Friday, April 26, 2013

The Ouk Family

The Ouk family we knew before April 4th, 2013
The growth of our Ouk tree.
The first family members we saw (from my dad's side). We met in hallway of our hotel. Dad is in the lime green shirt and his oldest sister in his arms.

Dad's family in front of Angkor Wat
Me and Saran with a few of our cousins at Angkor Wat
Dad's youngest brother mentioned in the "Haunting of the Khmer Rouge" post
Dad jumped in the Cambodian folk band at Angkor Thom
Uncle Noe shows musical talent runs in the family and sings with the band (like dad who sings in two Cambodian bands back home)
Uncle Noe
Military in the family
Mom's side. Cousin, auntie (mentioned in "Some Cultural Experience" post, Dad, cousin, cousin, Mom, auntie and uncle.
More cousin's and second cousin from my dad's side in Takeo. Lady in green is dad's youngest sister.
In the back of the truck with cousins
Round Baby eating a round fruit

Round Baby staring at momma

Round Baby in clothes

Round Baby and Saran. Mom's sister in red and cousin in blue.

Round Baby and his round head

Round Baby and me
I call him "The Round Baby." One of my cousin's son. He's the round baby because his head is round, his eyes are round, his face is round...just a darn cute baby.

Unfortunately we don't have down all our cousins, aunts and uncles' names. We often just call each other uncle, aunt, brother or sister and we all respond. There are so many more cousins we met but didn't get all their photos. Now that we found everyone, a trip to get to know everyone is next! :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

On the road again and again

We didn't get to stay at Battambang for the 3rd day of New Year, since we needed time to head down to Takeo to meet other other aunt (from dad's side) and have a couple days at Sihanoukville, taking a break from meeting famy and time to take everything all in.

The ride took about 7 hours and we didn't get to our aunt's place until 10 that night. No worries, we were greeted again with an entire table of food. We know we're related :)

The next morning we spent a few hours only with them. Not every family member was there since many work and had to return home. Though with the few that waa there, I can really see the resemblance. A few cousins looked more like my sisters when you place us next to each other. I can't wait to upload photos.

We were really sad that we only had a short time with this family. They're more modernized and was able to connect with us more than the family in Battambang. A few are educated, know some English and have facebook. :)

One of our cousin volunteered to take us to Sihanoukville. On the road again and another 4 hr drive from where we were. He's an auditor for the government and have had travelled quite a bit. His plan for our next travel is to tour all of southeast asia in one swoop. If only it was that easy.

But yes, this has gotten Saran and I thinking about our next time here with our brother and sister, who couldn't make this trip. We're already thinking of the schedules and routes. Don't worry Saren and Rutta, by the end of this trip we'll be experts ;) Just need another 30 yrs to save up. Just kidding.

Next in Sihanoukville, hopefully a relaxing moment before returning home.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2nd Day of New Year

We woke up early and went to temple to give the monks our offering for New Year. Now that we have their blessing, we can go out and play.

Back at my uncle's house all the kids prep for our trip to the mountains. Food and beverages were preped and ready to go. Water bags were also preped and ready to go.

During the New Year, people celebrate by throwing water bags (like water balloons) at each other. Baby powder also becomes ammunition, mostly spread across the victims faces and head.

My uncle's truck carried majority of the neighborhood kids, our cousins, and Saran and myself. Some sat on the side, a few in the center with our water bags and powder, the rest stood next in the back with the back open to allow more room for people to stand. Crazy? Yes it is. But no one fell off or even flinch each time the truck took off.

Sruh said "during New Year, we don't wait til we reach the destination to play, we play on the road," as we took off and headed towards the mountains.

Saran and I sat on the leftside of the truck and had a water bag in each hand, watching and waiting for the action. It wasn't until we left the city to get some action and boy did we. Everyone was prepared. People knew everyone was heading to the mountains, so every resident on the way there stood waiting along side of the raods fully loaded. Many exchange their cars for trucks like our uncle's for easier participation. Even some motos we equip with the water bags.

We were just getting into the countryside and right away our cousin spotted our first victims standing on the road. We knew they were equipped so at the same time we took aim and cover. I took cover and then threw and popped my uncle who sat across from me right in the chest. Everybody almost fell over laughing at the situation. My uncle later switched with his son and drove the truck instead.

Crossfires continued with trucks vs people on the road, other trucks, car with moon roofs and motos. Saran and I took a lot of hits since we sat on the side of the truck closest to oncoming traffic. We also popped a few people. I took cover when I saw kids that were aiming for pain. They throw with all their might, whoever took the hit is in for pain.

The sport is pretty dangerous, acrually, very dangerous. There's no rules or regulation. Both Saran and I got hit in the face. Some one pitched a water bag at, what felt like, 100 miles per hour and it just swiped my cheek and ear. I had to touch my ear to make sure it was still there. The side of my face felt like it got rug burn, still stings this very moment.

Saran got a pretty good hit in the face. I can't imagine what would happen to her left eye if her sunglasses wasn't there to protect it. All I heard was a loud pop behind me where Saran was. Once I looked over I saw right below her sunglasses her cheek was pretty pink. I figured that was where she took the hit. Once we got to our destination, she had her sunglasses off and I saw that it was no longer pink, but a purple oval on her cheek and another purplish circle on her nose where her sunglasses sat. I'm pretty sure without her sunglasses that could have been a black eye. Definitely fun, but also very dangerous.

Once we got to the place. It was packed! Everyone from Battambang was there. It was a huge park with a large lake, hundred of food vendors and thousands of people. We rented a hut right on the shoreline looking over the lake. Our army uncle had been there first thing in the morning to hold the spot. It was amazing to see all these people just having a ball.

The lake though has story behind it. You can say it was manmade just not on purpose. This was actually one of the lacations the Khmer Rouge had a hold of. My dad was one of many who slaved in the area. They manually dugout the land over long hours and very few breaks. The ground that was dug up was used to layout roads. Evidence of my father's hard work during the Khmer Rouge lay in front of us.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Year celebration begins

Happy New Year or straight translation, 'Hello New Year!'

April 14th, the first day of New Year and the town looked abandon. Only a few vendors were out here and there. Even our family members were resting at their homes. They decided the 2nd day of New Year the family (most of dad's side and some of mom's) will gather and celebrate.

That did not mean the first day was wasted. In the afternoon, we played volleyball in the hot-dry 90 degree weather with our uncle and cousin. We thought we were so so players (Laurel, Saran, my dad and I), but I think now we know where we stand in volleyball. We loss both games but were close in points.

Later that night we hungout at our uncle's house. The neighborhood was jammin'. There was a dj that had an old dell laptop hooked up to 7 different basses, big and small, all stacked up together. The entire neighborhood gathered around my uncle's place to dance, play games and just hangout underneath the stars.

It was fun. We participated in a few games. Tug-o-war, boys vs girls. Saran, Laurel, Sruh (the hair stylist cousin), myself along with a few other girls in the neighborhood showed the boys they couldn't mess with us. The girls won!

Another game we played, straight translation, grab the branch. How it's played: there's two teams (equal number of players on each side). Each player is assigned a number. The teams face each other and stands behind a line equal distance from the center where a small tree/bush branch gets placed. When a number is called, each player with the assigned number runs towards the branch and tries to bring back to their home base, crossing the line without getting tagged by the other team. It may sound confusing, but all games are better played than described.

We all had a ball hanging out with family and friends. Unfortunately, another farewell to Laurel and Susan who'll be leaving for Sihanoukville the next morning and won't be able to continue the New Year celebration. They'll be missed.

Day two we head to the mountains and lake to pinic with the rest of family and more.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

In need of more time

We were at a market yesterday to do a little shopping. Our cousin Sruh, who did our hair, brought us to a clothing market. A few fruit vendors sat outside the market though there were mainly clothes and shoes. Hair salons popped up between booths here and there as we weave our way next to someone getting their hair wash in an isle just large enough to get two people to pass through.

I find markets fun because you get to bargin. It helped quite a bit to have a local who knows the vendors. Sruh helped me bargin a bit. It seemed like the vendor didn't want to discount at all knowing I was from America, Laurel and Susan again couldn't get passed as a local. Lol. Though my cousin told the seller I was her 'cousin by birth' the lady went from speaking sales to speaking friendly. And once I started speaking Khmer, she felt somewhat of the local connection and discounted my purchase even further.

The seller told my cousin and I we look alike and that she can see how we're related. At first I thought nothing of it since I was trying to get a good deal. Though a split second after, I felt a bit weird. I've know Sruh for a few days now. But at the end of the day I still know her less than some people I care to know back home. Sruh although family, still a stranger that I look similar to.

The days are going fast. Meeting family is one thing, though getting to know them in the time we are here is impossible. I wish we had more time. The time we have to meet family, take in the culture, discover more about who we are and just getting some relaxing vacation time is already close to impossible. Finding time to spend with family leisurely might have to be another trip since everthing is rushed and with New Year, the holiday will consume our time just to celebrate.

Friday, April 12, 2013

New Year count down!

It's April 12th and the Cambodian New Year is right around the corner.

It was crazy today. So many people were out making last minute gifts/offerings purchases. The busy road kicked up more dirt than usual causing the already cramped roads to be a bit more difficult to walk in. I can't imagine what New Years will be like. My family says everyone comes to Battambang to celebrate the New Year, so the traffic we experienced today probably does not compare to what is coming in the next few days. Someone compared today to 'America's Christmas Eve shopping day.'

We are realizing how big of an event the New Year is for the Cambodians. We had an idea since we knew the celebration lasts for three days. Though we learned that most businesses will close shop for all three days for the holiday. Some have already closed their doors today. As Laurel, Susan, Saran and I went to the Tourism Department to get more traveling information during the holiday, a women who lived there told us that the person who worked there already left their shift. We made it there before they closed, though the woman clarified that the person has already left for home to celebrate the New Year and that the person would not be back until next week.

The hype continues to build and we are all anxious to experience the New Year with family and friends.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some cultural experience

Saran and I grew up with some  Cambodian tradition and culture in the US and as we got older we wbecame agaisnt a few of them.

After seeing our family, there are still things I'm against but understand a bit more after seeing it on this end. We were lucky to had grown up with parents less strict than other Cambodian parents in the US. The Cambodian culture is still very old fashion. The women and children do all the household chores, cook and clean and serve the men. My mother often told my sisters and I how we would not be suited for wives since we were tomboys. Instead of cooking and cleaning and acting as servants, we played outside: 'kick the can', football, etc., with the boys. We were barely tweens when our mom talked to us about getting married. She said girls in Cambodia get married as early as twelve years old. The idea was crazy for my sister and I, because we were just kids. Though what my sister and I noticed through our cousins and thier neighbors, the kids here are a lot more mature at a younger age and their minds seem to grow up a lot quicker. My sister and I get thrown off when we see a little girl speak with adult language and vocabulary and how their mannerisms are. Their mindsets at 12 years old seems a lot more serious than Saran and mine put together.

It becomes difficult to joke around and wonder if they would understand our sense of humor. The men absolutely does, though the women and girls are questionable and just too serious sometimes.

Our older aunt from my mother's side has no husband or children. Saran, who never wants to marry looks up to this aunt a lot. Though all our Cambodian family members feel bad for her. She is all skin and bones and looks almost more like she can be our grandmother than our aunt. It seems that in Cambodia, without a husband to reproduce children you wouldn't have food on the table since there aren't any kids to continue the work and bring income. Also, you cannot have children without a husband, or you'll get frowned upon.

My mom and dad visited her home in Moung. Unfortunately, I was sick with a 24 hr flu and did not make it out. Saran stayed behind to accompany me. My mother told me how it small it was and how poorly built it was. Our uncle and cousin's home is considered well-off. My aunt is no where near, according to my mother. Her eyes had tears when she talked about her sister. A couple sniffles and a few blinks later she changed the subject. Emotions is also something you keep.

So as much as Saran and I have the choice in the US to be independent women and be able to support ourselves. In Cambodia, it's a choice of survival.

Living in Battambong: Continued

I feel the same way as Sarrut feels. We are very fortunate to grow up in America. My heart breaks to see how poor our families really are. I've heard how poor they are from my parents and seen pictures of hut houses but until you actually see and experience it for yourself, it is almost impossible to grasp. Yesterday,  one of our cousins who works in the "beauty shop" straightened me and my sister's hair. I have beauty shop in quotes because she does hair anywhere she can find space in the living room/bedroom. And when she needs to wash our hair, we had to go outside and squat while she pours water over our head using a bowl. I am happy to hear that some are able to work for a living yet sad to know how much they make. My cousin tells me that she charges 500 riels for a haircut. Which equates to about 15 cents in US dollars. As I sat in the slightly broken chair while my cousin worked on my hair, I had more time to observe the room I was in. I noticed other slightly broken furniture,  sheets and pillows that were ripped, and cobwebs in every corner. But no matter how little they have,  they always have a huge smile on their faces. 

Living in Battambang

Saran and I have only spent about two days with our dad's family in their homes at Battembong. Every night we return back to our hotel for our rooms with air conditioning and a bathroom with a sink, shower and regular toilet.
Our younger uncle is our host. His home, like many others here in Battembong, has the family business in front of the house. Our uncle's family runs a beauty salon and moto repair shop. Next to the salon is an open space where the cars and motos park. In the same open space is where the family gather around for their meals. There aren't any dining tables or chairs. When it's time to eat they lay out a few mats on the ground in front of the cars and motos and squat or sit around the dishes our aunts and female cousins prepare.
When in their homes, it still feels like we're outside. There are very few doors, or maybe it seems that way because of how the rooms are connected. There are barely any depths to the walls with cracks at every corner.
Electric fans are everywhere but does little for the American Cambodians. My parents, Saran and I are constantly sweating. Our hair and clothes would be soaked and look as if we got rained on. Our family - dry, not one bead of sweat in the 100 degree weather. What's even more crazy is that our cousins wear long sleeves and sweaters in this sauna temperature. Still no sweat.
The kitchen is next to their dining space. Barely the size of a walk in closet, multiple pots are always found sitting on an open flame they created. Dishes and bowls are all stacked along the walls. All cookware dented with char marks here and there. And only ladies are found in the kitchen.
The shower room and toilet room are found along side of the house. Like an outhouse, it sits on its own. I'm not sure what the shower room look like inside, but it's about the size of a telephone booth. The toilet room gave us a bit of a culture shock. The toilet was just a ceramic bowl with a hole at the center built right into the ground. Yes, we had to pop a squat. Though after learning that the first night we were there, we learned to go at our hotel.
In the back of the house sat two giant clay pots with water filled all the way to the top. Not sure what the area is, I'm thinking maybe it's where they wash their clothes.
It's crazy to see family like this. It's made me feel a lot more fortunate even though we grew up under rough conditions in the US, it just doesn't compare to how my family in Cambodia is living everyday.

Pictures of our uncle's house

Pictures from our cousin's salon