is still shining bright, but I know the rain is gonna hit at some point. To play it safe, I have a big plastic bag in my small luggage on the back, so I can cover it. I hope I can make it to Sihanoukville before the sun goes down, I hope I can get there without getting caught in the rain. Besides getting wet, I just donâ€™t like riding the bike in the rain, but wishful thinking could not stop it. In early afternoon the clouds covered the sunny skies and it started to pour. The required helmet came in handy and I did not have to suffer from the raindrops hitting my face like the years before. If you go 60 mph in the rain, every raindrop hits hard; your sunglasses can only protect the eyes, but not the rest of your face. Wearing a helmet with a visor made a big difference. In a way it was actually kinda fun, feeling the impact on your body, but not in your face. After 20 minutes it was over and the sun came out again. I was pretty sure that there would be other rainy encounters ahead of me. Once you get wet, you actually donâ€™t care so much about it and it really all depends how you want to look at it. I am here to have a good time and no rain can stop that. The countryside changed as I got deeper into the south. Rice paddies to my right presented a sea of green. It is just so very beautiful. The sugar palm trees, with their distinct look lined the horizon, like the cypress trees in Tuscany. Just beautiful. I stopped the bike, pulled over to take it all in, rest for a while and watch a local fisherman pulling in his nets in a ditch near by. I was wondering what he tried to capture there, are there fish in the rice fields? His two little kids were waving at me from a distance. Wherever and whenever I stopped, people waved at me, sometimes came up to me to take a closer look, and at times babies cried when they saw me. Who was that guy with the dirt bike dressed all in black? To protect myself from the dust (almost like the red dirt in Hawaii), I was wearing a krama, that I used as a scarf to cover my mouth
while I was riding the bike. The colorful checked scarf is almost universally worn by rural Cambodians and is also popular in the cities. The scarves are made from cotton and the most famous of which are found in Kompong Cham and Takeo Provinces. It has a very unique and typical Cambodian design: red and white checkerboard that is actually the most popular color combination, but of course you find all kinds of color varieties at the local markets. Krama have a multitude of uses; they are primarily used to protect Cambodians from the sun, the dust, and the wind, and it is for this reason many tourists, just like me, end up investing in one during a visit. However, they are also slung around the waist as mini-sarongs, used as towels for drying the body, knotted at the neck as decorations, tied across the shoulders as baby carries, placed upon chairs or beds as pillow covers, used to tow broken down motorbikes and stuffed inside motorbike tires in the advent of remote punctures -- the list is endless. On this trip it would give me protection from the dust on the road, and back home it would function as decoration, and sometimes as a little blanket for a beach picnic. I would stop the bike to inspect new pagodas and take pictures, I simply enjoyed my freedom on the road being able to direct my own pace. A sense of freedom and independence, and the desire to really take in all in created a level of comfort and pleasure that is difficult to explain, but absolutely amazing when you actually experience it. Just me, the bike, good music â€Ś enough gas in the tank and some money in my pocket. Thatâ€™s all I need; I am happy, so happy. In a way itâ€™s crazy; I mean I have been here so many times and actually covered that stretch of land several times, yet every time it seems to be a different experience. The surroundings might be the same constant factor but somehow it still feels like a new
adventure. Different in a good way, and I just cannot get enough of that difference. I love being out there in the country, touring the rice paddies and just turning right or left, to explore random villages, then getting back on the road to follow the roughly planned route. I wonder how often I could repeat myself? I am really liking this, and I am positive that it will blow my mind forever. One day, I hope, I can share this experience with my brother. I really hope so. I am deep in the south, lush forest to my right in the distance. Magnificent! The Cardamon Mountains, named after the spice that to this day still grows on its slopes, formed one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, after losing power in 1979, and for the next 20 years, no one wanted to enter that area for fear of the KR and the mines they placed in it. To this day, many parts are largely inaccessible. The inaccessibility of the hills, however, helped to preserve the area; the mountains now form an endangered eco-region. The highest elevation of the Cardamom Mountains is Phnom Aural at 1,813 meters (5,948 ft) high; Cambodia’s highest peak. Today, this region is the largest wilderness in mainland Southeast Asia, and home to over 14 endangered species and threatened mammal species including the Asian elephant, Indochinese Tiger, Malayan Sun Bear and Pileated Gibbon, Irrawaddy, humpback dolphins, and half of Cambodia’s bird species. It is the last place on earth with Siamese crocodiles and is the only habitat remaining in Cambodia for the nearly extinct “Royal Turtle.” A beautiful stretch of land, but the population of the Cardamom Mountain Range is extremely poor, and threats to the biological diversity of the region include habitat loss due to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and forest fires caused by slash-and-burn agriculture.
You see big logging trucks on the National Highway No. 5; traffic certainly increases as I come closer to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main deep-water port. Sihanoukville has grown to be the largest port in Cambodia, and the only deep-water port servicing container ships, naval ships, and cruise ships from around the world. On the weekends many Cambodian families decide to come down to the south and enjoy the beaches, a getaway from the big city, Phnom Penh with its chaotic traffic and buzzing street activities. Over the past 10 years this town has become a new destination for tourists and locals alike. Sihanoukville attracts tourists with its laid-back beach atmosphere compared to Thailand’s more developed ones. However, the city has attracted not only tourists, but several NGOs and foreign and national investors in the last few years in order to develop not only the growing tourist industry, but its capacity as an international sea port and other sectors like textiles and real estate. One could say there is a boom going on. Guesthouses pop up everywhere and big hotels (often very tacky) open their doors to Asian as well as Western tourists in the hopes to cash in on the increasing numbers of travelers that come to the region, as an alternative (or in addition) to the temples of Angkor in the north of the country. Another large complex located in Sihanoukville, certainly not as huge as the temples of Angkor, but very important to the wellbeing of locals and travelers alike, is the main factory of ‘Angkor,’ the Cambodian national beer brand. The town itself is spread out with no sense of center; what is defined as “Victory Hill” is a cluster of guesthouses and bars that offer everything from ‘Fish and Chips’ to Chicken Marsala, .and of course, some Khmer dishes, but mostly catering towards the Western traveler. Kinda ghetto. The beaches of Sihanoukville are nice, but there is simply no comparison to Hawaii or Thailand.
It is a great change of scenery, to relax in calm waters, just chill at the water’s edge and enjoy very attentive service from the nearby bars and restaurants. There is an army of vendors that want to sell you anything from a friendship bracelet, delicious spring rolls, to freshly caught fish that will be BBQ’ed in front of you. It is quite an experience: living the good life on the cheap. Nothing is really expensive here. The main island you can see offshore is Phu Quoc – claimed by Vietnam – but any Cambodian will tell you it was stolen by the Vietnamese. Looking at the basic geography of the coastline, they have a point. Phu Quoc is very famous for its fermented ‘Fish Sauce’, a staple in every Southeast Asian household. ‘Toeuk Trey’ (literally ‘fish water’) as it is called here in Cambodia, is named ‘Nam Pla’ in Thailand, and ‘Nuoc Nam’ in Vietnam; the list goes on. Fish sauce can be made of either freshwater or saltwater fish. Today, most commercially 62
made fish sauce is made from saltwater fish, but the homemade fish sauce in Cambodia is made from fish caught in the vast Tonle Sap lake, the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia. The pungent Cambodian fish paste called ‘prahok’ is also made from small fish caught in the Tonle Sap. That is something for the acquired taste only. I tried it, but have to say, it did not strike a chord with me. I spend the night at the usual place: Makara Guesthouse, right across from the beach. For dinner (and drinks) I decided to check out one of the many bars right on the beach. One of them is called ‘Tahiti.” I thought that would be a good choice. Hawaii – Tahiti. Yap, I am home again. The people running it were also very friendly and I was in good hands. As soon as I sat down I ordered a cold one -- the seafood vendors
that roam along the beach, offering freshly caught mini lobster and squid came up to me. What a delight. I bought a round of mini lobsters for the staff of the bar: five mini lobsters for three bucks, and10 squids on a stick, ready to be BBQâ€™ed in front of my eyes on a makeshift grill. What a spectacle; mouth watering and so good to look at. I was in heaven: a cold beer in hand, munching on lobster and squid, with chili sauce and freshly squeezed lemon juice. I could not ask for more. The music in the background was soothing, the sun was about to go down, and I started to compare sunsets. I know I am pretty spoiled living right on Sunset Beach in Hawaii, a witness to so many incredible and colorful sunsets, but you know, they all are different and unique in their own way. Same here in the South of Cambodia close to the Vietnamese border. The sky turned magenta with orange highlights, then more and more purple until it was finally dark blue. The stars came out at night and the moon was shining as well. I found myself in paradise, away from home, away from the beauty of Hawaii, yet pretty happy and excited to experience another evening by the water: good company, cold drinks, and an ongoing supply of fresh grilled squid. I am definitely happy! The next morning I woke up to grey skies; the rain was practically hanging in the clouds, waiting to come down. I had to cover a lot of distance today; I still wanted to have a good time. Riding in the rain, combined with the red dirt in the countryside, I knew that by the end of the day I would look different, to put it mildly. But I also knew that I could simply take a shower and wash my clothes. No biggie. If the rain decided to grace me with a blessing, so be it. I am ready. First, I needed to find a place to have good breakfast. I did not want to eat at my Guesthouse, so I took off looking for other establishments. 64
I went to ‘Monkey Republic,’ a pretty popular place, a nice big restaurant that also offered pool, a big open air bar downstairs, and room rentals upstairs. I stopped the bike and got ready to have a nice Western breakfast: I was in the mood for eggs, and of course, coffee. Most of the people here were either British or Australian. I happened to take a seat at the bar next to two girls from Holland. They were staying here for two weeks and complained about the weather; rain, and lots of it. They were looking forward to their time at the beach, and somehow I realized how spoiled I am, having one of the world’s most beautiful beaches right behind the house at home on Oahu. It really does change things quite a bit when you live in Hawaii, the focus on my adventures is not so much spending time at the beach, and I actually don’t mind the rain either. It’s funny, in a way. An hour after I left Sihanoukville, the rain hit, and it sort of developed a routine: it would rain for 10 minutes, then the sun would come out again .. sometimes just for a few minutes, sometimes for an hour. I got used to it. Hot-wet, wet-hot. Have I been here before? I enjoyed riding the bike once more through rice patties, stopping here and there, giving balloons to kids. Interact, just have a good time and try to be a good traveler. People would continue to wave at me -- the guy with the black clothes, black helmet and terra-cotta colored pants (that used to be black!) splattered with mud from the red dirt and potholes (filled with rainwater) I was constantly hitting. I think the people kinda got a kick out of it, seeing me navigating through the tough terrain, bypassing oxcarts and of course a lot of bicycles. The iPod was still giving me company and provided the necessary beat. Once in a while I would stand up on the bike while I was riding, just to stretch my legs. My hiney would be hurting as well, I mean sitting on the bike all
day long is a lot of fun in so many ways, but it is also a pain in the ass (oops). But hey, thatâ€™s what it was. I stopped again to get some rest and out of nowhere this women appears. Turns out that she was kneeling in the rice fields, doing something. I am quite curious what she is doing, when I realize that she and her daughter were searching for snails, either for consumption or to be sold on the market. Unfortunately I am not able to find out which, still somehow we have some strange communication going on: she definitely likes that I take an interest in what she and her daughter are collecting. Is she expecting money from me? Probably not, she seems genuinely nice and friendly, just like country folk. I give the daughter a bunch of balloons (she is about 10) and a ballpoint pen, wave and take off. A few minutes later I realize that I should have given her some money, so I turn the bike around and drop off a couple of bucks. Wonâ€™t kill me and it 68
certainly will make her day a bit easier. Itâ€™s a good thing. I will remember her appearance for a long time to come. I will remember her smile; she was really dirty and her smile was just incredible. I had such a great time on the bike exploring the country, I was actually singing along to the music. It was just so cheerful and so damned comfortable on my bike. Thatâ€™s when it happened. The throttle cable broke. Bummer! Now what? I am almost in the middle of nowhere. How am I supposed to fix that. I am by no means a mechanic, I could barely find the choke to start the bike again after it initially went off. The gas would not work at all. I was going two miles an hour, and then someone pointed me in the direction of a repair station, which later turned out to be someoneâ€™s garage in a village nearby.
The kid somehow fixed the cable. I actually had no idea what he was doing, but when he requested just a dollar for the repair job, I gladly gave him two bucks instead. I was so happy that my bike was running again and that I could actually use it. Big thank you and I took off. I saw the rain in the clouds; it was getting darker and I wanted to make it to Kampot soon. The repair job lasted not very long and soon I could not use the gas throttle again, just barely moving forward, maybe 30 mph. There was no way to continue like that. But I made it to Kampot, I really did. Finding the right garage, or repair place to really fix my problem was another story. I thought I remembered a place by the river next to the Bokor Mountain Club, a guesthouse that also rents dirt bikes (since the trip up to the Bokor Hill station is only possible by either four-wheel drive vehicle, or dirt bike). Unfortunately that rental shop did not exist anymore, hence no repair shop. I was now actively scouting out street by street looking for someone that could help me or point me once more in the right direction. The sky was about to burst: I knew that it was just a matter of minutes before the rain would come down hard. I had to rush. I was also hungry. I had to hurry to get my bike fixed and get a bite to eat. Well, Cambodians are already well known for their friendliness, and today I would experience the kindness of complete strangers that assisted me to get my bike back on the road. I was touched. After searching for help, I started to communicate with a guy on the street corner. He obviously did not understand a word I was saying, but he could figure out that I needed to replace the throttle cable. The guy with his moped tried to explain where I could find the motorbike repair shop, but somehow I simply could not follow what he was telling me. The Khmer language sounds very harsh and almost like someone is arguing with you. 70
It just did not work out. No idea. He gave his moped to a nearby buddy, then hopped on my bike, and guided me to the garage about a mile away. This looked good. I saw a couple of dirt bikes and I knew in an instant that this was it. I was in good company and these guys knew what they were doing. What a relief. The rain was hitting harder, the sky turned completely grey â€Ś it looked spooky. While the mechanics were getting busy with the bike, I looked around for a place to get some soup. Kampot is actually a charming little town by the banks of the Tek Chou River, quiet, relaxed, laid back, some would say sleepy. I have been here on two previous trips and always enjoyed my time here. Having some dried squid with fresh papaya salad and a bottle of water by the banks of the river, I remember it all. There was an animated conversation with the vendor that did not speak English, but he liked the fact that I enjoyed the snacks they had to offer and that I was ambitious enough to try. They were all laughing seeing a foreigner having a good time, someone that appreciated their simple food. In a way it brings people together. One year I actually got invited to a real wedding. It was a 15-minute ride outside of Kampot, really in the sticks. I had absolutely no idea where I was. Then we made a right turn and ended up at some remote village by the riverbanks. I thought if I really got lost I simply would follow the river back to town, though I am sure this is easier said than done. Anyway, that wedding was something else. The entire village and more must have shown up to celebrate the young couple. The main ceremony was already over, I figured we must have missed dinner as well, because I could only see bowls with white rice and two liter bottles of Sprite on the tables. Then again, maybe that was dinner, who knows? People were still wandering around. The young couple would go from bench to bench, sit down and talk, pretty much like a Western wedding.
They were a very beautiful couple, all dressed up in fine garments. I have no idea if the clothes are passed on from wedding to wedding or if they actually saved enough money until they could afford to pay for it all. I bet the entire show did cost them a bundle, maybe everybody pitched in and they all made it happen as a collective. I thought that was the case. Family is a big thing here and people help each other and care for one another. Villages are more or less a community and tradition is an important issue. The entertainment was about to start. A stylish band that could have been from a cheesy cocktail bar in Paris hit the stage. The girls were absolutely gorgeous. Was I really deep in the countryside by the banks of the Tek Chou River, close to the Gulf of Siam? It seemed unreal. Was I dreaming? The four-girl band and a DJ performed several songs in Khmer (of course). They even went through a few rounds of wardrobe changes. It was a 74
spectacle, and I realized how fortunate I was to have been invited to this special event. Most eyes were directed towards me, instead of the bridal party. They must have thought what is that white guy doing here? I did feel a bit off, I have to admit. I observed the audience, and realized that there were many kids around that were piggy-backing their siblings. If you see a five year old handling a two year old, that tells you something. These people are very, very poor, but they sure know how to run a party and how to share their expression and joy by inviting the entire village and spreading their joy. It moved me, very much. After a few hours I decided to get back to my guesthouse and somehow I managed to find my way back to town. It was a big adventure, a very unique experience that was a few years ago, actually in 2004. But I remember it as if it had been yesterday. Basic things have stayed the same, but one feels a sense of change in that sleepy little town. More guesthouses and boutique style restaurants can be found along the river. Kampot is changing and more tourists find their way down here. Eager to explore the Ream National Park, known as Preah Sihanouk National Park, or they check up on the Bokor Hill Station, which used to be the major attraction of Kampot, but is currently off-limits as a new resort is built. This southern area of Cambodia, the heart of Kampuchea Krom is so very beautiful and as yet almost untouched by hordes of tourists. I have yet to make it up to the old weather station with a motor bike one day, I heard it is quite a trip and very special. So far I never took the time to do it; I guess you have to keep some adventures for the future, like leaving a suitcase behind: another reason to return. But back to the present time. I was hungry wandering around while the mechanics fixed my bike. I had a soup at a place nearby, nothing to write home about, but it was the only thing I could find. I was hoping to find something better, once the bike was fixed. It turned out that there were actually two cables to repair, 75
and as luck would have it, the important cables were in stock. Wow, what a coincidence. I was thrilled and gladly gave them the seven bucks as requested, which would cover the repair as well. The moped driver got a buck for his assistance, and I took off looking for food. A few blocks away I saw a vendor that was selling baguettes with BBQ meat, some sort of mystery meat, I had no idea what it actually was, but it looked good and I was hungry. I sat down on one of those tiny plastic stools, enjoying my mystery meat sandwich. I went across the street to get a bottle of water from another vendor then continued my little snack on the side of the street â€Ś in the rain. I was actually quite exhausted, and knew I still had a good distance to cover. I checked my bike, made sure everything was in order and headed north. Once more in the countryside with endless vistas, the unifying color was still green: green rice paddies, green sugar 76
palm trees and green pepper vines. Pepper has a long history in Kampot and has always been one of the main industries of the region. World famous for its fierceness and its flavor, Kampot pepper became the unchallenged king of spice in the kitchens of the most renowned French chefs. Grown on trellises, these perennial climbing vines can reach heights of up to ten meters. The berry-like fruits are harvested after the monsoon season and can be used in their fresh green form or dried to the black shriveled form with which we are most familiar. Unfortunately the past events that took place in Cambodia destroyed the majority of the production. Nowadays, small farmers are using their traditional skills and knowledge to once again make it a valuable product. On my last visit to Cambodia, I actually bought a couple of little sachets as presents for friends, and of course for myself. The combination of this black pepper with freshly squeezed 77
lime juice and a pinch of salt is a very typical dipping sauce in Cambodia and well liked. I started to develop a taste for it from the get-go, and often enjoy this dip at home along with fresh grilled meat, or any other BBQ. It’s really delicious. In Khmer it is called: ‘Ambal Marek Kreutshma,’ Salt-Pepper-Lemon Juice. I continue my tour through the country. The roads were slippery and full of red dirt. The rain created a big mess. I stopped thinking about my appearance and the fact that I am almost totally covered in red mud. I actually find pleasure to get up on my bike, find a comfortable stance and hit a big pothole, that is filled with rainwater. Splash! That is fun. You actually have to keep a certain speed while riding in this mess. If you are too slow, you take a chance it might get too slippery, same thing when you cross a ditch, or if you come off the road. Once you find the right speed, things are quite easy and not as scary anymore. It is a sense of freedom, to ride the bike in the big open, just flanked by the beauty of rice fields and sugar palm trees that are so typical for the region. I will always love this, and I hope I can repeat this many times and cherish this gift that was offered to me. After riding for some time, you stop, have some water, a shake or a smoothie, basically whatever you can find is good. I bet that is something the Western travelers must have brought over here. FRESH SMOOTHIES! Totally awesome! In smaller towns (as well as in the capital) you find these fruit stands everywhere. A blender, ice cubes, condensed milk and an array of tropical fruit is all one needs to open a smoothie stand. I totally became addicted to it, just 50 cents in the country and almost a buck in the city: delicious. My favorite mix is dragon fruit and apple. A great refreshing combo. Within minutes the blend is ready. Plastic cups are rare; maybe too expensive. Not sure. Often, it is being poured into a small plastic bag with 78
a straw in it. A rubber band will hold the thing together, actually seal it and voila, a smoothie. Actually a pretty nifty idea and better for the environment, though I am pretty sure that nobody cared about this fact since trash on the side of the road, or trash disposal in general, is really a completely different story in Cambodia. They have a long way to go and a lot to learn, and need to make major adjustments in the way they think about trash. It is pretty sad. Anyway, back to the excitements of enjoying a fresh smoothie: Next stop: BRAIN FREEZE. It happens every time, I just can’t wait, it’s so hot, the drink so cold. I want more, suck it up and that’s when it happens. I bet we all have experienced it before, when the crushed ice hits the roof of your throat, kinda funny but also very painful. Unfortunately you won’t find any of those smoothie vendors in the country, just once in a while when you drive through a town, that’s where you look out for it, a soothing smoothie … ha-ha. It’s always the same picture whenever I pass a town; I slow down (you don’t want to be the idiot on a dirt bike) and I observe my surroundings. Such a different environment, mostly friendly and people are generally excited to see a stranger passing through. At times, young kids indicate that I should raise the front wheel of my bike and ‘go wheelie,’ basically ride the bike on the back wheel. They must have seen that before and simply assume that everybody can do that. Sorry, not me. I love riding the bike, but by no means do I want to end up in a hospital here. You don’t have many options here and I just don’t want to be on the operating table leaving the decision of what’s gonna happen (to that possible damaged body) to the local ambulance. One could say that the entire idea of going off road, and off the beaten path is kind of taking a risk and I agree. Still, I try to be careful and as responsible as possible without losing the 81
fun of it, of course. It really is a big adventure, and I am so happy that a few years back I got inspired and somehow came up with the idea to rent a dirt bike. Since then I am hooked. When I arrived back in Phnom Penh it was already dark. I don’t like riding in the dark. I was exhausted, dirty and in desperate need of a shower. All of the sudden I had the urge to get some pastries from the Bayon Bakery on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, which is right in the heart of the city close to the Central Market, close to my hotel. I navigated the bike through the crowded streets, the traffic was nuts as always. I had the city map in my bag in the back of the bike, so I sort of had to figure out where I was going. I got lost! I managed to remember the name for Central Market in Khmer (Cambodian) It is “Psar Thmey,” so that was my big question. I stopped at the intersection, used the stop at the red lights and posed the question. Instead of answering me right away, people looked at me like I am from Mars. I forgot that I was covered in red terra-cotta colored mud; my appearance wasn’t that pleasant and did not necessarily represent a guy that people would love to talk to. On the other hand everybody could see that I was obviously returning from a trip to the country and most likely I was trying to find my way home, back to the hotel. I got my directions, and once I was in familiar territory, I immediately found the way to the hotel and skipped the bakery all together. I parked the bike, I said hi at the reception, took the elevator to the second floor, opened the door, undressed, showered, jumped on my bed and passed out. Just an hour later I woke up. Thank God; nothing is worse than waking up at 4:00 am, when everybody else is already asleep. I still needed dinner, and once again I was in the mood for beer, sausage and baguette from the market. I liked the atmosphere there, but I also needed to follow up on a promise. 82
On every trip to Southeast Asia I give someone $50 dollars in singles. I started a few years back, on a trip to Laos. Usually the right person presents himself or herself at the right time. It has happened each time to me that way. $50 is not much for me, but itâ€™s a new start on life for the person that receives it. I think it is a nice gesture, a good thing to do and the right thing to do. I wish everybody would follow that philosophy. For a local person, a single dollar goes a long way and most people just make a couple of bucks a day. Once they buy food for the kids, there is not much left over, no chance to save anyway. A lot of people need to beg in the streets, often a heartbreaking affair. People are looking for scraps in the trash at the night market, hoping to find something to eat. To be honest, this issue is very difficult to handle. There are simply so many needy people. Where do you start, and where do you draw the line? I had my dinner at the same place where I was eating a week ago: open fire pit, mystery meat on a stick, with two cuts of baguette for 400 riel, one U.S. dollar. A kid would fetch me a can of Anchor beer for another 50 cents, an extra stick with meat would be additional 1500 riel each. All together it came out to $2, and it tasted great. While I was eating on the sidewalk I was observing the scene, people passing by. The Dâ€™orussey Night Market is a very busy place. People come to eat, people come to look for scraps and I came to find the right person to offer my donation. I was mad at myself for waiting until the last day. I was thinking of that woman in the rice fields a few days ago when I left Sihanoukville. She was searching for snails. Right there that was the person to whom I should have given the money, a few days ago in the country and not have waited until now. She was in the middle of almost nowhere. But somehow one is always looking for someone more needy, more poor and more this and that. It kinda makes me sad
that I was not able to handle the situation or wasn’t able to evaluate right then and there when I had this incredible encounter with the woman searching for snails to feed her family. It’s not that the people who will receive my humble donation today are in a much better situation. No, of course not. Everybody here appreciates a bit of help and maybe even a jump-start. I am more reflecting on the psychological experience, maybe even spiritual. In hindsight I can definitely say that it was a special moment in the countryside with the woman and her child. While having dinner, I observed a woman that was pulling a huge cart behind her, with things in it that she picked up from the floor and from piles of trash here and there on the street corners. I wasn’t sure what it was though. What got my attention was her cheerfulness and the way she talked to her daughter (I suppose). I decided to look for her once I was done eating, but I lost sight of her. I started my bike and cruised up and down the streets in that area. It was difficult to make out people since it was pretty dark, but somehow I thought I did find her, slowed down with the bike and followed her a bit. Observing and following, my eyes passed a young father with his two kids in the same kind of trash cart. He must have been picking trash and his girls (they might have been twins) were probably two to three years old. They were standing right in the middle of a pile of trash, inside the cart and gave me the most incredible smiles I have ever received. I had tears in my eyes, I just couldn’t believe how different life can be for some folks; they live in the bottom of the barrel, yet they somehow deal with it and still have enough heart to be cheerful. This was killing me, it really hurt, looking at these two beautiful little girls. I decided to split the money, give $25 to the father and the remaining $25 to the woman that I was initially following. I stopped the bike, looked them straight in the eye with a smile and a wai, then offered a little stuffed ‘Beanie Baby’ 84
(a hippo), that was actually holding the bundle of 25 singles, wrapped with rubber band. They were so excited to see the toy, and the father thanked me for the money, but in a way he was irritated. I sort of expected a different feedback, more enthusiastic but it was just a very calm and private moment. I am sure the father of the two children will do some good with the 25 bucks. I will keep the look of the two girls in my heart in return. Maybe I was able to make a small difference, even just for a few days. A few minutes later I caught up with the other woman and offered the small bundle of singles and received a similar reserved response. God only knows what was going through her mind. You know, whoever looks in the trash for anything to eat or re-sell, whoever is forced to make that a daily routine, they deserve help and here and there, and a small miracle out of nowhere -- even if its just 25 bucks from a stranger with white 85
skin in a jungle of brown people. I will continue to give as much as I can on every trip; I will continue to give small money and I will continue to bring crayons and pens to kindergartens and school. A few years back, I actually bought a big bag of little pound cakes at a local bakery in Siem Reap and handed them out to all the street kids that came my way. It was such a surreal scenario; kids eating pound cake everywhere. It almost looked like a commercial for pound cake. But you know? I also got a great smile out of the kids. Everybody appreciated the little surprise, unexpected out of nowhere from a stranger. It is the right thing to do. I am scheduled to fly back to Bangkok tomorrow, will spend a day, then head back to Hawaii. In a way I am ready; I had a fantastic time here, got everything done: it was a good time. Still, it can be hard on you. It simply is a completely different world out here, certainly not for everyone. Is that the conflict that draws me back each time? I really cannot explain 100% what it is that fascinates me so much. Maybe it will come across in my writings and the pictures I take, and will become clear later on. Anything can happen here. Not sure when I’ll be here again, but I know I will be back … that is always very clear to me when I am leaving this country. I will simply follow my path in life and see what presents itself (well, I still have a rough plan more or less and of course I know what I want and what I want to accomplish along the way). I hope that I’ll be able to come down here with my brother, maybe explore Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri in the east of Cambodia, the ‘Wild East,’ that offers some of the most remote yet remarkable areas in the country. The vast majority of that region is truly off the beaten tourist trail. It does sound appealing, something I need to explore further. I think I just came up with an idea and a plan for next year. Wow! I hope I can pull it off; I’ll keep you posted.
Sawasdee again. I am in Bangkok,but in a bad mood. So sick of all these old men with the young chicks in their arms, it is driving me crazy. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that I just got back from the countryside where everything was pretty much asleep. Now neon lights, bar girls, massage parlors, and lots of beer bars with tons of Brits, Aussies, Germans and Americans, mostly middle aged men looking for a thrill that they cannot approach (and accomplish) in their home country. Well, actually it is a weave of young and old, lots of world travelers (male and female), that wander around on Sukhumvit Road, or the night market in Patpong. From fake Rolexes to Calvin Klein underwear, you can find it all here for a bargain price. It’s quite interesting to see how people behave. Some tourists simply want to buy rock bottom, resulting in offensive language, which actually is a rarity in this part of the world, since nobody wants to lose face. I really feel lousy; the bar scene is just so awful. What might have been kinda cool years ago (to see it for the first time) is now an old worn out hat with stains. I am very uncomfortable. I decided to stay away from it and explore the Arab quarters tonight. A getaway from it all and I am open to something new, another culinary delight coming my way hopefully. Jordanian dinner, Egyptian, maybe Omani? For now, I am sitting at the fancy cocktail bar at the Landmark hotel, enjoying AC. The outside is hot and muggy. One more night, and I’ll be back home in Hawaii, back on the island, back in paradise – another paradise and another slice of beauty. I just can’t wait to feel the Hawaiian sun, the palm trees and enjoy the North Shore. I think I’ll jump into the water even before I unpack my luggage. Gosh, I just can’t wait. 1
I hope I could describe the colors of my latest adventure in SouthEast Asia, and you could visualize the experience to explore and discover the place, that always welcomes me and seems to offer a sheer endless array of adventures. I am ready to return soon, and can only encourage you to give it a try, not following my footsteps, but spending time over there - engaging the unknown, and willing to step into new territory. So well worth it. Many interesting travel reports and plenty of advice can be found here: www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree www.travelfish.org/country/cambodia www.talesofasia.com L O O K
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Every trip, and basically every adventure, present themselves with an assortment of problems. Some small, other become quite a challenge to solve. It is crucial to keep your cool and have faith. Things usually work out fine and one is able to handle problems that hit unexpectedly. What a blessing it is, indeed, to cross the oceans and follow your dreams. Traveling is simply fantastic! The clock is already ticking. I am supposed to go to Milan in early December and then head to Germany for the holidays to spend time with my folks. I am excited, as always . Aloha.
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There is so much to discover and explore. Somehow I am drawn to the people, the culture, the vistas and the culinary delights of Southeast Asia. That is the driving force as of now. It might change in the future, but I simply donâ€™t worry about decisions like that. Life has treated me well so far and has taken me places I never imagined I would go. What a thrill it is to explore and to discover and experience it all. Life is good! ÂŠ 2009 Harald-M. lehnardt firstname.lastname@example.org