Day twenty-eight 8/3

After breakfast, we had some free time to work on our individual projects, get ready to leave, and check out of the hotel.

We had dinner on our way to the airport. I ordered a dish that I would not be able to have outside of Cambodia, beef with green Kampot peppercorns. The restaurant, the Eclipse Sky Bar at the top of the Phnom Phen Tower, offered panoramic views, so we all took our final photos of the city.

Day twenty-seven 8/2

There was free time to work on our projects.

In the afternoon, some of us were able to visit the home of Ms. Nanda Pok, who trains women for political office through the organization, Women for Prosperity.image.jpeg

 

That evening, we had a group dinner at La Residence, which is a restaurant located in the former home of Princess Marie.

Day twenty-six 8/1

We had demonstrations and some mini-lessons on traditional Cambodian musical instruments at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA).

 

We then visited the National Institute of Education (NIE). The director, Im Koch, told us that it was founded in 1914, and closed only during the Khmer Rouge era, 1975-1979. He mentioned that they need books for their library. Any donations can be sent to the director. I was able to go to a classroom and meet with some of the pre-service English teachers and their trainers and see some of the textbooks that they use. I also learned that since 1997, the series, English for Cambodians, has been used in the public schools. Most of the teachers would like to study in the U.S. I gave those I spoke with my contact information. We also suggested watching the U.S.embassy’s web site for information and opportunities.

 

That evening, we had a memorable time at the house of Curriculum Specialist Phala Chea’s Uncle Bunleng. One of the guests was the Cambodian composer, Him Sophy. He played piano as we sang the song, “Arapiya.”

 

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Day twenty-five 7/31

Early in the day, we had some free time to work on our individual projects.

Some of us had an art lesson with RUFA professor He Samorn.

I went with the group led by Sarim Soeng, wife of the MCC Fulbright Scholar in Residence for this coming year. First we visited Wat Phnom, and then we went to the Russian Market, where we helped Rita McLaughlin select chhing (Cambodian finger symbols) and coconut shells (for the coconut dance) to use with her music students at the Murkland elementary school in Lowell, MA.

In the afternoon, we attended a concert of classical music at the Him Sophy School of Music. Vicki Ray, a Grammy-nominated American pianist, played selections reflecting the culture of Cambodia, including a piece composed by King Norodom Sihanouk, “Phnom Penh.”

 

 

 

 

Day twenty-four 7/30

First we went to Khmer Artisanry. Its principal founder, Seila Muong, explained how they help improve rural lives by allowing women to work from their homes. They only use natural dyes in their products.

 

Next stop was the Monument bookstore. I found several books that will be useful teaching resources. I was especially happy to find two volumes of the Cambodian literary journal, Nou Hach.

Finally, we went to the Wat Phnom Arts and Crafts Center where the NGO Chamroeun Petri Organisation (Women’s Improvement Organization) is located. Their recently renovated building includes shops that help sustain and make viable both traditional and contemporary arts. The director, Ms. Nanda Pok, and the assistant director, Ms. Nivana Cheng, spoke to us about their involvement with the community.image.jpeg

Day twenty-three 7/29

We traveled to Takeo to visit a Khmer weaving village. We observed how the weavers create traditional patterns in silk.

Some of us also had a memorable experience riding in an oxcart.

Lowell school teacher and colleague, Vong Oung, owns a guest house where he hosted us at a luncheon. After eating, we visited the local high school. image.jpeg

The school has no library or meeting rooms. They would like to restore a building which was damaged during a week-long  U.S. bombing campaign of the area in the Vietnam era and use it as a library.

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Day twenty-two 7/28

We visited Oudong, which served as a capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1866. Phnom Uodong has stupas containing the ashes of several former kings. The most recent building houses a relic of the Buddha. It is decorated with elaborate floral designs and elephants, and can be reached by taking a long stairway up from the main parking lot. We discovered that halfway up the stairway is a pool where some monkeys gather, ready to grab whatever they can, be it a lotus flower offering or even a box of soy milk.

The lower level of the stupa has many beautiful statues of the Buddha.

Day twenty-one 7/27

In Kampong Chhnang, we went to a village where clay cooking pots are still produced in a very traditional way. The first potter we met explained that she pays $50 for 500 lbs. of clay ($250 for 500 lbs of clay plus shipping). She buys the clay. She uses $10 worth of clay for 100 pots   Vendors buy pots from her for $00.75 per pot. She begins at 4 a.m. and makes 10-12 pots per day.
Stage one goes to the sun for 2 hours before continuing to form. Then she waits before finishing the bottom. Another woman  who works on the bottom is 30 years old. She began making pots at 10 years of age.

This series of videos shows some of the traditional  process  to make clay cooking pots.

 

 

 

We also helped carry and load pots for a traditional firing.

Day twenty 7/26

Leaving for Kampong Chhnang, as our bus fueled up, we got a last view of the statue that represents the legend of how Battambang got its name (“Lost Stick”).image

We also bought 40 oranges at a roadside stand for $16 (a price for Americans?).

Kampong Chhnang, on the Tonle Sap, is considered the birthplace of Cambodian pottery. We visited a Japanese sponsored project that is helping to revive pottery production and improve economic conditions for the potters. The potters produce their own clay.  They use soil from two sources, one of which is from government land nearby, so we walked there to see it.

 

That evening we stayed in Kampong Chhnang.

 

Day nineteen 7/25

We had a meeting with the Governor of Battambang, Chan Sopha, and he spoke about economic development and tourism in the province.

He has been governor for three years. He encourages the locals to appreciate and restore what they have, rather than tear down or alter a building too much. He is working with UNESCO, trying to have them recognize the homes and buildings of Battambang as a world heritage site. The French cinema and Hollywood have used the city’s French colonial buildings as movie sets. He tells people that tourists will come if they preserve what they have. He would like to establish districts in the city-business, residential, and historical. His action plan for 2020 includes providing a healthy, affordable drinking water supply. He is trying to teach via all media how to take care of garbage, waste, and recycling. Right now, because of changing climate and limited water, farmers plant rice only once a year. He has built dams to store water so that people can stay on the land and plant several times per year. His thinks his role as governor is to make people happy

Mid-day, we visited an orange grove and learned about small business entrepreneurship.


Banan Province is famous for its orange groves. The entrepreneur we visited worked and bartered her way to ownership of one acre of land for an orange grove. She said that it takes three to four years for an orange tree to produce. Oranges are more profitable than rice. She said that she makes about $10,000 per year from her grove. When we asked her if she ever hires workers, she said that there is communal sharing of work. They still help each other as they did before the Khmer Rouge era.

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In the afternoon we went to Buddhism for Development (BFD) and met with the director, Mr. Heng Monychenda. It began in 1990 in a Thailand border refugee camp. In 1993, during the repatriation period, it opened its first office in Battambang. Now it is in seven provinces.  It is not an NGO that builds pagodas. It trains monks and others. It has many goals, which include:
1. Increasing the income of the people
2. Encouraging them to form cooperatives, but not like during the  Khmer Rouge period; now, the word means community
3. Trying to deal with local government and have the constituency understand its rights.                                                                                                                                                         4. Focusing on general social development. Trying to build a network at the local level. Trying to be an agent of change. Addressing the lack of trust between perpetrators and victims (from the Khmer Rouge era).
5. Aiding access to health care. A volunteer, Catherine, helps to do research on HIV AIDS. There are 4,000 cases in Battambang.  They need to plan for the long term. They have worked with this community for more than one year.
6. Fostering access to education. Most of the people have only a 5th to 10th grade education.
7. Doing work on the environment. “Put down the saw and plant the seed. You eat the fruit, but you plant the seed or a tree; we offer the tree for the spirit, for the mountain.” Some monks are working on the environment. Monks for social justice expose bad activities and risk their lives.

Buddhism for Development once had a budget of $1.2 million, but now works with $300,000.