Toilet troubles

Travel to Asia and it’s pretty much guaranteed that, before long, talk will turn to all things toilet and bowels.

Wrong as it may be to discuss the texture, size and noises associated with your number 2 in everyday life in the UK, in Cambodia all bets are off  and seemingly no discussion is taboo (remember the response to the “I’ve got diarrhoea comment in my training session back in December?  If not, check it out here: Stress and half formed stories ).

I knew that having my family visit would bring up some interesting and entertaining toilet stories; mum and I still howl laughing at her encounter in the loos of the train station in Changzhou, China when mum gallantly stepped back to let everyone go before her only to be waved through like the queen to go squat in front of the gathered crowd.

So here’s a few of the more memorable ones from the last couple of weeks for you to laugh or squirm at as you wish:

Approaching the bank of 12 toilets at the Bayon Temple to discover they were all squats.  Not a problem for Victoria or myself who have both experienced them before but a revelation for Grace, especially when she went in with Victoria and got sprayed thanks to her mum’s poor aim.

A regular stool update from Grace including one about the length of her poo complete with hand gestures delivered poolside in front of a group of unsuspecting sunbathers.

The contortionists toilet on the Slowboat to Battambang where the stance required to do your business was worthy of an advanced yoga pose being named after it, the river water lapped up through the squat hole as you balanced precariously, the stench was worthy of an oscar and the door didn’t lock properly.

Discovering a few days later that Darryl visited the above toilet barefoot!

Victoria disappearing off to the loo for a considerable time and coming back with a huge grin on her face brought about by having nearly blocked the loo with a ginormous poo followed by a large amount of noisy splattering.  The grin becoming uproarious laughter as the tale unfolded and Darryl’s face registered his utter disgust.

Emily locking herself in the loo of the bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, a sit down affair this time but again stinking to high heaven with a dodgy lock and no light and a bus driver who liked speeds over 90kmph.

Explaining the bum gun to Grace and her excitedly declaring she’d used it after her next ‘visit’.

And just in case you think me mean laughing at the misfortune of my family I’ve just remembered one of my many toilet tales from 17 years ago in Vietnam where a cough led to an uncomfortable and rushed walk back to my guesthouse followed by a shower and some serious laundry powder usage – I’ll let you figure it out!!!!

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Slow boat to Battambang

Siem Reap to Battamabang the journey.  Boat the preferred mode of transport.

It didn’t start well!  Told to be in the lobby at 6.30 am we dutifully woke the kids at ungodly o’clock and headed down laden with luggage plus provisions for the day ahead.

An hour later and we were still in said lobby waiting for our pick up.

It finally arrived and we piled in, sitting smug as a group of 5 plus 2 others in a 15 seater minibus.

Our smuggness was ill placed as a few yards further on we stopped to pick up another 20 plus passengers plus their luggage.  A super bolshy Cambodian woman ordered people to move up, shuffle along, sit 2 to a seat in an attempt to squeeze us all in like sardines in a can, the process made all the more entertaining by a rather stroppy Swedish woman yelling about how her ass was too fat to sit in the gap even Grace would have struggled to wiggle in to.

Finally we were squashed in and ready to go – a 20 minute bus journey to the ‘port’ followed by a mad scramble down a metal gangplank, a fight with super bolshy Cambodian woman  over tickets and a whole host of shattered illusions for Darryl (thought the boat would be twice as wide), Emily (imagined it would be a luxury cruise liner complete with Jane MacDonald style cabaret) and Grace (declared the water a swamp, not a river, with more than hint of disdain in her voice).

We got 5 seats together and settled in for a day of cruising the waterways of Cambodia.  The first few hours passed in relative peace – we slowly passed floating villages, observing life lived at a different pace and in the process waving our arms off at everyone we passed.  We read, listened to music, ate, drank and were generally merry.

20 miles out from Battambang it was time for a pitstop at a floating shop/cafe (there’s a toilet story here but I’m saving that for another blog) and then we were off again.  Or at least in theory we were.  I’d been warned by friends that the river was too low to pass through in a boat but the hotel and boat company had assured us it was fine.

3 1/2 hours later, we were approximately 3 miles further down the river having spent the time zigzagging from one episode of grounding to the next.  At various junctures punting poles were employed, a brief pause was taken for crew members to strip to t shirt and boxers, jump in the water and bash at the propeller and do lots of shouting,  everyone was ordered to the back of the boat in order to get the front unstuck, passengers were enlisted to add weight to the punting pole and also to jump in the water and manually shift the boat along with mr T Shirt & boxers and a general comedy of errors ensued.

Eventually we were met by another man stripped to his undies wading through the shallow river to guide us to the awaiting rescue crew on the opposite bank.

A chain gang was arranged to offload the luggage up the steep bank and onto the back of the waiting trucks whilst the rest of the passengers scrambled ashore and up onto our transportation for the final 16 miles of the journey, pick up trucks.

 

As if being showered with dust and bashed by trees as we bumped along the red dirt track through field after field weren’t enough, we periodically hit dips worthy of a dirt bike trail with our driver expertly navigating the almost vertical downward drop and similar uphill climbs as we clung on for grim death.

Sadly, the final dip proved too much for our trusty 4by4 and its expert driver thanks to an irrigation channel running through the bottom of the dip.  Traction was lost and everyone was order off the truck to push.  Suffice to say there were some extremely muddy feet that clambered back onto the pickup for the final leg which thankfully soon saw us on tarmaced roads.

We arrived in Battambang exhausted and achy but exhilarated by a bonkers adventure which we celebrated by jumping straight into the hotel pool and in the process turning it a lovely shade of rusty brown.

This post may induce jealousy!

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Welcome to my current view!

We have reached the final few days of the Clarkes’ tour of Cambodia.  The sun is shining, there’s still a little a faint draft of morning breeze which is gently  wafting the aroma of frangipani over me as I lie here typing this blog.

The kids are flitting from pool to sun lounger and back again and all is well with this sunkissed little world.

The last two weeks have been awesome.  We’ve visited palaces, toured temples, ridden elephants, chased butterflies, held crocodiles, ridden a bamboo train, got stranded in the middle of the Sangker river and subsequently spent 1 1/2 hours bumping along in the back of a pick up truck, eaten all kinds of yummy snacks (and a fair few tubes of Pringles (fake and genuine)), crammed all 5 of us and a ridiculous number of rucksacks into tuktuks, bartered for Britain, said a little prayer, practiced speaking Khmer,  coped with the Killing Fields and so much more and it’s still not over yet.

Blog posts for all of the above are brewing but for now I think I’m just going to kick back, listen to the splash of the water and the song of the birds and get ready to enjoy the last few days with my fabulous family.

 

The next chapter

Chapter one of this new life in flip flops was not what I originally thought it would be.  Not only because my VSO placement ended up being a bit of an own goal but more fundamentally than that, in my initial thinking VSO wasn’t even part of the ‘plan’.

 

Disillusioned with my life in sunny Manchester and, more specifically, the crappy politics of working life in a large UK institution I made a decision to say Fuck It, hand in my notice and head off with a rucksack on my back to travel for a bit and discover what and where felt right.

 

Approximately 24 hours before I planned to hand my notice in an email landed in my inbox inviting me to begin the interview process for my VSO placement and the rest, as they say, is history.

 

Much as the placement wasn’t right, it did help me get a lot of stuff sorted in my head in regards to the what and the where.

 

Things I learned:

  1. I LOVE Cambodia. The people, the country, the people, the climate (ask me again in a couple of months when it’s 40 degrees plus and 90% humidity!), the people, the food, the people, the bonkersness, oh and did I mention the people.
  2. I really, really, really, really like wearing flip flops every day
  3. I thrive on standing out, being noticed, being different, being more than a little bit bonkers and laughing at life and myself in equal measure.
  4. I like having a base. I’m glad I didn’t end up going backpacking – travelling out from one place is far more me.
  5. I have an inbuilt need to help other people on a daily basis and this needs to form part of my working life (in fairness I thought the placement would give me this but as they say in Stoke ‘you know what thought did…’.
  6. I still don’t suffer fools gladly. Yep, I knew this already but I now know it’s not limited to UK based fools.
  7. Whilst I’ve found inner peace through yoga and meditation visualisation proves more challenging for me. That said, whenever I do manage to visualise anything it generally involves being by water.
  8. I really enjoy writing and think I’m pretty good at it (lots of people I know have told me that, but perhaps more importantly, so have some people who don’t know me)
  9. I am my own worst enemy. Yep, that’s another one that’s actually old news but I feel like for the first time in my life I’m properly tackling that one, putting Norman in his box and switching up that old self talk so it helps and doesn’t hinder my progress.
  10. My family and friends are even more awesome than I already thought. Can’t write any more on this just now as I’m in a café and thinking about how blessed I am to have such wonderful people looking out for me is making me cry.

 

And so to the point of this blog:

  • Where has all of this learning led me?
  • What is chapter 2 of this new life in flip flops going to entail?

 

Drum Roll Please………….

 

This time next week will see me sitting in an airport hotel in Bangkok, having left my flat and made myself temporarily homeless, awaiting the arrival of my little sis and her clan.

 

I am beyond excited to have the opportunity to share my world with not only my sis and brother in law, but with the two little girls who bring more joy to my life than I ever thought was possible.   After a whistlestop tour of Bangkok (I’m desperately trying to get over my long held Bangkokaphobia before they arrive) we’re going to explore the Kingdom of Wonder together and myself, Emily & Grace will all be blogging about it so watch this space to find out more.

 

And after that?

 

Well, first of all I’m moving base.  I’m heading to one of my favourite towns in Cambodia, Kampot, to live by the river and only a few miles from the sea (taking my cue from all those water visualisations).  This post I wrote on my first visit to the town might give you an idea (other than the presence of water) as to why I’ve chosen to move there: A trip in superlatives

 

And as for what I’m going to do.  The plan as of now goes like this:

 

  1. Find a base in Kampot (probably a long stay guesthouse) from March to June, at which point I’ll be returning briefly to the UK to earn some cash working in a Summer School and catching up with people.
  2. continue to wear flip flops every day
  3. Write for pleasure. Having enjoyed the writing process to date I have developed an itch to write a book and so I’m going to scratch it
  4. Write for money. I’m currently exploring avenues to make money from writing and will continue to explore this in Kampot
  5. Look for online and face to face English teaching gigs
  6. Explore revamping and reigniting renaissance4women as an online coaching business
  7. Test out the feasibility of running small group PT sessions in Kampot
  8. Join a crafting community or if there isn’t already one then create one
  9. Look at ways to practically support the work of a great project in Kampot called the Banteay Srei Project 
  10. Constantly look for opportunities to generate income through sharing my skills and expertise to allow me to live in the Kingdom of Wonder for the foreseeable future

 

So there you have it.  Thank you all so much for being with me through chapter 1 – I really hope you keep popping by to see how chapter 2 is shaping up in my new life in flipflops.

 

 

P.S.  By the way, if you have any suggestions for money making gigs that might suit my unique mix of ‘talents’ then please feel free to share them with me

A tear was shed

Yesterday saw me saying goodbye to the much maligned teams at VSO and the Ministry of Fish.

I kicked off early with a trip into the VSO office to collect my passport, surrender my motorbike helmet (Jumbo Jim will be pleased to know I intend to replace it with a funky pink one which may or may not also have flowers on it) and say my final farewells.  A few of those that I said farewell to are people with whom I intend to stay in touch with – the gorgeous Phirum with whom I’ve shared so many wonderful times over the last 7 months both in and out of VSO time and the wonderful kind and gentle Sam Moly who I’ve really enjoyed getting to know and took my mum  and auntie Yvonne under her wing like a true mother hen when we met up in Phnom Penh.

I also had the dubious pleasure of seeing Cockwomble during this visit.  Those of you who have been with me from the beginning may remember Cockwomble was the guy who managed to piss me off less than 24 hours after I arrived at the VSO office and was also the wearer of trousers whose hem had fallen out with his shoes and therefore resided 2 inches up his shin.  Yesterday, amazingly, we had an intelligent conversation with him failing to come out with any controversial, condescending or otherwise shite and perhaps even more amazingly, wearing trousers of an appropriate length.

And so I left the VSO office content and hopped into Sophat’s tuktuk for my last trip to the Ministry of Fish.

Once there we were greeted by Huong and so I took the opportunity to communicate with via Sophat rather than resorting to wild gesticulations and random gurning on which our conversations usually rely.  Sophat explained to Huong that I was leaving and I would miss seeing his smiley face every day and as I  had suspected he confirmed that Huong is actually pretty sick (he’s often absent from his gatepost for days at a time and on his return gesticulates wildly around his stomach whilst putting on his best sick face to explain to me where he’s been) and is due to retire imminently.   We had a little hand hug, exchanged a few big grins and sampeahs and then Sophat headed off and I headed in.

 

Next stop was to see Loueng.  A quick chat, a gift of the latest Ministry of Fish diary, a ridiculous palaver as 3 people who are old enough to know better attempted to get a couple of selfies and a promise that I could call him anytime I needed, even if I was in prison!?!?! and that farewell was done.

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The day passed quietly with me sorting out the mess I had created on my desk (I’m not sure how I managed to accumulate so much paper when I achieved so little but hey ho them’s the breaks) and before I knew it it was time to head off.

I returned the keys to Danith – one of the two people who has been my salvation during my placement.  Danith gave me a home when no one else at the FiA wanted me.  He put up with my incessant noise courtesy of radio 2 (which I sometimes sang out loud along with), a creaky chair and a tendency to randomly Skype people when I was a bit bored.  He became my eyes and ears at the Ministry, keeping me up to date with the comings and goings of the DG and the latest news on the ongoing illegal fishing saga, giving me a heads up when things were going on that I might be interested in, ordering my water for me and letting me know when we might have unofficial days off due to upcoming Chinese celebrations.   His parting words were an offer to pop in anytime for a chat and to use the wifi – what more could a girl ask for.

And then it was time.  I headed out of the building to the sunshine and the beaming smile of the true salvation during my time in placement – Huong.

We took one last sunglass swap selfie, had a big old hug and that was when it happened – a tear fell gently onto my cheek as I clung to this boney old man with the 3 gold teeth who had made my daily ventures into generally lonely and unfulfilling days ok.  Seeing his smile, laughing and joking despite not having a clue what either of us was saying to the other, dicking about swapping sunglasses, hats and phones has kept me sane and for that reason the wonderful Huong will remain with me long after the other memories of the Ministry of Fish fade.  A truly lovely man!

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For those of you wondering what’s next, please come back tomorrow when I’ll fill you in on where I’m at in my new life in flip flops.