Note: we do not have reliable internet access on the ship, but this afternoon we have a few hours to explore Phnom Penh. So we got a tuk-tuk to the Brown Café, which has free Wifi, plus excellent ice cream drinks. I'll be checking email shortly. On the ship we can write up this blog by using a Word document, so now we are in the process of uploading it to the website. I wrote the following entry this morning.
I have now been outside of our air conditioned cabin on the ship for five minutes, and my glasses are still fogged up, as is the computer screen. This is a normal occurrence here! John has taken to leaving his camera in its case in the un-A/C library so that he doesn't have to wait 15 minutes before he can use it. When the ship is moving, it is pleasant, but the usual tropical weather continues. We think it is in the mid- to high 90s, with who knows how much humidity. I guess when you live here, you eventually get used to it.
Yesterday morning we cruised along Tonle Sap Lake - the largest in SE Asia - it changes from 2500 sq km to over 10,000 by the end of the rainy season, which appears to have just ended. Our first stop was a boat tour of a floating village, with a population of 3000 people! Everyone who lives there is Vietnamese. Hopefully the pictures will give you an idea of what we saw. Because of our guide's connections, it's a place that rarely sees tourists, much less white people. It seems weird to be touring around someone's home town as the people go about their daily business, but it is so fascinating and so very foreign to all of us. Just think how odd it would be to see someone driving around my little subdivision at home and taking pictures of people mowing lawns or washing their cars, and children playing on swings - or even loading kayaks!
Anyway, this is a true community, with a school, church, small hospital, several different stores and lots of floating houses. There's also a huge permanent cell phone tower. One of the largest things we saw is an ice factory – the main occupation is fishing from the lake, and they need ice to freeze the fish for transport. We visited the home of a wealthy family whose house was furnished with lots of heavy mahogany furniture, two flat screen TVs and a kitchen that was rather primitive looking, at least compared to the rest of the dwelling.
We are so lucky to have Bros as our guide. Not only is he Cambodian, and so he can translate, but more importantly, he has obviously had a say in the locations he takes us. He gives both money and school supplies on our behalf to virtually every person he works with. We are going to places that obviously are not on the usual tourist circuit.
In the afternoon yesterday, we visited a small pottery factory, and later a woman who makes large clay pots by hand. She demonstrated her talent for us: using only a small wood tool shaped like a large apple (to mold the inside) and a wooden spatula to slap the outside, she produces about ten pots a day that will be used to boil water, and they sell for about 50 cents each. She also grows rice and her husband is a fisherman. She says she does not want to use a potter's wheel.
It is hard to get used to seeing people who are so poor, and I know that so much of the world's population falls into this category. But it is also interesting to see that the people do not feel underprivileged, and are generally happy with their lot.
We are eating well and everyone is healthy. Heading downstream now. We'll write about the oxcart ride and visit to the Buddhist temple later.