Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, February 12, 2012


As a tangent touches the circle in just one point, that’s how we interacted with Cambodia.
Siem Reap has a tiny and welcoming airport. We walk on the tarmac, pick up the forms  for the visa, stand in line to deposit our passports and then watch as a line of 15 officials does each one its own little thing. By the time we remember to close our mouth we are called to pick up our passports.
From the Tanei guesthouse there are two rickshaws waiting for us. They look different from the Indian ones, they are more open, bigger and more comfortable, and pulled by a motorcycle.
Waiting for their clients at the temples

I have time to observe the city... it looks more like a town in the country side: animals in the fields, no sidewalks, but a dirt path. It’s clean. Then we arrive at its heart, and the streets are narrower, and the business is 90% related to tourism: hotels, restaurants, pubs, travel agencies.
My breakfast view...
Our hotel looks very nice, it has a gate and a gatekeeper, and there are lots of people who just sit there, watch people go and talk. In the seven days I will learn to recognize them as the rickshaw drivers, or the waiter, that is also the receptionist, or the manager. The girls are cleaning the rooms, and take care of the two children who are always around. On one side is an empty plot, and on the other one is a house being built by two men. They start around 9 am, take a break for lunch, and work some more in the afternoon until 5. It is usually a quiet affair, some banging when they had to fix some wooden beams, but what I liked most was that one of them was whistling, slowly, following the melody from his mind, pausing shortly to concentrate on something, and then continuing to whistle, taking his time, and enjoying his day. 
We know what we want to do, beside Angkor Wat: visit the museum, watch a show of Apsara dancing, walk the streets and rest, if possible.
We arrive at the museum late in the afternoon and we’re the last ones to exit the building. We had to hurry for the last two rooms, where they explained the different outfits for men and women, it was that good and interesting. As a whole, the museum breaks the history and culture of the kings from Angkor area in manageable parts. We could see the evolution of a statue called “Buddha calling the Earth as witness” from small, delicate models, to a fine craftsmanship, ending with a cruder one, as the kings didn’t have time to wait for art, because of war. Or of columns that flank doorways, from simple rounded ones, to octagonal shaped with multiple levels. We understood how the different influences melted to concoct the style of Angkor. From Hindu, beside religion, some gods or Hanuman’s monkeys, had mustaches. There were others, but I can’t recall. We learned about the significance of the garudas (remember, it is a human body, with a bird’s head and has wings, to fly Vishnu wherever he wants) on the buildings (his mother asked Vishnu for help and promised that if she was to have a child, he would serve him), or why Buddha sits on a coiled snake (while meditating, the sun came up, and a cobra made a shadow for him, so he wouldn’t be disturbed).

 From place to place we had the possibility to watch movies, one on a panoramic screen, a sunrise on a solstice day. All this information, and much more, we would find in the field, in Angkor Wat.
Outside we were trying to pick our way toward a special place. Apsara dancing is in many places. The real one, from the times of kings in Angkor Wat, was almost lost in the Khmer Rouge era. You can see a show at the official place, or at a restaurant, while enjoying your dinner, or at a private company. We chose neither of these, but Santepheap. We read about it in our fellow travelers’ blog “With Two Kids in Tow” (now safe back home) and because it was Sunday, it meant they had a show. We hailed a rickshaw and rode for a long time. There were some people talking to the director, or volunteers, some of the children. One of the girls greeted us and showed us their new home: the girls were sleeping upstairs, the boys had a temporary home, next to the classroom and behind it, it was the bicycle parking (to go to school). In the back it was a shed with a stage, a place for the pinpeat orchestra, and chairs. 

We took a seat and waited for the show to start. The director came and told us a little bit more about the orphanage, they rely on donations, the children's ages are between 10 and 18, more girls than boys, they go to public school, and in their free time, beside homework, they have chores (cleaning the place, doing their laundry, helping with cooking). What time is left they use it to study English and computers with volunteers. Most of them are truly orphans, but some still have one parent.
We would see five dances: the Blessing dance, Fishing dance

Hanuman and the Mermaid,

 the Coconut Shell Dance 

and Apsara dance. 

While watching, we were served tea and cookies by the children who weren’t participating. They were the ones collecting the cups again, and I wondered several times if that tiny 7 years looking boy would be able to hold the tray with all those cups. 
My eyes are not trained to recognize Asian faces so I thought that they were the same girls. I’ve realized in the end, when they all came out, that they were different. I don’t know if they have some official training, but we were told that the older ones teach the younger ones. Maybe a finger was not in the right position, or the sole in the correct angle, but I am not a specialist, I wasn’t there to grade them, just to enjoy the show, which I did, plenty. They were conscious of themselves, especially one girl, seeing themselves in the roles that they were playing, so they were blushing, and getting shy for all the attention. The roles of the boys were much more energetic and they were playing them 110%. 
In the end they asked us to join them on stage and attempted to teach us some moves. We were not good at them, but we had fun. And then they switched to modern music, like in a disco, and started the show off. In the beginning the boys from Santepheap, then the French boy, then Ioan, taking turns, and we were all clapping and watching them. I was wandering how long it will take our girls to join them. It’s not in their genes to sit quiet and let the others shine. I grinned when Maria did some shuffle and then Ileana, who had pants, did a bridge kick-over. This was a damper, they probably didn’t have girls showing off, but after some awkward moments, the boys started again. Our girls took courage, and invited the other ones in a dance, which reluctantly, and laughing, they joined.  And this continued until everyone got tired. We started talking, adults with the volunteers, children between themselves. We would have spent a longer time, talking and getting to know each other, but the rickshaw driver was waiting for us. From our point of view it was the best show. 
What can I say about the people of Cambodia? They have endless smiles. 

The moment you have eye contact, they smile in a peaceful way, like the day is new and sunny. 

They smile even when they are walking, or when no one sees them. And their children are doing the same.
We’ve met quite a number of children, fed and dressed, all around Angkor Wat Complex. They were selling postcards. Most of the times they stay around the entrance, talking, playing, but with an eye on tourists. When we were close, they came all, offering us postcards 10 for one dollar. 

And they would start counting from one to ten in English, and then French, and then Spanish. Or whatever language they happened to learn counting. Their ages vary between 5 to 10 years old. They should be in school, but this is how, at this tender age, they are helping their families. If they sell just one set of postcards, that dollar buys food for a day. I marveled at their capacity to stick to the job, to face hordes of tourists, choose one and follow him until they reach the entrance, and then repeat. At one temple there were two sisters. The older one, around 7, tried to sell us postcards, 

but behind her, the little one, she couldn’t have been older then 4, was parroting her. She wasn’t pronouncing correctly, it was like toddler talk. She skipped some numbers in French, finished with dix, because that one she knew, and started again in English. She realized before her sister that I wasn’t going to buy and she cornered Mihai. We did buy from her, but when we returned, she didn’t recognize us. 

I was trying to remember, what our children were doing at a similar age? Did they have any chores to do? For how long were they doing them?  
In one case we saw a thin boy, he was begging in the forest “one dollar to go to school”. He was wearing a uniform, and as far as I know, they don’t pay to go to public school. He eagerly accepted the food that we gave him.
Our interactions were too little to say that we know about Cambodia. We know a little about Ali, our waitress. The first night we went out to eat, we had a hard time choosing a place. The price range was from $1 to $7 a plate. 

We didn’t want to pay for nice chairs and the uniform of the waiters, so we migrated toward the cheaper, but more lively part, just outside of Pub street. There were chairs and tables, at equal distances there were menus and some girl would approach us, trying to persuade us to eat there. The menus were almost identical, in content. As we were walking, Ali came waving her hands, like we were the long lost and loved relative who finally came back home, repeating happily “Hello, hello, welcome” 

We ate there every night we went out, she already knew what we liked, and she would have chatted more with us if she didn’t have to work. One night she presented us her baby brother, 5 years old, he was going back home, after getting some food from the restaurant, on a scooter, with one of her sisters. Ali has 5 more sisters, just because her father wanted a son. 
Before leaving, Peor (pronounced Peh-o), drove us to the post office, where we licked and stuck almost 80 stamps, two on each postcard and then waited to see them postmarked. She made a stack, spread them like playing cards and started banging them with a long handle stamper, in a heart beat rhythm.
This was it, our touch down point. We had unpleasant adventures on our way to Bangkok, but for me these are placed in no-men’s land, though their trail will impose on Thailand. 
It was beautiful.

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