Sunday, December 30, 2018

oNe PhOtO a DaY dEcEmBeR 2018


SATURDAY 1st I STOOD HERE: paddling in the water at Kep Beach just before sunset. We rarely go to the beach on the weekends as that is when it is most crowded but this prompt was the motivation

SUNDAY 2nd A GOOD HABIT: A balanced vegetarian diet based on the principle of eat a rainbow has been a good habit of mine for more than 30 years- everything in moderation and aim for variety and taste sensations.  The photographed selections were all made at home and consumed within the last few days. PS We just had to taste the first batch of Xmas cakes and they have been declared delicious and packaged to give now so we don’t eat them all before the big day

MONDAY 3rd TREAT: We had a special treat of coffee and a slice of freshly baked pecan pie with ice cream this afternoon. I was hoping to cheer Ian up as he has somehow come down with a terrible cold

TUESDAY 4th TIME: These little guys must have had some free TIME because they came to visit us at home for the first TIME. How they even know where we live is a mystery but once they had arrived they had extra play-TIME and had to explore and touch everything in the house and name everything they could. We haven’t stopped laughing about it yet

WEDNESDAY 5th OVER: For over 4 months on this track we were mud splattered and often bogged but we can now definitely say the rainy season is over

THURSDAY 6th MAIL: isn’t delivered here. You go to collect it yourself at the post office. The problem being how do you know it’s there! If there is a phone number included in the address they will call you, otherwise a local friend might alert you to its existence, which is what happened yesterday! We got this postcard from Alaska written in June. Not sure how long it’s been collecting dust but thanks to Maya for telling us it was there. Now writing a reply, is on the to do list today, especially as all three children penned a sentence to us. I love snail mail

FRIDAY 7th UNDER: an old decaying jetty in the fishing village with views of Rabbit Island in the background

SATURDAY 8th DINNER TIME: Freshly baked zucchini
muffins with homemade tomato sauce and a rainbow salad for dinner tonight

SUNDAY 9th I BOUGHT THIS: Today was the 9 market of local artisans and I bought handcrafted Aiyana organic essential oil soaps and passionfruit syrup from two local gals who regularly set up stalls there. Think global, buy local

MONDAY 10th JOY: I’m not big on Xmas but I just bought my first ever Xmas decoration. It’s made from recycled newspaper, glued and painted by the children in an orphanage in Kep! In the past I have only ever used objects from nature or made edible decorations. Now to hang my red and white star in the living room

TUESDAY 11th BEGINS WITH S: That has to be spelling! These little monks have mastered the upper and lowercase letters and some basic phonics and are applying all they know to get the hang of spelling. The coloured letter manipulatives sure add to the motivation to complete the task

WEDNESDAY 12th LIGHTS: The few candles we have in the house surround a precious little Buddha. They were lit and reflected in the mirror create lights that appear devotional

THURSDAY 13th DECORATION: A standard temple decoration is this kind of huge flying banner. This one was erected at the pagoda where we teach the little monks for a recent festival a couple of weeks ago. In today’s windy conditions it was flying nearly parallel to the ground

FRIDAY 14th I MADE THIS: Shortbread. I used to only make it for Xmas to gift and to hang wrapped in red and green cellophane on our edible Xmas tree, but now since I make it often, I made a special batch of chocolate and walnut as well as the usual vanilla and chocolate chip to give away as Xmas gifts

SATURDAY 15th PEACE: and tranquility Kep Style. For some reason it wasn’t the usual noisy picnicking crowds at the waterfront today. Instead it was all calm and quiet. Perhaps the calm before the storm as the outdoor stage was being erected for a concert tonight

SUNDAY 16th HAT: Beach day on Rabbit Island with our little monks today. They were over the moon excited. I did take my hat but it wasn’t needed and among those shaved heads it looked pretty out of place. Little treasures collected from the ocean floor and offered to me by An

MONDAY 17th SNACK: This prompt was the excuse I needed to indulge in my favourite tipple and a snack - dry roasted peanuts

TUESDAY 18th CARD: We buy commercial flashcards and blank cards to create the teaching resources we use with our little monks. All of these got an airing in today’s class

WEDNESDAY 19th TREE: The simple tree design of the labels for our first batch of Xmas cakes. We boiled the fruit for the second batch this morning so there will be plenty to give away when the time comes

THURSDAY 20th WRAPPING: A Japanese wrapping cloth or “furushiki” is the perfect item for wrapping and carrying: whether it is washing to the laundry, food or wine to a party, books to return to the library, your daily lunchbox or a gift. It’s is Eco friendly and can be tied in a variety of ways to create a handle and when you are done you have a simple cloth to fold and put in your pocket. No waste and any cloth will do: a pretty handkerchief for a small piece of jewelry and the wrapping is part of the gift. Some of these cloths are real, Japanese furushiki, one is a recycled piece of an Indian sari, one is an African shuka and another is a handkerchief. A lasting legacy of the years we spent living in Japan is that I always do this and often give the cloth as well as the gift

FRIDAY 21st SOMETHING GREEN: A chilled, fresh, green coconut to drink at sunset. Perfect refreshment after swimming and enough for two. Just remember to bring your own bamboo straws

SATURDAY 22nd MAKES ME FEEL MERRY: and somewhat overheated baking the final batch of Xmas cakes and shortbread in 30°C heat! One more batch of shortbread still in the oven and then it’s time to think about cooling off

SUNDAY 23rd TOGETHER: I spent this morning checking alphabet writing and colouring by the little monks and then went out to print new worksheets and bought these. Stickers and chocolate will be used together as rewards for their fabulous effort and results. (Only one with less than 70%). I’m thrilled and I think they will be too with these together with Xmas cake and shortbread at the next class which is on Xmas Day

MONDAY 24th GIFT: We received this beautiful poinsettia as a gift a little over a week ago and I love it. Thank you Yary. I was admiring it as we entered her house to swim and was completely gobsmacked when she emerged and declared she’d bought it for us. The first one we have ever owned and I so hope we can keep it alive

TUESDAY 25th MORNING: Classes as usual this morning for these little Buddhists but Xmas cake and shortbread for morning tea is still a treat

WEDNESDAY 26th RELAX: Perfect recipe for relaxation- black coffee and a good book. Proud to say I set this up to take my photo and then several hours just evaporated

THURSDAY 27th FREE CHOICE: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s super monk! Even little monks have dreams of being superheroes, it seems. He wore his cape for almost the whole lesson this morning

FRIDAY 28th FAVE ANIMAL: This was a tricky one as there is no one animal I could choose and so many came to mind. We don’t have pets due to our long-term nomadic lifestyle and my commitment to taking every photo on the day: no archive shots this month, meant thinking outside the box, to still be able to reflect on our lives here in Cambodia. So, the mythical dragon it is. It has a symbolic connection to so many of the cultures we have lived in. This one is the thunder dragon as depicted on the Bhutanese flag. It is on the bag we use for our goggles, beach towels, sunscreen and bathers as we swim on a regular basis here

SATURDAY 29th MADE ME SMILE: that the beach was packed with vendors, locals and tourist and not one kilometer away this serene scene was without any admirers. Just had to stop and photograph Kep’s two most popular attractions- the Big Crab and Rabbit Island. The late afternoon light was just gorgeous

SUNDAY 30th SELF PORTRAIT: I resisted the urge to put some makeup on, then took about a dozen shots, none of which I’m that happy with, so as I’m
fond of saying “That’s as good as it gets!”

MONDAY 31st YAY: Yay yay yay for 2018. It was great and I’m filled with gratitude. Lots of happy memories and supplies at hand to ring in the new year tonight!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Season’s greetings from hot and humid Cambodia.

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is all but over but as I start to reflect it seems a lot has been packed into this last year. We have settled into a very comfortable routine and are enjoying our more relaxed lifestyle here in Kep, as we head towards the 18 month point in our residency. To our delight we have also had many more visitors than in any other place we have lived. There is nothing quite like introducing other people to the best of your local environment to give you greater appreciation for it. Fortunately, we have had several opportunities to travel within Cambodia too. Frequent visits to Kampot and the capital have also punctuated the year and we can now say that we are very familiar and quite fond of both these locations and continue to take great pleasure in expanding our local knowledge and taking in new sights. 

Our first trip to a new unexplored region took place in March as a birthday celebration for me. I selected Mondulkiri Province with the specific aim of spending time with the elephants in a sanctuary there. Logistically that involved first making our way to Phnom Penh and then venturing onward. I was truly delighted with the magical day we had and would recommend both the town of Sen Monoram and the specific sanctuary we chose to anyone. Since many of you also follow our blog and I post prolifically on both Facebook and Instagram, I will not bore you with details that you may well already know. If on the other hand you would like more information, it can be found here.

On the return journey, we decided to take a small detour through Kratie and we both very much enjoyed our second experience with the Irrawaddy fresh water dolphins and the dynamic and vibrant atmosphere of the riverside town. This was the first prolonged break we had had and it was a joy to travel independently in a somewhat familiar culture. It certainly reminded us of the diversity of the nature, wildlife and ethnic communities co-existing peacefully in this little kingdom.

Ian has worked diligently to create a garden and as always is the better cook and more productive provider of the two of us. I will now turn over to him to update you on that front. 

We’ve continued to keep our garden beds alive despite the ever-present possibility of attacks by chickens, cows, dogs, ants and various sundry chewing and sucking insects or other pathogens. That’s not to mention the pummelling the little plants get from the torrential downpours during the wet season. Currently I’m battling some kind of beasties in the chillies and some little caterpillars have discovered just how delicious the basil is! An occasional silver beet leaf disappears thanks to caterpillars but the amaranth is a real winner. The colour of the leaves to me means it’s a real powerhouse of nutrients.

We are certainly self-sufficient in chillies even though at about a dollar a kilo in the market we aren’t saving much in the way of money! Our parsley lives on but isn’t exactly thriving, I pick the odd sprig or two but no lovely bunches as yet. Our sweet basil is going great guns. I got one seedling from a friend in Kampot and have successfully taken about ten cuttings from that bush, a couple of which are now growing nicely in the garden bed. All in all, it’s great to be able to eat vegetables grown by hand at home. 

I still love making my chilli jam and a couple of locals appreciate the odd jar. I’ve recently branched out into hot sauce and the current bottle is disappearing fast! I’ve made a couple of local style pesto sauces using Thai basil and peanuts instead of the classic sweet basil and pine nuts. The sweet basil growing now is, however soon destined to become pesto! I’m also still pickling and the carrot & ginger continues to be our favourite. The new kid on the block is water kefir. I was given some grains and a ‘how to’ lesson and we’ve been enjoying that with our breakfast every morning. 

We continue to swim two or three times a week, cycle as much as possible and hike in the now very well-known National Park whenever the mood strikes. In the last 6 months the climate seems to have become be milder or it may just be that we have finally adapted to the heat and humidity and are more easily able to avoid the worst times for outdoor activities and dress to minimalize the overexposure. Though as for that we both seem to look more like the bronzed Aussies we never did at home. I have also maintained using the Photo A Day prompts to take photographs daily and I blog the results monthly. The meditation and mindfulness practice I began in earnest and with dedication last year has now become almost routine with only travel, injury, illness or accident occasionally disrupting a pretty regular and very satisfying routine. 

In late June we returned to Australia to celebrate Ian’s 60thbirthday with family and friends. We chose not organise a huge party and instead had a number of smaller and more intimate gatherings, which ensured there was ample time to converse and really catch up with a large number of people in a variety of settings. As two dear friends from The States also chose to join us for some of that time, we were able to play tourist in our hometown and reacquaint ourselves with many of the spectacular natural and cultural offerings available as well as venturing into new territory and simply enjoying some downtime in the winter weather. 

A full academic year with both our original volunteering positions has now elapsed. The time we spent at Kep Gardens Association taught us a great deal about Cambodia, village life and Khmer culture. The regular contact especially with the older students enabled us to develop strong relationships and gain a better understanding of the conditions and situations of local families. However, after completing our first 12months, in October we decided not to continue there and instead to focus on the ever-expanding project we have undertaken with the little monks. 

We had the pleasure of hosting two friends from Adelaide in September. Dallas and David came on down to Kep after spending some time in Siem Reap checking out the magnificent Angkor Wat complex and a few nights in Phnom Penh. We all had a hoot enjoying each other’s company. We did a few little excursions which added to the joy and we hope that they will now spread the word that Kep is certainly worth a visit and our little home comfortable enough to accommodate guests. 

The little monks of Kep continue to be a big part of our lives. Initially the members of the class changed frequently with students leaving permanently or returning without any notice and new ones arriving with little or no previous exposure to English and staying indeterminate lengths of time. In the past few months we happily seem to have reached something of a quorum with only one new arrival and no departures. Switching to a morning time slot has also been extremely beneficial in terms of the focus, attention and concentration of the boys. Our ride to and from the pagoda is also less onerous in the early morning though the monsoon continues to play havoc with our desire to cycle whenever possible. Morning sessions also enable us to regularly contribute to the boy’s nutrition as we are with them at a time when they are able to eat. Our offerings of milk, baked goods or fresh fruit are always warmly received.

Many of the friends who have journeyed to Kep and a few of the travellers we have met while they were passing through have elected to come to a class with us. Those visitors have made small financial donations towards this project and we are extremely grateful. These funds have enabled us to continue creating and purchasing resources as well as regularly providing basic hygiene products to the boys.  

The blow by blow accounts of this truly gratifying project have been chronicled in these posts of if you would like to know more, it’s all here.
And here.

Just last weekend the little monks of Kep and their Abbot were treated to a day trip to nearby Rabbit Island by their major sponsor Madam Yary and we were able to contribute towards the transport for the day, with funds donated. She sought our assistance with organising the trip and we were able see that our relationship with the monks is unique.  Not being Buddhists and not being bound by the formal protocol locals feel compelled to conform to, has given us the rare opportunity to mingle with them and relate to them individually and as a group in a way that others seldom do. That day was certainly the highlight of the year for me and I will never forget the total delight of the boys. It was bliss to watch them smiling and laughing while playing with complete abandon both in the water and on the beach. It is rare for them to experience such typical childhood moments and we feel deeply honoured to have shared the experience with them.

Our sense of well-being, belonging and gratitude has expanded exponentially in the past year and we can only hope that the same is true for many, if not all, of you. May you enjoy and appreciate what you have, spread joy and wonder and be your best self in the coming year. Finally, I would like to wish you and your families a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019
Peace and love always,
Vicky and Ian xxxxxx

Thursday, November 29, 2018

oNe PhOtO a DaY nOvEmBeR 2018


THURSDAY 1st MORNING SKY: In the bright light of the tropics it appears much later than it really is but the fisher people are still untangling their nets and the boats haven’t set off yet. We caught this couple preparing their boat with a pale morning sky in the background, on our way to the little monks this morning. Now that they have been given the opportunity to attend Khmer School in the afternoons we will see a lot more morning skies over the fishing villages on route to their classes

FRIDAY 2nd I WANT: The difficulty I have had with this prompt has made me realise how blessed I am. So I want to always be grateful for all I have..... Having said that we arrived in Phnom Penh this morning and our vegetarian food options expanded considerably. I always want to eat cheap, fresh, healthy and delicious vegetarian food and a that’s exactly what we did today ..... our $8 lunch

SATURDAY 3rd I HAVE: a mission to end the use of plastic straws. I also have great friends, who carried these stainless-steel straws to me from Australia and donated them. So now that we are in Phnom Penh I have a gift of locally made bamboo straws and stainless-steel straws for a former refugee and Manus Island survivor, who established his own restaurant, called Mideast Feast, here in the capital

SUNDAY 4th I NEED: As an expat I need a cultural connection to the community, in which I live. This weekend in Phnom Penh has been all about seeing more and understanding more about Cambodia. We have attended a photo exhibition about rural life in the 1960’s before the turmoil, watched films about the Pol Pot era and sought tranquillity and contentment in Wat Phnom

MONDAY 5th FAVE FRUIT: is definitely mango but pineapples and strawberries run a very close second. The local trees are now beginning to bear fruit and even those in our yard have the small green beginnings. I had to quickly purchase these small local ones in Kampot after a bus run from Phnom Penh and another hospital visit. Looks like smoothies tomorrow

TUESDAY 6th STRONG: black coffee, the early morning start me up and the late afternoon pick me up in this house

WEDNESDAY 7th IN MY KITCHEN: Right now, the delicious smell of chocolate brownies is mingling with the exotic tang of this Lotus Root Salad. My all-time favourite cold Chinese dish, which I learnt to make from students 30 years ago when we lived in Taiyuan in China. When I need to escape I bake and cook - tragedy struck today

THURSDAY 8th THIS RULES: We have now spent a year with these little monks and they can focus and apply themselves to tasks and some like Nit can work independently

FRIDAY 9th PALE: Natural and handcrafted soap by Sui for Aiyana. It is created in Kep using pure organic essential oils and in exquisite pale natural colours and available at the Nine Market today and every ninth of the month

SATURDAY 10th BIG: After thinking about it all day, I went with the first idea I had- Kep’s iconic big crab. We had to take a late afternoon spin on the bikes to capture it

SUNDAY 11th SMALL: The new Buddha we bought at Wat Phnom last Sunday, is now set up in the living room. I made the backboard earlier in the week and hung the small Bhutanese Prayer flags this morning after returning from a huge gathering for a religious festival with our little monks. We now have a slice of Bhutan in Cambodia

MONDAY 12th IMPERFECT PIC: Yesterday’s feast at the pagoda with none of the little monks clearly visible, a pole on the corner too little light and too much food

TUESDAY 13th VIEW FOR THE DAY: At Fishing House Kep for sundowners for no reason at all but the view inspires

WEDNESDAY 14th GORGEOUS: water lily blooming in a gigantic ceramic pot in an over run garden

THURSDAY 15th WALK: At the end of our class today our bikes were nowhere in sight but there were a few giggles coming from behind the Buddha at the entrance steps. Two cheeky little monks had hidden our bikes but quickly gave themselves away and tried to walk them back to their original parking spot. The bike is so much bigger than Duan that when he walked it back it nearly took off with him but that didn’t stop him from having a quick scoot around before finally relinquishing it

FRIDAY 16th CLOUDS: After a cloudless hazy day in late afternoon the thunder starts and the dark storm clouds roll in

SATURDAY 17th SOMEONE YOU LOVE: Only one possible choice love of my life - Ian forever and ever

SUNDAY 18th ACTION SHOT: A sleepy Sunday with everyone lazing on the beach today in Kep. So, this is an archive shot of the play time after class with our little monks who were so amazed at the new Phlat balls which were donated by an Aussie mate

Better action shot. Unfortunately, it happened a few days late. Go Duan - acrobatic, mischievous bike thief

MONDAY 19th BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE: I’m constantly torn between the mountains and the beach and Kep has both but I think this serene beach scene wins. It was taken recently but not today. We have had unseasonably cool, wet weather and grey skies all day today not that I’m complaining

TUESDAY 20th LIMITED EDITION: This footstool or ottoman was made from recycled plastic bags and stuffed with them by the talented team at IWA Kep. They create a range of amazing products from trash collected locally and are a shining example of an NGO, which empowers local women and enables them to provide for their families. Each piece is unique and therefore a limited edition

WEDNESDAY 21st EAT: We spotted our little monks on their alms walk, at the beach this morning. I can’t imagine what it must be like to only be able to eat what others donate. They wouldn’t take money from us so we were thrilled to see them again at the market. Having asked what they wanted we knew to buy them watermelon and pineapples and more to take up to them tomorrow for after class. Gam is clutching his alms bowl in the Tuk Tuk, so I hope it contains something delicious. We received two prayer blessings today for our donations

THURSDAY 22nd SLEEP: Sometimes you just have to set up the hammock behind the Buddha statue and sleep the afternoon away! Our monks seem to be featuring heavily in this month’s prompts and Gam in particular. He was totally out to it and it took some effort to get him to open those eyes and join us for the class- too cute

*Belated update: Happy to say that this shot was selected for the Fab Four on Instagram after this blog post went up! Yay! Yay! The first time for me! 

FRIDAY 23rd CREATE: All set to start this year’s batches of traditional Xmas Cakes. We have adapted the Guinness Cake recipe we always use to include as many local ingredients as possible. So, we are about to create Xmas Cakes with a tropical twist and since the local brewery makes ABC stout, we’ll call them ABC Cakes - appropriately renamed to suit a couple of volunteer teachers, who intend to gift most of them to friends in the local community. The house smells totally delicious right now

SATURDAY 24th AN EMPTY ROAD: lined with mangroves and leading to the fishermen’s village

SUNDAY 25th GOLDEN HOUR: Facing the mountains with the warm glow of the setting sun amid the storm clouds forming a dark silhouette of the landscape

MONDAY 26th BUILDING: An abandoned mansion on the main road in Kep. The grounds are always beautifully maintained but squatters reside within. I often admire it and wonder what stories this building would tell if the walls could speak

TUESDAY 27th FAVE VEGETABLE: I love mushrooms! No oyster mushrooms left by the time we got to the market this morning but I reconstituted some dried shitake and bought fresh enoki to have with couscous with roasted veggies for dinner

WEDNESDAY 28th I LOVE THIS ABOUT ME: Even almost two years after retiring I still love to teach! Once a teacher always a teacher.... photo credit to Ian - taken earlier this year when the rain flooded our outdoor teaching space but we just relocated to cover inside and continued

THURSDAY 29th A DRINK: My tipple of choice - vodka lime and soda

FRIDAY 30th VANILLA: Sometimes as an expat one single word of English is enough to reassure you. I’ve bought mothballs thinking they were mints in China and made plenty of other wrong assumptions but this Thai vanilla essence bought in Cambodia is what it says it is