Friday, September 21, 2007

Visa’s, Typhoons and Lost Luggage

Thought I forgot completely about the blog didn’t you?

Nope, not at all. Just a very frustrating last few daze.

I’m writing this from home where I finally arrived after a 48-hour trip from Phnom Penh. I’ll tell you all about that later.

Saturday Rich and I ran around Siem Reap trying to get stuff done for the Museum. The solar needs to completely re-worked. Yeah they have solar at the Museum and I can’t get it here in California…go figure. When the panels were installed they didn’t put in quite enough to keep the batteries charged and run the pump that supplies water to the entire facility, and that’s been a real challenge. Rich is going to have more and bigger panels installed, move the solar pump closer to the tower that has the water tank, and he’s going to double the size of the tank to 4,000 liters (almost 1,100 gallons). He thinks he’ll have all the work done by the end of the month.

I’ve been very impressed by Rich’s style. He goes directly to the heart of the problem, figures out his options and then acts. Just what needs to be done, but oft times is not.

Sunday I went out looking for the guy in Siem Reap who can supply the plexiglass we need to house all the mines and UXOs Aki Ra has at the Museum. CMAA wants them completely out of reach of anyone. Well, my tuk tuk driver and I scoured Hiway 6 for an hour, in and out of the monsoon rains, looking for this place. I wanted to get a ‘borang’ price and see how much better our Khmer friends could do. All to no avail. But I know Seng Ho will do just fine.

I had to make some copies of some paperwork that CMAA gave us for the new NGO. It took them overnight to get the 360 copies done. Cost me $8.00. And that was the borang (foreigner) price. And they were all collated and bound. Staples, match that!

Sunday afternoon Aki Ra, Rich and I flew to Phnom Penh (PP) so we could get Aki Ra his visa from the British Embassy on Monday morning. I crashed that night and slept about 11 hours. (I’d need it.)

Monday we met at my hotel to get going on the visa forms. We ran into a glitch when we realized Aki Ra’s passport expires on 29 December. In the US it takes months to get your passport renewed. Aki Ra had it done in about 3 hours. It cost him $20. I don’t know who got the $20, but when I had to get my passport redone last year I used a passport service in the US, and with all the fees, etc., it was around $300. Think about it.

We also found out that we need bank account records for the man in the UK who is ‘sponsoring’ Aki Ra for the ISSEE class. Well, we got together what we had, made a list those few things we need and got a name at the British Embassy of a Khmer employee who said he would be happy to help if ran into any problems. Aki Ra and Rich are going back to PP in a week or so to finish up the process. He should have the visa two weeks after they get the application. The actual approval is done in Bangkok and there is a very slight chance he may need to go there for an interview, but our contact at the embassy said that since he’s been to the UK twice already, he didn’t think that would happen.

Tuesday was my day to head home. When I got up that morning I turned on the TV to CNN and saw a big, big typhoon headed for Taiwan. I was flying China Air and we were due to change planes in Taipei. I called the airline and they said ‘come on down’ to the airport. We’ll let you know when you get here what is going to happen.

So to the airport I headed. I caught a cab and got a business card from the driver. Just in case. My plane was due to leave at 10:50. I got to the airport at 8am with my ‘luggage’: a duffel bag, a backpack, a shoulder bag with my computer and a suitcase weighing 120 pounds. That held the 200 books I was bringing back. They started check-in at 9am so I waited. At 9 they said the flight was delayed and would leave at 5. I watched a movie on my computer (Déjà vu with Denzell Washington – not bad, but carry an extra battery.)

At about 12:30 I checked again. The flight wouldn’t be leaving until 2am Wednesday morning. I needed to find someplace besides the airport lobby to spend the next 10-12 hours, so I called ‘my’ driver.

That’s when I started having some ‘issues’ with my cell phone. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I had to find someone to buy me a sim card in Cambodia, as you can’t get one without an ID card. I found a guy who knew a guy. But he wanted the sim card back, and he wanted it back right freakin’ now! If the sim card falls into the hands of someone who gets picked up by the federales they could trace it back to the guy who bought it and he gets in trouble for selling sim cards on the black market.

But he had a solution. For a price he would not cancel the sim card. His price was $100. Now I was very tempted to tell him exactly what he could do with his flippin sim card, but instead I told him about the NGO, how I was trying to help Cambodia and tried to play on his conscience. Didn’t work, he wanted $30. So I stalled him.

My driver took me to a cheap hotel on the waterfront in PP where I got a room for $30. It overlooked the Mekong, the harbor and the working area around some of the docks. Lots of people working and most of them were girls. I’ll leave that for your own imagination. The room? Let’s just say I was looking for Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando when I walked in. They weren’t in, but I did have company. There were a couple of geckos running around the room while I was there. Had to remember to shake out my boots before I checked out that night. Just like the jungle. (JUST like the jungle…there were all kinds of things growing all around. Especially the shower, and no, I did not take one. I was bringing enough home already.)

Then the airline called and said my flight was to leave at 9pm. So I wound up paying for the room by the hour – with a couple of geckos.

Got to the airport at 7 and checked in with no problem. They didn’t even baulk at the 120 pound bag. But the handle broke off when they tried to lift it. Oh well, it still had 2 other handles and the wheels worked.

We left PP heading for Taipei with no one having any idea what would happen when we got there or when our connections would or could be made.

When we got to Taipei I’ve got to tell you, China Air was ‘Johnny on the spot’. They had a transfer area all set up with signs for our US destinations, all our tickets printed, vouchers for a hotel stay overnight and 2 meals. The last time this happened to me I was flying Northwest and they cancelled the flight because of ‘mechanical’ problems, shipped everyone off to Minneapolis and told us nothing. They gave me $5 voucher, which I returned. They need the 5 bucks more than me.

We didn’t get our bags when we got to Taipei, but there was a 7/11 right down the street and they had deodorant. The hotel gave us toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and a comb. Not bad. A suggestion: always carry nylon, quick drying underwear. I won’t explain, you don’t want me too. We got to our rooms at 3am. We all slept through breakfast except one girl from Florida who was so scared she sat in a chair all night with the lights on watching CNN. Now that scares me.

They taxied us all to another hotel for lunch, a really nice buffet, and then bussed us to the airport. My flight left at 4:15.

I got to Seattle yesterday afternoon and cleared customs. At that point my bag had lost a second handle and the frame for the wheels was coming apart.

Then I flew home.

That’s where my bags got lost.

Now I flew from Palm Springs to San Francisco to Taipei to Phnom Penh. Then PP to Siem Reap. Then Siem Reap to PP. Then PP to Taipei to Seattle during a typhoon. And Alaska Airlines lost my bags between Seattle and Palm Springs. There is no doubt that the US airline system is the crummiest in the world.

They delivered them last night at 2am. After phoning me, pounding on the door and ringing the doorbell. That’s after I said “just leave them on the porch”. He wanted a tip. Right. My ‘book bag’ is now just a big case with no handles, wheels or frame. But the books made it home fine.

So I’ve spent the last 6 hours working on emails, getting my cell phone repaired and updating the blog.

The blog will not end here. I will keep doing it, letting everyone know how we are proceeding with the new NGO and about Aki Ra’s adventures next month in the UK.

I’ve got 200 books, “Look At Us Now”. They are the stories of some of the kids who have lived with Aki Ra and Hourt over the years. While they are not a publication of the Museum, all the proceeds from the sale will go to the Museum. Watch for it here, in an email I’ll send out tomorrow, and on the website:

Thanks for all your kind comments and stay tuned for more from Aki Ra, Landmines and News from the Jungle.
Bill (out of sync) Morse

Friday, September 14, 2007

Inspections, Sculptures and Hecticasity

Been a while since I posted and lot has been happening. Pretty hectic at the Museum the past few daze. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Museum was scheduled for their formal inspection by the CMAA (Cambodian Mine Action Authority). It happened today.

Richard Fitoussi, the International Project Manager got into town a couple of days ago. (As an aside I have to tell you that he is staying at the guesthouse I walked out of. You are a better man than I Richard. Good on ya mate.)

Richard got here a day earlier than he had planned because of the inspection. The staff at the Museum, led by Seng Ho, Hourt and Becky, have been working like crazy to get everything done. All of the landmines and UXOs had to be ‘secured’. Nothing can be accessible. Babe Feddon, said safety is paramount and he’s more worried about crazy old vets from the West coming in and trying to walk off with a 60mm mortar round or a couple of anti-personnel landmines, than with one falling over on a kid. But that has to be addressed too. It’s really all about safety; and if you’ve seen the old Museum you understand what I mean.

Well the meeting was to be at 10am so Richard and I met for breakfast at 6:30 and then headed out to Museum around 7am. As we drove into the parking lot the CMAA truck was already there and the inspection team was having tea. Uh oh.

Babe’s said, “We’re early. Do what you need to do and we’ll start whenever you want.” The staff was all ready. They made the office into an auditorium so all the children could welcome the dignitaries, speeches had been written, in English and Khmer, tea had been prepared, and for an added treat, fans had been turned on. The staff was all decked out n their uniforms, green Khmer high-collared, long sleeved shirts, and wool pants. WOOL pants…with pinstripes. They look outstanding. If you don’t die of heatstroke I think.

Well, we started the inspection at 9:30 and there were a few more items the inspection team wanted changed, but they were pretty happy with the looks of the Museum. They’d come out the first of August to do an inspection and given a list of changes. Everything had been addressed and I think they were impressed with the progress made.

We went to the auditorium and it was just like when a congressperson or an MP comes to visit. Seats all set out; kids sitting quietly with hands folded anxiously waiting too hear what the dignitaries had to say. (Okay, maybe it was a little, well a lot nicer than any assembly I’ve ever been in.) Everyone stood and sang the Cambodian National Anthem. It was pretty neat. The kids stand with their legs slightly spread and their hands at the small of their back and then snap to attention and begin to sing. Very nice and the dignitaries enjoyed it immensely. Speeches were made and then His Excellency Kouch Moly, Deputy Secretary General, CMAA gave a very nice speech in Khmer and gave the Museum its provisional license.

There are a few more things to get done but Richard plans to have another inspection, hopefully the final one, in about a month, before he leaves.

There is one room in the Museum that contains the souvenir store and what everyone calls the ‘prison cell’. It’s essentially the back end of the room and it’s all secured with chicken wire and just chock full of mines, bombs, UXOs and all kinds of stuff that Aki Ra has taken out of the ground, out of trees, bushes, jungle and anywhere else soldiers left little surprises. They are going to make a sculpture out of it.

A woman in Cambodia made a beautiful “Peace Sculpture” out of old weapons and it stands outside the Foreign Correspondents Club in Siem Reap. It’s maybe 5 1/2 feet tall and quite impressive. We hope to have a tree sculpture built at the entrance to the Museum from all the defused explosives in the ‘prison cell’. Each item has to be checked by CMAA to make sure they’re FFE (free from explosives), but CMAA liked the idea, so if you come out here next year, you may indeed see it standing in front of the Museum.

Lots more to do. We have to start a brand new NGO to do demining. That will take a lot of time and effort and Aki Ra will need a lot of support both in Cambodia and internationally to get it done. When the NGO is certified, it will be given a demining license and Aki Ra can get back to what he wants most to do:

Make his country safe for his people.

Only 5,000,000 or so mines left.

Bill out

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ATMs, Plane Tickets and Shuttlecocks

Aki Ra needs to get to London on 7 November and I promised to buy his ticket when I got here.

I thought that would be a relatively simple process. Au contraire.

There is a travel agency right around the corner from my hotel so I went over there on Monday and told them I needed to buy a plane ticket for Aki Ra to fly from Siem Reap to London. He needed to arrive in London on 7 November and return on 5 December. He told me it would be done on Tuesday morning. Bring cash…$1,285.00

It is very hard, relatively impossible, to buy a plane ticket in Cambodia for anything but hard currency. Obviously Homeland Security has not spoken with the Cambodian travel industry. The travel agent drove me all over Siem Reap. Your credit card DOES have a limit, and I don’t normally take an extra $1,285 with me when I travel. So I maxed out my ATM card for the day and then went to Western Union to withdraw money off it. $900 cost me 2%, $18, not all that bad. I still don’t know how WU got the money off the card when the ATMs said “You have reached your daily maximum”. I shouldn’t ask those questions to which there are no answers.

When I got back to the travel agency he had the ticket all ready for me. And I do mean for me. The ticket was made out for Bill Morse. I pointed out to him that the ticket needed to be for Aki Ra. And he told me no, the ticket was for Bill Morse. He pointed to the notes I had left for him that said “1 airplane ticket for Mr. Aki Ra, travel to London on 7 November and return on 5 December. Mr. Bill Morse needs receipt”. Head in hands and a whispered “Oh my god” came out I was collecting the $1,285 from the desktop.

He agreed that the ticket needed to be reissued. It would be ready in 1 hour. So I went to breakfast. This all happened before 8am.

At 9am I went back to the office and all was in order. It did cost me a negotiated reissue fee of $10, but that was okay with me.

So now all Aki Ra needs is his visa for the UK.

Then I headed out to the Museum with 375 pounds of luggage. The books about the kids who’ve lived with Aki Ra and Hourt have been sitting in storage in Siem Reap and I needed to get them moved. Now I ain’t obese, but neither am I svelte. Between the 14 cases of books and me, I had to negotiate a different rate with Rock, my tuk tuk driver. I’d told him yesterday that I had some books to take to the Museum and he said “no problem”. When I showed him the 14 cases and he hefted one he said, “I need to go get more gas”. When he came back he said “price goes up today Bill”. It did.

After we unloaded the books at the Museum and I had a brief meeting with the staff it was time to go shopping for some toys for everyone.

Everybody at the Museum likes to play badminton. Heck, everybody in Cambodia plays badminton. They play in the street in front of my hotel. And the rule is “we don’t need no silly net. Just keep that shuttlecock in the air.” But the racquets they have at the Museum are really flimsy and they’ve run through a bunch. So I went to buy some good ones. Rock found a place in central Siem Reap that had some racquets right out front. They quoted me the price. I said “No, that’s the borang (foreigner) price. I want the Khmer price.” I was expecting to pay about $20 each. We finally wound up with 4 racquets and 10 shuttlecocks for the $80. Probably not the best price, but I was happy with it. Then we went and bought a new soccer ball and a pump. And a needle to pump the balls up. It was explained to me quite clearly to make sure the pump came with the needle. It did. Eventually.

My last stop was at the pharmacy. One of the kids at the Museum has conjunctivitis and they don’t have any eye drops for him at the Museum. They cost me $2.10. Would have been at least $20 in the US.

Richard Fitoussi, the International Project Manager arrives in a couple of days and we need to get ready for the Museum inspection on Friday.

News at 11


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Babes in the Jungle and Temples in the Rain

Well let’s see. Where did I leave off?

Friday I visited the school. I don’t think I mentioned that I first heard about it from the Cambodian American Community of Oregon, a really active and very involved group of folks who are doing wonderful things. Not just for Cambodian Americans, but for Cambodia as well. Check out their website at:

Yesterday morning (it’s Sunday night here now) I found a travel agency in town and booked Aki Ra’s ticket to the UK. $1,285. A little more than if I booked on-line, but it’s better that there is someone physical to talk to if plans change.

In the afternoon I met a most amazing man – the youngest British soldier to ever defuse a 1,000 pound unexploded bomb in the UK. Seems he joined the army at 17 and was trained in demolitions. There are still thousands of UXOs kicking around the UK from WWII. On one raid in Coventry the Germans dropped something like 170,000 bombs. 90% went off, leaving 17,000 laying around waiting for something to happen.

Well, my new friend, as a very young man (and anyone doing this type of work is a man, not a boy), received a whole lot of publicity. Seems the women of England didn’t care for “poor Johnny” defusing bombs at 17. So they raised the age to 18. And he is now, and forever will be, the youngest soldier to defuse a 1,000 pound bomb. His mates started in calling him “Babes”. And Babes he still is to this day. A “bit” older than 17; and still working with bombs, and landmines. (I’d better mention here that he’s actually a Scott, not English. It makes a difference.)

Babes went into Afghanistan right after the Soviets left in 1989 to help set up their mine action groups and he’s just kept going. When I first talked to him he was in Battambang province working in a minefield. He came into Siem Reap yesterday and he was gracious enough to give me a few minutes of his time. He’ll be involved in the certification inspection of the Museum next week and we’ll probably be leaning on his help pretty heavily in getting Aki Ra’s demining certificate. An amazing man. I could have talked to him for hours.

Today I took some time and went and saw the Temples of Angkor. This is my 4th or 5th trip here and I had never had the time to see everything. Of course I’ve seen Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom and I’ve walked through the root-covered complex at Ta Prohm. But I’ve always done it during high season. Oh my – what a difference in September. The last time we went to Angkor Wat it was shoulder-to-shoulder people once you got inside. Today I walked through the entrance into the center of the complex and there was no one to be seen. Not a soul. Eventually there were 6 other tourists wandering through. Quite nice. Quite.

I got up to the Banteay Srei complex finally. Now the Museum is IN Banteay Srei, so I knew I must have been close the other day when we went to the river to swim. Becky told me it was across the street from where we had our 2nd lunch. Well it was. Right across the street. The original name is Tribhuvanamahesvara" (Great Lord of the Threefold World).

They call it by its “place name”.

Really neat. Especially when the afternoon rains come. And they do come. And come. And come.

I needn’t have worried though. I bought a really good army surplus poncho that would work just fine. It was in my hotel room……so I let the water wash off the sweat that had accumulated for the last 4 hours.

The tuk tuks all have plastic curtains for the rain so it was an interesting ride back to town. I’m now sitting in the Blue Pumpkin drinking iced tea and eating an omelet. A little break from my ‘hectic pace’.

Tomorrow it’s back to work.

News at 11.


Saturday, September 8, 2007

Children’s Schools and Child Soldiers

Well Friday was a little different. I stayed in Siem Reap for the day and had a couple of meetings.

I went to the Volunteer Development Children’s School. What an amazing place. It was established in February 2005 by two Buddhist monks, Rathana Nn, who was tragically killed in an auto accident this past spring, and Togh Main, who wanted to give some of Siem Reap’s poorest children a future that does not depend on begging. They have worked tirelessly with the help of local and foreign volunteers and donors to provide free classes to more than 500 children, aged five to twenty. Many of the students are orphans or come from families that cannot afford the daily fee of 300 Riel ($0.10) for daily education.

I am quoting directly from their literature here. They tell the story much better than I can possibly put into words. Take a moment of your day and look at their website: . They are a truly worthwhile project.

Then I met with Aki Ra. He was planning on being in Siem Reap so I took the opportunity to meet with him “off sight”. It’s always pretty hectic at the Museum, and I needed to get his application filled out for the ISSEE course and I wanted to talk to him in more detail about his vision for the Cambodian Self Help Demining program.

We started with simple stuff, like his birth date. He doesn’t know. A teacher told him he was born in 1975, so he uses January 1, 1975 as his date of birth. A simple thing, but give it some thought. How many of you don’t know when you were born?

That makes him 32 years old. Jill, laugh all you want. (It’s an inside joke folks, don’t ask).

We talked a bit about his days in the Khmer Rouge (KR), and his “transition” to the Vietnamese army. Seems the Vietnamese would have him go out at night and hunt for food in the jungle. (Now remember, he was captured by the Vietnamese while fighting for the KR, and forced to join their army.) When he went out to hunt he’d find the KR, his old friends and fellow soldiers, doing the same thing. So what did they do? Fight it out like the enemies they were supposed to be? No. They hunted together, split the hunt, and returned to their respective camps. Then they killed each other the next day.

Don’t try and understand it. As Sherman said, “War is hell”. Lucifer must have liked hysterically.

The truck we bought the Museum last year is still running. I am amazed. After my trip in November with Aki Ra to the north, I gave it about 5 months and then figured it was toast, or rather a bucket of parts. Nope, its running fine and when we went to the river the other day, the a/c even worked. But there is a problem. It’s a Mitsubishi Montero, nice car, but quite hard to service here in Siem Reap. There are no parts. They all have to come in through Phnom Penh and that leaves Aki Ra without transportation and kicks up the repair costs substantially. So he said he was thinking about selling it and buying a Toyota. It seems like 95% of the SUVs you see around here are Toyotas. There are lots of parts and everyone works on them. He asked me if it was okay. I told him “Aki Ra, the truck is the Museum’s. You can do anything you want with it.” So I think the next time I get here he’ll be driving a Toyota. I just wish there was some way we could get in touch in with a Toyota dealer in the US and get one donated. A new truck would last so much longer than one that’s already been driven up and down the roads of Cambodia for 40,000 or 50,000 miles.

Anybody know a Toyota dealer???

I’m now writing this on Saturday morning. I was working on it last night when Becky and McKenzie from the Museum came in and started talking. Pretty soon the waiter came over and said, “Please pay your bill, we are closing.”

McKenzie left today. She is headed to Vietnam and is going to take a month long train ride all over the country and then cross over to Laos and spend a week or two there. What a great adventure. Wish I could have done that when I was 21. Oh - wait a minute. I could have done that. Different time though huh?

It hasn’t rained since I left PP on Wednesday. That’s okay since I’m spending a lot of time in tuk tusk going to and from the museum.

I am going to try and get out and se the temples at some point before I leave. In all my trips, I still haven’t seen them all. Maybe tomorrow.

More as it happens.


Thursday, September 6, 2007

Cambodian Self Help Demining

That’s Aki Ra’s vision.

He wants to put trained demining teams, made up of locals, into villages across Cambodia. He envisions training a cadre of trainers who would go to villages throughout Cambodia setting up 5 man demining teams. Fully trained, fully equipped deminers, working to clear their own land for family and friends.

This is a radical departure from the way things are done now. We’ll have to see if it can be made to happen. It’ll take time, money and a change in thinking, but it could seriously reduce the number of mines and UXOs in this country quickly. And as the plan is developed it could be exported all over the world.

World Peace! – I feel like a beauty queen!

Well let’s see, I got to the museum late this morning after picking up half a dozen small cakes from the Blue Pumpkin for Aki Ra and everyone. Pretty soon Hourt showed up with lunch. All Khmer food. I can’t tell you what it was, but it was delicious, rice, egg, vegetables, sweet chili sauce and fish. More than I need, but hey, how could I say no.

Aki Ra had been gone when I got there, but he returned around noon and everyone in the place, staff, kids, and I piled into the 2 trucks and we headed off to the river for a swim. My oh my, kids are the same all over the world, especially the boys. They climbed the first tree they saw and started jumping. Eventually they all followed Chet up a tree and most of them jumped, on dares, after Chet took the first dive – at least 30 feet into the river. Then he stood on the bank doing reverse flips into the water.

The girls all huddled together near the bank and giggled.

Aki Ra climbed a tree about 20 feet high and canon balled the river. As I said, kids are the same all over the world. Then he got out and put on a dress so he could change out of his swimsuit. That brought on shrieks of laughter, especially from Hourt.

When everyone was spent we climbed back in the trucks, the kids headed back to the Museum, and Hourt, Aki Ra, Becky, McKenzie and I, along with the Aki Ra kids, headed for a restaurant. More food. That I didn’t need. But my momma always taught me to clean my plate. Bad on her.

Back at the Museum Aki Ra and I had some time to talk and that’s when he told me about his ideas for the Self Help Demining Teams. He’s been thinking of this for 4 or 5 years.

Now we just have to make it happen!

More later -

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Siem Reap

I changed my hotel.

I’m not sure if it was the looks I got from the “interesting” group of individuals sitting in the court of the guesthouse, or if it was the “No Weapons” sign that was taped to the wall of my room, but I was definitely getting some negative vibes from the place I had originally booked in Siem Reap. I learned a long time ago to pay attention to those vibes. So I changed my hotel.

I’d read on the Internet about a hotel situated in the middle of downtown, next to the market, across the street from the river. It had good-sized rooms, a/c, which is very nice to have here, and a balcony that wrapped around the first floor. It’s called the Ta Prohm Hotel ( I had my tuk tuk driver take me there. After a bit of negotiating we agreed on a staggering rate of $25 per night for 11 nights. Of course that includes breakfast on the roof in the morning.

I checked in, changed out of my already dripping shirt and had my tuk tuk driver, Rock, run me out to the new Landmine Museum. It takes about 45 minutes to get there, but the drive is amazing; through Angkor Park and a number of little villages all set up to service the tourist trade: tables of cloths, baskets, and any assortment of souvenirs you could want. We passed several Angkor temples, but since I hadn’t paid for a pass, $40 for 2 days we couldn’t stop. Rock would lose his license if he were caught letting an unpaid tourista walk into the ruins.

We got to the museum about 3:30. They charge $1 to get in these days. There was a lot of discussion about whether to charge or just ask a donation and the final decision was to charge a buck. Some of the tourists really do not want to pay the entrance fee and one of the guides actually ripped the sign off the door. It didn’t work.

I introduced myself to the girl on the front and told her who I was and asked if Aki Ra was there. He was out building a school, wouldn’t be back until later in the day. I asked if Becky was there and they directed me to her office. As I started walking through the front door I heard a voice behind me and there was Hourt with a big grin on her face to say hi. She took to me the front office where I met the whole staff.
I’ve been carrying about 5 pounds of Strawberry Twizzlers in my bag for Becky and she was really happy to get them. She’s from Deerfield, Mass., an absolutely stunning town of old antique houses (by American standards). I would never have known, as she speaks with a pronounced British accent, having married a guy from the UK. She’s been here for four months now and she and Hourt have become good friends. You could tell just watching them talk and laugh together.

Aki Ra drove into the compound about an hour after I arrived. He was hot and sweaty having spent several days working on his new school. It’ll serve 72 kids. He is an amazing man. He’s very anxious to get back to demining, but he’s abiding by the agreement with CMAC that he get his license first.

I think he’s a little worried about the ISSEE school in the UK. His English is pretty good, but hey, who can understand a Brit?! Phil has found a translator, a Khmer man who lives in the UK to help him out during his classes. That should help a lot.

Everything is going well. There are about 16 kids living at the Museum. Some of the kids ‘graduated’ when the move was made. It’s hard to move and not everyone wanted to make the change. School starts in October and they are getting ready for the new school year.

I have my work cut out for me in the next 10 days. The museum is going to go through their initial inspection and I’ve been asked to pitch in and help them get ready for it. That starts with 90 pages of forms that need to be filled out about things of which I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever. I guess that’s why they call me a ‘consultant’. We help people do things of which we have absolutely no knowledge.

I was wondering how I’d spend 12 days in Siem Reap. Now I know.

I’m sitting in the Blue Pumpkin Cyber café, about two blocks from my hotel, writing this in between reading my emails for the day, which take several minutes to download. Ah well, the iced tea is cold, the a/c works and I sure don’t have anywhere else to go.

Enough for now. I’ll try and post again tomorrow.

Fight on.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sim Cards, Tuk Tuks and Meetings

Well I finally got a sim card for my mobile phone. In Cambodia, you have to have a government ID card or proof of residence to get a sim card for your mobile. Even though there are phone stores every block or so, and they all carry boxes of sim cards. The last time I came to PP my guide had a friend buy me a card. This time I had to fend for myself.

I found a friendly tuk tuk driver who 'knew a guy'. After some negotiations that began with the request for $100 to help him with some repairs to his tuk tuk, we agreed on $20. That covered his time and a ride around town. He bought the card with his ID (I reimbursed him for the card) and I put $20 worth of time on it. $58 later, I had a ride around town with a mobile phone that finally worked. Amazing what an Andy Jackson can accomplish.

I met with my friends, Ms. Sok Sophea, VP of Acleda Bank and her husband, Mr. In Channy, President and CEO of the bank. I talked to them about how to establish a micro loan program for the kids at the Museum who want to start their own business and about starting a recycling center in Cambodia. The micro loan program is pretty simple. The recycle center could be a pretty daunting task. They took me to lunch at the VERY nice Phnom Penh Hotel and then I headed back to my hotel to avoid the afternoon floods.

Night time is not a time to be wandering alone around Phnom Penh. This can be a pretty nasty place if you don't take some precautions. Crime and drugs combine to make the night scene a bit scary if you are not careful. I knew that but it was reinforced in my meeting with the Regional Security Officer, Andy Simpson, at the US Embassy. I met with him this morning and he was very gracious in giving me a good overview of the security situation here in Cambodia. Don't carry more than you want to lose, always travel with insurance, and stay away from the minefields.

Well, I guess 2 out of 3 isn't all that bad.

I also met with the Education Development Specialist of the USAID office in Phnom Penh, Lynn Losert. Lynn's been over here for more than 6 years and is a fountain of information about the educational system, how to help and, best of all, how to make that help effective. She also gave me some wonderful information that she researched and printed about landmine casualties in Cambodia over the last few years.

There have been more casualties from UXOs (unexploded ordinance) than from landmines. The price of scrap metal has risen a lot over the years and that has encouraged many peasants to search out UXOs, cut them open, remove the explosives and sell the casings. Only sometimes in cutting them open, they blow up. Not a good job. But it's hard to explain that to starving people. Last year when I went out with Aki Ra he blew up more UXOs than he defused landmines.

Throws another light on a recycling plant, doesn't it?

Well, its almost 4 and the rains have started. Right on time. (I sound like I've been here forever, huh?)

Tomorrow morning I head for Siem Reap and the Baphoun Guest House.

Some good news I've been holding back. An Australian, Natalie Cowx, has produced a stunning book on Aki Ra's kids. It is just remarkable. It tells the story of each of the kids who live with Aki Ra and Hourt. I'm bringing back as many as I can and we'll be selling them over the website. I'll post a cover of the photo when I return. Price is $10 plus shipping (I'll post the price inclusive). All the money, less shipping cost, will go to the Museum. I've seen the book. Natalie did an absolutely phenomenal job. Get your orders in early.

I had a funny thing happen to me on my walk across the street to the US Embassy today. I was crossing the street with another American and he asked me if was "on TDY at the Embassy." Man, that took me back too many years than I care to even think about. Gilson, that should give you a giggle.

Don't know what the internet connection is like in Siem Reap at the guesthouse, so bear with me.


Ps: Since incoming calls are free, I'm going to be very brave and give you my mobile number. Country code: 855 Number: 012-189-6644. From the US dial 011 and drop the 0. And please remember, there is a 14 hour time difference from LA. If its noon in California, its 2AM in Cambodia.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Phnom Penh

Monday Morning

Well, I thought it rained hard on Saturday. Ha - nothing like yesterday. The skies opened, thunder, lightening and I couldn't see across the street. It just came down n buckets.

Luckily it happened after I had gone out on my little shopping trip.

I left yesterday afternoon, after listening to the USC/Idaho football game on my computer, and went to the Russian Market. They call it the Russian Market because it used to carry stuff from the Eastern Block. Crowded like a souk. Shoulder to shoulder people and all the stuff you can imagine. Clothes, watches (need a $15 Rolex?), and tons of food, fresh vegetables and souvenirs. What costs you $30 in the hotels you can get for about 1/10th the price in the Russian Market.

My tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Anet, gave me his business card so I can get in touch with him anytime I need to get around town.

I stayed at the Russian Market for an hour or so and left without buying anything, and had Mr. Anet, who was waiting patiently for me at one of the entrances take me to the Central Market.

The Central Market is located in a large colonial style building in the middle of town. (What, you thought the Central Market was on the outskerts of town?) If you are looking for jewelry, watches or a sauna, this is the place. I wound up buyig just a couple of Khmer scarves and then I headed back to the hotel.

Just after I got back the skies opened and it rained for several hours.

Glad I had a book to read.

Well today I have a meeting at Acleda Bank with its MD, Mr. Inn Channy. I have a couple of things I want to go over with him.

Well, that's about it for now. Maybe more later.

Bill out

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Phnom Penh

Well, I got here.

30 hours and 3 plane rides do indeed take a toll on this old body of mine.

Had a 7 hour layover in San Srancisco and then a 12 hour flight to Taipei. A couple of hours later I was on the final leg into Cambodia.

Flying into Phnom Penh was just amazing. It's the rainy season here and the Mekong is flooding. Water everywhere. I've only been here in the dry season before and it was pretty different. It's almost hard to tell where the real Mekong is located.

I'm staying right downtown, across the street from the US Embassy where I have meetings on Tuesday with the AID Officer and the RSO (Regional Security Officer). I want to discuss how to build a recycling plant in Cambodia and I'm interested in how the RSO sees the security situation here. I've talked with Richard and Aki RA and I have traveled to some smaller villages, but always with a group or Aki Ra.

Well, I'm gonna cut this short. I am really beat.

Weather is great. About 88. It was 119 in the desert this week. Even though there is a lot of humnidity here, it is much nicer than palm Springs in August.

More later.

Bill (chilling in PP) Morse