Blood and thunder

My first task today was to walk around to the Jayavarman VII Children’s Hospital and give a bag full of the red stuff to a good cause. Back home, I’d donate every 16 weeks on the dot but since I left I’ve not had the chance to bleed into a bag.

The hospital sees a phenomenal number of patients, every single one is guaranteed treatment and not one of them pays a penny.

I don’t think I’ve ever shed blood so fast, and the staff were friendly and efficient. The only real differences to the procedure back home were the lack of a local anaesthetic (not a problem) and the much shorter list of unacceptable donors. I can’t donate in the US or Oz because I lived in Europe during the Mad Cow scare, which is mad in itself. Cambodia will accept your blood as long as you’re fit, able, not knowingly carrying anything and haven’t done anything you shouldn’t have with someone you paid money to for the privilege.

As a "thank you", I was given a t-shirt, a whole packet of biscuits, a can of Coke, some tablets (no idea what they were for, so I’ve dumped them), a sticker and an offer to return in a week to get the results of my blood tests. Yes, unlike the UK they will tell you the results of the screenings they do on your sample. In fairness, I think the UK blood service deals with many more samples.

The area around the hospital is covered in a bizarre mix of five-star hotels and shacks with ten people living in them. It’s heartening to see that several of these smaller abodes have signs outside telling passers-by that there’s a water pump inside which was paid for by tourism. People here like tourists. They very much don’t seem to prey on them, but instead realise that treating us well means more visitors and more honest cash. Even the ring water main near our guest house has been replaced recently and goes through proper filtration – you can drink the water from the tap!

I then took a walk back down towards the river and around to a cybercafe. On the way, I saw what I think was a wedding. People were milling about outside a pagoda in very bright clothing (the groom wore pink) and the women had really gone to town with the makeup. Children sat on the streets with caged birds which they sold to the family to release for good luck. Maybe good luck for the bird. Definitely one custom I don’t like.

Next to the FCC (expensive) cafe was a health spa outside of which were some interesting statues. You may have seen the large ones around made from scrap metal, old bike chains and the like. Here were several similar works, only they were all made from decommissioned guns.

I then spent four hours online, though I blame that on the weather. Just as I was about to wind up, thunder sounded, lightning flashed and rain poured down. Well, at 50c an hour it wasn’t an expensive way to stay dry.

After dinner, Amy, Jason and I returned to the hospital where Dr Beat Richner performs weekly under the guise of Beatocello. Richner is the man behind all three children’s hospitals in Cambodia and also a talented cellist. His concerts are used to raise funds and awareness for them. Entrance is by donation and there’s a ton of merchandise to pick up should you want it.

Tonight, however, was to be different. On what would have been the night of his 358th appearance, he opted instead to premiere his new DVD which features a lot more information on the hospitals’ history and less of the music. In a way that suited me as I’m not a huge fan of classical music! I won’t bash on about the issues presented in the video (there’s a lot of politics and bashing of the WHO involved), but I will say that what this man has achieved is nothing short of astounding.

And finally to Bar Street for a couple of quick drinks. We started in The Temple with it’s $3 jugs of beer. Amy found a Korean guy she knew from her teaching job in Seoul and he also joined us for the evening. From there, we crossed the road to the graffiti-encrusted Angkor What? bar.

Amy and Hoon departed at a time I simply can’t remember. By that time we’d gone through four jugs of beer, one of vodka red bull and one of Mai Tai (or something equally sickly). Jason and I got talking to quite a few people – two girls from Australia who for some reason were pretending to be from South Africa; an Australian guy traveling with two English girls; a huge but friendly Kiwi…

I finally made it back to my shack at around 4am and, after packing, collapsed in bed at around 4:30… with my alarm set for 5:45. Whoops.

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