Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cal Worthgington - Khmer Style

I am REALLY dating myself here by even referring to Cal Wortington (C'mon Down!!). Cal was a used car salesman 'par excellence' in Southern California for decades. Anyone over about 30 grew up with him.

And I found his counterpart in Phnom Penh about a block from the US Embassy on 'used car alley'...more like used car park, but whatever.

We've been using Sim Sao as a tuk tuk driver since we got here. But it's getting REAL expensive to use him every day and use fill in drivers when he is off or has found another fare. So we decided to buy a car!

I called my tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh, Yuji, and had him start looking for a 1996-98 Honda CRV. He found one for $6,700, and that was a phenomenal price.

Used cars over here mostly come from the US and they are horrendously expensive. You buy a used car in America for say $5,000. Then you ship it here for another $4,000. Then you pay 'whomever' to get it out of customs. That's another $2,000. then you have to make a profit. So a 1998 Toyota 4Runner with 100,000 miles on it that costs maybe $5,000 in the US will wind up costing you $12,000 over here.

I didn't want a 4Runner. The mpg isn't very good and we are living on a very tight budget and I don't want to spend that much.

So I found a 1998 Honda CRV. the one Yuji found for $6,700 was way gone. I found one for $8,500. But it was pretty cheesy. I finally found one for $7,500, and after checking with some Khmer friends we figured it was a pretty good price.

Then we went to the bank to get the money. Then we had to figure out how to register it to me....I don't have 1 year visa yet...story for another time. Eventually 'Cal' gave me the plates and sent me on my way.

That was Thursday. Friday morning I woke up to a dead battery. Luckily Yuji was with me. In 5 minutes he turned up with 2 kids about 12 years old who had a battery and 2 screwdrivers. They jumped me and we went battery shopping. The first 2 places we went wanted $65 for their 'Japanese' batteries. They were Korean and priced about $15 too high. The third place was honest and I bought one from them and headed back to Siem Reap.

It takes 6 hours on a bus. I made it in 4.5. I also busted a ball joint, blew a shock, and the brakes got funky. I had everything fixed in Siem Reap on Saturday. Cost me $90. Great by US standards, but I still paid the 'barrong' price.

But the car runs pretty good. I've got a check engine light that comes on. The readout is '..catalyst system efficiency below threshold...' It could be a bad converter or it could be bad gas...there is a lot of that over here. I have an American friend whose cousin owns a a garage in Siem Reap. I'll have Ronnie take me there one day next week and we'll see what he says. The guy I've been working with is pretty good, but ...

It may sound the car is a lemon, but for the price we did pretty well. I'd love to have my old Jeep Cherokee here, but I'd never find parts.

Finally ... Who wants to hold a fundraiser for CSHD?

We have the money from the USDS and we need to buy that new truck right freakin' now. so if you'd like to hold a fundraiser I can help out with some really cool ideas and stuff if you want. We've had folks do them as house parties (Hawaiian and Mama Mia), auctions and dinner parties.

Can't Hold a fundraiser? I've got another option for ya:

Adam Kirby of New Zealand is doing a 160km bicycle race around Lake Taupo. He needs sponsors. If you want to sponsor Adam and help CSHD, contact Adam at

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Difficultiy of Language

We have been in Siem Reap now for over a month and are starting to get settled into the routine, if you can call it a routine. We get up around 6 every morning, walk the dog, have breakfast and then head to the Museum. Sometimes I have to stay in town for meetings or to get things done at the printer, contacting people by computer, etc. but I try to get to the Museum 3 days a week minimum.

Then we are generally home by about 4pm. Jill's teaching schedule finishes up about 4 and it's a 45 - 60 minute tuk tuk ride back into town.

Mikki, our mix-breed Aussie, usually goes with us everywhere. She now knows that 'tuk tuk' (pronounced 'took took') means the same as '...go for a ride...' and if we're walking her and she sees a tuk tuk, she's as apt to jump in as walk past.

As to the language difficulties:

When you're walking your dog and you see people who are nervous about animals, you tell your dog to 'come here.' We say "Come Mikki"

Well it turns out 'come' in Khmer means 'bite'.

So for the first week or so we were in Cambodia people would see Mikki and we'd say "come Mikki" and they'd go screaming away. We couldn't figure it out.

Finally, a bi-lingual friend heard us call Mikki, borke into laughter and said "say something else when you want to call your dog."

The locals call Mikki 'ch'gai barrong'...foreign dog. We correct them and say 'ch'gai Siem Reap'...Siem Reap dog. They think that's hysterical. They all want to know how old she is and when we tell them 'braum mooi' (6) they are astounded. Dogs do NOT live to be 6 in Cambodia.

It was another holiday today. Independence Day (from France). Now it is back to work.

I'll probably go to Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Back on Friday. I need to go to a couple of Ministries and start some inquiries. You never finish them on your first visit. You only start them on your first visit. And I have GOT to buy a car. I can't rely on tuks tuks to get me around town. We'll probably wind up with a small SUV and a moto (scooter). We should be able to get a 10-12 year old Honda CRV for around $6-7,000. That's the plan anyway. And its not LMRF money. This is MY money.

Then Jill and I have to do a border run around the end of the month. We came in on a tourist visa and we need a business visa, so we have to leave the country and re-enter. Poipet is only about 2.5 hours away, so that will be our detination. Leave at 6am and get back around 2...we hope! Cambodia and Thailand are not happy with each other right now and Thailand keeps threatening to close the borders....I need to find a phone number....

That's all for now.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dogtags in the Jungle

It has been a very hectic and heady couple of weeks. We had a very nice story in the Desert Sun, and there a wonderful story on Aki Ra featured on And the people we visited in Hong Kong are still writing checks for the Museum and Child Relief Centre, so that is all really good.


But let me tell you about what happened last week.

I got an email from a good friend, Gary Christ, who works with the Angkor Association for the Disabled. They help landmine victims and have about 4 dozen people living at their facility in Siem Reap. The man who runs the organization had someone walk in the door with what appeared to be human remains, along with two dogtags from American soldiers. They wanted to return them to the proper authorities but didn't know how to go about it. And they didn't want to get in trouble. They had known about these dogtags for several years but hadn't done anything about them.

Geary emailed me because he knew I was in Cambodia. I contacted some people I know at the American Embassy and was put in touch with the MIA Researcher working here.

Keith Lane, a photojournalist from Maine, and I visited AAD and saw both the remains and the dogtags. We went together so we had verifying witnesses as to what we saw. I photographed the dogtags (not the remains) and sent the information on to the Embassy to confirm what information was given to them.

Then we waited.........

I went to several websites and searched the names. They were not among any of the KIA or MIA from the war, but that isn't necessarily definitive. I have a good friend whose brother died in Vietnam. She went to the opening of the Vietnam Memorial in DC and his name was not on the Wall. It is now.

Well... eventually it turned out that these were just a pair of lost dogtags that someone had found in an area where there had been a lot of fighting. From talking to the farmers who brought them in, we think the dogtags were actually found in Vietnam, but the border in the northeast is a bit, shall we say, fluid.

The researcher from the embassy told me there are thousands of dogtags lost during the decade or more in which we had troops in SEA. And they are turning up all the time. If you ever go to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) you will find American dogtags in dozens of souvenir shops. The government used to think there was a little machine shop somewhere in Vietnam pumping these things out, but now they believe them to be real, lost during the war.

So the bottom line is some 65 year old Vietnam Vet could get his identity stolen because he lost his dogtags in Vietnam when he was 19 years old. Dogtags have your SSN on them. Wouldn't that be kick in the behind. Getting bit by Vietnam 40 some years after you thought you had left it behind.

Well more later..........

Babu from the jungle

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

From the Palm Springs Desert Sun - nice stuff!

November 4, 2009
Local man makes good on vow to help rid Cambodia of minesA world traveler, Morse has moved to Southeast Asia on a mission to help his new neighbors

Maggie Downs
The Desert Sun

The scene is bucolic. Swollen clouds hang in a technicolor blue sky. Schoolchildren, on break for lunch, ride their bikes in the distance. A cow grazes on lush grass next to a dirt road.

Only when you notice the objects lining the path do things seem slightly askew.


They stand on end, ushering visitors into The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Center.

It's a modest $2 to enter the facility, and the paper ticket reassures visitors, “Everything on display has been inspected 100 percent free from explosives.

The displays are horrific. The centerpiece of the structure is a glass gazebo stacked with thousands of landmines in all shapes and sizes. Every room opens another chapter in the bloody genocide that stole more than 20 percent of the country's population between 1970 and 1979.

Even more horrific is the number of explosives that remain active in Cambodia. Though it's impossible to know exactly how many landmines still pepper the jungles and fields, estimates range from 6 to 10 million.

These weapons kill and maim thousands of children, farmers and other civilians every year.

That's why Palm Springs resident Bill Morse volunteered to help.

Clearing mines
The museum was established by Aki Ra, a former child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. In the 1980s, he sometimes placed up to 1,000 landmines per day.

He doesn't like to talk about that period, though. Aki Ra is focused on making the future better, not dwelling on the past.

Aki Ra has since devoted his life to making his country safe again. He has now cleared more than 50,000 landmines, an expensive, tedious, dangerous task — and one that he did by hand until six years ago.

That's when Morse entered the picture.

Morse and his wife, Jill, are adventurers by nature. The couple has traveled the globe, leading tours through Africa, China, Thailand, Peru, Israel, Tahiti, New Zealand, even trekking to the base camp at Mount Everest.

When they went to Cambodia, though, they had no idea how much their lives would change.

Morse heard stories about Aki Ra — who was seeking out and deactivating landmines with a stick —from a friend who was raising money to buy a metal detector for him.

Morse was instantly impressed by this man. Beyond running a landmine museum and clearing explosives, Aki Ra was also caring for dozens of children who were brutally wounded by mines.

Here was someone willing to place his life on the line in order to help his neighbors live a better life.

Nothing could be more admirable.

Morse told Aki Ra he wanted to help.

The Cambodian said he'd heard that story before.

“No, really,” Morse insisted. “I'm going to help you.”

And he made good on his promise.

Getting things done

Morse is one of those people who chips away steadily to get things done. As proof, look to the 11 marathons he has under his belt or ask him about the time he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

So as soon as he made up his mind to assist Aki Ra, Morse got busy.

He sold his sales and marketing consulting business in Palm Springs, then started spending about 8 months a year in Cambodia.

He helped Aki Ra get international certification and a license from the Cambodian government to legally remove the mines. He accompanied Aki Ra in the jungle, sought out explosives, helped disarm them. And he established the Landmine Relief Fund, becoming its director.

When back in the desert, Morse hosted events at Peabody's Cafe, raising thousands of dollars for landmine clearing efforts.

He also worked tirelessly, writing grant proposals, calling government officials and meeting with other groups to secure funds for his organization.

The work recently paid off with a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement.

Part of the grant money is earmarked for the purchase of a much-needed truck. It will also be used to establish a rapid response team that can quickly respond to villagers who find mines and need assistance.

“It gives us some breathing room for the things we want to do,” Morse said.

Looking toward the future
Last month Bill and Jill Morse packed up their belongings and turned their desert house over to renters. These days home is a small place in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The couple will be living there full-time for the next two years. Maybe more.

They figure it's the least they can do for an entire country that lives each day in fear.

“My wife and I have been able to travel the world and we've been astounded again and again to find that those who suffer most from our wanton disregard for basic human safety are often the ones who greet us with the biggest smiles, the warmest handshakes and the most gracious hospitality,” Morse said.

“We are the lucky ones.”

They have embraced Aki Ra's example: Rather than focusing on the ghosts of Cambodia's past, they look toward the country's future.

Maggie Downs is a features reporter for The Desert Sun. She can be reached at

Additional Facts
About landmines
Landmines are controversial because they are indiscriminate weapons, harming soldier and civilian alike. They are the one weapon that continues to kill long after wars are over and enemies have reconciled. Because they remain active for up to 150 years, they also render land unusable for many decades.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines campaigned successfully to prohibit their use,
culminating in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and
Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, known informally as the Ottawa Treaty.

As of 2007, a total of 158 nations have agreed to the treaty.

Thirty-seven countries have not agreed to the ban, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia
and the United States.

Help the effort
What: The Landmine Relief Fund
Why: In Cambodia, about 1 in 250 have lost limbs to landmines. Unable to find work, many victims live in extreme poverty. Countless others have lost their lives.
To donate or get more information:

About the museum: The Cambodian Landmine Museum is located about 20 miles from Siem Reap, on the way to the famed pink sandstone temple Banteay Srei. To find out more, visit

Read the Blog
Read Bill Morse' blog: News from the Jungle, The minefields of Cambodia