Adventures – Aquatic, Diplomatic and Aromatic, part 1

December 1, 1954

Dear Dad & Russ,

Well, since I last wrote you many things have happened. First of all, let me thank you for your note and clippings, etc., dated November 12. I especially got a kick out of the picture of the kitten. Brought back old memories of the little furry friend we used to have.

Indochina

Remember the night you came home from the ball game and I was sitting in the dining room looking at maps and you asked me where I was going now and I said “Indochina”? I still don’t quite know if you thought I was kidding or not. Well, anyways, here I am and today is the first day of December, three months from the time I left Ottawa. My, time certainly does fly!

The weather here is frightfully hot now and we dash over to the pool every opportunity we get. I got a cute birthday card with little Chinamen all over it from Elaine and Bob yesterday. Very appropriate! Which reminds me. Did I tell you in my last letter that I finally managed to get a letter off to [Uncle] Russ and [Aunt] Clara last month?

Our working hours changed for the third time since I arrived in Phnom Penh. First we worked from 9 to 12 and 3 to 5. Then we worked from 8:30 to 12:30 and 3 to 6. And today we started a new schedule – 8 to 12 and 1:30 to 4:30. Honestly, it’s so confusing!

Kampot

Now for the big news! Last weekend my friend Roger Reardon and I took a little trip to a place called Kampot, situated southwest of Phnom Penh. Here, then, is an account of our trip and all the exciting things we did and places we saw.

At 9 o’clock Saturday morning, Roger and I climbed into the back of a big, white International Commission truck bound for Kampot. The three hour drive took us through miles and miles of rice fields with hundreds of palm trees scattered all through the paddies. We saw many great grey water buffaloes wading through the shallow water. At first we thought they were elephants, they’re so big. We passed through many Cambodian villages on the way and it was very interesting to see the native thatched huts built way up on stilts to keep them dry when the Monsoon rains come. All along the way people popped out of their huts to wave at us as we passed by. Several times we saw women grinding rice in the manner they’ve been doing it for years. They use a big log shaped like a hammer balanced over another log running at right angles to it. The “hammer” end of the log is slightly heavier than the “handle” end, and this is how they grind the rice. A woman steps on the handle end, raising the hammer off the ground, then lifts her foot off, allowing the hammer to fall into a great wooden bucket filled with rice. I suppose this primitive method is the only way these people know of. Well, as we drew nearer to the town of Kampot, we entered mountainous country. These mountains are known as the “Chain of the Elephants”, so called because herds of elephants live in them. Sounds logical. (Another thing I forgot to mention that we saw shortly after leaving Phnom Penh were numerous Buddhist pagodas with yellow-robed priests all around them.)

Well, we reached Kampot and were taken directly to the International Commission’s villa there. I should explain that Kampot is one of our mobile teams in Cambodia. The town of Kampot is situated on the bank of the Kampot River with the Chain of the Elephants rising up from the opposite bank. Very beautiful. Reminded me a lot of the Gatineaus. On arriving at the villa we were greeted by our two Canadian representatives there, a Lt.-Col. and a Capt. They then introduced us to the Indian delegates and the Polish delegates. The Poles had three persons stationed at Kampot. One Polish-French interpreter who also spoke excellent English, one Polish-English interpreter who spoke better English than I do, and a young Polish naval officer. We then sat down to a delicious dinner. There I was with a be-turbaned Indian (complete with beard) on my right and an honest-to-goodness Communist Pole on my left. What a strange feeling. The Poles and Indians were extremely good-natured and there was a great amount of kidding and horse-play around the dinner table. After lunch we four Canadians and four Indians climbed into two white IC jeeps and drove off to the resort town of Kep, about 12 miles south of Kampot.

On the way to Kep I saw a very unusual thing. Salt water had been pumped into big fields to be evaporated by the sun and then the remaining salt was collected for selling in the market. I’ve never seen this done before, so it certainly was interesting. The last part of the road to Kep took us through jungle-covered mountains. Just before arriving at Kep we noticed a smaller road winding up towards the top of one of these mountains, so we decided to investigate. I’m sure glad we did! At the end of the road on top of the mountain there was a very beautiful villa. A little distance from the villa we noticed the ruins of an old ornamental garden right at the edge of a cliff. We climbed up some old grass-grown steps and finally reached the top. We stopped. There in front of us was the deep blue Gulf of Siam sparkling in the bright sunshine. Oh, but it was breathtaking! Directly in front of us in the Gulf rose the island of Phu Quoc, where a very delicious fish sauce [nuoc mam] is made then shipped to the mainland for selling. And to our left was the town of Kep with a sandy beach stretching off into the distance. All along this beach were royal palms leaning gracefully out towards the Gulf. Honestly, I just couldn’t move! It was all so fantastically unreal! Sort of like a scene you would see on a travel poster or something, but HERE I WAS!

The beach at Kep. A framed enlargement of this photo was one of David's favourites.

The beach at Kep. A framed enlargement of this photo was one of David’s favourites.

Well, somebody finally managed to drag me back to the jeep and we drove down to the town of Kep. Then we changed into our bathing suits and went dashing like made out onto that fabulous beach I saw from above. The water was very warm and delightfully salty. AND FULL OF JELLYFISH! You’ve probably seen pictures of jellyfish. Well they are indeed the strangest things. Absolutely boneless and transparent! Some were sort of pinkish or bluish looking, but most of them were perfectly clear. They sort of looked like mushrooms with six or eight (I forgot to count) tentacles. They’re absolutely harmless but certainly can give you a funny feeling when they brush against your legs. Brrr! Reluctantly we left Kep and jeeped it back to Kampot. We didn’t stop there, however, but rather crossed a bridge to the other side of the Kampot River and took a dirt road six miles through the jungle up into the mountains. At the end of the six miles we found ourselves at a little jungle stream that the Canadians in Kampot had discovered one day while out exploring. The water here was crystal clear and some rocks in the middle of the stream had formed small rapids. Jutting out from the shore, however, was a big lava formation that sort of curved out into the middle of the stream and formed a sheltered pool on the shore side. We climbed into our bathing suits again and plunged into the cool water. Was it ever refreshing. All up and down the stream the jungle came right down to the water, and everywhere were great trees with vines hanging down. The air here smelled like a perfume counter – filled with the odour of millions of tropical flowers! Honestly, if Dorothy Lamour or Tarzan suddenly went swimming by, I don’t think I would have batted an eyelash! It was all so beautiful that I kept pinching myself to see if I was dreaming. By the way it’s really quite humorous to see the Indian Sikhs swimming without their turbans on. They have their long hair all piled up in a little bun on top of their heads and are very careful not to get it wet. Well, the sun was getting low in the west and we decided to return to Kampot.]

end of Part 1

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