Saturday 20th I thought I'd ride out to Tonle Sap Lake but Siem Reap had turned into a giant river. There's been so much rain that a number of the streets were completely flooded, including the one heading towards the lake. I persevered for a while, but when my feet were submerged in water I decided to call it a day and turned back. There were people pushing their motos in 2 foot of water and many people's houses are also flooded, especially those built on the banks of the river. I can't imagine what the living conditions are like now. They are bad enough when it's dry. The positive news from all the rain we've been having is that Cambodia is no longer at risk of having a bad harvest. There's plenty of water for the rice to grow now.
Sunday 22nd I learnt a new skill - riding sidesaddle on the back of a moto! There's a knack to it, making sure your weight is evenly positioned so you don't fall off on the first corner you come to. I was watching a film a few nights ago called 'City of Ghosts' which stars Matt Damon was filmed in Phnom Penh in 2002. In the film it shows a French woman jump on the back of a moto - Khmer lady style - which is pretty much the equivalent of how ladies used to ride horses! So I decided to give it a go. With a Khmer colleague at the controls, I carefully balanced on the back, facing the opposite way to the exhaust (apparently the exhaust is the reason why a lot of Khmer women have burn marks on their legs!) with my right foot on the footrest and the left foot crossed over the right. Got to the first corner and didn't fall off which was a positive sign (I've got a big enough bottom!). Anyway, after about half an hour I had it mastered. It's really useful when wearing a skirt, although I think I'll slowly work my way up to doing it in high heels!
Monday morning we had one of our guests propose to his girlfriend at Ta Prohm temple at 7am surrounded by flowers & candles. One of our Khmer managers set everything up while her husband (one of our guides) led the couple to a particular place inside the temple before 'disappearing'. Fortunately it all went to plan and we had a phone call to say she'd said 'yes' so I helped one of the other managers decorate their bedroom with orchids, lotus flowers, and jasmine. I had spent a while arranging a 2 day itinerary for them, so I'm really pleased everything went smoothly for them. It will certainly be a day they will never forget. I really can't think of a more romantic place than Ta Prohm! After work I had another meditation session at Raja Yoga, before having dinner at Angelina's (yes, a café/bar cashing in on a certain celebrity name) but I like it there because they do nice, cheap, tomato & mozzarella salads ($2.50) and the staff are very friendly.
Wednesday I was on late shift (12.00-20.30) and spent most of the day mentoring two of the Managers in implementing HR procedures. After work I joined Fiona & Anthony at The River Garden (run by Fiona's uncle) for drinks and to meet a few more of their friends. The River Garden has a beautiful pool and every Sunday offers a free 'ex-pat swim' afternoon. I haven't been to one yet though as it hasn't really been the weather for it!
Thursday I was on late shift again, but I enjoy them as it gives me more time to talk to the girls at work. Having gone without any sisters for 35 years, I now have 4 - Miss Pisey, Miss Vanhorm, Miss Sina, and Miss Nary! They are such lovely girls and range in age from 19-23. I enjoy spending time with them when it's quiet, helping to improve their English and build their confidence. They are gradually becoming braver, asking me all sorts of questions. They also giggle a lot which is very sweet! Miss Pisey has the same day off as me so I've said I will take her out one Sunday afternoon for Bubble Tea, which was greeted with a squeal of excitement and a big hug.
For those who do not know what Bubble Tea is, it's an ice cold, milky, flavoured tea that originated in Taiwan. The 'bubble' part comes from the handful of black, or other coloured, tapioca balls in the bottom of the glass. You then drink it through a fat straw, which allows you to suck up the 'bubbles' at the same time. My description probably makes it sound horrible but I love it. My favourite is Strawberry Cream. I've had a few in Phnom Penh and there's one place in Siem Reap which sells it, aptly named Bubble T. Khmers have various names for this uniquely Asian invention - the most amusing being 'Frogs Eyes'!
Friday night I joined Pat - a teacher & speech therapist from New York - for a banana ice cream shake and burger & fries at a great little NGO coffee shop called Common Grounds whose profits are used to support projects in Cambodia. It's been designed as a cosy American-style hideaway and is just like 'Central Perk' from Friends! It also has the most amazing chocolate cake!
Both Pat and I thought we would lose weight here, but we've realised that because of the cheap food, alcohol, and cigarettes, the place probably just helps you die quicker! I gave Pat a lift home after dinner and then called into U-Sure Pharmacy (the only western style pharmacy in Cambodia - all 5 stores countrywide - so not quite Boots) and found a secret stash of 'Iced Gems'. They're imported from China and are called 'Fancy Gems' instead but they taste the same!
On Saturday evening I joined Fi & Anthony for an early birthday dinner at a gorgeous restaurant called Sugar Palm. Unfortunately as I arrived two idiot boys on a moto had a crash behind me (I had stopped and was indicating to turn left - they were speeding, didn't see me, and had to slam the brakes on at the last minute) which meant they went skidding across the road. Fortunately they weren't too badly hurt - bloody fingers/hands etc - and they were soon on their way. It just meant for me that I had to have an extra strong 'Battambang Ice Tea' cocktail to calm the nerves!
This weekend is the most important religious festival in Cambodia - P'Chum Ben - or 'Festival of the Dead'. It's when most Khmers go back to their 'homeland' to spend time with their families and visit their local Pagoda to make offerings for their dead relatives. It is thought that looking after those who have died will mean that you will have a good life. The only problem with P'Chum Ben is that the whole festival lasts 15 days, with the last 3 days (27th, 28th & 29th September) being the most important, and it's these last three days that everyone wants off work. Not possible in the hotel business, especially as we are fully booked from the 28th for a few days, so many members of staff have had to take holiday at other times during the festival. Khmer New Year (in April) and P'Chum Ben are pretty much the equivalent of our Christmas and Easter celebrations. The other drawback is that everything shuts - I can't even get my laundry done!