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.
Today we hear from Australian expat Barb Eason. Barb originally came to Cambodia in 2001 on holiday–she fell in love with the place and moved over in 2005. Three years ago she started a small soup kitchen for working children which, in collaboration with some friends, has since grown into an international organisation called Voice. Barb has some amazing stories to tell (read her blog) and has a plea for those of you who want to help Cambodians–please give blood! Read to the end to find out more.
MTC: Barb, what do you know now that you wish you had known when you first moved to Cambodia?
BE: “I wish I had known how much I dislike teaching English before I spent a couple of grand on a TEFL course that no school recognized anyway. It might have been a good idea to volunteer teaching English at home before coughing up big bucks on useless certificates. And the money I spent would have covered my living expenses for longer than I actually taught!
Being a fussy eater, I wish I had known that bones aren’t removed from most dishes and lots of things have bits of intestine, coagulated blood and liver in them. Unless you are going to eat only in restaurants catering to foreigners, learn some food-related Khmer as soon as you can. Mee char boon lai (stir-fried noodles with vegetables) is handy in the countryside. If you must have meat, pork and beef dishes generally don’t have too many bones in them.
I wish I had known that you don’t have to attend every wedding you are invited to. Nor do you have to stuff an envelope with cash for every wedding invitation you receive. My rule of thumb is: If I have never met you, I will not put money in an envelope for your wedding (take note ex-landlord: I have never met your niece from Kratie.) If we are friends I will happily don a sparkly sequined number and go to your wedding with big hair, loads of makeup, comfortable shoes and an envelope stuffed with dosh. (But I will eat a hearty meal before getting there – refer to lesson learned above.)
I wish I had known that ice in your beer is a good thing. Learn to love it. Keeps your beer cold. Helps keep you hydrated. Win-win.
On a beer related note, I never could have predicted that I would lose the ability to read the word “Anchor” the way I used to. Or even say it for that matter. This won’t make sense to everyone. Sorry.
I wish I had known that my favourite time to be in Phnom Penh is during the big holidays – Pchum Ben and Khmer New Year. When the city empties out as everyone goes to visit their families in the provinces, Phnom Penh becomes a ghost town. Hire a moto and learn to ride, have a picnic by the river, rollerskate down Monivong Boulevard. Make sure you have stocked your fridge though because nearly everything shuts down. For the first few years I joined the masses in the gridlocked pilgrimage to the overcrowded beaches and double booked hotels, catching taxis that charge twice their normal rate before I discovered that Phnom Penh is capable of being a peaceful haven.
I wish I had known that red ants like damp towels. They will hang out in the little loops of the weave in droves, gangs, squadrons, armies. And there they will wait, wait, wait until you are drying your lady parts (or man parts as the case might be) to launch their merciless attack. Their hatred for human genitalia is unrivaled in the insect kingdom. Keeping this in mind, antihistamines (tablets and cream) should always be kept in the home. That trip to the pharmacy is a very uncomfortable one…
I wish I had known that donating blood in Cambodia is not as scary or dirty as I had naively believed. Since meeting and working with kids who have Thalassaemia, a genetic condition that requires regular blood transfusions simply to sustain life, I regret that I had not become a regular voluntary blood donor as soon as I had arrived here – I could have donated 23 times by now. If I could pass on one thing to newcomers and visitors to Cambodia, this would be it. Donate blood every four months. Most people want to ‘give back’ or do something wonderful for the people of Cambodia. Don’t visit an orphanage – visit the National Blood Transfusion Centre. Come and see me if you’re scared or don’t want to go alone, we run blood drives all the time and I know lots of kids that need a unit of blood with their name on it. “