Home Again! :)

3 12 2009

Tuesday 2nd December 2009

One of my favourite songs was written by Horatius Bonar more than 150 years ago. Based on the wonderful invitation of Jesus to “Come unto me…” (Matthew 11:28-30) Bonar recognises that in Jesus there is rest, life and light and through the lyrics he makes, and invites us to make a personal commitment to walk with Jesus “…till travelling days are done.” I guess you may be able to see where I’m going with this. We used this phrase to head up our blog and now we’re home our ‘travelling days are done’, at least literally speaking – come Monday, we’re both back at work.

Phnom Penh

But for the sake of completion let us recap briefly the last few days: Sunday we headed off to join the local Anglican English speaking congregation of Phnom Penh for their service of worship.  The Vicar was away at the centenary celebrations of the Diocese of Singapore (Singapore is the Diocesan centre for the Anglican Church in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam) so we had Morning Prayer with the sermon preached by Rolf Lepelaar a CMS missionary teaching at the Phnom Penh Bible college.  We had been keen to catch up with the Lepelaar family having become familiar with them through their entry in the CMS Prayer diary over the 10 years they have been serving in Cambodia and so it was a delight to meet with them and share a meal together.


The afternoon we spent taking a few last minute photos and packing our cases. We had managed to borrow a set of scales and carefully weighed our cases to ensure we would not tip the scales for the trip home. For every kg overweight we were told it would cost us $56 USD so we were keen to get it right. Of course we had visited scores of markets and shops over 7 weeks and the temptation to bring home a few bits and pieces was too much to resist.

Ankor Wat

The challenge was what to give away to keep within weight. In the end we felt we managed it well by carrying a few heavy items in our ‘carry-on luggage’ and a good bag of clothes for the Tuk-Tuk driver.

The flights home were pleasant but wearying. We left our hotel at 8am Monday (Phnom Penh time is 4 hours later than here) and arrived at our home 3.30pm Tuesday with 7½ and 5 hour stopovers in Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne.


The highlight of the trip was meeting the rising sun as we crossed South Australia. Watching the dawn light the eastern sky and spread until the first rays of the sun crept across the land was spine tingling and turned our thoughts with thankfulness toward the One who created it all.

Hmong Lady, Sapa

We have just had the wonderful privilege of taking seven weeks to explore a small but fascinating corner of this extraordinary planet.  Southeast Asia is totally different from anything in our previous experience, geographically, culturally, politically, socially, financially and climatically.  It’s been a dramatic antipodean journey for a middle-aged, middle-class; financially comfortable couple from Tasmania – but one that has wonderfully broadened and enriched our experience of life.

Khmer Christians

One of the main reasons for choosing to holiday where we did was because of the affordability by comparison to anywhere else in the world that we could think of. This of course highlights the fact that we were amongst much poverty and we saw great hardship among the peoples of the countries we visited.

final night in Cambodia, Restaurant entertainment on the Mekong

In spite of this we marvelled as we witnessed the wonderful irrepressibility and resilience of spirit among the people we met along the way. We thank the Lord for those who have encouraged, supported and shared a little of the journey with us whether literally or through our blog (come diary) and/or in prayer. We pray that our journey has been for you, as it has been for us, a fruitful source of enjoyment and inspiration.

In His Love, Roger and Maree.


Phnom Penh 6

29 11 2009

Saturday 28th November 2009

We have been sponsoring World Vision children for many years and yesterday we were able to see how it works ‘on the ground’ – we were very impressed indeed. We knew Hak Sok, one of our ‘children’, lived in Cambodia and after enquiries and meeting stringent protocols; we managed to set up a visit before we left Australia. The day was well organised from an 8.30 pickup by World Vision personnel through to the mid afternoon return.  On the way to the Area Development Program Office we were given a good general introduction of the Cambodian World Vision Structure and what the day would hold.

The particular ADP of which Hak is a recipient is in an especially poor district of Phnom Penh, with a population of 70,000 people. Within that area there are 7 sub-areas comprising of 3710 families among whom the ADP are working, targeting 8800 children. The office has 13 staff and 7 volunteers and a budget of a little over $200,000 USD.  Not wanting to bore you all with a lot of facts and statistics let me say we were extremely impressed with the obvious depth of professionalism, the breadth of vision for the project, and the obvious care and compassion displayed by each staff member we met. They are not ivory tower management people distributing funds – among other things, field workers are expected to have overnight stays among the communities where they work with a focus on building relationships and networking. The whole approach is toward empowering and promoting ownership towards sustainability of communities in development and transformation.

We arrived at the Hope and Peace ADP office just as the team were finishing their morning devotions and putting away bibles. Not all workers are Christians but it was obvious the majority were. We were introduced all round and led through a PowerPoint presentation of the program and invited to ask questions. We obviously asked too many because we seemed to put the day’s itinerary behind time from then on. After the presentation we were taken into an area in which the project has several initiatives going and first observed volunteers working in a local church centre preparing Christmas cards with children to be sent to their sponsors.

The project has targeted the poorest of the poor even in this very needy district, and although we have seen plenty of poverty elsewhere in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea we were pretty stunned at the extremely basic living conditions and squalor that many of these people live amongst. What does surprise us is that in spite of their appalling circumstances the people themselves generally manage to look clean, taking a pride in themselves and the inside of their homes.

Outside is another matter; the homes we went into are built on an old rubbish dump and there is water lying under the houses. Garbage and refuse goes out the door because there is nowhere else for it to go.

Amongst these basic dwellings we were led into the home of a local man with a deformed hand. He lived at the back of a string of shanties standing over polluted puddles rank with sewerage and household refuse. Beyond his shanty there was a turbid weed and mosquito infested swamp for the next 30 metres until the same sort of housing began again. After negotiating a very rickety walkway of broken and missing boards we took our sandals off to enter his home. This man, with his 8 or 9 year old son, live on their own as his wife had to return to the provinces for health reasons.  The floor of the dwelling was boards laid with gaps, flexing with every step, but scrubbed clean. Our host was spokesperson for a group of women who had elected him to manage their self-help group for business development.

After a thorough briefing from this gentleman on how this project worked, a couple of women, with excitement and pride told us how, after a period of 2 years the group had managed to save enough money to make withdrawals against their investment for business ventures. To put this in perspective, not all women in the area could afford to belong to the group because one of the criteria for membership is a monthly deposit of 5000 Real. (That’s $1.30 AUD) Three business ventures in the last month had withdrawn an average of 80,000 Real (That’s about $18 AUD each) for very humble projects such as buying food to cook and sell in the market place.

From there it was back to the office where Hak and his mother Moy were waiting for us. Hak had been let off school for the day and we could see the excitement and shyness in his face straight away. What a beautiful young boy, our hearts immediately went out to both Hak and his mother. After introductions we found out a bit about Hak’s family. We didn’t know that his father had died three years ago and Moy has two other children, a son and daughter aged 25 and 20 but she only sees them about twice a year as they live elsewhere. Although we had been told Hak was in grade 5 (and we bought school books for that age) apparently at the beginning of this year it was discovered that he needs remedial help and has dropped back to grade 1-2 standard.

Now where is Tasmania?

Moy is a bright lady but her illiteracy has hampered her ability to give Hak the extra assistance he needs. Moy told us that a neighbour has begun giving Hak some needed encouragement and tuition which she is hoping he will continue over the next year.

It was great to witness their joy at receiving the gifts we had brought with us. Hak was shy initially until Maree gave him a soft toy kookaburra and imitated the sound it makes…that brought a smile to his face. We ‘chatted’ through an interpreter for about an hour before we were all taken to a restaurant for lunch. It was buffet style and Hak and Moy managed it well considering it was the first time they had been to such a place. Moy commented shyly that she had seen them on TV.

Moy gets up a 4 each morning to make sweets (we think from  tapioca making some type of cake which she cuts into small pieces) which she then tries to sell during the day for her only income.

It was difficult to say goodbye but we have some beautiful memories and now a greater awareness of their needs and how we might assist.

Phnom Penh 5

27 11 2009

Thursday 26th November 2009

How many can you fit in a vehicle? Always one more!

The ‘Pneumologie Hôpital’ which I suspect translates as ‘Pulmonary Hospital’ was the place we found ourselves yesterday along with a group of Khmer Christians from here in Phnom Penh. Again we are impressed with the practical outreach of the gospel. The Anglican group we were with was distributing dietary supplements to patients while encouraging and praying with those who expressed a need. Another Christian group were supplying a hot meal, prayer and a gospel message.

One of the key people in our little group was a young lady of 23 with a beautiful voice who sang a Capella for a group of patients who gathered around. I was asked to share a gospel message by this young lady who translated for me. She asked me to bring the message because she said, “…more of the patients will come to listen if you speak.” She meant because I am a Westerner, not because I would do a better job 😉

But she is a natural evangelist with a confidence in God’s transforming love and for every sentence I spoke she seemed to speak 3 with passion and the obvious interest of our listeners of whom there were about 20.

Most of the patients we met were suffering from TB and HIV AIDS. A Buddhist lady who asked for prayer after she heard the message has been suffering from terrible headaches and stomach pains. Please join us in praying for her as she told us she has dropped from 60 kg to 45 kg and is not getting better. (See photo) In a country where Christianity is only about 2% it is quite remarkable to see evidence of the good news everywhere. We have observed young people wearing tee-shirts with bold biblical and Christian slogans, Christian symbols and Bible verses on craft items in the markets as well as these ministries of care and compassion.

Among other things we did today we were invited to visit the home of one of the Tuk-Tuk drivers we have met here in Phnom Penh. His story is like many others we have heard here and elsewhere. Warm friendly and personable, he spends long hours competing with thousands of other drivers to get the odd customer here or there.

Reading some Christian books we brought them in the Khmer language

He is the only breadwinner for a family which he supports, comprising of his mother, pregnant wife, 2 orphan nephews, and 3 children of his own. He leases his Tuk-Tuk for $5 a day, pays $80 a month rent as well as power and food. With no social security it is really a hand to mouth existence for so many here.

We tend to use this driver most of the time because his English is quite good. Many of the drivers who loiter around guesthouses, hotels and restaurants may speak streetwise English and know the city well, but elsewhere the knowledge and understanding required to get you to your destination dries up fast. Flag one down on the street or grab one from outside the market and you could end up pretty much anywhere in the city.

Various cockroaches, spiders, locusts etc. Your choice!

You name your destination and they nod confidently, eager for the extra money a foreigner may bring, but not having the first clue where you want to go. They start driving furiously down the road and await your instructions. You don’t give them any instruction because you think they know where they are going and before you realise it you are half way to Thailand or Vietnam. A map from the local market has been a solid investment!


Phnom Penh 4

25 11 2009

Tuesday 24th November 2009

As a follow-up to last week’s blog about our Sunday in Siem Reap with the Weyel family and the family of Sokham, a local Tuk-Tuk driver, you may remember Sokham’s home had been threatened with demolition by local authorities, well according to Sokhom, the situation with his house resolved itself because, apparently the presence of the Weyels and ourselves on Sunday morning “convinced the authorities that they didn’t want to mess with us.” So thank you for your prayer, we are very aware of being supported during our time away and we thank God for the fellowship we share in the gospel with many of you. For more on our visit and a couple of photos see: http://jweyel.org/wordpress/?p=79

After pottering around Phnom Penh yesterday visiting the World Vision and the Bible Society Offices etc as well as loitering with intent to enjoy some more local cuisine (although we have yet to find anything as good as Laotian restaurants for food), we decided to head out of town for the day. The taxi centre (none have meters here so the price has to be negotiated before you set out) for Phnom Penh is about 50 metres from our front door so we wandered down at a civilized 9.30 am and decided to choose from a row of about 30 Toyota Camrys. We headed for a reasonably late model one where we could see the driver polishing his paintwork and reckoned that would be as good a way as any to choose. Of course it is never as easy as that here! The driver had no English and immediately another 6 or 8 other drivers muscled in on the negotiations like seagulls after you throw a crust. The end result was we didn’t get the car of choice but someone who had enough English to enable us to haggle the best price. So after first showing our driver how to remove the rear seat swab so we could retrieve the rarely used seatbelt fasteners, we headed off in a Camry of about 10 years vintage. The road to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, where we headed, is about 44 klm south down National Highway 2.

In six weeks we still have not got used to left-hand drive cars which may be due to the fact that the location of the steering wheel really does not give much of a clue as to which side of the road one is travelling on. Thankfully the road was sealed for all but the last few kilometres but for the most part the potholes had been carefully engineered out of the road design only to be replaced with some incredible dips and bumps that in other circumstances people would pay good money to experience at sideshows and carnivals. Here it is free.

It turned out our driver’s English really did not extend much past his ability to negotiate the fare so we were left to our own conversation which had a fairly desultory flow to it due to the distractive way we ducked and dived in and out of traffic and from behind high backed earth moving trucks. Our driver took his job of getting us to our destination seriously as the vehicle’s horn would surely need replacing far more often than the tyres as it was used constantly to warn every other road user whose practices where obviously more laissez faire than ours, that we were coming through. We travelled, sometimes forming 3 lanes sometimes 4 lanes, undertaking, blind overtaking, and always with a constant application of the brakes as other road users didn’t quite do what our driver predicted they would. Anyway, I am sure you are on top of the fact that we got back safely because here I am writing what you are reading.

What follows is lifted from Lonely Planet guide:

Phnom Tamao is a home for animals confiscated from traffickers or saved from poachers traps. It occupies a vast site and its animals are kept in varying conditions with help from international wildlife NGOs. Spread out as it is, it feels like a zoo crossed with a safari park. Enclosures include huge areas for the large tiger population, and there are elephants that sometimes take part in activities such as painting.

greater adjutant storks


There is also a walk-through area with macaques and deer and a huge menagerie, including some rare birds from around Cambodia. The centre is home to the world’s largest captive collections of pileated gibbons and Malayan sun bears, as well as other rarities such as Siamese crocodiles and greater adjutant storks. Wherever possible animals are released back into the wild once they have recovered and the centre operates breeding programs for a number of globally threatened species.

Phnom Penh 3

23 11 2009

Sunday 22nd November 2009

We’re falling down on the job! Rosemary Brain mentioned a few days ago that she appreciated a “daily dose” of our blog/diary, whereas it seems to have become a bi-daily blog of late. We’ll use the convenient excuse that, being responsible citizens, we think perhaps we should taper off lest there be addicts that have to go cold turkey next week.

Actually we have been on a ‘go-slow’ for the last few days. It has been nice just to smell the frangipanis or admire the water lilies, (admittedly whilst trying to ignore some of the other odours that plague cities in the two-thirds world) and take some time for reflection.

Speaking of odours, it is really awful to see the garbage and refuse that lies about in the streets. As elsewhere in Southeast Asia rubbish is thrown in the streets to be cleaned up by street sweepers. We did not notice Vietnam and Laos being as bad as here where the volume obviously exceeds the cleaners’ ability to keep up.

Another ghastly by-product of ‘progress’ which we see here as an environmental scourge like none other, is the ubiquitous plastic bag. When shopping every item is put in a plastic bag of some shape or other.

This craft is underway. Is it a barge or a submarine?

Even the most trivial thing in the most remote market is always placed in a plastic bag. A polite refusal is usually met with a lack of understanding or a confused look and yet the evidence of the appalling environmental pollution is everywhere.

We went to the English service at Church of Christ Our Peace this morning. The church building is a double story house with the worship centre downstairs and offices etc upstairs. It was comfortably full with many expatriate countries represented. We enjoyed a fairly traditional Holy Communion service with a liturgy based pretty much on the Alternative Service Book of the Church of England. It has been two months since we have shared in an Anglican communion service so we appreciated it and felt quite at home.

After church we took a bit of a tour around the city in a Tuk-Tuk, Phnom Penh is situated on confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap Rivers but to see the full breadth of the Mekong we had to find a vantage point just out of town to appreciate the size of this mighty river which began in Tibet and still will find its way through Vietnam before it meets the sea.

On a back track to find a view of the Mekong we stumbled across the headquarters of the Royal Cambodian Navy. Its hard to believe what we saw but if you study the photos you will see for yourselves.

Naval Fleet?

The silhouetted figure in the guard tower is a uniformed armed guard who suddenly noticed me with the camera pointed and did not look happy. I can’t blame him for not wanting the facility photographed and so I backed off quickly.

Another highlight of the afternoon was visiting the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh, a complex of buildings which are the royal abode of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The grounds and buildings are really quite stunning but it was the interior of the Throne Room which captivated us. Unfortunately, like it’s counterpart in Luang Prabang, photography if not allowed but anyway we doubt if the camera would do justice to the pale gold thrones, the crystal chandeliers or the beautiful ceiling frescoes.

Phnom Penh 2

21 11 2009

Friday 20th November 2009

We were naïve enough to think that the advertised “KTV” in the hotel blurb was just a misspelt acronym for Cable TV. On our way out with our bags packed we stopped the lift at the floor below ours for a look. We found our room had been directly above the ceiling of a disco that we are sure would have rivalled this one for speaker power and effects: http://www.avesco.com.sg/hollywood.html

Sweat Shop at back of Russian Market

Ah, you live and learn 🙂 I’m sure Basil would love those speaker specs for St Johns! Anyway it may have done us a good turn in that we found a large apartment for an even cheaper price and after one heavenly night’s sleep we can vouch for the fact is has NO KTV!

Maree seems to have caught the tummy bug I had in Siem Reap and spent today indoors while I went off with a small team from the Anglican Church on a prison ministry visit. We spent a couple of hours in the prison (A fairly new model prison built with Australian aid) joining with other members of ‘Prison Fellowship Cambodia’ praying with inmates, teaching Bible classes and distributing dietary supplements to many prisoners who are especially needy or are in one of the fellowship’s many rehabilitation projects. PFC is an exciting ministry that is a non-denominational, Non-Government Organisation and a member of Prison Fellowship International. Some of you will be old enough to remember PFI was started by Charles Colson who became a Christian when he went to prison over the infamous Watergate Affair.

See the boy in the front row? Children as young as 9 are inthe youth section.

Last week 34 new Christians were baptised in the prison. Inmates are only baptised after a confession of faith, considerable preparation, and a report of behavioural change from prison officials. There was no doubt in my mind that there was genuine faith among those I spoke to and others I observed. One of the pastors told me of another high security prison in an isolated region near the border with Vietnam where amongst 1300 inmates, 1040 have now been baptised!

I was asked to pray for a couple of groups of prisoners and through a translator each man and woman expressed particular needs they would like prayer for. It was quite moving to hear their concerns not only for health issues, fears and loneliness, but also for their families and loved ones.

View from appartment hallway window

Our new apartment is right behind the central market so we have had a chance to more thoroughly explore the market culture. We suspect for most of the ‘store’ holders the social aspects are almost as important a actually selling stuff. By observation it is hard to imagine that the majority of the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ shops could sell enough even to cover the capital investment of their stock. I bought a perfectly good shirt today for $2.50 and a coffee plunger for $3.00. We cannot get our heads around the number of markets the extraordinary quantity of stuff for sale and the cheap prices. In a country where poverty is in your face, who buys it all? Well we seem to have been doing our bit I suppose – we’re starting to worry about excess baggage! 🙂

Phnom Penh

19 11 2009

Wednesday 18th November 2009

We moved to a new Hotel today. It seemed too good to be true – and it was! The hotel was completely refurbished just 5 months ago and we have a suite with a view, twin queen beds, chairs and a desk, wifi, a huge modern bathroom etc – all this for a very modest tariff. We thought our lot had fallen in very pleasant places indeed when we unpacked this morning. But here it is nearly 1 am  and the room is literally vibrating with throbbing booming doof-doof noise! The ¼” shower screen glass is vibrating; the floor is moving under my feet and the walls are acting as sounding boards.  Apparently the two floors below us are setup for some sort of disco or karaoke and the speakers that must massive. I guess we’ll be looking for yet another hotel tomorrow.

We have decided to stay on in Phnom Penh until we leave at the end of next week. We met with Norman Beale the Anglican Minister at Church of Christ Our Peace (expatriate congregation) today and happened to meet the new Dean of the region who is visiting from Singapore at the same time.

These chooks were still alive

The meeting was opportune and with the Deans gracious invitation, will give us an opportunity to see a little of the Anglican Church’s involvement in the area.

Yesterday, with mixed feelings and trepidation we visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek about 14 kilometres southwest of the city. It is estimated that up to 15,000 detainees of the Khmer Rouge were executed here. http://www.haivenu-vietnam.com/des-cambodia-killing-fields.htm We both found the experience extremely harrowing and quite disturbing. Surely such atrocities can only be understood by appreciating the truth of our fallen nature.

Even after the exhumation of tens of thousands of bodies bones and cloths were still evident in the ground

As Jeremiah states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Our initial impression of Phnom Penh is that it is a city of contrasts. Narrow streets, squaller and filth in the street in many places and in others wide well tended boulevards lakes and attractive public buildings.  Likewise Psar Tuol Tom Pong the so called ‘Russian market’ is a veritable warren of a place under a shanty like pavilion of rusty tin which stands in contrast to Psar Thmei (Central Market) with its huge domed hall resembling a Babylonian ziggurat which some claim is one of the largest domes on the world.

Again we are struck by the unique culture and character of a large city. Phnom Pen with its population approaching one and a half million people is a city at the crossroads of Asia’s past and present, a city of extremes of poverty and excess, of charm and chaos. And at this moment here – very LOUD NOISE!