Thursday, December 18, 2008


Yes, I'm very excited.

I finally have a real book published.

It was self-published (which means that I'm the only person who likes it at this point) but I just received a copy and it looks awesome.

If I do say so myself.

All the profits from the book will go to the Cambodian Good Water Fund so you'll feel good about buying it AND you'll get to travel to Cambodia without all the hassles of flying. It's a win-win situation.

Just click on the picture at the top right of this blog. You can preview the book before buying it but you'll only see the first 10 pages or so which are (unfortunately) in black and white and um, a little depressing.

Trust me, it gets better after that.

Thanks for checking it out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More memories of Cambodia: Ta Prohm

Yes, I know it's approaching Christmas and I should be posting more pictures of Santa.

And yes, I know I went to Cambodia a month ago and should have gotten it out of my system.

But, I still think about that country a lot and I REALLY wanted to post some of my favourite pictures from my favourite temple.

Ta Prohm was built in 1186 and was a Buddhist temple dedicated to good ol' mom; which in this case was the mother of King Jayavarman VII. Unlike some of the other temples, Ta Prohm has been swallowed up by the jungle and is mostly in a state of ruin. If it weren't for some of the enormous spung trees embracing the walls, I'm sure this place would have crumbled even more.

I just finished reading the uplifting book called "First they killed my father" by Loung Ung and in it, she describes how Ta Prohm is where the gods live. I can believe it. Once you step inside this temple, you are transported to another world.

You put your left foot out ...

Here is a little Apsara peeking out from behind the roots. An Apsara is the fabled celestial dancer who is exquisitely beautiful and has alluring charm.

In many carvings, she has very large breasts which probably has a lot to do with her popularity.

If these pictures look somewhat familiar, it may be because of the movies. "Tomb Raider" starring Angelina Jolie was filmed here and the guides are quick to point out the "Tomb Raider tree". Who knew that I could not escape Hollywood after travelling thousands of miles?

Unlike Angelina, I did not adopt an orphan during my stay in Cambodia and because of that, I do not have a cocktail named after me at the Red Piano Restaurant in Siem Reap. Yes you might say I am a little bitter.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Holiday Pet Photo

I finally finished off my holiday pet photo.

All these dogs and cats belong to various people at the clinic.

And guess who Santa is?

Yep, I'll do what it takes to get a good photo.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The temples of Northern Cambodia

I have been home for over a month now but the memories of my trip are still very fresh. I still love looking at my pictures (which were thankfully spared from my hard drive disaster) and want to share some of them with you.

Let me give you a little background.

The BIGGEST tourist destination in Cambodia is a town called Siem Reap, located in the northern part of Cambodia. There really isn't anything terribly special about this town except that it is the gateway to the vast complex of Hindu and Buddhist temples dating back to the last millennium. The most famous of these temples is the Angkor Wat, although there are many more in various states of decay dotted around the countryside.

I am far from a Cambodian historian but I learnt a lot while I was there. The Khmer empire was very powerful a thousand years ago and encompassed parts of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. The capital was located near Siem Reap and the rulers were self-proclaimed god kings. The earlier temples were Hindu but as time passed and Buddhism became more dominant, new temples were built and the old ones were modified.

After the collapse of the empire, the entire area was largely forgotten for many centuries until it was "re-discovered" by a french man at the turn of the 19th century. During the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, all the restoration efforts came to a halt and it has only been during the past five to ten years that the area has once again become a tourist destination.

Although Siem Reap is still extremely cheap when compared to other "hot" international destinations, you can easily spend more if you wanted to. Our hotel cost $25 a night and was right in Siem Reap. The Amansara hotel which offered quite a bit more would have set us back $1000 for one night's stay.

We arrived late in the day on the bus from Phnom Penh. Of course, I couldn't wait to go to the temples so we hoped on a tuk-tuk and took the 1/2 hour ride to the gate. We purchased the $40 three day pass ticket and were even allowed to take in the sunset that night for free.

The best place for sunset viewing was apparently the temple called Phnom Bakheng. It was POURING out but this wasn't going to stop my desire to be a real life Indiana Jones.

At the top of the hill, I got my first glimpse of Angkor Wat. It was very far away but my camera captured it nicely.

Sadly, my first sunset in Siem Reap wasn't that impressive. The weather wasn't cooperating. The rainy season wasn't quite over.

Amazingly, everyone is allowed to climb and grope their way to the top of these ancient temples despite being VERY hazardous. In fact, the trip down from this temple was downright lethal in the rain. I fully expected to find a pile of tourist corpses at the bottom.

And to add to the general chaos, this temple is on top of a hill (Phnom is Khmer for hill) and after the sunset, everyone has to make it to the bottom in the complete darkness. For a more exotic trip (and probably safer one), you can also make the journey by elephant.

There is NO WAY people would be allowed to climb up these temples if they were located in the United States. Just too many hazards. I suppose if you killed yourself on one of them, you could always try suing the Cambodian government.

(Insert big laugh here)

The next day, our first stop was the Bayon. This is a large temple located within the even larger Angkor Thom. This was one of my favorite temples because of all the gargantuan faces staring out into the jungle. For me, these carvings symbolize the exotic beauty of Cambodia.

Our tourist guide (who charged a very decent $25 per day) gave us plenty of photo-ops. If you have a good guide, he'll make you sit on a ledge and take a picture of you touching noses with one of the statues. Kinda like getting your picture taken with Mickey Mouse in Disneyland.

It was still raining out the next day. We bought garbage bags (I mean, um, rain coats) for $2 a piece. The price doubled because it was raining when we bought them. Damn those Cambodian entrepreneurs!

I loved the Bayon so much that I was determined to go back when the weather was better and soak it all in.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Proposal!

During my sabbatical, I wrote a book about my adventures in veterinary medicine.

Now don't get all excited: I've lost about a third of it due to my hard drive crash and what I have needs a lot of edting. Let's just say that you ain't gonna see it in Barnes and Noble this Christmas.

But I have to come up with a really rocking title. Something that someone is going to read and say, "I have to buy this book!". I've spent the last hour trying to come up with something good but for some reason, I just haven't nailed it yet.

Here are some that didn't meet my high standards:

How veterinary medicine has made me want to work at Starbucks

Sometimes I want to bite back: Revenge tactics of a punctured veterinarian

Anal glands and abscesses: how to live your life in the animal fastlane

Doc, can I pay later? No, you can't: The tough economics of veterinary medicine

I went to college for eight years so how come I make as much as a plumber? and other questions you should ask yourself before you rack up $200000 in school loans.

Staff members that have driven me nuts

Cute kittens and pampered puppies: why can't all my patients be like them?

Buy this book so I can retire

Is it just me or did you pay way too much for your dog? questions I would like to ask owners but haven't

Keep Poofie alive until Christmas and other strange requests

If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to email me.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Update on the crash

My hard drive went to the hospital and so far the prognosis is grim ...

It probably won't be a simple recovery.

They tell me that the mouth-to-mouth didn't work. They're going to have to bring Jesus by to resurrect the dead and apparently, Jesus is VERY expensive!!

Forget Cambodia. Donate to my Save the Computer Fund!

(That's a joke. I'm still taking donations for the Cambodian Good Water Fund and every little bit helps).

I may have lost all my pics from this summer and about a third of my articles I wrote for a book. This is very bad news.

Don't forget to back up your computer or else you may eventually be seriously depressed like I am.

And if you sent me an email recently and didn't get an answer, now you know why.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

HARD DRIVE CRASH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, it happened.

I think this is worse than death. At least death is final. A computer crash is something like living hell.

My backup didn't work. At least not all of it.

Don't know how much writing and photos I have lost. Have sent my hard drive in for data recovery.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Cambodian Good Water Fund

During my time in Cambodia, I was so impressed by the beauty of the country and its people that I felt like I had to do more than just spend my tourist dollars for some handmade souvenirs. I decided that I would spend some time at an English language school and talk to them about my life in the United States and Canada.

I was invited to spend some time at Savong's school which was established in 2005 when Svay Savong was only 24 years old. Incredibly, the school has 450 students and there are no fees for the classes.

Although I only spent a couple of hours at the school, Savong invited me to visit a remote village on the weekend. I agreed and two days later, I was sitting on the back of a motorcycle driving through thick mud, avoiding cows and wondering where in the heck I was going. I bought a case of noodles with me and the other Cambodian men (there were five of them) took along some books, pens, pencils and a rubber ball.

After an hour, we arrived at the village of Srass Kvaw. The name in Cambodian appears below.

I think I was the first foreigner they had ever seen. The whole village, it seemed, came out to greet me with hands clasped in prayer and bowed heads. The noodles were quickly divided up and some of the children didn't even wait until their meal was cooked before they started chowing down.

Hmmm, just a little dry perhaps?

There are 62 families and about 171 people in this village which is located about 40 km from Siem Reap, in northern Cambodia.

With translation, I told everyone how happy I was to visit them. It felt a little strange, as if I were a missionary back in the 1800s visiting Africa for the first time.

The kids were especially welcoming. They loved having their pictures taken (and I loved taking them) and they nearly went insane with surprise when they saw themselves being played back on my video recorder.

But this village is incredibly poor. And I mean poor. They have nothing to speak of. They don’t even have fresh water.

This pit is their water supply. Yes, this is the water that they drink.

After seeing this village for myself, I couldn't help but be affected by the experience. All the people (except for one older lady) agreed that the village needed water pumps. The older lady told me that she wanted a mosquito net but I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t complain about a supply of fresh water either.

The cost for a water pump is about $200 and ten are needed for a village of this size. Mosquito nets and water jars would also be of great help but a supply of water is the top priority.

I would like to raise money for them. I HATE HATE asking people for money but this cause is something that is just too important and the dry season is now upon them. I have included a link to a paypal account for any donations and of course, even the smallest amount is going to help.

Click below to donate

My contact for this village is Savong and I know that he will use the money directly for this village and get the pumps built. In Cambodia, the government is no help (corruption exists at all levels) and no social welfare system exists. The only help these people will get are from foreigners such as ourselves.

So far, I have raised about $600. As an added incentive to donate to reach the goal of $2500, I can offer the following options:

With any donation: I will give free veterinary advice via email at If you don't need veterinary advice, then I can offer other advice. Just ask!

With $150 donation: You will get a 2009 calender made with my truly awesome photos taken during my trip to Cambodia. I will pay for the calender so 100% of your funds will go to the pumps.

I also plan on making a hardcover book of my photos but this will take some time to finish. (Hopefully available middle of December 08). All the profits will go to the Good Water Fund.

Here is a link to a story about a family who had a similar adventure to mine. It also has some good pictures of what a pump looks like.

And if you would like, check out Savong's school at

Thank you!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cambodian Cooking Class

I'll try anything once.

Even cooking.

So with that in mind, I signed up for the Cambodian Cooking Class in Phnom Penh. This one-day course is designed to give tourists some insights into the ancient and unique Khmer cuisine. For $20 per person, it was also a very inexpensive way of eating for the entire day.

The first stop was the local market where our instructor pointed out the various ingredients that we would be using for our courses. Everything was very fresh and we were able to sample a couple of things here and there.

But a Cambodian market is not exactly the place to stimulate an appetite. The smell was overpowering and seeing slabs of animal body parts (or animals waiting to be body parts) wasn't exactly a turn-on.

In more industrialized countries, we are so worried about sanitation and hygiene but it was a different story in Cambodia. They didn't have refrigeration in the market so the meat hung out in the hot weather all day. I made a mental note to make sure all my food was WELL cooked.

Cambodians like to eat some weird things. At Romdeng restaurant in Phnom Penh, you can order deep fried tarantula. Fortunately, I can't tell you how it tastes.

Here are some water lilies which are supposedly pretty good.
And salted duck eggs. These eggs are covered in a thick salty charcoal. Don't ask me how they tasted. I didn't have the chance to try these either.

One of the most distinctive ingredients in Khmer cuisine is the fermented fish paste or Prahok. It is the grey pasty looking stuff below. Sounds pretty bad and smells worse but Khmer food still tastes damn good with it mixed in.

Even red ants were available for eating. I wanted to try some as an act of revenge for all the times that ants have tried to eat me.
Or how about some other crunchy insects?

We returned to the restaurant where we began to make our own food.

Our first challenge was to make spring rolls. They aren't hard to make but the instructor thought I was doing a lousy job of rolling them up. He didn't hesitate to correct me as if I were actually going to make these things in the future. Doesn't he know that I can buy them at Trader Joes for a very reasonable price?

Then we moved on to the Banana Flower Salad. This required a lot of effort. I think it took us over an hour to make. Once again, I was yelled at because I was slicing the banana flower too thickly.

I even made the carrot flower in the picture. You like?

Then it was time to learn how to make Amok.

Amok is a unique Khmer fish curry which is steamed in banana leaves. I think this took 12 hours to make. Actually, I can't remember exactly how long it took but it seemed like a freakin' long time. Everything was done from scratch. We made the curry, the sauces and even the banana leaf bowl.

Ta-dah! This was my own creation. I was so proud, it was almost as if I had given birth to it.

I don't think I have ever made anything that looked and tasted as good as this.

This is our graduation picture. Everyone passed. Nobody died of food poisoning. (Not that I know of). We were all very happy.

As a final course, we made some sticky rice with mangoes and syrup.

This course is highly recommended if you happen to be in that corner of the world. It is offered by the Frizz restaurant, which is where I had my best meal in Phnom Penh.

You can check out the website below.

You meet great people, have a lot of fun and get to eat some amazing food all for $20. What is not to like? Airfare to Phnom Penh not included.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fun Monkey

After those depressing posts, I thought I should lighten the mood with a picture of a cute monkey!


The Terrible Past of Cambodia

Around eight in the morning, we boarded the bus in Saigon for the six hour trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Sure, it was a long bus ride but it only cost $12 per person and they assured us there would be no livestock travelling with us.

It was pouring that day. This did not deter the army of motorcycles swarming the city. I was AMAZED that I did not see more accidents.

We arrived in Phnom Penh in the early afternoon and the city was much more charming than what I thought it would be.

I guess I expected an urban toilet but instead, I saw parks, beautiful architecture, and a much more laid back atmosphere than Saigon.

One of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Phnom Penh was to get a glimpse of Cambodia's very dark past. If you're not familiar with their history, let me give you a little bit of background.

In the spring of 1975 as Saigon was falling (or being liberated depending on which side you were on), Cambodia was just beginning a period of intense turmoil. Pol Pot, the leader of the communist movement called the Khmer Rouge, took control of Phnom Penh and started making up his own rules. He changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, abolished religion and enforced the concept of "Year Zero", which meant that a new civilization was being created. The population was forced into the countryside to do backbreaking labor for no pay. Pol Pot's ideal society was an agrarian one; everyone worked in the fields.

But it got worse.

Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge army began a reign of paranoid terror. They killed off anyone whom they thought might have an opposition to their new government. They tortured prisoners to get more names. Their biggest fear was the KGB or the CIA, but even religious subjects were targeted. Nobody knows for sure how many people were killed during the four years of madness but I have read numbers from just less than 1 million to three million people. Women, children and babies were not exempt from the killings.

As a memorial to all the lives that were lost, visitors to Phnom Penh are able to visit Tuol Sleng, otherwise known as S-21, which was just one of the torture/execution centers for the Khmer Rouge. Strangely enough, Tuol Sleng started out as a high school. It is estimated that 17,000 prisoners were held here but only seven were found alive when the Vietnamese took over Cambodia. The seven survivors had their lives spared because they had talents which the Khmer Rouge found useful.

This is Tuol Sleng. Nice eh?

Inside the building are some very creepy photographs of the victims. The Khmer Rouge was apparently very good at record keeping and they took pictures of all the new arrivals.

What I found most disturbing (in a very disturbing place) were the photos of all the children. A lot of them had very detached expressions as if they weren't fully aware of the tortured death that they were facing.

Tuol Sleng is a very tragic place. Almost overwhelming. It's difficult to believe that someone could have done to this to his own country.

Sadly, Pol Pot died in 1998 of possible natural causes. He was never brought to justice for the genocide.

A cat was sleeping peacefully near one of the exhibits, completely unaware of the horrors that happened there thirty years ago.

As you might expect, some of the Cambodians joined the Khmer Rouge army to save themselves or their families.

In one room, they showed some of these people during the time of the Khmer Rouge regime and in present day. They told their stories and many of them didn't regret the choices that they had made.

Since Tuol Sleng wasn't enough misery for one day, we decided to take the tuk-tuk out to the infamous killing fields which are located about 30 minutes outside of Phnom Penh.

For a great movie which dramatizes the horrors of this location, check out The Killing Fields, directed by Roland Joffe. Haing S. Ngor won the academy award for Best Supporting Actor and he was also a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime. In a strange but sad twist, he was shot to death in Los Angeles in 1996.

At the entrance to the killing fields is a monument to all the people who lost their lives. It is filled with skulls and other assorted bones.

Many of the victims were stabbed or bludgeoned to death. The Khmer Rouge did not want to waste their precious bullets.

Many of the mass graves still need to be excavated.

Are you depressed yet?

Cambodia seems to be a country that is missing an entire generation of older people and so even the killing fields had their share of children running around.

Of course, they all want money and we were told by many people that we should NEVER give money to the children if they are begging. The children are often being pimped out by their parents to get the money and they'll never see their share of it. The other reason is that begging can set them up for a life of dependency.

These three kids followed me around while I was taking photos. They had their English lines memorized, "One, two, three, SMILE!" which they followed up with hands clasped in prayer and a very odd, mechanical (almost creepy) song. They wanted a dollar for their efforts. It was really hard to tell them no.

Their smiles seemed very out of place for this somber location.