Siem Reap: Outskirts, 2010

At every temple we visited, Kimleng encouraged me to chat with the monks, so they could "practise their English". The one I spoke to at Wat Bo - one of the oldest pagodas in Siem Reap - told me that he enjoyed studying, and being a monk allowed him to do that.

Following the Wat Bo visit, Kimleng took me on a ride to the outskirts of Siem Reap, where we sat out a downpour in the tuk-tuk, watching cyclists hurrying away along the stretch of open road.


With the hard rain sending the fish astir, villagers got out to cast their nets as soon as the weather began to clear. Moving up along the river, we met one fisherman after another, and Kimleng would greet each one, asking about the catch. One of them found it more productive to dive into the river and grab the fish with his bare hands. Most preferred to follow a standard routine: casting the net, drawing it in, picking out the catch and then moving twenty paces upstream to repeat the process.

One man caught an eel and showed it off to me. Apparently eels fetched more than the small fish they normally caught.


We went to visit another temple, which had a small classroom where young children were learning English. The teacher would hold up a card with a picture on it, or point to an object in the classroom, and the kids would shout, "Blue!" or "Green!" or "Pink!" whichever the colour was. You could tell they were enjoying the game and keen to learn.

Nearby, monks were building a road, without machines. According to Kimleng, the villagers commissioned the monks to build it as they needed a road. Someone had to go around collecting donations, and only when the requisite amount of funding was reached would the monks be able to start building.

There was a wooden grid where the section of road was to be built. Adjacent to this, a large pile of stones with a depression in the middle acted as a container for the cement. The monks then made a hole in the container to allow the liquid to flow into the grid. As the liquid flowed down, the monks shovelled the stones into the grid to fill it. When the cement set over the stones, we would get a section of road. This process would be repeated until the desired length of road was made.

It was hard work. The sun was about to set, but for all the exertion, the monks had no meal to look forward to at the end of it. Monks in Cambodia do not eat after noon. They breakfast at 8am, lunch at 11am, and eat nothing the rest of the day. I asked one of the monks what he did if he was really hungry.

He answered, "Drink Coke." Fluids were allowed, Kimleng explained.

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