Monday, October 17, 2005

Sensory Overload

October 15

Talk about sensory overload! Yesterday was quite a day. We left Phnom Penh at 8am, and set off toward Battambang. In Cambodia, there’s no such thing as a relaxing drive. Thankfully, years of video games have heightened my reflexes, and I was able to successfully navigate through the gauntlet that is Cambodia Route 5. Pigs, cows, water buffalo, children, vegetable carts and pedestrians all use the margins, while motos, cars, buses and trucks pretty much barrel down the middle of the road, swerving to miss each other, and praying to miss the aforementioned hazards along the edges.

Thankfully, the road has improved significantly over the past few years, and it’s actually paved all the way to Battambang. We made the 200 mile trip in about 5 hours. 5 years ago, it would have taken 14. I’ve driven the road before during the dry season, but never at this time of year. It’s a completely diffferent experience. The Bassac river, which had always run parallel to the road about a half mile away, came all the way up to the berm. Further down the road, rice paddies which had, on my past journeys, been dry acres of yellowed thatch, were thick and verdant emerald carpets. The city itself looks pretty much the same, but the Sangker river is fuller, which will make our river journey on Wednesday much faster.

Upon arrival in Battambang, we stopped for lunch at the Cold Night Restaurant. We sat on a shaded patio, and enjoyed some more delicious Khmer food. We then checked into the TE’O Hotel, and took a quick nap. I was knackered from the drive, and fell asleep almost immediately.

After about an hour, we dragged ourselves out of bed and made our way to the orphanage, which sits about two miles away from our hotel along a cratered dirt road. The only word I know to describe the orphanage is ‘Paradise.’ No, it’s not fancy, but it is beautiful. Replete with trees bearing various kinds of unfamiliar fruit and children bearing uncommonly beautiful smiles, the orphanage is a perfect parable of the kingdom of God. Many of these kids were homeless and hopeless, just like the kids we see everywhere in Cambodia. They were beggars, ‘street trash’ like the rest. But out of no merit of their own, they were adopted, brought into a loving family and given a father, brothers and sisters and a hope for the future.

After about four hours of hard playing under the hot Khmer sun, we pried ourselves from their sweaty little hands, and headed back to our hotel. Later that evening we attended a Khmer kickboxing match at a very sketchy venue near our hotel. Pretty much like something out of a movie. It was great fun. But none of the leisure activities on our trip have been nearly as much fun as the times we’ve spent with the kids.

Tonight, we’re trying to combine our activities in an effort to run the fun meter up to unprecedented levels: we’re taking 30 kids to the kickboxing match. None of them have ever been. Ha! This should be great! I’ll try to give you details later, but we’ve been running and running and running about 27 hours a day.

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Okay. It’s 11:37pm, and we just got back from the kickboxing match. The fun meter has now officially been recalibrated to accommodate new levels of amusement. Khmer kickboxing really is a sight to behold, especially in Battambang. We watched the match in what I had previously assumed was an abandoned ‘stadium.’ I put ‘stadium’ in quotes, because it’s more like a public basketball court with decades’ old, unmaintained wooden bleachers. In the center of the court, the boxing association erects a ring, which is surrounded by plastic stacking chairs which are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

I sat in the nosebleed seats with the kids. Pastor Buntheoun and a few of the caretakers sat closer to the ring. The fights started about an hour late, so we had plenty of time to run around and talk smack in pigeon English and badly broken Khmer (I spoke the latter, in case you didn’t know.) I consistently picked the losing corner, much to the amusement of Chemm and Samneang, to teenage girls who consistently ‘bet’ against me. For four hours, we laughed, shouted, teased and cuddled. The boxing was good, but the time with our littlle brothers and sisters was much, much more important.

It’s now almost midnight, and I’m completely shot. I’ll write more tomorrow, and try to find some time to upload this entry and some new pictures.

4 comments:

GigiDB said...

Thanks for keeping us informed of your travels. It certainly makes me want to come on one of your trips someday! I'm looking forward to new posts, new pictures, and can't wait to see the videos.
You continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. G&J

erica said...

YAY FOR NEW LEVELS OF FUN!
Excellent work, well done!

I made a fabulous green curry Saturday night thanks to your inspiration. Now, let's get moving with more pictures!

We keep praying, I like how God is listening!
Erica

amy paxton said...

Really enjoying your updates, John! Mark and I are praying for your continued health and that God will keep the team and all the kids safe. Looking forward to seeing the videos!

amy

Anonymous said...

good times!
~z