Making progress

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Cambodia, Cambodia 2011
Tags: , ,

Whoops, we’ve been bad little bloggers! As we were so busy doing other things we’ve managed to neglect the blog a bit. But not to worry, we’ve got a lot of pics to make it up to you.

As last Friday was ‘Victory over genocide-day’ (when Vietnam stepped in to help get rid of Pol Pot and his murderous madmen in 1979), and therefore a public holiday. We were expecting parades, streetparties and the like, but apparently the only celebration going on would be steady drinking. So on Thursday night we went out in search of a real Khmer hangout, which is supposedly quite difficult as most Khmer will drink at home (though the bars here are ridiculously cheap for us, they are quite expensive for the locals). We managed to find a Khmer bar, and luckily for us we also found some Khmer acquaintances of one of our colleagues. They invited us to join them, which resulted in a long night of local food, endless ‘jil mai’ (cheers) and lots of fun.


On Friday we explored the outskirts of the city, and into the more rural areas. It’s quite fun to walk about there, as the people aren’t too used to foreigners. Especially the children are very excited to see us, and our tattoos draw a lot of attention. What was really striking on this walk was the fact that you could come across a virtual, colonial style palace one step, and then see a village of shacks (much akin to the one we’re replacing) right next door to it. It seems there is no middle ground between poor and rich in Siem Reap.




Friday evening we headed out to Angkor Wat, to see the sunset. It was kind of hard to see as there were thousands of other tourists elbowing their way to the front, but we managed to get a couple of good pictures anyway -it helps to be tall. Climbing and descending the ludicrously steep steps of the temple ruins is quite an exercise, especially descending in the dark. Imagine an Amsterdam staircase without walls or banisters and ten times higher -with steps about 15cm wide at most, so you can just fit the front of your foot on them.




Saturday and Sunday we rented a tuktuk, and spent the day in the Angkor Wat park, exploring the temples. Though we were quite temple-tired by Sunday afternoon, it was a great experience. The park is so big that even after 2 full days, we still haven’t visited all the temples. The sites range from hugely busy complexes (like Angkor Wat itself) to nicely quiet ones with hardly any tourists about. Of course we took a ridiculous amount of pictures, but as it’s so difficult to choose which ones to post we’ll keep it at just one. The scale of the whole thing and the sheer number of temples is so overwhelming that even Indiana Jones would get lost.




Monday it was back to work. It started off with the blessing of the frame of the house after we nailed that together. Dishes of food, incense, candles, water and rice-wine were brought out, and we all had to hold incense sticks while a mantra was being said. Part of the blessing is to ensure that there would be no accidents during the building -as we get to go up and climb around a lot.





After the blessing we set up the structure, now it’s really starting to look like a house! Because a lot of lifting had to be done, the whole village came to help -and stayed on because they were much more dexterious at climbing the structure than us lumbering Europeans. They seem to make no difference between horizontal or vertical movements, all is done with the same ease. After we finished for the day we shared the food and drink from the blessing.








We have an army of little people (as our foreman calls them) following us around the building site. Some of them try to play and talk with us, but most of the littler ones are really shy (much to the joy of the local adults, who have great giggling fits while teasing the kids about this). The other day we bought a bubble blower (bellenblaas) and brought it out with us to the building site.




After we started blowing bubbles even the shyest kids came out to see what was going on and to join in in the fun. We were a bit afraid the kids might fight over the bubble blower, but luckily we found them playing together sweetly with an almost empty bottle of bubbles yesterday. As we had brought a bottle of liquid soap we were quick to refill it, and the fun started all over again.





Today more work, looking even better: we spent most of the day climbing up and down the frame, got the crossbeams for the floor in, started putting the floorboards on them and even got started on the stairs leading into the building. Once again we have moved ahead of schedule, even though we’ve had a forced day off on Friday.

As mentioned before, one of the problems we run into is that the wood we get is far from straight, and even worse is that it’s fresh. This means that once it gets dry, it will bend and distort. So anything we put up straight now has to have enough solidity to stop the wood from wringing and pulling loose, yet enough flexibility to allow it to bend a little -or else it will start ripping and splitting. The reason we don’t use dry wood is simple: there is none. Some of the wood delivered was in such a bad state that we actually had to send it back to the sawmill. It will not do to build a house that tears itself apart or collapses with the first tropical storm.




In the coming days we will be putting up the cross-beams for the roof, the outer and inner walls and get boarding the floor  finished. Then we’ll  sink the nails into the floor so they don’t hurt little feet and plane flat the biggest uneven spots. After that, lots of bamboo-weaving for the walls, but we won’t be here to help with that as our stint runs out. People say we’re lucky to miss out on that, apparently it’s horribly itchy and frustrating work. But it does seem a shame not to be able to see this house being finished.


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