Robert A Webster – A happy Englishman in Cambodia.
Whilst sitting in an open restaurant in Siem Reap, home to the spectacular Angkor Wat temples, I noticed a small cart outside selling books. Nothing odd about that on Cambodian city streets, apart from the man selling books displayed among several small shelves had no hands.
While sipping my Latte I saw a woman stand at the stall and point to a book. The man smiled, took the book off the thin wooden shelf between his stumps, and handed it to the young woman tourist.
She looked at the cover, handed back the book, shook her head, and as she started to walk away, the man smiled and handed her a sheet of paper. Putting the paper in her bag, she walked into the restaurant and, like me, sat under a fan.
Curious, I finished my coffee, walked outside back into the hot street, and over to the book cart.
“Would you like to buy a book sir,” asked the man.
I looked at the shelves that only had a few books along the small shelves and although they were in cellophane and new, they were old titles.
“No thanks… just looking”
The man then smiled and handed me an A4 sheet of paper, which I folded and put in my pocket.
Sitting in my air-conditioned room several hours later, I took out the sheet of paper and was about to throw it away, when I thought. ‘I might as well read it; I’ve nothing better to do.’
The photocopied page had several dark images from photographs of the man and his family, and it read:
LIFE AFTER A CAMBODIAN LANDMINE
Tok Vanna is a 41-year-old Cambodian with a wife, two children and a job as a street seller – but like thousands of other Cambodians, he has been disabled by landmines.
“It happened in 1988. I was a government soldier in charge of three or four men near Banon Village.in the western province of Battanabang
It was a mad time – There were three separate resistance groups – The Khmer Rouge, supporters of king Sihanouk, and those following former premier, Son Sann
I didn’t actually want to be a soldier. In face only about half of us wanted to do the job – many people were forced to fight against their will.
On the morning of the accident, I’d been training new recruits on jungle warfare techniques and survival skills
I was taking a break from training when it happened. I went to get some food, but there was thick foliage all around us and I had to clear a path to get through.
I bent over to pick something up in the way – how was I to know it would go off?
I don’t remember much else after that. When I woke up, I looked down and saw that both my hands had gone.
I wanted to kill myself-take away my own life. There was no future for me. What could I do? How could I get a job, get married, support my family/ How could I even eat?
There was a grenade in a bag attached to my waist. It was there from a training exercise earlier.
I arched my body around and tried to reach it. I wanted to pull out the pin, but my friend saw me just in time and took the grenade away.
I was taken to a government hospital in Phnom Penh , where the authorities paid for my treatment because I was a soldier. I didn’t have enough to eat though, and my family had to send me food parcels.
Gradually, after the pain subsided, I stopped wanting to kill myself and dared to think about having a future.
I was in that hospital for nine months. When I eventually left, I was too embarrassed to go back to my family and let them feed and pay for me.
So, I stayed in Phnom Penh and became a beggar there for over a year. I was very unhappy during that time.
My mother eventually came to the city to find me, and she took me home and looked after me. But I had to go back to Phnom Penh for more treatment on my arms and I used up all my money on hospital bills and ended up back on the streets.
This time an aid worker found me and brought me to Siem Reap.
I was given a job working with Rehab craft Cambodia (run by and for Cambodians with disabilities) selling local crafts and gifts to tourists visiting the temples at Angkor Wat.
Life was beginning to get better – I got married and now have two children.
But I really wanted my own business, so in 2000 I gave up my job with the charity and set up my own stall selling books on the streets of Siem Reap.
I’m very happy now I have this job. Life is worth living again. But there are many others who are still suffering as a result of the landmines, both in Siem Reap and throughout Cambodia.
You have to admire Tok’s courage and unselfish tenacity.
This is not a begging letter, but words of hope to help him to sell his wares and feed his family on the pittance he may earn, with no help or support from the government or anyone else.
If you think your life is hard, remember, someone is going through far worse.
Needless to say, that was not my last visit to Mr Tok Vannas book cart…. Enough said !
ONLY IN CAMBODIA- Cambodian Snake Repellent.
Researchers and governments spend thousands of dollars trying to come up with ways to deter snakes from going into human populated areas and camp sites. I have seen TV programmes that have shown electric wires that snakes apparently won’t cross and images of birds of prey placed around camp sites. None of these measures seems to work. The Cambodians have a way to stop snakes entering a property or around the grounds. I stumbled across this repellent, along with the Cambodian logic behind it.
My Cambodian wife and I live in a bungalow just off a busy main road in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There is a driveway at the front and a small garden at the rear, with lime and mango trees scattered around a sparsely grassed area. In the dry season, it appears lifeless and arid, but in the rainy season, it is lush and colourful with the trees in full bloom. A small covered passageway leads from the front to the rear of the building. To the right of the passageway are the main residence, living room, and bedrooms. On the left is the kitchen and a stock room. This little passage seems to be a thoroughfare for Cambodian wildlife to pass through. This is Gecko central at night where groups of these friendly little reptiles congregate for their nightly feast on the abundance of insects passing through. We have also had the odd snake, well two, which have come in to shelter from the rain. The first one had wrapped itself around the metal bars of the kitchen door to take a nap. However, the little fellow soon scarpered when the wife saw it, screamed, pushed the door open, and went towards the meat cleaver.
The last one was just slithering through minding its own business as the missus was going into the kitchen. Fortunately, he also buggered off before she reached the cleaver. I am unsure of what species they are as I only see the tail end whizzing away when I go investigate why she is yelling, as she only usually yells at me. I imagine she scared the bejesus out of the poor little creatures.
She then wanders around with a look of determination and meat cleaver in hand hunting for them, so they would end up as a snack.
Anyhow, after the second encounter, I kept finding chunks of lime around the doorways and at the entrance and exit to the passageway, so I asked,
“Why are there pieces of lime on the floor?”
The missus frowned, then, looking at me confused as if I should know why, replied,
I smirked as she went on to give me her ‘logical Cambodian’ explanation.
“We cook snakes them in lime, so when snake smell lime they think they will end up in cooking pot, so they are scared and keep away.”
“Oh, and that works then does it, hmm” I asked sarcastically, which earned me a cutting glance as she replied,
“You see snake again?”
Good point, I haven’t seen any since. Cost of this research... a bottle of wine cooler.
ONLY IN CAMBODIA - Don’t Shit On Your Girlfriend
A mate relayed this story to me in the strictest of confidence, because he felt embarrassed. Never mind, eh. However I won’t reveal his name to avoid further embarrassment. We will just call Dave Nutall residing in Sihanoukville, Mr X.
One night after a good drinking sesh, while on his way home Mr X decided to buy some shell fish at a local vendors. These tiny crustaceans resemble the good old British cockle. However, unlike the old cockle, these are fresh water and instead of being boiled they are dried in the sun. This method is fine for the Cambodians as they have cast iron stomachs, unlike our delicate little foreign gut.
The old lad ate a plateful before he went to bed. He awoke a few hours later feeling a little gaseous in the bottomly department. His girlfriend of a few months had her back turned and was fast asleep. Too bone idle to get out of bed, he decided to vent a little wind and gave a little nudge to his sphincter. He then realised that it wasn’t just wind, it was Montezuma’s revenge, and projectile poop drenched the back of his girlfriend.
Embarrassed he lay there planning his next course of action. There was no need. His girlfriend calmly got out of bed, took a shower, returned with a fresh sheet, and told him to take a shower while she cleaned the bed. He returned to a clean bed and his girlfriend was outside soaking poopysheet in a bowl of soapy water.
For the next few days he was apologising, but his girlfriend just smiled and told him it was no problem. Cambodian ladies don’t turn a dram into a crisis. That’s why we luv em.
They are now happily married and Mr X thinks the story has been long since forgotten...
Wouldn’t the world be a safer place if people cared more about the planet and the amazing creatures they share it with than they do about who they think created it?
ONLY IN CAMBODIA - And would you like a monkey to go with that?
Go for it they said. I went for it, but it had gone. I therefore decided to write a blog. I wasn’t sure how or what may be of interest to readers. I thought about informing you all about particle physics and the big bang theory, but as I know bugger all about these subjects, I decided against this. I write comedy fiction novels, mainly centred in South East Asia, and as I live in Cambodia where I get most of my inspirational tales from, I will write little blog entitled: ‘Only in Cambodia,’ where it is commonplace place to see a man, woman, a couple of kids, and a pig on a motorcycle. Nowadays that doesn’t surprise me, unless the pig is driving.
My friend, his wife, and I were driving back to Sihanoukville from Phnom Penh. We were driving through a small village when a front tyre burst. Most villages along these roads are in front of large swathes of jungle, this one being no exception. There is no roadside assistance or AA to call here, so we stopped to change the tyre, but the spare was also flat. It was early evening and dark. The stilted houses along the road gave off very little light, with no streetlights. We continued bumping along the road until we neared the end of the village. I then saw a dimly lit shack with tyres piled up outside. We pulled in and my friend’s Cambodian wife asked the man who sat on a rickety porch if he could help. The man smiled and started to heat up something that resembled brown wax coloured gauze and a spike with a hook on the end. He took off the wheel, found the puncture pushed the spike and gauze into the hole, removed the spike and presto the puncture was repaired. He did the same with the spare and filled the tyres with air from a rusty old compressor...perfect. Total time to fix was twenty minutes. While we were waiting, the man’s family came out and gave us a cool glass of water, some urban whiskey and some plates of fried meat, we didn’t ask what meat, best not to, but this is the usual Cambodian hospitality. We stayed another thirty minutes, paid $30, and left with a warm glow, a repaired tyre, a repaired spare tyre, and a monkey.
The poor little creature that had been caught in the jungle earlier that day, was now tied to a railing outside the shack, earmarked for the next day’s lunch. Surprised by our concern, the family happily sold us the little fellow. My mate built him a little shack in his garden and called him Jake. (Cambodian meaning Banana) It’s a strange little monkey and for some reason it only seems to crap on me, and believe me nothing smells worse than monkey poop. Perhaps I should stop showing it a fork and knife.
Wouldn’t the world be a safer place if people cared more about the planet and the amazing creatures they share it with, than they do about who they think created it?
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