Monday, February 28, 2011

Kratie, Cambodia (Day 4)

Last night I decided to make another run to Kampi to see the river dolphins. I figured that for only $15 it would be worth it, and I also thought that in the morning the dolphins might be even more active than in the late afternoon. I got up at 5:30 in order to meet a tuk-tuk driver who would take me there, but at 6:00, when I went downstairs, I saw that the guesthouse had forgotten to arrange this. Fifteen minutes later they flagged down a motorcycle taxi driver and he took me there.

I just made it on board before this gang of outlaws caught up to us. Luckily, they didn't have $9 to join us. Otherwise, I'd probably be dead now.

Hello! Actually, it wasn't waving at me (I don't think; I still waved back, though), but slapping the surface of water as if to stun whatever fish might be swimming there.

As you can see, they came pretty close to our boat. They swam right past the side of the boat once, but it was hard to see them.

They're so friendly, waving all the time...

The water was pretty clear, and I'm sure it would have been even clearer had it not been cloudy that morning. I asked the boat driver how deep the water here was, and he said, "Yes." Spreading my hands apart from top to bottom I then asked if it was much deeper than that, to which he replied, "Yes." So there you go.

One of the islands up close.

I'm pretty sure that this was a fish (tilapia, maybe?) the dolphins killed by smacking the water with their fins. I read somewhere how the dolphins were once seen killing a giant catfish (250 kg) with their tails, and then not eating it. The giant fish just floated downriver. No one is sure what their motivation for doing that might have been.

People still fish in the endangered dolphin's habitat. They're no longer allowed to fish with gill nets, as dolphins sometimes get caught in them and drown. I was told, though, that local people can't enforce this easily because their physical safety would be put at risk. The same is true for fishing with electricity, a practice that doesn't discriminate at all over what fish get killed.

The young man who took me out that morning.

I took this photo at the very last second from the back of a motorbike. I just aimed and shot, and this is what I got. This guy is seriously loaded down with baskets, which when stacked together like that are heavy!

When I got back to Kratie, I decided to hit the local tourist information center to get copies of two tourist brochures I saw at my guesthouse that I thought were interesting. Amazingly, they had nothing but 20 copies of a single page out of a brochure—and it was for the town of Stung Treng, not Kratie. They hadn’t had anything in their office for several months, apparently, though the office had at least six people working there, and I suspect there were others in back rooms that I couldn’t see. It was fun talking to one of the workers in English, but otherwise it wasn’t a productive trip.

I came back and fueled up for the day with a hearty little breakfast.

As I continued walking through town, I passed through the market area looking for signs with Vietnamese writing and listening for spoken Vietnamese. I ended up meeting a Chinese-Vietnamese woman across from the Kratie market. She was extremely pleasant to talk to, and equally interesting. Her parents moved to Cambodia shortly after she was born, refugees from the American War. I’m not sure where she settled, but eventually her parents came to Kratie, which had a large Vietnamese military presence from 1979-1990. She was educated in Phnom Penh but has been living and working in Kratie for many years. She speaks fluent English, Vietnamese, Chinese, Khmer, Thai, and a bit of French. She makes her living importing and exporting to countries all around Asia, and travels extensively. In her home in Kratie, the front of which doubles as a family business, she teaches primary and secondary school students computers and English. The English lessons she gives are free, and for computer lessons she only charges her students for electricity. She also just adopted a four-month-old Khmer boy, as his mother was too impoverished to raise him herself. She didn’t know much about the local history, but she did tell me that in the early nineties, when traveling overland to Vietnam, the car she was in was shot at by Khmer Rouge, who then robbed them as they lay dazed in their overturned car. I haven’t talked to a great many people here about their lives here at that time, but those I have done this with have all told me equally harrowing stories. In any event, I hope to visit her again before I leave, though one of her Cambodian staff pressed me to spend time in his village just outside of Kratie, which is nice, I know, but not really what I’m looking for at this stage of my trip here.

In the afternoon I decided to walk to Kratie stadium, which I’d been told is where some UNTAC forces used to stay, in tents, for at least part of their peacekeeping duties in the town. (Later, though, I was told that they were housed in a large, former garage of some kind.) There wasn’t much here other than a small seating box, two net-less goals, brown scrub grass, and an unstable wall surrounding the field.

Next to the stadium was a private high school and language center. I met a 13-year-old female student there, whose English was excellent, and we spoke about her studies for a bit, and I answered her question about why I was photographing her school (I'm sure it seemed strange to her), before I decided to move on.

The last place I visited on my walk was Wat Pachha, a 27-year-old pagoda full of monks in orange robes who were studying for a big exam the next day. A few of them spoke English, and they practiced on me for quite a while.

After half an hour they seemed to have run out of questions for me, so I attempted to leave the pagoda but was stopped again and invited for a chat with the head monk and his assistant, both of whom spoke English pretty well.

As we talked, and I learned that these two monks later wanted to become, respectively, a businessman and an English teacher, and after being surprised to see an older monk smoking cigarettes and then being reminded by a younger monk to remove my hat (I’d completely forgotten I was wearing one), I found myself growing very hot, very thirsty, and very tired.

The head monk’s interest in me soon waned, and then his assistant told me he had a lesson to teach the other monks now, so we said our goodbyes and I continued the rest of my walk home.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments:

Post a Comment