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Saturday, May 06, 2006


Getting enough water? (2)

The Tonle Sap is the river that runs through this province. In the river there are literally thousands of houseboats on which people who are quite poor live. There is no sewage system for them. Their raw sewage goes straight into the river.

Last week the monks in my class at Wat Xam told me that they drink river water that has been boiled. They wanted to know if this is safe. One of them recently spent four days in hospital with stomach troubles and until recently was still not well. I don't know if there is a connection. I told them I didn't think it was safe and followed up by emailling my friend Nathanon in the MSU Food Technology department for advice.

Wat Xam is a fairly big monastery. Because of the school, they have about 130 monks.

They have a well from which they draw water for washing. Rain water might be an option for them when the rainy season arrives shortly. At the moment the little rain we are getting is probably insufficient for their needs.

The monks are supported by the local community which is quite poor. I'm told that bottled water is donated along with their food. The quantity does not go far enough.

Nathanon emailled me back immediately (I was still online) and told me to tell them to stop drinking the river water boiled or not. He pointed out that some bacteria produce toxins that withstand 121C.

The upshot is that the monks are now drinking boiled well water. Perhaps shortly they will switch to rainwater. Neither is 100% safe but considering the poverty here these are the best options available to them.

Another result is that I have downloaded the Wikipedia page on water purification. It prints out as eight A4 pages. It will provide a rich source for our English studies over the next few weeks.

For those who are not familiar with it, Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia. Check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page


It was recently reported in the Phnom Penh Post that The US Agency for International Aid was sponsoring a distribution of vitamin A to mothers and children in a village near Battambang. I applaud the US or any other country for giving aid to Cambodia. It sure is needed. But in what form?

In my opinion, giving vitamins reinforces the belief that good health comes from a pill. Vitamin A is, in fact, present in a range of foods. It occurs naturally in eggs, liver and milk. Many plants contain substances called carotenes which our bodies can convert to vitamin A. Carotenes are found in eggplants, carrots, sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables and deep yellow vegetables.

I would be applauding the US Agency for International Aid more loudly if they had embarked on an education program and distributed seeds to help the villagers to become self sufficient in these vegetables thus enabling them to take control of their own health.


Someone had told me where the Kompong Chhnang Post Office was. I thought the building was the telephone exchange. When I rode in the gate I saw an entrance. I parked my bike and walked inside. It sort of looked like a post office but an empty and dirty one. Perhaps it had been abandoned. There was no sign of anyone, nor anything that would indicate that it was actively in use. This was about 2.30 pm.

I walked outside and around the other side of the building. There was another entrance there and a guy who was about to enter said, 'Can I help you?'

'Post Office?' I said.

He told me it was around the other side of the building. So I had been in the right place the first time. I gather this entrance was the telephone exchange. So back I went.

I waited inside a little while and a guy came out. I asked if this was the post office. He said, 'Yes, but the stamp collector is not in.'

I asked when she would return. He didn't know. He said that she went home in the afternoon to cook for her children who go to school in the morning. He rang her on his mobile phone and then informed me that she would come straight down. 'Straight down' may have a different meaning in Cambodia to the way we use it and my class started at 3.00 pm. But she was apparently on her way so I waited. He stayed with me and chatted. He informed me that he was a telecommunications technician and as he worked for the government only received a salary of $35 per month. (Yes, it is cheap to live here but I easily spend more than that each week by myself and he probably has a family to support.) He also said that the 'stamp collector' was a widow with three children, all at school.

Eventually the 'stamp collector' arrived. After she did a few other tasks, she went out back and returned with a franking machine. Like most people in Cambodia (except drivers) she was in no rush. She got some scales, weighed my envelope and printed a stamp on the franking machine. She stuck it on the envelope, took my money and that was that. I asked when it would go. She said, 'Go Phnom Penh today.'

You might think from this that this PO is in a little backwater village. But no, this is the main PO in Kompong Chhnang, a town of about 50,000 people.

I needed to go back again a few days later. I decided to go in the morning after what happened last time. I had two letters to send so I went to the stationery shop first to get a couple of envelopes, (Looked it up first—s'raom sombot—I was proud of myself when they understood.) and took them with me to the PO to address them. There was life this time. There were a few motorcycles parked outside. It looked promising. I went inside. There were about three people there. Not the woman I saw last week (the stamp collector). I sat down and started addressing my letters. There were no other customers, just the three behind the counter. And a TV set going with cartoons. They were pretty excited about me being there. One came out and tried to speak to me in Khmer. I'm not that good yet, so that didn't work. Another had a try and didn't do any better. I had finished addressing my letters before another guy came from out the back and spoke to me in English. 'She go market.' (He said 'mar-ket' with the stress on the last syllable as they do.) 'You wait 10 minutes.'

I waited. She (the stamp collector) returned, weighed the letters, got some stamps out and glued them on my envelopes. Cost less the $A1 to send each letter Airmail to Australia. Everything was fine really. If they had an efficient postal service it would be more popular and I might have had to wait in a queue for ten minutes. I was happy to relax in the chair instead.


If my father, Herbert Shield, was still alive, this week he would be celebrating his 100th birthday. He died at the age of 69 on 22 May 1975. My grandchildren and I are celebrating his birthday. Please feel free to join us: http://grandfatherjohn.blogspot.com/

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