And March is Gone... the blink of an eye. At least, that is definitely how this month felt. March disappeared somewhere between Andrew's and my travels together and separate, his work, my studies. I haven't even blogged about what I learned about Cambodians during my return trip to the beach with the clinic team. Today will be at least one step in catching you all up.

A few weeks ago, I went on a staff retreat to the beach with the staff from the NGO (non-profit) that runs the clinic I volunteer at. For numerous reasons, Andrew couldn't come with me, and for the first two days, I was the only Westerner with the group of Cambodian staff. It was the longest time I have ever spent solely with Cambodians, and I learned a lot about Cambodians.

1. The journey is about being together, not making good time.

The trip was 11 hours down to the beach - an extremely long time to be in a van. And of course, I didn't want to spend any more time than necessary cooped up there. But I quickly realized my anal, don't-stop-unless-you're-vomiting approach wouldn't fly with the staff. Enjoying the trip down (for at least one of them, their first trip ever down to the beach) was just as important as actually getting there. We stopped to eat and enjoy the scenery along the way. And you know what? We still made it to the beach before the time I'd estimated.

Spirit houses along the road

A fisherman getting his daily catch from the sea

2. Cambodians are resourceful.

During our first day there, we drove out to a quiet beach bordering the national park. Although the beach was pretty bad (trash everywhere, dirty water), one of the ladies working in the restaurant offered to take us out to another island by boat. The staff bargained down the price and even got lunch thrown in, and off we went to the island.

While we were there, I plopped down on the beach with a book and determined to do nothing but read, doze, and occasionally wander off into the sea. The staff got their feet wet a bit, then went to work digging for crabs and catching octopi. I kid you not, they had about 10 pounds of crabs and two octopi, caught with their bare hands, along with countless small hermit crab shells and sea shells, by the end of the afternoon. They were a bit disappointed when I gently suggested the (Western-style) hotel probably wouldn't be too happy about having live crabs hanging out in their rooms. They just gave them to the boat owner, who happily said he'd eat them all for dinner.

Heading out to the island

Fresh seafood for lunch

Beautiful deserted beach

Visiting K'bal Chhay Waterfalls

3. Anywhere can be a photo op - and a money-making opportunity.

The next day on our trip, the rest of the team joined us, and we travelled out to K'bal Chhay, a local waterfall about 20 minutes from the beach. There were lots of slick rocks and deep muddy water, plenty of injury-causing opportunities. While we were wandering around, we saw this set-up:

Someone came up with the idea to set up a pretty chair with flowers, then hire a guy to stand near it (see blue shirt in upper right hand corner) and charge money for people to take photos in it. I have to say that I wasn't terribly tempted to pay for that opportunity, but I was impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit shown by whoever set this spot up!

Eating lunch in the hammock-huts next to the waterfalls.

4. Cambodians love Charlie Chaplin.

Now, I don't have a photo to illustrate this point, but I was first drawn to this fact while reading a travel magazine on Cambodia early in the trip. It talked about how Charlie Chaplin had visited Cambodia in 1936 and had obviously made a good impression on its people. You can see this influence a lot of the time by watching Asian slapstick comedy - many of the male actors have a Chaplin-esque mustache and jokes. Not a few days after I read this article, we were making the long trip back home, and the staff turned on an old black-and-white silent film. Lo and behold, it was Charlie Chaplin, proving that for many cultures, the common language is laughter.