Several months ago, President Moon, the Phnom Penh Mission President, asked Sister Tuck and me if we would like to accompany a small group of Cambodian Saints to the Manila Temple. We pondered the cost and determined we would like to do it. It is one thing to live close to a temple and not go very often, but quite another to live far away from one and not be able to attend it.
The group consisted of two families and a single sister from the Ta Khmau 2nd branch, another single sister from the Steung Mean Chey 3rd branch and a family from Kampong Cham. We had 3 children, 11 adults including Sister Tuck and me and our translators.
I prepared a picture list of the group and handed it out the first day so that the members of the group could get to know each other’s names.
We left Phnom Penh early Sunday morning, April 21 by bus to Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, exiting Cambodia and entering Vietnam at the border, passing through both exit Immigration for Cambodia and entrance Immigration for Vietnam. This wasn’t much of a problem except for the youngest child whose passport was included with his mother’s passport which the Vietnamese Immigration official understood but took a bit longer to handle. This problem was magnified as we passed through other Immigration centers where they were not as familiar with Cambodia’s way of combining a mother’s passport with a minor child’s passport.
The bus trip took about 7 hours and dropped us off in downtown Ho Chi Minh where we took a taxi to our hotel. Checking a sign at the hotel entrance did not give us warm fuzzes because it made the place feel ‘seedy’. We thought there would be a number of eating establishments near the hotel, but only found one after a 3 block walk. We also expected to find English speakers like we found in Phnom Penh, but we had problems ordering food, not getting as much as we expected which caused delays and some dissatisfaction.
The next day, we arose early and took taxis to the airport where we checked in, again having some passport problems. Interestingly, due to the naming conventions used in Cambodia, we were questioned about child trafficking because the young children’s family names on their passports did not match their father’s family name.
We ate at the air terminal which cost a huge amount which our group did not quite understand. Prices were high and selection was low so they got less than they wanted.
We had been seated on the aircraft scattered about so I was not able to find out how those who hadn’t flown before how they felt about the airplane ride, One of the sisters did not eat the meal passed out because she thought it would cost extra. We felt bad that one of us wasn’t sitting near her to explain the meal was covered in the ticket cost.
Once in Manila, we again passed through Immigration and Customs, again having a problem with the young man’s passport, which was resolved with a visit to the supervisor. We were met at the airport by ‘Clem’ and another driver who picked us up and took us to the Temple. This was the first time most of the Cambodians had ever been on a real freeway, but of course, it was clogged and slow – their first major traffic jam (not that such things don’t happen in Phnom Penh, but that this was a much bigger highway. Manila also has a large number of skyscrapers, taller and more densely packed that anything in Phnom Penh, which was interesting to see.
Our first glimpse of the Temple was wonderful, but we turned into the Patron Housing complex and had to get registered before being able to visit it.
The Temple is closed on Monday but Patron Housing was open for us to come into, but the cafeteria would not be available until the next day, after the time we had been told to go to the temple annex to start our processing. The Patron Housing registration clerk suggested we not eat the cafeteria food and linked us up with a caterer who turned out to be wonderful, who provided food on our schedules and tried to make food the Cambodians would like. Still, there was Monday evening dinner to worry about so we asked ‘Clem’ if one of his drivers could take the group out to find someplace to get food cooked the way they liked it. 12 people jumped into a van and headed out while Sister Tuck and I visited a small restaurant we had been told was in the neighborhood that would be a possibility to feed the group. The Italian food was good to my taste but very costly therefore would not satisfy a Cambodian nor be within the budget. Like worried parents, we waited for the group to return to the Patron Housing worrying all the time. They returned after 3 hours and seemed to have found the food they wanted. Our translators didn’t say much about it.
We began our Temple work at the Annex building Tuesday morning at 7:00 am, then continued for the next 3 days, accomplishing much and feeling the spirit as we performed the work. All of us had a wonderful experience.
After we had done all this work, we all stood outside the Temple and had a group photo of us holding the ordinance cards, which had been requested by the mission.
Since we had accomplished the work we had come for, Sister Tuck and I determined we would take the group to a local mall so they could see some of the sights of Manila (probably not as good an idea as the initially thought). We went to the Green Hills Shopping Center which was fairly close to the Temple and wandered through it to see how Manila did their malls, which surprised all of us. Sister Tuck and I expected different, but what we found was a large number of small shops grouped by the merchandise they were selling, different but akin to how the shops are arraigned in the Phnom Penh markets. At one point, we came to an open area where we could see three floors and a glass walled elevator moving up and down. Try as we could, we could not get anyone to ride the elevator with us, so we decided to take an escalator down a floor, only to find once most of us were down that one of our ladies would not get on the escalator so one of our translators ran to the up escalator then nudged her (a little too hard) onto the descending steps where she flailed until he grabbed her to keep her from falling. We didn’t expect that since there are escalators in Phnom Penh.
Having enough of the mall, we went outside and crossed the street to a real McDonalds, where we bought everyone a small cone, which they savored. Then, I noticed a Krispy Kreme Donut shop next door and bought a dozen donuts for them to try. The donuts were too sweet for most of them but almost everyone finished theirs.
Tired of the press of the crowd, we returned to the Patron House to prepare for our early morning departure back home.
We were picked up the next morning at 4 am for the trip to the airport to catch the 6:50 flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City, again passing through Immigration to leave the Philippines and again having a small problem with the child being on his mother’s passport.
We were seated in a loose cluster for the return flight except for one of our ladies, who was assigned to the last row of the plane, widely separated from her family. I took that seat so she could be with people she knew and had an interesting discussion with the traveler I sat next to.
Again, in Ho Chi Minh, we had the same problem with Immigration, except this time the child crept unseen past the Immigration officer and was nowhere to be found when it came time for his processing. He was quickly found and returned, but all I could do was shake my head. Seven year olds are indeed seven years old the world over.
At the exit of the airport there are a row of hotel and transportation companies with ‘TAXI’ signs which I found charge a premium for their services, so I went out onto the curb and found a fellow with a small bus who could take us all at once. The fee was 750,000 dong, which seemed high but less than what was wanted inside the airport, so we took it. We were dropped off in front of the bus station and while I was inside with the tickets finding out about the bus we were scheduled to ride to Phnom Penh on, a woman who seemed to be an employee of the station went out and rudely told our group that they were stupid thinking they could come to the station and get rides and that they were worthless and should walk back to Cambodia. Of course, there was no apology when I returned with the tickets. This single event dampened our euphoria from a successful week at the Temple.
Waiting for the bus, we found a small corner food vendor and had a great lunch then returned to the station for the seven hour trip home.
This time passing through Immigration out of Vietnam and again into Cambodia went smoothly and we were on our way. We were tired and the seven hour ride seemed to take way too long. When we got near Phnom Penh, I called our tuk-tuk drivers and had them waiting for us when we got to the bus station. One was a tad late, but everything went smoothly and we were all home in another forty minutes.