I woke up early and went for a morning
walk, watching the city wake up.
Tai Chi in the park. I took photos of some boys playing a hotly
contested soccer match in front of the Royal Palace.
Then I ducked
into a cafe for coffee.
The world works in mysterious ways. I was feeling my time here draw to
a close, and I had been wanting to visit the dump. But every tuk-tuk
and moto driver either didn't understand where i wanted to go, or
refused to take me there. I was ruminating on this when a gentleman
walked by my table and asked about the lens I was using on the 1Ds. We
fell into conversation and as it turns out, he was Scott Neeson.
Executive Director of the Cambodian Children's Fund (CCF). And he was
intimately familiar with the dump and offered to take me there the next
I went back to the hotel room to face my next problem. I still had this
cardboard box filled with volleyballs , paintbrushes, colored pencils,
canvases, acrylic paint, teethbrush and all manner of other things. And
I had to get myself, the box and all of my photographic equipment
across town to the orphanage to drop it off and then take the kids on
an excursion to the water park.
The Phnom Penh water park is just a stone's throw away from the
orphanage. I wanted to get there by Tuk-tuk as it would be much easier
to carry the box that way, but not one of the tuk tuk drivers
understood my various attempts at conveying the notion of water park. A
few got excited at my swooping gestures (meant to convey groups of
happy children swishing down water slides) and said "airport!?!"
Unfortunately a moto driver knew exactly what I meant, so I loaded up
myself and the box and off we went.
The only way I could rest my feet (aside from dragging them on the
pavement) was to sit with my legs in an almost cross legged position,
with the box (which I soon referred to as "the accursed box") Wedged
between me and the driver. There was of course, no way for me to hang
on. I whimpered as we set off. My knees represented the widest part of
our conveyance. I say knees, my driver thought of them as bumpers or
feelers. We whizzed through morning rush hour traffic. Picture some
cross between Blade Runner and the speeder chase in Return of the Jedi.
As we ducked and weaved along, shooting though ridiculously narrow
gaps, my knees grazed and glanced off of passing traffic, signposts,
pedestrians, exhaust pipes, walls. I began to wonder what life was
going to be like without legs. Perhaps I could take up painting, or the
Mercifully, we arrived at the water park and I was still relatively
bipedal. My moto driver muttered something about "lots of robberies in
area" before zooming off. Unfortunately my destination was the
orphanage, which was camouflaged in a confusing web of alleys.. As I
walked along, carting the accursed box, I was suddenly mobbed. "Mr.
Tony, Mr. Tony!!!" I had set out to find the kids and they found me
instead. Without needing explanation or instruction, one of the
(after an eager peep inside) took the box back to the orphanage and we
headed to the water park, paid for 69 kids and ran screaming and
giggling through the gates. The simple pleasure of bobbling about
bright yellow inflatable innertube was joyful to the kids. And the wave
pool, or better yet the water slide, rendered them ecstatic with glee.
That evening we took two of the older boys out to dinner at a tapas
restaurant called Friends. This is a training restaurant where former
street kids and orphans can learn to cook for the booming hospitality
industry. Though Tapas may sound a bit overblown and fancy, it allows
the student chefs to cook across the range of international cuisine,
from Khmer Curry, pad Thai, beef with peppercorn or chicken enchiladas.
This better leverages them into a broad range of career possibilities.
After dinner they headed back to Palm Tree and I sat in front of the
National Museum and watched another great soccer game. Sure, once the
ball disappeared down a hole, presumably the sewer, and the smallest
boy had to be lowered down by his armpits so he could fetch the ball up
with his feet.