Follow the Sun....

A diary of Leigh & Rita's trip to the USA, Cook Islands, New Zealand, Australia,Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and a little add on, Barcelona.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Adios Barca

Adios indeed.. TEFL course is finished (all bar the drinking). We are now qualified teflers.
It was tough. There was lots of work, 7 or 8 teaching practices and constant projects to keep handing in. Oh - and then there was the grammar exam. But we´ve got through it and will both be certified tomorrow. Not before time.

Barca is still fine - it´s been surprisingly cold at night, but now it´s beginning to warm up - in readiness for summer.

We´re returning to Blighty on Saturday. Back to Spinneybrook Way and a bit of stability, but I guess it won't be long before we´re on the road again.

It's been a really good course. Excellent teachers, lot's of support and really good crowd of fellow students.

When we set off on the course there was 5 Americans - Dale, Elisabeth, Geoff, Luke and Tricia.
Then there was Lucy (Irish), Rod (Scottish) and the rest of us (Briny, Anna, Dan, Sophie, Rita and me) who are all English.

Me and Rita are the oldies - old enough to be everyone´s mum & dad. We´re not, but I guess that if we were we'd have even less money and Rita would be very fat. Also, I wouldn't have called a son of mine Geoffrey (although he's a great bloke).

Dale had already done a load of stuff for the course on the Internet, so he didn't have to attend the last couple of weeks (save coming in for his grammar test).
Luke, well Luke. He absented himself on day 2, came in really late two days later, fell ill over the weekend, missed another couple of classes and then seemed to be pulling himself round a bit.
Come grammar test day (Wednesday), no sign of Luke.

He´s not been seen since, but has put in a complaint about one of our tutors (Lisa), who is actually sh!t hot at her job, and now he's demanding his money back. He won't get it.
He seems to have some problems, does Luke.

Tomorrow night (Friday 30th) there is a heavy drinking session on the cards. We´ve been realtively moderate so far, no staying out after midnight (or not much), but if I can get a good night's sleep tonight I could be up for a few beverages.

Rita's just come out of her final teaching session - so we're both done now. Mine was earlier this evening and wasn't brilliant. I think Rita's was good. It was our own materials projects tonight.

I based mine around ´the English Pub' and I'd set up this shove ha'penny type game as a sort of activate for the students. You never know which group of people you are going to be teaching and mine turned out to be the least likely set of Shove Ha'penny players. They may have been around in the heyday of the game, but they certainly were not in England.

There were seven women - aged between about 55 and 75 - and one bloke. Suffice to say it was all a little chaotic.

Picture the scene - there´s a big square of card marked out as a football pitch in the middle of the table. There's me asking two teams of middle/old aged people to gather round.
On the table there's 5 coins. One serves as the ball, two serve as ´strikers´and there are two goalies.

I ask the first question 'what's the past simple tense of stop' , 'stopped' is the instant answer.
Oh - that wasn't too difficult. Team A get to scrape there coins across the pitch. 'What's the
past simple tense of kneel', 'Knelt'. Oh - that wasn´t too difficult either. Team 'B' to go.

And so it went.

I thought I was getting an elementary group to teach and all these were advanced students, so every question I had prepared they knew (past tense of know) the answer to .
As the object of the game was for the team who answered correctly to have a shove, they ended up shoving the coins backward and forward for a good 10 minutes, before I blew time and called it a draw. Bloody Hell, I'm tired now.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Barcelona - TEFL Course

Yes, yes the fun is over. Or maybe not, Barca´s looking beautiful and it´s sunny and 18C today.

We´ve been back to the UK for just over two weeks and stayed with friends and relatives, opened lots of bad news post (not really bad news - just things to do and bills to pay). As a spur of the moment thing, though, we have signed up for a one month TEFL course in Barcelona. That´s where we are now - in the computer Lab at the college to be exact. We seem to be about twice as old as all the other pupils on the course, which surprised me a bit.
I expected to see other late Gappers on the course.

I doubt whether this will be kept up as a daily blog, as we´ve got some work to do, apparently!

We´re back in the UK on the weekend of the 24th March for Esther & Adrian´s wedding in Southampton (Esther is Leigh´s neice) but actually arrive back for real the weekend after. If Spinneybrook´s not let, we will move in there. If it is let, we´ll resume our former Paddy & Max lives, the Mad Nomadic Merrix!

Hi Peops, Rita here! Oh yes, Work to do. This is day one of our course and we are plunged in with some Bright Young Things all in their mid-twenties. We could be their parents! They are all alarmingly confident and extrovert. We had to teach to our fellow-classmates today for approx. 4 minutes ´"teaching" them some skill but we were warned we must not "lecture". Our subject matter was to be our own. Leigh´s subject was how to organise a Pub Quiz and my subject was how to fold a Vietnamese pancake roll. I demonstrated this with a sheet of A4. Mine was singularly unimpressive compared to our "Confident Bright Young Things" all of whom appeared to have a wealth of skills to draw upon. Who cares - we got through it! This evening we have our first session of observing an experienced teacher in a real class for 45 minutes - and then we all whizz off for some TAPAS courtesy of our Tutor.

Our accommodation is just fine. We have one small bedroom and shared bathroom with a great shower. We are in a house of 3 school teachers all in their 30´s. The area though central is really first class and very safe. The house is clean, tidy and well organised and the library opposite us is fantastically modern, large and well equipped. Also there are parks nearby for studying and exercising (if one has a mind to). So, all in all, it is looking very promising but we suspect that it will not be without its seriously challenging moments, i.e. there is a 3 hour Grammar exam in week 4 of the course and if you fail this, then you fail the course! On Wednesday we start our Teaching Practise for real with real Spanish students. Oh, Mon Dieu! Sometimes these things that strike one "as a good idea at the time" maybe a bloody bad idea when one has one´s got their "CAN`·T DO" head on (i.e most of the time!). Oh well, I guess life is for living...(precisely so, so what on earth are we doing here, putting ourselves through it...?)

More tomorrow if not too swamped by HOMEWORK and studying GRAMMAR:

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Singapore - then home

We arrive in Singapore at 6:45 and take a shuttle bus to the hotel from the airport.

It's very hot & humid, but the good new is that the hotel's got a swimming pool.

The bad news is that everything's so expensive in the hotel. A 33 ml can of Tiger beer in the mini bar is £2, Vietnam was 0.30p. All the bell-boys hang around for tips.
We decide to find somewhere cheaper, but the hotel's not too well situated, so after strolling along a dual carriageway we end up buying food in a garage.

A further shock was in store when I tried to go into the hotel bar and was pulled up on dress code (was wearing shorts). I wouldn't mind, but as we were going in the bar a big very obvious transvestite was leaving (of his/her own accord). Is there something I should know?

In the morning we take the shuttle bus to the shopping area and end up buying a small travel laptop (something we'd been talking about since day one of the holiday). Bit late for this adventure.

One more night in the hotel and then we're off...14 hour flight to Blighty.

Arriving at Heathrow, the contrast between Changi airport (singapore) and Terminal three at Heathrow is marked.
Heathrow is disorganised, extremely scruffy and unwelcoming. God knows what first impressions new visitors to England get. You can't even get a minicab taxi without dialling for it and then it cost us £12 for a 4 mile journey.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cambodian temples & Phnom Penh (again)

Anghkor Wat - dusk
Temple in the jungle

February 7 2007
We booked a taxi driver and a guide for the day to take us around some of the Anghkor Wat Temples .
Our tour guide is 36 years old , so was a very young child during the Khmer Rouge era. He told us that he is still very weak as a result of the constant malnutrition he suffered in that time. His twelve year old brother died of malnutrition.
He also told us that the medical problems generated by this under-nourishment are passed on to the next generation.
It may seem very depressing, our visit to Cambodia, but it was all extremely interesting and revealing as well. It all gained particular revelance for the pair of us as we both had read four separate books on Cambodia. (First they killed my father, Stay alive my son, The Pol Pot regime and the Killing Fields). Not your average bedtime reading.
February 8th
Day off from Temples - wat a relief.
February 10th - Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
We decided to take the bus today, rather than subject ourselves to the Bullet.
Arrived back at the Anise hotel (recommended), early afternoon, and were re-united with some of our luggage that we had left previously left in Phnom Penh.
Rita met a New Zealand woman who had set up her own tour business in Cambodia. She had also helped finance and rebuild a school. Previously the school had no toilets and a teacher/pupil ratio of 1:100.
Now the teacher/pupil ratio is 1:30 and the school has toilets. She managed to raise £50,000 from her contacts in NZ and project manage the job from Cambodia, using her Cambodian contacts. All this between the ages of 63 & 70. Food for thought and inspiration to be taken.
February 11th
Up early to Fly to HCMC from Phnom Penh and then on to Singapore.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Lovely boating weather..

Luxury air conditioned cabin
Chaos unloading the boat

trying to push the boat out of the mud

February 7 2007 Siem Reap

We’d been told that there were some famous temples in Siem Reap. I have to say, I am not very interested in ancient temples, but as we were in Cambodia, it seemed like something that we should do.

Now that we are in Phnom Penh, which lies around 220 miles to the south of Siem Reap, we had a quick look at the transport options.

Option 1 – most expensive – was to fly – hardly worth it for such a short trip.
Option 2 – cheapest – take the bus (7 hour journey)
Option 3 – Take the boat (the Bullet!) - $24 each, seemed a nice thing to do on a fine sunny day, so this is what in our infinite ignorance we chose. Accordingly we book the Boat trip for Wednesday, 7.02.07 and it leaves at 7am from the harbour, about 30 minutes drive from our hotel.

Rita will explain.
Soon after we get on the boat and find our allocated seats we decide for very good reason to travel up on deck. We noticed that many of the seated passengers looked aghast, and quizzical and I heard a German tourist say ‘This is not what you’d expect is it?’ Before long everyone is competing for space on the deck area. The inside of the boat resembles the inside of a small aircraft with seating 2-abreast either side of an aisle accommodating approximately 80 passengers. It has the claustrophobic environs of a submarine, and it is cramped and evil smelling. I later discover that the single toilet at the back of the seating area is responsible for the emanating stench. There was no escape route from within, and no life jackets or dinghies in sight anywhere and no safety instructions of any kind issued, and just as I was making these unnerving observations, the engine roared and we were off. It was really crowded on deck and I was wondering how I would manage to spend 7 hours in this one position and escape boredom and pins and needles or leg cramps. I need not have worried because as the morning wore on people started to shift their positions and move around a bit – you did have to get someone ‘to save’ your place though otherwise you would return to an even smaller area as encroachment was a real issue. Not able to hold on any longer, I had to push my way through the throng and make my way to the toilet which meant going inside. (Inside the boat there were only two passengers, both sleeping, everyone else was up top). To my dismay the toilet was of the squatting variety and placed up on a plinth of sufficient height to make it the least female-user-friendly toilet in the whole universe! - Note from LM : When I went to the toilet, I opened the door and a young lady was squatting up there (the lock was bust), most unnerving for both of us, as she was at eye level , When I did come to use it though, I discovered that it was at quite a covenient height for a gentleman to relieve himself.
As Rita was saying we decided to take the 'roof ' option along with 98% of the other passengers. It was a choice between that or drawing the thick diesel fumes into your lungs and risking certain death if the boat should capsize. If the boat should capsize? Why should that happen?Well, reading my $3 copy of the Cambodia Lonely Planet Guide, it tells me that the boat has sunk on occasion in the dry season, that it has no safety measures in evidence (true) and that the majority of passengers will choose to sit on the roof (true again). Reading a different publication, it tells me that the service has been suspended indefinitely. So what's this we're on?
I relayed this comforting information to an American guy I was talking to on the boat. He was a confident much travelled man, but expressed some trepidation on receiving this news. His travelling partner was a Vietnamese woman who left Vietnam back in 1970 to live in the States. She married an American (not him). She was on her way to visit her sister in Vietnam whom she had not seen since childhood. She was recording her trip for a newspaper back in North Carolina.
The first part of the boat journey turned out to be the most interesting scenically as we were still on the river, rather than the huge lake that we later joined. I think we were on the Tonle Sap river, which merges with the Mekong in Phnom Penh.
There was lots of human activity on the river. Floating fishing villages, small fishing vessels, people eking out their subsistence level lives, oh and dogs - there seemed to be lots of dogs.
Dogs in boats, dogs on rafts, dogs in the fishing villages and dogs swimming across the river.
After about three hours of the journey, during which I'd spent an interesting and pleasant hour chatting to the Vietnamese reporter, the boat slowed to almost a stop and the man at the helm, started waving his arms and shouting across to a fisherman on a very flat looking craft about 50 metres away. The fisherman gestured back, indicating the line that our boat should follow. Two minutes later our boat juddered to a complete standstill and there was a putrifying smell of engine fumes coupled with black clouds emanating from the rear of our boat. It would appear that something was amiss.
Next thing the boat lurched violently to one side and I expected to hear the cry of 'women and children first'. Unfortunately though there was not a single lifebelt, let alone a lifeboat aboard this vessel.
People began to get worried. Rita expecting the worst removed her shoes and took from her handbag her passport, bank cards and posh earrings putting them in her pockets and ear lobes respectively. All this is executed with the precision of the condemned. Clearly she is not convinced there are no pockets in a shroud! However, we soon discovered that the Deep, forboding and uninviting though is was, was not drowning-deep.
One of the crew members had pitched himself overboard and was now wading chest high in the fetid water (I guess it was). He was obviously testing the depth and trying to find a passage for the now stranded boat to follow. Did this happen often?
The boat then unexpectedly lurched to the other side as the driver attempted to dredge his way out of the mud. This action was again accompanied by strong engine fumes and black smoke.
I have to say, I was wondering if we'd all have to abandon ship and wade/swim to the side.
We were at least 50 metres from the shore, though, and I'm not sure what perils lurked below the surface (leeches for sure).
Just as crew and passengers alike were beginning to despair a small flat boat pulled up alongside our stricken vessel.
After a brief conversation with a guy on the fishing boat, a crew member on our boat bade the fishing vessel to pull alongside.
Next thing we knew, some of us were being ordered off the 'bullet' onto the fishing boat.
I had the dubious honour of being the first one ordered off. I didn't know whether this was to prove a good thing or not, but certainly I resolved to start my diet on Monday! Rita saw me on this boat and asked me what I was doing. Next thing, she was ushered off and joined me on the boat. When there were in the region of 20 people on the 'rescue' vessel, the fishing boat man cast a line to the stricken boat. The line was secured and the fishing vessel than began to drag the boat out of the mud and into deeper waters. Once the boat was free, there was an almighty cheer and much clapping (in relief, rather than admiration, methinks).
We passengers on the flat boat then had to clamber back on to the Bullet. One of my fellow evacuees was nearly decapitated by a swinging piece of wood as we re-embarked. I don't think it would have made the papers here though if he had.
Anyway, we're back on board now. The Vietnamese lady is silently weeping, obviously distressed by all this comotion.
But she does find her voice again after about an hour and continues her recordings. I hope she found something interesting to say about the boat trip
There were no more major incidents on the boat until we docked at a village at the end of the Tonle Sap lake (15 kms south of Siem Reap). We were told that when we arrived at the dock, there would be a taxi to take us to our hotel (OK, OK, We all need a bit of comfort in our lives).
Sure enough, as the boat lurched up to the quayside (using term loosely here, should read rickety planks on stilts) ahead of us in a mob of about 50 others, there was a man with the name 'MERICK' writ large on a piece of paper.
So all we had to do now was collect our luggage (one big rucksack at this point, as 2nd big rucksack being stored in Phnom Penh), connect with our Name-holder and be driven to our hotel.
The first major problem was to retrieve our luggage. All the passengers were crowded around the perimeter of the boat waiting for their luggage to emerge. The luggage was being flung on to the top of the boat at both ends. None of the passengers could move, so unless by some miracle your lugage was on top and you were next to it and furthermore you were able to exit the boat, then you were stuck. A lot of people on the boat didn't even realise that the luggage was appearing at front and rear and so stayed glued to the end of the boat that they were on expecting at sometime to be re-united with their bag/s. The result of this streamlined operation was Impasse. No-one could move, no-one could see their own luggage and everyone was reluctant to leave the boat without their luggage.
Rita overhead a couple of well-spoken Brits : "What the hell is going on, where in the world do you think we are?" he asked his mate. "Cambodia" came the reply laden with sarcastic emphasis on each syallble.
Another Brit was more forthright : "Come on, let's get this fucking thing moving".
I decided to leave the boat. But then found myself pinned against a wall and actually causing more of an obstruction than I had been previously. Rita had made her way down the boat and eventually emerged closely pursued by some Cambodian fellow who was carrying our rucksack.
"I'll take that now" I offered, but the chap carrying the bag was not to be dispossessed and continue to carry it until we met with our taxi driver.
The taxi turned out to be a tuk-tukk, but that's ok, that's quite a good way to travel. As our bag-carrier man put the bag on the tuk-tukk, I reached in my wallet for a few riels (Cambodian currency) and gave him about the equivalent of 20p. OK, I know, that's not much, but for him it's a decent tip. "One dollar" he demanded. "Not worth one dollar" I said (he'd carried the bag about 100 metres at most). "One Dollar". At this point, I began to get a bit annoyed and Rita decided to intervene. It turned out though, that we couldn't give him a dollar as we only had a couple of $20 notes and he couldn't change them. In the end the tuk-tukk driver gave some money to go away.
Our drive to Siem Reap was along very dusty unmade roads through villages which looked one step down from rural Vietnam in terms of poverty. We eventually made it to our hotel in Siem Reap and both went for a much needed lie down in a darkened room. Oh, the stress of it all exclaims Rita, relieving the tipping of the boat and now enjoying the peace and safety that is our hotel room.
Turns out this hotel is very comfortable though and has an excellent swimming pool. What a's not just all about swimming you see, clearly the conditions are everything!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Phnom Penh

Monday February 5th 2007

We're off again - blimey where are we now?

I'll tell you. On the 7 a.m. bus from HCMC to Phnom Penh.

This is a good bus, for a change. Air conditioned, pig and hen free and room to stretch one's legs. Things are looking up.

The Cambodian Officials at the border crossing were everything that you might expect. Surly, non-communicative, passive-aggressive. All the things that help give you feel good about the country that you are about to enter.

When our bus left the border crossing without the guide (who was in possession of our passports) and four of the passengers, we feared a scam.
However, we then stopped about one mile into Cambodian territory at a roadside restaurant. About half an hour later, our tour guide and the 4 missing passengers arrived on motorbikes and were reunited with the bus.
It was a very nice restaurant that we stopped at. The floor was carpeted in sheep droppings which in turn attracted swarms of flies. Still, nice lunch.

Actually our Cambodian experience ended up as being very positive and I think it's definitely somewhere that I'll revisit.

So just updating today on 13 February - we're at Changi airport on our way back to Blighty. Plane departs at 12:40 Singapore time, arrives 18:40 UK time. We lose eight hours on the
way. So, it's approx. a 14 hour flight.

So let's just jump back in time again.

Tuesday Feb 5th - Cambodia (Leigh writing).

We booked a tuk-tukk driver to take us to a couple of places today. A tuk-tukk is a motorbike, little chariot combination, much favoured by the Cambodians (for carting tourists around, anyway).
First we go to the Killing fields. There were actually 343 killing fields in Cambodia. These were the places that people were taken to to be exterminated during Pol Pot's khmer Rouge era (1975-1979).

The one that we visit is 15 km southwest of Phnom Penh. There's not much you can put into words with regards to these. 8,500 skulls are exhibited on 17 stories of a central tower which will remain forever as a reminder of the evils of the regime. Fragments of cloth & human bone are still scattered around the area. It all serves as a very bleak monument.

After the killing fields we visited the prison in Phnom Penh which held the people to be executed at the Killing fields. 17,000 people passed through this prison, only seven survived.
Around the walls of this building are thousands of photographs of the victims. Some before and after torture. Some children as young as ten years old. It defies description and left us both feeling down and somehow that it was all not real.

On leaving the prison (now a museum, originally a secondary school), I am totally beseiged by beggars. Most have missing limbs, others are disfigured through burn injuries. I, foolishly reach into my wallet to give a guy who appeared to have very little left of his original face a $1 bill. Suddenly I'm rushed from all angles and can only quickly retreat into the museum grounds once more.

I do manage to prepare myself for the onslaught once more when I re-emerge - I've stuffed a few $1 notes in a separate pocket. This time I'm only met by one beggar, so it's not so bad. I'm still not sure how one should handle all this.

There are over 70,000 victims of land mines still living in Cambodia. Even now 4 people a day are still being injured by land mines, but at least the de-mining of areas is moving along very quickly. Other victims of the Khmer Rouge are those that are still living, but have problems with their internal organs due to the extended period of malnutrition in those years. Apparently some of these health problems are being passed on to the next generation. So, as the legacy of Agent Orange remains in Vietnam, so does that of Pol Pot in Cambodia.

It ain't coca cola, it's rice...

February 4 2007

Go straight to HCMC boy...

After a fairly sleepless night in the Joy hotel, due to us having a room right next to reception and parties of booming Frenchmen arriving all night (most hannoying), we get taxi to airport at 8 a.m. Goodbye Hanoi.

So we catch the 11:00 a.m. plane from Hanoi back to Ho Chi Minh on our way to pick up all our dirty washing, left at our hotel in HCMC nearly 3 weeks ago. We are on our way to Cambodia, so have booked our bus to Phnom Penh tomorrow.

When we arrive in HCMC (Saigon) we take a taxi to our hotel. Strange, coming back to the place after 3 weeks, it's nothing like as intimidating as it appeared previously. The chaotic traffic, buzzing motorbikes and fume filled atsmophere are, well, normal. Even our hotel seems better than before ( or mayber that's in contrast to our time at The Joyless in Hanoi). It's still very hot down here though, lucky it's their 'cool dry' season.

We book a plane from Phnom Penh to HCMC for next Sunday (11th Feb) and then we're going to fly straight out to Singapore. This should hopefully eliminate the need for us getting a multi-entry visa to Vietnam (we only got single entry), as we'll be in transit and not have to go through Vietnam customs again. I've checked with 3 different sources to make sure we can do this (i.e. get our luggage checked all the way through to Singapore from PP) - although all answers heve been in the affirmative, I'm not 100% convinced. If you don't see us in the next couple of months, we're languishing in a Vietnam jail - please contact British Embassy and bring us home.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A day in the countryside

Saturday 3rd 2007

Last Saturday (today is Thursday, 8.02.07) we took up our tour guide's (Ngaiem, a.k.a. Nick, 'cos his Vietnamese name is too difficult for us to pronounce) invitation to visit his family in the countryside. He had Saturday off so we arranged to go on Saturday - 3.02.07. He is only 25 but his English was as fluent as we have encountered here so far.

He met us at our hotel at 7.15am as planned and then we travelled to his parents house by taxi to catch the local bus from Hanoi to his village, which took 90 minutes of driving along a very bumpy road. The rest of the journey was a motorbike ride along a dusty track and then a short walk. We arrived at about 10.45am. Nick appeared quite excitable as we 'bumped' along, telling us that no Westerner has ever put foot in his village before (to the best of his knowledge - not an invited one anyway!). He has taken Vietnamese friends before but never a Westerner nor any tourist. We felt quite honoured especially as he told us that his
Mum was preparing a fine feast for us, and had killed two chickens that morning. Of course we felt flattered but we are realistic enough to know that this invitation came on the back of us saying over a beer, that if he ever wanted to visit England we would cheerfully help him out with contacts and accommodation. (Strong beer, eh?).

Even though it was strictly a day off for him, he went into his 'Tour Guide' mode and told us much about rural Vietnam, about the system of the provinces, villages hamlets, the workings of the commumist government, the local counncil 'elections', the importance of the extended family, the worshipping of the ancestors, the buddist altars in the homes, the personal histories of his own family and how he had to work in the rice paddie fields for 7 years and how he had to pull the leeches from his legs everyday - and much more. It may sound a tad mundane as i write but listening to him in his enthusiastic tone and seeing the miles of rural countryside as we sped by, and with the anticipation of meeting his family very soon - we absorbed it all.

We were followed by a group of giggly children down the path who were just so curious to see us rotund westerners. Leigh stopped and took a photo of them and then played it back and they dissolved into hysterical laughter, pointing and shoving to get a better view of themselves. When we arrived at his parent's we were greeted with big shy smiles and extravagent gestures to sit down. Nick explained that whilst we could shake hands with them, he could not, because that would imply that the son was equal to the father and that is not the case. The eldest is the most repected. He said also that his parents would not give us eye-contact for a while because it would be deemed discourteous to do that so soon. Anyway, we made do quite nicely with some cans of Heinken, copious tiny cups of green tea and Nick acting as interpretor. We are to call his father, 'Bo' and his Mum 'Mer' - we can manage this. Mer asks us if we have any children. They are very interested in family matters. Gradually, members of Nick's extended family come in one by one to look at us, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, a brother, a sister and happy but toothless 83 year old Grandma. Everyone asks how old we are and Mer guesses that I am 45. I like her, a lot. Soon we are in a small group of Bo, (56), and his two Uncles (61) & (71). They talked about the American war and Nick interprets. Bo has two bullets lodged in his head. One uncle has leg wounds, gunshot wounds to his back. The other has gunshot wounds to his shoulder, and shrapnel in his side. Nick says, 'No one forgets the war'. Strangely, the two uncles are wearing their military fatigues.
We venture outside and Nick shows us the cute little piglets in the pigsty, and a few surviving chickens. There is a well which they use for washing. There is a vessel to catch rainwater for drinking water. There is no toilet - you use the garden. The garden sports rows of vegetables and fruit trees of starfruit and grapefruits. They have a battery operated telly which is on throughout and the colour is turned up to full resolution. (There is no electricity). They live in only one room, for sleeping, eatting and sitting. After dinner (the chicken tasted very fresh!), we were invited to take a nap in the bed which was in the corner of the room. We declined, preferring to go for a walk instead. We walked and came to some paddy fields whereupon the stooping women straightened up and mildly bemused looked at us as if to say: 'What on earth are you doing here?'. (We were asking ourselves the same question).

With lots more smiling and vigorous friendly nods and handshakes we were making our way home.

A day in the countryside and our moment of fame gone and cloak of celebrity having derobed itself, we were once again just another tourist in our crummy hotel.