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).

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Set on top of a tree-covered knoll, Wat Phnom is the only hill in town. According to legend, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha deposited here by the waters of the Mekong and discovered by a woman named Penh. It stands 27 meters (88.5 ft) above the ground and is the tallest religious structure in the city.Wat Phnom is the central point of Phnom Penh.  The main entrance to Wat Phnom is via the grand eastern staircase which is guarded by lions and naga(snake) balustrades.Today, many people come here to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs.

The Vihara (temple sanctuary) was rebuilt in 1434, 1806, 1894 and, most recently in 1926. West of the vihara is an enormous stupa containing the ashes of King Ponhea Vat (reigned 1405-1467).

Beggars, street urchins, women selling drinks and postcards and children selling birds in cages (customer pays to set the birds free) pester everybody. It’s difficult to be annoyed by the vendors who, after all, are only trying to eke out a living. It is a meeting place.


The giant clock, almost 20 meters wide, was a gift from China in the year 2000 and replaced a previous one that came from France and was installed in the early 1960s. The clock is in front of a monument commemorating the return of the western provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Banstead Meanchey from Thai control in 1907.

Cruising on the Tonle Sap River gave us a geographically unique view of the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap with river housing, a Church, hotels, shops and other tourist boats and then an amazing sunset to finish our day.



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.


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.


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

Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia 12411




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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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.