Monday, 1 February 2016

Cambodia in 1969

Another instalment  from my mother's Far East diary:-

In March 1969, after a week’s holiday with Thai friends in Bangkok, my parents set out for a few days’ visit to Cambodia.  They found Phnom Penh, the capital, a contrasting mixture of wide boulevards and narrow grubby roads.  After a hot stuffy night in Hotel Sukalay they set out for Siem Reap so that they could see the twelfth century temples in the ancient capital of Angkor.

Tuesday March 11th 1969
We caught a cyclo-pousse to the centre of the city, where we were able to share a pick up taxi to take us to Siem Reap.  We were packed in tight with the locals in a Peugeot with 3 rows of seats.  Soon we were passing through flat, dry countryside sprinkled with wild lotus flowers.  The houses reminded us of those in Malaya as they are also on stilts, but they lack colour and have no plants in their yards.   We met strings of 4 to 6 bullock carts jammed full of clay pots and saw quite a few cows and water buffalos.  Occasionally there was a pony drawing a cart.

While we waited at Kampong Luong for a ferry across the river, we stopped at a food market where small children pestered us to buy drinks.   The long straight road continued with many dogs wandering in front of our taxi, so the driver constantly sounded his horn until we stopped at Kampong Thom for a cold drink.  We passed jeep style taxis, cyclo-pousses and buses.  As the rice had been harvested the fields were just dry stubble.  Reaching Siem Reap we changed into a motorcycle pousse for the last 7 km to the Auberge Royal des Temples.  The hotel is right opposite Angkor Wat, across the bridge over the “moat”.  There were a few buffalo in the water with ibises sitting on their backs.

Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu when it was constructed in the 12th century.  Many of the carvings are of the beautiful “Apsaras” (Concubines who became goddesses) who hold you with their charm and serene smiles.  The carving on the stone walls is magnificent with so many details and a great many steps to climb!  The buddhas are in varying stages of decay, some having been broken while excavated.  Picture stories are told all along the cloisters.  Once each temple had a library, but all the books were left to rot.  We walked over to where a modern temple stood amongst many Stupas.  Here there was a procession of people under large round umbrellas.  Children were everywhere selling temple rubbings and ivory cow bells.

After dinner we returned to Angkor Wat which looked marvellous in floodlight.  Classical dancing was being performed on the esplanade, which was just the right setting, as the dancers emerged from the archway with the towering buildings outlined against the sky.  The dancers dress was similar to that of Thai dancers but the music completely different.  In their welcome dance they threw flowers at the audience.  Two young boys were dressed as monkey gods, one black and one white.  In their dance they fought in bare feet.  The farewell dance used fans which was a colourful finale.

Wednesday March 12th 1969

We rose early to catch the coach to visit Angkor Thom (Great City), the last capital of the Khymer empire.  There we viewed Bayon temple, the best we’ve seen.  The bas relief friezes depict scenes from the past showing the Khymers with their elongated ears (a sign of long life).  Also shown are battle scenes where the soldiers rode elephants and the king rode a horse.  There are carvings of dancers and fishing boats surrounded by crocodiles.  Bullock carts are depicted laden with women and chickens and other food supplies.  The original grey stone had been painted red but as this wore off, lichen and moss have coloured it yellow.  The towers bore large faces on all 4 sides.

Angkor Thom is surrounded by a wall 16 kilometres long with Bayon at its centre.  A Buddhist sanctuary, people believed the temples to be the home of the gods.  On each side of the gate entrance are 7 headed Naga sculptures.  Resembling cobra heads they represent the seven races and have a symbolic association with the seven colours of the rainbow.  As we passed under the arch, we heard a scuffle, a squeak and then plonk on the ground behind me was a long thin green snake with a bat in its mouth.  I was just focusing my camera to take a photo when it suddenly started moving nearer to me so I sloped off mighty quick!

Later we walked along elephant terrace, a long wall with carved elephants all along it.  In the past kings sat above while the dancers emerged from the houses opposite to perform for them.  Sometimes the dancers performed on ropes stretched between the houses which were three storey towers.

We walked through the woods until we reached the King’s Temple.  Golden Buddhas were known to have been here but were stolen, in time of war.  Further on, is the King’s swimming pool with terraced steps like an amphitheatre.  There is an adjoining children’s pool.  They are still excavating the terrace of the Leper King.  A replica of his statue is there while the original is in the museum at Phnom Penh.  In the afternoon we went to the Petit Circuit which shows how they found the temples with vines growing out of the ruins.  Rainforest trees with wide fin-like bases were everywhere.

Thursday March 13th 1969
We left Siem Reap before 7 am sharing a taxi to Phnom Penh with a student called Sebastian Tombs.  It started to rain which is almost unheard of at this time of year.  A lorry splashed so much mud on the windscreen that the driver, who was the same one who had driven us to Siem Reap, had to find a puddle to clean it off.  We enjoyed seeing an elephant working in a field and also a large, reddish, weasel like animal on the road with a pointed face and thick tail. (It might have been the rare yellow-bellied weasel)

We saw many priests in their saffron robes standing at the roadside with their bowls, waiting to be given food.  Local women carried flat baskets on their heads containing dried fish and smoked ducks which they were selling by the ferry.

Friday March 14th 1969 
This morning we saw more of Phnom Penh.  First port of call was the small fruit and flower market which seemed more expensive than Bangkok.  The railway station is clean and pleasant with a Stupa at the front containing the ashes of a Buddha.  Walking through the Chinese area we reached Wat Phnom at the top of a small hillock.  Next we saw Wat Botum Vaddei monastery with its many Stupas.  The museum was built of red sandstone and contained ancient jewellery as well as the original statue of the leper king.

The Royal Palace is similar in architecture to the King’s Palace in Bangkok.  The Coronation Hall contains two thrones for the king and Queen.  There are also gold coloured upholstered chairs in a circle for the Royal family to hold conferences.  The Sacred room contains the robes and head-dresses for ceremonies.  There are fabulous pieces of valuable jewellery which had belonged to Napoleon III including a huge diamond and many rubies and emeralds.

On a boulevard we saw the wreck of an American plane which had been shot down on the border of Vietnam.  We briefly saw the magnificent cathedral before heading for the airport.  We were home in Singapore by 11 pm where our dog, Sherry gave us a great welcome.

Four days later on March 18th 1969, US  B-52 bombers began attacking suspected camps in Cambodia for the first time.  Over the next few years the Khymer Rouge lead by Pol Pot fought a brutal civil war which he won in 1975.

Monday, 25 January 2016

A visit to Chinatown in Singapore during October 1966

In 1966, my family arrived in Singapore to live there for 3 years.  My mother kept a diary and this is her description of a night tour of Chinatown:-

We met Mr Lim and the rest of our party at the Raffles Hotel at 7.30 pm.  Using his microphone to keep our attention, he walked us to the bus stop to catch the number 11 bus to Sri Mariamman Indian Temple, the only part of the square mile which isn’t Chinese.  The sculptured figures on the building were wonderful.  Inside they were starting the celebrations for Deepavali (divali). On November 11th, four British soldiers will join the devotees to walk across hot coals.  Burnt feet will reveal whether they are sinners.

The inside of the temple was beautifully decorated with coloured streamers like Christmas paper decorations and we listened to the chanting.  In the courtyard, various altars are set up, including one which is the head of a man.  The story goes that a king would not give his people their freedom, even in spite of his son’s pleas, so the boy, the king’s only son, cut off his own head and in a sign of repentance the King gave the people their freedom.  Another altar is for baptism.  They say that the child is given to the temple to keep for one month and then redeemed for money, but in fact only the child’s soul is left at the temple.  This would guarantee that if he died young his soul would go to heaven.  There is a huge tree where other altars are set up with burning lamps.  If you walk around the tree three times and say a prayer you should have good luck.  In Penang a similar tree was cut down and the area was flooded for a month.

Next we wandered along the grubby Chinese streets, lined with food stalls.  Each different Chinese group (Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka) keep to their own area.  One large building, originally built by the Portuguese, houses over 1000 people.  It is split into tiny cubicles for each family, the children sleeping under the bed.  One tap and toilet is shared by many families and there is nowhere to cook, hence the reason for so many roadside food stalls.  All kinds of food are available, including monkey soup or monkey brains to make you strong, or frog to improve your eyesight.   There are tiny cages of rabbits, guinea pigs, iguanas, snakes, duck, chickens etc.  One delicacy we were offered was a hundred-year-old egg from a jar.  If anyone was pregnant and wanted twins, then eating two was recommended.  Also hanging on the stalls were smoked pork, sausages, entrails and pigs’ ears.

Century eggs or thousand year eggs are a great Chinese delicacy. Traditionally the eggs were pickled in brine, and then buried in a mixture of coals, chalk, mud and alkaline clay. Although no recipes keep the eggs for a hundred or even a thousand years, the curing salts do mean that the egg is preserved for many months, without need for refrigeration. The century eggs have a translucent, jelly-like, greenish-black egg-white, and a deep blue yolk, with a slightly cheesy, fermented flavour. The outside of the white sometimes develops a stunning pattern, reminiscent of snowflakes or the branches of a pine tree, which gives rise to one of the egg's Chinese names - songhua dan, or pine-patterned egg. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Odham's Encyclopedia for Children

At the weekend I rediscovered one of my favourite books lurking in the attic.  It was a present from Santa Claus in 1958 and has rather a boring cover.

The writers of "Odham's Encyclopaedia for Children"  are not credited but its three advisory editors included  the Professor of Comparative Education at the University of London Institute of Education and the former Headmaster of Harrow School.  The book is described as, "an Aladdin's cave stuffed not with jewels but with facts, more marvellous than jewels but no less precious."

Filled with pictures and diagrams it really was a delight in the black and white world of the late 1950s.  These are the chapter headings:-

1.      Our World and Its Peoples
2.      Our Mind and Bodies
3.      Man the Discoverer
4.      Power and Energy
5.      Our Story Through the Ages
6.      How We Live Today
7.      Getting What We Need
8.      How We Enjoy Ourselves

Colourful maps display the world as it was seen from Britain at that time 

Note the industries of Britain shown above:- coal, steel and ships!

Diagrams show how things work

How our mind and body works.  This shows good and bad memories.

And the vehicles of the time have been drawn.

But the most beautiful illustrations were painted by John Rignall (1916- 2004) who also designed brightly coloured nature posters for schools and illustrated books about birds.

Little did I realise that my brand new encyclopaedia would be a source for social history 50 years later.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

On a Cold Winter's Night

On a cold winter’s evening at the end of December 1903 Emma Fricker took a cup of coffee to her husband, Eli, while he was working in the stable which was next to their home in Friary Street, Guildford.  He was a carman, working for Mr Charles Holden, grocer.  It was necessary for groceries to be delivered regularly, by horse and cart, to the larger homes on the outskirts of town.  At 9.20pm Emma heard a noise from the stable and when she went to investigate, she found her husband unconscious, lying on his back close to the hooves of one of the horses.  Two of her neighbours carried Eli, who was bleeding from a head wound, into the house but although he groaned he did not regain consciousness.  By the time he was seen by a doctor he had died aged only 41.

Visiting Friary Street today, you will see only shops and restaurants and most of the original buildings have been destroyed, but at one end there is a trace of the houses dating from before the time when Eli and Emma lived there with their 9 children.  Another employee of Mr Holden, Thomas Lee, told the borough Coroner that he had shared a beer with Eli Fricker at 8.50 that evening in a nearby beer house and that he had warned him about one of the horses, which was prone to kick, when he returned to the stable.  All agreed that Eli seemed strong and healthy and his skull had not been fractured but his heart was in a bad condition and he was said to have died of syncope.

Mr Holden was generous to the grieving widow as Eli had been an exemplary employee and a concert was organised in the Constitutional Hall to raise funds for the Fricker family.  Despite this generosity it must have been very difficult for Emma to support her children.  Eli’s last child, Agnes Rose Fricker was born in February 1904, 6 weeks after her father’s death.  By 1906 Emma had moved to the Shambles off the High Street. Her 9-year-old son Charles Henry Fricker had been sent to Dr Barnardo’s and in 1905 he had sailed on the SS Dominion with a group of British Home Children to live in Ontario, Canada.  Her younger son William John can be found in 1911 as one of 1073 boys at the Royal Navy Training Establishment in HMS Ganges, Shotley, Suffolk.  Meanwhile most of her daughters went into domestic service.

But this was by no means the end of their stories.  Emma remarried in 1906, becoming Mrs Strange.  Charles Fricker married Pearl Teskey in 1914 and they had ten children.  He died in North Bay, Ontario in 1973.  He had been joined in Canada by his brothers Albert and William and also by his mother Emma and all three also died in Ontario.  William John Fricker had a particularly successful life.  He moved on from training school to the navy throughout World War One and was promoted to officer status in 1918.  After visiting Canada in 1923, he returned to Guildford to marry Amy Ann Lefevre in his smart naval uniform.  Lieutenant Commander William Fricker received the King’s Silver Jubilee medal in 1935 and served with the Canadian navy during World War Two.

You can read more about British Home Children in my earlier blog

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My Ten most popular posts in 2015

A fascinating building filled with sad stories which is well worth visiting.

Nostalgic photos of my grandparents’ farm.

A children’s occupation from the 60s and 70s.

Looking at the south bank of the Thames.

Crime on the Thames in the early 19th century

The discovery of some old letters which brought my ancestors to life.

Living in the Workhouse and emigration to Canada was the fate of these children.

The golden age of postcards show the popularity of the seaside in Edwardian seaside.

A tragic story of a soldier and his love.

An old soldier in the Workhouse