Where is Penang?

A question I was asked many times before leaving on my holiday to Penang, Malaysia. On Thursday I left Siem Reap bright and early to catch a plane to Malaysia. Recently when my friend Markus was visiting, I met a new tuk tuk driver and he really impressed us with his communication, honesty and generosity, in fact after he dropped us off at dinner one night, he came back to say he wouldn’t be available later to pick us up. We hadn’t paid him. So we booked him to take Markus to the airport – where he apologised for letting us down and wouldn’t let Markus pay! So I booked him for this trip. On arrival he thanked me profusely for the payment and said he wouldn’t normally charge me but his niece is sick at the moment so he needed the cash! What a generous guy.

Anyway, after a couple of short flights and a short wait in between, I arrived in Penang. Wow! The drive in from the airport was nice, however, as we got closer to the city (George Town) the mish-mash of building types was so interesting and alluring I was excited (if still groggy from travel) to be there. We pulled up to the hotel, Hotel Panaga, it was a heritage style and extremely beautiful hotel. Good work to my friends who booked it! The staff attention to detail and organisation was a bit off but the stay was great and I’d stay there again!

The reason for my trip was to catch up with my best friend and her husband. They live in London so we’re lucky if we see each other once a year, them being in Malaysia was too good an opportunity not to meet up. They’d been there for a week prior to me and in that same hotel, so they organised an extra bed for the first night as we were then booked into a beach side hotel for the rest of the trip. What I hadn’t realised (probably due to a lack of appropriate questions on my behalf) is that Jimmy’s parents would be here during the trip , for some reason I’d thought they were meeting in KL and Penang was a side trip for us, silly assumption. Anyway, it was wonderful, we all met for dinner at a local drinks/food court and it was lovely to see them, and Jimmy’s sister, again. The last time was at Nat and Jimmy’s wedding last April in Perth. We then took a stroll around the bay near the ferries and watched a spectacular lightning storm light up the sky!
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The following morning Jimmy’s dad drove us out to Kek Lok Si temple and Penang Hill, which were beautiful and impressive. The giant Kuan Yin statue (Goddess of Mercy) at the top of the mountain was serenely beautiful! The trip to Penang Hill was an exhilarating ride in a vernacular/train and such a stunning treat; we sat facing backwards as the city melted away and we were engulfed in lush green trees as we were pulled up to the top of the mountain. The top of the mountain was a fascinating and weird conglomerate of photo op spots, animals, Hindu temples, playgrounds and an owl museum.
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Back in town we got a very cool whirlwind tour of the George Town street art. Apparently it was Lee’s fourth or fifth tour! A very fun hop out, take a photo, hop back in the car again spin through town and the artworks were fun and creative!
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After this we took off to Batu Ferringhi, up the coast. We took the appropriate steps to enjoy the pool and free drinks! Then went for a wander through the local night markets. It wasn’t very alluring for my taste… so that was short-lived, we had some dinner, Char Keoy Teow, and called it a night.

It was a treat being in such a plush hotel, my last trip (Phnom Penh) wasn’t lavish and the grotty bathroom was a turn off. So, 4 star luxury with fluffy pillows, a killer view and a huge TV was out of this world compared to my now, very humble, lifestyle in Cambodia.
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The following day we went to see some local galleries and unexpectedly strolled along the coast until we found the spice garden and some restaurants. We didn’t go into the spice garden but we did visit the café with a view over the water. We ducked back to the hotel for a short rest and then went to see the sleeping Buddha and some very shiny temples before going to an epic seafood buffet dinner, which was Nat and Jimmy’s thank you to their parents, sister and grandma. It was a nice night and a lot of fun! Watching Jimmy bring plates and plates of food over to his grandma and mum, then his sister doing the same – there were mountains of food! I sat opposite his dad who was alternating between his bowl of Cendol (jelly, ice cream, ice and condensed milk) and his savoury dishes – very entertaining and he was as happy as a kid in a candy store!
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Sunday was the last day; we had a lazy morning and then went to the spice garden, this time with Jimmy’s dad and sister – which was perfect because Jimmy’s dad is a chef and it was a lot of fun to do it with everyone! Then we went through town and saw some more street art, which was a little more relaxed as it was new for everyone and then we went to Jimmy’s grandma’s place – where we could see the Kuan Yin statue and Penang Hill (!!!), before going for dinner and then out to the airport. After some farewells, there was a little more time before my flight so I sat and wrote.saraherhodes-spice-garden
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Visiting Penang was excellent; I was there too short a time and cannot wait to visit again. Though I felt removed from Siem Reap it was my first time away that I felt a strong desire to get back there. Unfortunately on minimal sleep and straight into a full day work shop but hey, I had to max my holiday time!

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Anzac Day 2015

Around 4:45 on Saturday 25 April I entered the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh to attend the 100 years anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli.

As guests to the embassy we were welcomed in warmly and directed to programs and candles… And coffee, Anzac biscuits and rum!

As the courtyard filled up it was wonderful to see so many families; the next generation of Australians will also know the significance of this day.

The significance of us gathering together at dawn, the time that the first of the Australian troops to join World War 1 left their ships to row and land on a treacherous beach to fight against the Turks. My great grandfather, Lance Rhodes, was one of them; he lost one good mate before they even made it ashore and his closest friend during that first day. After 6 months of training in Egypt and a stint on Lemnos Island until they were called into action, the Australians (and New Zealanders) were raring to go, what they got was much more than they anticipated. They took it stoically, bravely and fiercely. This was the beginning of 4 years of fighting, the beginning of what is now known as the Anzac Spirit, and this year was the 99th commemoration of this event.

The chatter and warbling of Miner birds and roosters crowing were an interesting change to the squawks of cockatoos and familiar warble of magpies.

The service was well presented, the New Zealand and Australian national anthems were sung and then it concluded. People milled around for a time, photos were taken of servicemen representing Australia, New Zealand and Cambodia.

After a short chat with a visitor from Sydney I walked over to the Cambodiana Hotel. I was reading a book from a photo journalist, Roland Nuveu, who was in Phnom Penh when it fell in 1975, one of his photos was of the Cambodiana. Here I met a girl from Sydney doing an internship at the war tribunal (where my friend Marion interned a year or two ago). She had recently the great pleasure of meeting the author of that book!

The gunfire breakfast was done well. Full buffet and a special feature – Vegemite! It all wrapped up pretty quickly and this formal part of my day was over by 7:30. Not realising this would be the case and my guesthouse being conveniently located across the road I went back for a rest. I received some photos from my mum of my brother and grandpa at Semaphore’s service. Had a quick call with my friend in the army who was in Canberra. He assured me that Anzac biscuits and rum were standard… Ah, maybe only if you’re an officer!

After a rest I rejoined the world, seeking an Aussie hangout. What I found was an excellent Aussie pub, aptly named Aussie XL, just a little way down 51st street. The footy was on the TV and there was a great atmosphere. After meeting Wally, Loretta and John I let them focus on the footy while I focused on a schnitzel – so great! Such a lovely bunch; Wally paid for my lunch, Loretta and I will meet for coffee and John and I swapped business cards.

To conclude the day, I went to the palace to meet a friend. Whilst waiting for her I was the centre of attention; do I want to buy this or that snack, give a young kid a dollar, share my phone screen with a couple of inquisitive tikes? No.

Sarun arrived and saved the day by sweeping me off to roof top drinks. It was an excellent evening and an Anzac Day to remember.

thngai nis geu thngai brohor

Today is Thursday.

My day began around 5am, as it usually does. The slightest start to the days’ activities sets ‘our’ dog, Lucky, off. I say ‘our’ because the family who me and my housemate rent from live in the house immediately behind ours, so I’ll claim Lucky as our dog. Wish he was more obedient. So after 2 hours of listening to barking, I dragged myself out of bed. As I walk into the hallway I’m greeted by a wall of heat – it’s going to be hot again today! I drink about half a litre of water to rehydrate, shower, dress and make some coffee. Not sure where the time went, I pack my bag, finish my coffee, tidy up a few things and head for the door. I padlock the front door behind me, put my shoes on and unchain my bicycle. As I open the front gate I see two or three tuk tuks parked across the driveway, I pull the gate closed and latch it. Time to ‘be water’.

The traffic isn’t bad today, in fact things are noticeably quieter in the lead up to Khmer New Year next week. Many Cambodians will be going to their homelands for the celebrations, which officially last 3 days but almost everyone takes a week or more off.

Because today is Thursday, I go to school for my Khmer lesson. The road that the school is on is under construction, so it’s dirt, pretty bumpy and they water down the dirt to keep the dust under control which means lots of mud puddles to avoid (especially on learning that it may or may not be waste water they use). It’s been a couple of months since I began lessons and I’m improving much more this way than through immersion! Though I realise when I arrive that I didn’t do my homework! Oops. I manage to improvise my way through the homework component of the class. Next week there will be no class because of new year.

After this I stop by my office at ConCERT where I’d left my laptop charger yesterday. Then carry on to the computer shop to get a new mouse. Gifting back the mouse I got there a few months ago that has already broken – I don’t think it was really a Dell – maybe a Dill. My usual co-working place is closed for relocation so I ride to a well known cafe that are well set up for working in, Common Grounds. The internet is a little slow today. Then I see my friend, she’s on her lunch break from the NGO she works at, we chat briefly about her pending trip to Borneo over the new year break. Back to work.

Three hours speed by, then I get a message from my friend and owner of the coworking space – lunch? Sure. We talk about a fundraising project we’re both working on and then part ways. I ride home, cannot afford more cafes nor do I want to consume anything except water. In the living area, fan whirling…. it’s hot. I’m locked out of the website for the fundraising project – this is a good interlude. I work on other projects and try to contact my little brother again – it’s his birthday today!

Then it’s time to go and meet a friend for dinner and one of her friends I haven’t met before. We start our evening with a lovely pre dinner drink near the river and some (slightly too loud) jazz. Then find our way to a nice place for dinner. It’s a restaurant where one of our friends is the sales manager and I also have a discount card. We enjoy a lovely dinner and I discover that Socheata’s boyfriend works for AusTraining (now Scope Global) how funny! We think we might meet up in Phnom Penh in a few weeks time when we are all there for various reasons (I’ll be going for Anzac Day). Before I know it, it’s time to go, Thursday is usually soccer but we have this week off for new year. It happens to be ABCs and Rice night for the quiz at Ivy Guesthouse. So off I go.

I arrive just as it’s starting; though I spend the first 10 minutes chatting with Tammy – then she has to go and relieve the babysitter. It’s $1 to play the quiz, tonight I pay $5 – I think of it as a birthday present for my bro. On my right is a lovely lady who works at a local pizza place and her colleague is sitting opposite me. We chat. Not much quizzing going on! Yarin and I realise we’ve met before at our mutual friend’s house! Small world. We concentrate on the quiz for a little while, then finish up and go home. I put my helmet on and my bike lights, then cycle home. It’s quiet now, around 10-10.30pm and there isn’t much traffic. It’s quite peaceful and makes an enjoyable ride home.

Once inside the gate, I lock the gate padlock (job for the last person in each night), lock my bicycle (I’ve learned my lesson), tell Lucky ‘it’s just me’ in hopes he’ll stop barking a little more promptly, unlock the padlock to get inside and then loop it back through. My housemate is away tonight so I’m on my own. Though I thought the family were away too but they were all home a little earlier which I find reassuring.

a line in the sand…

Almost 6 months in Cambodia or should I say in Siem Reap and it was definitely time to take a break from everything.

I knew in my heart that it was time to move on from my part time job but it was my only source of income, so the sensible thing I’m sure was to spend my entire month’s wage on a trip to an island to reflect. Literally using sand as a line to cross and have the space to make sure this was the right decision.

It was.

Even before I left I met wonderful people with potential opportunities to work together (voluntarily of course) and the best news, a chance to work with the NGO I’ve been wanting to work with since I learned about them in 2013, ConCERT Cambodia.

On my return to Siem Reap (I’ll write another blog about the island), I was given another opportunity to help with a fundraising campaign to support people with disabilities in Siem Reap! Well… it just so happens that my calendar has freed up and what a great project to be involved in! My yoga teacher is riding his bicycle from here to Europe. Yes, Europe. He also teaches yoga to people with disabilities (as well as children, Khmer ladies, etc) and through this met some passionate locals who thought his bike ride could be a good vehicle (pun intended) for fundraising. So now Hans on Wheels is about to take off!

Another passion I’ve been lining up for a while is to initiate a Plastic Free July campaign here in Siem Reap (and maybe beyond if it goes well!). Having spoken with one of the founders in Australia for some support and inspiration, I’m now chatting with locals who have organised clean up days and other environmental awareness activities. I’ve been chatting with Tammy at ABCs and Rice about doing some great projects with the kids. I’ve got so many ideas for this; it’s going to be wonderful!

My diary is now full of projects that I truly care about and know I can give a lot of value to. I might be poor in a couple of months but I’ll be happy ☺*

Outside of this I am still playing soccer and last week my team played 3 games! We even have our own uniform now and are about to get a logo put on the back – Roar Girls!

*donations welcome LOL

Christmas in a Buddhist country

The last couple of weeks have been a blur. I feel disconnected from family and friends during what is usually a time of year spent together. It’s not to say I haven’t had fun, au contraire, it’s been great fun! Just a little different.

There wasn’t really a festive vibe, the closest thing I got to being festive was to go to one of the big hotels in town with my soccer friends for a few cheesy photos. To be honest, any occasion with them involves cheesy photos, gotta love ’em. In fact if anyone made this a Christmas to remember it was definitely my lovely friends from soccer.

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In the week or two before Christmas, the major hotels and some of the smaller ones decked out their frontages in Christmas lights, fake snow, presents and the biggest ones even attracted popcorn and fairy floss vendors! After our last soccer game of the year we went to visit one such hotel to be a little merry. This may have resulted in getting kicked off the Christmas display and I’m sure many other offences but it was a lot of fun. The lights around town made it very pretty and I think there were more lights than I’d seen in Adelaide!

Then it was pretty much life as normal up until Christmas Day. I did sneak in one or two Christmas dinners, but they were really just excuses to catch up with friends.

Christmas Eve was meant to be a quiet affair but ended up with friends at a local bar and this is something I usually do so it was really nice. I was with some close friends and some of their friends and it’s the kind of place where I bumped into more friends and it ended up being quite a late night! One friend wore a Santa hat and the owner of the bar was decked out in a green three-piece suit – very jolly.

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Christmas Day I was up early, hoping to have pancakes and hot chocolate with my housemate. Whilst waiting for her to emerge (she celebrated Christmas Eve), I went to the local market to pick up some food for the evening and to get a gift for the family we rent from. I returned, still no sign of the housemate, and started making eggnog, chatted to my family in a somewhat chaotic series of phone calls and then got ready for lunch with my ‘school friends’. Lunch was at the Raffles Hotel, which is a rather swanky place! The front is pristine on the border of sparse; white gravel driveway, cream colonial style building. Walking inside everything is different, a smartly dressed man opened the door and I entered the foyer to a Christmas tree and carollers! I said hi to everyone but most were already at the buffet. As I walked into the buffet room, yes an entire room, I got two surprises: there was more food than I’d ever seen in one place before and one of my lovely soccer team mates was there with her family! Yay!

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After lunch there was some time to go home and relax before I’m not sure how many people would be coming to my place in the evening. It turned out to be most of the soccer team and their families and it was really great! A few kids in tow and I briefly was worried how they would amuse themselves, then realised that they’re Cambodian so cushions and shadow puppetry and little bit of pop music and they were set. My Khmer friends took over the kitchen and I kept the drinks topped up. We had wine and eggnog, dumplings, garlic bread and cold rolls, and more cake and biscuits than you could count. The daughter of our land lord and land lady visited bringing an armful of soft drinks, snacks and a gift for my housemate and I. It was really sweet.

Things dwindled and I thought it was going to be it for the night when the girls let me in on their plan to head to town and paint it red.

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feeling normal… ish

It’s been a few weeks since my last post so here is an update. I also plan to write you a summary of the fantastic water festival week at the beginning of the month, that will be soon.

After the epic temple biking day, I got another adventure that week to go to the Thai border and change my visa. This was a very daunting prospect due to the build up my lovely* friend had given the process. I was fretting for days at the prospect of having to do this and as a result likely made it worse by reading everything online and chatting to people. I almost obtained a travel buddy but no, however I did feel marginally better when said potential travel buddy actually expressed disappointment in not being able to come and visit Tesco and go to the casino! Who’d have thought?! I got some extra tips from a great local blog, which bolstered the info that ‘lovely friend’ had provided and I studied it intently. After the journey to the border, I followed prescribed advice and started to try making acquaintance with other people doing the same thing… quickly learning that I was never going to make any long-term friends from this (ie no longer than 10 minutes :-\) and decided to get on with it. The issue here was I was trying to find someone to share the taxi cost back! I did not succeed. I did however manage to endear one of the visa staff who helped me get the ‘special fee’ down a few dollars and clapped me enthusiastically on the back when I explained that I make websites for a job (this is the simplest answer I give people I don’t know). Triumphant, I grabbed some previously promised mediocre lunch at an outdoor cafe where I could watch the in and out traffic at the border. Although I know Cambodia isn’t a high exporting country, it was particularly obvious whilst watching empty trucks leave the country and full trucks enter. Then carts, animals and people similarly flowed constantly through the street in between Thailand and Cambodia. Kit loi’d and got some baht for change, I headed back to Cambodia. All in a day 🙂

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At the end of the week it was Halloween! A tradition has unfolded via the expats living here and it’s a reasonably big deal. I was dubious at first but then allowed myself to be swept along with the excitement of my friends for this event. As I’d left it to the last minute, literally, there were no costumes to be found… so make up was the back up plan. Three of us got ready at my house and it was a lot of fun! The party hadn’t even begun. It reminded me so much of fun times when I was little; going to calisthenics concerts and putting on loads of makeup, even more so of the Rock n’Roll Eisteddfods when I was in high school. I think I’ll be looking forward to the next fancy dress party! The reactions from locals started at home when the kids of my landlord and landlady saw us leaving for town! Photos and excitement and a little bit of fear. Khmer are very superstitious and believe strongly in ghosts and spirits, so it’s quite interesting that this tradition has bubbled up in this town. This continued en masse for the rest of the night; so many photos, so much attention I felt a bit like a celebrity but the scare factor was something altogether strange and made me a little uncomfortable when I accidentally genuinely scared some people. Everyone went over the top with their costumes and I was reunited with the teacher I helped last year; her and her daughters and one friend all dressed up as cats… so sweet, the same could not be said for my immediate friends…2014-10-31 19.27.27

During this time I had a friend visit from Prear Vihear province and another from Phnom Penh, I will talk more about that when I write about the water festival. It was wonderful to have visitors particularly when my housemate went away for a week to the beach (it takes about a day to get to the beach!!). After this is when things began to feel a bit normal. My days are still random and occasionally chaotic, but I have a couple of regular activities to stablise my week; kick boxing and soccer. This is nice. My housemate and I get along very well, so it’s nice to be able to cook some meals at home and head out to the porch, local bar or town for a drink or to indulge in a massage.

In the last week or so I feel like things have really begun to feel good. I showed a video to a small group of people about climate change which resulted in the opportunity to present to two classes of 7 years olds about recycling. It was a really wonderful experience and I hope the kids get something out of it too. I heard they will do a project on environment/recycling as a follow up. I then got to give my first presentation on social media for local businesses. It was a small group but it was just perfect for the first one and I’ve had a lot of encouragement to do some more. I’ve continued to do volunteering for a couple of organisations; ConCERT Cambodia, Treak Community Centre and ABCs and Rice and I am enjoying this mix of things, I think this could work out nicely.

I have a bicycle for transport and even managed to do my week’s shopping at the local market, Psah Gne, with my slowly improving Khmer linguistics and a lot of charades!

Life is good. What’s your news?

biking at the temples

A couple of weeks ago some friends and I hired mountain bikes to spend a day at the temples. As like most days in recent weeks, it was searingly hot, so we left the city nice and early – after an even earlier yoga class for me too!

The ride to the temples is so nice, the traffic wasn’t too busy and for the first time I saw monkeys! I was somewhat disheartened to see them eating chips out of a foil packet.

We grabbed our tickets and made our first stop at Angkor Wat. It was nice to go back and with a sense of familiarity we went straight in for the pinnacle, which was already closed for the day last year when I’d visited. Everyone in town has been talking about how dry the wet season has been this year and this was obvious to me seeing the ponds inside the temple grounds, which last year were substantially fuller.

Our next stop was Bayon, the temple with the faces and we made our way round and looked at the four main sides, each containing its own Buddha and offerings; I wondered how the ancestors of the guy placing his offering came to an end… coke and cigarettes.

It was a nice experience to visit the temples with some friends and after a brief lunch stop, we made the one hour ride round to Ta Prom. The last time I’d visited it was pouring with rain, so it was nice to have a better look around. I was still thinking about the monks that I imagined when I last visited.

By this stage, I was struggling with a headache from the heat, the sun was starting to set and we still have at least a half hour ride back to town (and no bike lights!). We made for the exit and would have made it, only, we’d gone out the other side to where we had left our bikes! The guard wouldn’t allow us to cut back through and so we had to grab a tuk tuk back around to the other side.

Finally reunited with our bikes, all starting to feel a bit exhausted and the knowledge of a 14km ride along a very bumpy road was not an exciting prospect. We got into it and went as quickly as we could, it wasn’t long before the sunlight was completely gone and just after passing a 10km to Siem Reap sign and thinking ‘i’m gonna make it!’, I didn’t see a huge pothole and ended up busting up my tyre completely.

Whilst regrouping on the side of the road and trying to figure out how to get back without totally destroying the wheel of the bike, I tried my luck at flagging a tuk tuk. Within seconds my shining tuk tuk driver arrived! He already had a passenger but obviously a lot of empathy and they let me and the bike aboard. Even more than this, he drove the tuk tuk close behind my friends to give them enough light to see and get back to town safely! What a star!

The adventure ended with beers and burgers and a lesson to leave a bit earlier next time.

 

almost adjusting

Since my last post I have been going through an adjustment period. Certainly the last thing I want is for this to seem like I’m complaining, but there are some things I’d like to get off my chest and maybe endear some sympathy 😉

At home, we now have a fully functioning kitchen, tonight I will attempt to cook! This has taken a week and a half. The cooker was the first challenge; having been told that the gas bottle was full, I was struggling to work out why I couldn’t get it lit to make coffee in the morning, to then try it in the evening when it would work! Madness. Anyway, turns out there was no gas. Full, empty = same.

I purchased most of our stuff from an Australian girl who is leaving SR after 2 years. Cushions for the shiny lounge chairs and everything we should need for the kitchen, including a blender! Then came the challenge of getting that to work. After an extremely hot day yesterday I was keen for a banana smoothy, I had everything I needed but couldn’t get it to work. After much frustration of not getting it to work for two days and trying almost every powerpoint in the kitchen, I learned that only one powerpoint in the kitchen works!

On Sunday night my friend the tuk tuk driver took me out to the ‘space market’ just out of town. I had no idea what to expect and on our way it started hammering down with rain. I suggested we turn back but that wasn’t to be, on we went with the aid of a lovely blue plastic poncho. The markets were only semi operational and most stall holders were closing up. It was mostly clothing and handbags from what I could see. We went to eat instead at a lovely tarp set up restaurant. Wooden slats were laid down on the ground, and very necessary because everything had turned to mud. My friend ordered and I went along with it, everything was excellent until I discovered that I’d put a piece of liver in my mouth, too late, I tried my absolute best to chew and swallow it but I just couldn’t do it. The good news is that the attitude there was if you don’t like it just take it out of your mouth and throw it on the ground!

After I stopped in at my hub friend’s new place for a second dinner! It was nice hanging out with a couple of expats; one French Canadian and one Aussie. They Aussie brought an excellent bottle of Shiraz from McLaren Vale – so you know… very challenging, but I do what I can to fit in and drank some.

On Tuesday I signed up to a kick boxing gym, on the way my newly acquired, eco friendly drink bottle decided to empty it’s entire contents inside my backpack – yay. The class was excellent and I’m still hurting 3 days later and can’t wait to go back next week.

Angkor Fight Club, Siem ReapHint: you can see more pictures on my Instagram.

My nurse friend came along too and we went for dinner afterwards deciding to try out one of the local places in my neighbourhood. There are a lot of Vietnamese places and I was intent on having pho. We then got distracted by the BBQ place, we’ve been quite a few times to one in town, so we embarked on inadvertent offal adventure number two. I returned home to a lively poker game my housemate was hosting with 4 of her French expat friends. I joined in, despite not speaking French or knowing much about poker. It was a strange but nice night.

Hopefully this post comes across as amusing, it’s intended to make light of my crazy week.

i live here now

Another week has gone by and I now officially live here, in a house, up the road. Some other things happened too.

Last week I met my soon-to-be housemate, we met for lunch and conspired to go house-hunting together. I visited ABCs and Rice school to say hello and give them some supplies from Australia that they needed this week, I also spent some time seeing how much the Full Belly Farm has progressed since my last visit!! It’s thriving! Two ponds full of fish, a lot more chickens than last year (when Olive the pig was snacking on the chicks) and a great crop rotation of eggplants, kale and other healthy veggies.

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A chance invite and my friend the tuk tuk driver invited me to attend the English class he teaches. He initially asked if I’d teach the class! Errr. no. I did say yes to chatting in English with the students. It was really great. A little awkward to begin but by the end of the class pretty much each of the 12 students practised a little English with me. At the end of the class one of the students presented this pretty star, deftly made out of 100 riel notes, I was very pleased.2014-10-11 08.05.16-1

Saturday I spent looking at houses, by late afternoon, we had decided on a great place close to town. A quick beer to celebrate and then into town to meet one of the ABCs volunteers for dinner and some more drinks. The three of us had a really fun night, including my housemate finding a little shop named for her hometown in France!

Sunday was more low key. Later in the afternoon I went to a board games event one of the expats here organised. It ended up being a really great afternoon and I met some lovely new people. One of whom took (at my suggestion) me on a market adventure this morning! More on that in a moment. She also introduced me to someone in the tourism industry who I’m hoping to talk with tomorrow!

In the evening I met up with my new friend and organiser of the hub space I’m now working at three days per week. There were a few other people and a few cocktails; a very nice evening.

After ‘working’ on Monday, it was time to go and sign for the rental on the house… the contract is 1 year. So… looks like I’m almost a local. Ha ha ha!

Tuesday was so crazy! I started the day with a meeting with ConCERT, we had a really good chat though I sense that the forward plan is somewhat organic. Then I rushed off to meet the organiser of Together for Cambodia. A house that a friend of mine in Sydney spent some time volunteering for, I said I’d bring some donations over for her. It was excellent to hear another wonderful success story. Off again to meet with the volunteer coordinator for ABCs and Rice, I want to focus on their web stuff but wanted to be sure that they have enough hands on deck at the school for now, which they do. Later I’d like to help them with their breakfast club. The busyness and heat of the day started to take their toll, plus a lack of sleep this week due to the ramp up for a wedding at my guesthouse, so I went to my room and recuperated, packed, chatted to my friend in Australia.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a public holiday for the King Crowning (Coronation?). Most places still operated and for me I opted to ‘take the day off’ from the hub and use the time to move and get settled into the new house! Instead I had another meeting with ConCERT to assist in finalising a video message (my role was to say ‘yes, that looks good’) and help with the social media (create the post copy). Then run around trying to work out my local shops to get the basics for the house, then get ready to attend the wedding party. By the time my friend arrived in a tuk tuk to collect me I was more than ready for a drink! The wedding was great, it was an English guy and Khmer lady. It was outside the guesthouse I’d been staying at and it was a nice set up; a Khmer band, lots of tulle and lots of food!

Getting back to my house, although relatively sober, was interesting, I had to squeeze my hand through a ‘hidden’ panel in the gate and open a padlock with only one hand without being able to see a thing! Luckily I managed to finally get inside. The next padlock on the front door is a little bit easier to wrangle. I spent the first night in the new place on my own, the housemate decided to stay an extra night at her dormitory. It has been a while since I’ve stayed in a new house on my own… I’m sure it will feel homely soon.

This morning I was invited (as mentioned, I nominated my new friend to take me) to go to the markets. So I figured that it was worth going to work late to experience a local market. It was really great and super close to my house, it’s called Pshar Gne and it was great to have some insights for my first visit. I quickly learned that there wasn’t much I could buy until I own a knife and a pan, sigh. I bought fruit. I’d hired a bike for the day, so we took a ride to check out my friend’s house. Whoa! It was really nice and fully decked out like an Aussie place, with an oven and couch! Believe me, this is pretty rare. So I proclaimed more friendship on this couple – ha ha. Then we discussed me helping them with digital stuff in return for roasted vegetables, I love it! I rode back home without incident or getting lost but was promptly scolded by the son of my landlady for leaving my bike out the front on the driveway for about 3 minutes.

Now I’m at the hub ‘working’, I hope you enjoy the result.

a week of firsts

I’ve now been in Siem Reap for a week, before I go into that I will summarise my TEDxChiangMai and Elephant Nature Park experiences.

TEDx was incredibly inspiring! I met some great people and most of all the presentations were relative and full of hope. From bio plastics, affordable music, responsible tourism, being water and a practical application for technology and nature to coexist, nearly every speaker had a message I can relate to. I will provide some links once the videos become available.

Elephant Nature Park was wonderful. I knew about this place as a responsible tourism organisation through friends, though I had to try a few different booking agents before I could get this one. It was interesting, informative and I cannot quite describe how it feels to talk to an elephant! Keep an eye out because I will write a dedicated post for Asian elephants soon.

I enjoyed my time in Chiang Mai immensely and left with a wealth of new friends and renewed connection to an old friend. When I flew into Siem Reap I was surprised to see my favourite airport under construction. An even better surprise was being met by my friend when I walked outside!! Even thinking about it now makes me extremely happy and it is wonderful to have such a dear friend in my new home.

Today is my eighth day here and so much has happened this would be an extremely long update if I described it all in detail. Whether it’s because I’m not committed to a 40 hour work week or the magic of Southeast Asia, lots happens in a very short period. I’ve reconnected with nearly all of the friends I met last time I was here and I’ve met more new people in this week than I did the entire year in Sydney. I’ve eaten it feels like non-stop (so much for the health kick I promised myself), drunk a lot, about to go to my second pub quiz tonight, done some yoga, been to the markets, attended a child protection workshop, found a co-working office space, applied for a job, had discussions with relevant parties regarding volunteering, advanced my Khmer language skills, joined a soccer team and been out house hunting. I’ve probably missed a few things too! Plus I’ve had time to read and relax and sleep and enjoy not having to be anywhere in a hurry.

I’ve also set myself a 30 day challenge, I purposely set the bar low knowing that my first 30 days will be busy, but I hope that you will find my photo a day challenge an interesting insight to Siem Reap. Have a look and let me know what you think.