Falling in Love with Cambodia

Angkor Wat SunriseThis morning started off with something we’d been looking forward to the minute we researched this trip: visiting Angkor Wat. After the beautiful sunset we had witnessed the evening before, we knew seeing the sun rise over Angkor Wat was an absolute must. Niron suggested we leave for Angkor Wat around 4:45 a.m. in order to arrive before the sunrise. After our long trip and the many hours spent stimulating the Khmer economy at the Siem Reap Night Market, this task was a bit harder than expected. We ended up arriving just in time to see the sun cresting over the temple. This magnificence can only be experienced and never accurately described by text or photo.
Afterward, we explored the temples of Angkor. I was astounded by the beauty and majesty of Angkor Wat. I can hardly believe that nearly 3,000 years ago, the Khmer people moved thousands of enormous stone blocks—which weigh several tons each and originate from the mountains—to create the largest religious structure in the world. As we moved through Angkor Wat, intricate carvings lined nearly every inch of the structure. My favorites were the beautifully detailed aspara dancers, representing an ancient form of dance that is characteristic to Cambodia.
Mini Independence_MonumentThe structures themselves weren’t the only notable sights of Angkor, elephants transported travelers between temples. On the road, there was a band of monkeys that haggled visitors for food. Musicians, whose families were harmed by the land mines planted by the Khmer Rouge, played beautiful traditional Khmer music on instruments you will never see in America. Several people were so inspired by the music that they bought drums and flutes to entertain us. At the entrance of each temple, masses of children approached us—some without shoes—pleading us to buy their souvenirs. At least three children would follow each of us, pulling out their different wares and shouting out the prices. It was heartbreaking being unable to buy something from every child, especially knowing that they spend the majority of their days helping to make a living for their families. It reinforced the need for the work that we, and the beautiful people at Hope Hospital, are doing.
A couple of us had the opportunity to visit the Cambodian Cultural Center after visiting the temples. We took Niron’s personal moto, with the warnings against them ringing heavily in my ears. My blood pressure hit new peaks during those ten long minutes. It was definitely an experience I’m glad to have had, but would prefer to avoid in the future. When finally arrived, we found out that Niron had never been inside despite his multiple visits to Siem Reap. We offered to buy his ticket since we had developed such a close bond with him throughout this excursion. The Cultural Center was awesome! It’s how I would imagine an amusement park, Cambodian style. It had miniature displays of important scenes in ancient Cambodian history, such as the construction of Angkor Wat. There was another exhibition that depicted key peoples and time periods throughout Cambodian history, in chronological order. Another phenomenal attraction was a Cambodian-Chinese comedy and acrobatics show. At one point in the show, there were ten performers balanced on one. My favorite attraction was the miniature models of some of Cambodia’s most revered buildings. Needless to say, I mock ‘Godzilla’d’ a couple in humorous photographs.
Acrobatics ShowAfterward, we headed out for Koulen Restaurant – oh my goodness. I would have to say that this was my absolute favorite place to eat thus far. The restaurant is an enormous Cambodian buffet, featuring a wide variety of foods, including freshly made noodle soup and fried bananas. It was wonderful to taste the flavors I’ve been familiar with my entire life, and then some. What came next pulled the night together—an Aspara dance performance. Each dance told a story of love, conflict, or the simple joys of everyday living all using graceful and deliberate movements. I have seen these dances on television, but that night revealed those videos never did the actual performance justice. I could see everyone at our table was enthralled, despite being up for over fourteen hours.
I love being so completely immersed in my culture, learning many things I’d never known. I’ve come to fall even more in love with Cambodia. They are a beautiful people, each Cambodian I’ve met has been kind and generous with a warm heart.

Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls!!

Cambodia Day.. I don’t even know anymore:
Our adventure into Ratakaniri was interesting to say the least.. We had to travel for nearly 12 hours by bus through the Cambodian jungle to get to our destination.  We took a full bus over bridges made of nothing more than large, uneven sticks over bodies of water of which are probably infested with who-knows-what.  It was a bit nerve-racking, but completely worth it in the end.  
Our hotel here has full electricity and air conditioning. They have a pool and a spa, and a remarkably good restaurant.  I feel like since we arrived, we have been on vacation! 
During our day here in Ratakaniri, we first went to the waterfalls. The first one was great; we had to cross a wooden, swinging bridge (the kind you see in the movies that breaks at one end) to get to the location of the waterfall, it was really beautiful and exciting. We got to swim in the waterfall, and the water felt oh-so-good!! Abby got some great pictures of all of us swimming since she didn’t bring any clothes to swim in.  Next we went to another waterfall, but this one was equipped with elephant rides through the jungle (on unmarked terrain, without a pathway) and some really cool native tribal outfits we got to play dress-up in. We got some pretty cool pictures.  Next, we went shopping briefly before heading to swim in a lake in a crater (which is either the crater of a volcano, or a crater made by a meteor.. It’s up for debate). Its really fun to be in a place that is so un-touched by westernized society. The locals there would come up and try to speak english to us.. And you could tell that it was very basic conversation skills that they have learned. The essential “hello, my name is… Whats your name? How are you?” etc. Pretty fascinating.  
Not excited to have to leave Ratakaniri tomorrow to begin the adventure back to Phnom Penh, but I’m excited to see what the trip back will have I store for us!
Diana Perricone

Unimaginable and Unbelievable

VendorsMay 23
Today we ended our trip to Siem Reap and began our 7 hour bus ride back into Phnom Penh. As you may have read the temples we were able to see during our time in the province were unimaginable. I could not explain to myself how an ancient people were able to construct such magnificent structures. I do not think I have the words to describe what I saw. As for the trip back that was a little more forgettable, I thought a 14 hour plane ride complete with my own personal entertainment system was bad but try sitting in the back of a bus over the most uneven roads you have ever been on.

s21a_sm.jpgAs soon as I arrived in Phnom Penh a group of us were able to experience something just as unbelievable as the Angkor Wat temples but indescribably horrible. What we saw were acts of pure evil which took place in a camp known as “S-21”. The inhabitants of this camp were exploited, tortured, and murdered. The cells these prisoners were kept in were barely large enough to lay down in, and the paintings which depicted the torture they were put through were gruesome to say the least. My heart sank when I read story after story of the victims of the camp. However, although there are many terrible stories from that time and place it is easy to see that Cambodia and its people are overcoming the tragedy and growing as a nation.

On to Siem Reap

Bat TukAn early morning rise took us on a bus ride to Siem Reap. We are accompanied by Niron and Wataana, fellow members of Phnom Penh Church of Christ, who served as our de facto tour guides on the trip.
Moving out of the bustle that is Phnom Penh allows me to take a breath and appreciate the full beauty of the Cambodian countryside. The palm trees sway gently in the flatland with glistening lakes and rivers dispersed between. This embodies the peacefulness of an earlier Cambodia, juxtaposed to the beautiful chaos of the capital city. We then stop for a quick snack of fried spiders, crickets, and other interesting culinary delights.
A few more hours on the bus lets us reflect back on the experience we have had so far. In a short amount of time we have traveled half way around the globe and become quickly immersed in a very different culture. But despite the differences, similarities are noticeable. We have more in common with the Cambodian people then we think and, for that matter, people all around the world. We truly are all one people, citizens of the world.
At our destination, a quick rest is followed by a trip to the Angkor temple area. I am very excited, seeing these amazing ancient structures first-hand. In my opinion, the Khmer civilization built temples that surpass, in just pure amazement, any other religious or monumental structures on the planet.
We are led on a light trek to Phnom Bakheng, a temple built in the late 9th to early 10th century. As we take in the beauty of the sunset falling behind the tree line in the forest beyond, one cannot help but find serenity. We are in a delightful amalgamation of different cultures and religions as Hinduism and Buddhism meet with tourists, pilgrims, and people of every walk of life, faith, and meaning. One cannot help but see a higher force prevailing that led to the thought and creation of this beauty and togetherness.


We close the night with an amazing dinner at what seems to be a living, breathing Apple commercial. This ultra-trendy dining spot is a stark contrast to the ancient splendor earlier in the day. I cannot help but marvel at how Cambodia with its deep rooted, and sometimes dark history, is finding its place in our modern world.
A full day, with many provoking thoughts, has me at rest. I hope my continuing adventure will be as blissful as today.
May peace and love be with you all.
Daniel Stirling (PharmD. Candidate 2013)

No Hesitation

wom_sm.jpgToday was one of my favorite days! I spent my morning in the surgical floor in the HOPE clinic. I have not felt as much love from people I do not even know ever before. I was baffled by the instant connection I felt after meeting the nurses, patients, and family members for the very first time.
Chak Riya was an instant friend. She is a young nurse who has very good English. She took me under her wing right away and taught me! I was starting IVs, drawing blood for labs, prepping patients for surgery and taking vitals with her. We talked a lot and bonded in the first few hours I was there.
I also met Rom Channy and Hun Chanse. Chanse says hi to the 2010 team-(he asked for Chelsea and Kim’s e-mail addresses. He has your pop account addresses). His smile was remarkable, I will never forget it!
Every day our team sits in a circle and we go over our “highs and lows” for the day. I was not surprised that many other team members shared the same “high” as I did. The people love before they think! We can all learn so much from the love that this culture shares. There is no hesitation. Their smiles are beautiful and captivating and unforgettable. I felt so loved this morning. As I looked out into the waiting area my eyes were instantly met with huge, warm smiles. I walked into a patient room to take vital signs and I was greeted by the entire family. The mother was holding a small child who kept inching closer and closer to me until he finally reached out and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He followed me around, touching me and shyly running away all morning.
I am so happy that I have this opportunity to be totally immersed in this culture! I cannot wait for more! We are going to Ratanakiri tomorrow for three days to see the beautiful rural country…can’t wait. Love you fam!
Suzanne Hutson – nursing

HIV Home Visit

Today was my day to go on a HIV home visit. We took a tuk tuk to the hospital and to our surprise the traffic was not all that bad. When we got to the hospital we met up with the social worker and walked over to his office. Everyone introduced theirselves as we stood waiting for our driver. While standing there he asked us to donate some money to buy some fish sauce to take with us to give to the families we were visiting. When they visit these families they are bringing pourage mix to them to eat.
The families we were visiting live at the dump site for the city. They all are living in small shacks and do not have much room at all. The first family we went to visit was a mother and her children. Her daughter was 7 months pregnant and was there while we were visiting. They both explained to us how they were doing and living. They were literally staying in a small room that had a tin roof and plastic on one side for a wall. She was very delighted to get the things that we brought her.
The second family we went to visit was a mother, her daughter, and her daughters baby. As we were walking through the living areas a little girl began to follow us around. She followed us to the family we were seeing and hung around us for a very long time. The small baby that was 6 months or so old was asleep in a hammock rocking back and forth. The little girl, who appeared to be no more than 1, began to pull a string to help the baby rock.
It was amazing to me how in such a horrible situation everyone there was like a small family. They all knew each other and seemed to watch out for everyone living there. I began to play with the toddler and eventually just picked her up. She was so precious. As we were beginning to leave I had to put her back down and let her go back to her family. When I set her down she reached up and tugged at me to pick her back up. It broke my heart to not pick her back up and get back in the car to go to the next family.
The last place we went to was not a certain family. We went into a common area for a bunch of different families. All of the children and some women gathered around us. Here we helped give lice treatments to all of them. They were so happy for us to be there and to be helping them out.
Its amazing to me how these people love you without no hesitation or second thought. They automatically love you from the second you meet them and become their friend. Sometimes I think that we could use a little bit of this in the states. These people have been through so much and after everything that has happened they still have the ability to love. This is just another example of how good God can be to anyone in any place. 🙂
Rachel Painter

Day 9- Rebuilding

Monday May 23, 2011

After an awesome and extremely busy weekend in Siem Reap where we saw the temples of Angkor Wat, shopped the day and the night markets, had a sort of art crawl- Cambodia style (6 people to one tuk tuk going hut to hut visiting the artists themselves and buying paintings), and saw traditional Cambodian dancing at a buffet dinner theatre, it was time to head back to Phnom Pehn. Today was good to help digest all we had seen and also gave me some time to reflect on things thus far. Seeing the temples of Angkor Wat at sunrise was an amazing experience. People from all over the world gathered in this one place and stopped and quieted themselves for just long enough to take in the beauty of the day beginning over this ancient architectural, cultural, and spiritual wonder.
While on the bumpy bus ride back to Phnom Penh, I took the time to do some reading, listen to music, to the outers, and think about things. As we talked and laughed with our guides for the weekend, Ratinah and Niron—two native Cambodians who are brother and sister, I also read a chapter or two from the book Bones That Float. After reading one particular passage I was especially taken back. In this passage, I learned more details of America’s role in Cambodia’s darkest hour: the horrific events and genocide of millions of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge. In supporting the coup of King Sihanouk, instatement of the Lon Nol government which lead to war with the North Vietnamese, and bombing Cambodia with more than 500,000 tons of explosives (more than all that fell on Japan in WWII), the U.S. helped to strengthen the Khmer Rouge. The bombings alone killed between several hundred thousand and one million innocent Cambodia civilians and motivated the Khmer Rouge to overthrow the Lon Nol government and viciously murder millions more Cambodians who were deemed “traitors.” Even more disheartening is that most Americans don’t even know a thing about it.
However, as I read I overheard Niron talking and laughing with us as if we had all been friends for years after just knowing each other for three days. This stark contrast to the relations of America and Cambodia in the 1970’s and then now as we all sat together made things very clear to me as far as one purpose of this trip. In being here and working in the hospital, seeing the sights, and meeting and living alongside the Cambodia people we’ve met and become friends with, we’re also being a part of something much bigger: rebuilding the diplomacy and views of each other together. The people we have met here all throughout Cambodia have been among the most accepting, kind, and positive people I have ever met. Even after all that has occurred in the past, they still remain so gracious and welcoming to all of us. It’s really encouraging to see such beauty within people.
Michael Seamon


Our trip started out early saturday morning to Siem Reap. We loaded the bus and got ready for a five hour bus ride. Little did we know how bumpy this ride would be. The roads in this country are driveavble, but not as great as we are used to back in the states. Also, the Cambodian people do not drive like we do. They are in a hurry to get there as one might describe it.
We stopped at a market on the way to use the restroom, buy water, etc. As we pull into the parking lot to park the bus. We are surrounded with small children and some women. As we get off the bus they instantly start asking us to buy things from them. This is a very over whelming feeling, or at least it was for me, because so many of them are arround and your not so sure what to do. When I finally made it off the bus I was greated by a young girl. I am not sure how old she is because in Cambodia you cannot really tell their age, due to the malnutrition in children here. She was very sweet and asked me all kinds of questions. She wanted to know where I was from and what I was doing here. She also wanted me to buy some pineapple :).
I wondered around the market taking in my surroundings. The markets here are an extremely different expereince. One thing that makes them different is the fact that they sale crickets and spiders. Some of my fellow students decided to try the spiders there, I did not. I had no desire to eat a tarantula. One of the other nursing students that tried one decided they taste like beef jerky.
After we finally got over all of the spiders and crickets I was approached by a older lady holding a baby. She was begging for money or food for her child. It hurt to see the small child bundled it her arms knowing that she has no clue when the child’s next meal will be. I ended up giving her a little money in hopes she would have enough to feed her child.
As we got back on the bus I thought to myself that children should not have to live like this. Most of the people begging or selling something were children. A lot of them were telling us that if we bought something they could go to school. I wonder if they even go to school and where our money is actually going. Its a very hard to thing to watch children beg for money and know that no matter how much you give them it may not make a difference. It makes me realize how truly blessed I am to have what I have in my life. I hope one day maybe the children in Cambodia will not have to sale fruit and beg for money on the side of the road.
Rachel Painter

The Heart of a Nation

Saturday evening we had the privilege of getting to watch the sun set from atop Phnom Bakheng, one of the temples of Ancient Angkor. As we hurriedly made the trek up the hill as the sun was going down, I lost count of the number of languages I heard the other visitors speaking. When we reached the temple, I started to realize how big the crowd really was. Hundreds upon hundreds of people had come to see the best view in all of Angkor as the day drew to a close. We all circled the temple’s summit, trying to find the best place to watch. I was beginning to become overwhelmed trying to dodge pictures-in-progress and step aside so guards could remind hot, sweaty men to please show respect by putting their shirts back on. It quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to get a picture without at least 5 or 6 other world travellers in every shot.
In an attempt to escape the chaos, I found a little out-of-the-way spot farther back from the prime sunset watching site. Taking myself out of the commotion, the chaos transformed to a moment of peace. When I took the time to sit back and listen, the sounds of a hundred languages began to blur into the same hum of human awe and excitement. I overheard a Khmer tour guide speaking with an Indian couple in English. I saw three Japanese girls show an American how to light incense. Watching the horizon dotted with cranes doing restoration work, I felt like I was seeing the past and the present at the same time. I took my shoes off and felt the cool of the stone against my feet, placed there centuries ago, walked over by visitors and worshippers of different religions and nationalities and over many different periods of time. As I watched one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life, I realized that in this crowd of strangers, I’d never felt more part of the world. It’s times like this that I feel God at work, bringing people together over time, distance, and language. He always manages to bring people back together, sometimes in spite of ourselves, and no matter how hard we try to keep ourselves apart.
Our experience with Cambodia and its people exemplifies this in a way I’ve never felt before. Everywhere we have been, we experience the same warmness and truly genuine hospitality of the Khmer people. Smiles and sampeahs (a Cambodian greeting and sign of respect) greet us with every new person we meet. The second time we see them we’re already old friends and get hugs instead. To think of everything these people have been through, from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime to the grim poverty and heartache that followed, that warmness means so, so much more. For a country who has seen so much pain, we have seen so much love and joy. There is a reason why there are so many ex-patriates (someone who lives outside of their home country – not to be confused with ex-patriots – someone who is no longer patriotic) in Cambodia. The relationships, love and commitment by those people of so many different nations are inspired by the hearts and welcoming nature of the Khmer people. I give God full credit for putting us all in this wonderful place at such an important time. I think I speak for us all when I say we felt so lucky to be a part – even if only for three weeks – of such a amazing nation.
– Emily Morse, Nursing Faculty

Day 4

May 20th, Friday
Today, was our 2nd day at the hospital. We rode the tuk-tuks there. These are super fun to ride in although it can be dangerous considering the way Cambodians drive. (Although there are traffic signs/laws in place, you will often see people going against traffic and driving super close to each other.) Anyways, in the Sihanouk hospital, I was in the main pharmacy with two other pharmacy students, Rachel and Dan. We learned about the pharmacy work flow process. It was quite interesting to learn that there was an actual messenger that would drop off printed labels to the pharmacy from the Community Medical Center (CMC), which is another hospital across the street. He would then pick it up to deliver it back to the pharmacists at CMC to dispense. In addition, we learned that everyone in the pharmacy is a pharmacist so there are no pharmacy technicians. They are in school for 5 years. There are only 2 pharmacy schools; one is taught in English, and the other in French. In the pharmacy, there is also a separate section of the pharmacy that had medications for only HIV/AIDS patients since that is prevalent in Cambodia.
After lunch, the pharmacy worked on a little project. Dr. Franks listed some common medications, for which the pharmacy students created a list of counseling points and important information that pharmacists should know. When we were done with that, we returned back to the hotel and had some time to ourselves before dinner. I used that time to catch up on emails letting my family and friends know what I’ve been up to here in Phnom Penh.
For dinner, about half of the group went to a place called Java. It was a trendy and relaxing place. They had mostly American food. I ordered a hot pastrami panini, which was pretty freaking good. I also had a strawberry milkshake that was made w/ 3 scoops of ice cream! Also the best milkshake ever! After dinner, I also had my first massage ever. It was weird at first and I didn’t really know what I was doing. But it ended up being pretty good. I definitely enjoyed it, especially considering it was only $5 for a half hour! Can’t beat that price in USA. hehe.
Well, I have definitely enjoyed my time here so far and am looking forward to our next adventure in Cambodia!
Pamela Wong
PharmD Candidate, 2013