LIVING LIFE AS AN EXPAT. UPDATE (6) – CAMBODIA

WORKING IN AN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL

While located in Cambodia there are many obvious differences when working in an international School.

Our School Calendar:  school year commences: August, concludes late June. Summer break: 20 June – 2 August.

Holidays: major breaks are Christmas – 2 weeks;  April (Cambodian New Year) two weeks; and the summer break. There seems to be constant interruptions to terms as there are many public holidays in Cambodia…. some of these we all recognise, some are pupil free but staff attend, and some are days off for the Khmer staff (at last count there are more than 33 public holidays for Khmer locals) and, being a Buddhist country, there are no public holidays for Easter.

For us this presents a new opportunity as for many years David has only had the 4 weeks annual leave. This gives us some freedom to explore, both around Cambodia and neighbouring countries. We will spend 8 days in Bangkok, Thailand, in April and are still pondering what we can accommodate budget wise for July.

Students

I have no idea of the number of passport countries represented here, but the diversity of children’s names is so much wider…. and my brain is taking long to ‘stick’ those that are unfamiliar to me …. perhaps this is also a factor of (my) age! Thinking of the Yr. 10’s in my mentor group there is Daniel, Ye Soul, Jabez, Hardin, Je Jin, Hannah and Rachel (twins), Saedha…. and 10 more that I can’t immediately spell!

There is one year 12 who will graduate this year having completed her entire schooling at HOPE. She is very unique in her experience. Many children will be at school for 2 or 3 years, as parents’ work arrangements may change. For those connected to families who are here on Church Mission Work, their education will also be periodically ‘interrupted’ as families head home for perhaps 3 months of furlough.I am currently preparing a work plan for a Year 8 in this circumstance, and yesterday received an email from the parents of a girl entering year 11 who will likely be home in Korea for 4 months, asking what we can do to support.

I love the fact that our graduates truly embody global citizens. Many will not return to their passport country for university and are open to investigating multiple countries and options. Friday afternoon the guidance counsellor and I met with a soon to be graduate who holds a Swiss passport, is heading to PNG for a gap year, and then is exploring options for studying medicine in the US, Ireland, Norway or Germany. (sadly Australia is off the list: too expensive for internationals).

Staff country of origin and experience

People come from a diverse range of locations and many have worked in more than one country. This brings both strengths and challenges. It means that people have a breadth of experience in exposure to and use of curriculum, assessment theories and strategies, school structures, types of assessment and methodology. This is excellent in terms of the diversity it brings, but challenging as some people bring strong attachment to the ‘way’ something should be done. I am currently tasked with reviewing and improving the assessment and reporting structure. Acknowledging that I clearly have a bias from my own experience, others are very attached to ‘standardized’ testing or reporting against a ‘bell curve’. There is limited experience of using performance standards for many…. and all is complicated by the fact that staff have to get their head around the three frameworks we use; HOPE developed until end of 8, IGCSE (International General Certificate of Education; British origin) for 9 and 10 the IB Diploma (International Baccalaureate) for 11 and 12. Some staff have been here long term (in HOPE context the longest serving is commencing their 10th year), but many are in their first, second or perhaps third year….and often people are already partially focused on the ‘what next’ for the classroom in terms of content planning, so committing to (or perhaps interest in) reforming and improving our system is challenging. The average staff tenure is 2 years 3 months…. but slowly increasing.

Grief

This may seem an odd heading but is a significant word in this context. Grief management is an ongoing and complex issue: grieving for what has been left behind elsewhere; grief encountered when saying goodbye to friends, family, students and staff; grief for the loss of what might have been had different pathway decisions been made. And there’s nothing neat about it because every individual is grieving different things and is at different stages.

According to Ruth Van Reken, unresolved grief is the most urgent mental health issue facing TCKs (Third culture kids)- the children as well as the adults they will become.

Herself a TCK, Ruth Van Reken has spent a lifetime writing and advocating and teaching about the psychological impact of an internationally mobile childhood. Along with the many benefits come challenges that must be faced with each move the child makes. She states,”The issue is that transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next phase will be. Loss always engenders grief and the greater you have loved a situation or place or people, the greater the grief”.

The layers of loss run deep: Friends, community, pets. Family, toys, language.Weather, food, culture. Loss of identity. Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world. Home.

These children are losing the worlds they love, over and over. They cycle through the stages of grief each time they move – or they don’t, and push it down, submerge it, only to have it bubble up later in life, unexplained.

The grief of children is often invisible. They are told they will adapt, they are resilient.They are told they’ll get over missing that friend, they’ll get another pet, they’ll have a nicer room in the new house.Their family is rushed; they don’t have time to mourn their losses.

And they are children, and don’t know how to express what they are feeling.

Some mental health professionals call it trauma.

Kathleen Gilbert has researched grief among TCKs, and writes, “Losses that are not successfully resolved in childhood have an increased likelihood of recurring in adulthood. For TCKs, questions about who they are, what they are, where they are from, what and who they can trust are examples of existential losses with which they must cope. And the way in which they process these losses will change, or may even wait until long after their childhood.”

So when she comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her. Ask her where she’s lived. Ask her what she’s left behind. Open doors. And just listen. Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn. She has a story – many stories. And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.

Cheryl Flight – High School Principal – Hope School

principle.sec@hope.edu.kh

Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia 12411

 

 

CENTRAL MARKET – PHNOM PENH

The unique dark-yellow Art Deco building is constructed in the form of a cross with a huge central dome and four wings branching out into many hallways with countless stalls stocking everything from food items to clothes, electronics, stationery and jewellery. The entrance to the market is lined with souvenir merchants hawking Postcards, T Shirts, silver curios and krama,  all wanting a strategic position to capture the tourist trade. There were also some unusual treats to eat such as Crickets, Cockroaches and Silk Worms.

The Market was opened in 1937 and is located on what was previously a swamp/lake used to accumulate runoff rainwater during the rainy season. From 2009 to 2011 the Market underwent a US$4.2 million renovation funded by the French Development Agency.

Those who love browsing through shops find the Market enticing. We enjoyed the opportunity to see the local people go about their daily lives. I did purchase, with my brother’s help, a ring which I enjoy wearing. His help was with the currency conversion and the bartering which took place via a calculator.  The docket tells me I was served by Meas Mary and that the ring is 18ct gold set with Cambodian rubies.

 

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KRAMA – 

I have read that the beginnings of Krama are unknown. It is hard to understand how this Cambodian scarf became a real symbol over generations and a major part of the Khmer identity. Nowadays, whatever his social status may be, every Cambodian uses Krama every day whether it is a scarf, as a hammock for babies or as a bandana etc……

Originally, the krama was a fabric that Khmer women wove themselves. They used to collect cotton that was then spread before being soaked in rice for 2 or 3 days. Parts of the threads were then tinged in red before starting the weaving. The rich, on the other hand, preferred to use silk because the fabric would remain cool in the summer, but also to distinguish themselves from the peasants. The Krama reflected the status of its owner.  

Although these scarves are sold in the Markets there are many small workshops in villages (especially near Siem Reap) where one can meet the weavers and see the authenticity and quality of the garment. This means that goods purchased are truly Cambodian and enable local people to provide for their families.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Market and wondered whether we would find the meeting point where Lim would be waiting for us. It was a very busy place and the traffic was amazing but he was there and so was our transport……..Ours was the air conditioned car, not the Cyclo.

LIVING LIFE AS AN EXPAT. (5) – CAMBODIA

EXPAT. LIFE UPDATE: Chom reap sour (phonetic spelling)‘Hello’ from Phnom Penh

So I continue to reflect on elements of #samesamebutdifferent. While our life feels very different in some ways, further analysis says ‘not really’. It’s just some of the elements that change.

Eating Out

We probably eat out even more than we did at home. We love food so enjoying food prepared by others has always been part of our routine. Close to home there are many options, although mostly not ‘western’. Jars of Clay is a local NGO (non-government organisation) that is staffed and run by local women and offers a very ‘we could be in Adelaide in a cafe’ style where we can have more western options. David particularly enjoys the chicken parmigiana! Peace Cafe, run by the Catholic Church, also does a small range of breakfast, cake and nice drinks. There are many Khmer restaurants but these are not as familiar as at home. The local expats have nicknamed them the ‘blue or red chair’ options (as typically their plastic chairs are one of these options…. or maybe not chairs but low squat style stools). These may be undercover and permanent in location but many are often in the open air and get set out and packed away each day. As yet we have not been to any of these near us as they don’t have menus and with our limited Khmer we feel we can’t manage the ordering process. We have enjoyed the food at these restaurants a little further downtown where they are more used to having English speakers. Last Saturday night we were nearer the riverfront so our red chair option meant we were both fed and watered for $6. Now that we are more confident navigating, we happily venture (on weekends mostly) to new and different places.

 

While on the matter of navigation…….

This is quite different, in that many streets are number only, or in the case of our house, ‘G’. Main roads have names ‘Mao Tse Tung’ or ‘Russian Boulevard’. Signage varies so it is often difficult to find specific numbers. There are many small streets and almost lane ways that run between major roads, and knowledge of these is really helpful as they are often shorter routes and avoid some of the main traffic. This is also different to Adelaide. Much more and also slower in general – 40km an hour speed limits on roads around town, and the traffic density often slows everything to even less. We rely heavily on google maps. On the occasions when we travel with ‘PassApp’ (like Uber but a small motorised rickshaw) the drivers use google maps…. but 50% of the time they have no map reading literacy, so knowing ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘straight on’ are words we have mastered relatively quickly!

 

Going to the movies 

Last weekend was mid-term break so on Monday we went to the movies. We have three cinema types available:  Legend cinema at Aeon Mall – the major downtown shopping centre; Legend at Toul Kirk (a slightly out-of-town cinema) and then there are local ‘house’ type cinemas. The first two look exactly like what we would experience at home at a major cineplex: complete with expensive popcorn and drinks. The major differences are: cost – cheap Monday was $3.50 for our 3D movie; and range of movies – some English with Khmer subtitles. We saw Black Panther…. probably not in my regular choice range, but the best of current options. The pre movie advertising is interesting and different. ATM Banking, benefits of drinking fresh milk, skin whitening, scooter ads, and refreshing soft drinks were the main features. While we haven’t visited the third cinema type as yet, we have seen photos and essentially they are small scale, upstairs in local buildings and you may have a seat but often lie on cushions and they ‘stream’ a movie for you to watch.

 

Shopping

I think I have mentioned before that this now needs to be a well planned event given the lack of local stores and the irregular stocks of some products. One of our weekend jobs is to do a shopping run, and then we can top up at the local market or Supermarket during the week. We no longer maintain much in the way of pantry items as keeping ants and other critters out of containers is a battle (we are somewhat more ‘relaxed’ about this anyway. Last week we found creatures in the rice….. so while at home that would have seen rice disposed of, here we rinsed it… and figured by the time it was boiled, we’d be ok:)  I did throw some oats away that had ants all through the sealed container…. someone at work suggested I should have frozen them and then removed the ants. It’s a dilemma because food is expensive! So making a planned list for the upcoming meals is now routine, to minimise wastage and spend…. and ensure we can successfully store what we buy. (Many things are now stored in the fridge!). To date our only clothes shopping has been some black track pants that David needed for work when dressing up as a panda (a story for another day). We found these at a factory outlet near the airport – $4.50 for Everlast pants! Clothes shopping will be challenging in the future as local stores do not cater for our sizing, so many expats wait for times back home, or have clothes made. We have had some leather shoes made. Cambodian conditions are tough on shoes so we both took in favourite pairs, and the man at ‘Beautiful Shoes’ made excellent copies for us both ($30 a pair).

Until next time, Lea sen Hauy (Goodbye)

 

TONLE SAP LAKE – CAMBODIA Part Two

FISHING THE LAKE

Catching Tonle Sap fish is simple (that’s what I was told). It is later that the real work begins. Because of the drop in the water level, the Tonle Sap naturally carries away thousands of fish. Fishers place cone-shaped nets into the water from their floating houses and then lift the net seconds later. Using this technique, two or three tons of fish are trapped each time and more than ten thousand tons of fish can be caught in under a week. One by one, fishers, mostly women, cut off the fish heads then take the fish back to the river to be cleaned and to remove the fat. Salting the fish for preservation is the final step in this process, but the fish will continue to macerate for several months in order to become a paste called prahoka condiment that complements almost any dish. On average, three days of fishing supplies enough prahok for an entire year.

To emphasise the importance of fish in the local economy, the name of Cambodian currency is riel, the name of a small silver carp that is the staple of most diets.

After leaving our very interesting excursion on the water we spent time wandering through a local market where there was a great variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Cambodia appears to be the land of the hammock. All ages from the very young to the elderly can be seen in hammocks in the Markets where they sell their goods. Time for a haircut, well the hairdresser was there too! Our tour guide wanted a pumpkin to take home to his mother and took quite time to choose one as the girl climbed to the top of the heap.

Lunch was an interesting experience where we suggested to Lim that he order dishes for us to share. We were outdoor under cover. Thankfully there were ceiling fans here and there. The food was enjoyable. The visit to the toilet was an experience I will leave to the imagination.

LIVING LIFE AS AN EXPAT.(4) – CAMBODIA

Expat. Life update #samesamebutdifferent

There are so many elements of life and living that are consistent wherever you are in the world, but each takes on the flavour of the country you are in…..so I thought I’d share a few of those as we are experiencing them in Cambodia.

SCHOOL –  Day starts for staff at 7.15                                                                 Most students arrive by bus, but others in Tuk Tuks, on moto’s, or are dropped off by parents.                                                                                                 8 am starts with high school line up for morning notices, then pastoral class until 8.20 when class starts.                                                                                        6 x 50 minute lessons.                                                                                            Many students have a cooked lunch prepared in the school kitchen. Two courses on a 4 week rotating menu (an interesting combination of foods – Khmer and attempts at more Western style)                                                      Class sizes range from mid-twenties in junior school to 3 students upwards from year 9 up, depending on subject choice.                                                      The school is just under 300 students. One class at each year level commencing with Kindergarten.                                                                                  All students study a second language – Khmer, French, Spanish or Korean. Classrooms have air conditioners running almost constantly. It is hot and humid!                                                                                                                            No uniform.                                                                                                                 The day finishes at 2.30pm, after which staff have meetings most nights. David and I usually leave around 4-4.30pm (and like home, I then do quite a bit of work at night)                                                                                                   The main school sports are soccer (football here) and basketball.

TRANSPORT –                                                                                                     We have a moto and a push bike. Currently spending about $3 a week on fuel. On weekends if we travel more than about 20 minutes away we use PassApp (like Uber) but small motorised rickshaws, or we call our friend Mr.Tou, our tuk tuk driver (but this is more expensive as we pay him a daily rate of approx. $US25).                                                                                             The traffic is always challenging but doesn’t travel too fast – 40km around town so that is a blessing. While the roads are improving in quality and more traffic lights are being installed…… people’s understanding of and willingness to follow road rules is another matter.                                   Travelling to work is different: on the way home tonight (with a slight diversion to get some food) we passed the following animals……. all roaming freely and often on the road – dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, cows, horses, goats, and water buffalo (and lots of rubbish).

FOOD –                                                                                                                   We eat at home during the week and, like at home, like to go out on weekends. Supermarket food is quite expensive, but we enjoy going to our local market where we can get a good range of fresh fruit and veg. Interestingly, most is imported to Cambodia. This week’s meals have included vegetarian lasagne, nachos, and corn and potato chowder! At work there is a ‘proper’ coffee machine which is staffed at morning tea and lunch time …… a cappuccino with fresh milk is 2000 riel ($USO.50c).            Wednesday school lunch is a highlight – a local Pakistani refugee prepares home cooked curry for the staff to purchase.

CLOTHING –                                                                                                                A little more casual than home, for work, although a number of the men still wear ties. It is long pants for the men and knee-length dresses for women, or pants. I wear much as I would have at home, but not my suit                         The other benefit (and practicality) is flat shoes….. and shoes off in any classroom with floor covering other than tiles.

ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY   –                                                                Everyone has phones and they are relatively inexpensive to run (a $US5 card seems to get us each through the month). We brought our computers from home for use at work and, fortunately, have one extra so are not having to carry it back and forth. At home we are happily using Abbey’s second Netflix screen…. while there are many channels we can access, many are not in English. We do enjoy the Australia channel.

WATER –                                                                                                                We buy our drinking water in 20l containers, but otherwise we use the tap water for washing, brushing teeth and cooking. (Research says that Phnom Penh water is fine for drinking…….but we’re playing it safe at present).

DAILY ROUTINES –                                                                                       Much as at home:  work, home, weeknights mostly doing work, although we both attend Bible study groups and we are going to the gym. The aim is three weeknights and once on the weekend. Like home we don’t always meet our aim. We are starting Khmer classes this Friday afternoon. While initially we had planned to undertake more intensive language studies, reality has hit and we realise we wouldn’t have the capacity at the end of a workday.

RECREATION –                                                                                                  We are still in the process of establishing new friendship networks, but nevertheless seem to catch up with someone for a meal out about once a week. If we head ‘downtown’ we can go to the movies.                                       We are attending International Christian Assembly each Sunday (about 400 attendees from MANY different countries.                                                             We celebrated Australia Day at the Director’s house with about 8 Australian families – either staff or students – and we already have a ‘date’ with the NSW staff to watch the Sydney v Crows match in May!                                                 And the gym has two lovely pools so a great place to feel cool.

 

 

 

 

TONLE SAP LAKE – CAMBODIA – Part One

TONLE SAP LAKE –  LITERALLY:  TONLE = Large River.  SAP = Not Salty

The lake is commonly referred to as ‘Great Lake” – the seasonally inundated freshwater lake and the attached river (Tonle Sap river) which is 120 kms long connects the Lake to the Mekong River. The annual fluctuation in the water volume of the Mekong causes a unique flow reversal of the Tonle Sap River. Inflow starts in May or June with maximum rates of flow by late August and ends in October or November, amplified by precipitation of the annual Asian Monsoon. In November the Lake reaches its maximum size. The annual monsoon ceases around this time of the year. As the Mekong River is at its minimum flow around this time and its water level falls deeper than the Tonle Sap Lake, the Tonle Sap River and surrounding wetlands, waters of the Lake’s basin drains via the Tonle Sap River into the Mekong. As a result the Tonle Sap River flows six months a year southeast (Mekong) to northwest (Lake) and six months a year in the opposite direction.

Our Driver and Tour Guide met us at the Hotel at 08:00 to travel 91 kms to Kampong Chhnang.

As it was about 4 weeks prior to the start of the wet season the countryside was not as green as I had expected but there were many interesting things to see along the way. Here and there we saw groups of 3 or 4 young children as they squatted under trees collecting Tamarind pods and leaves to be sold at the market. We were quick to ask for a photo stop as we approached a large Pottery. We could only purchase a few small pieces as we were aware of not adding too much weight to our bags. When back in the car we soon realised what a tiny price we had paid for our gifts to bring home. Lotus were growing in the low levels of water in the river. Rice hay had been stacked to a peak ready for the wet season. An ox cart was carrying the pottery to Market. Bougainvillea was prolific displaying a wide colour variety.

On arrival at the Lake we boarded a small boat, just for us, and spent a most interesting time viewing the happenings of the floating village as we passed by. The lake dwellers appeared to be very happy people posing with big smiles and waves as we took photos. Initially I felt that we were intruding but Lim wanted us to know that they were really pleased that we were interested enough to learn about their country. All of the necessities for living on the Lake have to be transported on the water so if the house needs to be re-roofed (which needs to be done regularly) the palm leaves have to be brought by boat or if a new section of the house is to be built the long bamboo poles come the same way. There are shop boats for day-to-day requirements such as fuel, fresh fruit and vegetables, soft drinks and even a coffee boat. As it was just before the wet season the water in the lake was at a low level and the water colour was a muddy-looking brown.

When the Tonle Sap floods the surrounding areas become a prime breeding ground for fish. During this time fishers are scarce. Fishing during this period is illegal to prevent disruption of mating. At the end of the rainy season, when the water levels go down, fishing is allowed again. Fishermen install floating houses along one half of the river and the other half is left free for navigation.

To be continued with more about the fishing and also a visit to the local Market……………

PHNOM PENH SIGNIFICANT SITES

FROM my diary notes after my visit in 2005.

“ROYAL PALACE AND SILVER PAGODA – Thankfully, because we are the only ones on this Tour, we are travelling in an air-conditioned car. The afternoon was spent visiting the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, both situated within the same walled grounds not far from the riverfront. The Palace was built in 1866 while under the French protectorate and King Norodom. Many of the surrounding buildings were built over following decades. The Silver Pagoda is the capital’s most visited Pagoda because of its array of priceless objects. It is named for the over 5,000 silver tiles that cover the floor. The walls are adorned with rarely seen turn of the century paintings and it houses cultural treasures such as the ‘Emerald Buddha’ and a Royal Litter.

The grounds are kept in immaculate condition and the ornate buildings include a totally pressed metal Pavilion given by Napoleon III and named after him. Entrance Fees were included but sometimes a charge was made when taking photographs and in other places photography was not allowed.  Footwear must be left on special racks at the door. (We always wondered whether we would ever see our sandals again, but no problems!)

So that we would receive the best information available, Lim introduced us to a specialist Guide who had full knowledge of the buildings being visited.

Our next stop was at the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CAMBODIA where we were once again left with a Specialist Guide, this time Miss Rath.

Miss Rath spoke excellent English but much concentration was needed as she spoke quietly and with quite a strong accent. Her mother cared for her little girl while she worked to support them and her main aim was to be able to give her daughter the schooling that had been afforded her by her family. The Museum building is a unique rust-red colour and displays more than 5000 objects including statues from the Angkorian era and other artefacts.

This visit to the Museum prior to visiting the Angkor Wat Temple Complex 5.5 kms North of Siem Reap helped prepare us for the wonders of that area.”