Merry Christmas from Phnom Penh

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone back home!  Although it’s just morning time  of Christmas for those in Los Angeles and Vancouver, it’s nearing the end of the day around 10:30 PM for me here.  It’s been an interesting Christmas Day though, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to blog more about it!

This is the first Christmas that I’ve spent away from my family in Vancouver, Canada.  Many years ago, my family went on vacation to Thailand, and Santa came by to drop gifts off in our hotel in Bangkok.  No such luck for me this year.  Regardless, I jumped onto the day bright and early by starting out with the Christmas Church service with the Phnom Penh Church of Christ.

Heading to Church

The service was held at the Ministry of Education because of the enormous size of the congregation.  Singing, dancing, rapping, and break dancing were all featured by the kids.  I wish I had a video of it to post up because it’s so hard for me to accurately describe Christian rap combined with break dance (the visual is still strange in my head).

Nativity Play

After service we went to grab lunch at a place called “The Living Room.”  Highly recommended by the Fetherman’s, who I talked about in my previous post, the place had a definite western feel and served westernized cuisine.  I had chicken pesto spaghetti with homemade pesto sauce – it was delicious.  Sitting under the balmy weather and palm trees made it a great little spot for lunch.  Additionally, the place serves as a social enterprise that “aims to offer employment, training, and fair working conditions to Cambodians graduating from NGOs working with vulnerable and at risk groups.”

I took the afternoon to visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Visiting the site where so many horrific atrocities took place was definitely a deep experience.  It was really similar to what it felt like to visit Dachau in Germany, except the events at Tuol Sleng took place very recently.  The Khmer Rouge regime had taken meticulous photographs and records of their victims during their reign; this served to help identify exactly what each prisoner went through at Tuol Sleng.  Additionally, they’ve got harrowing pictures of each victim posted – absolutely incredible what was done there on the grounds of an old high school.

Although I took a tuk tuk to Tuol Sleng, I decided to be adventurous and take a moto back to the hotel.  A motel is basically a motorcycle or scooter that you ride on for transpiration.  In the traffic of Phnom Penh, this becomes a trickier prospect given the traffic conditions and lack of adherence to driving rules.  Regardless, I made it back to the hotel in one piece, and I wasn’t turned off from the experience.

KFC in Phnom Penh

I went over to the Russian Market with Christian and his wife Idang where I ended up haggling for and purchasing a new belt. I’m looking forward to going back and getting some souvenirs and maybe another belt & wallet.  Across the street from the Russian Market is a Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC has several stores here in Phnom Penh, which really surprised me.  I walked inside the restaurant and took a look at the menu.  Yes, they’ve got the Colonel’s secret spice, but their value menus included rice and fried egg.  I wish they had that option back home!  It also looked like Yum! was doing a lot for the World Hunger Programme, donating a fair amount of money to sustainable food and access to food.  It was great seeing a company that recruits heavily at USC Marshall doing cool things all the way on the other side of the world.

Dinner Comes in Coconut Form

I had dinner at a place called Samaky near my guest home.  I returned to Khmer cuisine and ordered Amok for dinner, which is a meat dish served in a coconut (pictured above).  If you come to Cambodia you have to try this dish out, it’s fantastic.  This was the second time that I had this dish and I do not regret having ordered it twice.

It’s nearing 10:30 PM now and I’m about to sit down to crank out work for the hospital.  I’m looking forward to settling in tomorrow for Day 2 and starting our time & motion studies of the microbiology lab.  Hopefully what we’re doing will help them bring down their costs in the long run.  Talking with the hospital staff during Day 1 and seeing many of them at church service today really reinforced for me the importance of effective hospital administration.  It’s my hope that they see a few more volunteers looking to come and take on hospital administration rather than more doctors/nurses/medical students.  There’s just so much to be done here!

You can stay updated with my photos by checking out the public album link.