March 15, 2017
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Last night we had dinner with Stefan & Heike at a lovely restaurant called “Haven”, which serves as a training restaurant, helping underprivileged young people to be trained as chefs, servers and administrators in the restaurant business. The young people at “Haven” will do just fine as they brought us all the Angkor Beer that me & Stefan wanted – we aren’t that demanding as it turns out. The food was good, too.
This was a last chance to visit with our new friends from the boat as they head off to Malaysia and Singapore now before returning to their home. We spent some time planning our upcoming visit with them in Hanover, Germany and they with us to Edmonton. We all agreed to ourselves favours and visit in the summer.
Stefan & Heike were a lot of fun to play with and, for me, it was wonderful to have the knowledge that at least someone would know I was missing if you know who decided to make use of her knitting needles for the nefarious purpose she regularly threatens.
Over dinner, quite naturally, our conversation drifted to our respective children. Todays’ journal will focus on the one that we own that is always right. She tells me that regularly, just in case I forget.
A few days ago, we had a chance to see what teaching at the Talmud Torah in Koh Chen, Cambodia might look like for Ari. I’m thinking he might like the ½ day of school and the fact that outdoor recess is never, ever cancelled because it’s too cold.
Today we had the chance to see what working in a hospital might look like for Liz. In particular, the Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) here in Siem Reap. Liz set up a visit for us with some of her friends that she met while she worked at AHC last summer. Soula heads up tours for visitors and she showed us around this very special place.
The government does a poor job of funding public health care and, because of corruption, donations to help with the publicly funded health system don’t always end up where they should. As a result, there are a number of privately funded hospitals in the country. Many are ‘for pay’ and thus really only available to the wealthy or relatively wealthy.
A few, like AHC, provide free care and treatment for the underprivileged.
Amongst other things, Soula showed us the open-air reception area where, each night, bedding is brought in and a large mosquito net is draped down so that parents & siblings of children staying in the hospital who live outside Siem Reap and cannot afford to stay in a guesthouse will have somewhere to sleep. As well, she showed us the communal kitchen where those families can cook meals for themselves. This would effectively equate to Cambodia’s form of Ronald McDonald House.
We saw the things you’d expect to see in a hospital (wards for the young patients; a neo-natal ICU; the dental clinic and the eye clinic).
And we saw some things that you wouldn’t likely see in, say, the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton. For example, the community garden where families are taught how to grow nutritional crops.
And a class on basic dental hygiene with about 60 moms, dads & little ones from small villages crowded around a picture chart as the basics were taught about something that, if the teaching sticks, would have a profound positive effect on the health of their children.
Indeed, a major focus at AHC is placed on teaching & training those basics (hygiene, nutrition) to the parents and children in their care or who come specifically for those classes.
By the time Pol Pot’s 4 years of genocide was finished, there were only 50 medical doctors left in the country. The rest had been murdered by the Khmer Rouge or fled as refugees across the border and did not return.
AHC is a project conceived of and largely funded by the efforts of Japanese-American professional photographer Kenro Izu. Here to photograph the Angkor temple ruins in 1993, he was moved by the many ill and malnourished children he saw. He founded a non-profit entity (Friends without Borders) and started raising funds for the hospital in 1995. It opened its doors four years later with 10 doctors and staff trained in Cambodia.
Today, AHC treats almost 500 children daily at its outpatient clinic in addition to the 1,400 children admitted for emergency treatment each month.
AHC’s capabilities and the expertise of its staff of almost 400 is bolstered (as it has been from the beginning) by the dedicated efforts of staff from Western countries who work to build the capacity of their local Cambodian co-workers so that AHC can be a primarily Khmer-run operation.
Which is where Lizzy comes in. AHC would like to treat children with cancer but the nursing staff need training. Lizzy led training sessions while she was here and is writing a curriculum for ongoing training for AHC’s nurses in the treatment of paediatric oncology cases. This, I’m positive, is stuff that Lizzy has long since told me about. And that I may or may not have been listening to when she told me.
Hearing the praises heaped on her by Dr. Prom Vireak and by Dr. Bruce Camitta at AHC is another thing altogether. As a parent, you kind of sit up and listen closely when someone else is talking about your kid. Even one who is always right.
Prom is a young paediatric oncologist from Cambodia who worked with Liz last summer. Bruce is an oncologist from Wisconsin. He volunteers remotely year-round and works here onsite with Prom for a few weeks each year, assisting with the training and ongoing treatment of oncology patients. I asked Bruce if Prom was one of his interns and he said, “No, he’s an R.D. – Real Doctor”.
Bruce didn’t meet Lizzy in person but he is very aware of the impact her visit had and the ongoing impact her continued help in developing the training curriculum is having. He mentioned that one of the difficulties they had was getting nurses to understand that they would not become sterile if they worked with chemotherapy drugs in connection with patient care.
He also mentioned that the annual cost of the entire paediatric oncology program at AHC is $45,000. About $12,000 of that is for Prom’s salary. Nurses make $6,000/yr. In context, the average salary for a Cambodian worker is $3,600/yr. This information helps put into a bigger picture for us the impact that even small donations to the program have in bolstering the hospital’s ability to provide health care to children from underprivileged families.
If you’re moved and inclined to do so, you can make donations online to AHC on their website at: www.angkorhospital.org
And, if you’d rather hear about what Liz’s work at the hospital meant to them directly from AHC, you can check out this article:
Just in case you think this might be getting a little one child-centric, let me tell you about the other child we’ve owned since birth who, since he was a teenager, has been donating money each month to sponsor an underprivileged child in El Salvador (forgive me Ari, it might be Honduras or Nicaragua, I just can’t remember). Every year he receives a letter from Shirley, talking about what the donations he’s made have meant to her and her family.
And I don’t even want to start with you about our incredible daughter-in-law Faren – I’ve lost count of the number of ways in which she volunteers her time & skills to the youngest and the oldest in our community.
Do you think we are proud of our children? Does meat on a stick get grilled on the streets of SE Asia? (see below for answer)
For me, I’d be just as happy to end this journal entry at that point but then my daughter would raise an objection because, first, she will require that I explain how she is now 4 for 4 in her food tips for us for Siem Reap, which has included delicious Amok and Lop Lak at ‘Genevieve’s’; a great meal last night at ‘Haven’; gelato like it was made in Italy, as she’d promised, at ‘The Gelato Lab’; and tonight, a tour of the town with ‘Angkor Street Eats’.
“Call me Kia, like the car”, said Kia as he picked us up in a tuk tuk driven by his buddy Ko (but I think built by Honda, not Kia) and whisked us away for a 5-hour; 35-course meal at 5 different locations spread out all over the Greater Siem Reap metropolitan area. With all the beer (and Coca-Cola!) you could drink.
As Debbie & I are quickly finding, there is not a lot that is more fun than riding around town in a tuk tuk. Okay, maybe eating a 35-course meal. But the two of them are up there neck and neck, for sure!
Last night we experienced one of Siem Reap’s famous ‘flash storms’. Starting about 10:00pm the sky lit up and the lightning and thunder and rain didn’t let up until around 6:30am. We were amazed at how the ground absorbed the rain – very few pools of water in the streets; mostly even the dust in the curbs where we walk ½ the time, when the sidewalk is either non-existent or being used as a parking lot for motorcycles, was still dust and not mud.
The forecast for the next few days is the same – 50% chance of scattered thunderstorms. They can pop up anytime, day or night. We were kind of worried that might hit us tonight but the worry was for naught as we had a great night of just normal sticky heat & humidity while we wandered around eating everything that moved (or once moved).
Mike & Jen joined us for our tour. They are a lovely young couple from Washington, D.C. Jen is an examiner at the US Patent Office. She is an engineer by training and makes certain that no patent for a specific type of mechanical engineering invention involving water is the same as one that’s already been granted a patent. That’s how specialized the Patent Office is.
Mike is an economist with the US Census Bureau. His specialty is figuring out how people spend their money. I gave him a broad hint: Mostly, they spend it foolishly. (Did I tell you yet about the little teeny elephant I got in Koh Chen? I needed it.)
Mike & Jen got their own tuk tuk and so we got to have tuk tuk races around the streets of Siem Reap all night long. If only Phil was around at the end for us to jump on the Pit Stop Mat this could have been filmed as a special “Stuff your face with food” episode of The Amazing Race for sure.
As I’d done in Hanoi, when we took our first street food tour with Lily, I kept a running record of the stuff we were eating and where we were eating it. Here, then, in no particular order, are some of the highlights from a night of (almost) drunken degustation and debauchery:
1. Number of different beers tried: 6
But 4 were in mini-glasses placed in what is called a ‘beer flight’ at a craft brewery pub/restaurant called ‘Cheers’. And, to be honest, I didn’t like any of those 4. Instead, I much prefer good old Angkor/Anchor beer.
And now I digress. In Cambodia, the ‘famous’ beer brand is called ‘Angkor Beer’. And the less famous but alliteratively synonymous local beer is called ‘Anchor Beer’. Seriously, how is this not a ‘passing off’ tradename lawsuit waiting to happen?
2. Number of Night Markets driven past, through or to: 3
Including the most important one, being the night market for locals that pops up around dusk every day adjacent to and kind of in the middle of National Highway No. 3, just adjacent to the Angkor Visitor Centre where all tourists must purchase their National Park Pass.
It’s the most important one because it’s the one where we ate about 10 courses at a place called ‘Foo Don’ (‘Uncle Don’s Restaurant’) and where I can assure you that, based upon the advertised specialités de la maison, in normal circumstances I would not be dining. That includes such delicacies as (and I am not making this up) Nail Cow Soup and Cow Abdominal Prahok. It can be noted that this is the first time in two months I have not looked up or asked for a translation – I just don’t care what ‘Prahok’ means because no matter what, I’m not gonna eat it or the Cow Abdominal it comes with.
3. Number of tarantulas consumed: 1
I don’t want to talk about that part, if it’s all the same with you okay? Still, the crunchy sound lets you know that they were at least fried to the correct consistency – nothing worse than a chewy tarantula, I always say. Kia stuck to the beetles. He showed us how to peel the hard shell away first before munching on the innards. Mmm, mmm, mmm …. deep fried beetles. Now them’s good eatin’!
4. Number of restaurants without a name: 1
Always a stickler for detail, I take a photo of the sign with the name of each place we eat. Using the iPhone’s geolocation ‘Places’ program I can see on the map exactly where it’s located in the event we want to go back there. We stopped at what I will call a ‘hole in the wall’. At the front of the hole is a woman squatting down over a hot charcoal grill.
This, actually, is a pretty common scene all over SE Asia. I have so many photos of women squatting down over hot charcoal grills I am starting to consider not taking a photo of every single one of them anymore as I see that the 4,215 of them I have taken already look somewhat similar.
Anyway, at the front of the hole is this woman. The smell coming from the grill is what we like to call “Eau de Heritage Days Festival”. They must have bottled it at Hawrelak Park one summer and now they dispense it in spritzers all over Asia. Wherever we go, pretty much everywhere on this continent smells like the Heritage Days festival. I’m not complaining, mind you, just commenting, as part of my duty to report only what makes me laugh.
Behind the woman are two rows of tables at which a swack of locals are seated, munching away on grilled meat on a stick. They are mildly interested in our presence. As you might have guessed, grilled meat on a stick is what this place is known for.
I asked Kia what the name of this Fine Dining establishment might be, as I couldn’t see a sign outside nor was there any apparent menu from which one might have gleaned the name prior to placing an order with the maître d’ after thoughtfully perusing the bill of fare. Instead, food just magically appears before you when you sit down – you don’t order it – it just shows up. This wasn’t just for us – it was happening to the locals who sat down at the table next to us also.
Anyway, my question intrigued Kia so he turned to the women squatting over the grill and (my Khmer is getting better – I know this is what he asked her) and asked her the name of this particular hole (or at least wall). She looked at him like he was the idiot that I am and just shook her head and went back to squatting and grilling.
And so, for the record, the grilled meat on a stick that you get from the lady squatting on the sidewalk in the front of the hole in the wall across from the Buddhist monastery located near the end of the road after the traffic circle on Achar Sva Street is not to be missed. Tell her I sent you.
5. Number of times I fell off the little blue plastic stool from hell: 0
Not that I didn’t try. But Kia saw that one coming from a mile away and rounded up about 12 locals each time to gently hoist me down and back up again.
And, for the record, just so you know that I can display independent thought here in Siem Reap, I picked out my own spot for a smoothie – Sun Spot across the street from Genevieve’s makes the best Banana smoothie I’ve had yet in SE Asia. And for $1.50, you can bet that I’ll be having more of them, too!