Last day in Cambodia

Today was our last chance to play with the kids. We did some quick last minute shopping at the Russian market and headed over to see the kids. Sopol made lunch for us...rice with grilled chicken, soup, French fries, and stir fried beef and veggies.

Sopol is amazing! She is the sweetest, most nurturing person I may have ever met. To be mom to 27 children you have to be. She exudes joy and is very quick to laugh. You can tell she really loves her life and cares for each and every child.

We spent a lot of time playing card games, learning new dances, and sitting on the front porch while it rained. It rained super hard and even flooded all of the streets down town. The kids love trying to teach us Khmer words and they find it very amusing when we try to pronounce them. They laugh so hard it hurts. There was an element of sadness today as everyone knew that it as the last chance to see each other before we left for home. The kids got out the puffy paints and made us so many drawings that I'm really not sure how I'm going to get them all home. Most of them say "I love you" with hearts, flowers and their names on them.

When it came time to leave, the hugs and tears started. Sokheng was holding John and crying. Sray pa was having a good cry as well. Sothol and Phay wanted to know when they would see me again and I told them I would do my best to come back next year and bring the family. You should have seen the smiles when they heard that. Phay just put her arms around my waist and buried her head under my arm and held on for several really long hugs. I'm really glad that this wasn't good bye forever but good bye til next year. I made 30 new friends for life on this trip.

Our plane leaves at 11:30 tonight. Narun is picking us up at the hotel at 9. Please pray for a safe trip and for sleep on the flights for all of us.

Serious play time

Today was great. We got up, ran a few errands to pick up a couple last minute things at the Central market and spent most of the day with the kids at PE2. They were so glad to see us. We brought the puffy paint today and the kids got their new bags out to decorate. I helped out a lot and we spent a few hours just sitting in the middle of the floor drawing and painting together. Next we went outside and played a game that I'm still not sure I fully understand, but it was really fun none the less. The game is a mix between London Bridges and Tug-o-war. Not sure how the winner is decided but that didn't seem important. We all laughed really hard and had a great time. We played with the chickens a bit and snacked on some freshly picked mangos, rice cakes, and popcorn. Towards the end of our visit, they wanted to do the Electric Cha Cha a few more times before the rain broke. It rained pretty hard for at least 30 minutes so I hooked up my iPad to some computer speakers and we all sat on the front porch listening to music, talking and playing board games. They don't have much opportunity to listen to music so they really soaked it in. I introduced them to Chris Tomlin, Tim Hughes, David Crowder and a few others. They knew a couple of the songs and we sang them together. I need to burn some CDs for them. The storm brought a cool breeze that felt really nice on this otherwise hot day.

Once again, Phay hunted me down when we arrived and stuck to me like glue. She drew with me, taught me the games we played and was by my side the whole time. While we were sitting on the porch, she sat in front of me and held my hands. I keep thinking how much my kids would love playing with her; hopefully someday. As much as I have fully enjoyed spending time with every child, she will be the hardest for me to say good bye to tomorrow. She has made me feel like part of the family and it's so cool that the little girl we have been praying for by name for years chose to latch on to me. All of the children have been so amazing and respectful and fun to play with. From the moment I set foot at PE2 I knew I was with my church family.

I was barely able to keep it together when we left today. Tomorrow could be ugly as I'm getting teary-eyed just writing this post.

Up next: Our last day in Cambodia

Coke, Cha Cha and Origami

At 2:00 we went to Prek Eng 2 to hang with the kids. We arrived just after they were finished with lunch, perfect timing. First thing I did was pull out the ream of white printer paper we bought yesterday. Within 15 minutes there were 23 kids learning how to make paper cranes. Thankfully, John, Jackie and Teddy helped out. It was a surreal moment when I realized that I was teaching a group of Asian kids how to fold origami. We had fun.

As is the norm, Cambodian hospitality kicked in when Sopal brought out the home made banana chips and popcorn. We washed it down with a cold Coke. It was a hot one today.

Teddy had the idea of teaching the kids the Cha Cha Slide but none of us had it on our devices. So I sent an email to my buddy Dave Stoll and he hooked me up. We plugged my iPad into their speaker system and we all went outside to teach them a new dance. Having never done it myself, I was learning right along with them. The kids picked it up fast and there was a lot of laughter...mostly due to the fact that a buch of white people were trying to teach them to dance. It was pretty funny.

We played games out in the courtyard after dancing until it was time to leave so they could prepare for dinner. I love these kids; they are so very special. Danet, Phay, Sokine, and Rosa keep hooking me up with hand made bracelets; some for me, and some for the family. I have a huge pile of them to bring home, along with drawings and pictures they keep giving me. They love to draw and they love to give drawings as gifts.

I was looking for something to bring home as a daily reminder of the kids at PE2. I found a beautiful silver ring at the Russian Market and it fits perfectly. I'll never forget this trip and I really hope to come back soon, hopefully with my family.

Up next: Two more days with the kids before we head home.

Heaven and Hell

I need to watch the Killing Fields movie again. Now that I have visited Tuel Slang and the killing fields I think I will see it in a whole new light. I vaguely remember watching it with my mother when I was younger.

This trip to Cambodia has been an intertwined mix of seeing and experiencing both heaven and hell. Spending time with the kids has been the closest to heaven I have ever experienced and visiting these genocide museums are reminders of hell on earth.

The Killing Fields Memorial is an audio guided tour of the largest mass graves found after the Khmer Rouge was defeated. Prisoners from Tuel Sleng were sent to this area by the truckload to be murdered and piled on top of each other into mass graves. At times, over 300 people per day.

During 3 years and 8 months, 3 million of Cambodia's 8 million people were savagely murdered by this regime. Still today, when you walk along the dirt paths you will find bone fragments, teeth, and articles of clothing unearthed by the rain. In the center of the field is a tall tower with 17 levels of skulls along with shreds of fabric enshrined in a monument to the dead. It was sobering indeed.

We are now headed to see the kids at Prek Eng 2 for the rest of the day. Teddy grabbed Cokes for the kids. I bought a ream of white paper so we could draw and do origami. Nothing like visiting heaven and hell on the same day.

Shopping with the kids

This morning we spent some time reorganizing our stuff, running errands and hangin' out. Last week we all went to a local tailor who took our measurements and made shirts to our specifications and fabric choices so we went to pick them up. Pretty cool to have clothes that were made to fit you perfectly. Each shirt was only $13! We also hit the Russian Market after breakfast to pick up a few things.

At 3:00 we met Narun and the kids from Prek Eng 2 outside the Central Market. 27 kids and 4 adults climbed out of a mini van no bigger than my Honda Odyssey. This was a special outing for them. After Narun parked the van, we handed each child a $5 bill and each adult $10 and gave them just over an hour to shop the market. The kids gravitated toward an adult, so we broke up into smaller buddy groups to go out and spend their money. Interestingly enough both Pay and Sothul were in my group (we sponser them). They spent the first 15 minutes wandering around and finally I stopped our group and asked what they wanted to spend their money on. At first no one answered. I'm not sure they knew what to do. So I started throwing out ideas...watchtches, bags, clothing, toys...then Maeta spoke up, "watch, I want a watch." So we headed into the main building and the kids all checked out the watches. Three of the boys in my group ended up buying watches. Then Pay spoke up, "can we look at shoes?" sure, let's go. Off to the shoes. There we ran into about six other PE 2 girls trying on shoes. Girls and their shoes... Pay and Dane both bought matching pink jelly shoes with heals (not high heels) and they loved them. They both wore their new shoes for the rest of the evening, carrying their tennis shoes in the shopping bag. They felt so special. At 4:30 we all gathered back together and watched as the kids showed each other their new gifts. They pretty much all fell into the "accessories" category: watches, shoes, and bags. They were all so grateful and thankful.

Next we walked across the street to the Soya Mall and treated all of them to hamburgers, fried chicken, french fries, Coke, and an ice cream cone. The kids grabbed my hand when we walked in and sat me down at a table of six. Maeta, Pay, Sothul, Sothoun, Dane, ate with me and we had a great time talking. Sothul helped with some of the translating but most of the simpler conversation was pretty easy to communicate and the giggles and smiles say far more than words.

I have had an amazing time so far on this trip but I had no idea I would enjoy my time with the kids this much. Their joy is infectious. They love to just hold your hand and lean against you and talk. They are so grateful for us and our church. They pray for us daily. They are begging me to come back next year and bring the kids and Becky. I told them it was a possibility and I asked them to pray for a good year so we could afford the heavy cost involved with flying all of us to Cambodia. Caleb and Faith would have the times of their lives. We'll see...

Up next: The Killing Fields, then playing at Prek Eng 2 for the rest of the day (can't wait).

Back home to Phnom Penh

We checked into our hotel around 1:00 today after a jarring 5 hour ride back to Phenom Penh. The roads were horrible and we were weaving in and out of traffic at break neck speeds. It's no wonder the vans can make the trip 2 hours faster than the busses. I had a few white knuckle moments but we made it back on schedule and are safe. Since we still had half the day ahead of us, we went out for tapas at a place called Friends. It's a non profit micro enterpreise that helps people learn a trade and gets them employed. The food was amazing and we had a really great time trying all sorts of foods family style. It's the most expensive meal we've had yet. Including drinks and dessert it was $43 plus tip. We all ate so much that we probably won't go out for dinner tonight. I may stop down stars and grab a fruit smoothie or something light.

After lunch we walked about 3 blocks to the National Museum. Beautiful place and a great way to learn about Cambodian's history. The museum is full of interesting artifacts. Very cool and well worth the visit.

The museum closed at 5:00 so we walked down to the palace; where the prince lives. In front of the palace there are several blocks of parks, fountains, statues and monuments. It was a cool, breezy night and there were thousands of people out and about. We hung out around the kids park where Carson spent some time playing on the jungle gyms. A passing shower didn't keep us from staying for a while.

The rest of the gang is going out tonight to hit the roller skating rink at the mall. I'm probably going to chill here at the hotel, prepack a few things and get to bed early. We are all very tired.

Up next: Taking the Prek Eng 2 kids to the Central Market and Pizza!

Siem Reap

We made a last minute change to our schedule by staying one more night in Battambang so we rolled out early to hop a 3 hour bus ride to Siem Reap. Siem Reap is home to one of Asia's largest attractions...Angkor Wat. Today we found out why. Angkor Wat is one of those places that archeologists can't explain. No one understands how ancient civilizations could build these temples and palaces that cover miles and miles of land. Angkor Wat lived up to its reputation and we really had a great time.

This evening, we went back to the hotel to freshen up and get ready for dinner. Our tuk tuk driver, Sak, suggested a dinner place that blew our minds. Best meal yet. It is called Meng BBQ. It is all you can eat. Five dollars per person, and a fresh raw meat bar with everything from the basics like beef and chicken to seafood, pork, liver, squid, and others. They bring a coal fired BBQ that sits in the middle of the the table. You pick your meat and cook it at the table. They also have a few tables with sauces, rice, noodles, and spring rolls. Awesome food. I highly suggest it for anyone coming to visit.

Tomorrow morning we leave at 7am for a 5 hour bus ride back to Phenom Penh. Can't wait to spend more time with the kids.

Up next: back to Phnom Penh

Last day in Battambang

Aside from spending time with the kids, today has been my favorite day of the trip. After breakfast we rented 3 motos for the day. To be honest, even though I'm used to riding a scooter, I was a bit nervous to ride in the kind of traffic they have here. While its not as crazy as the big city of phnom penh, (i would never drive a moto there) there are still no rules, no signs at intersections and no apparent rhyme or reason.

We headed out to the Youth conference and it went pretty well. Although I did almost drop it on the street right on front of the guy who was renting it to us. There is a lot of gravel on the road. After visiting with our kids and playing with some of the younger kids who live on the BB campus, we headed out for a smoothy at the bamboo Railroad cafe. I love that fresh fruit smoothies are only $1 and they area the best I've had anywhere. Imagine our surprise to find two photos of the mccollum family hanging on the wall. Small world.

We decided to go out hunting for the Bamboo Train station that we had heard so much about. It was definitely off the beaten path and we found ourselves exploring rural communities in search. We stopped every once in a while to ask for directions but the people outside of the city spoke very little english. We just kept going until we started hitting intersections where men who worked in roadside shops just pointed the way without us even asking when we approached intersections. Apparently, 5 white people on motos could only be tourists looking for one thing. Thanks to their help, we eventually found it.

The bamboo train station was an old barn with a small concession stand width several men loading and unloading "rail cars". The railroad tracks in this area get very little use so the people have devised a way to use the track to move their goods and belongings. They lay down to railway car axels and set a bamboo platform on top of it. The rear axel has a belt drive the they ten connect to a small gasoline generator engine which moves the bamboo car forward on the tracks. W all jumped on and the driver sped off. The platform sits so close the the ground that you feel like you are really moving fast (30kph). It is a 28 km round trip to a second rail station and back. They give you 15 minutes to make a pit stop and send you right back. At the second station the was also a brick making plant. It would take me way too long to explain all that we saw the but we took a walking tour of the kilns, and it was very cool to see. Becky and the kids would love it.

After our ride, we headed back to Battambang and it really started raining. We got pretty soaked. At the hotel we all hit the steam room and sauna for a bout an hour and a half then got dressed for dinner. We hoped on the motos, headed into town and had an excellent meal at a Khmer restaurant. It was a beautiful, cool breezy night and we had a great time together.

Tomorrow morning we hop an early bus ride to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. I've been looking reward to this for a long time.



We just stopped for smoothies at the bamboo train cafe. Good thing because it started raining. We rented motos for the day this morning and it's been quite an experience. We rode them out to the youth conference and back so far. The motos are actually easier to ride than my Vespa, no clutch, and it idles in every gear. So you really never have to put it in neutral. Just let off the gas. Pretty nice actually but my experience riding the Vespa is making it more difficult to ride. I keep trying to grab the clutch.

A better nick name

This morning I actually slept in! Woke up at 6 am so I got a full 7 hours of speed last night. I think it's mostly due to the heavy curtains in the new hotel. At our hotel in Phnom Penh the curtains were semi-transparent and the morning light brightend up the room alot as sun rise is very early and sets around 6:30 pm.

We grabbed breakfast at the hotel buffet this morning then headed to the Battambang campus to see the kids at the youth conference. We had a chance to see the new campus and the model for future orphan homes. It's nice to see what is in store for Prek Eng in the not to distant future. We have made friends with a group of guys who are here for the dedication of their new home which opened 4 days ago from Life Vineyard church in Gahanna. We hung out in their home with the kids for an hour or so, playing UNO and getting to know the kids. It's fun watching these guys interact with their kids as it's their second day together with them.

While we were there, Srey Pa (who, by the way is an instigator and clown) and Srey Ka (who is one of the sweetest, most nurturing people I have ever met) started in with the "ninja" stuff again. So I challenged them to come up with a Khmer name for me. We have spent enough time together for them to come up with something better than handsome ninja. They spent some time talking and giggling amongst themselves before Srey Pa said, "your new name is 'Panha'." It sounds like "Pawnia" with an emphasis on the first syllable. After all of the giggling, I was concerned about the definition. She said it means " who thinks first, then acts." I was delighted! Wow, way better than the first name.

Over the years, I have had many people ask me why I don't have a tattoo. Even my wife asks once in a while. I think I may have something to think about now...we'll see.

Jackie is feeling sick. The tuk tuk ride back to the hotel was horrible for her. Please keep her in your prayers. It's a good thing that we came back rather than get motos this afternoon because it just started raining cats and dogs outside. I think the rest of the day is going to be slow paced. They have a night market in town, so we're thinking of hitting that this evening along with dinner. Might pick up a couple of things for the family. I'm feeling 100% now; that Cipro really works.

I'm missing the younger kids already. I'm going to have a really difficult time saying good bye next week. My eyes tear up every time I think about it.


This morning was an unusual day. First off, I woke up at 2 am with a gurgling in my stomach that was not good. A few of us ate something yesterday that wasn't quite right and we felt more than a bit dyspeptic. I was thinking maybe I shouldn't wander too far from a bathroom today when I realized that we were boarding a public bus for a 7.5 hour trip to Battambang for the Asia's Hope youth conference. I remembered John McCollum's advice and immediately started pounding Imodium and even started my first dose of Cipro. I shot an email out to my friends and family asking them to pray for an uneventful trip and thanks be to God, I didn't have any incidences on the way. In fact, I felt great.

When I boarded the bus, I went to my assigned seat and there was a small boy sitting in it. His dad and little sister were in the seat next to them. Apparently, they couldn't afford to buy three tickets so they bought one hoping to all pile into one seat. The man helping to board the bus went to my row and told the little boy that he would have to give up his seat and find somewhere else to sit. So his dad just sent him back in the bus hoping that he might find a vacant seat. The bus was full so the little boy came back and just stood next to my seat in the aisle way. I felt really bad, so Jackie and John shared their two seats with Carson for the first half of the trip and I sat with Teddy, and then we switched for the remainder of the trip so the boy could sit with his dad. I did eventually get my own seat. We dug out a few lifesavers candies and gave them to the kids; they thoroughly enjoyed it. I got the impression that they don't get treats like that very often.

The bus ride was actually enjoyable. We saw some rural areas, rice paddies and shanty towns that we hadn't really seen in the capital city. The road was lined with large buffalo, children on bicycles, crazy looking DIY tractors and moto riders carrying massive loads of produce, rice, scrap, name it. The bus stopped 3 times for people to get out, stretch their legs and grab a snack. They also had squatty potties for those who needed them. I'm not a big fan. It's basically a toilet that is level with the floor and in order to use it, one must squat over top to relieve themselves. Kinda makes you feel like a WWII bombardier trying to hit your target. On the positive side, you never have to actually sit on anything. I've seen some nasty toilet seats in my day. When you have finished, there is a trough full of water with a bucket. You pour the water into the potty to flush it. Pretty gross but it could be much worse. If you ever visit SE Asia, I highly recommend bringing at least one pack of flushable wipes. In the squatty potty, you are supposed to wipe with your hands and then rinse your hands with the water. Eww. No toilet paper is present.

The drive, overall was actually pretty entertaining. Riders got off where they wanted off and once in a while someone would hop in en route.

The hotel here is really nice. It has a swimming pool and very nice accommodations. We all grabbed dinner at a nice restaurant and then took a dip in the pool. It was a refreshing way to end the day.

Battambang is the second largest city in the country. The traffic is much less crazy compared to Phenom Penh. Think Columbus traffic vs. NYC traffic. We found a place that will rent motos for $7 a day and are picking them up after breakfast. Should be an exciting and fun way to see the city. We are going to spend the morning with the kids at the youth conference then check out the bamboo railroad this afternoon.

All of us are feeling much better this morning. Thank you for keeping us in your payers.




Handsome ninja


The kids love giving out nicknames. Each of them have their own; mostly funny, inside jokes that have lead to silly names. The first game we played when I arrived was "ninja" and it stuck for some reason. While I was hoping for a Khmer nickname it looks like I'm stuck with "handsome ninja". When they say it, it sounds like "honsom neenja" with heavy emphasis on the last syllable which makes it even more funny. Now that I'm getting to know them better I'm going to push for a better nickname. I know they can do better. Like they say, you don't get to choose your own nickname; but I'll be sure to let you know if I gain any ground on this.


Wat Phnom and ice cream


This morning began at a leisurely pace. First we hit a small stationery store across from our hotel where John, Jackie and I went shopping. Next, we headed to the Central Market to grab some clothes for Carson. Teddy had left some of his clothes on the balcony to dry and they blew off over night.

After breakfast we found Mr. Sivet, our favorite tuktuk driver, and headed to Wat Phnom. A google search will give you the historical background if you are interested but it is essentially a massive Buddhist temple in downtown Phenom Penh. It's a beautiful place to visit. You can see photos on my Flickr page once they upload at

At 2:00 Narun picked us up at the hotel to take us to Prek Eng 2. A special collection taken at Central Vineyard church helped us to be able to throw a party for them last night. Music was pumping when we rolled through the gates and smiling faces all came running to welcome us. Sopal and the helpers at the orphanage prepared a feast of traditional Khmer foods like curried chicken, banana leaf salad, rice noodle salad, grilled eggs, and "special meat" (aka, dog). It was amazing. These are the kids favorite foods...with the exception of the dog which was requested by Teddy. We had to try it while we were here.

After dinner, Sopal broke out the extra special treat, strawberry ice cream cones! Because there is no freezer large enough to keep it on the premises, they had to eat it all; the kids had no problem going back for seconds, sometimes thirds to finish it off.

Before we left, we opened up two suitcases filled with tote bags that Julie Young put together for us to bring. Each child received a bag with fun stuff like toys, note pads, socks, sidewalk chalk, candy, colorful erasers and a kite. They were thrilled. When we asked them to come over to the front of the house, they automatically lined up in two lines, boys and girls, and very patiently waited for their turn to take a bag. They each humbly said thank you as they received the gift and immediately started pouring through them to see what they got. They asked me to pass on their thanks to Central Vineyard for the gifts.

Up next: The Killing Fields and hopefully back to play with the kids tomorrow.



The last two mornings I have woken up around 3 am thinking about the kids. Our time here is going quickly and at some point we are going to have to say good bye. My eyes are filling with tears just writing this and I can't see the iPad screen. (Brief pause to clear eyes)

I've been a Christian my entire life, attended church every Sunday, and went to Christian schools for my education. At my church, Central Vineyard, we use the term "Kingdom of Heaven" often. The simple definition is that it is where we, on this earth, amid all of the brokenness, genocide, abuse, and corruption, see a glimmer of heaven here on earth. It's where heaven and earth collide and heaven wins. I thought I had experienced it before but in retrospect, I had no clue until I came to Cambodia.

Amid the poverty, sexual trafficking, prostitution and hardship, you will find the Prek Eng 2 orphanage. Even as I write this I cannot find the earthly words to describe this heavenly place. It truly is heaven on earth. Children who once lived in poverty, disease and abuse are now cared for and given everything they need and more because of the generosity of a small church in Columbus Ohio. They didn't do anything to deserve it. They didn't pass a test or have some moment of awakening, they were lost and now are found. It's the perfect illustration of my faith.

When we are with the kids, the joy and affection is so thick you can cut it with a knife. The gratefulness is so sincere.

As Americans we have all seen the tv commercials about how a dollar a day can save a child--as they proceed to show pictures of sick children with flies landing on them in horrible conditions. We have to look away or become emotionally detached in order to move on. Asia's Hope is different. The story is not about living in squalor, it's about the redemptive love that comes through Jesus and how Heaven crashes down on earth with it's redemptive story. These types of commercials give us this false idea (and I'm guilty of this myself) that if we could place these kids with a loving adoptive family in the U.S. that they would be so much better off. I'm here to tell you that is not the case with Asia's hope. Prek Eng 2 is the closest knit family I have ever witnessed, including my own. Each kid feels like they belong here and have an important role to play. When activities are going on, no one is excluded, regardless of age or gender. Everyone knows their role and feels like a productive member of the family. And most of all, they are loved. Narun and Sopal amaze me. I can't put it into words. They make each child feel so very important.

I'm dreading the last visit to see the kids. I'm going to be a hot mess when hugging them goodbye. Meanwhile, I want to enjoy the limited time that we have to be with them. I'm hoping that what they have rubs off on me. I can honestly say that these children have done more for me than I could have (or have) done for them. They have changed my life and my faith. I'm a better person because of them.


The Central Market




The Central Market is a huge dome shaped building about 3 blocks north of our hotel. It looks like a rising sun. The building is a key landmark in the area and has helped me get my bearings when I walk around the area. This morning was another early one as I woke up at 3:30 and couldn't get back to sleep. After laying in bed and trying to get back to sleep for an hour or so, I got up, brushed my teeth, grabbed my camera and started walking to the market. After seeing some of John McCollum's photos of the market opening, I wanted to experience it first hand.

As a side note, next to the Central Market is the Sorya Mall. Sorya is the name of one of the kids at Prek Eng 2. She is the biological daughter of Narun and Sopol, the parents who oversee and run the orphanage. She was born and named a few years before the market opened but now has gotten the nickname among the other kids as a "super market." I'm generally really bad with names, but hearing little stories like this help embed them into my brain as I'm trying really hard to call the kids by their names. It's challenging, but the kids are very forgiving especially when I mispronounce them. They usually bust up laughing and try to help me with the correct pronunciation which I can rarely achieve; thus adding to the laughter. The amount of subtlety in pronunciation is crazy. The word "Krang" can either mean "strong" or "oil" depending on how you finish the word with that "g" sound. Narun and Sopal were trying to teach us the difference but none of us could distinguish it and much laughter ensued.

Back to the Central is very similar to a maze of mini storage units with roll up garage doors. When a shop opens, the doors slide up and the shop owners start arranging their merchandise, most of which spills out into the long hallways that run through the market. The market is divided into various areas. There is a central food area where you can get fresh food made to order. When I say fresh I mean, slaughtered within the last couple of hours. Fresh meat is abundant. There are noodle places, stir frys, and several more exotic food vendors that look a bit challenging to consider eating their food. It's a very lively and busy part of the market. Then there are the fresh fruit and vegetable vendors that make our "farmers market" look like a joke. The fruit is so colorful and strange looking. Coconuts, lichi, dragon fruit, durian, mangos, and many others are neatly displayed for anyone who needs to grab their produce for the week. The dragon fruit is my favorite so far. When sliced in half it has seeds like a kiwi and tastes similar as well. Some of them are bright red all the way through and others have a bright white center.

In another area of the market, you can get anything you need from shoes and sandals to bags, clothing, accessories, toys, local crafts, you name it. This area reminds me a lot of the markets in Mexico that I have seen; only much more organized and clean.

Inside the dome of the market is where you can find jewelery for sale. Bright cut jemstones in silver settings are king. Silver is very affordable here compared to the United States. You can also get your tech gadgets here. Knock-off headphones and Apple accessories rule this area; from mobile cases and speaker systems to connection kits and software. All at extremely low prices, all bootleg and knock-off. I figured out that they keep the more expensive merchandise inside the dome area because it's the most secure part of the market. I could not get in there this morning. If you wanted to rob it after hours, you would have to get through several of the heavily fenced ares in the outer market to get to the dome. Very secure.

On the east side of the market, I watched the women arrange freshly cut flowers. Again, making anything we consider a "florist" look like a tawdry flower stand. The colorful arrangements had every color imaginable and each one was designed by hand. Each one a unique work of art made out of the freshest flowers you'll find anywhere. I'm not usually a flower guy but these stopped me in my tracks.

Back home, when we think supermarket, we think Kroger or Giant Eagle. In every way, the Central Market beats them hands down. Each time I visit, I think about how much Becky would enjoy it.

Bargaining is expected here. Some good advice we were given was to start at about 60% of the asking price and go from there. Sometimes they take it right away but usually there is a lot of back and forth. Many times I have seen the shop owner drop the price in half as I walk away. Nothing is marked so if you are interested in something you have to ask. If you aren't interested in paying that much or you're just checking the price because you plan on coming back later, the price drops drastically when you walk away. They want to make the sale. None of this "I'll come back later" stuff.

Next Monday we are bringing all 27 kids and the staff from Prek Eng 2 to the market and giving them each $5 to spend on themselves. They are beside themselves with excitement. In fact, we gave them the option: we can either go to the water park for the day or go to the market, They all answered in unison " Sorya Market." Not one of them said water park. I was stunned. Then I began thinking about it. If the first 7 years of your life were spent digging through trash to collect plastic bottles or having to steal food in order to feed yourself and your siblings, your priorities are much different than the average kid in the US. To be given money to spend on something that lasts beyond the water park experience is far more valuable. They are survivors.


Sunday with the kids




Today was my favorite day yet.

This morning we woke up early, grabbed breakfast and hailed a tuktuk to Prek Eng to meet the kids for Sunday morning church.

I have gone to church since birth and this service topped them all. Sunday morning brings all of the Prek Eng orphanages together for a church rich service so the place was wall to wall packed with children. The Prek Eng 2 kids found us right away and took us to our seats with their group. They sang several songs as a congregation, first in Khmer then in English. I knew all of the songs and was moved beyond words to stand with the kids and sing along. Let's just say that there were tears on my part. The beads of sweat rolling down my head masked the tears that came as we sang " I could sing of your love forever." Next, each of the orphanages had prepared a special song with dance motions to preform in front of the church. Caleb and Faith would have loved it. It was a good thing that it was so hot in there as more tears fell. I got it all on video so I'll be sure to share it with Caleb and Faith when I return. The kids had so much fun performing, smiling ear to ear, clapping and cheering for each other. The message was given by a visiting pastor from the Columbus area who just happen to be there at the same time. They support an orphan home in Battambang.

After church we walked as a group through the Prek Eng markets with the kids about a mile back to the orphan home. We were welcomed to stay for lunch prepared by Sopal and the kids. We had a wonderful time eating with the kids and once again, the food was incredible.

For the rest of the afternoon, we played Hillbilly golf, UNO, learned how to make bracelets, played Bocci, Hop Scotch, Phase 10, and just plain hung around for the day. They got the hammocks out and Pey, Rosa, Meta and a couple of the others, pulled me over to one of the hammocks and told me to lay down. They wanted to sing me to sleep because I needed a nap. One of the girls got a paper towel and dabbed the sweat off my head and while they tried to sing me to sleep, it didn't work. I didn't want to sleep; I was having too much fun. Instead, I took the opportunity to talk with them, asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up, where they were from, how old they where when they arrived at the home...we had some great discussions.

Around 4:00 we left to head back to the hotel for a shower. Jackie suggested that we all go out and get a massage before dinner. Around here you get 60 minutes for about $8, and they are really good. There is a local place called Seeing Hands that employs and trains the blind to give professional massages. John Rice and I were asked to share a room so some serious bonding occurred. They took us upstairs to a dark room with two mats in the middle of the floor. No sheets. Just "remove your clothing and lay down on a mat." Next they brought in two blind masseuses and led them to us. For those of you who plan to come in the future, I highly suggest the experience but when they ask you if you want it hard ("krang") say no. I opted for the krang and it was painful to say the least. It felt great afterwards but was torturous during. Twice I had to ask him to go a little lighter on me.

After that we hopped a tuktuk to a highly rated Vietnamese restaurant. Once again, amazing food.

The best part of the day was hanging out with the kids. I just can't get enough of them. While I had been told that this would be a highlight by so many friends who have made this trip, I couldn't begin to understand the fullness of this statement until I experienced it. There really are no words. I'm looking forward to spending the afternoon and evening with them. We're having a special meal and then throwing the kids an ice cream party; should be fun.

Tuol Sleng Museum


This morning we woke up, took our laundry to the cleaners, and walked to breakfast. Everyone's favorite is the Pho Restaurant about 3 blocks from the hotel. The broth is amazing and it's poured over noodles, thinly sliced beef, and fish balls (non-fishy tasting fish sausage balls). It's the best. We order the small bowls and I'm rarely hungry when lunch time comes around.

After breakfast the group went to the Tuol Sleng Museum. While not a fun place to visit, it is an important place to visit when you want a deeper understanding of the people and culture of this country. Once an elementary school, Tuol Sleng was converted into a prison, place of torture and mass murder by the Khmer Rouge. It reminded me of visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The final handful of prisoners were released in 1979; I was five years old. The uprising of the Khmer Rouge directly impacts most of Cambodia's population as an entire generation of its people we're subjected to concentration camps, torture and death.

We grabbed a really amazing lunch at an Indian restaurant today. We've been ordering everything family style which has been a great way to try lots of new foods. Excellent lunch. Aside from the insects eaten yesterday, everyone's been pretty eager to try everything.

Carson was feeling a bit better today but he really wanted to go back to the hotel after lunch so John, Jackie and I explored the Russian Market. It reminded me greatly of some of the shanty town markets we used to visit in Mexico. What a cool place. They had everything from fresh produce and milk to clothing, tools, electronics, and a massive selection of scooter parts--no Vespa parts unfortunately. The motos here are mostly Honda Cubs and the amount of parts available for them is astonishing. This bike is available in the US but they are sold sold under the name "Symba" and built by Sym." Loads of bootleg videos for sale along with knock off brand name shoes, bags and clothing. The coolest stuff was made by local crafts people. I picked up a few gifts for the family. We will definitely be going back.

This evening we grabbed dinner at an unusual place, an Italian brick oven pizza joint where they play vintage American country music and the wait staff wears cowboy hats. Oh and I forgot to mention the swimming pool. If we had gotten there earlier we could have eaten and gone swimming. We packed our swim trunks but they closed the pool 30 minutes before we got there. The food was very good. Seeing a pattern here? Teddy hasn't let us down yet.

Tomorrow we plan to meet the kids at Prek Eng 2 and go to church with them. We plan on staying afterwards and spending a good chunk of the day playing. I really missed seeing them today and really look forward to spending time together tomorrow.

Up next: Church and playtime at Prek Eng 2



Day Two

Thank you for all of the awesome birthday wishes on Facebook! It really makes me realize how many awesome friends I have.

We had a great time with the kids. It was a low-key play day today. Well, lower-key. We introduced the kids to hillbilly golf and they mastered it within a few minutes. They really had fun but John Rice called it. He said, "I wonder how long it will take before they realize that they can combine the two ladders into a 7 foot tall mega ladder?" Answer, about 30 minutes. They had it so high that they needed a chair to reach the top rung. By the end of the day, they also figured out how to turn them into small soccer goals and they were playing in the courtyard with tennis balls.

Next we broke open a box of board games that we had brought along. "Guess Who", "Run Yourself Ragged", "Phase 10", and UNO. They already knew how to play UNO but the other games were totally new. I think we had as much fun trying to teach them how to play as we did playing them. Phase 10 took the longest but they picked it up quickly. I'm glad we bought 2 decks because I have a feeling they will be wearing them out.

Last night we went out for my birthday and Teddy had something sinister in mind. We all shared a small plate of tarantula for appetizer and shared our meals family style. Of course Jackie ordered beef and red ant stir fry. The tarantula was gross but at least I can say I tried it. The ants tasted like toasted sesame seeds. Not too bad actually.

It was a great day. Next up: Toel Slang Genocide Museum

Check out the latest photos here.

Day one


We woke up bright and early this morning, ready for our first day in the city. Once everyone was up, we walked a few blocks to a Pho restaurant and had one the best breakfasts I've ever had. The five of us ate and had iced coffees for a total of $11! After breakfast we went back to the hotel because Carson, Teddy's son, was feeling sick. He sent the three of us out into the city to explore. First stop, the Central Market--bustling with people selling every kind of fresh meat, fruit and vegetable you can imagine; many of which I had never seen much less tasted. They also had areas packed with clothing and housewares, technology and jewelry. Pretty cool place.

For lunch, Teddy suggested a hand-pulled noodle place within walking distance. The food was incredible. They actually made the noodles to order.

At 4:00 Narun picked us up at the hotel in the van and drove us to see the kids at Prek Eng 2. I knew it was going to be fun but I had no clue. We had a blast. We pulled up to the gate and the kids poured out, opening the doors for us and hugging us before we had a chance for our feet to hit the ground. They've been looking forward to our visit for months. Everyone wanted a hug. They herded us into the front courtyard and asked us to take a seat. They planned a welcome party where they entertained us with various dance routines from traditional Khmer to pop and each one was full of smiling faces.

I got to meet Pay (sounds like pie) today. She stuck next to me like glue. She doesnt know that our family supports her. She just took a liking to me and stuck by my side much of the evening, holding my hand. Faith would love her.

They prepared a feast for us, fried chicken, fresh kimchee, rice, fried banana chips (amazing) and some soups with veggies and pork. The food was excellent and we all sat together and ate.

Shortly after dinner, the kids went for Jackie first. Before we know it they were chasing her around the courtyard and playing, then John, then me. The rest of the evening was full of laughter and fun as we learned new games and sweat like Americans who aren't used to the humidity. Those kids can really play! Their favorite game is like a more complex version of Duck Duck Goose. It's aparently a traditional Khamer game played by childen on new years day and the game goes on forever. No winners or losers. They never tired of it. I can't wait to bring the hillbilly golf set tomorrow. They are going to love it.

The sun set around 6:00 and we played til about 7:15 at which point they took our hands and lead us inside to join them for their evening prayers. We all sang a song together "I could sing of your love forever" and one of the older kids lead them in praying, 10 seconds later they all sat with their heads bowed, eyes closed, hands folded and praying out loud, all at the same time, lifting their requests to God. It was heart-warming to see 26 kids, all of whom knew life on the street, once discarded by their parents, thanking God for all of their blessings. It was moving to say the least. They kids smile from ear to ear and you can sense the deep gratitude they have for our church and for the ministry of Asia's Hope.

I'm looking forward to going back tomorrow afternoon to play into the evening with them.