Saturday, 23 May 2009

To market, to market to buy a ........

We visited Cambodia recently - well to be more precise - we spent some time in Siem Reap.

Siem Riep is very nice and really quite sanitised for the 2 million tourists who flock to see the famous temples each year!

but where is the poverty?

What we saw around Siem Reap when we first arrived, was not the poverty we were actually expecting..... we were surprised to see well appointed restaurants, bars, hotels, souvenir shops, tour operators, internet cafes, massage parlors (both real and fronts for brothels), as if the whole town existed only to serve foreign tourists.

There were children selling postcards and books, but we didn’t see any of the begging we’d heard about, nor any of the pockets of poverty we’d expected to see.

We asked our guide to take us to a market ...... "oh yes, he said, I will take you to the market for the souvenirs".

"No" we replied, "we want to go to the market where your family shop"

he was shocked and kept checking that yes, indeed we wanted to go to the 'local market'.

So off we went......

not so bad, I can handle it ....

yes, even the scaling of the fish out in the open....
But once inside the 'great hall', things started to change. Sanitation and cleanliness (western style) just does not exist.

This is where John started to think that this was not such a good idea!!

At a certain point, the predominance of vegetable matter gave way to tables arranged with various cuts of meat. Women squatted on or next to their butcherblock, cleaver or machete in hand, identical green tin scales ready to weigh it all up. The best way to identify the animal of origin was to look for the telltale hints: a pig’s head smiling up at us from a pork vendor’s table, a trio of cows’ legs (with hooves) arranged on the edge of another. Many of the butchers were Muslim women, identified by their headscarves. And many of the cuts of meat were completely unidentifiable, as they sported no plastic wrap with printed labels.

meat, chicken, pork, monkey, fish ..... is all out in the open ready for sale..... but this is FOOD and they need to eat ..... so what if the flies are everywhere, the food open to disease, no 'work health and safety officer' to be seen .... this is their daily life, their living in poverty....

There were baskets of freshly plucked ducks and chickens, artfully arranged with their feet in the air. Their freshness was obvious by the fact that some of their cohorts lay in the dirt, tied together at the feet, watching the butchering and plucking of their brethren while waiting their own turn. While the women chatted with their friends and fellow vendors, they casually picked up a chicken, held it to the ground with their foot, slid a teacup under its neck, and slit its throat, never pausing in their conversation and rarely doing more than glancing at the process. The deed done, the carcass was passed to the next woman, who plunged it into a large bowl of hot water and began plucking. I never did notice what they did with all the blood they caught in the teacup, but I’m reasonably certain it didn’t go to waste.

as we walked through the market one of these fish (cat fish) jumped out right in front of me onto the ground.... but the stall holder didn't even flinch, just picked it up and threw it back in with all the others.

Sorry little fella, you are destined to be someones dinner!

but the people are always happy and smiling ..... the sadness of poverty is not in their dictionary, and they are so friendly. It would be beyond our comprehension to be this poor and be so happy, in general, in the western way of life, we would be complaining, disgruntled and "oh woe is me".

Food is a necessary part of life - for everyone.

in Cambodia it is common for them to eat spiders..... yes, spiders.

eg: For many residents of Skuon, the “a-ping” – as the breed of palm-sized tarantula is known in Khmer – are a source of fame and fortune in an otherwise impoverished farming region.

“On a good day, I can sell between 100 and 200 spiders,” said Tum Neang, a 28-year-old spider-seller who supports her entire family by hawking the creepy-crawlies, deep fried in garlic and salt, to the people who flock to Skuon for a juicy morsel.

At around 300 riel (eight US cents) a spider, the eight-legged snack industry provides a tidy income in a country where around one third of people live below a poverty line of $1 per day.

The dish’s genesis is also a poignant reminder of Cambodia’s bloody past, particularly under the Khmer Rouge, whose brutal four years in power from 1975-1979 left an estimated 1.7 million people dead, many through torture and execution.

For the millions forced at gunpoint into the fields, grubs and insects such as spiders, crickets, wasps and “konteh long” – the giant water beetles found in lakes near the Vietnamese border – were what kept them alive.

“When people fled into the jungle to get away from Pol Pot’s troops, they found these spiders and had to eat them because they were so hungry,” said Sim Yong, a 40-year-old mother of five.

“Then they discovered they were so delicious,” she said.

This 'dish' may not be for you or I, then a lot of things sold at the market I would not eat either - monkey brains for one - but food is food and when one is poor, one has to eat what is available where and when.


Shreeni said...

From your point of view, this might seem new. As an Indian, this feels commonplace. The examples you show are for meat, but vegetable vendors in India look very same. Behind all the facades of awesome growth, there still exists this parallel "poverty" world in India. "Slumdog Millionaire" is for real, you know. :-)

Tanya said...

Theres a market like this across the road from James office. I cant buy the meat but if the fish is still jumping and its eyes are clear then its good. We used to go down to the wharf in Samoa to buy fish the same way there. Ive eaten crickets but not spiders yet -western price 1USD.

Leone Fabre said...

Thanx Shreeni and Tanya!

comments are always appreciated!

Travel is good for the soul ... opens ones eyes to the rest of the world.

So many people here in Singapore (Expats, not Singaporeans) are just plain ignorant of how folks live elsewhere.... this particular posting has created a few comments privately!

Lou said...

Sounds like a fabulous trip, we will be there for five nights, then travelling to Phnom Penh for another four nights. Did you stay somewhere nice?

Piglet said...

Fantastic pictures and commentary, thanks! I, too, love food markets. They're always the very first thing I seek out when I visit a new country.