Saying Goodbye

20 06 2013

This week is our last one at site, meaning it has been filled with countless goodbyes. I’ve been on my bike every day, riding out to the villages to say farewell to my project volunteers, my students, and the friends I’ve made during this wonderful two-year journey. There have also been several special events that have helped us say goodbye to our community, moments that I’m sure will stick with us long after we step foot on US soil again.

Our farewell tour kicked off at the school. The local high school had a ceremony to celebrate Tim and all the hard work he’s put in as an English teacher and teacher trainer.

Tim and his coteacher

Tim and his co-teacher

Then, we rented a van and took a big group of friends to a nearby national park, where we spent the day hiking, picnicking, and swimming near an impressive 50-foot waterfall.

Me and Vary at the base of the waterfall

Next, the staff at the health center organized a party where I ate countless bowls of curry and grilled chicken.


This weekend, I’ll be saying goodbye to some friends in Siem Reap before heading back to site for a special dinner with our host family. Then, on Tuesday, we’ll pack up a taxi and say goodbye to Kampong Kdey.


Beginning in Bangkok

8 04 2013

Tim and I kicked off our Thailand vacation with three days in the country’s capital city. Coming from rural Cambodia, we knew we’d be in for a shock visiting one of the biggest, most international cities in all of Southeast Asia. After all, the metropolitan Bangkok area is home to over 14 million people, which is nearly equivalent to the entire population of Cambodia. However, overwhelmed as we might have been, we loved every minute we spent in Bangkok.

We took a bus from Siem Reap into Bangkok on Tuesday, arriving in the late afternoon. Our bus dropped us off only steps from the city’s Skytrain, an elevated public train system that serves some of the busiest parts of the city. We bought a pair of tickets and hopped on a train heading to Sala Daeng, a stop located just a few blocks from our guesthouse. Riding the Skytrain was amazing. I would recommend that any tourist take it. Not only is it a fast, convenient way to cross neighborhoods, it also provides a gorgeous view of the city that you couldn’t otherwise see. Not to mention the train cars are in great shape and blast much-needed air conditioning throughout the heat of the day.

The view of the city from Lumphini Park

The view of the city from Lumphini Park

The neighborhood we stayed in was a business area, the streets bustling with people on their way to or from the office. On the street were countless food stalls, selling anything from fresh orange juice to curries, pad thai, fried eggs on rice and more, all for under a dollar or two. The number and intensity of the wafting smells was almost paralyzing, with absolutely everything looking and smelling delicious. Clothes vendors filled in any gaps left from the food stalls, and I swooned over the cute sundresses, colorful leggings and practical tops.

One of my favorite things about this area was that it wasn’t particularly touristy, but it was easy to navigate as a tourist anyway. The food was on display so we could see it even if there weren’t English menus. The city was well signed and easy to walk around in. We were never far from public transport either. In fact, the city’s transit system is truly remarkable. In addition to the Skytrain, there’s an underground metro, a network of city buses, and a boat system that runs up and down the river. If one of those doesn’t work, there’s always tuk tuks, taxis or motodops.

Riding a boat up the river

Riding a boat up the river

During our short time in Bangkok, we did a lot of exploring. On our first full day, we took a three-hour food tour led by a friendly and knowledgeable Thai woman, Dao. We visited several small, locally owned restaurants to sample main dishes such as duck, yellow curry, flaked and fried catfish, and green curry with roti. We went to the pastry shop to taste pandan rolls and finished the trip with coconut ice cream. It was the perfect introduction to the city.

Noodle soup in Chinatown

We spent the rest of our time in Bangkok exploring tourist sites and popular shopping centers. I didn’t care much for the main tourists sites, like the Royal Palace and Wat Pho, because of the huge crowds of tourists being herded through lines like cattle. Since Cambodia doesn’t see the same number of tourists as Thailand, you are often free to explore sites at your own pace and usually at no- or low-cost. Because of this, I was a bit turned off from some of Bangkok’s main attractions. Overall though, I loved Bangkok and would happily relocate if given the opportunity. The food, the energy, and the pace of life were a welcomed break from the crawling, sweltering days of Kampong Kdey.

Temple of Dawn

Tim and I are now in the northern city of Chiang Mai. We’ve got one more day here before heading down to the beach for our third stop of the trip.


Cooking Class

19 02 2013

As part of my ongoing hospitality class, we’ve been cooking some basic meals to practice proper hygiene in the kitchen. While cooking under a house on a dirt floor without running water isn’t an ideal environment to teach about hygiene, the students are quickly picking up on the basic ideas of making good, safe food. More than that, they’re having a ton of fun cooking (and eating) some western dishes they’ve never seen before. Thanks to all who donated to this project!

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Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen

28 10 2012

Since Tim’s been in Phnom Penh the past few days, I’ve been without a head chef. Tim has taken over all of the cooking duties in Cambodia since (most days) he finds the challenge of making good food here exciting. I, on the other hand, find it exhausting.

Anyway, Tim’s gone, which means I have to forage for myself for a few days. I’ve been cheating a little by going out for one meal a day so I don’t have to cook as often. Yesterday, I invited a friend to go eat with me and we went to my favorite spot to eat some nime.

Nime is essentially a big spring roll, served fresh and rolled in a thick, moist wrapper. What makes nime so good though is the peanut sauce used for dipping. It’s something that I will definitely miss when we return to the States. Yum!



15 10 2012

During our first (and possibly only) visit to Sihanoukville in the south of Cambodia, the city’s namesake died at the age of  89. King Sihanouk is revered in Cambodia, with many believing in the notion of the “god-king,” which assumes the king had powers beyond what had been bestowed on him by the country. Thus far, we haven’t noticed anything different among Khmer people, but I imagine the mood may be different outside the city.

After spending a few days in Kampot, we took a taxi down to Sihanoukville. Since it’s the middle of the Pchum Ben holiday, we were greeted by high prices and throngs of Khmer families celebrating on the beach. The whole area seemed to have the feeling of an enormous 4th of July party. The food has been incredible, with seafood barbecues all along the beach as well as street vendors with bags of fresh crabs. We ate a ton, lounged on the beach, and explored the town away from the beach. Overall, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much we’ve enjoyed our time here. We’ll head back to site tomorrow and get back into the swing of things on Wednesday.




Next Stop: Sihanoukville

14 10 2012

After three days in the tranquil tourist town of Kampot, Tim and I are making our way to Sihanoukville.

The highlight of Kampot was definitely the food: the best Mexican we’ve had in Cambodia yet, countless gooey brownies, spectacular ribs, pumpkin pancakes and more.

Ribs, mashed potatoes and coleslaw

The scenery is also lovely, with a few beautiful hills lurking in the background and a crystal clear river that runs through town.

The riverfront

On Friday, Tim and I hopped on some mountain bikes and took a ride to a cave temple located just outside of town. The view before descending into the cave was breathtaking.

The view from the cave’s entrance


The Temple


Now, we’re off to spend a couple of lazy days on the beach before we head back to site… but I could really get used to this whole vacation thing.


Reflections on Cambodia: Year One

17 07 2012

 As we near the one year mark of service in Cambodia, I’ve spent a fair amount of time processing the experience. As the days and months pass, I simultaneously seem to understand more and less about the complexities of this country and its fragile future. Although I could never speak with any authority on what Cambodia truly is, I’ve put together the following list of things Cambodia has become to me. I hope it provides insight into this place and the twelve life-changing months I’ve spent here.


Cambodia is a friendly smile and a nervous laugh. A “hello,” shouted from the rice paddies. It’s the hushed murmur of “barang” as you pass by, and the demanding “Moak bee na?” from a stranger. Cambodia is a string of small children chasing your bike. And a moto driver who stops to stare.

Cambodia is the smell of urine. Of fermented fish and rotting meat. It’s vomit on a long bus ride or the oniony scent of the country’s most beloved fruit. It’s incense burning near a spirit house.

Cambodia is pork with rice. Soup with rice. Noodles with rice. Cambodia is rice with rice.

Cambodia is the sound of roosters in the mornings and dogs at night. The monks’ rhythmic chanting drifting from the wat. It’s the discordant sounds of a wedding or a funeral. Dishes clinking next door or a baby crying. Cambodia is Pitbull and K*Pop, Karaoke and Prom Manh. It’s that same female voice, shrill and submissive, blaring from the TV. Cambodia is the deafening sound of a monsoon falling on the roof. And it’s a silence, a devastating silence, when voices should be heard.

Cambodia is the one glass eye watching everything you do.

Cambodia is emerald fields and killing fields. Disappearing forests and lakes filled with dirt. It’s a flood that ruins the crops. Cambodia is border wars and broken promises. It’s a billion dollars of aid and discouraging results.

Cambodia is 3,000 NGOs. It’s expats in coffee shops and sexpats in brothels. It’s bodyguards in the most exclusive of night clubs. It’s flocks of tourists, “Tuk tuk, lady,” and markets filled with cheap souvenirs. Cambodia is children begging on the streets. Amputees and orphans. It’s mediocre Western food.

Cambodia is its history. Cambodia is Angkor Wat.

Cambodia is a delicate balance of optimism and fatalism. It’s stories of the Khmer Rouge told in a whisper. It’s cheap beer and men who can’t hold their liquor. Cambodia is rovul taking afternoon naps in hammocks and sipping iced coffee on red plastic stools.

Cambodia is whitening creams and painted nails. Bright colored shirts adorned with lace and beads. It’s flexible fingers stretching backward, feet shuffling as music plays. It’s orange robes or bare bellies. Sampots and collared shirts, or tight tops and miniskirts.

It’s traffic and trafficking. Five on a moto and a truck piled high. It’s tai chi as you cross the street. It’s hanging on for dear life.

Cambodia is bats and spiders, snakes and mice. So many damn mice. It’s monkeys and elephants, lizards and butterflies. It’s plankton that glow in the dark.

It’s protractors and white out. Perfectly straight lines and meticulously taken notes. A sea of blue and white as children parade to school. Cambodia is a head ducked with respect, a face that’s been saved. Cambodia is so many vowels that all sound the same.

It’s squat toilets and no toilet paper. Stilted houses and burning trash. It’s life in a garbage dump, in its most literal sense. Cambodia is open defecation. It’s polluted rivers and a toxic lake.

Cambodia is rice farmers. Factory workers. Small business owners. Cambodia is a yay with a checkered kroma tied on her hairless head. A grandfather speaking French under his breath. It’s a teacher trying to do the right thing. A mother standing up for her community. Cambodia is a seller in the market, giving a discount and a smile. It’s a tour guide, beaming with pride.

Cambodia is exhilarating, inspiring and exhausting.

And, for now, Cambodia is my home.



Weekend in Siem Reap

24 06 2012

Tim and I had a great time in Siem Reap this weekend. At least 50 Peace Corps Volunteers flocked to our provincial town  to celebrate birthdays, mark the end of the school year, and, for some, begin saying goodbye to Cambodia. Unbelievable as it is, the group before us has started packing their bags and preparing to return to the US after two years of service here. This weekend was almost certainly the last time that we will see many of them.

On our way to the hockey game

So it was a weekend of catching up and saying goodbye. A weekend of packages and indulgences. A weekend of dance floors and… floor hockey. One of the highlights of the weekend was heading to a nearby village where, believe it or not, they have a court for floor hockey. A team of PCVs challenged the Cambodian students to a game, unsure of what to expect. Well, after piling 15 people into a caravan of tuk tuks and heading out of the city, the game began. And it turns out that the Cambodian students were really good, crushing our team 25-5. Although I didn’t play, I am sure that everyone had a great time despite the loss, especially during those twenty or thirty minutes when it was pouring rain on the players.

The teams, jerseys and all

After three days of splurging on more food or drink than anyone should consume, we’ve returned to site. Tonight, the feasts continue though, as Tim tries his hand at some oven-less lasagna at the request of our host family. Tomorrow, however, life returns to normal and we’ll be back at work, trying to determine how our summer schedules are going to play out.


Holidays, Trainings and… Cheese!

23 05 2012

Woah, May is coming to a close. How do these things happen without me realizing? This month, like the last, has flown by! As I mentioned before, the first half of May was filled with holidays: Labor Day, Visaka Bochea, Royal Plowing Day and, of course, three full days for the King’s birthday.

I took advantage of this time off to travel to Siem Reap. I spent two long weekends there doing intensive language training with a bright, sweet young woman who tripled my health-related vocabulary in Khmer and helped me to understand the much-loved comedy of Prom Manh, a famous Khmer entertainer, among other things. While there, I attended a few NGO events and met up with some expat friends. Plus, best of all, I bought a couch! We had been completely furniture-less for several months so I finally gave in and purchased a comfortable, wicker couch with a deep purple cushion. Having a comfortable place to sit, instead of on a rice mat on the floor, has made all the difference in our daily relaxation levels. Money well spent.

At the Banteay Srey Butterfly Center

During my second trip to Siem Reap, we got to spend some quality time with Tim’s former co-worker Adam and his wife Jenna, who were visiting Southeast Asia on their honeymoon. We went out for countless meals, visited the Ceramics Center, wandered through the butterfly reserve, and even gave in to the people in the streets shouting “Fish massage! Fish massage! No piranhas!” (For those of you who haven’t yet heard of Siem Reap’s famous fish massage, you stick your feet in a tank and little feeder fish eat the dry skin off of your feet. It tickles like nothing I have ever felt but was sort of relaxing after a while.) All in all, whether in spite of the fish massage or because of it, we had a lovely time and a very unique opportunity to get to know some fellow ‘Burghers.

Then last week, we headed to training in Phnom Penh. It was a busy few days but, fortunately, it culminated in a wonderful group-wide boat ride on the Mekong. Not a bad way to wrap up several jam-packed days. We got back to site on Sunday and, for me, it’s been nonstop ever since. Between teaching health, Spanish and several English classes, I haven’t had much time to breathe, let alone work on some of my longer-term projects. Tim’s week started off a little slower, with a sick co-teacher and monthly exams, meaning he hasn’t done much teaching since we got back. Tonight, however, he taught a few of our friends an invaluable lesson: how to make and eat pizza. These simple cultural exchanges are always a highlight for me. But man oh man, how I feel for those poor souls who tonight, at the age of 27 or 28, tried cheese for the first time!

Look at how eager they all look…


A Tuesday Tradition

15 02 2012

In keeping with the theme of our last post (food!), I wanted to write about a special meal that has become a tradition for me and Tim since we’ve arrived in Kampong Kdey.

Tuesdays are usually very long days for us. For some reason, they seem longer, hotter and busier than the other six days of the week. And although we generally feel like crashing by four o’clock, our day always holds much more for us. After the school/work day is through, Tim and I sit down to lesson plan together because on Tuesday nights we teach English to a group of NGO workers at their office. After that, one of the staff members then reciprocates the favor by teaching us Khmer. While we wholeheartedly appreciate this, do you know how tiring it is to begin a Khmer lesson at 6:30pm, after an already long day? To most of you back home that probably doesn’t sound too bad; however, in a village that is usually in for the night before dark falls, it makes for a long day. By the end of the lesson, we are usually exhausted!

But, wait! What comes next? Every Tuesday, the NGO staff hosts us for dinner. Tim doesn’t have to cook.  I don’t have to do dishes. We just sit down after class and share a meal with some of the friendliest people in our community. It is a relaxing, and much appreciated, reprieve from our long day.

I remember during pre-service training we had a session on integration. The session leader was asking a panel of volunteers who “their people” were at site. One Volunteer replied that “his people” are the bank employees that he lives with. Another said she spends her time with the ladies at the market. One said that “her people” were the midwives in the health center where she works. For us, “our people” are the NGO and microfinance employees in our town. They have warmly welcomed us into the community and have taught us so much already.

Even though I’m completely tuckered out by the end of  the day on Tuesdays, our weekly dinners together are always a highlight of my week.

The weekly gathering