Bigger Wow Than Angkor Wat??
Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Neth Socheata Hotel
I had met the very hug-able sister team of May and Mary-Leigh at one of the memorial 5km runs that DH was hosting. They had shown up at a very uncivilized hour and helped us set up, organize, and close up the event. May was a coworker of DH and her sister is a bit of a wanderer and works in far-flung parts of the world. The generosity of spirit they showed us on the Run Day was just part of who they are- the next time I met the two of them together we were getting a debrief on their Cambodian experience.
The dynamic duo had gone to Cambodia with the express purpose of finding an existing orphanage that they could help move to a self sustaining status complete with pigs, chickens, a stocked fish pond and a small mushroom hut. Not content with remote oversight of the project, our two little Samaritans pitched in and organized the logistics of purchasing materials, putting plans together, hiring labour, and, I suspect, mucking out the pig stalls. They dedicated weeks to the project basing themselves in Siem Reap- they also ended up with a dedicated tuk-tuk driver and pimped his ride complete with signage for the orphanage (trying to encourage visits from any temple junkies in the Siem Reap area who might want to mix a 'today' experience in with their 'yesterday' experiences).
Our two entrepreneurs operate under the very catchy banner of Full Tummy Farms (website can be found here: http://www.fulltummyfarm.com ) and I know that May continues to actively fund-raise selling her handmade jewelry and the like.
Knowing that we were heading to Asia as part of our never-ending coffee break, we wanted to at least drop in to see how the kids were doing and pass on the best wishes of the sisters
We managed to hook up with John, the pimped out tuk-tuk driver, and arranged to have him pick us up and take us to a true local market where we would pay Cambodian prices for a few of the basic necessities. As well as the toothbrushes, shampoo, laundry soap, and foodstuffs, we loaded up on some toys and sporting gear (DH has always operated on the belief that children can be bribed). DH was getting frustrated because we couldn't get any meaningful discounts or free stuff- the vendors all knew we were buying for orphans but in a country like Cambodia hard luck stories are all around. We did get a bit of a discount from an older dude who was just pushing his mobile basket of watermelons into the market to begin the arduous task of door-to-door watermelon sales. His basket held 30 melons and we bought his entire inventory which made for a quick days work for our new friend- he even wanted to give me his cell number in case I needed more (who knew that watermelon salesmen had an office number).
With the tuk-tuk loaded to it's maximum capacity we headed into the National Park passing by many of the same temples we had crawled across recently
We were served a more meaningful lunch of rice and veg (we both felt incredibly guilty but apparently this is typical of Cambodian hospitality) at a table reserved for the adults. The Director of the orphanage, Mr Thy, or Papa Thy to the kids, joined us and it was readily apparent that this was an absolute labour of love for this very unassuming man
Aside from the unacceptable mirror situation, perhaps the most difficult action to accept was the treatment they were getting at the hands of the Apsara Authority- since the orphanage was technically within the boundaries of the park (although nowhere near any of the temple structures), this band of soulless bureaucrats has the final say on any and all building structures
During the course of our tour, the kids discovered that DH and I weren't married, and immediately set out to rectify that situation. DH was ushered off to a secretive section of one hut and I was shown to another and was bullied into wearing a traditional Cambodian costume for my upcoming wedding ceremony. The rest was a bit of a blur- screaming and cheering ensued particularly during the reading of the vows by Sokna (a very funny girl with a heart of gold), with Rong throwing flower petals, and Borath working the room like a pro with my camera
After the wedding we broke into the toys and were soon surrounded by a whirling dervish of badminton, volleyball, hula hoops, and hakisak. We needed to bring our care packages of food and toiletries, but it was great to see kids enjoying being kids. By the time we had to leave, we knew we had to come back for another day- this decision was greeted by cheers and a number of songs. What a day!
As luck would have it, back in Siem Reap we ran into Annie and T, an Australian couple we had met on our slow boat trip through Laos (as we learned in Australia, the Aussies shorten virtually every spoken word so it was no great surprise that T was T instead of Terry- although having colored his hair since last we met, the T might also stand for Trendy). We told them about our day and the next morning the four of us were squeezed into Johns tuk-tuk heading for the market for another round of pre-orphanage purchases. T and I focused on the practical items that were needed (flip-flops, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, and pillows- pillows were a particular passion for T- some sort of childhood incident I suspect), while DH was on a mission to correct the no-mirror-for-the-girls travesty and Annie wanted to add some fun into the mix with hair clips and nail polish. We even ventured into the meat market to pick up a few freshly plucked chickens and some slabs of pork to add to the veggies we had purchased. With the generosity of Annie & Trendy added in, John had to call in reinforcements in the form of another tuk-tuk just to carry our stuff
It was another great day with the kids. The mirrors were a squealing hit and an assembly line quickly formed in order to apply the nail polish (our wedding coordinator Sokna had been using White-Out to give herself a French manicure). I had developed most of the pictures I had taken the day before and that created a bit of a stir. The few kids that had played shy the day before completely warmed to the visit today and there was a great deal of hand-holding, knee-sitting, and unreserved smiles. There was also a lot of singing and dancing- they even had a series of low volume songs for background music as we had our lunch (feeling no less guilty than we had the day before!). Some of the girls donned traditional costumes and put on a show of Apsara dancing that rivaled the professional performances we had seen in Siem Reap (apparently Papa Thy used to teach this dance style and wanted the girls to help keep it alive).
After a long day and with heavy hearts we prepared to leave. Sokna wrote her name on DH's hand and asked that she never be forgotten- that buckled DH at the knees and I knew it was time to fire up the tuk-tuk before adoption papers were being drawn up (it was sad to think that most of these kids would never be adopted- they would eventually just leave the orphanage)
Angkor Wat is rightly on many Wonders Of The World lists but when I look back on the big Wow of Siem Reap, it will be the days we spent at the Full Tummy Farm Orphanage, with Angkor Wat as a stunning backdrop.
Note to Adam: if you're still following us around Asia you might want add this to your list. Highly recommended if somewhat emotionally draining. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 012572412 (he can also help you with a day or two of Angkor temple hopping).
For anyone else reading this posting, May &Mary-Leigh operate on a shoestring- if you'd like to help you can find some guidelines on their website at http://www.fulltummyfarm.com