Monday, 17 December 2007

Kambodscha ist mehr



Here's a radio interview I did back in 2007 with the Berlin youth broadcaster Radio Fritz about traveling to Cambodia. For once I'm not the one asking questions, but giving answers!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Karmic Release

All sorts of business is flourishing on the banks of the Tonlé Sap River in front of the Royal Palace. You can buy grilled spiders or cockroaches - water lilies, coconuts or incense to make your prayers more efficient... Another little industry flowing from the belief in karma is that people capture birds, imprison them in tiny cages and offer to release them on payment by passers by.


Having spent such a beautiful day, I thought it was about time to pay my respect and release some birds. I don't exactly know how this karma-thing works, and the little bird lady wasn't able to tell me either... So I made a wish, just in case. I also found out that I was wasting my money. After stretching their wings for a bit, the birds return to the cage for a meal and a nap.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

The search for the best Fish Amok continues

When I heard I was coming back to Cambodia, one of the first things I did was to enroll in a Khmer cooking class. After all the Fish Amok search continues... I knew Frits from the restaurant Frizz was offering classes. Even days: Fish Amok, odd days: other dishes. I had registered for an odd day - December 15th... but fortunately I could influence the training schedule and managed to get Fish Amok on the menu.


Anyway, the day started off well. We all met at 9 am sharp in front of Frizz. We that is: Wayne, a Kiwi who's lived in Phnom Penh for four years and had to learn some Khmer cooking skills before heading home for good. Marianne and Pascal from the Flemish part of Belgium - both eager to learn and really lovely. I couldn't figure out though if those two are dating or not. And finally, a funny Dutch guy whose name I have forgotten who obviously loves his food and was keen on talking environment -- Holland is ready for an arctic meltdown!

We kicked off at the market, behind the Wat Ounalom pagoda. Hak, our cook for the day, showed us kaffir lime, galangal, tumeric and all the other ingredients you need for traditional Khmer cooking.


We then hopped onto tuktuks and made our way across the Tonlé Sap River to Frits' villa right on the Mekong river. The view on Asia's biggest river and the many fisher boats floating by is amazing. The cooking class takes place under a tree facing the Mekong.

Every student has a little gas stove and all the cooking utensils you can dream of - including a huge mortar.
I decided on the spot that we HAVE to buy a big version asap, our mini version just won't do the trick.

So, what was on the menu?
1. Saing Jayk or Banana Flower Sausage - actually rather nice. I'm usually not a big meat eater, but I was pretty impressed.
2. Samlor Kor Ko, a vegetarian soup based on a green curry.
3. Fish Amok - nice, nice, nice!!!
4. Num Batt or ceremonial cakes, particularly popular for engagement parties we were told. Pretty yummy too!

Hak, our cook was very patient and I liked the idea of cooking and then immediately eating.


This was my first cooking class ever. But it was sooo much fun, I'm sure this will not remain the last one...


And... I must say the Fish Amok I made was the best I had up until now. I know, I sound pretty full of myself, but it's true. So, anyone up for Fish Amok? I'm going to buy the ingredients tomorrow!

Awesome Day in Phnom Penh

6 am. Woke-up early to say goodbye to my colleagues Thorsten & Marc who were heading to Siem Reap and the Angkor temples.

8 am. Had breakfast at Fresco at the FCC. I love the coffee there.

9 am. Caught up with my fellow cooking classmates at Frizz. Went together to the market to learn more about local produce & then headed to Frits' villa on the Mekong for a full day of Khmer cooking.


5 pm. Strolled back on Sisowath Quay, letting life roll by. Briefly thought about doing a voxpop. But I was not in the right mood and too annoyed by stupid tourists unable to answer a simple question...

5.30 pm. Released two Karma Birds from their cage in front of the Royal Palace.

6 pm.
Swam 20 lapses in the Pavillion Pool.


7.30 pm. Had a gallette au blé noir and a cool tiger beer at Nature & Sea, a super little roof terrace, I discovered just off Independence Square.

7.50 pm. Giggled as the whole neighbourhood went dark. Power break in Phnom Penh.

8.30 pm. Interviewed Kosal Man, Director of Sovannah Phum, an NGO supporting traditional Khmer performance arts.

10 pm. Chilled in the beautiful garden of The Pavillion.

10.29 pm. Posted this awesome day on my blog.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Chhit Choen - alias Ta Mok

There are not many touristic highlights in Takeo. But one is the former villa of Ta Mok, right by the lake with a rather nice view overlooking Takeo. Now you're going to ask - who the hell is Ta Mok? Good question. What I know is that he was one of the Khmer Rouge bad guys, but that's basically it... so I did a little research: born in 1926, Chhit Choen trained as a Buddhist monk in Phnom Penh. During the 1940s he was an active opponent of both French colonial rule and the Japanese occupation. Joining the Cambodian Communist Party, he rose to become a member of its Central Committee, and commanded its forces in the south-west of Cambodia.

Under the alias Ta Mok - uncle Mok - served as the Khmer Rouge's chief of staff. With Pol Pot at its head, the four years of Khmer Rouge government from 1975-1979 saw almost two million people murdered. The campaign against so-called "parasites" eliminated intellectuals, city-dwellers and disabled people. Wearing glasses or speaking a foreign language was a common death sentence and mass genocide became the order of the day. Ta Mok, who commanded the army as of 1977, was the driving force behind a number of purges and quickly earned the nickname 'Butcher'.

Late in 1978, Vietnam decided to act. Its forces invaded Cambodia, and the Khmer Rouge fled. Ta Mok went north, becoming supreme military commander of the remnant forces.


More than 20 years later, Ta Mok was finally arrested - on 6 March 1999 inside Thai territory. Two days earlier, the United Nations had published a report which recommended the establishment of an International Criminal Court. Transferred to Phnom Penh, Ta Mok was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. But he died in prison in July 2006. Had he lived long enough, he would have been a key defendant in the trials of Khmer Rouge leaders, which just began a few weeks ago at the end of 2007.

The tribunal however remains a touchy issue and hardly makes it into mainstream Cambodian media. Ta Mok's house in Takeo is a dilapidated villa hardly worth the visit. No sign with explanations, no little museum retracing the life of the butcher. And this will probably not change anytime soon.

Monday, 10 December 2007

VIP 021

The trip back to Takeo was pretty straight forward. Shortly after Kep our driver caught up with a VIP escort. Two black cars and a police pick up blinking and honking their way back to Phnom Penh. We couldn't identify the green licence plate 021. Probably some sort of minister who ranks 21st in Cambodian protocol. We just tagged along as the fourth escort car.


I'm not sure though if the Cambodian's trying to identify the VIPs thought we were foreign dignitaries - or just the usual press mob.

Kep-sur-Mer

Kep, or Kep-sur-Mer as this place was known during the French colonial years, is quite an interesting little seaside resort on the Cambodian South coast. Up until the 1960's Kep was Cambodia's Riveria. The king and his family had (and still have) a property there, and so did many other well-to do and influential Cambodian families. Only a four hour drive from Phnom Penh, Cambodia's elite would come down on weekends to party and play.


During the Khmer Rouge era the little village was destroyed by war - and became a ghost town. The stylish 60's villas built by Cambodian students of the famous French architect Le Corbusier decayed, and today you can still see the ruins of many grand homes and properties reflecting what was a golden era of modern Cambodian architecture.


But slowly, things are changing and Kep is kicking back into life. Guests houses have opened and foreigners and Phnom Penh expats are buying up the old houses to restore them. It's a fascinating blend of the grandeur of the past, decades of terror and war and a revival that is just beginning to attract more tourists.

Knai Bang Chatt - a little paradise on earth

Knai Bang Chatt was no doubt one of the highlights of my last trip to Cambodia. So, I just HAD to head back to this little architecture gem on Cambodia's coast.

The three stylish Le Corbusier villas, the minimalistic design, the beautiful old wooden furniture, the warm light at sunset, the delicious cocktails -- a dream, really. And not to forget the warm welcome of manager Stéphane, who could totally see the hardship of spending two weeks in Takeo....


Sipping a Mai Tai, facing the sea and enjoying the fishermen heading for work as the sun sets - there's hardly a better place in the world to reload your batteries.

Kampot - pepper & more

Kampot is well known for producing some of the world's best pepper... not that I'm able to tell the difference between fresh and old -- or for that matter good or bad pepper -- and we actually didn't visit a pepper farm, so I couldn't work on my pepper skills.

But the weekend was a treat anyway. Both Adriane from Phnom Penh and a DW colleague had recommended the guesthouse "Les Manguiers", a few kilometers upstream from Kampot.

As you'd expect with such a name, the place is surrounded by beautiful old mango trees and boasts a big Cambodian house on stilts with loads of balconies facing the river. Jean-Yves, an easy going Frenchman working for the GTZ and his Cambodian wife have recently added half a dozen traditional bungalows in the nearby rice paddies. They say, they want to be able to welcome their extended Cambodian family and all their friends. Jean-Yves grins and adds "of course also anyone who'd like to become our friend".

After a week in the rather charmless Phnom Da Guest House this was a wonderful escape - right by the river, surrounded by rice fields - and it just felt great to eat a REAL breakfast and not just a tasteless wanna be baguette with peanut butter & jelly.
So, Takeo was quickly fading into distant memory. And after a good night's sleep, we kicked off Saturday with some heavy duty kayaking. I noticed I seriously need to work on my upper body muscles... and maybe on my general fitness all together.

Friday, 7 December 2007

ABC quiz

We ended our first training week with a little competitive game. So, our participants also got a quiz.


In groups of four, our journos had to come up with one word for each letter of the Cambodian alphabet that had been mentioned during the first week.
33 all together.

For example:
A like Ambiance sound or Actuality
B like Balanced, Biased or Barbara
C like CPP, the ever present Cambodian People's Party who rules everything and everyone.

I was rooting for the all-women-team...

... but they only got second - and were actually much less excited about this game than I was... I guess this brought child memories back for me.

New Quiz Question

For those who remember the Fish Amok Blog.... here's another Cambodian food quiz.


What could this be? I found those little buggers at the market tonight and was told you can eat them. I haven't tried though - after all I still have another whole week to train...

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Takeo Gang

For anyone who thought I'm in Cambodia for pleasure. Think again. We're here to train radio journalists in election reporting and it's not an easy task. Most participants combine journalism with working in their local information departments - so much for independent media. And all our 12 journos see radio and television as propaganda tools and have never done any story about the opposition.


Forgot to introduce my colleagues: Thorsten, our project manager - here on the left. And Marc, our chief for all things technical - you should see the temporary studio he set up at the local radio station, the local tech was a wee bit jealous.

Ta Ta Takeo

So, day n°3 in Takeo. Somehow it feels like we've been here for ages. Maybe because we've eaten in the same two places since our arrival. Noodles & coke for lunch, fish & beer for dinner. Or the other way around fish & coke for lunch, noodles & beer for dinner.


In the restaurant across our guest house I already get back slapped by the Cambodian mama running the place (always in pyjama and laughing like a horse). Not that we enjoy extensive conversations... our communication is actually pretty basic. And meals with my colleagues are daily sharades - we're taking turns in imitating oinking pigs, jumpy chicken and swimming fish but not always getting what we want. Salt or powdered milk in sign language is also more difficult than you'd expect.


Takeo is said to have 39,000 inhabitants, but honestly, I don't know where they're all hiding. The place is pretty dead and as my guide says "there no compelling reason to stay here."


Favourite past time: playing volleyball on the town's market square - but that's really male only. Or downing whiskey shots.

Playing cards and gambling a few riels, women seem to enjoy that one too.

What else? Last night we discovered an open air cinema and some sort of night fair - including a caroussel with tiny UN helicopters. We didn't quite fit the picture though, after all you can't come to a drive in movie theater without a motorbike, can you?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Hitting the road

So, we're hitting the road in an hour. I just had a last swim in the beautiful pool of the Himawari, enjoyed an extensive breakfast and have stashed peanut butter & crackers. All set.


This is a little food sample of what we might expect in the next two weeks in Takeo, a small city in the South-East of Cambodia, actually very close to the Vietnamese border. We might even have the time to pop over and check the food on the other side. It would be my first time in Vietnam.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Back in Phnom Penh

I didn't think I'd be back in Cambodia so soon. But since the Chinese didn't want us, (after the latest row over the Dalai Lama) we had to come up with plan B or for that matter plan C - which happened to be Cambodia.

It's great to be back. Spent my first day strolling through the streets of Phnom Penh, soaking in the wonderfully chaotic atmosphere, hitching a motodup ride on Sisowath Quai and enjoying the broad young smiles, sitting behind their boyfriends patiently waiting for the red light to turn green. Somehow, the traffic seems less hectic and dangerous I remembered.


What else? It very distinctively smells like Phnom Penh - my colleague says it smells rotten, I must admit I quite like it, and yet I wouldn't be able to describe it.

So, the smell hasn't changed over the past eight months... but I noticed significantly more side walks (which make walking through the city a wee bit safer), new cash points and... a place selling chocolates on 240th street. I can't imagine this becoming a serious threat to The Shop though, two doors down and still my favourite coffee haunt.

Anyway, I'm not back in Cambodia for pleasure, but as a media trainer. Tomorrow we're off to Takeo for an election reporting seminar. No hot water, no internet and only Asian noodles for breakfast. But hey, I'm actually quite excited. Will try to keep you posted via Twitter.

Oh, and I also have an other mission of course... my Fish Amok search continues. And I've booked a cooking class for December 15th. This should be a highlight!

And my Fish Amok search continues on a bigger venture:

www.petitesetgrandesaventures.blogspot.com

How many monks can you squeeze into a tuktuk?

Ok, I must admit these monks dressed in their simple saffron robes tempt me time and again... I mean, to take photographs. I HAVE carefully studied my guide which says "if asked, monks are usually happy to be photographed. But it's worth bearing in mind the Buddhist community treats them with great respect and strict protocol."


Cambodia's biggest monk school is right next to our hotel and it's quite an impressive sight when over 1000 orange monks pour onto the streets and squeeze into all sorts vehicles to be driven I don't know where.



Most Cambodian boys enter the monkhood for some part of their lives, perhaps six months, perhaps longer. The monkhood offers practical advantages like free education and free food, which comes in form of rice and has to be eaten before 11 AM (monks are not allowed to eat after that... this seems a bit tough to me, I'll have to double check). Well, and then there's nirvana of course. Who wouldn't want to experience that?

Back in Phnom Penh

I didn't think I'd be back in Cambodia so soon. But since the Chinese didn't want us (after the latest row over the Dalai Lama), we had to come up with plan B or for that matter plan C - which happened to be Cambodia.

It's great to be back. Spent my first day strolling through the streets of Phnom Penh, soaking up the wonderfully chaotic atmosphere, hitching a motodup ride on Sisowath Quai and enjoying the broad young smiles, sitting behind their boyfriends patiently waiting for the red light to turn green. Somehow, the traffic seems less hectic and dangerous than I remembered.


What else? It very distinctively smells like Phnom Penh - my colleague says it smells rotten, I must admit I quite like it, and yet I wouldn't be able to describe it.

So, the smell hasn't changed over the past eight months... but I noticed significantly more side walks (which make walking through the city a wee bit safer), new cash points and... a place selling chocolates on 240th street. I can't imagine this becoming a serious threat to The Shop though, two doors down and still my favourite coffee haunt.

Anyway, I'm not back in Cambodia for pleasure, but as a media trainer. Tomorrow we're off to Takeo for an election reporting seminar. No hot water, no internet and only Asian noodles for breakfast. But hey, I'm actually quite excited. Will try to keep you posted via Twitter.

Oh, and I also have another mission of course... my Fish Amok search continues. And I've booked a cooking class for December 15th. This should be a highlight!!

My previous Cambodian petites et grandes aventures:
www.fish-amok.blogspot.com

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