Displaced Yankee Productions | 2006 | March
Archive for March 2006

At last a morning with a short agenda and no 5 am wakeup needed. I sleep until 7 and leisurely read a British tabloid on the veranda after straightening up my belongings and cramming them back into my suitcase. We are going back to the temple area today, but only for a short bit, and not to burn through more film and memory sticks. We are going to just SIT. Find a shady quiet corner and sit and read or journal or meditate. We are both really looking forward to this, and head out at the much saner hour of 9 am to Preah Kahn, a temple we decided to skip yesterday in part due to my delirium (and apparent inability to distinguish either a men’s room or a cow). It has come highly recommended by our new 22 year old friend named Susannah, who works at the Cambodian Daily by night and volunteers at the CCF during the day. After meeting her during our visit to CCF on Thursday, I ran into her on the steps of Angkor Wat on Friday afternoon. Quite funny – never expected to run into anyone we knew there, and if we had tried to meet up in that humungous complex, we probably couldn’t have done it. Even funnier, while standing chatting with her, I got a call on my cell. So surreal getting a local Cambodian call while standing in the midst of something you had to hack your way to through the jungle, the landmines, and the mosquitoes to get to not all that long ago.
Anyway, we took a cool morning Tuk Tuk ride to Preah Kahn and were delighted by the basic lack of tourists. Apparently the Japanese tour busses all stop first at Angkor Thom, a bigger temple. Phew! We just weren’t in the mood for all that today, especially since we had but an hour and half before we had to Tuk Tuk it back to the hotel to meet our car for the 6 hour return ride back to Phnom Penh.
We settled into a back corner area and split up to each have our quiet time. I know that both of us have been wrestling with conflicting emotions and perceptions during this trip. This country is the land of contradictions. Extreme poverty backed up literally next door to wealth. Utter chaos coupled with a calm persistence by its people. The need for so much help countered by the obvious corruption on the part of aid agencies. The excitement and desire to be a tourist in this country tempered by the guilty feeling of taking part in a new style of colonialism. It’s really gotten my head into a new and uncomfortable place. I came here, high up on my idealistic horse, knowing that I would be going back to the states to finish what we started with (it) magazine. To make a difference. To perhaps make a difference in the lives of some of the very people I was rubbing elbows with this week. Wow. I now wonder, what can I possibly do that isn’t just an unnoticeable drop in this big futile bucket of a world filled with pain, poverty and all kinds of ignorance.

It’s actually five past five and our wake up call, which was actually supposed to be a wake up knock, since there is no phone, never materialized. Thankfully, Theresa never really seems to sleep and she’s gazed at her watch and seen the time. Within moments we are both scrambling around and cussing. The sun rises over Angkor Watt, one of the seven lost wonders of the world, in an hour and we want to be there to see it. We’d briefly been to the temples the day before and felt such awe and amazement standing there, that we decided to hire a guide and make a whole day of it on Saturday. Our guide, SoPheath and Tuk Tuk driver, Savin are waiting as we both come crashing downstairs with our stuff. The ride to the temples in the Tuk Tuk in the cool morning air is refreshing. Both Theresa and I are starting to wish there were Tuk Tuk’s in Old Town Pasadena. It’s quite a great way to get around.
We arrive, just barely, before the throngs of Japanese tourists and stake our spot to watch the sun rise. When the sun finally breaks the peaks of Angkor Watt it is simply beautiful. The rest of the morning is spent exploring different temples with SoPheath. He is as happy to be with us as we are grateful for his historical insight (and sense of direction – if not for him, we might still be trying to find our way out of Angkor Thom.) He is a budding photographer and very interested and curious about our photography equipment and expertise. (Well, expertise in Theresa’s case anyway.) We answered his questions and showed him our different lenses and their applications. He was very cute as I watched him imitate just about every shot Theresa took with his little digital camera. We explored the ancient ruins of the various temples for hours, marveling at the massive, crumbling structures, the intricate carvings in sand stone and the sense of history that surrounds us. Theresa manages to get cell phone reception in the middle of nowhere and gets a phone call. Can’t get reception in the middle of Pasadena…..

How The Sun Turns Cows Into Horses:
By noon, however, we were ready for a break. We are currently at the overgrown temple known to tourists and guides as the one where Tomb Raider was shot. When we first arrived, there was not much activity, but as the sun got hotter, tourists poured into the temple. We were already feeling slightly ill from the sun and the sudden claustrophobia didn’t help. We were concerned that Theresa was showing signs of heat stroke so we decided to head back to the central market and get some lunch in air conditioning. From noon to 2, our guide informed us, we shouldn’t be out in the sun anyway. Wearily, we climbed into the Tuk Tuk, after dumping a bottle of water over our heads. We had to drive through Angkor Thom to get back and on the way. We drove over a bridge magnificently decorated on either side with statues of demons all tugging on a serpent’s tail. We looked over the ornate railing to the river beyond and horses grazing on the lush green grass and were momentarily revived out of our sun stupor. “Look at the horses!” We were so excited and insisted to our guide we wanted to come back to this spot after lunch and take photos of this picturesque scene. He looked completely stupefied. As well he should be…. not four hours later we discovered our horses weren’t horses, unless horses in Cambodian actually means Cows. Thank goodness we’re not dairy farmers here. There would be some pretty unhappy horses.
We sat down to eat in the restaurant, ordered some cold drinks – though everything really is cool at best, not really cold. We took turns pouring little salt piles into our hands and tossing them back like candy, desperate to replenish what we were losing. Gross, but it worked wonders. We were soon off again.

The Road To Siem Reap

It’s early in the morning and apparently after experiencing my dramatic “waker up” attitude, Theresa has appeared at the door with a cup of instant coffee. Instantly, resentment turns to love. Yeah! I am happy. We attempt to get all of our stuff together to head to Siem Reap, our “vacation” spot for the next couple of days. Theresa leaves a five in the room for a tip. It is a large sum of money here for the maid, but we’re sure she thinks we’re totally disgusting and she probably deserves it. She cleans our room everyday and it takes us about 12 seconds to dismantle it. The nasty sneakers I wore to the dump are still sitting outside the door. I don’t even plan to touch them. They are going directly into the trash.
Our driver from the motorbike the day before is waiting for us…thankfully with an actual car for the six-hour trek to Siem Reap. After only a half an hour on the road, I turn to Theresa and comment that I don’t know how we possibly thought we could have navigated this on our own. Between the trucks and the cows and the motor bikes, you have to have nerves of steel to get around here. We’ve learned quite a few tips about Cambodia, which are amusing listed in various guidebooks. They are all the more hilarious because we know how true they are. Here are some of the better tips and phrases we have run across:

“We drinkers enjoy nothing more than a friendly cantina that is willing to give us a liquid libation at a cheap price.”

“Happy hour – I can’t think of too many people who haven’t relished a frosty cold barley soup after a long hard day harvesting their rice”

“The Dead Fish Tower Restaurant…. Why are we so popular? We don’t serve Dog, Cat, Rat or Worm, there is a crocodile pit and a 10% discount to well known Hollywood stars”

“If peering into people’s private homes while seated under a shade cover in a motorboat is your idea of leisure…take a trip to the silk farm.”


Theresa thinks I need to write a little about some of the more light hearted events to counter balance the bleakness of yesterday. After the dumps, we wound up at lunch with Kulikar at a place on the river. This requires a little set up: Before we came here we received lots of horror stories about the things we would have to avoid. One of the sketchiest stories was related to us by our friend Liam. He regaled Theresa with images of restaurants that reused chopsticks and silverware, simply dropping them back after use into a glass of warm water and then handed off to the next customer. This was nasty enough to inspire Theresa to pack 40 pairs of disposable chopsticks with us, which we have carted around this past week. However, the said warning never materialized, so Theresa got sick of carrying them around. Murphy’s Law. It even works here. We sat down to eat and suddenly a glass of brackish water and chopsticks was plunked down in front of us. Theresa and I looked at each other, she looked down at her backpack where the stupid chopsticks have been for four days and then back at me with a look of horror. Then it happened, we just could not stop laughing. Weeping with tears in our eyes, unable to explain to Kulikar what was so funny. I’m sure it would have been highly insulting anyway. With some hesitation, we slowly took chopsticks and furiously rubbed them down with tissues. Remember the game Operation? Then you can picture us eating – carefully picking up the food and trying to eat it off the chopsticks without our mouths actually touching them.
Later that evening, the riverfront is jammed packed. It is Women’s Day in Cambodia, which is a national holiday. This is separate from Mother’s Day, which is also celebrated. Sounds like something we Americans could take a page from. Everyone celebrates and parties and Tuk Tuks and motorbikes cram the roads. We briefly checked out the Fun Fair (basically a permanent carnival) at Kulikar’s suggestion, but decided we’d really rather have frozen daiquiris and some dinner. Our Tuk Tuk driver was no where to be found, so we engaged another, told him to take us to the National Museum, which is only one of the biggest tourist and local attractions in the whole city, and set off. He had cheerfully agreed with us that he could get us there. It was only about two miles away. Twenty wrong turns, five really dark, scary alleys, two stops for directions, one uncertain trek down the middle of a market where we briefly got stuck on a pile of garbage and forty five minutes later, we finally arrive. All Tuk Tuk drivers are NOT created equal.

Wednesday Morning

The wake up call comes at 5:30 am and I forget rather quickly how charming and inspiring it was to see Theresa so happy after being out at dawn yesterday. Why did I agree to get up this early? Theresa is treated to the sight of me very grumpily and silently staggering to the shower. I notice she did not bring me coffee. This could be dangerous. She tells me I’ll thank her later. I stand under the cold shower and think not so thankful thoughts. Then we are out and into the early morning light of the riverside. It is already bustling with people. Children struggle to rise from their spots along the walkway where they have spent the night. A badly crippled boy, whom we have seen being wheeled on an old wheelbarrow up and down the side walk, is sleeping covered in a filthy blanket. A girl of two sits on the concrete naked and in her own excrement. I continue along and almost stumble across five sleeping boys between the ages of nine and eleven. They are simply sprawled on the sidewalk, cuddled close together. They could be boys at a sleepover the way they have fallen together to rest after a hard day, but for the place that surrounds them. A little girl about eight is trailing along with Theresa. She is hungry-no surprise-and very sick. Green mucous and a deep cough… she clearly is in need of antibiotics. Theresa calls to me that she wants to buy her some breakfast. We set off – the three of us- looking for the street vendor Theresa met the day before. However, it isn’t long before four of her friends find us. Three girls and a boy – they join our group as we walk along. We feel like the “pied piper”. Like typical kids they are clamoring for ice cream and Theresa is lecturing me that we need to feed them something healthy for breakfast. Before we know it, we’ve been expertly led to a nearby restaurant and have all sat down to breakfast. It’s a noisy, joyous affair as the kids order chicken and rice and strawberry milk. They tell us their names. Most speak very little English, except for the boy, who seems to be the oldest and the leader of the little group. They are delighted by our cameras and take pictures of themselves and us. Theresa and I are sure we are going to wind up sick. Two of the children have deep, rumbling coughs and the little girl who caught our eye originally is curled up in her chair. Drinking the milk hurts her chest, the boy tells me. The food arrives and the kids happily dig in. A woman from Hong Kong approaches me and introduces herself. She also works with street children and is happy to see us with them. The boy tries to give me a lesson in Khmer. He points to items on the table and says them in English, then in Khmer for me. My pronunciation makes him smile. As breakfast nears its end, the kids don’t want to leave us. It’s time for more sad eyes. “Sole?” They ask me pointing to their dirty, cut up feet. “Sole?” “Shoes?”

Tuesday Morning

Theresa gets up at the crack of dawn because Kulikar told us that people line the riverbank starting at 3:30 to exercise, meditate and set up for the day. Morning is not exactly my strong suit, so she heads out the door on her own while I struggle to come into focus with the world. She comes back so excited and enthusiastic about what she sees, she’s convinced me to get up at dawn the next morning with her (Provided she wakes me up with a coffee in her hand.) I’ll let her tell you about her experiences herself in a later blog.
By 8 a.m. I am at the coffee shop. I walk in and the girl behind the counter smiles. She knows my order by heart and I love the fact I’ve become a regular here. Power is low this morning and the Internet connection is very bad, so I am unable to send out any information. We finally get through and then we head off to breakfast. We’re careful to order the orange juice out of the box rather than fresh but totally forget to ask for no ice, so when it arrives Theresa and I madly fish ice cubes out with our straws. It’s so hard to remember everything we are supposed to be good about. We decided on eggs for breakfast – which is good. Not the eggs, but the fact we ate them before going out to the market to see where they came from. No more eggs for us. Or fish. Or pig’s snout. We load up with all our gear. It’s 115 degrees in the shade with 100% humidity. So why did I pack 14 pairs of socks again?
Our faithful Tuk Tuk guy is waiting near our hotel so we gather up our camera gear and head to the Russian market. We spend some time in the tourist’s area haggling over gifts for our family. True to form, Theresa manages to lead me right off the beaten path into the decidedly “non” tourist area of the market. Here there are no colorful booths and shops. Poverty and dirt, rotting meat and fish, dirty children and elderly people sit lethargically in the oppressive heat. We wonder how it is possible everyone does not get ill. The heat is unbearable and the meat and fish cannot possibly last long in this sun. The children actively participate in helping out in some stalls and shyly have smiles for us as we take photos and footage. The smell is horrible and I’m a little worried I wore open sandals as I carefully pick my way through muddy spots running with guts and flies. Guess I should have worn the socks after all. We work our way carefully back to our Tuk Tuk guide, ready for a cold shower and a drink of water back at our hotel before heading out again.

Theresa and I are up early for our first full day in Cambodia. Theresa has in fact been up for hours due to the jet lag and the heat. Our air conditioner turned itself off sometime during the night and our room is stifling. I sense her at the foot of my bed turning it back on. I’m grateful but too worn out to even lift my head. Around eight we are back at the little café on the corner, getting coffee (Long Blacks) and connecting to the Internet to send information back. Again, for a moment, it is easy to forget where we are and imagine we are simply sitting back in Los Angeles at a Starbucks. We don’t have much time because we have a nine a.m. meeting with Kulikar from Hanuman Films. Kulikar has been a Godsend in the preceding months helping me organize this trip and acting as my Cambodia liaison. And for all of my family and friends who have been vocal in expressing their dismay over Theresa and I traveling alone without a guy to some of the more poverty stricken and dangerous areas of the city, Kulikar has been the rebuttal argument to ease their fears -our male guide who knows the city well and will act as our escort during our visit. So no one is more surprised than me when Kulikar turns out to be a woman. (Theresa: Not just a woman, a tiny woman.) Not being familiar enough with Khmer names to know, I just simply assumed the head of the only film company in Cambodia was a man. Shame on me and a good lesson in my own preconceived notions. She was wonderful and we had a very productive meeting seeing to all the details of what would be needed for the upcoming trips and filming. We also finalized the details of the jeep rental for our trip to Siem Reap. Theresa and I assumed the jeep rental meant we were driving ourselves. And to be honest, we’ve been a little nervous now that we’ve seen the insane way everyone drives here. Kulikar is horrified. “No way!” she says to us in no uncertain terms. We are NOT driving ourselves. She forbids it. She can’t imagine that A: we wanted to do it and B: we thought she would send us off on our own like that. We have a good laugh over it and secretly we are wicked relieved we don’t have to drive. We wrap up the meeting. We were supposed to go to the garbage dumps today but Kulikar was not feeling all that well so we rescheduled and opted to take this day to learn more about the history of the genocide that caused the abject poverty we plan to capture.

24 Hours Later

We’ve arrived! On a very tiny jet I might add. Theresa got some amazing photos as we came in. The heat and humidity was the first thing we noticed. We got our bags and were met by a driver from Hanuman Films. It was quite an experience as he drove us through the city to the hotel. The roads were overrun by people on motorbikes – sans helmets, sometimes four to a bike or loaded down with things like open containers of fuel – as they kamikaze their way through the street. At one intersection a cop waved us through a red light so our driver went through and nearly took out a dozen bikers coming the opposite way. It was hard to take everything in and once we’ve had a chance to rest and start exploring the city, I’ll hopefully be able to send back some clearer thoughts. However, I’ll leave you with this: I walked from my hotel to a nearby store to buy some bottled water. I had been planning to ask our contact at Hanuman Films where in the city the street children frequent. I don’t need to ask any longer. In those three dusty, grimy blocks, children and beggars besieged me. A sickly woman with a naked baby held her hand out from where she sat looking up at me from the curb. Poverty is everywhere and I’ve only gone three blocks. May God give me the strength this week to go even further.
Sunday Evening –
Theresa and I are staying on the Tonle Sap River. This evening we decided to walk along the busy front with our cameras and get a sense of this city we have come to document. By the dozens, men young and old are lining the streets with Tuk Tuks – motorized carts with which they ferry travelers around the city. Cries of “Tuk Tuk, miss!” greet us every few steps. An enterprising man offers to hire himself for any day this week to bring us to the Killing Fields and other area of interest all day for $15 and gives us his printed card. We have no way to call him but promise to look for him near our hotel. Minutes later, we consider hiring someone just to get us across the street. Sunday, we soon learn, is a special day in which everyone comes out and rides around. The main street by the river is stuffed with motorbikes, Tuk Tuks and cars whipping around at high speeds – with much beeping, laughing and enjoyment. Getting across the street is much like a roller derby. We are advised by a fellow Westerner to simply walk slow and hope they miss us, rather than the other way around. more…

In the Air

It’s 12:43 am in the morning and there’s a complete stranger reclining in my lap. This of course perhaps requires a bit more explanation. By the airline. Which touted on their website big beautiful new planes with LCD screens in the back of every seat. I am here to tell you this plane makes southwest seem like first class. This plane was new. Somewhere around the year 1970. The seat in front of me is reclined so far back I feel like I’m dating the passenger in 50B. Not much room under the seats. So little in fact Theresa put her carry on above us. Now we’re at 25,0000 feet and have discovered that bag contains her glasses, her cell phone (still on) and the splitter we were going to use to share the portable DVD player. Now this might be a crisis since it’s 13.75 hours till Taipei. But lucky us! The plane has to make an unscheduled stop in a couple of hours in Seattle because the headwinds are so bad we need extra fuel. Yeah, like I said, lucky us….
Two hours later, we’ve arrived in Seattle. We’re both still trying to make sense of it. Fly two hours to land and refuel for an hour. Why not just fill the gas tank in Los Angeles? But I digress…
Theresa and I take this opportunity to stretch our legs for the long leg ahead. First, however, we must get past the woman in the aisle seat, cocooned up in her blanket sound asleep. I gently nudge her and motion we need to get out. She nods in understanding and then moves her feet about a half a centimeter to the right and promptly tunes us out. Unlike Theresa, who goes to yoga, I sadly lack the flexibility to gracefully vault over our traveling companion. So my dismount into the aisle left much to be desired. We took over the section by the emergency exit to flex our cramping bodies, and this only two hours in. Theresa decides she needs another blanket to help pad the uncomfortable seats and saunters off in search of assistance. She’s back a few minutes later with a bemused expression. Apparently the stewardess in the back is reading a “how to” manual, perhaps ‘So you want to be a flight attendant’ – not the most reassuring sight. But it’s time to take off again and so we vault back over the woman in our aisle and settle in.

Friday at last!

I’m packed and ready to walk out to door -armed with everyone’s good advice. Bring Power Bars (Megan) Don’t wear Jewelry (Cher) Photocopy your passport in case you get robbed (Stef) Be Careful (just about everyone) and my personal favorite from a random documentary filmmaker who has been there before – “Don’t eat at Happy Harry’s Pizza – they season their pizza with marijuana.” Happy indeed. It’s hard to believe a year’s worth of work, pre production wise, is
finally on the verge of becoming a reality. It’s so gratifying to witness the development of a concept into a reality. I can hardly wait to get there and get going. Though I could certainly do without the 22 hours of travel starting at midnight. First up – 14 hours to China. At midnight. In the middle seat. Then onto Cambodia after a layover. I hope to send back amazing photos and daily updates and please leave us messages!