Expat Q&A: Learn Khmer and on having ‘Cambodia days’

Robina Hanley

Bina says: Take Khmer lessons!

In this series we talk to Cambodia expats about what they wish they had known when they first moved to Cambodia that they know now.

This week we talk to Robina Hanley, who works as a curator at the McDermott Gallery in Siem Reap as well as being one of the geniuses behind the Giant Puppet Project. Originally from Ireland, Robina came to Cambodia to celebrate her 30th birthday. While traveling around Cambodia for a month she fell in love with the country. Less than a year later, she had chucked everything and moved to Siem Reap. Seven years down the line, she’s still here.

MTC: Robina, what do you know now that you wish you had known before you moved to Cambodia?

RH: “I wish I had known that working alongside Khmer people does not mean they will have time to teach you their language.  Take lessons, you absolutely need them for correct pronunciation.  I wish it had not taken me two years to learn that.  Yes I got by on basic numbers and ‘susaday’ for a while but actually being able to have a real conversation with my gorgeous landlady was impossible and tremendously embarrassing on my part.  Now I adore our regular little chats.

I wish I had known that it was going be almost impossible to convince family and friends to visit me.  No matter how many times I describe how beautiful this country is, and mention the high standards of very affordable accommodation I am still greeted with unconvinced shaking heads.  I am laughed at by these people for things like not owning a washing machine, when in fact it’s wonderful not having one.  I love my laundry lady and I love the fact that by my not owning a washing machine, she has a regular income and I don’t have to deal with washing, hanging out and ironing clothes.  It’s a no brainer, win win.

I wish I had known there would be ‘Cambodia Days‘, the days when everything goes wrong from the moment you leave your house in the morning.  The days that begin with someone blatantly trying rip you off and won’t budge even though you know you are right and they know you are right.  The days when you are constantly told ‘cannot’ when you need something important done urgently.  The days when someone laughs at you and you stare sternly in reply instead of simply accepting this cultural trait for what it is, nothing personal, just a reaction.  These happen about once every two or three months, that’s when you know you need to get away somewhere, anywhere.”

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