Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Boy Who Dances For Monkeys

Peelawat and the Monkeys of Kumphawapi
Our 18 month old grandson, Peelawat, has been doubly fortunate recently.  Twice we have taken him to medical clinics to get his scheduled vaccination.  When he was born his parents were given a paper book in which his medical statistics are kept.  In addition the book informs the parents of what shot and vaccinations as well as when they are required.  His height and weight are added and charted on pages in the book.  It appears to be a very effective communication tool for ensuring the health of babies.

Twice the clinics have not had the vaccines so he did not get his shots.  Both times we took advantage of the time as well as location to visit the local wild monkeys.  Peelawat enjoys monkeys perhaps as much as I do.  Whereas he will run from chickens and cats that approach him, he stands his ground and often closes ground with the wild monkeys.

A Typical Private Medical Clinic in Isaan
In Isaan there are government clinics set up in various villages throughout the area.  Poor people can obtain free medical care there by showing a government issued Medical ID Card.  Duang and I once accompanied him to one of these clinics outside of his other grandmother's village outside of Kumphawapi.  It was a great place, it was packed with babies and toddlers.  It was interesting just to sit around and watch the parade of babies and children through the facility.  The rural clinics are more than just a room for medical treatment of the local villagers.  The clinic is a walled or fenced compound with a building for medical treatment, and a building where the doctor and his or her family live.

Freshly Powdered Peelawat Checks Himself Out at a Clinic
Since Peelawat has been staying at his great grandmother's home in Tahsang Village, we took him to a private medical clinic in the nearby town of Kumphawapi.  Medical clinics are staffed by doctors from the local hospital.  The doctors typically are available in their clinics from 9:00 A.M. after their morning hospital rounds until Noon and then again from 5:00 P.M. until 8:00 P.M.  Various clinics specialize in specific groups or conditions.  There are clinics for babies.  There are ear, nose, and throat clinics.  There are OBGYN clinics.  There are fertility clinics.  There are General Practice clinics.  As people identify a need for a doctor, they show up at the appropriate clinic, sign in or grab a number and wait their turn to see the doctor.  So far in almost three years here in Isaan, we have yet to make a scheduled appointment with a doctor - if scheduled appointments are even utilized here.  If the clinic is too busy you are told of another clinic in the area that could help.  A final  resort would be to go to a local hospital to see a doctor.  Local hospitals are usually a last resort because they provide free services to qualified poor people there by increasing waiting times significantly.

Peelawat Weighs Himself and Contemplates the Growth Chart

Peelawat Checks Up On Another Patient At the Clinic

In addition to clinic visits, we also visit the monkeys on our trips to the Amphor visits and market forays in Kumphawapi.  Peelawat always enjoys watching the monkeys.  You can always count on the monkeys to put on a show for your amusement and entertainment.  This expression "More fun than a barrel full of monkeys" is a realistic observation.  Monkeys, especially the young ones, tease and play with each other while hanging from trees.  Monkeys are also very curious and clamber all over parked cars, under trucks, and on motorbikes to look for food or to just check things out.  Peelawat has now become a very accomplished monkey spotter.  He will constantly point them out to me and say "Ling, Ling ..." (Monkey, Monkey)

Happiness Is Being Amongst Friends

Besides getting excited when he sees monkeys, Peelawat will also breakout into a dance.  I am not sure if it is an expression of joy or is meant to entertain the monkeys.  Whatever his motivation, I find it amusing.

Peelawat Busts A Move for the Monkeys

Another "Monkey Greeting Dance" Move

Four Monkeys In the Park
In the central park of Kumphawapi you can purchase food, peanuts, to feed the monkeys.  Peelwat likes to get in the middle of the monkey feeding frenzies that frequently occur as people throw out food for them.  Peelawat is not intimidated but Yai Duang, Grandmother Duang, can only bear to watch for a short period of time before she races in to "rescue" him despite his protests.  Peelawat and Tah Allen, Grandfather Allen, then both get a lecture regarding not getting too close to monkeys.

Yai (Grandmother) Duang to the Rescue
Life here in Isaan can be different but is usually entertaining and interesting.  With a boy who dances for monkeys, I eagerly anticipate our next visit together with the monkeys of Kumphawapi.

Monday, August 30, 2010

As She Sews, So Shall She Wear ... "As ye sow, So ye shall reap"

Silk Blouses That Duang Has Made

Lined Lace Skirt That Duang Created

Today was another unsettled day here in Isaan - periods of sun and periods of rain - definitely not conducive to outdoor photography.  We have been having these types of days for about two months.  It is definitely the rainy season.

Fortunately Duang and I mange to keep busy with indoor activities during these rainy days.  I am always busy with editing, and  cataloging photographs as well as writing these blogs.  Duang is busy next to me, sewing clothes.  Many years ago she was instructed to be a seamstress by a representative of the Royal government. To assist the poor women of Thailand the King had instituted a program to teach peasant women different skills to help them earn a living other than working in the fields.  Thailand is a republic but the Royal Family has a great deal of influence and is involved in many programs to assist and benefit the common people.

I have read on the Internet and seen on cable television that many children back in the USA have started a new school year.  Duang's almost daily sewing efforts and these news items reminded me of the old days when I was a boy in elementary school.  It was in a time before "designer label clothing".  If there were to be some one's name emblazoned on our clothing, it would be our own and would be viewed as a poor reflection upon our ability to know which clothes were are own. There were no fashionable athletic shoes either - the closest that we came to fancy footwear were canvas high top sneakers.  My clothes - corduroy pants and long sleeve cotton shirts were ordered from Sears catalogue.  My sister went to school wearing new cotton dresses that my mother sewed during the months of July and August.  In July we would go and look at catalogues of the latest style of women and girl's clothing.  Together my mother and sister would agree upon a style.  Each style referred to a catalog number for a precut pattern.  Based upon my sister's measurements, my mother pulled the correct pattern from a large file cabinet in the store.  They next selected the cloth and accessories such as buttons and zippers.  It was a sure sign that summer was coming to an end when we made our yearly pilgrimage to the fabric store.

Last October, Duang asked for a sewing machine for her birthday.  I knew that she had worked for two years at a garment factory in Brunei sewing clothes but I had no idea at how skillful she actually was.  I have written about her sewing efforts before, but I remain impressed. 

Duang Modeling One of Her Outfits

Duang Modeling Her Skirt and Blouse

Duang In Blue

Buoyed by her sewing results of the past year, Duang has ventured into some more challenging projects.  She has successfully made lined tailored silk blouses, trousers, semi formal blouse and skirt outfits, and started to do some work for people outside of the family.  Recently she purchased some books that are just a collection of photos of people wearing different styles of clothing.  These are the same types of books that you can find at tailor shops in the larger cities.  Duang just as the other tailors and seamstresses can produce a garment based upon a client's measurements and referring to a selected photograph.

Drafting A Paper Pattern
I have yet to see a commercial pattern for clothing here in Isaan or in the other parts of Thailand that we have visited.  After selecting the style and fabric that she wants to use, Duang drafts a pattern on paper using exact measurements of her model.  After drafting the pattern on the paper using steel rulers and steel curves along with a pencil, she cuts the shapes out of the paper.  The various properly sized sections for the garment are then pinned to the fabric.

Pinning the Paper Pattern to the Fabric
After the various pieces of the pattern have been pinned and checked, the cloth is cut in accordance to the edges of the paper pattern.  Duang's activity then relocates from our tile floor to her sewing machines.

Preparing to Sew A New Pair of Slacks
Silk Skirt With Typical Lao Loum Pattern
Here in Isaan as well as in neighboring Lao People's Democratic Republic fabric to make clothing is quite affordable to purchase.  As an added bonus, in my opinion, is the unique cultural aspects of the fabrics and their patterns. Patterns and color schemes are unlike those that are readily available back in the USA and Europe.  On our many trips out into the countryside here in Isaan as well as our journeys to Laos we have come upon many villagers producing their own unique textiles from cotton as well as silk.  In addition to buying the fabrics directly from the weavers, you can also visit some nearby factories and purchase a wide variety of cotton as well as silk fabrics for a very good price.

On a couple occasions, I have given Duang $30 USD for her sewing needs.  She has returned with fabrics to sew three different outfits, six zippers color coordinated with the fabrics and two spools of thread.  This was all from shopping in downtown Udonthani in the "garment district".  Shopping out of town with the village handcrafters, shopping in Laos, or at the distributor's outlets would be even more economical.

All these facts got me to thinking.  It got me to thinking about starting a small business in the USA when Duang gets her Immigration Visa.  I assumed that it would not be too difficult to set up a home business where she could make custom outfits pretty much like the ones that she has been sewing here in Isaan for herself.  I know that there will have to be a city business licence, insurance, tax number, federal tax ID, state tax ID, and other bureaucratic requirements that would require research. I felt that we could export fabrics purchased both here in Isaan and in Laos and import them into the USA.  At first I anticipated shipments valued at around $2,000 USD each.  This would be a minor investment but sufficient to provide a variety of choices for potential clients back in the USA.  Duang and I would source and purchase goods on our return trips to Southeast Asia.  I figured that we could use the services of federal Express or DHL to transport the goods from Asia to the USA.  The more that I thought about it the more excited that I became about it.  I discussed it with Duang and she became excited at the possibilities too.  I then set about doing Internet research as to the particulars of importing textiles into the USA.

In a recent blog I admitted to being an optimist as well as an idealist.  I remain that way even to this day despite the experience that I am about to share regarding importing textile to the USA- what I had assumed to be a fairly simple task especially looking at a value of of $2,000 USD and around 50 pounds a shipment with perhaps two shipments a year.  I expected that there would be forms to fill out identifying the exporter, the receiver in the USA, a description of the goods being shipped, and a declared value.  Based upon the type of goods i.e. cotton cloth, silk cloth, ... I expected that an import duty would be imposed based upon value, quantity, or weight of the goods with the import duty calculated ranging from 3% to 12% of the shipment value.  I anticipated that it would be fairly straight forward as well as simple.  As one of my former bosses always questioned me .. "Is the juice worth the squeeze?"  For 50 pounds of cloth and $2,000 value, I assumed that the USA desire to gain revenue by levying import fees would be a simple process - in other words, the juice would not require much squeeze.

One of my friends recently wrote the comment ... "Is anything in life as simple or as easy as we assume or expect that it should be?"

I responded "I know. I know. But I am an optimist and worse yet - an idealist."

Most people see things the way that they are and don't ask "Why?" I dream of things the way that they should be and ask "What the @#$% - Why not?" I make no apologies to Robert F. Kennedy or more correctly to George Bernard Shaw for hijacking the sense of his saying and "making it my own".

Well I got a good start over the Internet.  I learned about brokers and the services that they provide.  I learned that some brokers charge around $450 for a shipment similar to what I contemplated that we would be making.

I came upon a US Government pdf file that had been identified as being very helpful for learning how to import goods into the USA.  I believed that I was well on my way to understanding and more importantly learning how to handle the process myself.  After all I was getting the information directly from the horse's mouth - well it might have been the horse but I wasn't getting it from the mouth!
The document was entitled "Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (2010) (Rev 1)"  I waded through it and determined that I needed to reference Chapter 52 "Cotton 1/".  Well it turned out that the Chapter dealing with cotton fabric is 58 pages long.  Much of the chapter deals with defining or trying to define what cotton fabric is.  There are designations based upon the number of yarns used to weave the fabric, there are designations related to the weight of the fabric, definitions and distinctions made based upon the length of fibers, and whether they are combed or not as well as how they are spun.  There are distinctions for poplins, cheesecloth, denim, oxford, printcloth, voiles, batistes, lawns, sateens, and so on with many different tariffs based upon the various permutations and combinations of the distinctions.  To make it all more complicated and confusing is that certain countries of origin are exempt from tariffs while others have a quota on some of the various fabrics that can imported into the USA.  There was some good news, I think,  related to cotton fabrics.  Cotton fabric from hand looms are exempt or have a lower tariff imposed upon them.  The bad news - the hand looms have to be certified by the government of their country of origin.  For Duang and I, this would mean that the cottages where we intend to purchase their home spun fabric would have to have been visited, inspected, and certified by either the Thai or Lao government as appropriate for the cottage's location.  Having visited many of these locations, I am convinced that this has not happened or will it happen.  Although the home handicrafters were not located in the "land of the free", the governments leave them alone - alone to make a living unencumbered and free from interference.

Somewhat taken aback by the complexities of importing cotton textiles, I focused on silk fabrics.  Chapter 50 of the Harmonized Tariff addresses Silk.  Chapter 50 is 3 pages long, and I suppose by mere length is not as complicated or convoluted as the Chapter 52 for cotton.  However there is a complexity in that there are distinctions as well as definitions that are to be used to come up with a 10 digit code for the item that you intend to import.  In addition to generating revenue from import duties, the Harmonized Tariff is utilized to generate statistical data related to the goods imported to the USA.  In general there is no or small tariff for importing silk to the USA obviously recognizing that there is no native US silk industry.  However all the definitions and distinctions for little if for no tariff is definitely a lot of squeeze for very little juice.

To import fabric into the USA, you have to identify the country of origin for the fabric, define the 10 digit designator for the fabric, identify the composition of the fabric, identify the type and process used to produce the fabric.  This is complicated but the US government is there to help you.  You can take samples of your goods and send it to the government for a determination of the 10 digit code that applies.

I am enclosing a copy of an actual ruling from the US government - as some people are fond of saying "It's complicated"

APR 24 1991

CLA-2-52:S:N:N3H:352 861275


TARIFF NO: 5208.42.1000; 5513.39.0090; 5515.19.0005

Mr. Pete Heimlich

Global Village Imports
1101 SW Washington #140
Portland, OR 97205-2313

RE: The tariff classification of hand-loomed fabrics from Thailand.

Dear Mr. Heimlich:

In your letter dated February 11, 1991, resubmitted on March 11, 1991, you requested a tariff classification ruling.

You submitted three samples of hand-loomed fabrics identified as items A, B & C. Based on the information provided and laboratory analysis, sample A is composed of 100% cotton, and is constructed of yarns of differen colors. It contains 16.5 single yarns per centimeter in the warp and 17.5 single yarns per centimeter in the filling. This merrchandise is plain woven and weighs 170.3 g/m2. The average yarn number is calculated to be 20 in the metric system.

Sample B is a hand-loomed fabric that is constructed with yarns of different colors. It is composed of 24.4% cotton, 33.1% staple acrylic, 29.4% staple polyester and 13.1% staple rayon. This product contains 37.8 single yarns per centimeter in the warp and 39.4 single yarns per centimeter in the filling. It is woven with a complex weave and weighs 141.5 g/m2. The average yarn number is calculated to be 54 in the metric system.

Sample C is a hand-loomed, yarn dyed fabric composed of 15.1% cotton, 36.4% staple polyester, 17% staple rayon and 31.5% silk. This fabric is woven with a complex weave and weighs 164.5 g/m2. It contains 37.8 single yarns per centimeter in the warp and 36.8 single yarns per centimeter in the filling. The average yarn number is calculated to be 45 in the metric system.

The applicable subheading for the hand-loomed fabric identified as sample A, will be 5208.42.1000, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTS), which provides for woven fabrics of cotton, containing 85 percent or more by weight of cotton, weighing not more than 200 g/m2, of yarns of different colors, plain weave, weighing more than 100 g/m2, certified hand- loomed fabrics. The rate of duty will be 6 percent ad valorem.

Classification of Item A in subheading 5208.42.1000, HTS, is predicated on certification, prior to export, by an official of a government agency of the country where the fabric is produced, that the fabric is made on a hand loom by a cottage industry.

The applicable subheading for the hand-loomed fabric identified as sample B, will be 5513.39.0090, HTS, which provides for woven fabrics of synthetic staple fibers, containing less than 85 percent by weight of such fibers, mixed mainly or solely with cotton, of a weight not exceeding 170 g/m2, of yarns of different colors, other woven fabrics, other. The rate of duty will be 17 percent ad valorem.

The applicable subheading for the hand-loomed fabric identified as sample C, will be 5515.19.0005, HTS, which provides for other woven fabrics of synthetic staple fibers, of polyester staple fibers, other, of yarns of different colors, except blue denim or jacquard weave. The rate of duty will be 17 percent ad valorem.

The hand-loomed samples, designated as items B & C, fall within textile category designation 218. Based upon international textile trade agreements, products of Thailand are subject to visa requirements.

The U. S. has negotiated a Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements (CITA) folklore agreement with Thailand. Shipments of hand-loomed fabric and traditional folklore products of cottage industry are exempt from quota and visa requirements if they are a product of a country with which the U. S. has both a bilateral and a visa agreement which specifically exempts such products, provided the foreign government has issued a proper and correct exempt certification. These agreements only waive the quota and visa requirements. This office is not authorized to rule on the exempt status of merchandise which may be subject to these agreements. If you wish a ruling on the exempt status of items B & C, you may write to:

The United States Customs Service
Office of Trade Operations
Textiles and Metals Branch
1301 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20229

The designated textile and apparel category may be subdivided into parts. If so, visa and quota requirements applicable to the subject merchandise may be affected. Since part categories are the result of international bilateral agreements which are subject to frequent renegotiations and changes, to obtain the most current information available, we suggest that you check, close to the time of shipment, the Status Report On Current Import Quotas (Restraint Levels), an internal issuance of the U.S. Customs Service, which is available for inspection at your local Customs office.

This ruling is being issued under the provisions of Section 177 of the Customs Regulations (19 C.F.R. 177).

A copy of this ruling letter should be attached to the entry documents filed at the time this merchandise is imported. If the documents have been filed without a copy, this ruling should be brought to the attention of the Customs officer handling the transaction.


Jean F. Maguire

Area Director

Reading is believing!  WTF?  Is this the best way to utilize government resources?  Is this the best way to spend taxpayer's money?  Is this the best way to encourage and support small business in America?

Once again it is apparent to me that I have been too optimistic and too idealistic.

Once again I am reminded - Most people see things the way that they are and don't ask "Why?" I dream of things the way that they should be and ask "What the @#$% - Why not?"

Just like our federal tax code has been become a labyrinth of clarifications, list of exceptions, and modifications to ameliorate special interest groups, the Harmonized Tariff Schedule is in need of rewriting in my opinion.  If the purpose of the code and schedule is to generate revenue for the Federal Government they should be written to simplify the calculation of required fees and taxes in order the by typical high school graduates.  Jesus said to his disciples "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's".  If I remember my catechism classes he never said "Be sure to hire a good lawyer and a good accountant to determine what is actually and correctly due unto Caesar"  In America today, if Jesus were to walk amongst us, he would have to add this admonishment.

I am stubborn and will continue to dream of the way that things should be and ask "Why not?"

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cambodia - Day #4 - Tonle Sap _The End of this Trip

Floating Village of Chong Kneas

Sunday, 12 August, was our last day in Cambodia.  Just because we had an afternoon flight back to Bangkok did not mean that our adventures were over for the trip.  Our guide and driver brought us out to one of the places that was on my list to visit - Tonle Sap.

Tonle Sap Tour Boat
Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia - not that this fact justifies a visit.  Tonle Sap is referred to by the Lonely Planet guide book as the "Heartbeat of Cambodia".  Personally to me, Tonle Sap is the lungs of Cambodia.  The lake provides food and irrigation water for one-half of the people in Cambodia.  Tonle Sap is connected to the mighty Mekong River - one of the greatest rivers of the world.  Tonle Sap's water level fluctuates greatly in accordance to the seasons.  In the rainy season from May to October when the Mekong is at its fullest, water flows from the Mekong into the lake.  In the dry season as the Mekong's flow diminishes, water flows from the lake into the Mekong.  Water levels in Tonle Sap range from a maximum of 2 meters (6 feet) in the dry season and to a maximum of 10 meters (32 feet) in the rainy season.  The flooding of surrounding land during the rainy season provides a great deal of food and shelter for aquatic life making Tonle Sap one of the richest sources of freshwater protein in the world.  Tonle Sap is a nursery for many of the fish of the Mekong River. During the dry season fisherman average a take of 220 to 440 pounds of fish a day.

Tonle Sap grows from approximately 965 square miles in the dry season to just over 5,020 square miles in the rainy season.  The increase in area as well as increased depth presents challenges in terms of housing for the inhabitants in the area.  Man has met the challenges of Tonle Sap by building floating homes.  It was the opportunity to witness this unique lifestyle that attracted me to visit Tonle Sap.  Both Duang and I are interested in seeing how people live in environments and situations different from what we are accustomed to.

The Village of Chong Kneas
Drawing Water in Chong Kneas
We were taken to the village of Chong Kneas which turned out to be where our guide was from.  Chong Kneas, from what we saw, is a collection of woven bamboo huts with thatched roofs where very poor people live on a dike high above the waters of Tonle Sap. The streets were unpaved and the air was filled with fine red dust whenever a bicycle, motorbike, or pick up truck drove by.

Chong Kneas is the jumping off point for exploring Tonle Sap.  It is from Chong Kneas that you can rent a boat to go out to the nearby floating village, go fishing, or go off further to other floating villages.  Our guide arranged for a boat for the three of us and we set off to tour some of the lake.

A Tonle Sap Resident with a Pot of Prepared Food

A Mobile Floating Market On Tonle Sap
The area where we traveled was very busy.  Boats of all shapes and sizes as well as varying degrees of seaworthiness slowly plied the waters.  Some of the boats that we passed were mobile floating markets selling goods and staples to the people who lived on floating houses.  Some of the boats were mobile refreshment stands selling fruit, snacks, and drinks to other boats such as ours.  There were boats carrying grandmothers and children off to some other part of the lake.  Men were in their boats headed back to their home with some supplies to fix their homes or second boat.  We were able to observe many small town activities - but all of them were water borne.  In our travels we even came upon a Christian church.  During the reign of the Khmer Rouge all religions were severely persecuted.  Even the Buddhist religion that dominates all of southeast Asia suffered greatly at the hands of the fanatic Khmer Rouge.  Monks, temples, and monasteries were destroyed.  However the resiliency of religion was not eliminated.  Today once again you can see young Buddhist Monks in Cambodia.

A Floating Christian Church On Tonle Sap

As we passed floating homes we observed babies being fed and bathed on the covered porches just a couple feet above the water.  At other homes young girls were doing daily chores such as washing clothes and washing plates.  Other porches had elderly people relaxing in hammocks strung from the wood columns of their floating homes.  Many Tonle Sap residents were content to just watch life as it passed by them just as Duang and I watched a much different life float by us.  A frequent sight was a toddler standing on the porch or in the doorway of their home wearing nothing but a smile as they waved to the passing boats.  In some areas along the shoreline children played on the beach enjoying swimming and splashing in the water.  I photographed one group as we rode by.  It was only after that we got back to Thailand and started to process the photographs that I realized how happy he was to see us.  I know that he was happy to see us because he had no pocket to keep a banana!  Think in terms of the old joke "Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"  I am not sharing that photo but I am sharing a previous "acceptable" photo of the group.  There is no telling what you will see when you go out and about here in Asia but it is life - daily life that you will find.  The daily life may be very different than what you are accustomed to but isn't that the reason that you travel in the first place?

Children Enjoying the Hot and Humid Morning

Tonle Sap Refreshment Vendors

Snack Boat Coming Alongside
We passed through and by the floating village and entered the realm of the fishermen.  As we looked forward towards the horizon in front of us we could not see land.  We came upon boats of fishermen setting their nets or hauling in their nets.  Despite being a ways from the civilization of the floating village we were not in any danger of starving or dying of thirst.  Soon we were approached and joined by a small, very small boat, manned not by a scurvy crew but a very cute crew selling refreshments.  A young mother and her two toddlers came alongside and offered to sell us fruit, prepackaged snacks, soft drinks, water, and beer.  I was concerned about becoming dehydrated.  I was concerned about eating since it had been over two hours since we had a large breakfast.  I was wondering and concerned as to when I would have a beer while in Cambodia.  The children were so adorable and I became concerned over the family's plight so we bought soft drinks for Duang, the boatman, and our guide.  I enjoyed a can of Cambodian beer and we all shared a couple bags of snack food.  We mid farewell to the vendors as they headed off in search of another vessel in "need".  Childhood is often short and many times nonexistent for the children of Southeast Asia.  Surprisingly they don't seem to mind.  For many of them working with their parents for the survival of the family is not a chore but a part of life.  On some days it is an opportunity to meet strange people who talk funny from a far away place.  I suspect that not having Sponge Squarepants Bob, Shrek, MTV, Disney, and Pixar Studios cartoon characters or video games does not hinder their development into adults that are capable of supporting themselves and being happy. What should the true purpose of childhood be - to be entertained or to become prepared for adulthood?

Snack Vendor Shoving Off on Tonle Sap

After our tour of Tonle Sap, we stopped at "Artisans d'Angkor".  Artisans d'Angkor is an organization established to help restore traditional Cambodian culture and art.  Artisans d'Angkor provides training, employment and marketing for young Cambodians in traditional arts such as weaving, stone carving, wood carving, woodworking, dance etc.  The students become artists and their work is placed up for sale in the organization's shops.

Wood Carving at Artisan d'Angkor
Student Learning Stone Carving
Under the Khmer Rouge you were either a government worker, in the military, or a farmer.  There was no appreciation for art.  Traditional culture was looked down upon and admitting to being an artist could get you murdered. After the reign of terror ended, there were many Cambodians without any viable skills. Young people were unemployed.  A generation had lost its identity and soul.  As part of international efforts to assist the Cambodian people recover, a French group created a place where the new generation of artists could be trained by the few remaining keepers Cambodian culture that survived.  It is a center of hope and testament to the strength of man's desire to be more than a beast of burden.

After purchasing some works, we returned to our hotel, checked out, and took the short ride to the Siem Reap Airport.  Our trust in selecting a guide and driver had been greatly rewarded.  We saw many interesting and unique sights from an insider's perspective without the stress of doing it on our own.  We had a great trip with many fond memories.  We left Cambodia very pleased with our trip and knowing some day we would be back.  I think that there are still some ruins we didn't get to see.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cambodia - Day #3 - More Temples and More Ruins

Our third day in Cambodia, Saturday 11 August, was spent touring more of the temples and ruins in the Siem Reap area as well as a visit to a holy mountain.  It was another busy day.

Cambodian Peasants Planting Rice Outside of Siem Reap

Farmer Uses Pole To Create Holes For Planting Rice

As we left Siem Reap at our customary start time of 8:00 A.M. we were soon out in the countryside where the people were busy planting rice.  Unlike in Isaan where the farmers transplant rice seedlings into the mud of flooded paddies, the Cambodian farmers use the dry cultivation method where the rice seedlings are transplanted into prepared relatively dry ground.  The work was performed by hand other than using oxen to plow the ground.  A woman used a pole to create holes in the ground to place the seedlings rather than using a see drill even one powered by an animal.  Due to the lack of money and with Cambodia still recovering from its recent history, traditional methods of farming predominate.  Hopefully in the not too distant future productivity can be improved with the incorporation of some mechanical methods of agriculture.  We watched these farmers for awhile and upon our return to Siem Reap later in the day, approximately 4:30 P.M., they were still hard at work in the fields.  I thought that we had had a long and tiring day but our exertions paled in comparison with their activities for the day.  Whereas we could relax and enjoy our time, they were working for their and their family's survival.  It is on these forays out into the countryside of southeast Asia that the reality of the differences in life and culture here as compared to people's life in America becomes so apparent.  I end up appreciating both more for these experiences.

Harvesting Rice Seedlings For Transplanting

Cambodian Farmer Preparing Ground For Rice Seedlings
On the way to what is considered to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia, Phnom Kulen, we stopped and visited a family business along side of the road.  Once again the label of "family business" in Cambodia as in Thailand indicates that the small children are directly involved in the business.  If I were a child again, this family business would be one that I would be most happy to be working in - "palm sugar".  In front of their home, the family was busy producing "palm sugar'.  Palm sugar reminds me a great deal of the maple sugar candies from Vermont that I often got in my stocking at Christmas.

Family At Work Making Palm Sugar

Duang Climbing A Sugar Palm
The production of palm sugar commences with workers climbing a primitive bamboo ladder to reach the flower buds of the palm tree.  The workers slash the nut like buds to cause sap to flow which the y later collect.  The sap, just like maple sap, is then boiled to reduce it to a thick syrup.  The thick syrup is then poured into molds on top of a cooling table where the syrup quickly solidifies.  At this location the "cooling table"  was a rough lumber table covered with a thick and clean heavy plastic tablecloth.  The molds were rings about 4 centimeters (1-1/2 inch) in diameter created by cutting off  1 centimeter long pieces of bamboo. The day that we visited the family, the mother and father were busy boiling the sap down over a wood fire while the children under the shade of a canopy were occupied in removing the solid disks of finished sugar from their bamboo ring forms. Once the disks of palm sugar had completely cooled, the children placed them into plastic bags for sale to customers.  The family was very generous in allowing tourists to sample the drippings from the cooling table.  It was an act of kindness often experienced during our trip to Cambodia and a very effective marketing ploy.  We left with two bags of finished product - one to eat during the remainder of our stay in Cambodia and one to bring back home to Thailand.

Palm Sugar Ready To Be Sold

One of the benefits of freelance travel is stop and spend as much time at locations that interest you.  Hiring a guide and letting them know what your interests are helps to make each trip that much more special and memorable.  Being able to talk and learn from your guide about life in the area is another added benefit.  During our stop at the palm sugar "factory", we took the time to watch traffic move along the road.  Three of my favorites were the young woman with firewood stacked high on the back of her bicycle, the coconut vendor headed to his stall on his motorbike, and the farmer in his ox cart.

Headed Home With Some Firewood

Headed His Food Stall With Fresh Green Coconuts

Cambodian Farmer Headed Down the Road
From the palm sugar "factory" we drove aways into the countryside and commenced the climb to the sacred mountain.  We stopped at Kbal Spean - a locale on the Kbal Speam River where many ancient carvings have water flowing over them.  The ancient carvings are related to Hinduism and the worship
of the Hindu trinity "Vishnu", Shiva" and "Brahma"  One section of the riverbed was discovered in 1968 to have many lingham (linga) carved into the bedrock.  "Shiva" is worshipped in the form of "lingham".  Lingham or linga have been interpreted by some people as representing or symbolizing the male penis.  There remains a debate about the phallic symbololism of linga.  My attitude is ... "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck .. it is a duck"

Hindu Carvings In River Bed of Kbal Spean River

The Waffle Maker
We arrived at Phnom Kulen to discover a temple and near by picnic area where many Cambodian families were enjoying the surroundings and opportunity to swim in the narrow river.  After touring the temple, we crossed a small suspension bridge - think in terms of Indiana Jones over the river.  We were open game for the Cambodian children.  As we crossed the rickety bridge the children at the far end of the bridge jumped up and down causing the bridge to sway from side to side and to bounce up and down.  It was all good natured fun and when Duang's screams got too loud and uncontrolled, the children stopped.  There were many vendors in the area selling all types of prepared foods and drinks.  One of my favorite treats were waffles cooked over an open wood fire - delicious.  As we ate our lunch we watched the children diving off the bride into the river, and splashing about in the water - just like children at a river anywhere else in the world.  It was entertaining and enjoyable to observe them.

A Khmer Mud Pie Maker in Phnom Kulen

As we enjoyed the children's antics at the river and watched other children playing in the nearby village, our joy was somewhat tempered by the knowledge that these children and their families remain at risk from UNEXO "Un Exploded Ordnance" - land mines in the area.  Phnom Kulen had been a refuge for the Khmer Rouge so both sides of the civil war extensively used land mines in the area.  During our Cambodian visit we saw many people missing limbs from war and from the remnants of war that continue to victimize innocents today.

Courtyard of Land Mine Museum

On our return journey to Siem Reap we visited the Land Mine Museum - a vast collection of defused land mines collected by a Cambodian man dedicated to freeing his homeland from the curse of modern warfare.  It was a sobering experience to view the quantity as well as variety of weaponry used for "denial of territory".  Weapons that still kill, maim and will for many years to come.

Banteay Srei Ruins

Before returning to our hotel, we visited Banteay Srei, a 1,100 year old Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.  The temple is constructed from pinkish rock and has excellent carvings - an excellent choice by our guide for the last temple that we would visit on this trip.

Exquisite Banteay Srei Stone Carvings

One of Many Banteay Srei's Fine Carvings

We returned to our hotel around 5:00 P.M.  After dinner at a restaurant across the street and a visit to the local night market, we retired to our room for some well needed sleep.  the next day would be another long day - a trip to Tonle Sap Lake and the floating village of Chong Kneas.


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