Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Birthday Surprise: Blooms, Phnom Penh Cupcakery

The weekend before Talia's 10th birthday we went to Kid City in Aeon mall. Ben had looked up what Kid city had to offer and saw a rock climbing gym and science lab. We walked all over Aeon trying to find those as she loves both science and climbing. Ben finally asked the people at the soft play area of Kid City where that was and we found out that there's another Kid City... not in the mall... on the other side of town. Everyone enjoyed the playground that was available, however, and had a great time. On her actual birthday she got to have a pizza date with Ben.
She was embarrassed when they played her the birthday song and gave her a slice of Oreo cheesecake to share in front of everybody, but she enjoyed her prize as long as we were trying it. She's very uncomfortable with keeping something yummy to herself. We didn't mind tasting a little either. ;)

A few days later, her friends took her to Blooms, a cupcake restaurant in Phnom Penh that helps train women and gives them a job. For the business part of Talia's homeschool she  wanted to actually run a business. She decided to focus on cupcakes and make a website and YouTube channel about making cupcakes from whichever part of the world we happen to be in. Her fellow homeschool friends knew this, so Blooms was a great place to investigate!

 As soon as we entered the restaurant we were greeted by a gargantuan decorated styrofoam wedding cake. It was taller than we were! The case was full of fancy cakes decorated in Noah's ark, super heroes, Disney tales and much more. Then we got to the counter and had to choose which cupcake to try. There were many!
Talia chose a rainbow cupcake, dressed in her favorite colors of lime green, purple and blue; it was fitting.
I chose a salted caramel-stuffed chocolate cupcake with cheesecake icing. 

I'll just say: one is plenty for one day! They were delicious!
Plus, look at the cute decorations. This one was a jam-filled "doughnut" cupcake.
Besides cupcakes, her friends have her gifts of beginners knitting supplies; something she's been asking for for a long time. 

Talia is very blessed with friends and family and she fills our lives in return with love and laughter. Welcome to the double digits, Talia! We love you!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Double Digits! An Interview with a Nomadic Child

I can't believe the not-even-2-year-old we took with us as an only child has now transitioned into double digits and many more countries and siblings. In honor of her birthday, I interviewed her on her favorite and least favorite things about being a nomadic child and each country she has lived in.

 Do you remember anything about Guatemala? That's where you were 2-3 years old.
  • I remember playing with sidewalk chalk and one time watching the ashes from a volcano explosion. I remember playing in a kid blow up pool. I remember Blanca; I miss her.

  • I did not like that in the rainy season it rained so much our food or clothes got moldy easily.

 What are your memories from Ruwais and Abu Dhabi?

  • I loved Abu Dhabi! There were lots of nice parks, the streets were really clean and the people were nice and the houses were big and clean. It was easy to make friends there. My friends Jaden, Tasneem and Elias live there.
  • I sort of enjoyed the heat, but I didn't like the call to prayer. It was long and mournful and it felt creepy.

Do you remember visiting Spain and Portugal?
  • YES! I liked the greenery and the farms, fruits and vegetables! And there was a mouse that ran up the wall of our cabin, in Portugal. I sort of liked him! 
  • In Spain it was hard for us to get food at our normal supper time. 

How about San José del Cabo, Mexico?
  • I liked Cabo because I met the best friend I've ever had there, Melissa. It had a nice climate and we could go to the beach!! There were several beaches close to where we lived. I liked the food, too! We never rode a horse on the beach, but we saw them several times and if we go back there I would like to ride one. I liked that they spoke Spanish, and I could communicate easily.

  • There wasn't very much grass and it was really rocky in our yard, so we had to be careful when we ran and played.

What do you think about our current country of residence, Cambodia?

  • People are really nice here and I like all of the new fruits. Things are cheaper here compared to other parts of the world.  
  • There is a lot of air pollution and trash everywhere. And they dry rotten/fermented fish outside and it smells really bad! 

  What are some benefits to traveling around the world?
  • We get to learn lots of new things and see new places instead of staying in one place our whole lives like a toad on a log. We get to learn new languages and try new foods and make new friends.

What is something you don't like about traveling?
  • As soon as I make friends, somebody moves away. I miss my family in my home country.
Which countries are you interested in visiting again/next?
  • I would really like to visit Sweden! They have lingonberries, fikka, foraging and snow! 
  • I would like to go back to Portugal. I like all of the natural parks and hiking trails and animals. 


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Morning Glory/Water Spinach, Vietnamese Persimmons/Golden Apple and Guava: New-to-us Khmer Food

I've learned several new fruits and vegetables lately. I thought I'd share them with you.
Below you see the water lily stems that take special talent to harvest. When you pinch off the stem, if you are not careful, mud will be drawn up the stalk. The Khmer lady who sells these has four children depending on her at home and something happened to her husband. She walks around town with a big basket of these carried on her head calling out the name of them in Khmer. Our neighbor said she uses these to make a salad with thin strips of the water lily stem, chicken, lime juice and herbs.

Water spinach, or morning glory, are the stems of the sweet potato plant. They are used in soup the same way you would use spinach and with a similar taste. Many times it is used in a soup with rice noodles.

I had no clue what these were when my friend gave them to us. My Vietnamese friend helped me out with the Latin name: Diospyros decandra, or a type of persimmon. One way the Khmer eat these is with the flesh mashed in a mixture of milk, sugar, and chia or basil seeds. The pulp is pretty astringent in the mouth, so all of that can be pretty necessary!

Here you see a guava. These were really popular in Mexico, but the ones I saw were smaller, many times made into preserves. Here guava is enjoyed dipped in salt, sometimes with garlic powder, chili or sugar.
The kids all tried a bite and thought it was good, but even better, the pasabulong from our Filipina friends who came home from holiday and were so kind to think of us:
The biscocho is from Iloilo and the piaya is from Negros Occidental.
Yep, it was yummy!
Elias had fun trying on his father's shirt... it'll be a few years before it fits.
The boys love to help cook! Here they were making cinnamon rolls:

One of them wants to be a fireman who owns a restaurant on the side when he grows up. The other one wants to build "helico'ters." I can't wait to see what they become!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Greening our Space in a Cambodian Concrete Jungle

If you had asked for my thoughts on Cambodia before moving here, I would have told you about the movie I saw in school The Girl Who Spelled Freedom, about the generation I have heard retell experiences from the neighboring Vietnam war. My perception would have included poverty, war and jungles. When I arrived in Cambodia, even from the air looking down over the giant, muddy river and then Phnom Penh, I could tell some of my perceptions were wrong. Instead of jungle, miles and miles of corrugated tin in varying degrees of disrepair or opulence met my view. A myriad of electrical wires snaked between them. Phnom Penh is a concrete jungle for most people. The lucky have a yard, but most yards have been concreted in so they don't turn into a muddy mess during rainy season.

When our neighbor went to visit his sister in France, he brought back a surprise gift for the neighborhood, tulip bulbs! All of us who received them have potted them and have (as you can see above) sprouted. Hopefully, they will be blooming soon! Ben's boss gave him many shoots of the plant you see below:

Our neighbor gave me dried pieces of coconut husk. It's spongy and helps hold water for these little hanging plants. I lined the bottom and sides with it, and it does seem to retain water better.

It's amazing how much of a difference tiny, green, growing things can make! Looking at the plants in the stark contrast of their concrete environment makes me happy. Our landlords have more growing on the balcony above, but we have added these plants in the main area where we see them the most.

Plant therapy! It's a real thing.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Things I Have Learned From My Neighbors; the Essential Khmer Words

I'm very thankful that a neighbor moved in that is bilingual. It has opened up a completely new world. In hindsight, it would have been better to take a few courses in Khmer, even if we are here for only two years, and life was so overwhelming, and we were trying to pay for the baby... so I'm not sure how well it would have gone. It's a proven fact that the brain does not retain knowledge like it should when you are in "survival" mode, and I was definitely in survival mode when we arrived. However, I would recommend taking language courses if you can! 

Our neighbor has taught me several things about Khmer culture lately. I thought I'd share a few with you.

-When a woman gives birth, they take the leaves from the turmeric plant and make something like a tea with it. Then, it is rubbed all over the woman's skin to restore health and vitality.

-Cradle cap in Khmer is translated "water buffalo poop." She laughingly explained it comes from the old times when people would jokingly say that the mom had left the baby unattended and a water buffalo had pooped on his head. She also said doctors don't recommend scrubbing cradle cap off of a baby's head because it is so delicate.

-Turmeric leaves are really big! The ones she showed me looked like the banana leaves you would use to wrap a Khmer version of a tamale. These leaves are chopped very fine and used to season... frog! This was the example she gave me, but I'm sure there are other dishes, too.

As Talia is homeschooling this year, she offered to teach her a simple Khmer lesson in the afternoons. Talia writes down the transliterated words next to the English and then comes home and teaches me. It's amazing how many words you can pick up from daily life but once you've gotten used to that and are in the frame of mind to learn, it is also amazing how helpful it is to learn more words to integrate with daily life from a bilingual person.

(The boys have started back to school too. Elias takes Khmer at school this year.)

Some must-know words in my opinion are these:

ah-nee-man: how much?
sadam: right (for giving directions in a tuk tuk)
schvey: left
soo-sah-day- good day

Then the numbers to 10 which you will notice are worded on a base 5 pattern:
muy- 1
pee- 2
buy- 3
buon- 4
pram- 5
pram muy- (5+1) 6
pram pee- (5+2) 7
pram buy-(5+3) 8
pram buon-(5+4) 9

-One of the first things I like to know about someone is their name. The neighbor explained that here, it's different: people often call others as "mother of -----" using the child's name as an indicator. This reminds me of Abu Dhabi where Ben's students called him "Abu Ilyas" or "father of Elias." She said sometimes people don't learn the names of their neighbors until there's a big wedding and they go door to door finding out names for the invitations!

Who knows what we'll learn next!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tom Yum Soup: Cambodian Recipe

When my friend told me she would teach me to make Tom Yum soup, I had this mental image of making a fabulous from-scratch dish... It started out OK: We chopped onions, tomatoes and got some of these small, white mushrooms.
Then came the disappointing part, ANYTHING CAN BE TOM YUM IF YOU ADD THE MAGIC CUBE!!!
...also known as an MSG-laden bouillon cube conveniently containing the flavors that I can't read in Khmer.
As I'm accustomed to making stock from vegetables or bone broth as the base of a soup, this was different. Still, I'm thankful she showed me how it's done. This part is easy enough to modify.

We added some bok choy and the coconut milk made a delicious broth. Next, I would love to learn the delicious noodle soup they served at Nature Lodge in Modulkiri and around the country, or at least I think I would...

Monday, July 31, 2017

How to get a Cambodian birth certificate after a home birth

Hi all, this is Benjamin popping in talking about the baby popping out.  Dad joke there.
Having gone through getting a baby registered outside the US before in a somewhat more..organized..country (UAE), I knew it could be done, but HOW was the question.  

First, I asked around after we got here because all the old online advice basically said “Go to Thailand” - I figured babies were born here all the time, no big deal.  The wrench in the works was that the midwife was coming and we’d be having a homebirth.  After talking with some people who I thought had connections, (and perhaps do, in areas not related to homebirth,) my mind was at ease.  Have the baby, then deal with the paperwork.
I was told “easy - just go to Calmette Hospital after the baby is born and they will issue you a certificate, even if the baby is born at home.”  Let me tell you folks, this is NOT the case.  My wife and the midwife showed up with me and we carried that baby all over the hospital right up to the director’s office and the answer was always a look of utter confusion and resounding "NO."  While we were waiting, I decided to call the US Embassy line, as I was a bit flummoxed.  In hindsight, maybe we should have done that before :)  A quick call cleared it all up - Calmette was not the place to be.  I’ll never forget the look on director’s assistant’s face when she came back out in the hall for what had to be the fifth time, expecting me to argue with her yet again, only to have me thanking her for her time and wishing her a nice day.

Basically, we had to have the following things:
1 - Get an affidavit from the midwife (or other witness) saying the baby was born at home, what time, etc. with signature and thumbprint (they do that for everything here).  If the baby is born at a hospital, this part is unnecessary and makes #2 easier.  Everything else is the same.
2 - Take that to the sangkat (local commune) office to issue a local birth certificate.  This has to be done before baby is 30 days old.  I went with the baby and midwife and had a Khmer friend on standby who I could call to translate. That turned out to be highly necessary.  Ultimately I paid $30 to the officer at the sangkat with no receipt. I’ll let you figure out what that means.
3 - Get that birth certificate translated officially from Ministry of Foreign Affairs (I think) into English - we got several copies.  Cost about $15 - had a friend at work who knew someone there.  Relationships are super important here!
4 - Show up at US Embassy to make sure documents were all in order - then have them issue an actual appointment date.
5 - Have the appointment at US Embassy, pay for CRBA and passport - $210, I believe
6 - Get US passport about two weeks later
7 - Apply for exit visa for baby (valid for 7 days and has to be done before baby is 90 days old) - about $75.  We used Rosato Travel for these last few steps - very professional and they have great English.  http://www.rosato.asia/ They can probably arrange the translations, as well, but I didn’t need them by then.
8 - Leave country with baby and come back on same day - we ended up finding an agency to arrange #7 and take passport to border to do it for us - $180 but way cheaper than a flight and a lot less hassle.  Included initial 30-day visa which is $35 normally.
9 - Initial visa good for 30 days - renew again for one year ($295) and breathe huge sigh of relief!
These are the general steps for registering a baby.  A hospital birth would be cheaper and easier but wouldn’t change the process much.  I would definitely call your embassy to see what they require but it did all work out with not too much hassle.  Having 4 kids and dealing with several developing countries has increased my patience a lot, so if you’re a first-time parent, maybe get all the facts in order well in advance.  Getting everything done within the 90-day window is kind of tight but we did it...barely.  The only penalty is a $10-per-day fine, but nothing like deportation (probably).  And if you’re reading this, congrats on the baby!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mondulkiri, Cambodia: Part 2.5 The Coffee Plantation and Pizza

While we were in Mondulkiri, Cambodia at Nature Lodge, we went exploring nearby places. One that wasn't a waterfall was this coffee plantation (video here.) We didn't even find it on purpose, but Ezra had to stop to use the restroom and Elias was carsick so I took them both with me and we went exploring (as the bathroom was hidden down a windy trail around beautiful trees.
Some of the large plants had green berries on them that I thought might be coffee...
Down one trail, hidden in the trees, we came across a two story water slide. We didn't know what it was until we got to the top and saw...
that the slide went all the way down to the lake!
 There were also banana trees:
And what I think is jackfruit now, but I called durian, trees:
Elias thought their horizontal branches that went all the way to the top looked like a great bench!

The lake didn't look very big, but it had been channeled under the road, and into sluices to irrigate the coffee plantation.
This tree with the red leaves was one the boys found interesting, but I don't know what it is called:
And this hosta-looking plant that got super tall was cool:
It was nice to be surrounded by nature and hiking through trees rather than concrete buildings and whirring traffic.
We even found a cabin on our hike back up to the van.
The day after this we met our new friends and had more fun playing around Nature Lodge than going on more explorations. However, we did find an awesome pizza place out on a dirt road called Mondulkiri Pizza. The guy who owned it had previously worked in Phnom Penh making pizza. The restaurant went under new management and they changed all of the recipes to inferior ones in his opinion. He moved up to Mondulkiri and opened his own restaurant, got married and started his family there. He liked the more natural environment and pace of the place. We didn't blame him, and his pizza was incredible. I highly recommend you check out Mondulkiri Pizza if you ever go that way.

The pizza place had a spacious lawn and a lazy river flowing through the back yard. After lunch the kids went exploring the grounds and the owner mixed a little flour and water to make a simple dough bait and made a bamboo fishing rod from scratch. The kids loved it!