Friday, February 14, 2020

The Valentine Gift That Almost Wasn't

In 2018, a fabulous, Japanese mall called Aeon 2 opened up in our area. It has been life changing for those of us who live in the North. It is very modern and would put our hometown mall to shame. Best of all, it has air conditioning!

Last week, I noticed a men's fragrance which was on display at the end of an aisle of the department store. It was displayed on it's own, raised up and there were 17 boxes of the fragrance for sale. I took one whiff and knew I my Valentine was receiving this on February 14, if not for him, for me to smell on a daily basis. Of course, it wasn't priced. So, I took it to the sales worker to inquire about the price and she immediately panicked. She sought the help of not one but three other workers who were sitting around at the various cosmetic counters. Being proactive, she immediately started to phone someone to find out the price of this item. Please understand I did not pull this item from a back shelf. It was clearly on display for everyone who walked by to see clearly. After her phone call, she asked me to return in 30 minutes.

I have learned to just go with it. In this day of technology, why did she think it would take 30 minutes to find the cost of an item, clearly on display and for sale? I may never know the answer to that question. So, life is short, I went upstairs with my two friends for a coffee, wondering what would be next in the perusal of this cologne.

We returned to the cosmetics counter only for her to panic  again. I was being nice, honest! She then began to flip through a binder full of pages with bar codes in plastic sheets. There were four columns of them and there were brand names handwritten in no apparent order. So, my friend and I begin looking for the Bvlgari brand. We couldn't find it either. It is still a mystery why the barcode on the box could not be scanned. Again, I may never know. So, I suggested we would return after some grocery shopping. This was when I counted the 17 boxes for sale. 

How could it be this difficult to buy an item for sale? It's a store in a mall. I had cash in my hand. I wasn't asking for an unusual payment plan or even a bag; I just wanted to buy what they had for sale, with cash. Clearly, this was to be another wonder of the Kingdom I call home.

We bought some groceries, which to Aeon's credit, was an easy experience. I didn't even have someone cut the line and throw their items down in front of mine on the belt. Where's the fun in that?

Hoping the third time was the charm, and needing more excitement, we returned once more. She told me she found something that would work, but then began flipping through the binder filled with plastic sheets AGAIN. I cried out for patience. I just wanted to buy this cologne! She proceeded to tell me that she was going to use a barcode from another product, but it would be more expensive. Excuse me, what? I tried so hard not to become frustrated, but to just go with it. I told her I didn't really want to pay more than it was worth, but quite honestly, I would have paid it just for the story. She proceeded to tell me that she would discount the barcode for another product and it would end up four dollars cheaper than the original price. At this point, I was beyond confused, slightly irritated, but also welcomingly entertained.

Two hours after my initial inquiry into the item not clearly for sale, I had it in a bag ready to go! Due to the time, I couldn't get the Valentines free wrap service or get the free rose for spending over a certain amount. Some days it just goes that way. To her credit, she worked to find a way to have me purchase the item I wanted and it's not her fault the store has an inadequate system.

We got dressed up for a fancy Valentines dinner tonight, Greg smelling mighty fine in my his new Bvlgari Wood Neroli Cologne, only to discover traffic outside our building was at a stand still. We had to walk to the restaurant, sweat trickling down our backs and legs. He didn't smell so great after all of that! He's still my forever Valentine.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Dawne almost Cracks

It has been a month since Greg and I returned to Phnom Penh after a visit on home soil. I enjoyed Ontario for 2 1/2 months and Greg for three whirlwind weeks. We are SO grateful to the amazing family and friends in our lives who provided accommodation, a car to drive, a wedding site, a wedding photobooth, music, painted signs, decorating services, a venue for wedding guests and the bridal party, lunch for the bridal party, meals out, rides to and from the airport and the list goes on and on. Every single person who contributed to helping us with the wedding this summer contributed to the work Greg does in Cambodia because without this support, we couldn't live here. Thank you.

The bride got the wedding her heart has been set on since high school. T has always envisioned a backyard type wedding and with the help of friends with a massive property, we were able to provide that for her. She always dreamed of an Indian fusion wedding so it was very convenient that God led her to marry  a Tamil Indian. Her wedding was everything she envisioned - sari fusion dresses, henna, bangles and Bollywood dancing. Thank you to those who attended and didn't complain about it being outside without air conditioning and who enjoyed it for what is was - T's dream.

 Greg and I left just days after the wedding, which in hindsight wasn't the best idea. Preparation and clean up of the wedding took most of our time in Canada, which we were thrilled to
do, but left little time to debrief the entire experience. Our flight back was quite uneventful, which is always a good thing. We apprehensively flew China Southern Airlines for the first time and we were very pleased with the size of the seats. 

Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, after our showers, we immediately set out to replace my SIM card, which had been lost in Canada. Greg was parked out in front of a booth close to our house and a truck carrying gallon buckets of cream coloured paint bumped by, spilling two large buckets of paint all over our car. The drivers got out and Greg asked them to try and clean it up. As Greg stood by, a crowd of on lookers gathered to watch the action. They got most of the paint off, but we've had to do some fingernail scraping. Our poor car in in rough condition these days. (We've had three accidents with motos, all damaging the exact same spot on the driver's door.)

The next surprise was the damage termites had done to our cupboards. Greg had realized the problem before he left and had arranged for extermination but for some reason, it had not been taken care of while we were gone. Termites had eaten through all my boxes of tea, labels on my bottles and through the wood. Worse, the exterminators had left bait and traps and I was not allowed to clean up the mess because it would scare the bugs off. So, I had to live with massive amounts of termites in my kitchen, while I was preparing food. 

A large, grand, high end mall has recently opened close to our house. It makes life a bit easier as we can escape to a massive air conditioned space, park easily and enjoy coffee shops, restaurants a book store etc. It is quite convenient that a very Western looking oil/lube shop is at the mall. Instead of battling the literally insane intersection to get to our trusted mechanic, we decided it would be easier for me to get the oil change at the mall. My car has never been the same. I am not sure what they did to it, but the engine light was on after the oil change. I asked them to hook it up to find out why and 3 hours later, I drove the car home as it sputtered all the way there. Greg took it back the next day, but they clearly could not deal with it, so he brought it our trusted mechanic, at the insane 5 direction intersection. Greg and the owner of the garage drove it around and the car would NOT act up. The mechanic thought the car was in fine condition. I can guarantee you that I am going to have to battle said insane intersection to fix our struggling CRV.

Despite a build up of this craziness, I confidently declared my complete contentment living in Phnom Penh. No sooner were those words out of my mouth and things seemed to sprial downhill. It takes a lot to break me. Major surgery two weeks into living here didn't break me, but I lost it this week.

Enjoying a lovely morning with two of my Aussie friends, I either left my wallet, which I had just filled with copious cash to shop, on the grocery cash register belt or it fell out of my hands while I was loading my groceries. Regardless of how it happened, the wallet is gone. Thankfully, I have learned to keep my Canadian cards and ID in the safe. Shockingly, and stupidly, I had my Cambodian PIN on a piece of paper in my wallet with my bank card, conveniently labeled Cambodian PIN number. (I have since learned another way to keep my PIN safely with me) My heart sank when I realized my wallet was gone. Panic set in but I was able to convince myself it was just money and Greg and I could sort the rest of it out. Greg was able to get away and help me cancel my card at the bank, where somehow we were convinced to get a new VISA card through them. Our replacement cards will take 10 business days! It was very annoying to remember our son getting a replacement card on the spot when he lost his card this summer in Toronto. I was still smiling, happy that our account had not been compromised despite my foolishness in carrying around the PIN number in my wallet.

Next, I went to inquire about replacing my Cambodian driver's license. I thought it would be easy because there is a new licensing department at the fancy, new mall. How easy. Not so. Even though all of my information was in the computer and there is a record of my license number, they require a trip to the police station for me to fill out a form that my wallet was taken. Rumour has it, this will be a difficult process. There was something about the gentlemen serving me that put me over the edge. The entire experience was very unsettling for me emotionally and I cracked. I truly felt I couldn't handle another minute in Cambodia. I don't know why this one experience pushed me over the edge, but it did. My license situation still isn't resolved and will likely require help from a Cambodian friend. 

That night, I cried myself to sleep for the first time in Cambodia. I posted on Facebook that it felt too difficult to live here, needing the prayers and support of my friends and family. I received that support from all over the world and I am so grateful because it lifted me out of the dark place I went. Family and friends wrote me wonderful words of encouragement and I felt the love and support I needed to find hope.

The next morning, two friends visited me, both providing the exact words I needed, having been there themselves in the past. They listened, showed genuine disbelief in my crazy circumstances, and helped me understand that Satan would like nothing better than for Greg to have to leave Cambodia because  of an unstable wife. That same morning, the exterminators arrived, drilling holes through our floor tiles, literally less than 2 feet apart. The noise was unbelievable. There were men standing all over my counter with bare feet, putting termite bait on the top of our cupboards. By the grace of God, I took it all in stride. My heart was healed enough that I didn't even lose it last night when they drilled through the water pipe under the tiles, causing a leak on our main floor. In order to repair that damage, they had to take the entire tile out and there is only ground under the tiles. There isn't a nice sub floor or concrete. Nope, currently I am living with dirt inside of my living room. 

It is good to remember why we need the Lord! Life was feeling a bit too comfortable with the fancy mall, affordable massages, eating out and upcoming travel plans. It is also good to remember the things we love about Cambodia, which are many. We enjoyed a wonderful night out tonight with Greg's Ratanak colleagues. That wonderful night had us eating cow brains and baby duck eggs, but that's the adventure of Cambodia.

We are looking forward to a holiday in October for some rest and relaxation after our busy time in Canada. We will be traveling to Malaysia, arriving in KL and driving to the Cameron Highlands. We will enjoy tea plantations, strawberry fields, devonshire teas and hiking before a few days of shopping in KL. 

I truly thought we were totally settled in Cambodia, but the last month has proven to be worse culture shock for me than our initial arrival in Phnom Penh. Culture adaptation is an interesting thing. Thankfully, I was entertained every time I drove the car today. Instead of feeling annoyed, I was truly humoured by the foreign things that continue to amaze us out on the streets. But really, it is God's leading of Greg to work at Ratanak that keeps us here and engaged in Cambodian life. Hopefully that will remain forefront in my heart and mind when the next disaster strikes. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

On Home Soil

I have started a new post many times since my last, only to delete it because it wasn't expressing my heart perfectly. If I continue to be unsatisfied with my posts,I will never capture my present to remember and learn from. 

The greatest blessing this school year has been the many visitors to our home in Phnom Penh. The visitor rainfall began with our kids and my parents at Christmas, with my parents staying on about a month longer than the kids. Oh the adventures we had!  Making memories in Phnom Penh with our family makes Cambodia feel more like a home and less like a temporary shelter for an undetermined time frame. In March we enjoyed other visitors from Canada - two former students of mine (with 1 new husband in tow) and friends who were once Greg's employers. One of these days, I'll sit down and record some of the adventures we experienced with them.

In many ways, it was a year of real settlement for us as life became settled and "normal". We enjoy our places of employment, we LOVE our church (Anglican!) and have we have rich friendships. I felt so settled that there was an inner struggle regarding coming home for the summer. Of course I couldn't wait to get home to my children and family, but I was leaving some precious people too. I had to say some forever goodbyes as people move on from Cambodia. Greg and I are apart about 6 weeks this summer and I miss him! I miss my friends. The flip side to that is the sheer joy and excitement of seeing my family and friends in Ontario. We are busy planning a wedding for our daughter T, and I am LOVING every minute of it. The dichotomy of happy/sad continues to be a battle in my heart and mind that has to rest at a happy place of being in order to fully feel at peace with this life.

I confess that I have been guilty of mocking of seemingly normal Westerners who have feigned culture shock upon return to Canada after being abroad for a time. I questioned how any true Canadian could not simply just settle back into life here. Suck it up! I've questioned if reverse culture shock is truly a thing. As I experience reverse culture shock, I am certain it is truly a thing!

The main things I have noticed require adjusting are - 

1. Handling of money - In Cambodia, money is passed either with two hands on the bill, or one hand passing the bill, while the other hand crosses and rests on the arm handling the money. This is respect for the money handling process. I truly look like a weirdo handling my money like this in Canada. I have to catch myself and remind myself of where I am. It may seem like a little thing, but it makes me feel out of place in my own country. 

2. Money confusion - In Cambodia, we use both American cash and Cambodian Riel, generally for less than $1. I did not change all of my American money to Canadian dollars and I continue to take out American money to pay. I don't even notice my actions until the sales person quotes me the exchange rate. I need to take all money but my Canadian currency  out of my wallet so this aging brain of mine can adjust.

3. Driving - I remember the adjustment to driving in Canada being an issue last year and it certainly is again. I am SO grateful to my in laws for providing us with wheels this summer. Renting for 2 months is quite costly and this support is greatly appreciated. I think the main adjustment is trusting that people stop at lights and stop signs. In Phnom Penh, someone is always coming at you and driving right into you, so it requires slowing down at all intersections. I've found that slowing down at every green light is not appreciated in Toronto. :)

The other adjustment is judging when to turn into traffic. In Phnom Penh, you cut people off all the time. That's how it's done. It's a giant game of chicken. Who has the bigger car to make it through the intersection first? Who is the most brave? I need to allow far more space when I am turning into an intersection and stop cutting people off, or so the middle fingers have told me. 

The speed of traffic in Ontario makes my heart race. I seldom drive over 45km in Cambodia. The fast moving traffic on the highways takes some getting used to. I need to remember the sheer fear of driving in PP for the first time and acknowledge that I've had so many more years experience of driving in Canada.

4. Politeness - Oh Canada - you are lovely. Cambodians are lovely, smiley people too but Canadians are so helpful. I have been overwhelmed at how polite our culture is. Yesterday, J and I were at an indoor shopping space in the financial district, looking at a directory. A smart looking, well dressed man stopped to ask us if he could help us find what we were looking for as he walks through the center everyday and knows it well. Buses that we have almost missed (I hate driving downtown TO) stop when they see us running. People say have a nice day after every encounter. 

5. Jet lag - The reality of an 11 time difference and recovering from a 24 hour trip is exhausting! My home base is my parent's place, which I am SO grateful for. But, despite that gratefulness and comfort, I have let fatigue and irritability get the better of me more than once. Thankfully, my parents and kids love me unconditionally. Today marks a week in, so I am hopeful I will start feeling normal.

My heart longs to embrace every visit with family and friends. I value each minute spent in relationship with people. I value the privilege to have the means to visit home every summer. I LOVE cooking for my children and simply doing life with them.  I choose to embrace the uncomfortable place of reverse culture shock and allow it to help me grow. And, I can't wait for the wedding and to become a mother in law!

I am loving being on home soil and look forward to Greg joining me soon!

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Year Later...

A year later and...

I can say a total of 5 Khmer phrases. It's quite pathetic really.

 How are you?
 (I am fine is the same as how are you - so really, I could count that as two)
 Sore throat
 Thank you
 Like a good Canadian - Sorry

Greg, on the other hand, is deep into his language training. He is amazing. After an early morning exercise, he leaves the house by 7:30am and does not return until 7:30pm. He puts in a full day of work and then heads off to language school every week night, only to practice/study after dinner. His commitment to learning the language is exemplary. He even still manages to wash the dinner dishes every night. My heart.

Driving is no big deal anymore. I will never forget how afraid both Greg and I were to drive the first time in Phnom Penh traffic. We are ol' pros now, dodging motor bikes, people, goats and cows all vying for the non existent lane. I did manage to get stopped twice in one morning by the police last week, paying the on the spot bribe fine.The GREEN light I drove through became YELLOW while I was going through the intersection, so I was stopped whilst others behind me driving through the RED were not stopped. The officer saw me rummaging through my wallet where I was looking for a $5 bill and he saw a $10 and loudly barked, "10 okay, 10 okay". So frustrating. I wasn't the most godly in my initial response but I am grateful for passenger friends who calmed me down. My other violation was turning right on a yellow light. The real violation is being a foreigner (barang) and driving downtown.(Hey, that's another Khmer word I know, so I'm up to 6!)

We have figured out how to parent from abroad, made easier by children who are committed to regular communication with us. Thanks to technology, this life is doable in terms of family. It helps that I was able be with them this summer and that they are coming at Christmas. The time difference makes it easy to connect every day with beginning of day and end of day communication times. We continue to edit papers, resumes, emails and advise on love lives. (my favourite part of parenting!) Greg's input is that missing the children has been a combination of becoming empty nesters and living so far away.

I am quite frustrated with our living arrangement in that our area has been experiencing long power outages. Living without power is not fun in mid 30 temperatures, not being able to even run a fan. The other issue is losing groceries that are not properly refrigerated during the outages. I am frustrated enough that I went apartment hunting as buildings have generators. Greg needs a little convincing. There are pros and cons to moving but now is the time to decide as our yearly contract is up.

We are settled into a routine of living and are quite happy. In many ways, we live with much less stress in terms of daily living. The only house responsibilities we have are grocery shopping, cooking and gardening. (Greg is enjoying caring for the plants and I enjoy the cooking and grocery shopping)There isn't much stress associated with either of our work places, so hopefully we are looking younger with all this lack of daily stress.

Greg's health seems to be improving even though he's been eating sugar again. His PSA numbers, which we monitor every 3 months since his prostate cancer diagnosis, have gone down from 6 to 2! Thank you Lord!

Greg has found an intelligent geek crowd for him to enjoy Ham radio with. In fact, there is a weekend world wide competition coming up that we are planning our holiday time around.(CQ worldwide DX contest) He's also back into his origami with copious amount of varied, well priced paper at the Japan $1.90 stores.

We have made life long friends in just a year. My favourite part of living in a developing country is that people have time for one another. I feel so lucky to have young, single girl friends not that much older than my daughter, and friends that are also living miles apart from their adult children. There are plenty of children to love and babysit. Greg calls me the neighbourhood Grandma, which I don't appreciate. :) People make this life doable.

We continue to feel called to serving the disadvantaged in Cambodia through the NGO work of Ratanak and by teaching the children of people who do amazing things for this country. When hard days come, like Thanksgiving weekend or 2 days power outages, we remember how God lead us here. We recount all the events that brought us to this place and we draw strength from His leading. Ratanak provides member care for us that included a 2 hour Skype session with a psychologist in Toronto last week.It was helpful to have someone ask the right questions and listen to our stories and experiences because he can't tune out since it's his job! :) We are thankful our NGO takes care of us in this manner.

We know all the hot spots to visit so now is the time to visit! Actually, elections are approaching this July so you should probably wait until they are finished. I cannot write or post about such issues further but you can google the politics in Cambodia if you are interested. You could pray for our safety during these times too, if you think of it!

A year later and it's hard to believe that 12 months have passed.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggitty Jog

Home is where the heart is...

In June, I made the long journey home to Ontario. I flew from Phnom Pehn to Seoul, enjoying a 3 hour lay over before the long flight to Toronto. I would hate to present as a travel snob, but Toronto Airport, Terminal 3 is pathetic in comparison to other world class airports. It's old, dirty and you have to walk miles to get to customs. The dirty walk was all worth it when I came through that gate and saw my precious son and my Mama. My girl had sent a welcome home poster, which said precious son did not hold up. After crashing for one long night, the visiting began!

Thank you to everyone who made an effort to spend time with me. I am grateful to you for fitting me into your lives. I loved every lunch date, dinner, barbeque, coffee date, walk and family dinner complete with nieces and nephews on both sides of the family. Nearing the end of my six weeks home, I began feeling panicked that there were people I had missed but did not know how to organize making it all work between Toronto, Stoney Creek and Niagara. I knew that my first priority were my children and so I parked at their apartment for that last week, making myself available if people would make the trek to see me. 

The kid's apartment felt like home. It is outfitted with things from our Niagara home, including some furniture, art work and kitchen essentials. I am pretty sure it was T and J's presence that made me feel like I had come home. I loved being part of their lives as they came and went from work. I was able to visit both of their churches, hear Jahred play his guitar at church, see their places of employment, explore Toronto and the University with them, cook for them, meet T's new beau, see their friends and best of all, feel like a Mom.

I enjoyed some time at my parent's house in Stoney Creek, where I have a floor to myself almost the size of the kid's downtown Toronto apartment. I am grateful for my friend Liz, who also housed me at her gorgeous house and cottage.

The strangest things made me feel like I had come home. Brita filtered water for one. I forgot how delicious water can taste. The cooler temperatures at dusk felt like heaven. Yes, Ontario experiences hot and humid weather in summer, but just take my word for it that it does not even come close to what Southeast Asia experiences most of the year. Probably the best feeling of home was the soaker tub at my kid's apartment. Sweet T made me a welcome basket complete with bath bombs and salts to enjoy a bath every night. Taking a bath in Phnom Penh isn't an option at my house. First, it would be difficult to fill the tub with warm water due to lack of running hot water. The tub is cheap plastic and made for small Cambodian bodies and is not sealed on to anything. That's right, it's just sitting on the floor without any support.

Meanwhile, in Phnom Penh, Greg discovered the bachelor life. After the first lonely week, he got into a groove as he was still attending language classes every night after work. He used a food delivery service - Meals by Lim - so his meals were waiting for him when he returned home for the evening. Greg had his own adventures, traveling to the Thai/Cambodia border to see the migrant access center firsthand. On the same trip, he visited the rice mill projects which are transforming rural communities in Cambodia. Although he managed to avoid eating boiled eel on this trip, he did come back to Phnom Penh with a funky tummy due to eating street food for a week.

Rice Mill - 

Six weeks flew by and it was time to prepare to come home to Phnom Penh. To be honest, my heart was torn as I was looking forward to seeing Greg and my new friends, but dreading saying goodbye to my family and friends in Ontario. Emotionally, it's a very strange place to find yourself. Ontario isn't quite home without Greg and my new friends and Phnom Penh isn't quite home without my family and friends from Ontario. No where can be home without my children. Living abroad requires one not to fret too deeply about such turbulent feelings as they cannot be defined. For me, coming to peace about the feelings I describe is simply being okay with them. It's okay to feel this way. It's okay that Niagara/Toronto is home and it's okay that Phnom Penh is home at the same time. Really, none of us get to call this world home forever.

Just as I hit the ground running when I arrived home in Ontario, I hit the ground running when I arrived home in Phnom Penh. Although I experienced much worse jet lag flying east, as in I felt like death for ten days, I was out visiting, having foot massages and lunches, seeing movies and shopping from the moment I arrived. Basically, I haven't stopped since. The Cambodian adventure continues...and calls me...home.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Reverse Culture Shock

I must admit, I have balked at others who have claimed to be experiencing reverse culture shock. However, after I experienced re-entry into Canada after 3 years of life in Bangladesh, I recognized it truly is "a thing". Even though I am visiting my home country after only 9 months abroad, some confusing, conflicting emotions and experiences have lead me to realize that I am experiencing some re-entry shock on some level.

 Habits form quicker than I realized. In Cambodia, we always handle money with respect, using either both hands to exchange it, or one hand on the bill whilst the other hand touches the opposite arm. I find myself handling money this way in Canada, and people looking at me strangely as a result. It's not really a "shock", but rather a surprise in how quickly the habit has formed.

When I went into the Zehrs Grocery Store at the Pen Center, I had a melt down. I cried. I can't determine if the extreme emotion was the shock of all that is available in one place or the pleasant memories of years of shopping for my family in that store. I can purchase almost everything in Phnom Penh that I can at home, but it takes a few stores and special trips out. My emotions are conflicted between the fun adventure of  grocery shopping in Cambodia and the easy convenience of a Zehrs experience. I may miss the convenience a little more than I realized.

 It is boring to drive in Canada. I remember feeling that way when we returned from Bangladesh. If you're stuck in traffic, which I am everytime I drive between Niagara and Toronto, you might as well have something entertaining to watch, like a moto filled with live chickens and ducks or people selling interesting things like deep fried crickets on the streets.

 I have a better understanding of how difficult it is to stay in touch with the time difference and the busyness of life in Canada. I best experienced this at a family barbecue that Greg wanted to be part of and Skyped in on. The connection wasn't great, people had just started eating and weren't really interested in connecting with him. I felt the pain of knowing what that feels like when feeling all alone and so far away aligned with witnessing that people at home simply don't understand it. They're busy. They're eating. They have lives. My sweet J understood how his Dad was feeling and they had a great chat. I have come to understand the commitment my children take in connecting with us everyday as it is a challenge to be available exactly when it works for Greg on the other side of the world. 

 People have grown and changed without me here as I have changed due to my experiences. Experts on the re-entry warn that most people at home simply aren't interested your life abroad, not because they're rude, but they can't relate. I am grateful to the many who have taken the time and interest to ask me specific questions about our lives and work in Cambodia. My sister's sweet son sat with me on the balcony, crossed his little legs and asked, "So, how's Uncle Greg?" Then he asked exactly what Greg did for work. It was very special.

 Canadians are stressed out. Wow. I have realized for quite some time that I live with less stress in Phnom Penh, but being back has emphasized that fact. 

 Canadians are very polite! Having lived in a country where the mentality is to get ahead in traffic and any type of queue, I realize why Canadians have the reputation of being polite. Every time I've been given the right of way when it's not mine, I am amazed.

 The biggest shock might be that Phnom Penh is becoming home. Although I grieve not living everyday life with my kids and friends, I find myself longing for my life in Cambodia. I miss Greg, my house, my space, the traffic, the easy pace of life and I really miss my friends.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

My Top Ten

I was on a Skype call with a friend from home and she asked me what the top three difficult things were about living in Cambodia. Besides missing people, especially my children, I found it hard to come up with three difficulties. Instead, I am going list the top ten things that I like about living in Phnom Penh.

1. Fulfilling work - There is something very special about having the opportunity to work for an organization invested in international justice. Our personal contribution may be of little consequence, but we are aware that we are part of something hugely important. The NGO Greg works for is instrumental in bringing change to exploited people in Cambodia. The NGO is well established in the country and was here long before world wide government agencies stepped in to meet the humanitarian needs of Cambodia, post genocide. It is a gift to us that we became aware of Ratanak and it is worth your time researching to determine if it's a good fit for your charity support.

Teaching piano here has been much less stressful than in Canada. Students are less busy, say thank you and seem to appreciate the opportunity to take lessons.

It's not that our work at home wasn't fulfilling or making a difference, but the opportunity we have been given to live and work in Cambodia is humbling and exciting in a way we haven't experienced before.

2. Relationships - My experience is the people who live in expatriate settings need one another. People have time for one another and always make good on their suggestion to get together. I love that people in our borey (neighbourhood) will simply pop by unannounced for coffee and a visit. The richness in having friends from so many different countries is very fulfilling. It's fun to learn about different cultures, both differences and similarities, through spending time together. The Aussies are particularly "entertaining"!

3. Always Interesting - I think it will be years before we are accustomed to our surroundings. The newness of living in another country and culture is fascinating because things don't always make sense to us. Greg loves how the city comes to life at night. Pop up restaurants made up of plastic chairs and metal tables appear once the work day is through and people are out and about. The open areas are filled with people playing badminton, enjoying picnics and doing outdoor exercise classes. Our neighbourhood comes alive with people going for walks once the heat of the day has passed and cooled down to a mere 28 for night time walking. Just today I noticed a guy riding his moto with extra bike tires around his waist for transport. We see something new and slightly nutty everyday.

4. Cambodians - Our experience is that Cambodians are kind and welcoming people. To think an entire generation was almost wiped out with the Pol Pot regime is unfathomable, yet here we live among the surviving and the generation to follow. What the country endured is beyond belief and if you ever have the chance to visit me, the Killing Fields and Prison are must sees to have an understanding of what fellow humanity has suffered.

5.Our Church - We are attending an Anglican church, which is quite different than either of our traditional expressions of faith in Christ. We love it. We enjoy the reflective liturgy, sung and spoken, the use of Scripture throughout the service, the deep and meaningful prayer times all weaved with well chosen contemporary and traditional hymns. The Priest is well spoken, challenging and the congregation full of young families. There are so many babies to get my baby fix!

6.Opportunities to Travel - It's simply more affordable to travel throughout Asia than from Canada. Although we were blessed with experiencing much of Asia in 2005-2008, there are some countries we haven't explored. There are 21 statutory holidays in Cambodia that Greg's NGO recognizes, not to mention 3 weeks of vacation. May offered two long weekends! We recently enjoyed a trip to Thailand and although we've visited before, it was fun to remember and see what has changed. The amazing pop up restaurants on the streets are all but gone, which is very sad. The roads and big shopping malls seem to have only improved and apparently the Thai have a taste for Western fattening food because there was a shocking amount of overweight Thai people, which was a big change. 

7. Challenging - It's good be challenged and live outside of what's easy and comfortable. Greg is challenged by the Khmer (pronounced Kuh-my) language course he is taking. He works a full day, drives in the bucketing rain on his moto to the University for language class and comes home to study all night. It's a good challenge, a necessary challenge and he is committed to going deep into the language. Once I've become totally settled, I will take a more basic course that focuses on more conversational language rather than the reading and writing Greg is studying. I've had a flat tire driving home and learning how to handle that without speaking Khmer was challenging but entertaining. My tire was literally changed on the side of the road in 3 minutes. No wheel balancing needed for these roads! 

8. Less Stressful - I truly find life less stressful here. It's hard to explain but we live a much slower pace of life. I suppose becoming empty nesters contributes to being less busy although we are so thankful that our kids involve us in their daily lives. Nothing makes me happier than a middle of the night phone call to help them solve a 911.  Having a house helper three times a week takes the stress of house chores and not owning a house, less responsibility. Life is more affordable here. Our money goes further for "fun" things, like weekly foot massages, eating out and $2.75 movie tickets. (the latest movies too!)

9. City Life - It took me a long while to adjust to life in Niagara after living in Toronto for 7 years. I've come to realize that both Greg and I really enjoy city living. Our kids have also come to love big city living. 

10. Dependence on God - Living in a new culture means that many things we take for granted at home,such as where to buy sour cream, aren't obvious. Even though life seems more simple here, it's far more complicated in many ways. We've had a huge learning curve in order to have our basic needs met.(I know, I know...sour cream is not a basic need. :) When you need to pray about basic needs, your need for God heightens. It's our faith that gets through some of those challenges and we've seen God pull through again and again, just as His word promises - He is faithful.

I did it! Ten things I like about Phnom Penh. To be honest, there a few things that drive me mad about living here too, but we'll save those for another rainy day.