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
dap-10

-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!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mondulkiri, Cambodia; Part 2: Monorom Waterfall

After visiting the beautiful Busra waterfalls, where we didn't see the places safe for kids to swim and the options to zip line over and see the views were too expensive, we found another waterfall closer to home the next day. Many roads are packed red clay once you get off of the highway. The road to Monorom Falls was one of those:
It was a relatively smooth ride. We passed banana trees, which the kids liked to see.
This waterfall was called the Monorom waterfall, (video here) and it had a sign saying it was used to make hydroelectricity. Someone had set up fallen tree branches into a booth/tented area and there were some logs to sit on at the top of the falls. The log in the picture, by the way, was not one of those...
We saw butterflies here.

The path down to the bottom of the waterfall was way too steep for me to go down with a baby, or for Ezra to go down without significant help, so Ben took Talia and Elias to play in the water at the bottom.

Ezra and I went exploring the nearby bridge and banana grove. This beautiful place re-emphasized to me how some of the best experiences are beyond paved roads.
Back at Nature Lodge, we took the next day to rest and play around the camp site. We try not to give our kids electronics whenever possible, so it was nice to see them using their imaginations and playing with sticks. (video here)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Traveling and Friendship; Mondulkiri Part 3

(Yes, I'm skipping part 2 until next time. ;) ) When our friends had talked about visiting Nature Lodge in Mondulkiri, Cambodia, they mentioned it having kids most of the time. Reviews online mirrored these sentiments. This was no deterrent, rather, we preferred our children to not be the only ones and liked that they might make friends.
Friendship is different when used in a nomadic sense: you make friends quicker, get right down to what matters, and keep in contact if able. This type of friendship puts emphasis on creating as much positive change as possible while in a place, as time limits drive out room for introversion or small talk. At least, this is how I've seen it. Of course, this means one is open to more heartache: the more you love, the harder it is to leave; but at the same time it gives one a capacity for sensing what is needed in a situation and connecting quickly.
At first we didn't see any children at Nature Lodge. It wasn't until the last three days that we met some... And they, being nomadic children too, made immediate friends with our children. The kids were very excited, and the boys, who were a bit intimidated by the cows and horses around the lodge, lost their timidity in favor of playing with their new friends!
We were all sad to leave Mondulkiri, but convinced them to visit us in Phnom Penh. The kids were thrilled! We checked out several play places in the city (as there aren't parks near us), baked goodies and learned new games and ways to pronounce words with an Australian accent... (Now my son says "nin-jer" instead of ninja.)

Of course we all missed them when they left for adventures in Viet Nam... but we know how adventures work and we're  glad we made the most of the time we had. It's good to have friends around the world who broaden our perspectives of it  and who we can plan our own adventures to visit some day!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mondulkiri, Cambodia: Part 1



The day after the school’s closing ceremony, we drove 8 hours out of the city of Phnom Penh to a village up in the mountains called Mondulkiri. (Video here.) The coffee grown in this region is our favorite from this country so far. Also found in this region of Cambodia are a muslim indigenous group called something like Chams, and speaking a language with the same name in addition to religious Arabic and Khmer. We found one of the mosques on the way to Mondulkiri. You can see the speaker sticking up for the call to prayer and the moon, an important symbol in Islam, on the towers:


While we were looking at it, an imam chased the chickens off of the porch. Even the arches had a distinctly different architecture than the Cambodian:



After a loooong day Saturday, Ezra was not excited to be sitting in the car longer. (Here we had stopped to stretch our legs and hadn’t put him back in the car seat yet.)

In Mondulkiri, it was much cooler and the air was incomparably fresher than in the city. Talia, my nature baby, and Elias ran to play in the grass as soon as we arrived!
It is interesting to be in a place where air conditioning isn’t necessary and sleeping under a mosquito net is. As Ben and I were talking one morning, we came to the conclusion that the lodge must have made a list of necessary luxuries for most western guests like: hot showers, western-style food options in the cafeteria, comfortable beds with bug protection and a toilet; and then left everything else rustic. For example, the garden bathroom has hot water and a toilet, but the pebble flooring drains out into the surrounding garden area, resulting in a lush vine covering the entire outside of the bathroom. There is no sink drain or shower drain. You can see through the plank flooring in the bedroom to the cows and horses that wander under the cabin that is up on stilts. The kids are pretty excited to have plants in the bathroom… as you can see in Elias’ commentary in the SagaUnscripted Kid Interviews of Mondulkiri video.

The kids also loved the new-to-them, interesting plants and insects! The fuzzy caterpillars you see on the tree there were cause for quite a bit of speculation regarding their toxicity or lack of it, types of butterflies they turned into and all sorts of things. Talia and Elias were also fascinated by the plants that closed when you touched them (video here.)
 When we found elephant statues in front of a big hotel in the village, the kids just had to try them out:

The beautiful Busra Waterfalls were an amazing sight, (video here) though quite dangerous as there were 500 foot drop-offs in several places without any guardrails or warning signs:

The kids were disappointed to not swim. We found another waterfall the next day… but that’s for a different post!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cambodian International School-Year Closing Ceremony

The school year has finally come to an end. Friday Talia's class launched the rockets they made as part of their space unit for the last day of class. We mixed a tiny bit of baking soda and vinegar at home to see the reaction because she was so curious about how it was going to work. The next day they used a lot and made the rockets go almost all the way to the roof of the pavilion!
For the closing ceremony Saturday we got up at 6 to leave at 7 in a tuktuk and get to the other side of the city by 7:45. Preschool and Kindergarten productions were in the morning. Ezra wasn't too shy and did a good job following his teacher's dance cues.
Elias graduated Kindergarten! He's proud to be going to first grade. Surprisingly, he wasn't too shy and went across the stage without crying.

There was only an hour for Ben between the lower grade and upper grade ceremonies. Since we had kids in both, it made this a whole-day ordeal. To get some energy out, and because the boys did a good job, we took the kids to Urban Space, on the same side of town. The kids had a blast in the pool and playground. Then it was time to go watch Talia's ceremony.

My phone died, so I'll have to get photos from the school's Facebook page, (edited to add) but Talia did a great job. Her class sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight. She got a certificate for being the best in Social Studies in her class. It was her last day to see her amazing teacher as he's going back to the UK. He took time this year to connect with Talia and make sure any gaps from changing curriculums were covered. He took time to develop relationships with his students and Talia will miss him. Relationship is the most important part of teaching I keep finding.

Zoe did a good job through this long day. As long as I was there to hold and feed her, she was fine. She thought her brothers were hilarious and kept laughing at them. 

The program ended around 5:50 and neither boy had taken a nap. I'll let you figure out what that means... We went to pick up the rental van for our next adventure, ate supper and crashed. 

The next adventure is coming up soon...

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ben's Field Trip to Koh Kong, Near Western Border

Grade 10 at Ben's school raised a percent of the $6,000 needed to help build a school in Koh Kong Khong. They traveled with their principal and teacher to the ribbon cutting ceremony.
It was about 8 hours by bus.
The place they stayed was a floating lodge on a river! http://www.theriverlodge.net
Because the lodge is dedicated to not impacting the environment, it's a little pricey to pay for the upkeep of the canvas tents. (Principal chaperone duty paid Ben's way.)
Everything is so green in this part of Cambodia!
Here's the bedroom of the floating lodge:
The students from Ben's school did some kayaking and paddle boarding on the river. 

Students in this region have to take a boat to school because this area of Cambodia is where soldiers from the Khmer Rouge fled, preventing its development (but eating up several species like the alligators that no longer exist here)- so there aren't motorcycles here as there aren't roads. As the school has grown, there are now too many students to fit on the boat in one trip. Some have to hike part of the way along the river until the boat is empty enough to hold them. If they want to continue school past grade six, they have to take a two hour trip one way to get there. Currently the guy driving the boat is carrying the expenses of gas and upkeep, but that isn't sustainable. He's looking at charging and other options.
This was the fruit portion of breakfast: not pictured was the omelet and pancakes.
They also got to see a beautiful waterfall. The guide said all of the tourists go see the waterfall and Ben thought it would be cool if someone created a floating coffee shop to sell to the tourists and maybe have some of the proceeds pay for gas to get the kids to school.

If you visit Cambodia, these would definitely be handy!
(disclaimer: if you buy anything from the link, we might get enough for a cheap Cambodian coffee.)

It's definitely beautiful outside of the city!