I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep, so that's how I got the blog posted from yesterday. We'd planned to meet at 0630 to walk to the Crab Market, but none of the cadets showed up. I told them the night before that that was no big deal and that I'd leave with whomever wanted to go at 0630. It's about a 20 minute walk and when I got there, things were just setting up. Fish were already grilling and vendors were cooking bowls of Khmer breakfast noodle soup. Restaurants were sweeping out their front entry areas and cleaning up from last night's rain and wind. It was low tide and about a dozen people were scavenging for crabs, snails, and the like in the tide pools, sand, and exposed rocks. Crab pots were in and there had already arrived some bucket so live tiger shrimp and other varieties that were being picked through for size by the retailers. I didn't stay long and paid $2 for a tuk-tuk ride back to the Beach House, arriving at about 0715.
By then, Dan was up and had ordered breakfast. I ordered Khmer soup with prawns and went to the room to finish packing and get ready for the morning. The girls came down and did the same thing, but none of the guys even showed up until Winston came down at 0755, followed by Luke, then Dylan. They all skipped breakfast or had snacks in their rooms because we were supposed to leave at about 0800 as usual. Vy was there and she outlined our plans again: school visit with soccer game; visit women's vocational training center, the a final lunch at the Vine, back to the hotel, checkout at 1400 and then the drive to Phnom Penh.
The weather was excellent with finally some clearing and blue skies as we drove to "Our School," a small K-12 school near the Vine retreat that we'd driven by before Savorn (mentioned earlier) is an English teacher at the school and his wife is the librarian. The school was originally run by an NGO and funded in large part by the Korean government, but has since been taken over by the local community.
We learned when we arrived that today had been declared a national holiday by the king and the government and that school would not be in session. However, many kids showed up anyway at the request of Savorn and the other teachers. About 30 kids and several teachers greeted us when we arrived. Savorn showed us around the peppercorn farm that he also manages which is located adjacent to the school. He said that it had 1125 plants which produced between one-half and one kilo each per year. He was very proud of the irrigation system that pumped water from a reservoir pond to a small water tower about four meters off the ground, then into the pepper plants. They also had some pretty large cow manure piles that they used for fertilizer. He said that as part of his job (his house was next door), he also managed a newly planted mango orchard that had 3000 trees on 10 hectares of land (almost 25 acres). Savorn's house looked nice and modern compared to most in the area with a steel roof. It was obviously well-maintained. He said that the community and school provided him with the house as a condition of employment.
From the peppercorn vines, we went back to the school and looked into the classrooms. They were very basic, with minimal lighting. They did, however, have a nice computer room with 15 new Toshiba laptops and it was clear from the posters and writing on the board that they were teaching spreadsheet use, some basic coding, and the use of other apps. The entire school has nine teachers and its annual budget is $12K. Yes, I said $12K. That both impressed and saddened me at the same time. Kids have to pay a small fee, equal to $0.50 per month from their families to attend, but everything else is free.
We then went to the soccer field for about 45 minutes of spirited, but rough (with loose rules) sport on the mostly dirt field. All of the cadets played as did Dan, Savorn, and one of Savorn's friends. About 20 kids played. They split into two teams that were roughly boys versus girls, though Dan and Savorn played on the girl's side. We had a lot of fun watching the game and everyone was sweating profusely within a few minutes. The kids (mostly ages 6-12) had a blast and really showed a lot of spirit and enthusiasm. The cadets ate it up, too.
After soccer, we moved to the front of one of the buildings and Dan sang some songs with his guitar. We were trying to find some songs that everyone would enjoy (with some participation) and Hansena and Annie demonstrated and taught them to do the Hokey-Pokey. The kids loved it, though they didn't get the right versus left thing entirely. They all giggled and laughed when Hansena called them to put their "butt in" and their "butt out," then shake it all about. I videoed the whole scene with my camera. The kids like it so much that they did it again to huge applause. They then sang one of their songs and we cheered.
Finally, it was time to go, so I pulled out some of our gifts. I gave Savorn a USAFA pin for his lapel and then pulled out the gross (144) of USAFA emblazoned pencils that we'd brought with us from Colorado. To my surprise, the kids all lined up--girls on one side, boys on the other--to receive their pencils. I had more than enough for two each, so I gave them each two and they politely said "thank you" in English of "akun" in Khmer, each treating their new pencils like gold. I gave the remaining pencils to Savorn as well as some foam rubber baseballs with USAFA logos, some lanyards, and other stuff. The kids stayed in their lines and we did high-fives down the line with each cadet before regrettably saying "goodbye."
We next went to a vocational training center where local girls and women were learning to weave silk scarves by hand, make coconut shell jewelry, and other artisanal crafts. This was an example of another NGO that had started a local training shop but had now given it over to operate as a real business. We'd seen their products for sale in local hotel and really like it, so it was nice to be able to see the crafts being made an then purchase some more souvenirs at very good prices.
It was finally time for our last lunch at The Vine Retreat. What a great, secluded guest house with just awesome food that we'd enjoyed for almost two weeks. I probably gained weight on this trip and The Vine is the primary culprit. We had another great squash soup as well as squid with fresh green peppercorns--both delicious as usual. I gave one of my Tripadvisor "Excellent Service" pins to the woman who had been taking care of us during our visits. This was clearly one of the highlights of the trip.
We all decided to just get back to the hotel as quickly as possible to rest, shower, and finish packing before the arduous and thrilling drive back to Phnom Penh. Once there, we plan to go to Malis for dinner before Dan an Vy drop us off at the airport for a wonder 2320 departure to Seoul.
Here's the whole day's slideshow: