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Wednesday, November 13: Day 205 – The Oxcart Incident

We arrive at Konpong Louang which means Wintermelon Port to visit home of a local farmer. Our transportation is by oxcart. Here is the “parking lot”.

Here is our driver.

We are quite a site as tourists, and locals are taking pictures of our caravan.

By the time we arrive at the farmhouse, my legs have fallen asleep.

The farmer is 49, and she has two daughters and one son. Two are married, and she has two grandchildren. She is very happy.

She owns one bull which she uses for breeding. She never makes him work. He breeds three times per day. She used to charge $15 per breeding. Now there is competition so she charges $10. The original purchase price for her bull was $3,000.

The cattle are fed rice hay. A fairly recent practice has been to soak it in sugar water for added energy.

They always boil water for tea. Drinking water comes from rainwater. Washing water comes from the river. They have steamed rice and fish for breakfast. There are no dairy farms. All milk is imported. Here is the kitchen:

This family has a concrete home which is an indication of wealth.

There is an outhouse used by ten people. The family all sleeps together in the second floor. The grandparents have a bed.

The children sleep on a mat. There is a private room for the honeymooners.


Marriage

After the marriage the couple lives with the girl’s family for two years. The boy is on probation. If all goes well after that, the couple can make their own house. Land is a gift from the mother-in-law.

Sean was 29 when his grandmother told him that it was time to marry, and she had picked someone out from his village. He was working in the big city and had a girlfriend.

Out of respect, he came to the village to marry the girl that his grandmother picked out. His girlfriend was suicidal.

Early in the morning, he went to visit his future wife. “She was smoking hot.” He asked for a glass of water so he could check out the cleanliness of her kitchen.

Sean returned to the city and soon learned that her uncle came to investigate Sean to see what type of man that he was.

The man must pay a dowry. The fortune teller determines if it is a good match. If not, they cannot marry.

At a Cambodian wedding everyone in the village is invited which is at least 800 guests. The more people who attend, the more money is given. Cambodians keep a precious little black book detailing the wedding gifts so that you can reciprocate appropriately.

The reception includes food and drink. At 10pm the couple leave for the honeymoon.

Between July 15 and Sept 15, there are no weddings. Too rainy, I guess.

Sometimes there are problems with the honeymoon in an arranged marriage. If the honeymoon is not successful and the marriage is not satisfactory, the grandma pays a double dowry. There is shame associated with this as well. They have a low divorce rate of 1.6%.

Health Care

Cambodians have unlicensed and licensed health care. There were no doctors after the Khmer Rouge.

One clinic was reusing needles. The owner was trained that HIV could only survive 20 seconds outside the body. They alcoholed and sterilized the needle by flame. Two hundred six people were infected. The owner was arrested.

All outcomes are sad, but one such story was about a bride getting a blood test for marriage and it determined that she had HIV. The wedding was cancelled.

Barack Obama inquired to WHO why this was happening, and the World Health Organization (WHO) shut down all unlicensed clinics.

So where do they go when they are sick? Private clinics cost $35, and most people can’t afford that. Most people use herbs. Childbirth is by midwife since a room in the hospital costs $50.

In order to save money, they would wait until the last minute to go to the hospital. So many babies were being born in taxis and tuk tuks. They decided to give 2-3 days in the hospital for free.

Medication made in Cambodia is of low quality. It has about 75% of the active ingredient. Sean always buys medicine manufactured in the West.

Malnutrition is a big problem in Cambodia with 25% lacking proper nutrition. Some children who are 12 look as though they are 7.

One percent of the population has goiters which is due to a lack of iodine. The fish that they eat is not enough iodine. They are convinced that it is a curse or black magic. Sean asked someone who had a goiter to trust him. Reluctantly, he agreed. Sean gave him iodized salt and within six months, the goiter was gone.

Cambodia was the poorest country in the world 20 years ago, but despite much government corruption that occurs, they are making a comeback largely due to tourism.

Cattle can run free to eat. The best place for them is the river bank. However, if they wander into farmland and destroy a crop, the owner of the cattle must pay the farmer.


Silversmith Village

In the 16th century, royalty who came to visit the king would sail up the Tonle Sap River and stop at Kampong Tralach to purchase a silver gift to give the king to pay respect. Some families have been silversmiths for ten generations.

Today we visit the oldest shop in Cambodia that has been making silver items for five generations. One man is 69 years old and has taught his great-great-grandchildren.

Here is a little one taking a nap while Grandma is gently swinging him, he lifts his head up to see all the commotion. Mom comes over to swing him very high and he goes right back to sleep and Grandma resumes.

Much of the silver products are shipped to Siem Reap from this village.

First, they buy silver bars. Then the silver is pressed to silver leaf. Then shaped. They start by learning to make designs on a computer. After five years they make make their own designs. There are 100 chisels made from metal to make the designs.

A silver pumpkin bowl is a sign of prosperity. Other popular items are religious objects and trays. A coconut flower tray is used for the wedding blessing. Cambodians will display all of their silver to show their wealth.


Wheelhouse

We had a chance to learn more about our boat and visit the captain.

The boat has a six foot draft. We need a depth of ten feet to sail. There are two propellors and a rudder in the back. He needs to know the curents.

The boat sails from Saigon to Phnom Penh and then back again. The boat carries enough fuel to make three trips, but they prefer to refill in Saigon where the gas is cheaoer.

There are four large water tanks. The water from showers is recycled and discharged back into the river. The sewer water is filtered and removed in Saigon every two weeks.

The ship makes about 40 trips per year. The staff work about nine months and are off about two months from mid April to mid July. They have 1½ days per month as days off.

The marine team is Vietnamese. The house staff is from Cambodia. The Vietnamese are paid more. That seems unfair, but the country rules are different.

Captain Ky who attended the Naval college is in charge, and he has a 1st and 2nd assistant. They rotate four hour shifts.

Galley

Sophon is the head chef. He has a staff of six with four waitors. He is 36 years old and has been on this ship for two years since it was built. He has spent a total of 11 years working in the kitchens of boats on the Mekong River. He graduated from culinary school in 2005.

Here are their working hours:

Breakfast: 5am-10 am (The baker gets up at 4:30.)

Lunch: 11-2:30

Dinner: 5-8 or 9

We had a tour of the kitchen. They need to restock every three days.

Vietnamese food has a lot of flavors due to outside influences. Spices from India, sauces from France, and stir fry from China.

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