Back on the tourist trail in Siem Reap
As with last week, our mellow weekend was shaped by visits to hotel swimming pools, coffees, food decisions and a venue for Happy Hour. I say these weekends are mellow, but they can also be limiting in what we can actually get out and about to do. We took another bike ride through the suburbs of the city, marvelling at how we see and observe new detail and aspects of life here in Battambang.
We fell a little out of love for Our Sanctuary, condo, this week with the arrival of our monthly bills for August. The rent was as expected, but the electricity bill was a horrendous shock due to extensive use of aircon and the charging of a laptop or two. We have tried to be so careful with our outgoings, and these monthly rates are probably not sustainable. We have had to use aircon to keep a comfortable temperature for Sunflower School, and to survive sharing a room each night with no way of opening windows.
We have floundered with the boys gadget addiction this week. We do so well breaking bad habits, to somehow not notice extended usage creeping back in. We are back to the boys are yearning for gadget time. I admit, it’s a tough choice for it brings peace to the house providing otherwise absent entertainment. How can we disapprove of them when both J and I are regular users of one device or another? Maybe I am addicted too, but I feel empowered and connected to a world beyond our day-to-day here in Cambodia, I guess you could say the same for the boys.
I wrestle with how gadget time brings about behaviour change. I am sure it makes the boys more frenetic and “bored” by every other form of entertainment. Perhaps it does this to me too. I removed the gadgets for a couple of days, and seriously, within hours their playful imagination returned and they came alive with a different, more positive energy. I guess this is the very debate across the Western World, and indeed for a fair few here in Cambodia.
I am learning to be one step ahead for Sunflower School taking time download any key video or audio material the night before including by way of introduction this impressive short music video, worth a watch!
I have come to accept the poor Internet connectivity and to make do with limited material, to be creative in what we can use around us. For our Music theme last week, J had a stash of music still loaded on his iPhone to help introduce a rather random selection of musical genres. We discussed the size and sounds of an orchestra, Mozart, rhythm and melody, and a discovery of music through history from the Stone Age African Rock Gong to the world famous performance of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen at LiveAid 1985.
Both boys did a journal entry, “If I were a musical instrument I would be… “ a lovely memory of our week.
With our approaching visit to meet Mimi in Kuala Lumpur, our one day of Sunflower School this week was a quick study of the country of Malaysia and start to get a sense of where we will live in just a few weeks time.
I have realised this week I have achieved a major goal in my own Sunflower School. I have finally reached a point of clarity and freedom from my busy-ness to begin avidly reading again. I feel hungry for information in every sense. I can’t tell you how monumental this is. I have spent months, actually years struggling not to fall asleep having only read a paragraph of a book or magazine. I had forgotten how great it is to lose oneself in a fictional story, to feel open to absorbing the written word in a more methodical way than the crazy surfing of the internet waves.
Back to Siem Reap
Finally the day had arrived to pack our bags for our long awaited trip from Cambodia to Malaysia to meet with mum. We took the now familiar 4-hour Capitol bus from Battambang to Siem Reap and to the now so familiar Saem Siem Reap Hotel. The boys are so accepting of these long journeys. They have always been good travellers each having done a flight from UK to NZ only a few months old. Typically they either sleep or listen to an audiobook and watch the world go by. There is so much life by the side of the roads, villages, towns, markets and a never ending array of bikes, mopeds, carts and trucks to spy as we travel.
A warm welcome at the hotel and the boys are so happy here. The hotel is small enough to feel familiar, with a great breakfast, pool and friendly staff. It is a little out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, but the $2 tuktuk ride is fair and enjoyable. Luckily for us, our new buddies from Battambang had decided to take a few days break in Siem Reap and its all the better with company and companions for each of us. With Amy & Co there is safety in numbers, especially both being parents of small boys. Although the decibels are considerably higher, it is strangely more relaxing to be sharing life as a family together.
We have quickly become soul mates. It is irrelevant our past, our friends, our families, our careers. We are soul mates simply by making this life choice to be in the same place at the same time and to be open to the life lessons along the way. We share the highs and lows together and in a matter of weeks have provided otherwise missing support to each other with companionship over mojitos the best part of the day. Check out Amy’s blog, similar to this I guess, but each of us with our own unique journey to record. To find ourselves in Battambang at the same time, is perhaps a little unusual and most certainly fate playing a hand.
It is not just having children here that can be challenging. In some ways it is easy for them once they establish routine, playmates, bikes. But for us as the parents it is challenging to live the day-to-day, to have the responsibility of bringing our children here. We constantly search for answers to the life questions we asked ourselves and to remember this is a learning journey for all. Turning Sunflower School on ourselves is both empowering and draining.
Back on the tourist trail in Siem Reap
Although only a short visit back to Siem Reap to await our flight out to Malaysia, I felt the need to further our knowledge of the city and surrounds. We are so careful with every dollar which in turn means sacrificing the more pricey trips and tours. I have often been drawn to the website of Bees Unlimited, and sensed these tours could be a little different to the norm. This was a chance for us to revert to being tourists, and to see what else we could learn by delving a little deeper into daily life somewhere other than Battambang.
Dani visited us at the hotel the eve prior to the tour to get a sense of each of us and form an itinerary that would work specifically for our interests as a family. We were up and out by 7am with a packed itinerary to get more of a sense of the livelihoods of families both in Siem Reap and the surrounding villages.
By 7am, this family are well underway to finishing their morning batch of fresh tofu ready for the market. I have often wondered how tofu is made, and to be up close with the process was intriguing. The soy beans are first ground and soaked with water to make soy milk. The milk is heated with added enzymes to curdle and left a few moments to harden. The slabs of raw tofu are cut in chunks, cooled and packaged ready for market.
Early morning in Siem Reap wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the market to get a real sense of life in a particular city. Although significantly larger, the smells and odour of the market was strangely not as potent as in Battambang.
We were presented with an array of culinary delights we hadn’t noticed before and the chitter chatter and laughter amongst the locals. We tasted all sorts of Khmer delights from warm ginger syrup tofu with coconut milk, to fried banana, sugar cane juice, bean desserts with palm sugar and coconut milk.
Next was the real adventure as we set out into the countryside to get a sense of village life surrounding the mighty Angkor Wat temples
. Having been 20 years in Cambodia, Dani has good grasp of village livelihoods. We were able to visit many homes and families, each with a different means of living and income from rice farming, to the making of rice noodles, incense sticks, and palm sugar candy.
We also took part in the practice of Chinese cupping therapy so popular with villagers. Heated glass cups are applied to the skin creating suction to stimulate the flow of energy and heal all kinds of ailments.
I marvel at how a whole extended family will be involved in a family business and humbling to meet such beautiful, vivacious people from the very old to the young.
We stopped by the wayside for lunch with the locals of ground rice and turmeric wraps with bean sprouts and chicken. Oscar helped to make a dessert of rolled palm sugar palm in ground rice, boiled with added shredded coconut on top.
And so here we are. Preparing to leave Cambodia for our long awaited visit to meet Mimi in Malaysia. I wonder how we will feel being back in a buzzing, vibrant, wealthy city and and how it will put our travels and time in Cambodia into some sort of perspective? We shall see.