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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Len Laim

I am sitting here with one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. His name is Len Laim and he is currently a medical student in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It hasn't always been that way though. He was born in Siem Reap in a small farming village. He has 2 brothers and 3 sisters who are all still in Seam reap, in school and working on the farm with his mother and father. He was just a normal student in a small rural village until the age 17 when he met a western man from the US named Charles (the man I am crashing with in Kampot). Charles saw huge potential in Laim and took him under his wing along with several other students in Siem reap. This began a long term relationship between teacher and student. Since age 17 in 2007 Laim has been working non stop. He would not be another statistic floating down the stream that is cambodian youth. He chose to invest in a bicycle instead of a motor bike like every other person in Cambodia has. He realizes the importance of preserving the environment and keeping his body and mind healthy. I feel like I share so many things in common with Laim and that we connect on a very simple level. We are both fighting against the stream and trying to live extraordinary lives. Laim's family cannot support him coming to school in Phnom Penh, so he has learned a few tricks along the way to raise money on the internet thanks to Charles and his many try and fail attempts. He cannot afford housing or food while he goes to school so he lives at the local Pagoda (temple) alongside the monks while attending university. All of his spare time is spent studying and preparing for class. He has only one uniform and he told me if he gets it dirty it is very bad and he cannot go to class.

Yesterday I went with Laim to a local computer store and bought him his first laptop. I believe that the laptop is the most powerful tool for a student, especially one studying to be a doctor! He was so grateful for this opportunity and I am totally humbled by his persistence in life and his drive to succeed. I also got him a digital camera, so now he has everything to maintain websites which Charles taught him to create. I believe this is the best investment I
have ever made. Investing in the future of Cambodia and in the people that can actually make a change in this country. He is a classic case of the incredible potential the youth in this country possesses.

His story is one of inspiration, at age 19 he was able to raise enough money and support to have a simple 2 room school built in his village. He also studied diligently and was able to pass the test needed to attend medical school. While enjoying his first cappuccino ever last night he told me of his dreams to create a program in rural areas that will incorporate free or little cost healthcare for all poor villagers. This comes from growing up in a village riddled with land mines and personally experiencing friends and family that lost their lives and limbs to these deadly atrocities. He has lofty goals for Cambodia but I believe he is the perfect man for the job. He is not afraid to stand up to authority and speak his mind like so many other Cambodians are.

I have spent the last two days with Laim and have decided to stay in Phnom Penh for an unknown length of time. I will stay at the Pagoda with him and his monk roommate. He's going to take me around the city and show me all the touristy and not so touristy sites. Today we spent the whole day together and man, he is one of the smartest people I have ever met. He speaks English, Khmer, Japanese and French, all self taught, and I bitch about not being able to to ride my bike because of schoolwork. He's been in Phnom Penh at med school for over 2 months now and he barely has any free time at all. He was doing all of this from computer cafe's that charge 2000 riel per hour. Needless to say having a personal computer at his disposal is going to make his life much easier for him.

Here are some links to pages he has created.
Please, add his as a friend on facebook if you want
to follow and or support him.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cave temple hopping

Today I rented a motor bike and headed way off the beaten path to the countryside to see what I could get myself into. The entire day ended up being cloudy and the perfect day to be out on a motorbike. I rode down a small meandering red clay dirt road for about 30 minutes when I was eventually greeted by this kid in a bright green shirt. I pulled over to see what was up and quickly I had 8 kids surrounding me shooting off their entire arsenal of english words. The one in the green shirts name was Mab and his english was pretty good. His friends name was Eang and his english was also very good. He asked me where I was going and before I knew it I was the middle of a Barang (foreighner) sandwich on my motor bike that I was no longer driving up towards this temple cave out in the jungle. I had no idea where I was going and these kids grew up here so I figured they knew the good spots to bring Barang. After a short ride we pulled over on the side of the dirt road. Eang stayed with the motorbike and Mab led me through a huge rice field where we were greeted by 2 more small kids, probably around age 9 or 10, both of them spoke really good english as well.The four of us walked and talked for about one and a half kilometers and came to this sloping hillside with tons of rock faces. All of sudden there was this really cool staircase leading us directly into the hillside. Everywhere I looked was riddled with small statues of people previously living here and Buddha. It was very mystical and unlike anything I have ever experienced. There were some beautiful views as we kept ascending up the steep staircase into the mountain. We got to a certain point and the entire mountain just seemed to open up and this vast temple just appeared out of nowhere. The kids showed me many different rock formations that looked like animals. After entering the cave, off to the right inside this 6th century shrine there was a single candle burning, I entered the shrine, took a few sticks of incense and lit them. The shrine was very small, maybe enough room for 3 people to sit comfortably inside, the kids waited for me in the cave, I came out put my incense in the holders and the 4 of us walked back to the motor bike. I gave the little kids a couple bucks for the wonderful guidance through the temple cave and hopped back on the motor bike with Mab and Eang, they then hauled ass down this bumpy dirt road for another 10km and brought me to this beautiful lake out in the middle of nowhere, we sat at this little hut by the lake and had fresh pressed cane sugar juice and fried noodles. They told me about their families and stories from growing up here and I told them about what I am doing here in Cambodia. After that we got back on the bike and headed another 30km to this small town and by this time my ass is killing me from being cramped on a tiny motor bike with 2 other dudes for over 40 minutes, we pull over and get some longan and these other exotic fruits and head towards some more temple caves. These caves were even more impressive than the first one. This was a huge network of underground caves that had buddha statues and all kinds of other relics and statues. It was the most healing and spiritual place I have been in SE Asia yet. Cambodians come from all over to sleep and hang out in this cave for healing and to pray to Buddha. There was a huge reclining buddha and people were sleeping in hammocks all around this statue, it was truly a sight to behold.

After that we hauled ass back to their village and had some dinner. What did we eat for dinner you ask? well dog of course!! Oh man when he said I take to you get some really good dog meat for dinner I kinda freaked out and then I just sort of accepted it and went along with it. The woman at this little roadside shack brought me a big ol bowl of dog meat and it actually didn't taste bad, it was a little gamey but once you get past the fact your eating dog its not that bad. I don't think I will ever eat it again but hey, you gotta try everything at least once right?

So after dinner and meeting what seemed like the whole village while I was eating, I was invited to come back next week for a wedding and to stay in their village for a week! I think I will go to the wedding but we will see where I end up sleeping!

Tomorrow I am leaving Kampot, Charles and I are riding for 2 days to Phnom Penh, we will sleep in a Pagoda with monks tomorrow night. I am going to meet a student I want to help out. I will have the detailed story at some point next week.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Running to the bathroom I think, can this get any worse? Then I realize theres no toilet paper. I spend the day running to the bathroom every 30 minutes only to spray my ass off with cold water and lay around miserably in bed with wet boxers from not having anything to dry my ass with. On top of that the bathroom walls only go up about 7 feet and the ceiling are 12 feet high so my 3 roommates have to listen to everything thats going on in there. Good times!

I arrived in Kampot 4 days ago and after months of emails and over a month in SE Asia traveling with his camera he had sent to me in the states I finally met Charles. Even though I showed up a day earlier than I thought, he welcomed me into his home. He is a totally chill guy and we get along swimmingly. We spent the night talking about bike touring, Cambodia and various other things. He is very generous with his space and I am sharing a big huge room on the second floor with 3 other travelers. There is a Cambodian family living here and running a guesthouse so I will always have 3 other travelers to keep me company in my room. Right now there is 1 dutch guy 1 german guy, and 2 au
strian chicks. Charl
es also runs a technology learning center from his home, he sponsors local students and teaches them life and computer skills.

Kampot is a pretty small town with a ton of character. It is situated right on a river and there are minimal tourists. Most of the tourists here spend just a night or 2. The local Cambodians are very pleasant social people and I have already made a few friends.

I spent the last 2 days laid up in bed sick as a dog. I ate a bad fruit shake. As the woman was making the shake she was pulling half pieces of fruit from this big bowl that looked like it had been sitting out in the hot sun all day, she didn't wash her hands and who knows how many people had handled that big block of ice before she smashed it into pieces to add to my shake. Needless to say I felt really shitty (pun intended). So now I am finally back on my feet
except I pulled another swifty move and fell down the stairs twice in the same attempt so my calcaneus is swollen and killing me. I have spent the last couple days sitting around doing school work on my computer. I intentionally chose the 2 classes I thought would be easiest and it turns out that both are proving to be really hard! Each week I have had to spend anywhere from 6-8 hours in a day to get the weeks worth of work done.

Anyways after the swelling in my foot goes down and I can walk again I will begin visiting local organizations and NGO's and seeing what they are all about. I will keep you all informed!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Volunteering at the Kirivorn school.

For the past week my friend Tammy and I have been volunteering at the Kirivorn school. We were picked up from our guesthouse in an American Assistance for Cambodia truck by 2 men that work for the organization in Phnom Penh. It was only a short ride from our place to the school which was located about 1km in from the main road on a red dirt road. It is a very small humble school with only 4 teachers.

The children and teachers welcomed us with big smiles, they

presented Tammy and I with presents of coconuts, watermelons, mangoes, and drinks. It was the most heart warming feeling I have ever felt, it almost brought tears to my eyes. We accepted these gifts and were shown around the facility. They have their own garden and

fruit trees which they grow morning glories for the students to eat breakfast. There is one small kitchen made up of a wooden shack with a place to prepare vegetables and a small brick oven to cook rice. Next to that is a spout hooked into an underground water system deep in the earth so the water is naturally clean. They have a library with shelves barely filled with books, a computer lab with 11 computers of which 8 of them work, they have satellite internet connection that is slower than dial up and the computers only work when the big generator they are hooked up to is running. So the computer lab is only running for a couple hours a day because the generator uses one liter of gasoline every hour. After meeting and greeting all the teachers we began shooting some

video for a program that American Assistance for Cambodia is working on, we interviewed a group of girls and asked them what they enjoyed learning and doing at the school.

During lunch we followed a boy named Suohian (Sue) home to meet his family and talk with him about his life and his schooling. He is in 5th grade and wants to go on to be a doctor, but after he is done high school he wants to become a monk. We walked about 1km down a red dirt road to a small little wooden shack on the side of the road where he lives with his grandmother, brother, and sister. His parents were divorced when he was young and his mother works far away and his father disappeared. His grandmother was so welcoming and offered us these specialty rice cakes she makes. They were wrapped in banana leaves and were very tasty. I was amazed at how welcoming they were and how openly they all talked to us. The grandmother

went on to tell us about her husband and 6 of her 8 children that were killed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 70s. It was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever witnessed, she started crying and was completely open with us. After this somber experience we walked back to the school and I had my first coconut cutting experience, the kids gave us 3 coconuts and the English teacher Nop Vay who was with us all day long use to be a tour guide and he was a professional coconut cutter. After consuming 2 coconuts we headed back to the school and sat in on an English class and helped the students with their pronunciations of certain words. Then Nop Vah fired the generators up and started his computer class, after class I started working to create the school a facebook page so they can share stories and pictures with the host school Nishimachi which donated the school and provides funding for text books and computers. If you google the Kirivorn school barely anything comes up. Nop Vay was very excited that their small humble school will be on the internet. My goal is to create the page and teach the kids this week how to access the page to view their photos and videos and to become pen pals with students from Nishimachi. I am not creating facebook pages for all the students, just one for the school which will be closely monitored by Nop Vay and the Nishimachi school.

It has been a very amazing week and I will always remember the smiling faces on the children as they chased us down the road on our motorbike as we were leaving. It was sad to go.

I am now in Kampot!!! I am so stoked to be here, Charles place is really awesome and it feels really good to have a semi-permanent base to work and live out of for a while. Kampot is a pretty small town, but has a bustling market and beautiful views.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Keepin it Riel

My good friend Tammy met up with me on the island of Koh Chang in Thailand a few days ago. We began our journey to Cambodia yesterday morning. I decided to travel with her instead of ride my bike because we are going to be volunteering at the same school starting Monday and she is totally awesome and fun to travel with. So we caught a sang thaew which is basically a pickup truck that jam packs people like sardines into the back and you hold on for dear life as the driver speeds through the steepest hills I have ever been on. We caught the ferry back to the main land and hopped another sang thaew and headed to this town called Trat to catch yet another short bus to the Cambodian border.

The picture of me with the bike was taken in no mans land. It's basically the space between countries, it's not Thailand, it's not Cambodia. On the left is the Cambodian flag and the right Thailand. The border crossing was pretty sketchy, a bunch of tall Cambodian men came out to us and sat us down, took our passports and ran around with them only coming back to us to have us sign stuff we had no idea what it said. It was all in Khmer. They kept of trying to sell us bus tickets and taxi rides, they were totally relentless!! This was a bad first impression of Cambodia. I was really sketched out at this point. We finally hired these 2 guys in this old sketchy looking toyota to bring us into Koh Kong the town we would spend the night in. We got to town safely and found a cheap guesthouse and had dinner.

The first thing I noticed about Cambodia is that everyone is really young. The average age in Cambodia is 22. The Khmer Rouge killed so many people in the 70s that
it wiped out the majority of the adult population. I was sitting there and all of this was finally sinking in. I do not know what I felt, I am still processing everything.

First thing in the morning Tammy and I caught a bus to Sihanoukville, a bustling Ocean town. It is Chinese new years and this town is absolutely packed, all of the guesthouses are filled up but we finally found a place and it was expensive!!

The money situation is very bizarre also. The preferred method of currency in all of Cambodia is US dollars. If something costs say $1.50 you would pay them one dollar and the change
in Cambodian Riel, its about 4,000 riel to one US dollar. So I have all this different currency floating around in my pocket now.

We will spend one more night here and make our way to Kirivorn out in a very rural part of south eastern Cambodia and begin working with students in the Kirivorn school. Tammy and I will be the first volunteers ever to help at this school, so I am totally stoked to start working with some real people and getting the inside scoop as to how things work in this country.
I will keep you all posted!

Happy New Years!!!! Fireworks are going off all over the place tonight. It's
nice to be able to do new years all over again!

Here's a pic of me climbing on this big blow up thing in the water today. The guy right above me was screaming at me to go pay before I climb on his blow up thing. I pretended I didn't speak english till he finally looked like he would kick me in the head if I didn't get off. There were so many people in the ocean, it was a total zoo for the new years.