Cambodian foods

A little more on Cambodia foods– mostly just pictures. Click HERE.

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Working on a Sunday

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I am working.  I was working from home, as opposed to spending yet another day in the office, but I decided to come to my friendly local art gallery/ Asian fusion restaurant owned by a very sweet Taiwanese man and his partner.  If you are ever in Phnom Penh, Two Fish is a great place to see new art and have a tasty, if slightly unconventional meal. The artwork being displayed changed last night, which is disappointing because I loved the abstract oil pieces of the last show.

My favorite part of the menu and the reason I came today, however, is the juices.  Some of my favorites include

· Melon (watermelon, lime juice, and fresh mint leaves—no sugar),

· Immune power vegetable (garlic, ginger, coriander, carrot & apple),

· Pineapple ginger ale (ginger root and pineapple),

· Spiced apple (apple juice, root ginger, cinnamon & a banana), and

· Lychee with mint.

Today I start with the Lychee with mint and move on to a new juice (well, new for me), Beet It Liver Cleanser (beetroot, celery, cucumber, and ginger). Although presumably healthy, it tastes a bit too much of celery and a bit to little of ginger for my taste buds. 

The sky was perfectly sunny with amazing fluffy white clouds as I walked over—still hot, although less so, but humid. The rainy season is on it way and I am waiting with barely contained anticipation. I had been sitting here working on my computer for about 20 minutes when I heard the “WOOSH” of the sky opening and the deafening “CLANG” of a dozen tin roofs being tap danced upon.  It does not simply rain here in Cambodia when water is falling from the sky.  In my Midwestern definition of rain, the rain drops must be distinguishable one from another.  Here it is a wall of water that assaults those in its path.  Truly a remarkable sight—and sound. Staccato, lightning displays and low rumbling thunder enter the picture and leave as if they were a small glitch in the mind. Oddly, it is the sound of the rain that I love most—this constant pitch, hum-drum, of rain walls on tin roofs that has almost drowned out the Corinne Bailey record playing in the background. This hum-drum that is somehow peaceful, soothing, lulling.

Best gift ever!

Best gift ever!, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

My niece is 7 years old. Before I came home for my graduation she wrote me a letter, sealed it in an envelope, wrote “aute clare” on the outside, and asked her mother to address it. I am in awe that she did this on her own– it was the best gift I could get. In case you can’t read it, it says:

“congajulatshons! your graguating graguwit school!”

America Not Founded On Christianity

The following post as 1) nothing to do with human trafficking, 2) nothing to do with being a social worker, 3) no ethical issues, and 4) is not about cooking or my life in Cambodia; however, it is interesting and filled with things I didn’t know.

Also, the following post is not written by me. It is blatantly copied from Tricia at Four Plus Four Equals Ten who copied it from Tammy over at Hollywood Farm Girl and she got it from a letter to the editor of Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Indiana. Anyway, with no further adu, I give you a post that is not mine:

In a recent Journal & Courier article, an attendee of a local gathering in observance of the National Day of Prayer alleged, “Our nation was founded on biblical principles.”

To the extent that our Founding Fathers had any religious affiliation at all, it was a tepid embracing of the philosophy of deism, a popular system of thought at the time. Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, among many others, held deist, rather than Christian, religious beliefs.

The two documents upon which our country was actually founded — i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States — contain not a word about Christianity, Christian principles, the Bible or Jesus Christ. Neither is there any mention of the Ten Commandments, heaven, prayer or being saved.

In 1797, the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by none other than George Washington, declared that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Congress unanimously approved the text of this treaty, and John Adams signed it.

Mandatory church affiliation, among other factors, led to the establishment of the term a “wall of separation between church and state,” allowing, at each citizen’s discretion, freedom of religion or freedom from religion.

The phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and our national motto became “In God We Trust” in 1956 in response to USSRs’ so-called “godless Communists.” It is historically incorrect to claim that America was founded upon Christianity.

Indeed, it was quite the opposite.

Randall S. Smith

Rossville, Indiana

Human trafficking in the News

Take a look at this article of Human Trafficking in the news: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article1836946.ece. The story in and of itself is shocking and something America really needs to see– all too often we think of trafficking as happening in “backwards” third-world country and having no representation in our own backyards. However, this is not the case and we need to start seeing it so that we better address it.

Peter, my professor who pointed out the article, also pointed out something even more disturbing to me– the fact that it didn’t make front page, or even close to front page.  This story was buried were most people would not see it, thus continuing the illusion that human trafficking is not a problem in the US.

Graduation trip

Graduation Collage

I am, after many more airplane issues (including almost getting arrested and almost being stranded in Taipei for 3 days– not related incidents), back in Phnom Penh. I promise to resume posting soon. Until then, I give you a lot of photos from the graduation weekend. It was everything I could have hoped for and more– except it was too short!

Learned lessons

When I was 16, I was a Rotary Exchange student to Chile.  Before my departure, my parents and I attended a plethora of meetings about what it meant to be an exchange student, financial issues, travel arrangements, and general logistics.  Some of these meetings were large and included American high school students going to many countries, other meetings were smaller and less formal in format.  Throughout these meetings, there were a few key lessons they drilled into our heads (different lessons for parents and for students). One of the fundamental lessons I learned, and I thought it was funny at the time, was that if you had problems while traveling, cry. Moreover, if you see another rotary exchange student crying, cry.

This may seem silly. It did, in fact, seem silly. 

Rotary generally has students travel in a group to their country.  There were fifty-some of us on our way to Chile—really, I feel sorry for any of the other people who has to share the main cabin of the plane with us. So the idea was that if one of us had a problem and started crying, the airlines would respond more quickly to get the student to stop crying. If an entire group of fifty started to cry—the service would be quicker still and any problem would be solved immediately to stop us from creating a scene.

On the way to Chile, we did not get to try out this theory.  I continued to think it was pretty sill—but then I came home.  When I came back to the states, I had 5 checked bags all of which were over weight!  It’s amazing the amount of stuff one teenager can collect—of course I had help from classmates who all gave me gifts, my ex-boyfriend’s father who gave me a collection of copper statues (beautiful and heavy), my new found love of all things Chile, and 13 huge books of photos. At the airlines counter, the woman told me I could only have two bags.  I was prepared to pay the overweight baggage—I was not prepared to choose. As I stood staring at my bags and thinking what was inside of them, I burst out crying. It was not premeditated—it was an involuntary reaction to having pieces of my life taken from me (I may or may not have been a dramatic teenager). The woman, waving her hands in a very impressive fashion, begged me to stop crying and put all my bags through at no extra cost to show me how much she wanted me to stop crying.

Fast forward more than 10 years to yesterday.  Yesterday morning I had not woken up yet for my last day at work before my long awaited trip home for graduation when the phone rang. After making the woman explain who she was four times (more because I was still asleep than because of her English), I was told that my flight the next day from Phnom Penh to Taipei was canceled.  I asked how I would get home and she said she would look into it. 

Now awake, I threw on clothes and went to work to check the internet. I spent most of yesterday morning arguing with the travel agency: No, I did not want a full refund and to buy a new ticket as that would cost me a LOT of money.  No, I did not want to spend the night in LA and get in a day late to St. Louis.  No, I did not trust them that they could get me through customs in LA including picking up and dropping off luggage in 50 and make it to a flight which left in 50 minutes. No, I did not want to cancel the flight. Many phone calls and refusal of offers later, I had in my hands a list of flights that would get me to Taipei on time to connect with my original flights to the states.  Unfortunately, China Airlines refused to let me fly through Bangkok.  My option: leave right now and go through Ho Chi Minh. I agree. I had been arguing for 3.5 hours when I get this offer.

I run home and pack in record time (under 5 minutes including climbing and descending the 4 flights of stairs).  In my defense, I already had packed all my gifts for other people—just not my own clothes and stuff. I grab my camera, computer, cords, and whatever clothes I see. End result: I have ALL of my pants with me, 3 shirts, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 4 bras, no underwear, no toothbrush, no toiletries at all, only the flip flops on my feet, and no socks.

I run by the office and throw my flash with documents for my boss on her desk. The organization sends a car to bring me to the airport. I get to the airport where I am told to speak with Mr. Leu at Vietnam Airlines who will issue me my tickets.  I go to the Vietnam airlines desk and they tell me they have no idea what I am talking about and that I need to pay for the ticket. They call my travel agent and again refuse to give me a ticket. They tell me to go talk to someone at the China Airlines counter.  

Time is running low; there is no one at the China Airlines counter. I call the phone number listed on their door. No answer. Its lunch hour and I assume the staff is eating somewhere. I start asking everyone around if they know who works there. No. After the fifth person I ask, I am very frustrated.  When I am frustrated, I cry. I start to cry—said fifth person darts around trying to find someone to deal with me. I call the travel agency who says they will call the main office. I am trying hard not to cry, but standing their with all my luggage (and no idea what I have packed) and no ticket I can barely keep the tears at bay. And time is running out.

Crying pays off!  They find someone (the cleaning boy) who knows who I need to talk to. He gets someone from China Airlines who gets me someone who gets me a ticket. All I have to do is hand him my ticket referral from the agency.  Can’t find it.  I think I must have left it with Vietnam Airlines, so they send someone to check. Nope. I rip my stuff apart looking for ticket while tearing up again—besides being frustrated, I am hungry having not eaten since the night before. The China Airlines woman says everything will be alright and not to cry, they will get me home. 

I do finally get on the flight and get to Taipei. I spend the night in a hotel (provided by the airlines).  At this very moment, I am sitting in the airport in Taipei waiting for my plane.  I am on my way home.  Once again, perseverance and tears have paid off.  I guess that long ago Rotary lesson still holds true: airlines do not line adults (or high school students) crying while in their line and will do anything to make the person stop crying.

Domestic violence, rape, trafficking and other crimes against women

The reality is that around the world women are subjugated and submitted to violence every second.  The reality is that those who defend them and speak up are often persecuted for it.  Sometimes, we need to take a moment and look at the people in this world who are doing amazing, un-thanked, difficult work and are giving up so much of themselves for so many others. Meet Lydia Cacho Ribeiro and notice the references to sex trafficking in Cancun. More and more I am realizing the role that Americans (or any western traveler) can and should play in promoting child-safe, women-safe, environmentally safe tourism.

National Plowing Ceremony

Plowing Ceremony, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Have you ever sat and watched paint dry? Or grass grow? Needless to say, it is a long boring, slow moving process.

I am not making the analogy that the plowing ceremony I attended yesterday was like watching paint dry. Admittedly, more happened, but the reference is still there. Also, the reference might be more appealing to me, except I did watch the plowing ceremony not from within the heat drenched crowd of 3,000 peasants, royalty and military; but rather while eating a home cooked breakfast in a beautiful apartment with a breeze and a view overlooking the ceremony. The analogy I am sure would not be appropriate if I understood more of what was going on or what the speakers were saying.

I digress. Plowing ceremony was yesterday! And it’s a holiday for plowing day on Monday—this is a big holiday—people have off from work. So, like groundhogs day in the states where people wait to see if the groundhog sees its shadow and gets spooked to predict the length of winter, the plowing ceremony in Cambodia is when a different animal, cows, predict the year’s harvest.

The ceremony started at 6am—I arrived just before 8am. It consisted of a lot of people bowing to the king, and 8 cows plowing around the circle where spectators were sitting. The cows moved in a parade with people and plows around the circle three times. It was not a fast parade; here is 15 seconds of it:

The parade actually didn’t start until after almost three hours of speeches and bowing to the king. Due to my lack of Khmer and our distance from the speakers—I have no idea what was said.

After the procession two cows were led to bowls of vegetables and grains. What they chose to eat signified a good harvest. Apparently, one cow ate some corn thus symbolizing and average yield, while the rice went untouched! You can see how in a country of farmers whose staple food is rice this could be upsetting.

The ceremony was closed with the words: “May all almighty things guarding Cambodia pour down like the rain and save her from all natural disaster.

Needless to say, my understanding of the ceremony may be lacking (Cambodians reading this are free to post more information in the comment section). However, I would like to share one common piece of misinformation spread throughout the community of foreigners (or maybe its correct information—really, I don’t know). But, I have heard (several unreliable sources) that it is not just the food the cows eat that is important (in some cases this was not the point at all) but rather where they chose to “take a dump” and how much. [side note: is there any polite way to say that in such a public forum?]. Having said this, I also was too far away to report of whether or not this happened.

I’m squishing up a baby bumble bee, won’t my mommy be so proud of me…

Deep fried bees, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Yes folks, I ate deep fried bees while in Japan. I think this is a good first step on my way to eating tarantulas while in Cambodia. I have to say, they were not bad. Mostly, they were just fried and salty and a little squishier than I had expected. Also, it was worth it just to watch Jason gag one down.

 Jason eating a bee

 Clare eating a bee

More about Cambodian Spider eating traditions: (also, visit frizz restaurant where all this information comes from for a wonderful culinary class and their website for all kinds of information and more about spiders as food and wine):

First unearthed by starving Cambodians in the dark days of the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” rule, Skuon’s spiders have transformed from the vital sustenance of desperate refugees into a choice national delicacy.

Black, hairy, and packing vicious, venom-soaked fangs, the burrowing arachnids common to the jungle around this bustling market town do not appear at first sight to be the caviar of Cambodia.

Spider

But for many residents of Skuon, the “a-ping” – as the breed of palm-sized tarantula is known in Khmer – are a source of fame and fortune in an otherwise impoverished farming region.

“On a good day, I can sell between 100 and 200 spiders,” said Tum Neang, a 28-year-old spider-seller who supports her entire family by hawking the creepy-crawlies, deep fried in garlic and salt, to the people who flock to Skuon for a juicy morsel.

At around 300 riel (eight US cents) a spider, the eight-legged snack industry provides a tidy income in a country where around one third of people live below a poverty line of $1 per day.

The dish’s genesis is also a poignant reminder of Cambodia’s bloody past, particularly under the Khmer Rouge, whose brutal four years in power from 1975-1979 left an estimated 1.7 million people dead, many through torture and execution.

For the millions forced at gunpoint into the fields, grubs and insects such as spiders, crickets, wasps and “konteh long” – the giant water beetles found in lakes near the Vietnamese border – were what kept them alive.

“When people fled into the jungle to get away from Pol Pot’s troops, they found these spiders and had to eat them because they were so hungry,” said Sim Yong, a 40-year-old mother of five.

“Then they discovered they were so delicious,” she said.

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