Monday, 19 February 2018

Getting over 2011 and entering the New World

“If only there was an overhead foot bridge”, I said to my friend as we were talking about how busy the traffic is on street 2011 in the north west of Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. She and her young children live on one side, and the market is on the other. The market is so close but hard to get to, street 2011 cuts her off. Ten years ago it was a quiet dirt road. Five years ago it was sealed and had a lot more traffic.  Now it’s really busy. 

Trip to Phnom Penh, February  2018.

A recent trip back to the capital felt like I was travelling both back in time and yet forward into the future as well, even though it is only about 300 kilometres (198 miles) away from where we live now. I first came to Cambodia 12 years ago, one cycle of the Chinese animal zodiac.  Although we’ve been in Siem Reap for a few years now most of my Cambodia years to date we lived in Phnom Penh. Visiting the capital I had some reminders of those first weeks back in 2006. It was all still there, yet at the same time so many new unfamiliar things.

“Near the Grilled Chicken Market” isn’t one  of the usual survival phrases you would learn when first stepping off the plane into a new country, but for me it was.  I spent my first week in Cambodia staying in a mission centre, and that was the phrase I used to find my way back home each day. Hearing the phrase and using it again this month spookily transported me right back to January 2006.

It seemed incongruous that I was using the phrase to visit a friend who I had met only months before, she’s part of my new life in Siem Reap, but now living right “near the Grilled Chicken Market”.

Similarly the picture of the coffee plunger (French Press) on the Jars of Clay menu reminded me of the first time I went to Jars of Clay café after a hot sweaty day at the Russian Market. I got totally lost and couldn’t find anywhere cool to sit, so when I finally found Jars it was very memorable.  In those days the café was over 10km from our place in Phnom Penh Thmey (1 hour bike ride for me), so I found it so bizarre last month that I was sitting in a second branch of Jars up north right near my old house.

The whole trip was full of these incongruous long forgotten twelve year old memories mixed with strange new futuristic things such as PassApp (like Uber for tuktuks). I had been expecting a boring need-to-renew-a-passport trip but it turned out to be such a weird and wonderful experience.

Photo: Hanoi Road, somewhere between the Bible school turn off and street 1986, back in 2008

It seems to me that the biggest changes took place 2011-12, the central years of my time in Cambodia so far.  At the end of 2010, Logos International School moved to the area and other expats I knew started moving there for the first time.  Straight after that in January 2011 we went to Australia for two years and by the time we got back Phnom Penh Thmey was almost unrecognizable.

It felt like housing estates, mostly built by the New World Group, had devoured every small wooden house, rice paddy and even a good size pond in the north west of the city.  It went from mostly open skies and dusty tracks, to hundreds and hundreds of big fancy brick houses and cement roads.  The small lake had turned into a market. Back in Christmas 2010 one person from my expat Bible study group had moved to the area, but now there were so many members living in Phnom Penh Thmey the group had actually started meeting there.

Photo: Also Hanoi Road, also somewhere between Bible school turn off and street 1986, but this one is from 2018.

While these changes were taking place in Cambodia we were living inAustralia and the world of undiagnosed debilitating sickness. It took us by surprise; life was transformed when The Dizzy Monster began his attack.

Being out of the country while Phnom Penh Thmey  morphed from outskirts of town to the new ‘place to be’, combined with the our own huge changes we experienced while in Australia meant that we were entering a New World when we returned in 2013. It was like everything from our old life had unexpectedly and abruptly gone.

So no wonder all the changes in Phnom Penh have such a big impact on me. The year 2011 cuts my 12 years in half.  Just like street 2011 is hard to cross, getting over the year 2011 for me feels almost like leaving one world that ended in 2010, and entering a New World.

Up until 2010 I used to ride my bike out just past the Bible school to enjoy the sunset and palm trees. This vacant plot had a fence around it, I guess it used to be a school or something. Just before we went to Aus in 2011 they started sealing the road as you can see in this photo. By the time we arrived back in 2013 it had become a housing estate, and we lived there for two years! When I took this I was heading along the Bible school road  (Street 72P) almost to 2011. 

And here it is, the remote vacant lot that  I used to ride past in 2010 became one of the many New World Housing Estates that was built around 2011 in the north west of Phnom Penh, near street 2011.
Linking up with Velvet Ashes as last week was Travel.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

January 2018

Most of November and December the kids were sick, as you can see from the previous post. I do actually have a draft of our Christmas which I'll finish and post later on, but first January:

This month seemed to be full of excitement, but not the good type. 

There was that time, after a long day when I finally got the ten eggs home safely and then dropped them at our front gate and broke all of them at once. And not a small crack either, they all had holes big enough for the yolks to come out.

Or the evening when I finally had the house to myself, for the first time ever since  we moved. Between kids, relatives and workmen I don't think I've ever been home by myself, cafes are the only place I have solitude. So excited to be home alone that I locked myself out... had to meet the neighbours.

And from facebook :

My cooking tip for this week: 
Don't put something on the stove then forget about it and have a nap unless your mother in law is staying and wonders what the burning smell is. In my defense I was quite tired and had a headache.

My laundry tip for this week: 
If you are going to need to go all the way back home with a sick boy , to make it worth it you should make sure he vomits on your front AND back AND in your hair and on your jeans.

Weird atmosphere today in our neighbourhood. Strangely overcast day, plus people are burning rubbish more than normal. So its kind of dark and the air is all white and smells smokey. Also windy and cold.

Although there were also some nice things:

"Even more strong and amazing than Daddy" our preschooler trying to describe God. 

A nice surprise yesterday! Originally I was going to be in Phnom Penh this week to renew a passport. I was hoping I would be able to catch up with a friend I met over 10 years ago in language class. She is leaving Cambodia soon so it would by my last chance to see her. However I ended up having to delay my trip so I assumed I wouldn't see her this week. BUT then she randomly appeared on the street in Siem Reap yesterday morning. A nice happy surprise in the midst of a weird month.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Magical month

That magical time of year when the weather is backwards.

My friends in Aus are complaining of the heat, apparently in the 40s. Meanwhile here in the tropics we are wearing all our clothes. That one time of year when we don't feel too hot.

In fact this week is actually uncomfortably cold! Made worst by the fact that I used lots of our clothes to pack the kitchen breakables (in lieu of bubble wrap), and we haven't built the kitchen cupboards yet, so we haven't unpacked all the plates yet. So we are cold.

I'm starting to feel used to our new routines. Where we lived before I could ride my bike home from preschool drop off and have over an hour of kid free time to do stuff on the computer and in the kitchen. Skype. Cook dinner. Talk to husband in full sentences.

But it feels like I've lost my exercise and my kids free time at home for now, so its a bit frustrating, but slowly working out new routines.

Kids still sick, a string of seemingly unrelated things.  Five different skin issues. Various tummy things. We've talked about the new water and soil, maybe the sand, etc etc. Each illness is so minor and doesn't seem obviously connected to the other ones, but its been over a month and a half now.

And weirdly, I'm still not sick!! Despite being sleep deprived and surrounded by germs.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Adjusting: sickness...

I’m starting to feel like I might be superhuman.

 Well, no, not really. But we are very thankful and amazed that I haven’t been sick over the last month.  So many bodily fluids flowing around me- green snot, yellow diarrhea and vomit (various colours); as well as a few different rashes plus migraine and cold/flu symptoms. 

Since we moved the 4 of us have been sleeping in one room together while work continues on the house. Despite the continuous streams of colour, and the sleep deprivation that comes when one quarter of your bedmates are vomiting overnight and another quarter are coughing , I seem to have (so far?!) escaped sickness.

Storms are a migraine trigger, and this years storms extended a few more weeks than we expected. 

Friday, 17 November 2017

New view

Follow the Lamb

those who have received the mark of the beast on their foreheads
persecution and threat of martyrdom
the incompleteness of 666

the dragon and his first beast whose habitat is the unruly sea
the Lamb who stands on firm and holy ground

the completeness of 144,000  
security in Mount Zion
those who have the name of the Lamb and of his Father written on their foreheads


I really like how John Stott writes about the contrasts between Revelation 13 and 14 in the Bible study book we are using.   These are all his phrases, I just rearranged them.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Reading Psalms at church

Psalm 135. NIV & MSG

Singing and Psalm reading are my favourite things at church these days.

Mostly Sundays are really hard. Between being non Khmer, a mother of young kids, a wife of a preacher/musician - there are so many factors that make church a completely different  experience to  how I used to think of it.

Singing and choral reading of Psalms seem to be the most enjoyable for me as a non native speaker. If the kids let me I can actually participate. Each week we read the next Psalm, so we can even be reading the Psalm though out the week as we know what is coming up.

Mostly I think of The Message as more poetic than translations ('worthless things' vs 'toys and trinkets'  Ps 119:37) but in Psalm 135: 6 the NIV seems much more poetic to me. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Recording the "Firsts " before this time morphs into routine

Today is the first time I'm cooking pancakes since moving about 2 weeks ago!
I've mostly been eating bread, salad veggies, cheese, tinned tuna.  I haven't really started cooking meals yet as we aren't unpacked or settled. But I have made hummus, egg salad and a chocolate cake in the rice cooker. No oven yet, a few essentials to get in place before getting the fun things.

We've never had a full size oven, they cost so much and I'm the only one so far who would really appreciate it, so hasn't felt like a good idea to spend the money. But with the kids getting older it might be worth it.

On Thursday I had my first walk to the market from here, our son helped me buy some veggies and fruit.  The other day we had some friends over for lunch, our first white visitors (actually only one is barang).

Transport and daily routines still feel a bit all over the place.

If you look at my Instagram it turns out I've been mostly taking photos of the sky and mud, such a different and amazing view.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Sand and sawdust, endings and beginnings.

Chaos and change.
Random disjointed thoughts about this random disjointed time.

Sharing a kitchen with extra people and without a stove.
Teething problems with plumbing.

Getting used to an absence of rubbish collection, wifi and cable TV;
and a presence of  big, fast vehicles on the road and wide open skies.

Weather changes, boat races, water running backwards.

Two big constant things ending,
not sure what the replacements will be like,
or even if there are replacements.

The start of the academic year in Cambodia,
the end of the academic year in Australia.

Sand and sawdust.
Living out of routine and out of boxes.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Dismantling our home

Even though I knew it was going to  happen, somehow it was really upsetting to see Soeun taking apart our bed yesterday. Watching the legs come off the base of the metal frame as my husband unscrewed it, made me feel like our place of comfort was being dismembered. This week Velvet Ashes theme is chaos, very fitting for our week too.

This house move is different to many of our other moves.
I'm not pregnant this time, as I was the last two moves. We aren't needing to cull our belongings to fit in a 20kg bag as we do when we move internationally.  And we're also not trying to get rid of things so everything will fit on one truck, like we did when we moved from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. And we don't even have a moving day, more like a moving week.

But its also the same as every other move.
Seeing all our belonging packed up, and moved around and out the door feels so disorientating, like we are dismantling our home. Packing and moving all the things in our home means the space where I feel comfortable and in control is disappearing. Living cross-culturally, so many things feel so chaotic. When I'm out and about in the crazy traffic and markets it can be exciting and stressful at the same time. Knowing I've got a calm, comfortable space to come home to means I can enjoy the chaos and be part of it more. And although we have somewhere else to go when we move out of here, it will be awhile before we are unpacked and settled. We'll be living out of routine and out of boxes. Suspended in limbo for an unknown amount of time.

A new place is hard to imagine, I'm not sure what to expect. New habits, new sounds, new routes to new shops. New ways to make sharing space and time work for me (an introvert from an individualist culture) and for all the other family members. And then even when we do settle in that place, it is still temporary.

Seeing  my bed turn into a pile of pipes mostly feels like falling off a cliff but hopefully this is a reminder that we do have an eternal home. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Risky and yet not risky?

Our fan broke in quite a dramatic way. With a loud noise the cover went flying off and the pieces of broken blade also ended up on the floor.

On Wednesday morning I had to move away from the fan to turn the page. The force of wind made the page flap rapidly and I couldn’t turn it as normal. It reminded me of my crazy emotions, also flapping around rapidly, and until recently preventing me from going forward. 

What was that wind? Why was I so emotional?

I was at a crossroads and making the decision felt risky. It would be wise to go down the road that leads to the relationships and resources I rely on.  I’ll have what I need. People will see me as more responsible, it will be better for my reputation.

But the other road seems like the best use of gifts and and the best way to care for family. But it seems like an option rebellious people would take. Even though it seemed that is the best way I couldn’t imagine my future if I chose that road.

But what do I mean by rebellious? What do I think I’m rebelling against?What is rebellion in the Bible? If it is just the Christian culture and what people will think of me that’s quite different to rebelling against God. In some cases these may be in sync, but in this case it looks like they are opposites.

A Christian’s reputation might be important when there are non-believers watching. Recently there were some workers who weren’t getting paid and they thought it was because their Christian boss hadn’t paid the middle man. When in fact the boss had paid and it was the middle man pocketing the money.

But when it is Christians putting “confidence in the flesh” as Paul mentions in Philippians 3:4-6, reputation becomes a hindrance. Paul has so much to be proud of and to rely on! “”… a Hebrew of Hebrews;  in regard to the law, a Pharisee;…”

Although seeings how I'm not a Jewish man,  Amy Medina’s Confessions of a good girl  makes a bit more sense:

Growing up, I was the poster child for Good Christian Girls.

Straight-A student?  Check.
Never listen to Madonna or watch 90210?  Check, check.
Don't drink, smoke, or chew, or go with boys who do?  Check, check, check. 
I tutored inner-city kids.  I helped to lead a Bible club for disabled teens.  My ambition was to become a missionary, for crying out loud.  I was oozing with goodness.

Is the wind that is flapping about my emotions just my pride? 
Do I need to turn away from that to move forward?

I’m hesitant to post this as I’m still on a journey. But I want to remember this in between moment; relieved to have decided but not yet having to deal with consequences. Plus this week at Velvet Ashes is all about risk.

After the exhaustion leading up to this, there is exhilaration of having jumped over a big hurdle. 

Despite the unknowns of the future, I’m enjoying finally having chosen the route that seems like the Reliable One would want me to, not the one of the things I rely on .

It looks obvious like this but for a long time was blurred by crazy emotions, reputation is more of a priority than it should be .

Risky and yet not risky.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.

Proverbs 29:25

Monday, 2 October 2017

5 Things I like about living in Siem Reap (at the moment)

This used to be our holiday destination- now we live here!

The small town feel of bumping into the same people at the supermarket and kids playground, it feels like its easy to get to know people. There are only a handful of shops that sell foreign food, and only a few places to take kids to play- so I often see the same people again and again. Its a lovely community feel. Various nationalities, and it feels like there are quite a few mixed race families (or whatever the proper term is) too, our kids have many playmates who have one Khmer parent and one non-Khmer parent.

I think most expats I know in Phnom Penh are with Christian organisations. I feel like I have much more of a variety of expat friends here, compared to in PP. Might be more related to having kids than having moved to Siem Reap.


Yet, despite the small town-ness, I can still feel anonymous when I want to. The tourist industry is huge here, I can walk around in the restaurant district and feel like I'm on some exotic holiday.

After living in PP, its nice to live in a small town with less traffic and less flooding. It feels so much easier. More relaxed, less hassle to get around. More pleasant for bike riding- a river flanked by grass and tall trees is a much nicer environment than kilometres of busy dirty city.

And the whole reason we moved here has worked out too, better than we thought. Originally we wanted to move north as Soeun wanted to help church leaders in remote places by giving them ongoing training and chances to have fellowship. We had looked at living somewhere really remote- it would be a huge adjustment for me, and I'm not sure how I would cope, especially  at this stage of life.  Siem Reap seemed like a good place to live for the family, and at the same time quick and easy for Soeun to travel out. 
However it turns out the church in town already has this set up, and the church leaders/students travel into town for classes. There are now also some other locations a bit out of town when classes are held as well. So Soeun is able to do the ministry he had hoped to do, but without leaving town too much. And if feels like it makes so much sense to join in what is already happening. 

After growing up in a country that has Christmas and then living in Asia, its been really weird. I remember my first Christmas in Asia, seeing people go to the bank and school etc on Dec 25th, it just seemed so wrong. Thanks to the tourist industry, Siem Reap feels Christmassy in December. We can catch a tuk tuk around and see the Christmas lights. 

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Grand Finale

It’s meant to unveil truths, which sounds like it should be fascinating 
but it seems a jumble of nonsense.

It is part of God’s word so I know I need to read it but it doesn’t seem to teach me anything about God.
How on earth does it apply to me? 

So many oblique references to the Hebrew Scriptures, but when you flip back it’s not exactly the same.
It’s hard to get interested.

We believe Gods word is full of life and power 
which sounds exciting,
but it feels like reading it aloud to kids or unbelieving friends will probably either put them to sleep or freak them out.

Amazing Authentic 
But when it comes to carefully studying the Revelation it does reveal the fascinating reality of another realm. 
A peek into the throne room, the Lion/Lamb takes the scroll from the enthroned one.

Astonishing Astounding
It shows who God is and what he has done.
Brimming with relevance and things to learn.

A multitude washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,
The slaughtered Lamb who is the victorious Lion. 
He who was, who is and who is to come
He is alive for ever and ever
And he holds the keys to death and Hades

Velvet Ashes this week is curious, which reminded me of late last year when the expat woman's Bible study groups started reading Revelation. We had come to the end of one study and choosing what to do next. One of the options was the final book of the Bible, it seemed like most of us weren't that familiar with it. With the help of John Stott, along with Jensen and Barnett we have been working our way through. Hopefully this expresses some of our journey from curiosity and confusion to excitement.  

Friday, 8 September 2017

Connecting and the letter O

Connecting is the Velvet Ashes theme for this week. 
(I didn't really plan ahead for it but I ended up posting some photos from our time in Chiang Mai years ago. It felt like we had instant real community even though we had never been there before, and were only staying for a few months.) 

Motorbikes in Cambodia comfortably seat two people, but actually carry five and a pig.
We have so many electronic ways to communicate; email, SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If I want to talk to someone overseas I just need to figure out if I want to Skype or use Messenger.
Communication is easy, fast and plentiful but can weigh us down.

It’s plain for all to see when I sit and when I rise, they can perceive my thoughts from afar.
They can discern my going out and my lying down; they can be familiar with all my ways.

The huge tip of the iceberg can be seen easily, but do we assume the tip is everything?
Despite the bombardment, all the information is filtered, cherry picked, out of context and decorated with sun rays.
A cool day in the tropics is considered a hot day elsewhere. That one is easily measured and joked about, but often the importance of context is invisible.
The abundance of communication can lead to miscommunication, frustrations. We might think we understand but we might be building assumptions around what we can see sticking out of the water.

He knows when I sit and when I rise, he perceives my thoughts from afar.
He discerns my going out and my lying down; he is familiar with all my ways.

decorated with sun rays

See also Context is your friend
and for the flip side Home assignment actually at home

Friday, 1 September 2017

Same same but different

There were many surprises when I moved from China back to Australia. As I started interacting with Australians again I realised I’d taken on some foreign habits without being aware. I was reminded of this as Velvet Ashes is currently welcoming new cross cultural workers this month, in particular this week is Welcome to the Team.

“You’ve been to America,” my uncle exclaimed while we were eating a roast dinner.
What do you call this?

I have never been to America and I had no idea why he suddenly made that comment during the meal, seemingly out of nowhere.

He explained that I was using my knife and fork like an American, rather than eating the Australian way. I hadn’t even known that there was an Australian vs American way. (He lived in America for a year.)

I guess I unknowingly developed this habit while I was in China. There was a small group of expats in my town, mostly American. On Tuesday night I would usually eat at one of their places.

Apparently the “American way” is to cut food up with knife in your right hand and fork in left. When you've finished cutting put the knife down and hold the fork in your right hand, use it to get the food to your mouth. Australian way – cut and eat as you go, keeping knife and fork in their original hands.

While I had been oblivious to the different fork methods, it had been an adventure being in community with other expats. Most of them, like me were white, native English speakers. Compared to the millions of Chinese people around us, they were basically the same as me.

My American friends were the ones I talked to about most things and hung out with for fun. They were the ones I freaked out with when a strange new disease (SARS) shut the city down and caused chaos (Should we leave? Should we stay?). They were the ones who had good things like butter and Christmas celebrations. They were the ones who helped me work out what the university meant when it told me to teach “British and American Culture.”

But turns out they seem to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when I used the Aussie word for flip flops, and I still remember the way they looked at me when I offered them coffee that I had made in the plunger (they say French press, the word “plunger” is reserved for what they use to unblock the toilet).

What do you call this kitchen utensil?
Over a decade later, now in Cambodia, I have been known to say “cookie’, “candy” and “diaper” as if they are normal words.  

I still quietly freak out when a friend tells me her son has a temperature of 102. 

And I may look a bit confused when I hear  “going back to school in the fall” as I’m scrambling to translate to myself what that means. Aside from the fact that "school" can mean university there's a few other things to convert as well. 

This is what goes on in my brain : “So that means Autumn, which is March, no wait, their seasons are all back to front, must mean September. Why would they start school in September, that’s only a couple of months until the end of the year? Oh no wait, that’s the start of their school year.”

I had thought I might need to learn some Chinese to live in China- turns out I also needed to learn American.