Wednesday, 14 May 2008

TONLE SAP LAKE -and Bloggers Unite for Human Rights

Today is Bloggers Unite - Human Rights day and I chose to blog on TONLE SAP LAKE.

TONLE SAP LAKE, it means large fresh water river or great lake. It is the largest natural lake in South East Asia. During the dry season, it has a depth of 1 meter and 2,700 sq km and during monsoon, it swells to 16,000 sq km with a depth of 9 m. This lake provides the all important fish supplies to millions around this area. Mainly home to ethnic Siamese (Thai) for 5 centuries. Currently, the there are 70% Vietnamese staying there, many are illegal.

I don't know how to describe my trip to Tonle Sap, except that instead of calling it the Great Lake, I'd call it the lake of hardship. Approximately 15km from Siem Reap town and upon entering to the long stretch of yellow muddy road leading to the lake, I knew it is a tough life for the people. Rows of huts on both side of the road shows how difficult life was. An entire family live in a hut not bigger than 100 sqm, it was way below basic accommodation. My guide Soluy asked me what I thought of Cambodia on my last day. I said I loved all the temples - they were awesome, I loved the Cambodian people - they are humble and kind (Malaysians paled in comparison even though we are a friendly lot), and I despised the Cambodian Government because nothing was done to help the poor and desititute. The richest people in Cambodia are the Government officials, foreign investors and those linked to Government, anyone else are just dirt poor. The average Cambodian earns a wage of USD1.00 per day. This miserable USD1.00 per day feeds an entire family, from grandparents the children. For this money, I could buy a McDonald burger and half a cuppa at Starbucks. This USD1.00 a day is the pocket money my daughter gets every day for school. People who lived in the outskirts of Cambodia earns way below this USD1.00 per day, with many taking up a few jobs a day just to survive. There is NO social system, if you dont work, you don't get paid and you don't eat, or for some 'beg a day - eat a day' concept. And yet, despite their hard life, they laugh and share easily. I could walk into any local cultural show and they easily make way for me to sit, and many times - give up their seat for me, something I can only dream of here! Cambodia remains as one of the poorest and most corrupted country in the world and unless there is a change of Government, it will remained so.

I let you judge the photos on Tonle Sap and conclude yourself how difficult life is here.

On the way to Tonle Sap road. Huts used as houses where an entire family lived.

A floating school.

A boy playing in the water. This water is used for everything except for drinking. Toilet facilities are fairly simple, from boat to water..can't think of a simpler way to describe it!

We stopped at a floating restaurant and I saw this young boy with a snake. All he wanted was USD1.00 for his picture, which I gave..and I had more trouble later.

Another young girl with a snake around her, pictured here with her mother and sibling (on a mini hammock). I am sure the mother is young considering she has baby sleeping on the hammock, but she look much older than her actual age. I can see nothing but hardship in her eyes. Every picture I took, I willingly paid the USD1.00.

Another younger boy (young boys have partly shaved head - reminded me of Maddox, A.Jolie's son's hair), aged maybe 2, pointing his finger indicating USD1.00.

This child aged about 10 sitting on a basin begging. I was told by Soluy that he lost his left arm while operating some machinery in a factory. Again, this is life in Cambodia, when you lose something like an arm or leg (in landmines), you lose your life and figure out way to survive. There are no such thing as social system.

When it was about to leave 3 other boats and children came over and hung on to our boat begging for money. We couldn't leave and I paid them USD1.00 per boat anyway so we can continue our journey. I didn't snap any photos of them as they were all crying.
I hardly tip when I am in Malaysia, maybe more when I was in Thailand, but I never hesitated to tip when I was in Cambodia. Cambodians have lived an extremely hard and difficult life in the past, and sadly, they are still living this tough life now. I was advised never to give money to beggars but I could'nt resist when I saw the children. While education is free, most cannot afford to buy books, clothing or shoes and in Tonle Sap's children, they will never go to school. Every money that was begged feed their entire family. It is my hope that one day Cambodians will live a much better life, but first, the Government have to care and corruption has to stopped.

I am humbled by the sight of poverty in Tonle Sap Lake and remind myself to be grateful for the many blessings I have.

I shall not complain about our inefficient and lousy Government or traffic jams in Malaysia.......for now.

...and it's time to blog about ANGKOR WAT in the next post. The highlight to all trips to Siem Reap is of course Angkor Wat - which to me was magnificent but actually I love Bayon more. One dedicated to the Hindu God, Vishnu and another to Buddha, different kings and architechture but equally stunning!!

Me, inside Angkor Wat sitting in one of my favourite spot and there are hundreds of such windows surrounding Angkor Wat. The right picture shows one of the 5 towers within Angkor (closed at the moment)which reaches the King's tomb. In every temple, all stairs are extremely steep and very narrow. Whenever we climbed these stairs, I was always the last to reach either top or bottom.There you have it, I hate heights and there were tons of climbing in Siem Reap.