If the first day of being in Cambodia was distressing, today is even more so. Our first stop is at a fishing village. Our guide tells us that most of the people in the countryside who are doing farming and the fishermen are uneducated. That must be nearly 80% of the people of Cambodia. The fishermen and their families look like they live in squalid, unsanitary conditions with the men going out at night to fish and returning in the morning and the women taking care of many children.
Our guide tells us that Cambodian people see the flies that are around the fish and produce in the markets are a good thing. He says if the food is not attracting flies then there must be something wrong with it. Considering that flies carry diseases, it is an odd concept. It also makes me wonder about the food we cooked yesterday!
Next we go to Independence Beach. This beach and its hotel were made famous when Jacqueline Kennedy came here in 1967 hoping to improve relations between Cambodia and the U.S. The sea looks inviting and there are benches to sit on. The garbage is a little less pronounced as this is the first place we have seen trash containers. We watch some young people enjoying the day. They go swimming in their street clothes. There are lots of tall buildings nearby. Most are unfinished. Our guide tells us that there have been problems with the Chinese construction. Inferior quality building materials have caused some of the buildings to collapse killing Cambodian people.
Our last stop is at a Buddhist complex. Traditionally becoming a monk was a way for poor boys to receive an education.
We see a demonstration of Cambodian dance, some large statues of Buddha, and a temple.
On the way back to the boat our guide, Senh, really unloads about what has happened to Cambodia and the Cambodian people. He talks about Pol Pot and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. Pol Pot had a view of Cambodia as an agrarian socialist society. So he forcibly removed the urban population to the countryside to work or collective farms. Anyone who was considered an enemy of the Pol Pot government was killed. This included intellectuals, minorities, teachers, doctors, and certainly anyone who spoke English as they could be secret CIA operatives. These mass killings plus malnutrition and poor medical care killed between 1.5 to 2 million people, a quarter of the Cambodian people. With the approach of the 21st century Cambodia was devoid of a generation of people who could have helped the country to advance. They are still largely uneducated. Senh said that if you have no education then you do not even know what to dream about.
So we are feeling pretty sad about the conditions that these sweet, smiling people have to live in as we return to our fancy boat and have our dinner where we can send back any food that does not meet our standard and go to bed in a king size bed with clean sheets after we have seen the Cambodian people swinging in their hammocks. I think I will not post pictures of what we ate for dinner today.
Today we have a cooking class in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I am expecting Cambodia to be a lot like Vietnam but it is far behind in development. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge basically wiped out, as in killed, a whole generation of people who were educated teachers, doctors, and professionals. So Cambodia is struggling to get back on its feet and is relying on Chinese investment to help. It looks like so far it has not helped enough.
Views from the bus –
Most of the roads are partly dirt due to construction or lack of maintenance. The bus has to go very slowly, probably about 20 mph or less. Then the bus driver cannot find the Don Bosco School where we are taking our cooking course and must make u-turns in the middle of the street with motorbikes and people everywhere. Finally we reach our destination and need to walk down a hot and dusty road to the school. Everything is set up for us to cook.
We are making two dishes, Fish Amok, which is fish in a curry paste steamed in banana leaves and Khmer meat pancake with sweet fish sauce. The parts we actually do are to make the curry paste, cook the meat, make a basket out of our banana leaves, cook the pancake, and make the fish sauce. Chef makes the batter for the pancake and steams the Fish Amok.
Making a little box out of the banana leaves is harder than you might imagine. You have to fold the banana leaves just so four times and secure it with toothpicks. We are all laughing pretty hard at our feeble attempts. John has made an unrecognizable box and mine is leaking the sauce that the fish is in slowly out the sides. They go into a big steamer.
We make a spicy fish sauce with spices and chilis and coconut milk. Then we cook a combination of pork and shrimp to put inside a rice pancake. With only minor conflagrations we cook the meat. No one cooks a successful pancake. Plus they did not tell us to put the meat into the pancake and roll it inside like an omelet. Mostly everyone’s pancakes just look like scrambled eggs.
It has been great fun learning about Cambodian cuisine. The people are so lovely and sweet that it makes you so sad for the situations they live in. We especially wonder about our female tour guide. What kinds of hard times did she have to go through to get educated. She tells us that most of the girls in the country side are uneducated and marry around 16. They cannot go to school because it is not safe for them to walk to school and the Buddhist monks do not teach girls. How hard must it have been for our tour guide.
Later we have dinner at the Chef’s Table. It is the same as the dinner we had a couple days earlier. I have a better picture of the apple dessert though. It is really yummy and is constructed out of thin layers of caramelized apple into the shape of an apple.