Monday, August 15, 2011

A Novel Way Of Catching Crickets

Cambodia is a hard place to work in as a journalist, but it’s still depressing to see the lack of news coming out of the country. Publications that take a critical stance are quickly brought to heel, or have their licences taken away by the Information Ministry.

For a country so rife with corruption, and so full of human rights abuses, it’s a crying shame there’s not more printed about the place. Much of it has to do with the media’s ever-growing obsession with celebrities and soft news.

It hammered it home the other day when I typed “Cambodia” in a Google news search, and most of the stories that came up were about how Angelina Jolie’s kids love eating crickets and munch them “like Doritos” - as she revealed in an interview during a visit to Siem Reap Province to plug a £7,000 handbag for Louis Vuitton.

Light-hearted yarns about child labour, mass faintings in sweat shops knocking out goods for the likes of Tesco and Marks & Spencer, and foreign conglomerates driving out impoverished villagers from their homes to make way for rubber plantations and shopping malls, don’t stand much of a chance against what a celebrity’s adopted brood like to scoff while playing video games.

But in the unlikely event that Jolie or her kids ever find themselves on skid row, they could always try this novel way of catching crickets I came across on a tour of the third world floating villages lining the massive Tonle Sap lake, just south of Siem Reap and the ancient, fabled city of Angkor Wat.

It really is shocking the extremes of wealth in Cambodia, where there's little or no state help. Siem Reap is so developed, with its $800 a night suites and world class golf courses, and yet an hour's bike ride away there are villagers earning $500 a year.

When the lake is down, as it is now, they pretty much survive on snakehead fish, which are ugly looking things with dark reptilian eyes that glint angrily as they are pulled from nets, and are about the only fish that can survive the dry season buried in muddy puddles, pretty much like the people who live on them.

One side of the road was lined with plastic bowls with what looked like giant hankies hanging over them. I’d seen them many times, but still couldn’t figure out what they were for.

I’d seen calves and chickens drinking from them, and initially thought they were just water tubs, but why so many? And what about the netting and the electrical cables and fluorescent bulbs dodgily hooked up to the overhanging power lines?

A dead frog was floating in one. Was it a frog trap? That didn’t explain the electrics. Or did it?

A group of young Khmer men emerged from a karaoke bar. They were working for an English school and offered me a job on the spot after discovering I was British – which perhaps sheds some light on why people complain about there being so many village idiots teaching English out here.

It turned out the splat-smeared netting was to catch flying crickets, so they plunged down and drowned in the slimy green ooze. I looked closer as one of the bolder Khmers began fiddling with the fizzing electrics to demonstrate how it worked.

A cable ran from the overhead power line to a plastic water bottle with two connections, providing some sort of switch so the bulb dangling perilously over the water could be switched on at night to attract more insects.

The crickets are then collected in the morning and fried for breakfast, or sold to street vendors who cook them up for the thousands of tuk tuk drivers clapping their hands at tourists in the centre of Siem Reap.

:: Five Ways To Cook A Cricket

The locals are also big fans of deep-fried spiders, but I have no idea how they catch them...

As I was cycling up to one of the poorest villages, several policemen lounging in hammocks by the side of the track called me over and told me I had to pay $2 to go in.

I was directed back to the ticket office at Chong Kneas, where tourists are charged a hefty $20 to go on a short boat tour of the floating villages and schools.

At first, the touts denied it was possible to buy a ticket for the village and kept pointing at the boat, and then they said it was $4, and finally agreed it was $2.

It wasn’t the money that bothered me - it was knowing that hardly any of it would get to those cricket-loving villagers trying to scrape a living in the mud.

:: Map Of Siem Reap And Tonle Sap...

View Larger Map


Jinja said...

Yum! I noted often these cricket-catching stations, as their lights would have a blue tint.

Lennie Nash said...

Ah! I haven't seen them at night. I'm going to go back and have a look.

GirlMeetsBug said...

Sweet!! I'll have to try that.