Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Living in the Bamboo House

Now that we have reached the half way point of our tenancy in this Bamboo House, it seems worthwhile to reflect upon our living situation. 

I vividly recall the stages of adjustment, when living abroad that I used to talk to ISEC students about, when I was teaching in Adelaide and I had not really considered, until now how they might apply to us at this point in time: 1) the honeymoon period, 2) homesickness / loathing, 3) adjustment and 4) acceptance.

Our honeymoon period was characterised by taking thousand of photos of the house itself, the interior and sunrises, sunsets, environs and bird life in the surrounding paddy fields. Things we continue to enjoy and feel grateful for. We marvelled at the ability to stay cool and comfortable without any aircon, by simply availing of the breezes and airflow through the doors and windows. We delighted in the low impact living that comes with this abode, thoroughly enjoying a simple, quiet life without motorised transport and with a minimum of possessions and appliances. Our bikes were and still are a source of great joy. They simultaneously provide mobility and exercise, as well as the feeling that we have remained committed to the environment and the satisfaction of reconnecting with our bike riding days in Adelaide.

I don't think we have felt the slightest bit homesick or any real sense of loathing but the next phase might accurately be described as facing the challenges and adjustment. So somehow- perhaps because we have now resettled so many times in different countries, we seem to have skipped a step and quickly moved on.

The wet season began with a bang. The first major storms with howling winds and torrential rain had us wondering if the roof would blow off or the house simply become inundated. This is not an exaggeration. Some houses did lose their rooves that night. While lying in bed a mist gently sprayed over us. Since the top quarter of the walls is constructed of wooden slats covered with fly wire, certain wind directions cause the rain to come through them despite the overhang of the eaves. For the next few days we felt we were being held hostage by the never-ending rain. However it soon evolved into a few days of rain then a few days of sunshine and it was possible to some extent to predict it or at least manage daily tasks around it. With our rain capes, sunblock, hats and kramers (Cambodian scarves) about our persons at all times, we continue to ride about and have only once been soaked to the skin. Even that was a source of amusement as it is still hot and we were going to the pool and dressed in our bathers anyway.

The menagerie of wildlife in the house is an ongoing challenge - no battle. The mouse, who was in residence when we arrived has survived and outsmarted Ian’s numerous creative attempts at humane entrapment. All out warfare has now been declared and just today we fear we have also discovered a rat in the “loft” area. To our dismay the three snakes we initially observed in the garden and lurking in the shade under the house cannot be positively identified and we can only hope that they are not venomous. As yet we have not been able to photograph them to positively identify their species. At least two species are in residence however and Ian’s removal of the fourth one spotted indoors with a gecko in its mouth at the time, was nothing short of heroic in my opinion. The following day another species of snake was spotted on the verandah and we remain ever vigilant, carefully inspecting indoors and out. The renewed rain has kept them at bay for the past couple of days but we are mindful and cautious. By now the daily occurrence of frog removal, either by sweeping them out or capturing them between the broom and banister brush is positively passé. As for geckos, the only strategy seems to be peaceful cohabitation. Indoor-outdoor living has certainly taken on a whole new meaning.

While we continue to see this as an adventure and not torture, the added complication of three or four leaks in the roof that require buckets if the rain persists creates another reason to remain ever alert. So far, neither the bed nor the bookcase that contains electronics have been in the firing line and we have settled for a permanent arrangement of furniture that avoids the wet patches when the inevitable occurs.

Inconveniences, challenges and adjustments aside, we are still not convinced that we wouldn't simply continue on here if the opportunity to extend our tenancy became available. Perhaps we are hopeless romantics, eternal optimists and ageing idealists after all. In the meantime we keep an ear to the ground about the availability of alternative housing and revel in the good life in Kep.

Cooking in general and recreating many of the summer Eurasian style dishes and other favourites we have mastered over the years continues to bring delight and provide healthy, nutritious meals. Sharing our creations with neighbours and friends is also a regular occurrence. We have now established a thrice-weekly swimming routine as well as  cycling about 15 kilometres a day. We only walk short distances in the late evening or early morning. Mindfulness and mediation have become a daily routine for me and I ponder the irony of have time for such pursuits now when I am less stressed than I was as a fulltime worker. I am reading like I have never been able to read before and sometimes stop myself and marvel that there is no sense of guilt about reading for pleasure, as there is no onerous marking hanging over my head. Though I do still stop and want to correct erroneous errors I find in the ebooks I currently read.

On that note after several attempts we have made contact with a small charity based primary school here and organised a visit for next week with the hope that we may be able to contribute in some small capacity as volunteers. I note that a dear friend Jenny pointed out that after Druk (dragon) we have set our sights on Sala Monkey. Perhaps playful animals are in our subconscious.

Things are moving forward. We are happy and the Bamboo House has proved to be a true learning experience in addition to being an aesthetic haven. Perhaps this is the beginning of acceptance phase.

Monday, July 31, 2017

oNe PhOtO a DaY JuLy 2017


SATURDAY 1st YUM: After collecting a couple of cane pieces of furniture in Kampot we took a scheduled stop at Epic Cafe for lunch before completing the journey to Kep. This lunch was officially yum

SUNDAY 2nd SOMETHING YELLOW: Well our first full day in our new hometown and a trip to the local market, so we can cook at home from now on, meant the something yellow had to be these tiny (barely bigger than my thumb) bananas. I don't even eat bananas but Ian does and they weren't all we bought obviously but they were the only yellow items among the purchases

MONDAY 3rd SLICE: I am delighted to have a kitchen again and have spent a lot of this morning slicing lotus roots for a salad I learned to make in China. They were the only fresh food we carried with us from Phnom Penh because I was so glad to see them there and disappointed that they weren't available in Kep. A single slice is such a pretty shape but I had to include part of the whole root as well

TUESDAY 4th BEGINS WITH C: Coconut of course. Buying and trying the local treats in our new hometown is our current joy. This coconut was shredded before our very eyes in the Kep market this morning. Looks like coconut enhanced curry and coconut flavoured rice pudding will be on the menu this week

WEDNESDAY 5th EARTH: Despite the apparently dry earth in this the rainy season the rice in the paddies outside our front door is thriving

THURSDAY 6th READING: In the past week we have been trying to learn a few simple phrases in Khmer but I simply can't see myself ever reading this language. I think this is a prayer as it was in a temple we discovered earlier today

FRIDAY 7th BIRDS: Thanks to this prompt I have spent a great deal of time observing the many birds that frequent the rice paddies, which surround our house today. The winner of the bird of the day contest is the black-winged stilt, who also made a lovely little chirping sound and swooped and waded as it searched for food.

SATURDAY 8th SCENT: Today has been all about cooking - frying, baking and roasting. We tried out the new oven and now the delicious scent of home cooking permeates the whole house, which happens to be open plan and one room. I just realised how many posts so far this month have been about food. I guess we have really missed having a kitchen to call our own

SUNDAY 9th ZEN: Adding the personal touches to our new home. It makes me happy to have a beautiful space, enhance it and enjoy living in. My little Vietnamese Zen Buddha reminding me to be calm, mindful and grateful

MONDAY 10th NEUTRALS: The neutral tones of the bamboo and wood create the ambience in our bamboo home. This shot is looking up to the ceiling and storage area. Ladder access only, so dreams of turning it into a guest room remain unfulfilled

TUESDAY 11th BUT FIRST...:  open the windows and let the air and light in and make the bed

 (I am uncharacteristically indecisive today. Second option is above - I never leave home without making the bed and eating breakfast)

WEDNESDAY 12th DAILY RITUAL: Having only been in this house for eleven days there are few daily rituals established, but not a day has gone by without me staring out at the rice paddies and taking time to appreciate being here while contemplating life. We can almost see the rice grow in this season

THURSDAY 13th GEOMETRIC: The simplistic beauty of Cambodia's iconic scarf- the khramer. Each one is patterned with stripes and checks and always in geometric designs

FRIDAY 14th OUT THE WINDOW: The view out the bedroom window is of the rice paddies and our nearest neighbour's house.
NB This seems to be turning into the month of showcasing food and the bamboo house

SATURDAY 15th PAPER: The recycled Phnom Penh Post newspaper pages from the wrapping from our purchases at the Sakura Recycle Shop in Kampot

SUNDAY 16th THIS COULD BE AN ALBUM COVER: French pop/ rock new wave band formed in Paris in 1981 and one of the best selling French bands, having sold 10 million albums might have wanted this shot taken in Kampot as one of their album covers. Archive shot taken in 2013 less than 20 minutes away from where we now live

MONDAY 17th ON THE WALL: I spotted this while walking around in Phnom Penh a couple of weeks ago. I've hardly seen any street art here but this picture cleverly incorporates the tap on the wall into the image. Archive shot again as we are being held hostage in the bamboo house by the monsoon rains

TUESDAY 18th PETALS: The intricately folded petals of a lotus flowers in the hand of Buddha. I have noticed these folded offerings in both Thailand and Cambodia but I think I prefer the naturally opening petals of this exquisite flower. Continuing with archive shots showcasing Cambodia as the monsoon abates and the decimated garden looks half submerged

WEDNESDAY 19th SEE THROUGH: I admire this little traditionally designed school building on the main road into Kep each time we pass. By chance we recently met the president of the Educating Smiling Children organisation that has built many such schools all over Cambodia. You can see through the turquoise fence and appreciate the airy design of the buildings and the shady surroundings

THURSDAY 20th I HAVE TOO MANY: randomly sized pieces of cloth that do not serve any practical purpose at the moment but have huge sentimental value and have been utilised it different ways in different homes so I continue to hang on to them. This prompt was really difficult as this has been our year of downsizing and simplifying our lives

FRIDAY 21st CROSS: These colourful wooden boats cross the open water to get to Koh Tunsay (Rabbit Island) from the mainland at Kep Pier daily

SATURDAY 22nd COMPOSITION: This luxury residence and exquisite garden is not just about the composition of aesthetics, it also spells opulence to me. We are privileged to be able to use the pool in this gorgeous setting and very grateful for the generosity of the owner

SUNDAY 23rd CHILDHOOD: Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of the beach in summer and at Kep Beach this afternoon plenty of children were making those same memories. Hard to believe that about five minutes after taking this photo, the skies opened up and another torrential downpour flooded the nearby streets and intersections but it didn't empty the beach

MONDAY 24th LOOKING UP: I was looking up at the sky for over an hour yesterday. Three distinct layers of clouds floated past and this was the final view. I need to remember to look up more over in the late afternoon

TUESDAY 25th BALLOON: This motorcycle balloon vendor plies his trade at the beachfront in Kep regularly and this little shopper knew exactly which balloon she wanted. She also waited patiently while the rainbow unicorn was extracted from the mass

WEDNESDAY 26th TRIO: A trio of light fittings, at which we are currently staring longingly after having no electricity for the last three hours as nightfall approaches

Thursday 27th TINY DETAILS: What makes me feel really at peace and connected are the tiny details that I love to add to the decor in our home. This minute Buddha has been a part of each home I've lived in for many many years. I always find a special place for him to reside and always notice him when I walk by. Living mindfully

FRIDAY 28th BRIDGE: I'm not quite sure why this bridge exists on the foreshore in Kep but I was glad to discover it today. I thought there were no bridges in this town but thanks to PAD I have discovered that there are at least two near identical bridges a few hundred metres apart.

 Second choice and the other bridge above

SATURDAY 29th BEAUTIFUL BUILDING: This restored colonial home on the main street in Kep is certainly a beautiful building. The light filled airy rooms and open air spaces are enticing and charming. Although we are on the lookout for a rental and it is available, it is certain to be well over our budget - might need to take a look inside anyway

SUNDAY 30th FREE CHOICE: Since this seems to be my month of showcasing the Bamboo House and our new, chosen location of Kep, I choose the Spirit House in the Garden. I do love them and intend to find out more about their significance as our time here continues

MONDAY 31st HAIR: Rambutan a fruit with hair in various shades of green, red and black. These are local produce from the market and purchased to continue showcasing Kep during our first month of living here

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Coming to terms with Kep 2

The last few days in Kep have been exactly how I imagined living in Cambodia would be. We get up as early as ever because the light pours into the single open plan room in which we live. It is the early morning and late afternoon hours that are the most agreeable so we plan to continue this practice even though I have never been a morning person. A stunning sunrise sometimes greets us and the doors are flung open to match the windows left open all night. No air-con is required as breezes and sometimes much stronger winds blow through the whole place, directly off the rice paddies, which surround it on three sides, while we consume a simple breakfast of yoghurt and fruit with coffee.

The mesmerizing rice paddy views are an ever present and calming reminder to live mindfully.

Next we either walk or ride to the market early in the day before the sun gets too searingly hot. Actually we mostly ride as once the sun comes out it is too easy to overheat. Funny how walking 10 kilometres a days was the minimum in Bhutan but now riding is way better than walking in terms of time spent exposed to the sun and the cooling effect the movement creates. Some days I'm shocked to see I have walked less than one kilometre, but I digress.

By mid morning we are home in our bamboo haven reading, writing or cooking up some treat. Currently we are revelling in having our very own kitchen again after almost six months of travelling and only occasionally being able to avail of other people’s. It's hard not to feel guilty about simply relaxing in the middle of the day but we are becoming ever more accustomed to allowing the weather or our own preferences to dictate our activities. Over the past few days we have both taken to not wearing our watches. 

In addition to the generous offer of allowing us the privilege of inhabiting this eco-friendly, low impact abode Madame also offered us the use of the pool in her own luxury beachside home along the coast. This has been a real boon and we have already cycled the seven and a half kilometres to her substantial family residence in the late afternoon a few times and certainly intend to do so every second day or so.

As I had hoped our quiet peaceful days are spent creating simple fresh fare and engaging in a healthy exercise routine of walking, cycling and swimming. Ian has dubbed this the “Keptathlon”.  Continuing the mindfulness and meditation practice I recently began in earnest has also become a priority. There is now time for the pastimes we have always enjoyed. We are getting to know a few locals and even hosted a lunch for the lovely young couple, who showed us around the various houses available for rent in the area. We have barely scratched the surface of exploring the local surroundings or the possibility of volunteering locally but that will come in the fullness of time and when we are securely entrenched with our one-year visas in hand.

After just over a week in Kep we truly feel we have landed on our feet and it's all going to be alright.