To the South Following the Bassac River

Today is Saturday. I had found a possibility to rent a moto without handing in my passport and wanted to make up for the previous weekend. After an extensive breakfast including the weekend edition of the Cambodia Daily I went to ‘lucky! lucky!’, the Chinese motorcycle rental service.

This is what I got this time. I thought this is good value for $8 per day.

I left lucky at about 10 am and went south. I toyed with the idea of going to Phnom Chiso, which is a mountain with an old temple on top about 80 south of the capital on the national road 2. However, I missed the junction at one point. I have been traveling on road 2 to Tonle Bati and Phnom Tamao and the prospect of traveling it again was not so exciting to me. So I kept riding the other street, which was in a reasonable shape. It follows to course of the Bassac River to the south and offers a number of beautiful spots. Surprisingly I found this road in none of the maps in my tourist guide. I found it later at home on the big map, classified not as national or secondary but ‘other’ roads. After I have seen a number of national roads this one deserves a better label.

After I was traveling for about one hour I found a pagoda including this temple. It is located in a beautiful environment at the bank of the river and looks quite different from the almost ‘standardized’ modern temples I keep seeing. However, I found very quickly that this one is entirely from concrete, not only the structure and ornaments but surprisingly even the doors and windows.

This is the backside of the pagoda.

I parked the moto in the shadow of a huge tree to have some rest. Many people live on the compound on any pagoda and this one is no exemption. It never takes longer than a few minutes until there is company.

So those guys showed me their pagoda. Walls and ceilings are covered with colorful pictures representing scenes in the live of Buddha. And of course there are many Buddha around, the biggest one equipped with an electronic halo.

I was talking for a while to those peoples before I left. They told me it is not far from here to the Vietnamese border.

This is the Basaac River which the road kept following. About halve of the road is in a not so bad shape. However, some stretches are extremely bumpy and with a car it is a paint in the ass, I guess. Other parts are covered with small stones which is kind of uncomfortable with the bike. And still other distances are just dust roads which is most of the time quite ok given it has not been raining recently.

I kept driving for about 2 hours until I saw the buildings of the border checkpoint. I stopped for a few minutes to drink something. Then I turned around to ride back to Phnom Penh.

I saw a number of beautiful pagodas, among them this one.

I stopped again at the pagoda at which I had already spent some time at lunch time. While I was walking around I realized that there are many old people living in small huts close by, most of them women.

I found some of the fellows I had met before and they stroke up a conversation. We sat down in front of the monk’s house and had a long discussion involving numerous subjects but not much consistency. Initially it was only three people but quickly it became more. Most of them are monks or boys who live on the compound of the pagoda or just spend some time here. Girls are not supposed to approach male strangers and I did not see ant. This is what happens often. After I spend about halve an hour it started raining and we went inside the hut to continue the conversation. Most of those boys study English and were eager to practice it. Interestingly, the guy upfront is only 15 years old but his English appeared to be the best among them. They told me that they would have class at 4 pm and invited me to join. So I though this might be an interesting thing to observe.

So we went to the school, which is close by. They told me that there teacher is usually about ten to fifteen minutes late. Moreover, he leaves about ten minutes earlier so that the duration of their class is not longer than 40 minutes. However, this is a private school and they have to pay 400 (about ten 0.10 $) riel per class.

In fact the teacher was about 20 minutes late. He welcomed me and invited me to join his class. So I grapped a seat like everybody else. This did not stop him from addressing only me with his questions. Also he told me about some of his views. First of all, he does not like this job because it gets him only about $100 per month. As soon as he finds a better job he will quite and moves wherever necessary. I thought this is not a good thing to say for a teacher in front of his class. His students apparently do not have much respect for him either. They kept asking me question like how I felt when I met him Cambodians very often ask questions that do not make much sense in the cultural environment I am used too, however, those questions were meant to embarrass their teacher.

I encouraged this teacher to start his lesson. He made the students open there books. I saw the book earlier and was surprised that it is published by Oxford University Press and was pretty recent (2000). Than he asked me to read out a paragraph, which I did. After that I asked him to better address the other students as well. However, he continued talking to me and I kept replying. He told me that his English is fairly bad and I ensured him it is pretty good. Then he changed the strategy and encouraged his students to ask me questions. Some of them did and I tried hard to answer. Than I came up with questions, too.

I was wondering why there where only four girls in this class. Furthermore, all of them were sitting in the left half of the room, while everybody else was seated to the right. So I asked why this is the case. The teacher told me that girls are not supposed to interact with boys too much. Furthermore it is Cambodian custom that boys can address girls but not the other way around (In this respect (male) Cambodian people keep telling me the following metaphor: boys are like diamonds and girls like cotton. If both falls into the mud, the diamond can easily be cleaned while to cotton cannot. From that Cambodian males tend to draw rather crude conclusions. I tried hard to promote gender equity in my answer in a culturally sensitive way.

He kept addressing me and I figured that there was not much I could do to change his mind. He told me that he studied in Phnom Penh, but moved back to this place four years ago when his father died. He is only 22 years old. He is fairly dissatisfied with his opportunities. He did not make it a secret that he had voted for Sam Rainsy, which has always been and is currently the opposition. He furthermore told me that nobody likes the CPP (which is the ruling party and just won the majority in the election) and everybody votes for Sam Rainsy. All of his students dislike CPP and support Sam Rainsy. I though making class a party event is another thing a teacher should not do. However, so far I really met only one person who thinks that CPP is cool. This is why it is difficult for me to understand how CPP could win the election.

He kept asking me what I think about Cambodia, the political situation, what I am doing in Cambodia, what my organization is doing and the like. He invited me to his house and provided me with his telephone number. I gave him my name card. All of this happened during the 40 minutes of his class. Than he finished. With regard to most of those only about 15 students there really was no chance for active participation. But these students are eager to learn English. Even when we were sitting at the monks hut they asked me to explain their homework. Afterwards some of them told me that they feel their teacher is wasting their time. I think this is very true and it is very unfortunate that only such poor education is available to them.

This is after class.

We continued discussion for some time. Then I figured that I should get going to make it to Phnom Penh before it was dark. So I got started.

Did I mention that it had been raining earlier? And it started raining again. I was prepared enough to have my rain jacket with me. However, I did not expect such rapid change in the road condition. The rain forced me to keep the visor of the helmet closed which made it more difficult to assess the situation on the road. At the same time the dust parts of the road had turned into large ponds of thick mud. I learned quickly that wherever there was just water on the road there is solid ground underneath which provides for sufficient traction. However, where there is mud on the road I found it difficult to keep the bike stabile. And it did not do any good to the condition of the road that there was much traffic and many trucks, leaving deep paths in the ground which made it more difficult to maneuver the rather heavy bike.

Only when I reached the outskirts of Phnom Penh it stopped raining. This is back on the network of national roads, which are in a good shape around Phnom Penh. This was about seven in the evening and it was already almost dark. There are many motos with people cruising the city at this time and it is not exactly a pleasure to ride this bike in the city. However, this was my third day on a moto and I am reasonably familiar with the traffic conventions in Phnom Penh.

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