Wednesday, November 17, 2010

That sinking feeling

All aboard the truck to training

Very comfortable transport

For the past few years VSO has been entering a boat in the race which is the highlight of the Bon Om Touk (Water Festival) which takes place this coming weekend. I’ll give more details about the festival after it has happened but right now I want to blog about the VSO’s race history and the training day. So for the past number years VSO’s boat the only baragan (foreigner) boat has not been terribly successful.  Indeed when I attempted to get the stat’s on the last three years I was told that we had come, 4th, 6th and 5th, which sounded ok until you realise the boats race in pairs and this essential meant that the boat was beaten by boats in other races.  
This doesn't seem so bad and we get lifejackets

It's easy on dry land
So some of you will be aware of my competitive nature (not to be confused with been a task oriented bastard) and enjoyment of new activities so naturally I signed up to be on this years boat and in the run up to training was determined to put in a good show.
So I got up on Saturday morning heading to the VSO office were the VSO rowers where gathering, I only know a few people among them was Ingran who it seems is spending some time in PP these days. Anyway the usual joking, boasting of performance or lack of it was good fun as we heading in truck to the practice area which was about 30minutes out of the city. 

We disembarked from the truck and straight away I felt I was in a collage of scenes from full mental jacket, apocalypse now and deliverance. The entire village including monks had gather to watch this odd collection of foreigners go through rowers boat camp with a Khmer man I like to call Sergeant Dancer. Sergeant Dancer wore an improvised military costume and had whistle which has we all know is the ultimate form of authority.
So under his careful and strict instruction we formed two lines (harder than you might think) what with the shouting and whistle blowing and began to practice on land which was a damn sight easier than water as it turned out. We had about 15 minutes of dry practice and then boarded out boat for the real thing.
see how well we were doing
At this point Sergeant Dancer really lived up to his name as through a combination or whistle blowing, shouting and dancing he attempted to get some form or rhythm out of us while also motivating us.  It truly was surreal to be in a  30 foot boat which at best was 2foot wide with a Khmer man dancing on the bow while we dipped our ores into the water attempting to gain some sort of momentum in the might river.  So we went up the river, turned and back down the river several times at before we stopped for lunch it seemed at least to me we were making some kind of progress although the laughing of the onlookers should have warned me.

sometimes you get the sinking feeling and then realise you are in fact sinking
After lunch we prepared for another gruelling session in the boat with some people clearing having tried but not yours truly I was has high as kite from the physical exercise and sense of achievement. So again we strained at the ores to shouts of moie, moie, moie pii, moie and the odd little dance as we went up stream and turned and then raced back again.
Sergeant Dancer puts so through our paces

Sergeant Dancer made us complete this one more time increasing the rhythm of his shouts of moie, moie, moie pii, moie so that we rowed even faster. So just as I felt we had arrived and that we would match Hun Sens boat we were joined on the water by another boat with a full Khmer crew and naturally we challenged them to a race down river. We knew this was last practice and we had competition so this time I and several others give it everything has we heading down rivers, both rowing and shouting as much as I could.

Needless to say I was delighted to see we were holding pace with the other boat for about 500m although I did notice half their crew kneeling then, there dancer gave a shout and off they went and in fleeting moment they were gone and we were knackered from our effort which only keep pace with them when they were taking it easy. 

Coming to a stop thank god
So what have I learnt well I think I am going to more realistic about our performance on race day and if we can come 4th that will be go enough for me. It was a great day and great experience and I am still very excited about the main event this Saturday. 


  1. Good luck on Saturday, John. Me and Sam will be thinking about you all sweating away in the boats while we relax in our tree top lodge in Ratanakiri! Have fun and I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures and hearing all about it! Gilly xx

  2. Thanks Gilly i think you ahev picked the more relaxed opition but since Iam in PP I might as well do the race....the worse part is that I wondering how badly we'll get beaten. Enjoy the long weekend and keep the blog coming

  3. Hi John
    just picked up your blog.. don't know how I missed it before!
    nice photos of you but who is behind the camera!?

  4. great that you didn't put my sun-cap pics here :) was great to see! all the good memories back! I already miss the dancing Sergent! junghye:)

  5. Danny at boat training it was Richard and on the race day it was Tom and You.
    Ah Junghye would you like me to add your picture with space age sun cap ....????