Why we like living and working in the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’.

Without the breadth of choice, which could be viewed as a frustration, there also comes a sense of contentment and satisfaction.

Circumstances force us to live simply and prioritise those things that are most important to us.

Cambodians are caring and friendly people. While I still have to use the phrase ‘mun jul dtee’(I don’t understand) all too often, locals will patiently push on, using their little English, and lots of gesturing and body language to work to a solution.

Our work is very rewarding. Sadly, at home, many young people take their education for granted. Although working with expat children, they understand that their parents have made a significant sacrifice to provide them with an education and middle and high school students don’t need to look too far to see that they have access to something that many local children do not. This means that they express gratitude.Their parents do also. Only this morning one of the dads stopped and just said ‘thank you for what you do’. Staff also share a common calling and fully support the vision of the school. They are not here for a job, but to offer a service that supports expat workers to do their good work here in Cambodia.

Community is core. We enjoy a diverse range of connections and friendships. As I looked around at church, westerners are clearly in the minority. Our social life is much more diverse as we spend time with people from many nations and age groups and I am sure we are much richer for it. We get to share in the lives of Cambodian people as we work alongside them.

We are presented with new challenges. We work with limited resources to provide an excellent education for the young people here. In life we daily navigate chaotic traffic, new foods, draining weather conditions, challenges to the senses and ‘tales of the unexpected’. Challenges build creativity, tenacity, resilience, persistence and a ‘get up, dress up, and show up’ can do approach, something we may not have always had to draw on in the comfort of Adelaide.

Our communication with friends and loved ones becomes very intentional. Having your nearest and dearest close by is wonderful (and much missed), but may lead us to become complacent in our contact. We now need to think of time differences and plan when we can speak. While we miss all that ‘by the by’ communication, we treasure hearing updates from home.

We only need a wardrobe for one season. While there are temperature variations, most of the year has ranged from 26 degrees upwards and daytime temps are low 30’s upwards – mostly upwards. Therefore, for us, it’s a summer wardrobe all year around.  Side note: we are heading into cool season here which is a lovely respite. Amazing when 30 degrees and a small breeze becomes such a blessing.

Mostly it is because we have a clear sense that we are making a contribution and can offer skills that are needed by the school. So for now, Cambodia will continue to be our home.

Cheryl Flight

Secondary School Principal – HOPE School


So what is it like to live in a country with rainy season? (especially for an expat. who lived in the driest State on the driest Continent!)

  • The rain is REALLY impressive. It is like someone is upending a bucket for sometimes hours on end. No light sprinkling here. I think the expression is ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’.
  • We wish we had a car (a moto is a challenge on the best of days)because getting soaked isn’t fun.
  • We are grateful that when we are soaked we come home to a dry house and a shower. Many of our dear neighbours do not have either of these luxuries. We have a whole new appreciation for town planning, gutters and storm water drains….. which are still noticeably absent in so many of the outskirt areas of Phnom Penh.
  • We are grateful that when our Borey was built some thought was given to these things. School staff living in another area quite close to school (an area considered somewhat more upmarket than ours) quite literally need to wade through water knee deep (or wear their gum boots) on afternoons after the down pour.  And it’s NOT pleasant as it collects all refuse and sewage.
  • Initially we were making decisions to ‘not go out’. We’ve now realised that, short of becoming house bound, this simply isn’t an option. Instead, we don the rain gear (my 2000 riel Poncho (69c Aus) has served me well) and get on the bike!! Just occasionally we book a Passapp – the local Uber like tuk tuk option …. but chances are we’ll still end up pretty wet.
  • The road to school is even more treacherous. During the dry season it is a dirt road full of pot holes, made worse by the cement trucks that use it as a cut through. During the wet season it is now muddy and full of pot holes…. which, after about half an hour of rain, become invisible. This meant that one morning we were part way to school when David hit an unexpected ‘hole’ and in one of those ‘slow motion but not slow enough to do anything about it’ moments we both ended up in the mud. On many other days we arrive at school with a liberal muddy decoration as passing vehicles are no respecter of those who are walking or on bikes. Two classic quotes from recent visitors:  A visiting book rep., an older lady, arrives and says ‘your undercarriage certainly needs to be intact to manage that road’, and a visiting girlfriend from Canberra tells me ‘You should have mentioned that I need to wear my sports bra when I come to visit your school’.
  • My walking to school days are over for now. I can’t jump puddles as big as the ones on the road. Some days a boat would be a better option!
  • I’m not sure of the origin of the expression ‘like a drowned rat’,  but the rain brings out the live ones, and we seem to have to clean up the dead ones more often. Thankfully, the closest they have come to our house is in the front entrance area; none inside to date.
  • The level of the nearby affectionately named ‘black stream’ rises and, with the higher levels, the fish and crabs ‘plop’ out on the road. David’s theory is that they’re using it as their chance to escape, but of course, they just become a more readily available dinner for someone!!

Mercifully the rain brings the temperature down somewhat. It is actually quite nice opening the window and using the fan to draw the air in.

As this is our first year, we are still not sure how long this season lasts but most tell us it could rain through until the end of October. Like the quote says ‘life is not about waiting for the storm to pass….. it’s about learning to dance in the rain’.

Here’s to the Flights learning to dance!

Cheryl Flight

Secondary School Principal – HOPE School


EXPAT REFLECTIONS: Same same but different

We eat out  – but we don’t have the variety we had in Australia. Our favourite local is Jars of Clay, a local NGO (non-governmental organisation)but we are slowly building our ‘favourites’ list and look forward to sharing if anyone wants to come to visit us.

We get take-away – in fact even more often than before. We have worked out that it is cheaper to buy meals prepared for us by a local – LIM – who is trying to establish a catering business than to cook for ourselves. We love her eggplant lasagne or chickpea curry, or fish amok and, at $3 per serve, we’re not cooking. (Amok is a traditional classic Khmer dish, a curry of chicken, fish or vegetables steamed in banana leaves topped with coconut milk). Noy Noy’s noodles has just opened so $2 for a dozen dumplings is going to be added to our menu.

We exercise…. but walking isn’t an option. It is hot, sticky, and somewhat dangerous with no footpaths in our part of town. Hence exercise is at the gym two or three times a week. It’s very western except that the clientele is mostly Chinese and Korean and it’s hot because the air-conditioning is set at about 28 degrees.

We go to work…..but now that we work together the work meetings continue over the dinner table. Our hours are also somewhat different. We usually arrive at about 6.45 and leave between 4 and 5 pm.

We watch AFL……on Australia Plus and enjoy having others over to watch with us. Last Friday we had an extra 7 adults and 4 kids to watch the Sydney game – a mix of Australians, New Zealanders, Cambodians and Canadians!

We watch Netflix (same same) and can recommend ‘Money Heist’, a Spanish series we have just finished.

We have friends….but miss those who have been such a regular part of life for such a long time. Our friendship group is diversifying, both in age and nationality. We have even managed to connect with some Americans:)

We have a social life….. but are usually home by 9pm.  This week we went to a Charity Concert at the Sofitel and we didn’t get home until 10! A VERY late night. Late because days start early and late because we are so far from the centre of town that drivers don’t want the fare to bring us home at that time of night. Our area is not perceived as being particularly safe. (And it’s not just us. Even the younger staff members are ‘done’ by this time).

We drink Cider…..Brunty’s is the brand of choice.  And David still drinks Coke.

We communicate with those around us…. but I am ashamed to say that for me if it is not in English, it is often limited to single words, or maybe three word phrases. I’m working on it.

We work with lovely young people….no difference there. Young people are young people the world over.

We work with young people in transition….bigger difference there, as kids have to learn to cope with different countries, living conditions, education systems, lifestyle, food and climate.

We drive places ….on a moto. This means we get hot, wet (it is now wet season so SOAKED is closer to the point) and have helmet hair.

We are getting to know our neighbours……. who, like at home, love karaoke. Unlike at home, many social events are held in the street so people are very quick to invite us to join. Last week it was a four year old’s birthday party.

We get to go on holiday…. but now, working together, we have longer holidays and at the same time. This means that in the coming ‘summer break’ (an ironic name because it is not summer here but it is somewhere in the world) we can spend a whole month exploring Sri Lanka together.

We miss home and friends and family, but there is enough ‘Same  Same’ in our life to keep us sane and here!

Postscript:  for those who keep in contact on Facebook. Due to a recent theft I am now without a phone and cannot remember my Facebook log in. We love to hear news from home so either ‘friend’ David Flight or email me (Cheryl) on  





SIEM REAP is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in north-western  Cambodia. It is a popular resort town and a gateway to the ANGKOR region.  There are many large hotels, resorts, restaurants and businesses closely related to tourism due to its proximity to the Angkor temples, the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia. (Over 5 million tourists visit Cambodia each year).

Initially I was stunned as the road in from the Airport passes huge hotels on either side of the road with their beautiful gardens, swimming pools etc. (not quite what I came to see) but I soon learned of their importance to the Tourism industry.

Our Hotel, although only 2 years old, was down a dirt road near the Siem Reap River. This brought us into an area where locals live and we enjoyed being in the community. The young lads who came to swim in the river were always anxious to spend time talking with my brother – a time when they could practise their English.

The photos were taken as we walked one morning through a street market just outside the Hotel.


Living life as a ‘Barang’

This is the name that Cambodians give to Westerners. It goes back to the time of the French Protectorate. It is still used as a respectful way of addressing a person, as opposed to the quite pejorative ’youn’ used for the Vietnamese.

While we try to learn from those who have gone before; aka the Chinese proverb ‘Others’ experience is a lantern one carries on one’s back’ we have learned that expatriation is a game with no written rules. We try hard to not have “binary vision” leading to a view of two worlds, ‘ours and theirs’, but often we seem to fall unwittingly into the trap that ‘we know’ and we are constantly checking ourselves for perhaps harmless, but nevertheless insensitive, comments like commenting on the driving here ‘where Cambodians do everything against common sense’. Like the children I teach at school, there are some thoughts that are better staying inside our heads!

As Phnom Penh ‘Barang’ we are only partially integrated. It is still not unusual to see us head to a fashionable downtown cafe for a Saturday brunch treat.

While we do not live in an expat enclave, we are clearly in a middle class Cambodian Borey, as is reflected in the number of cars, home helpers and air cons! We love mixing with the locals at the market and happily spend our days with our Cambodian co-workers, but the reality is that most of our recreation time is still spent in the company of those who speak English as their mother tongue.

We have tried to learn some language, but I don’t think my string of random phrases cut it! For Cambodians, a foreigner who speaks Khmer is a person who is attempting to integrate into the community and therefore must be congratulated, hence I persist. One of the many complications learning the language (aside from a middle-aged brain that is over full at the end of a work day) is that you need to think Khmer to speak it. As a whole, Cambodians don’t call objects after their brand names, e.g. if I wanted to buy a can of Red Bull (unlikely, but serves as my example) I need to know that it is referred to as ‘Kor chul’ two bulls hitting each other… as that is the image on the can!

We live in a world of discrimination. There is clearly a ‘two tiered pricing system’ and we pay a higher price for looking like (and, in fact, being) foreigners. Our electricity bill is multiplied up to triple the rate of our neighbours, regardless of our consumption level, and we are charged more for rubbish collection. (All because they come in person to read the meter so know we are not ‘local’). Even our rent is inflated even though we rent from a Cambodian staff member at school. Our neighbours pay 40% less for an identical property. My only way to ameliorate against this is to build relationship at local stores and ensure that I continually go back for repeat business. ‘thly klang Nah’ – that’s too expensive, just doesn’t cut it.

Precision and time are notions perceived differently here. Time is there for one to take. As simple as that. It is time which is at the mercy of events, put on hold if needed and not the other way around. Therefore ’cham bontich’ (meaning – wait a little) does not necessarily suggest, as I initially thought, wait a few minutes. It may indicate a meeting has been cancelled, or, when at a restaurant, that they may have run out of what was ordered … but never fear, we will send a staff member out to find it elsewhere. At the local laundry it may mean they have given your clothes to another customer (not my current experience, but on a previous trip I did get back to my hotel to find that I had received carefully folded men’s underwear). In this instance it is a matter of avoiding a perceived conflict, which could lead to a serious and unforgivable case of ‘losing face’.

Australia meets Cambodia at a wedding – 

– Somewhat more Cambodian

Cheryl Flight





Cambodia sits slap bang in the tropics which means that the weather is warm to hot all year round, the main difference in the seasons being the amount of rain that falls. April and May usually herald the start of the rainy season with spectacular and refreshing afternoon and evening storms that cool down the human population and wash away the dust. Cambodian people are well prepared for the afternoon downpour wherever they may be and in whatever business they are employed, their plans going into action the moment the sky starts to darken and the thunder begins to rumble.

I quote from my 2005 Diary when visiting Siem Reap – …….. “ A little further along was the Central Market. At one of the stalls in the market we noticed a Cambodian man was painting a very large water colour depicting a section of the city of Angkor. Graham engaged him in broken conversation while I spent time with his wife as I selected sterling silver bracelets for family gifts. His name is Narin and he had been teaching Fine Art in Phnom Penh earning $25US per month, but had found that he could earn more by actually painting and displaying some of his work on his wife’s stall in the Market area. They have four little girls, one of whom lives with her grandmother in Phnom Penh and goes to school there. His wife had such a warm personality and spoke quite good English. She put her arm around my waist and thanked me so much for purchasing from her.

While we were talking, the sky darkened and thunder started to roll and we moved on our way but only got to the footpath before the rain just bucketed down, the first we had seen since being in Cambodia. So much stock at the edges of the market is open to the weather so people were running in all directions to pack up or get things covered with sheets of plastic kept handy for these occasions. The market roof was less than rain-proof and there were rivers of water running down walkways and pieces of down-pipe were being held in place to enable the water to get to the street gutters. It was quite a sight to behold!! – and kept me entertained just watching the proceedings.

After sheltering until the very worst was over we ran further along the street until we found a place where we could buy a drink and sit surveying the scene. Within the hour it had all passed over and goods were being uncovered, unpacked, wiped dry and business returned to normal”.

That evening we were blessed with another beautiful Cambodian sunset.




Today, rather than go to the Gym, we went for a stroll …. I took some photos to introduce you to our surrounds!

How fuel is often sold. While there are petrol stations…. where they always serve you, they are always surprised when David says ‘fill it up’, which for our bike is around $3US, because most moto riders buy only a dollar at a time. There are many roadside stalls like this one. They are selling fuel which has been ‘brought in’ (illegally) from Thailand. Not sure what happens to fuel when stored like this! Their price is about 400 riel less than the petrol station – a saving of about 10c a litre


Traditional Khmer Houses  –   Cambodian wooden houses are made of wood and on stilts, traditionally the breezy area under the house was used for hanging hammocks, lounging and keeping livestock safe.

Khmer-style shophouse – The Khmer-style shophouse is one of the most common Phnom Penh property types. They are usually three or four floors high, and are rented either as individual apartments or the entire house. They are long and narrow and have windows only in the front and back, so the bedrooms may only have internal windows. Kitchens are basic, with a gas burner stovetop and very little, if any, kitchen storage. Bathrooms are similarly basic, with no separate shower and often no windows.

Renovated shophouse – This type of apartment has been renovated to offer Western touches to the standard Khmer-style shophouse. Like the Khmer-style shophouse, they are long and narrow – 13 feet by 52 feet, with updated floors, lighting and modern kitchens. They will always have air-conditioning and are usually quite affordable. Many will come with a washing machine and a fresh coat of paint, as well as Western style furniture (no wooden couches).

Modern apartment – New build Western-style apartments are diverse, covering a wide range of sizes and styles, with features not usually found in shophouses like built-in cooktops, kitchen cabinets and bathtubs. Most are larger and feel more spacious than shophouses, and are of a significantly higher standard. (While not an apartment, this is the description that best describes our accommodation). We pay $550US a month for our partially furnished place. There is a property for sale in our street for $135,000US. (Only Cambodian’s are allowed to own ground floor property).

Full-service apartment – Also called luxury apartments, full-service apartments in Phnom Penh have everything that you’ll find in a Western apartment, but with the addition of a gym and pool, security guard, parking, elevator and included services including cleaning and Internet. Luxury apartments are usually designed to look as Western as possible, and are completely furnished with all necessary (if sometimes tacky) decor and appliances. Full-service apartments are designed for the sort of expat who has a lot of money and won’t be in Cambodia for more than a year or two (think embassy employees). Getting a Modern apartment is almost always a better deal, but they are less likely to have a pool.

Villas – In Phnom Penh, freestanding houses that are not shophouses are always referred to as villas, and usually have at least a small garden. Villas are found in various neighbourhoods in Phnom Penh and are just as often used to house businesses and NGOs as expats. They are usually significantly more expensive than shophouses (some available for rent near us are $1300US a month …. and we are NOT in a central location).

Continue reading