Maria Holland

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Best Airport in the World!

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 at 11:14 pm

If you have to be stuck in an airport for 8 hours, make it the Incheon International Airport.  I’ve done it, and it was wonderful.  To pass the time, Rick and Kim and I:

  • walked to Caribou Coffee and bought drinks and snacks for breakfast

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  • impersonated Intense Cart Lady

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  • made art at the Korean Cultural Exhibition

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  • took a family photo

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  • made more art at a different Korean Cultural Exhibition

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  • watched a performance of traditional Korean music

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  • dressed up in traditional Korean clothing

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  • reenacted our favorite scenes from the movie Elf

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  • played Catan

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  • ate a delicious lunch of bibimbap and bulgogi

But eventually the fun came to an end and we had to get on the plane to go home.

The trans-Pacific flight was only 10 hours, which was ridiculously short when compared to 13 hours.  (On the flight over, it was hard to imagine a time before we were on the plane.)

The LAX airport sucks.  Every time I pass through I feel bad for those people who first experience America at the LA airport. 

But time passed and then it was really time to go home.  Miraculously, we arrived in Tulsa early – I know, right?!  My backpack survived, too, which was equally as unexpected.  Some friends picked me up at the airport – they made a lovely welcome party! 

I was at home for 15 minutes, just enough time to change, and then some other friends picked me up and we headed out to Caravan (the country dance club in town).  I was on the dance floor by 10:30 (having landed at 9:30).  I smelled like 40 hours worth of airplane, but Caravan reeks of smoke anyway so I’m pretty sure no one noticed.

It was probably the best return to country I’ve ever had – dancing with my friends! 

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Good Night, Cambodia

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2011 at 11:11 pm

We had a leisurely morning, showering and packing before checking out of our individual rooms and moving into the Cooks’ room.  Our flight didn’t leave til nearly midnight, so we kept one room for convenience but ditched the others to save money. 

In the afternoon we went to the Russian market to check out what’s available, construction-wise, in Phnom Penh.  Our tuk tuk guaranteed our “sagety”:

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The verdict seems to be that you can find any tool that you could possibly need in Cambodia.  You can even find bananas . . .

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The sole exception?  A decent pocketknife.  Note to future travelers: check bags, and carry a pocketknife.

We had our last dinner at the hotel café, which unfortunately was not good.  Their chainsaw chicken was significantly less bony than others we’d had, but they brought us two undrinkable drinks.

We still had forever until we had to leave for the airport, so we watched some Rihanna music videos (note to self: don’t do that again) until the power went out.  It was apparently a pretty long power outage compared to usual.  I’m glad it happened though, because this was how we found out that Rick had a headlamp! 

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Eventually we went to the airport.  I checked my North Face on the way back – but not before taping around it several times because, let’s be honest here, there’s really no way in heck it would make it across the Pacific intact.  We paid our $25 to leave the country and went through security, and still had about two hours before our flight left.  What did I do?

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What do you think I did?!

I slept the entire flight to Seoul.  We landed around 8 in the morning, local time, and were faced with an 8-hour layover . . . but that’s a story for another post. 

How Many Goats Will Fit in the Trunk of a Camry?

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2011 at 11:29 pm

After breakfast this morning, we went to back to the orphanage to finish up our work.  This mostly consisted of taking a ton of pictures and asking our last questions of Pastor Mao. 

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While Michelle and Garret did the final water testing (looking for arsenic), the kiddos and I went shopping.  Nothing too exciting though – we were checking for availability of common construction materials and pricing as much as we could.  In case you were wondering, you can get 12m of rebar for $6 – with free delivery!  (Come to think of it, that last part may have restrictions.)

Then we headed back to Phnom Penh – over the river, through the countryside, and all that.  Interesting – and true! – story: while waiting in line for the ferry, we watched the men in front of us cram two goats into the trunk of their Camry.  There was already stuff in there, otherwise it could have easily held another one.

For dinner, Kim and Rick and I went to the Chinese restaurant near our hotel.  I was so happy . . . I ordered in Chinese, all my favorites: 空心菜,宫保鸡丁,铁板牛肉, and it was all delicious!  The waitress, after hearing my Chinese, did not question my ability to eat with chopsticks, but after watching Kim and Rick struggling to eat the peanuts she brought over the Fork and Knife of Shame. 

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Back at the hotel, we played a lively game of Loaded Questions, had some adventurous (read: bad) drinks from the café downstairs, and went to bed.  At midnight, though, because we’re like big kids or something!

This Is What We Came For

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Today was the first time on the trip that I didn’t wake up until it was time to go!  Kim and I went adventuring for breakfast outside the hotel. 

First stop was a fruit stand.  I grabbed a bunch of tiny oranges and, when the lady told me a price in Khmer, guessed and and offered her a dollar.  I would not have objected if she’d gestured for more, so I was surprised when she handed me change in riel!  Kim picked tiny bananas, and the lady held up two fingers.  Apparently she meant 2,000 riel instead of $2, because Kim’s second dollar was refused and she got change as well.  Honest fruit sellers?  We are not in China anymore. 

We also stopped by the convenience store next door, where we scanned the aisles and saw cookies, crackers, juice, water, Miller High Life, vodka cruisers – you know, the usual.  (Question: Are vodka cruisers the champagne of bottled cocktails?)

After this adventurous breakfast, we returned to the orphanage.  We had the full day, so we got down to the major tasks at hand. 

Kim and I began mapping the orphanage compound.  She somehow had access to a surveyor’s tape measure, which made short work of the long distances involved.  We measured all the buildings and concrete pads as well as the major natural features – accurate, I figure, to within a foot. 

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The resulting map:

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The entrance is in the lower right-hand corner.  The pink building is the pastor’s house and the one across from it is the church.  The buildings at the top are the dormitory, wet season cooking area, and chicken shelters, and the blue area is the pond.

While we were mapping the land, Rick tackled the water.  No, he was not trying to club fish.  Using a weight and a marked string, he measured the depth of the pond – it’s called bathymetry!

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Garret and Rick, electrical engineers extraordinaire, also did an electrical survey of the orphanage.  Most of what they found was not interesting to me, as the movement of electrons is anathema to me, but I loved these images that they encountered:

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The last time I saw wiring that scary was in my circuits lab . . .

Michelle got busy testing the water in the pond and well. 

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It was very scientific.  Behold:

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We tested for heavy metals, nitrates, nitrites, bacteria, pH, and a bunch of stuff I can’t remember (as chemistry is also not one of my faves). 

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After they got back from school around 11, the kids were pretty interested and came in close, which gave us an opportunity to befriend them. 

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I also learned more words!  Duck (“dee”), water (“duck”), pig (“chdoo”), and mosquito (“saht mao”)

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We also used coloring books to befriend the children.  Especially the adorable baby : )

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At the end of the day, we sat down again with Pastor Mao to ask more questions that had come up.  Again, I realized the importance of having us physically there.  We asked why they weren’t using the rainwater collection system that they had, which he answered by saying that the water got stagnant and dirty.  A few questions later, we learned that this was because the pump had broken . . . Broken pumps, we can fix!

Dinner at The Restaurant was the best yet.  There’s this delicious dipping sauce that they bring out with the fries . . . It may or may not be made with animal fat, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, but it is definitely amazing. 

Fording the Mekong River

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I woke up initially at 3:30 but went back to sleep until it was a decent time to wake up.  We had breakfast, then checked out the hotel and piled into the car for our roadtrip!

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Time for a Cambodian geography lesson!  Phnom Penh is located in the south central part of Cambodia. 

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The national highway system branches out around the capital, with National Highway 1 headed out to the southeast towards Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

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Our destination, Svay Rieng, was about 4 hours away along Highway 1.  We traveled a long time, forded a river, got dystentery, went hunting, broke an axle, and finally arrived in the Oregon Territory.  Oh wait, that’s a computer game.  But we did travel a long way and ford a river – the Mekong River, to be exact. 

The wait was quite long to get on the ferry, but we were kept busy by the people swarming our van trying to sell us food.  Thanks for the delicious quail eggs!

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As seen in the photographic record, I slept a lot. 

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Is anyone really surprised?

We arrived in time for lunch at Svay Rieng’s restaurant.  (Just one.) 

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There were noodles and rice for the less adventurous, and meat and veggies for the rest of us.  Nothing to write home about, but I wasn’t dreading eating there for the next few days.  The highlight of the meal was the fries . . . perhaps the French heritage?

After lunch, we dropped our bags off at the hotel (the nice one – $15 a night with AC) and finally got to visit the orphanage we came to see. 

We were greeted by the children (14 of them) and staff (Pastor Mao, Mrs. Mao, and three house mothers) and escorted into the children’s dormitory to talk. 

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This conversation with the orphanage about their needs was one of the main reasons we came to Cambodia.  Although we had heard about the place from people who had been there, nothing compares to seeing it yourself and talking to the people  yourself. 

. . . And on this visit, we were reminded of the necessity of assessment trips.  Before visiting, the three main needs that we knew of were water (because their water source was a well with questionable levels of arsenic), electricity (because their only source of power was a car battery that they had to get charged periodically), and waste management (because they had only one outhouse and it was located disturbingly close to the well). 

Upon arrival, it was immediately apparent that none of these things that we had heard were true.  They had water from the city (although it was expensive), electricity from the grid (although it was also expensive), and they had four latrines (although they were leaking).

I was pretty much in shock for the first 20 minutes, wondering What do we do now?  It was also pretty apparent that Pastor Mao, the director of the orphanage, didn’t have a clue who we were or why we were there, so that didn’t help much. 

It was immediately apparent that the orphanage did have needs, and that those needs were largely financial.  After some background information on our part, explaining that we are engineering students and are offering those skills to help them, we started to make some progress.  We asked a lot of questions about their electricity usage, their latrines, their animals, etc., because there was still potential for projects there.  

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After talking, we wanted to look around.  There’s a large fish pond on the grounds and another one of our tasks was to get pictures of those fish, so . . . we went fishing.  Rick provided the bait (Munchies) and we cast away. 

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After a while (once the orphanage boys had taken over the fishing), we got a bite! 

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The verdict – it’s a catfish!

This was the day that Khmer noise became Khmer sounds – an important step in language acquisition – and I started to hear some sounds a lot.  I asked Pastor Mao how to say fish and learned my very first Khmer word: “trray-ee”.  (I don’t count words that I learn from a book or from a non-native speaker; I did kind of learn hello and thank you but we never learned them and I was not confident when saying them.) 

My next word was adorable (“laor-nah”) because I wanted to tell the kids what we were saying about them.

My third word was smile (“no-niam”) for when we took pictures of them. 

Thus, my first sentence in Khmer was Smile, adorable fish!  I got a couple of laughs with that one!

As the sun set and they sat down to dinner, we went back to the restaurant for dinner.  This meal featured fries (always), tiny fish to be eaten whole, and a juice that tasted disturbingly like Jelly Belly popcorn jellybeans. 

Back at the hotel, Kim and I watched some Cambodian TV.  It’s like TV is a hard good, and we export the worst of it to Cambodia . . .

Adventuring Towards Church

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Yesterday, I had inquired at the front desk about a nearby Catholic Church.  After switching to Chinese to make sure my question was understood, a woman told me that there was a church nearby and that someone from the hotel would be going, so we could go with her.  A few more questions, however, revealed that it was the Church of New Life – so, not Catholic.  I did some Googling, pulled up the address of a Catholic church, and asked her to help us get there in the morning.  We set the departure time at 7:30, giving us enough time to get there before Mass at 8.

This morning, we were woken up at 6:45 by a phone call, telling us we were leaving at 7 instead.  We were rushed out the door into a waiting tuk tuk, and then we were joined by the tuk tuk driver’s wife.  These were all warning signs that something was wrong . . .

But I didn’t notice anything until we pulled up at New Life Church.  We were then faced with the awkward situation of explaining to our driver, his wife, and their son that we were at the wrong church.  Luckily, I had the address of the Catholic church written down, and we still had time to get there.

This was perhaps the strangest Catholic church I’ve ever been in.  There were no pews, just mats on the ground.  Following the people in front of us, we took off our shoes before taking a seat. 

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There was a lot distinctly Catholic in the church – the Stations of the Cross, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the altar.  But the tabernacle was distinctly stupa-like, Jesus was Asian, and there were chairs behind the altar. 

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Mass was in Khmer but we followed along generally.  We sat throughout the entire Mass, and the priest sat during the consecration!  That part felt really strange.  Also the part where the opening hymn was to the tune of Jingle Bells . . .

The priest was French, by the way.  He’d been in Cambodia for 17 years, and as far as I could tell spoke awesome Khmer.  It was our first time hearing a foreigner speak Khmer!

After Mass, we did a little bit more shopping then went back to the hotel to meet up with our group for lunch.  We lounged forever over our meal, then retired to the hotel café for disappointing drinks and more conversation.  We had a late dinner around 8 at a restaurant we found nearby.  We ordered a few dishes that we knew we would like, then ordered one of the “mystery” items that wasn’t translated on the menu. 

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It turned out to be a traditional Cambodian dish – pig intestines and peppercorns. 

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Yum . . .

The Killing Fields

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Happy New Year . . .

We started off the day (and the year) by visiting Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, remnants of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s massacre. 

Tuol Sleng was the highest-level interrogation center of the Khmer Rouge, housed in a former high school.  During our visit, I couldn’t help but compare it to Auschwitz, which I visited in 2008.  Both of them were beautiful and strikingly peaceful, which is such a dichotomy from the places of death and horror. 

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We had a Cambodian tour guide show us around, explaining the conditions in which prisoners were held and the torture that they were subject to. 

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It was horrifying – similar to Auschwitz, but perhaps more so because of how recent it was.  Sometimes it seems like we took care of the genocide issue after the Holocaust, but visiting Tuol Sleng is a harsh reminder that it’s still happening. 

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From the interrogation center, we traced the path of condemned prisoners as we drove  15km outside of town to the Killing Fields.  This is one of the largest mass grave sites discovered after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, with almost 9,000 bodies.  Most of the bodies have been exhumed (although they continue to find human bones), leaving shallow grassy pits as reminders, marked with signs indicating how many bodies were found there. 

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At the center of the grounds is a large stupa filled with layers of bones. 

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The clear doors are open, and once you go inside there are skulls within easy arms reach. 

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After a long sobering morning, we went to lunch.  We asked Mades to take us to a Cambodian restaurant, so he took us to a place owned by a friend of his.  They employ students as workers, giving them loans and a way to pay them back so that they can attend university.  We had typical Cambodian food – a sour chicken soup, pork ‘n veggies, and an eggplant dish, which were all quite good. 

We spent the afternoon at the Russian Market, which we think is thus named because Russians don’t like air.  It’s a covered market crammed with stuff.  I bought art, carved dragons, t-shirts, and presents for back home. 

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We tuk-tuk-ed home with our loot and then headed to dinner.

I went out for phở with Kim, Michelle, and Garret.  My food looked brown but was delicious

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After dinner, we went for a tuk tuk ride down the main boulevard to see the Independence Monument at night (again, taken from a moving tuk-tuk!). 

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There was an incident during the ride when I tried to buy a Coke from a vendor peddling by us, and he ended up just taking my dollar and driving off . . . Best use of a dollar EVER.