in cambodia 2006

A young man pulls a cart with 4 of us riding in it over to the passport area.  Us non-Thais are whisked right thru – cool.  But that thot turns out to be a bit premature.  Now over to the Cambodian passport control side.  I need a visa.  Yes, they make it for you right there – $20 for a 30day tourist visa.  The catch for me is, i don’t have an empty page, and these stupid visas from all countries take up a whole page.  They hem and haw a bit, and finally say they will paste it over some page i specify……for $30.  If they had said 50, i would have gone back to Bangkok and gotten some more pages entered at the US embassy there, but $10?  So long 2004 Malaysia chop marks on page 16.  I already have my Vietnam visa, so the only chops i expect before returning to Thailand are the little entry and exit ones, for which they can find space to stamp them.

I heard that packed taxis are around $12-15 to Phnom Penh.  Calling my pastor friend, i hear his voice coming from inside a bus.  He couldn’t wait any longer, and took the 8:00 bus for $6.  A young tout with good English tells me about a deal where i can ride in the front seat for “only” 1,000thb (25usd).  Nope.  He comes down to 900, and says no less.  It is coming on 11o’clock, and i’m starting to get concerned about reaching Phnom Penh at all today, so agree, and then pay the tout 100thb as a tip.  No doubt that is a decent day’s wage.  The contrast between the Thai side and the Cambodian side are striking.  One has cars and buses and large buildings and paved roads.  The other has people pulling carts, dusty, few cars, and few buildings.  The greatest difference tho, is that there are almost no stores worthy of the name on the Cambodian side.

The driver searches for the other passengers for a while, and we finally leave with a trunk stuffed full, and what appears to be 2 Chinese-Cambodians with a little kid in the back seat with a large box.  The road is paved for 200m, then gravel for 100m.  The dust plumes look like some documentary out of Africa.  There goes a UN vehicle whizzing by.  The road slowly gets better, and the ride more enjoyable.  The western part of Cambodia down to Phnom Penh is mostly flat, and uninteresting.  Every little hill or big boulder seems to have some kind of Buddhist altar built on it.  I think about why God chose the Europeans mostly to spread his word.  Not that we’ve done the best job, but obviously better than the other options God had to work with.  Also i consider how to get the 3 Angels’ Messages to these people, many who cannot even read or write.

After a lunch costing $1 (most everything here for foreigners is $1), we speed on towards Phnom Penh.  The main interesting thing is seeing the groups of high school students leaving school enmasse on their “no one bothered to pick up after leaving at the train station for many days” Japanese used bicycles.  Many of them still have the baskets in front, and some even the writing on the bike with the name and phone number available for anyone to call.  Hey, Matsumoto Ai san in Sho Zawa City.  If you want your bicycle back, i can help you find it
(O v O)

We get into PP at 6:20.  If you see a sign with something like “011, 012, 016” written on it, you have found a public phone.  Go up to the counter, and someone will hand you a cell phone.  If you look like an incompetent foreigner, they will probably even dial the number for you.  The usual cost is 300riel/min (8cents).  My pastor friend waited for me around 3 hours, but just left 10 minutes ago.  He graciously returns, and here in this dark-for-the-middle-of-a-big-city, i see a familiar face.  We get on, 3 to the motorbike, all without a helmet, and weave in and out of traffic to the pastor’s house which is around 15km away from the downtown area, and another 5km to the mission headquarters.  The narrow dirt road with the leaves of the trees hitting your face at times gives a strong “you’re in jungle-land now” type of experience.  His son lays a big mattress on a bed in the living room, and after supper, worship, and a shower, i crawl under the mosquito net while most of the family members climb the 70degree angle stairs to the 2nd floor where i can see their feet between the cracks in the boards.

Not being used to mosquito nets yet, i don’t realize the first nite that you have to keep all the corners folded in.  My feet stick out, and let in lots of the blood-seeking missles – ouch!  Quite many things remind me of the house i stayed at in India – the maid, the brownouts, the mosquitos (did i mention they have LOTS of mosquitos?), the sloshy-floor bathroom, the rice and vegetables etc.  Unlike India, these people are friendly, a bit cleaner, and the food is not spicy.

The guardman at the mission, who conveniently lives across the road, talks with me this morning and tells me a bit about Cambodia.  Seems that corruption is rampant, and that the avg salary is around $20/month for govt. workers, $50/ for working in the private sector, and $80/ for working for NGOs.  Most everyone seems to have a motorbike, even tho they cost around $400 new.  This man said he had $30 withdrawn from his salary until he could pay for his.  There is no public transportation to speak of, altho you can find a seat, or stand up, on a sheet of plywood placed on two wheels pulled behind a motorbike.  Most people just use a motorbike as a taxi, with the price being around 2,000riel (50cents) for around 5km.  of course for a foreigner – one dollar – ha!

I start work on the Khmer Great Controversy cover artwork.  The pastor has kindly put the words to use on my usb drive, so after adding a Khmer font from his computer, i spend around 4 hours making it.  It looks quite good to me!  Later i find out that 2 dots above the “W” in White are missing, so i have to manually draw them in.  Then the pastor says two of the 10commandments could be reworded, so i need to remake the whole thing.  That’s OK.  This has not been time wasted.

On Friday i ride on the back of the pastor’s bike to the Mission Headquarters.  The president, GA-san, is supportive of the plan of spreading this original GC book, as long as it doesn’t involve the Mission paying out for it.  Roger on that sir.  I would never have thot of having the Mission cough up some of the meager funds it has (60% of the budget is donated from abroad) for this book.  Just glad to know that people are supportive of the idea of getting this book into the Khmer language.  Sounds like there are only 6,000 SDAs here, so my original idea of 5,000 books may need to be scaled down to 3,000.  Also, the govt. is supposed to approve any religious literature if sold to the general public.  So with 3,000 copies, we can focus on getting the book to our SDA Brothers and Sisters.

In the afternoon i go to the big BS Department Store downtown.  It seems more like a cemetary than a dept. store.  Looking at the tags on the shirts i see why – $22 for a shirt.  Hmmm, and the avg. salary is around $50/month?  And you can get a shirt for around 50cents at the market?  No wonder.  The supermarket on the 5th floor is stocked immaculately.  Not a can or box or bag out of place.  Almost like no one has touched anything here for months.  But i find some p-butter, almonds, back of seaweed-cheese curls, electric liquid mosquito repellent (that is a bit weak it seems, or just that Cambodian mosquitos are stronger than those back home in Osaka), and spf30 sunblock.  This sets me back $10.50, and they give me change in dollars for the bills, and riels for the coin-type change (50cents=2,000riels).  I dropped my watch on the bathroom floor last nite, and the battery came flying out, but here, conveniently, is a watch repairman with a little push-cart on the sidewalk.  He tries to screw it in tight, but failing, gets out the trusty glue where he locks the battery in for good.  Probably when this battery goes, i will have to buy a new watch.  This watch was given me by my English students in 1997, just before i left Japan for the first time, and has lots of memories attached to it.  Thank you M&R!

Walking over to the big market that i remember from 9 years ago (no change here), a young man wishing to practice English asks if he can follow me.  Sure.  He is pleasant enough, even tho he seems to be very unsure of himself.  He says he is a Christian, so i pray with him and give him an apply before leaving to find an internet cafe.  After that i head to the meeting place with the pastor – in front of BS dept. store (which the pastor seems to have some trouble recalling, but maybe just my communication failure) at 5pm.  Arriving 5 minutes early, i look around at the traffic etc.  Getting bored around 5:20, i start to write my diary.  This interests one lounging man, and he walks over and asks where i’m from.  After saying “Japan”, a young man waiting at the signal to cross the road walks up to me and starts talking in Japanese – Great!  A name i can remember on first try 🙂  He is here on some project with Gifu University checking out the water quality of hotels in Phnom Penh.  He asks if he can come with me after i say i’m waiting for a pastor to pick me up.  Pastor arrives at 6:00, looking a bit perturbed at me.  He says he came early and has been going round and round the BS department store for a long time.  Hmmmm.  Maybe an angel blinded our eyes so this Japanese man could hear the truth?

We go to a little home church hard behind the Japanese embassy.  Around 15 people sit on the tile floor of a dimly lit room, and sing some hymns.  I give the talk, focusing on the reason God raised up the Seventh-day Adventist church, and telling in simple terms what the Three Angels’ Messages mean.  I’m sure this was the first time my Japanese friend had heard any of this, but he hung in there.  Not knowing English real well, i’m not sure how much he got, but i lent him my Jap-Eng New Testament, so hope he at least got the basics enough to want to follow Jesus in the future.  God, please watch over this precious child – K-san!

My feelings riding back tonite on the motorbike along the narrow dusty road along the river, thru the leaf tunnels is quite different from my first nite here 🙂

On Sabbath i’m taken to the motorbike stand where pastor tells the driver to take me to the Japanese embassy.  Fortunately i quickly remember the place of our meeting the nite before, and have worship, giving the SS lesson talk about 3 things that make us different from the sunday-keeping churches, and then the main sermon on “Truth”.  The whole service is over at 10am, and after that i put some stuff on my computer onto a CD for the pastor, and some stuff on my usb drive onto another pastor’s computer.  The pastor tells me about how he found God in the refugee camp, decided to follow God no matter what, worked as a volunteer church planter for 6 years, sometimes going hungry for 2 or 3 days when no one brought him rice etc., and how he is now employed by the Mission, overseeing 10 home churches.  What an inspiring story!  Here is someone who has experience in giving his all to Jesus 🙂

In the afternoon we go to a different home church where around 40 people are gathered.  Most of these people look like they are from the “destitute class”.  One lady is holding a baby that looks like one i’ve seen somewhere on a poster before.  He will probably die within a couple of weeks.  I give a talk on Matt. 25 – the sheep on the left, and the goats on the right, and also about how giving a glass of water to the thirsty is like giving it to Jesus, so we should help each other.  Even this seems a bit deep for them.  Sure hope and pray they can become strong in the faith!

While there, the pastor gets a call saying that one home church has been attacked by a group with knives etc., and the members fled upstairs.  Praise God it is not so desperate as all that, just that one girl didn’t get some gift that she wanted when she went to church, so went home crying to her mother about the church people hitting her, so the mother got some rocks and broke out some windows etc. in the home church.  Hey, reason doesn’t really have much to do with life here for most people it seems.  Just glad it wasn’t too bad.

I wait at the meeting place for the pastor, calling him 5 times between 3:50 and 5:45.  Finally, seeing it is getting dark, i hire a motorbike to take me where i think home is.  We go out one road for around 3km when i tell him to turn around.  Then going around 1km, i see something that looks familiar, so tell him to turn around again.  We go way out in the country, even driving thru a herd of white cows until i come to my senses and tell him i think it is a different road we should take.  We go back to the roundabout with the giant seated statue, and go out a different road.  Within one minute i see things i recognize, and soon arrive at pastor’s home where i give the driver $3 i’m so happy.  Later i kick myself, realizing that even with the extra riding around, $2 would have been readily accepted.  Oh well.

Sunday the 29th is the day 3 proofreaders are supposed to come and start proofreading the Khmer GC.  Pastor’s daughter has gone out on bike, trying to make paper copies of the book the pastor has printed out on his computer.  Being Chinese New Years, she has difficulty finding an open shop, while we have some difficulty hearing thru all the firecrackers.  Pastor breaks open a coconut, using a completely different method than what i saw in Borneo.  These have lots of water, and are quite tasty with the white meat being thicker than the smooth-hulled small ones in Borneo.  yum-yum.  The copying was done for 50riel/page (1.4cents), and the four of them are on a rice mat put on top of a wooden bed outside in the shade.  Outside has the advantages of being cooler, and having less mosquitos.  They get over 1/3 of the book translated, while i remake the Khmer GC cover, and read an inspiring biography of David Gates, mission pilot to the AmeriIndians in South America.  Now there is someone who is living it all for God.  Wish the author did a bit more in the way of manipulating the English language, or maybe they intended it to read as some kind of retro “Dick and Jane” primer??!

Finally i’m getting into the rhythm here, going to bed before 9:30, and getting up around 6.  I sleep really well, except for the time awoken around 2:30 with someone deciding to burn their trash then ?!?!  The hard beat of the music maybe 500m away keeps one awake awhile too.  Then there are dogs…Oh yes, did i mention mosquitos?  I do wonder tho if my staying here is putting these people into some kind of extra trouble.  The wife has figured out what i like to eat, and i get just what everybody else does now, except that she puts out a little bowl of salt, as i do not enjoy tasteless food.  Sure wish Asians would get into the habit of putting a bit of salt into the rice cooker so they wouldn’t require so much soy sauce to make it palatable.

Monday i wake up early, and ride to Mission Headquarters on the back of a motorbike.  Pastor S, the home church leader i was with on Sabbath, is there, and says he is getting ready to take the first airplane ride in his life – to Bangkok.  This is remarkable, because i was thinking of a way to get a used notebook to him, and don’t have plans to come back here anytime soon.  Striking while the iron is hot, i hand him 3 Ben Franklins, and tell him to purchase a used note at Pantip Plaza in Bangkok.  He is very thankful, but says he doesn’t know where it is etc., so returns my money.  OK.  I go up to worship where they are reading paragraphs in the Khmer Desire of Ages by turn.  Soon some lady rushes over to me with a phone saying someone wishes to talk to me.  Whaaaaaa?  It’s her husband.  He says a T.M.-san will also be going to Bangkok, and said he can lead him to Pantip Plaza to buy a notebook, so if possible, give the money to his wife who will rush it to him before he gets on the plane.  No problem, just glad that God worked this out somehow to the benefit of all concerned.

A printer comes around 10, and gives me a quote of 0.45/each for A6-280p, and 0.57/each for A5-170p.  I saw some of the work he has done before, and it is nice quality.  Sure hope we can get this book down into this size.  Khmer letters have a “head” and a “foot”.  Not all letters have them, but you have to have space above the line body for some, and space below the line body for some.  This makes any book, of necessity, quite thick.  Pastor wants 22point, but i see a Khmer Bible here at 16pt.  Sorry pastor, the kids win out.  Find your glasses if you wish to read this book 🙂  For lunch i have egg and rice again, then sit outside and type a bit getting passing stares, but fortunately no standing-over-the-shoulder onlookers.  Not sure what this dust is doing to my computer tho.  After internetting, i get back on the bike for the 40 min. ride home.  It is awesome to see half the female population (hyperbole) of Cambodia pouring out of the knitwear factories along our way.  I teach English from a TOEFL study book to the guardman’s son.  Hope his thinking processes are a bit quicker tomorrow!  After that we read chapter 32, The Shaking with his father.  That is really a powerful chapter.  A brownout provides a romantic supper, and just when we are ready to make an early out to bed, the lights come back on.

NOTE: This post was written January 31, 2006

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