The correct use of the lavatory

It always surprises me what some people need to have spelled out for them.


I suppose the proprietors are covering their own butts by pointing out that if you slip inside whilst perched on the rim, you have only yourself to blame and no compensation will be coming your way.

I was unsure what the little hose in the picture, which is always on the wall next to each loo, was for at first …  although clearly not for my hair or my feet as the sign helpfully pointed out.


On enquiring, I discovered that it is known by expats as ‘the bum gun’.  The locals use it instead of loo paper, because the narrow pipes mean that all loo paper has to be put in a bin and not flushed away.

Ever curious, I pulled the trigger and a very forceful jet of water shot out.  I’m impressed that the locals can use it without:

  • a) yelping in pain or
  • b) emerging from the cubicle  dripping wet.

In some places there’s no bum gun and no flush mechanism, because there’s no running water.


In this case you scoop a potful of water from a container and pour it down the loo.


I wash my hands in it first, but I’m not sure if that’s what you’re meant to do.  In some places, however, that’s quite tricky.


These are the facilities in our lunch cafe.  The only place to put the bowl is on top of the loo – luckily I always have my trusty bottle of hand gel with me.


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red, sticky, boiled, fried, soaked

No, not a description of me – although it comes pretty close at times over here – it’s an indication of some of the myriad types of rice to be found in Cambodia.


I’ve become a bit of a rice expert over the past four weeks, and I now know that the average Cambodian eats between 500g and 1kg of rice per day, depending on their size, and a family of five adults gets through 1.5 tonnes a year.

They eat rice for all three meals a day, and sometimes snack on rice between meals too.  Cambodian rice is of excellent quality and grown without pesticides; Thailand imports Cambodian rice to eat, while exporting its own rice to Europe.

There are rice paddies everywhere in the countryside around Siem Reap, making everything a beautiful, vibrant green, and this is now the season for transplanting the rice from the nursery to the main fields so people are out in force tending their crops.


These farmers are pulling the young rice out of the water by the roots.  They then bundle it up


and cut the tops off.


Then he takes it to the main paddy field, while she takes the trimmings off to be recycled.


They plant out the young rice plants in the traditional way; you push your thumb into the mud and then put three plants into each thumb hole, spacing them apart to leave room for growth.


This crop will be ready for harvesting in about another four months.

As the temperature is pretty constant here, it’s water supply that determines how many rice crops farmers can grow each year.  In the countryside away from the river, they can only grow one crop, during the rainy season.  Near the river, they can grow two crops a year, and if you’re lucky enough to have land near Tonle Sap Lake, you can grow three crops a year.  And 85% of Cambodians are farmers, so that adds up to an awful lot of rice.

Eating rice is such a fundamental part of life here that there are five different verbs meaning ‘to eat rice’ and it depends on who you are talking to, as to which one you use.

  • To speak to a child, you use the word ‘see’ (don’t know how it’s spelt, but that is the pronunciation).
  • For young adults the verb is ‘nyam’.
  • To speak to an older person you must use ‘pisar’.
  • To speak to a monk, it is ‘chan’.
  • And in the unlikely event that you are ever speaking to the King about his rice-eating habits, the verb is ‘soy’.

Reflecting on this, the closest parallel I can come up with in England is alcohol.  Young people are unlikely to say to each other ‘would you care for an aperitif?’  And it would be considered highly inappropriate to say to the Queen, ‘get that down your neck, Ma’am’.  Different cultures, different priorities.

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A social faux pas

Leapt onto a vespa again yesterday … am now on first name terms with the owner of the company as I’m such a good customer.  We went out to explore the Cambodian countryside and I had a fantastic day, marred only by a slight social faux pas at lunchtime.

The day started with a visit to a family who collect sugar palm juice and make palm sugar.  One of the sons shinned up a tree and came down carrying a container full of palm juice.


The family either sell the fresh juice, which is sweet and slightly smoky because they smoke the wooden containers to keep the ants out, or they boil it down and make palm sugar.  It takes 20 litres of juice to make 3 kg of sugar, and the sugar sells at the local market for $1.25 a kg.

This family makes $7 a week from their sugar, and as there are 7 of them, this means that they are well below the povery threshold of $2 per person per day.  Their surroundings give an indication of their hand to mouth existence.


This woman makes her own baskets.  She goes into the forest to collect the rattan; she cleans it and strips it and then weaves baskets, which she sells for $1.  Apart from a distressing lack of teeth, she’s in a much better position than the sugar farmers.DSC_2253Her house is solidly built, and her husband wanders around smiling affably and showing off his well-turned ankles.DSC_2259

We went to a temple which also has a school – and there are more monks than you can shake a stick at.


These monks are learning a poem about the virtues of doing things thoroughly.


I just wish my afternoon class would be a quarter as attentive as this class.

I’ve decided that next time, I’m coming back as a monk.

We went inside the pagoda and there was a large crowd of local people receiving instruction from a monk.


But before their lesson, they had prepared lunch for the whole monastery.DSC_2184

When the bell rang the monks just wandered in and sat down to eat.


This is the chief monk, who kindly allowed me to photograph him.


I was impressed to see that he has not one, but two, mobile phones.  My tour guide was very disapproving.  ‘Things you can see on Facebook and Google aren’t suitable for monks,” he said.

The guide then took me to get my fortune told by a renowned local fortune teller, who told me that he had learned his art from his father.  He tells people’s fortunes and also sells atomisers full of special fragrance guaranteed to bring customers to your shop or bring your wayward husband back home.


I had to tell him the day and the date I was born and he stared at me and then made a series of signs on a whiteboard (a concession to modernity, I think) and told me some very accurate things about my past, which startled me, and predicted great success with a new venture from August to December this year … watch this space and I’ll report back on 1 January 2017, possibly from my yacht in the Bahamas.

We had lunch in a barbecue shack in a tiny village, prepared by a local cook, and started off with fried chicken which we ate with our fingers.  The cook then came out and poured some water into a bowl and put it on the table.  Oh good, a fingerbowl, I thought and promptly washed my fingers in it.  The cook looked rather surprised and went off to get another bowl for some more water.  It turned out that it wasn’t a finger bowl after all, but an ingredient for the fresh spring rolls which we were having next.  This is not quite as embarrassing as drinking out of the finger bowl, but it still marks you out as socially inept and unlikely to be invited to dinner by the upper echelons of Siem Reap.

My guide showed me how to roll a fresh spring roll, using the sticky rice paper wrap, soaked in the ‘finger bowl’DSC_2221and when he’d finished it looked neat and appetizing.


But the gods of table etiquette had it in for me by now, and I blame them entirely for sabotaging my attempt.


As we walked up the road after lunch, we were overtaken by an ox cart.


There were two oxen pulling it, and two bringing up the rear, and as it drew level with us, we could see that it was being driven by a very elderly man.


It seems incredible that these are still in use in the twenty-first century, but farming in Cambodia is not mechanised at all; everything is done by hand and without chemicals – not because they think that chemicals are bad, but because they can’t afford them.







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