Maria Holland

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. 


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.


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. 

Rick Phone - 1018 Rick Phone - 1017 Cook - 3706 Cook - 3716

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 . . .

  1. Loved this …”My first sentence in Khmer was Smile, adorable fish!”

  2. where’s my adorable fish? I mean orphan??!!

  3. and absolutely loved the “Oregon Trail” reference and I DID NOT have to goggle it :)

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