Monday, October 30, 2006

Ants will take over the world… (by Bec)

Forget cockroaches with their indestructible bodies of steel…it’s ants that will take over this world with their sizeable armies.

Red fire ants are one of the things that Ben and I have adapted too since moving to Cambodia. We have accepted that all food, including cereal, pasta, rice, biscuits…pretty much everything must be stored in the fridge to keep it safe from ants. We have gotten used to them crawling through our kitchen, bathroom, lounge area and bedroom in their neat little lines. We have even gotten used to Yim, our Khmer mother spraying our house with a whole can of insect spray so that you practically need a gas mask to enter the premises…but there comes a point when these tiny creatures send you crazy…and they can make you snap.

Examples being: when they bite you and leave nice large red lumps on your skin that are somewhat painful…or when they cross the line of personal space and invade your wardrobe, crawling all over your clothes…or your bath towel…leaving nice bites as you attempt to dry yourself off.

Thursday night however, they staged what I call “Operation rice coup”. I had cooked up a rather tasty Aloo Mutter and was preparing to cook the rice when I discovered, as I washed it that ants were floating to the surface. Not fazed at this stage, I calmly scooped them out….but the more I scooped the more they kept floating to the surface. Then I looked at the bag of rice that I had only just bought and saw ants teeming inside and out. Enraged by their presence I grabbed the can of insect spray and gassed the lot of them. I felt satisfied for about two seconds before I immediately regretted the decision. Not only did it mean no rice for dinner but it also posed complications for how to discard the rice. I couldn’t throw it directly in the bin, as there is a community of people that live at the rubbish tip and I was concerned they might get sick or die if they decided to consume it. So I bagged it up and put it to the side not sure what to do with it.

The next day, I was relaying the story to my Khmer teacher who was very amused. She said I had been on the right path with scooping them out as they floated to the top…unfortunately my short fuse saw to the end of that solution. Anyway, Morivan suggested soaking the rice for a few days, as that would make it go bad and no one would want to eat it. So I placed the rice in a bucket with water and put it in a corner of the kitchen.

When Yim arrived in the afternoon I had a little scuffle with her, as she was determined to rescue the rice and even my pleas of it being toxic were not going to deter her. I had one of those moments of realizing that I was a stupid and wasteful foreigner who had destroyed perfectly good food and worst of all I was prepared to waste it. There’s nothing like a bit of shame over a bag of rice.

So after two days of soaking, Andrew, Anthea and I were standing in the kitchen last night and we were surrounded by an offensive odour that was not too dissimilar to vomit. It took about 20 minutes for it to dawn on me that the odour came from the rice in the bucket, which had started to bubble away. It smelt rancid! So I moved the bucket outside and put a bag over it while I worked out what to do next. Curse those ants!

Per Ben’s suggestion, I ended up disposing the rice into a multitude of bags (so environmentally friendly of me) hoping that it would contain the smell. It was not an easy operation and a fair amount of rice and water ended up on the ground and required some mopping up afterwards but rest assured people, I have the toxic waste secured…now I just need to wait for the garbage truck that comes down our street playing Xmas music and I can consider my work here done.

A lesson has been learnt through this…let the ants eat their rice (or our rice)…and do not attempt to gas them as it will only lead to a ridiculous string of events and offensive odours.

Ironically, the story does not end here. Having written this blog entry yesterday, Ben last night sustained some nasty bites after taking a shower and using an ant infested towel to dry off. Is nothing sacred to these ants? We just want to live in harmony!

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Of Coups Caves & Coffee: surviving Northern Thailand with no musical accompaniment."
Ok, so it wasn’t that long ago that Ben and I had one of the most civilized holidays in Asia we’ve ever had…not to mention one of the most enjoyable. Maybe it was having the freedom of a vehicle; or the good roads even if at times chunks of road were missing due to landslides; or maybe it was the good coffee houses we stumbled upon along the way; or perhaps it was the seamless coup that took place without us ever being aware…but this holiday was everything you want a holiday to be – scenic, fun and relaxing. There were many highlights but rather than giving you a blow by blow account of them all, I’ll just talk about a few and share some photos…as I’d hate for you to get bored.

Hill tribes and cultural sensitivity
Political correctness seems to go out the window when it comes to hill tribes. Take the Karen (Kayan) tribe, a group that have fled persecution in Burma and now reside in Northern Thailand, as refugees who are sensitively referred to as “the long neck people” or “giraffe people” by the Thai’s. They are an amazingly beautiful looking people due to their traditional dress and the long wire coils the women wear around their neck giving the illusion that their necks are longer than they are. This of course makes them a tourist attraction and we are guilty as charged for wanting to see them and take photos…even if we know that it smacks of exploitation and a lack of cultural sensitivity.

Despite being challenged on how we felt about all this, we chose to visit one of the villages anyway, which involved driving through small creek beds that dissected the roads we were travelling on and navigating our way past a group of tourists riding on elephants – the usual hazards on roads in Thailand.
At the village itself we paid an entry fee before we were allowed in and this apparently assists the various tribes in the area (at least we hope it does). Additionally they support themselves by selling merchandise to tourists that come to stare at their exoticness. Not wanting to appear as though we were there only to gawk, we did our best to engage with the locals. Here’s a picture of Ben with a Kayan women who was selling CDs of her music, which Ben purchased…the CD has a very haunting country sound…quite cool.

Yes, Ben did steal the guitar and did a performance of “Free love on the hot love highway” for everyone in the village …well maybe not

Our Travelling Tribe
Here is where we planned to include a photo of our nomadic tribe embracing the culture of the Karen people and showing our respect of cultural difference but blogger does not want to cooperate and upload the we'll have to work out another way to share this image with you...but in the meantime, so you know who was on this magical are the names...
Gareth, Meliss Nic, Ben and of course me...Bec.

Meeting John Spies
Part of the fun of our holiday was that we didn’t extensively plan it…we just went with the flow each day…and on one of these days we headed to an area with limestone caves and stumbled upon a guest house called Cave Lodge, run by an expatriate Australian guessed it…John Spies.

John has lived in Thailand for 30 years…longer than Ben and I have been alive…and he has some very interesting stories to tell…which conveniently he has written into a book…and we were lucky to pick up a draft edition before it hits the publishers.

While we were there we ironically discussed with John the political situation in Thailand and asked him whether he thought there was the potential for another coup. He said yes and we talked about what previous coups in Thailand had been like to live through…then the very next day…what should happen in Thailand…but a coup. Of course, as we have mentioned…we didn’t know it occurred until the day after.

Clean teeth and tunes
There was only one not so happy aspect to our journey…and that was the mysterious disappearance of my iPod and Gareth’s toothpaste. We were parked at a waterfall, with only a handful of other tourists around, just outside Pai. We were gone not more than 10 minutes but it was enough time for some weirdo to steal my iPod and Gareth’s toothpaste from the car…thus ending any chance of music for the remainder of our journey. Poor Gareth was forced to suffer tooth decay - devastated by the disappearance – I mean who steals toothpaste? I mourned the loss of my pod but upon returning to Bangkok Ben surprised me by buying me a replacement that was an improved version of my old one. The story therefore has a happy ending, plus we discovered the joys of book recitals as we traveled. The group had the pleasure of my dulcet tones as I read a book provided by Meliss, there’s nothing like story-time to get you through long car trips.

Pictures can say more than words
Enough babble…stay tuned for our flickr site and photos of our travels...we were going to include more photos here in our blog but they take so painfully long to flickr it is...Gaz I know you'll be pleased.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Strange Weather in Kampong Cham (by Ben)
I went to Kampong Cham yesterday to meet our "soya bean guy" and learn more about soya beans and how they grow. It was a very useful excursion and I can now say I have seen a soya bean plant and understand how people harvest them. We had lunch at our guys house located in a moderately sized village on a side road about 30km's before the actual town of K Cham. Its a very scenic area with every house in the village drying soya beans on tarpolins in their front yard.

However the most interesting thing that we saw on the day did not come from the legume family. Whilst driving up we noticed a vertical line of cloud in the sky. This line progressively grew until there was an eventual "touchdown" and a huge water spout reached from the lake it was transversing way up into the sky- very cool. We managed to take some bad pictures that really do not do it justice - they are very grainy like a picture of big foot.

Perhaps we can still sell them as I hear people made quite a bit of money selling pictures of the spout that appeared at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap recently.

Here are the pictures...