Goodbye Pousat: Will love and miss all my new friends forever

I made many wonderful lifetime friends in Pousat.

And I am greatful for it.

A one night say got extended into a full week, and I was much a better man for it.

Thank you to all I met, spoke with, had coffee chats with, dined with, went to the concert with, met randomly on the street, those of you who helped this ambless traveler, and those of you who invited me into your homes for meals .. thank you, thank you, thank you.

It was a most memorable visit and a most wonderful Chinese New Year.

I will see all of you again soon.

Good wishes to all of you and good luck with all your loves and life until I see you again.

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Chinese New Year Day (Year of the Dragon)

Today was a fun long day of food and drink, and more food and drink, and meeting friends and relatives, and more food and drink.

I know that tomorrow will be a “rest day” to catch from so much hospitality from my hosts and friends.

A wonderful day.

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A sunset in Pousat

One of the favorite activities of persons living in Pousat: enjoying its wonderful sunsets.

I usually cycle around town enjoying the sunsets from different views and taking photos.

One of the city parks is designed to look like a ship. Tonight, in the evening’s sunset, it looked like a ship cruising down the river.

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A new generation

For the past two days, Mr. Soksan has shared stories of his life with me.

He is 72 years old and lives in Pousat. His wife passed away recently and now he lives with his son-in-law and his younger sister.

When one has the privilege to meet someone like Mr. Soksan in Cambodia, one has to feel honored. You have a window to history sitting with you.

And so it was with Mr. Soksan. He told me of his youth in Phenom Penh as a student monk when he went to the pagoda at age 13.

He progressed to being a monk and lived mostly in Siem Reap province, close to the Angkor Wat temples.

There were very few visitors to the temples back then (unlike the millions who visit Angkor Wat every year now), but he did tell me that many journalists came to see the temples during the problems of 1943.

He reminisced with me about his bus trip to Vietnam in 1987.
“There are a lot of bicycles in Ho Chi Minh city,” he told me.

We had our chats in his restaurant in Pousat, where most of the work is done now by family members but he is still the boss and all the money goes through him. “We are going to be closed the next five days,” he remarked to me, “because of Chinese New Year. My son-in-law’s mother is Chinese, so every time this year we go to Kampot or Sihanoukville or Bokor Mountain. I think this year we are going to Kampot.”

He had come to Pousat province when he was in his thirties. He met his wife. They married and had three childen. “I had only women,” he jokingly told me. “No sons.”

But the love for his daughters is obvious. As is their respect for him. During our talks, the eldest daughter would come sit and listen to his stories with the same interest as I. She and I both appreciated this opportunity to hear about Cambodia’s past.

I asked about roads in the past.

“Life was very difficult. It was very difficult to go anywhere. Now, Cambodia has roads. But back then, there were no roads. We could not go to Phenom Penh and back in a day. Life was hard then. Now, life is easy. I like living in Pousat now. It is very easy to live here,” he said with a smile.

He and his wife built their house. And during the years that passed, they would see many things. The war and turmoil. The arrival of the peacekeepers, and then the arrival of tourists like me.

He and I had our pictures taken and then he remarked, “My grandsons! Take photos of my grandsons.”

And so I did.

We looked at the photos on the camera and laughed.

Then it was time for me to leave. Lunch business was over. The family would now rest until evening when it would be serving the dinner customers.

I shook his hand and said goodbye. (Later, I would remember I should have parted by saying “Jemriablia” with the Cambodian customary two hands folded beneath the chin and a slight bowing at the fingertips.)

Outside, while getting on my bike, I looked up at the sign above the restaurant. “The restaurant’s name means ‘happiness’,” he had told me.

Inside, everyone had gone off to nap. A couple of family members were picking up some plates.

I looked back at the road and thought about a nap myself. There was not much traffic right now. I left and biked off into the sun and heat of the midday.

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Yearbook photos: ‘Sustainable Cambodia’ school in Pousat, Cambodia

Today, I visited on of Sustainable Cambodia’s schools in Pousat.

Funded by outside donors and grants as well help from Rotary International, ‘Sustainable Cambodia’ helps to bring education to children in a rural province of northwest Cambodia.

Volunteers help with teaching and operations. You can visit their website at http://www.sustainablecambodia.org/

Today, yearbook class pictures were being taken.

The volunteer coordinator gave me a tour of the schools grounds and told me much about their mission.

Today was a happy day for volunteers, staff, and most of all … the students.

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Discovering Cambodia: Pousat — Cycling the rural roads

I am writing this as I sit on the side of a rural road west of Pousat town.

Music from a Buddhist wedding is playing in the distance but can be heard easily here. No mp3 player is required for today’s ride. Music seems to fill the entire countryside. The sound melds with the landscape of coconut trees, rice fields, and water buffaloes … like a movie soundtrack is playing.

The ride today has been wonderful. My bicycle from halfway around the world has seen a lot of Cambodia and has seen a lot of special things on roads like these.

I have made it a practice to spend extra time in towns such as Pousat. Pousat is the type of place that other travelers simply juggernaut through but never stay or really visit if they do spend a night. My way of traveling has allowed me to find the magic in towns like Pousat. And I have found that the magic comes easy. Like today.

Cycling a dusty dirt road, I discovered a forgotten but beautiful pagoda, visited one of Cambodia’s historical sites that few see, and simply enjoyed seeing daily life in rural Cambodia.

Today has been a wonderful day.

[NOTE: This is where I had to stop writing the above snippet. Several of the locals from the houses across the street came over to say hello, so I had to stop and greet them.

First, an older gentleman came walking from his home across the street. Probably in his eighties, he was so friendly and wanted to see the bicycle. We were joined a moment later by his friend who rode up on a motorbike, who also wanted to see the bicycle. They were interested in the bike’s narrow tires, the brake levers, and laughed about the light on the handlebars. (Most Khmer bikes do not have lights or reflectors. A basket is usually the only accessory.)

Then a mother from across the street brought her little boy over to stare at me in wonder. A few more people joined as well as well and soon a small group had formed. They laughed at this foreigner on his bike with goodhearted giggles.

I used whatever Khmer I could conjure in my efforts to converse. Then, I parted. It really was a wonderful day.]

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Islam in Cambodia

Although Cambodia is mostly a Buddhist country, about ten percent of the population is Muslim.

Cambodia has several Muslim communities across the country.

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A sunset in Kampong Chnang: Tonle Sap Lake

A beautiful night to reflect on life.

Simplicity.

The trail to the shore of Tonle Sap Lake

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A delicious lunch

A Khmer friend showed me one of the local favorites at his aunt’s restaurant.

Delicious!

The ingredients arrive

Add the cooking oil

Add the vegetables

Then grill the meat

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Schools in Cambodia

Under the Khmer Rouge, all schools were closed or destroyed. Any remaining buildings were turned into pigs styes. Mass graves surrounded schools across the country. It was a sad time.

Today, Cambodia is rebuilding.

And part of that rebuilding is the education of the nation’s youth. Everywhere you go in Cambodia, you will see public schools. Education is free for all children, up to completion of the 12th grade.

A day at one of those schools:

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