Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bike Maintenance, Cameras, and Pigging Out in Phnom Penh


Our ride to Phnom Penh was only 80 miles, which we covered in about 2 hours. People here drive fast, pass erratically, and again, the bigger you are, the more right you have to the road. The traffic is reminiscent of that in India, but with a much smaller population, it is much more manageable. Although the ride was still hot and chaotic, the scenery did change, becoming much greener. We passed expanses of rice paddy and huge ponds of lotus flowers (the pods and seeds were being sold in bundles at roadside stands along the way). 

Ouch, my poor rack
We made it safely into the city and found our way to the Sunday Guesthouse, where we stayed when we were last here, and which would be our home for the next six days. Yes, the wheels started coming off our trip here. We really liked Phnom Penh last time, and since it's a large, bustling city, we figured it would be a perfect place to accomplish some things. 

I'd poked around on the internet a little and found some reports that Phnom Penh is good place to buy a camera since there aren't any taxes on them (unlike Thailand, which has a VAT). So our first day, we found several camera stores and did some comparison shopping, finding several models that would meet our specs. The list prices were substantially lower than even in Bangkok, but since we wanted to research the individual models, we didn't make a hasty purchase. The following day, though, after reading a bunch of reviews, we went back to make a deal. Our top two models were available at stores in the same block. We went in, tried the cameras to make sure they worked, checked the boxes for all the accessories, and made an offer. At the first store, the salesman was unwilling/unable to bargain, so I went into the second. After haggling for a few minutes back and forth, the shopkeeper gave her very best price, which was acceptable to us, and I carried our brand new, Panasonic Lumix TZ18, 16X optical zoom, 14.1 megapixel camera out to Colin. Struggling with our “point and hope you get something in the frame” until we got here was worth it for a savings of well over a hundred bucks!

Sidewalk welding shop
Another order of business we needed to tend to was bike maintenance. My bike needed a new chain to hopefully solve its lurching issue, so we went to Psar Tuol Tom Pong, aka the Russian Market, where one can buy virtually anything. One whole corner section of the market is devoted to motorbike parts and accessories, both new and used, and we were able to buy a new chain for 4.50 USD. It is a non o-ring (they don't seem to have o-ring chains here- nobody has even heard of them) chain, and who knows how long it will last, but changing it should answer the question of whether the chain is the problem. 

Also in the Russian Market is an entire section devoted to clothing for sale. Many of the US clothing brands are manufactured in Cambodia, and at the market, you can find heaping mounds of clothes for cheap. They're typically seconds that have been deemed unsuitable for sale in the US due to some tiny flaw or other. What we needed was cotton pants. Between the high heat and long days in the saddle wearing our riding pants, our butts and legs are looking (and feeling) chafed and rashy. So after wandering through the warren of stalls, we found some genueen Calvin Klein (it's actually spelled correctly on the waistband elastic, although the tag says “made in the USA,” not Cambodia, so who knows) 100% cotton boxer shorts. We also had some delicious noodle soup and passionfruit shakes for lunch in the market, and I bought myself a nice krama (traditional Khmer checked scarf that can be used as a towel, a sarong, head scarf to protect against dust and wind, a hammock, a brooch,...the list is endless) to replace my towel which flew off the back of my bike somewhere in rural Tanzania.

Staying at the Sunday Guesthouse as well, was a couple named Torsten and Marin, who we learned, are riding their bicycles from Cologne, Germany to New Zealand. They've been riding for a year and a half so far and have been in some interesting places and situations. One of the first questions we asked them was if they smile when they ride. The laughed and said yes, they do. They have a great sense of adventure and seem very excited by and interested in the places they go and people they meet. We spent several hours over a couple of days talking with them about our trips. On our third day in Phnom Penh, while enjoying coffee and breakfast conversation, Torsten mentioned that they had been in Phnom Penh for five days waiting for their Thai visas to be processed, and they were going that afternoon to hopefully pick them up... ohmygodthat'soneofthereasonsweareinPhnomPenhinthefirstplace! In our excitement to be here, we forgot all about needing to go to the Thai Embassy here to apply for visas to re-enter Thailand. Whoopsie!  We quickly excused ourselves and rushed about to get to the embassy before 11:30, which is when their consular service hours end for the day. Since the embassy was a couple of miles away, we decided to ride the bikes instead of hoofing it. Colin's bike didn't want to start. It finally did, but was really rough. About three blocks from the guesthouse, it stalled and would not restart. Since we were going to miss the consular hours at this rate, I took all our documents and rode to the embassy, got two applications, filled them out, forged Colin's name (don't tell), and handed the pile to the man through the window. When he asked if we had onward tickets from Thailand (you supposedly need either tickets or you have to prove that you have sufficient funds to cover your stay) I told him we were riding motorbikes, so no, we don't have onward tickets. He asked to see the documents for the bikes and wanted copies of them, which I didn't have. He then told me I could bring everything back after 2:30 pm and submit it then. So I left, intending to get the copies made and return after 2:30, as he said. But just down the block from the embassy, I saw a sign for photocopies. I slammed the brakes and rode up onto the sidewalk (just like the locals do), went inside, had copies made, and decided to head right back to the embassy to hopefully avoid having to make another trip later in the day. When I got back to the embassy, there was no one in line, so I walked up to the counter, handed the copies along with the other paperwork and fees, and asked if I could submit everything now. He took it and gave me a receipt with a date to return five days later. I smiled and asked if there was any way it could be done sooner, and he paused and said to come back in two days. Yay! I thanked him profusely in English and Thai, wai-ed deeply, and left as the guard turned out the lights and locked the door behind me.

I rode back to the guesthouse and told Colin the good news, and we got to work on figuring out what was wrong with his bike. We unrolled the tarp, got out the tools, and dropped the bowl off the carb. In the bottom of the bowl, there was a drift of fine, whitish powder, and we also found that the pilot jet was partially blocked. We were able to clean the jet and then reassembled the carburetor. A quick thumb of the starter button, and my bike started up and settled into a nice, even idle. I am puzzled by the crap in the bowl, because we just installed a new fuel filter that claimed to be a genuine Honda part less than a month ago. Oh well, as long as it's running. Since we already had the tools out and were grubby, it seemed like a good time to get Re's rack welded. We removed her top case and undid the four bolts that secure the rack. Once we removed it, we could see the extent of the damage, and it was bad. One of the men who works at the hotel pointed us in the direction of a welder, so we walked out to find him. A few blocks from the hotel, we found an area where old motorcycles are made into new motorcycles. Many small shops here take the best parts out of five bikes and make four very good looking bikes out of them. Everywhere, people were painting, polishing, and cleaning up secondhand underbones. We spied a man sitting on the side of the street making a crashed kickstand look like new. Once again, our welder spoke no English, but understood what we needed done. After he finished the kickstand, he immediately set to work on the rack, and 20 minutes later, he handed us back a freshly welded rack. This time, the repair cost a whole 2.50 USD. Cambodia is very expensive! We tromped back to the hotel and reinstalled the rack and top case. When it breaks again, we'll have to get some steel added, since there's not much left to weld.

Colin's bike was still not okay after we cleaned the carburetor. Two days in a row, we cleaned the carburetor, blew crap out of the jets (the pilot and the main, but each was plugged on different occasions). The third day, it was still bucking and acting up. The fourth day, we cleaned everything- the jets, the fuel lines we could get to. We replaced the new fuel filter with the old one. We cleaned the air filter (which was extra super nasty with a dirt-paste stuck in it) and also cleaned mine, while we were at it. After all this but before we put the leg shields back on, Colin took his bike for a several mile ride to see if it was all better. When he returned, he pronounced it good. Yay! On one of our bike maintenance mornings, we also replaced my chain. Since the chain we got for my bike was too long, I walked around the corner and found someone at one of the repair shops who could take out four links. Colin said they should use a grinder or a file to remove one of the pins, and if they tried anything else, to take the chain back and find someone else to do the job. Well, the guy I presented the chain to had an ingenious method that didn't involve a file or grinder. He had a small metal plate with a nut welded to it. He placed the link pin over the nut and tapped the pin with a small hammer. Once the pin started to move, he then took a small screwdriver to the pin, using it more like a punch, tapping the screwdriver with the hammer to push the pin through. It worked and didn't damage the chain, and he only charged 50 cents! My bike is now running great- smooth, no lurching, quiet like a sewing machine, with its new chain.

Tuol Sleng classroom/cell
One morning we visited the Tuol Sleng Museum. When we were in Phnom Penh two years ago, I went by myself since Colin was sick at the time, but he decided he wanted to see it while we were here. The Tuol Sleng Museum is an old high school that was transformed into Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge used S-21 as a detention and torture facility for suspected enemies of the cause. After the prisoners were tortured into outlandish confessions, they were transported to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where they were murdered. By the late 70s, they were killing as many as 100 victims a day. We arrived in time to watch a French documentary about the Khmer Rouge before touring the grounds. The movie and museum were sobering, and I kind of wish I had not come here. On display in some of the old classrooms were the bedframes that the victims were chained to while they were tortured, and many of the original pieces of torture equipment were also on display. But the most haunting part of the museum is the, literally, thousands of photographs of the victims that were taken the day they arrived at S-21. When you consider that only seven prisoners left this place alive, it is very sad to see the faces of the people who did not. I expected to see the faces of adult men, but what I was not prepared to see was the women with babies in their arms, and children who appeared to be as young as five years old. All enemies of the state, and all murdered. Even though I was here before, the sight of all the photos of men, women, and especially, children was really distressing. I cannot for the life of me figure out how a five-year old child can be an enemy of the state, and I will never understand how people can be so cruel.  

The other very important thing we did in Phnom Penh is, of course, eat. I suppose it's because of all the western NGO folks in the city, but you can get some really excellent western food here. Our favorite spot last time was a restaurant called Nike's Pizza House. They make incredible calzones that ooze the moment you cut into them. They must hijack the cheese shipments once they arrive in Cambodia, because they have not only mozzarella, but bleu, garlic cheddar, parmesan, and feta. They ask if you would like them fried or baked (of course, fried, why would you order it any other way). We ate many dinners there, enjoying calzones filled with cheese, spinach, ham, salami, mushrooms, mmmm, and pasta, fresh pasta with more cheese, yummy homemade tomato sauce with vegetables, mmm, so good! 
drinking iced tea at the Java Cafe
Our favorite lunch spot was the Java Cafe, which is upstairs, with a balcony overlooking the promenade and Independence Monument. This is an atmospheric place with great food (again, mainly a western menu)- juicy burgers, pastrami paninis, roasted vegetable paninis (with emmenthal- Nike's let them have it), perfect, custardy quiche, and the best iced tea drinks with fresh citrus juices. It's a bit of a splurge, but worth every penny. 
noodle soups and green beans!
Our other favorite place, the non-western one, was the Chinese Noodle Restaurant, where they make, you guessed it, noodles. At a stainless table in the entry, two men stand, kneading, stretching, and cutting fresh noodles. You can get them fried, boiled, in soup, with meats, or vegetables. We tried them stir-fried with beef, in soup with mushrooms and greens, in soup with pork, all ways were heavenly. The very best thing on the menu was the fried green beans with mushrooms and garlic. The beans were cooked to tender-crisp, with a wrinkled skin, with sliced shiitake mushrooms and a ton of sauteed garlic, all in a very light soy based sauce. I could have eaten them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfasts came from the market every morning. Just up the street from our guesthouse, a large market set up each morning, where I got fresh fruit, delicious iced coffee, and either still hot baguettes or right out of the fryer dough sticks. It really doesn't get any better.

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