Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Paddy's Day in Siem Reap

It was Saint Patrick's Day. Charles had pointed out one of at least two Irish bars in the town, but any traditional celebrating was unlikely for me. Why? Firstly, we would arise at 4.30 the next morning to visit Angkor Wat. Secondly, although I had not held backing on my eating one iota, my stomach was still a little uneasy and I had started taking some antibiotics. I was determined to give them a head start and resist alcohol.

Whatever about alcohol, protection against mosquitoes cannot be resisted. I was sick of deet, but now I had a brand new long-sleeved shirt, purchased in Phnom Pehn. Chuffed, I took out the bag, stripped off the wrapping and stared at the two short sleeves. Doh!

Before dinner we went to a free 'concert' held by Beatocello, a Swiss doctor who runs a special children's hospital. Dr. Beat "Beatocello" Richner came to Cambodia in the 70's, but had to flee when Pol Pot came to power. Returning at the invitation of the King, he set up a number of hospitals where Cambodian children could get expert care at no cost. Considering that national hospitals usually do charge, and too much for the everyday Cambodian, his hospitals (there is one in Phnom Pehn as well) are extremely popularly in Cambodia. Not so the rest of the world.

For some reason, Beatocello used to be a circus performer, a cello playing clown. His concert then is ostensibly a Bach recital, interspersed with his musings on his Cambodian experience. In actuality it is a highly political (and quite grim) rant and call for help. Beatocello believes that no child should suffer second rate service, whether they live in the Third World or not. He feels the Cambodian disaster is largely the result of Western interference and we have a debt to pay. Unfortunately the WHO, and Save the Children, and pretty much every other charitable organisation around the world seems to disagree with him on the first belief. Apparently Princess Anne (or Margaret, I never remember those people), the head of Save the Children, told him Cambodia cannot afford state of the art facilities and so should not have them. Brainscanning equipment is apparently not needed in Cambodia. Also cheap drugs, labelled as dangerous by the West twenty years ago, are still being recommended for Third World countries, and indeed are being manufactured (by a French company) solely for the Third World. Is this right or fair? Beatocello doesn't think so, and neither do I. The world is wealthy enough, regardless of individual countries, and I see no reason why one set of children should be privileged above another. As Beatocello told us ad nauseum, while the western world went into hysterics over SARS, Cambodia was suffering an epidemic of Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever, an epidemic that saw thousands of children die (as opposed to the handful of SARS victims). The only way to treat Dengue was to use the clean blood testing laboratory that he had fought for and that the rest of the world felt was an extravagance. The long and the short of it was that he wanted our money or our blood, as blood transfusions were essential in treating Dengue.

This was not a fun show, but it was well worth attending, and for what it's worth his playing wasn't too bad either.

After this sobering event, we went for a local dish that is effectively shepherd's pie. Personally I didn't go to Cambodia to eat shepherd's pie and I opted for something different, a fish curry and a chicken thing, I think. And I resisted the alcohol.


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