A Day to Remember

Kep and Kampot, Cambodia
October 25 – 30

If you wish to be loved, love! – Seneca

This is Ryan and I want to wish everyone a good evening from Siem Reap, Cambodia. We just finished dinner (I had Lok Lak, a delicious meat dish on top of a fried egg and Emily had Amok D‘trey, a river fish braised in coconut sauce. Emily is showering, Ollie is lying on a make-shift bed we put together for him on the floor (he keeps saying “kiss monkey good night”) and I am sitting at the computer trying to best describe what a wonderful day we had a few days back.

First, as Emily has so adeptly described in her past entries, we liked China, we really liked Vietnam, but we ABSOLUTELY LOVE CAMBODIA (unfortunately, we only have nine days to spend here, although we will most likely come back in the February time frame after we visit Laos). Also, for those hardcore travelers who have been told that you can not cross at the Ha Tien, Vietnam border, it is totally untrue. We took a ferry from Phu Quoc Island to Ha Tien, and with the help of Ha Tien Tours (and a police officer who rode a motorbike up to sign our Visas), we got our Cambodian stamp crossed at Prek Chak. In your face, Lonely Planet.

While we have had almost no rain this entire ten weeks through Asia (a minor miracle), it was pouring as we crossed over the border with a lovely couple from the UK. Our first destination in Cambodia was Kep, probably the best ‘kept’ secret on the trip so far. There are only 4,000 people living in this sleepy, French colonial beach town. Kep has some of the best seafood in Cambodia, the friendliest people we have met on our trip so far (if anyone is going to Kep, please find Mr. Phary, who is the best tuk tuk driver in town), and the most beautiful rice fields, Brahma cows and jungle-covered mountain terrain that we have ever seen.

A Day to Remember

They’re all good kids at ASPECA, Kampot!

For those of you who don’t know much about Cambodian history, I should probably interject a little here. From 1975 to 1979, a radical communism, conceived by Saloth Sar aka Pol Pot, spread over Cambodia and was known as the Khmer Rouge. In four years time, Pol Pot and his communist guerrillas had exterminated somewhere between one and three million Cambodians. Remember, there are only 11 million people living in Cambodia today and there were only seven million in the late ‘70s (do the math; 20% of the population was eliminated). Among those targeted were intellectuals, farmers, writers, teachers, and more. Anyone who spoke even a tiny bit of English or French were also singled out by the Khmer Rouge and everyone who managed to survive was forced into the countryside to work as slaves in the fields. After speaking to more people in Cambodia it has become clear that King Norodom Sihanouk (the former king of Cambodia), China, the United States and the Viet Cong played significant roles in the destruction as well.

The historical significance of these caves is that there were thousands of bodies here until a few years ago when they were finally given their proper burial. On the way down the hillside, there is a clearing where 20 to 30 skeletons lie in a simple stupa, as these people were not able to be identified. Almost everyone you come into contact with in Cambodia was profoundly affected by the genocide (one of the boys on our tour had his uncle killed by the Khmer Rouge and Mr. Phary lost both an aunt and uncle). While we had a wonderful time interacting with our guides, it was a sobering reminder of the atrocity that rang through Cambodia just 30 years ago.

The following day in Kampot was truly a day to remember. Emily and I decided to visit the ASPECA Orphanage just on the outskirts of town. To prepare, we bought some sundry items, put together some clothes of Ollie’s he had outgrown (he has shot up another couple of inches since we left the States) and bought some food, candy, etc. Upon arriving at ASPECA, we had no idea what to expect as Ben, the amicable owner of Mea Culpa (another outstanding guest house), called Mr. Souvanny, the director of the orphanage, just an hour earlier to let him know we were coming. ASPECA Orphanage shelters 65 children and has an out-reach program where it helps feed another 120 kids in the surrounding countryside. In Cambodia, the majority of orphanages do not receive any government funding and hence, the $95,000 per year it takes to keep the ASPECA orphanage up and running is donated primarily from private grants, most of them from foreigners.

After spending time with Mr. Souvanny and Seima, a brilliant English-speaking “graduate“ of the orphanage, Emily and I played volleyball with the kids, read books to them, played cards, and spent a lovely afternoon interacting with all of them. These kids clearly longed for somebody to hold onto as the majority of the youngsters would come up and hold my hand, put their arms around me, and were genuinely giving and seeking affection. The entire time we were there, Ollie ran around like a crazed monkey. He quickly became the official mascot and the kids took turns holding him, playing with him and chasing him around and teaching him the names of various animals in Khmer (kong kaip = frog, chhmao = cat, dum brrai = elephant).

At the end of the day, we commissioned Ben at Mea Culpa to fire up his wood-burning oven, and he delivered sixteen large cheese and pepperoni pizzas, enough for everyone to have two big slices. Not a single child at ASPECA had ever tasted pizza before, and Seima had only read about it in one of his English textbooks. Needless to say, the pies were devoured in minutes, and our pizza party was a resounding success. Savonney lined the kids up and they sang a few songs and Ollie did fancy feet for them (this is Ollie’s funky chicken dancing moves). Once the kids were allowed to eat, they stood in line (unlike the States, not one person pushed in front or tried to get a bigger piece) and everyone of them said thank you, put their hands together and bowed graciously. Their eyes lit up like stars and they kept saying “good, good.”

The gift that Emily and I were given will stay with us forever. For years I have been a person that has said, “I would love to start an orphanage, work with needy children or just do something worthwhile.” The reality is that I was a big talker and never made any definitive steps to make this dream a reality. For all of you that talk a big game like me, go find a place to sit with the elderly, play with kids at an orphanage, tutor a young child whose parents are in need. I can promise you that your heart will be filled with joy and all of the problems and ‘fear based reality’ that we succumb to will quickly fade away.

Emily and I have never seen more smiles, heard more genuine “thank you’s” and received more hugs and kisses than we did that day. While we did donate rice (250kg that can feed the orphanage for 10 days), a little money and a few other things to the orphanage, the real beneficiaries were Emily, Ollie and I. One of the tenants of my sobriety is that you have to give it away to keep it and for me, that message resonated at the orphanage. Emily, Ollie and I have been truly blessed and we are grateful for all that God has given us; but what we are realizing (much to the chagrin of our parents once they read this post, as we are already planning our next adventure which will be a year or more volunteer program at an orphanage) is that the world is as small or as large as you make it. Whether it is sobriety, love, kindness, serenity, or anything else meaningful, you really have to first give it away in order to keep it. Try it. I can promise you that Emily and I will never be the same.

To donate to the ASPECA orphanage in Cambodia, please visit their parent-organization’s site, Enfants d’Asie. They sponsor 10,000 children, orphans or children in desperate situations, in more than fifty centers across Cambodia, Laos, VietNam and the Philippines.  

Posted from Kampot, Krong Kep, Cambodia.

Comments

  1. Melanie Hamon says:

    I'm thrilled for you (sorry Grandma and Grandpa Rauch)! People say that our adopted son is lucky, but we are the ones who feel lucky–he has been pure joy!

  2. Hi Ryan, Emily and Ollie,

    We are really jealous……. you travelling, while we are working again (can't even remember when we were on holiday)!

    But it's nice to read that everything is going well with you guys.

    Ps. Ollie: My nephew likes Kiki's elephant as well!

    Regards,
    Kenneth & Kiki (the Dutch)

  3. Kenneth,

    It is great to hear from you. We sure enjoyed meeting you and Kiki and Oliver still says Hi Kiki to any pretty blonde girl that he sees.

    We are currently in Trang, Thailand and are heading to Nepal tomorrow. We had a great 12 day respite on a couple of the islands in Southern Thailan and we are excited to begin the next leg of our adventure tomorrow.

    WE miss you guys and hope all is well back home.

    We would love to have you visit California when we are back in town.

    Sincerely,

    Ryan, Emy and Ollie

  4. Melanie,

    You said it best. Ebon has been a real blessing. Emy and I hope to adopt one if not two children over the next 5 years or so (she would like to start by adopting one from Cambodia).

    We miss you, Dan and the kids.

    Please wish Cy and Ellen our best.

    Love,

    Ryan, Emy and Ollie

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