1) I now live in a Disney-esque tourist town: After three years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s chaotic, growing, seedy, dirty, real, thriving, alive, dichotomous, crowded, NGO-filled capital I now live in Siem Reap, the country’s largest tourist town due to it’s proximity to the most famous temple in the region, Angkor Wat. It’s a small town. For variety at night, we can go to tourist restaurant A, B, or C and then rotate through them again in a different order the next weekend. Towns that are built around an average 2.3 day stay don’t need to provide too much variety it seems. We now know nearly every English-speaking expat living in the town compared with a much larger group in Phnom Penh so the rumor mill is now about the size of a cashew nut vs the size of a small mango. With PEPY currently hosting 10 foreign volunteer interns we contribute significantly to the expat population and social scene. In Phnom Penh I used to get “PEPY? Never heard of that, what do you DO?” with a raised eyebrow where as now I get “PEPY? Oh, I met Jam at the ‘Monk Talk’ event at Singing Tree, Karina at the bi-weekly educational meetings, I was dancing up a storm with Shannon one night at ‘Angkor What?’ and Lucky and Josh live just around the corner from me. You work with them?”
Overall, the move to Siem Reap has been a fantastic decision. a) we can get OUT of the city. In PP you are surrounded by an ever-growing expanse of suburbia which makes it difficult to get out into the country side by bicycle without inhaling an hour of exhaust fumes on your way. In Siem Reap, we can hop on our bikes and be in a rural area, or better yet the back entrances to the Angkor Temples, within 10 minutes. Fabulous. b) The main reason we moved: we are closer to Chanleas Dai, PEPY’s main target area. In the past, PEPY’s projects were spread around the country, but for the past 1.5 years we have begun focusing more and more on Chanleas Dai to the point where it makes little sense for us to be anywhere but near there! Now our Khmer teachers working in Chanleas Dai can come stay with us on the weekends when they come into town for their university classes and we can head to the school for even just a few hours if we need to. Fabulous again
2) I might want to be a kite surfer if I grow up: I went kite surfing for the first time a few years ago with Backroads’ friends in Hood River, Oregon, and last year I got to go twice: with PEPY friends, Michael and Peppi, in Vietnam and ATTA friends in Brazil after the Adventure Travel World Summit. ‘Tis the most fabulous sport in the world. You are at the mercy of both the wind and the water yet at times you feel in control of both (for me, still very much a beginner, I am well aware that I control neither and I’m glad when the elements treat me kindly!). If you have water skied or wake boarded it is similar, but it’s like you get to control the boat. I LOVE IT though, like all of my passions outside of PEPY these past few years, it is on the “to-do some day when I have time” list…. some day! Lucky for me, Peppi is starting up a kite surfing school in Mexico (shhhh… it’s a secret ;-)) so I have my next kite surfing destination all picked out for me.
3) Silk-making must have come from aliens. How could the human brain have been able to come up with unwinding a silkworm’s cocoon and then rewinding many together and then setting up an INSANELY complex loom and then making CLOTHING out of it. Have you seen silk being made from the silk worm stages? If not, come out here to Cambodia or buy an educational DVD, it’s amazing. I go to the temples of Angkor often enough and I see the monoliths around our city ranging from the 8th-13th centuries. I see stones laid upon each other, without mortar, which stack over 50m high which are made from stone which had to be hand cut from distant hills and then floated down human-dug rivers then pulled up dirt ramps by elephants and then intricately carved……. all while being fed from rice which was irrigated by more complex irrigation systems than available here now involving 8km long human-dug reservoirs. THOSE are near-impossible human feats, but in a way I can understand them. A king saw a building and said, “I want to make that building bigger, better, more beautiful, with more gold plating and more inlaid jewels and more this and more that – now all you, my people, spend the next 40 years making that happen!” It’s nuts, but I kind of get that. If you have a vision plus the power, money, and human labor force to make it happen, I guess nearly anything is possible (take Kim Jong Il and the North Korean synchronized dancing/stadium cheers. Should be impossible to get so many people to wear the same colors let alone do all those synchronized moves!). But SILK WEAVING?! Who was the first person who saw a silkworm’s cocoon and said “Hey! I’ve got a totally new idea which I think will be a great way to clothe the world. We take that there cocoon, boil it (so as to kill the worm before he eats his way out thereby cutting the single silk strand hence making weaving impossible), DE-THREAD the thing, wind it all together, and make shiny shirts.” Every time I see the process I find it so much more insane than building temples. Who was that enterprising risk-taker who must have first tried to take apart a whole bunch of other things to make clothing before creating the silk worm’s success story. I wonder what he tried to use first? “Let’s tie spider webs together! Nope, still look pretty naked, everyone’s gonna make fun of me at Adam and Eve’s wedding if I show up in these cobwebs! Tree bark? Much more chaffing than I would like.” Aliens, I tell you. Two thumbs up to the aliens though because I sure love clothing that feels like you are wearing air, and nothing is better for that than silk.
4) The economy is hitting us hard. People have asked how the economy is effecting PEPY and our work here and we are just beginning to realize the effects I think. Tour sales are down to nearly nothing and our fundraising has dwindled to the point where we are not sure if we are going to be able to operate all of our programs through 2009. We had had funding committed to build the first Junior High School in the area where we work in Cambodia which was pulled at the last minute due to changes in the government agencies funding plans. That left us with a community school building committee waiting on a school which was promised to them and our recognition that we would loose the community’s trust if we pulled out of the project at that stage as the contractors had already been picked. Plus, the junior high school kids are being taught in a temporary structure which will not last through the next rainy season. We thought we would be able to raise the $68,000 to build the school in a few months as we hoped that all of the past PEPY travelers who have visited Chanleas Dai would be able to contribute to bringing a junior high school to the area plus we hoped we could get some larger donors to cover the bulk…. but that has not panned out yet. We have raised under $20,000 so far. If we are not able to reach the full $68,000 we will need to drastically cut back the rest of our education programs this year, so we hope that doesn’t happen. We are asking that anyone who is connected to PEPY who has even a few hours of time put on their fundraising hats and see if they can help. $10 each from a group of friends can get this school built…. heck, that was how we raised all of the funds for Chanleas Dai’s primary school in small chunks from thousands of individuals. Any help you can give would be amazing! www.firstgiving.com/pepybuildsjhs
So that’s me, my weird stories, and a little call for help.
Remember, next time you wear silk, tip your glass to the aliens who whispered in some Chinese person’s ear and told them the secret of the silk worms because humans can build temples and create frighteningly synchronized patriotic dances, but only aliens could have made silk.