Greener Pastures

So for those who’ve been here since the beginning, you may remember my post about our landlords and their attitude to children, in particular noisy children.https://bangonaboutbattambang.com/2014/08/20/peace-in-paradise/

After Beau managed to put a dart through a fly screen; pull a wicker cupboard on top of him smashing the mirror on his head, beautify the wall with crayon, get trigger happy on the bum gun one too many times, we’ve parted ways. The landlords eager to find us a new place and us eager to feel like we weren’t living with our parents.

 

Our New Digs

Our New Digs

According to our previous landlords, this place was just waiting for us. The owner is a judge who moved to Phnom Penh a while ago, not desperate to rent the place remained elusive. That was until our previous landlord desperate to find us a new domicile accosted her calling up to ten times a day and a deal struck.

We now live further out of town amidst paddy field green and buffalo tracks. The kids can play rough and tumble in the garden lined with 4 dragon fruit trees (large succulent sculptures), mangos, limes and passionfruit. We have an extra bedroom that’s swiftly been utilised as a kid free zone as it has a lockable door. This is where I’m shacked up to write this piece.

These beauties in our garden

These beauties in our garden

The local neighbours are Khmer and have already inquisitively scoped out our joint. Quinn and Beau can be found out the front with any number of sticks or swords in action.

Goat Curry ?

Goat Curry ?

These four legged friends were seen on our first bike ride to the market. The market being a cross between an abbattoir, a farmer’s market, hardware store and a bargain shop. All live or not so lucky critters (eels,crabs, insects, chicken, goose, duck, pork, beef, snails, snake) and fresh vegies/fruit are rolled out on grass mats for your perusal. Best to get there early because after the sun is higher in the sky, so are the number of flies.

Quinn turned 7 this weekend. It feels like quite the milestone for all of us. He’s growing into a thoughtful, sensitive and artistic young man. He was full of home made pinata and commando course building ideas for the party. None of which actually happened…but water pistols fights and pass the parcel sufficed.

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

We had quite a turn out. Tim being the social broadcaster he is- invited everyone we’ve met since arriving 3 months ago. It turned into a beautiful motley crew of Khmer and Expat- from the hotel owner and porter from the Royal Hotel where we stayed when we first arrived, to our old landlords, to work colleagues, new French friends from Beau’s preschool to the entire staff from our local, backpacker bar Here Be Dragons. 8 kg of barbecued meat later and eons of coconuts, beer and sweet cakes, everyone was suitably porky. Even a souped up ice cream van Cambodia-style came who must have got the call up.

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

So we are adjusting to our new digs peacefully. It feels like a new chapter has begun for our time here.  Whenever, I leave our walled garden and ride my bike along the country lane, I feel like I’m in a movie- the seated fishermen by the irrigation ditch with their home made fishing stick; the local jetty made out of a few pieces of bamboo easy to replace after heavy rains, smells waffing from outdoor ‘kitchens’ of the neighbouring corrugated huts.

What year is it? What century are we in?

Moving the Family to Cambodia

140 kgWe commonly get asked, why Cambodia, and how can you do it? So i’ll answer these curlies in this post.

Family Selfie at the Airport

Family Selfie at the Airport

 

I stumbled upon a blog about an American family who moved to Mexico  (www.revolutionfromhome.com)
at the beginning of their journey, and it was a source of encouragement and insight into how it is possible, even with parasitic bouts and tired, resistant children, and the joys and growth all involved shared. It was possible with kids!

But of course, the seed was planted a lot longer ago..

It started with a conversation… Tim and I had about living overseas with kids. I’d always been fond of the idea, especially as I’d spent a year living in Beijing as 21 year old. I arrived green, as part of an Australian government initiative that sends young Aussies across Asia-Pacific to immerse themselves in local culture, share some Australisms and impart their professional knowledge. What a 21 year old thinks they know professionally and what they do, is oceans apart. I had much free time that involved cruising the Foreign Students College making friends with folk from all parts of the globe. Many students were from Russia (pop across a big long border) and Columbia (I met one wealthy kid whose parents realised that it was safer getting educated in China rather than hijacked for ransom in their own town). Even though I had an arsenal of contacts in this strange new world if I needed them, it was still like landing on the moon. It was 2001, and few local Chinese spoke English. I was soon lured into local Primary schools to teach conversational English. Visions of delivering my final uni thesis presentation in broken stutters still fresh in my mind. I think the only thing I achieved in these classes was convincing one 6 year old kid who had chosen the English name of Tomato, that it was a winner as it never ceased to have me in fits of giggles.

Maybe the coconut never falls far from the palm. Once I was out of nest, the poop not even dry, my mum set off on an intrepid backpacker adventure even though she was nearing fifty, from Kathmandu to London inside an old Bedford truck. Once there, she stayed eights years, doing itinerant work between gathering new stamps in her passport and regular visits to her Bedouin lover in Jordan.

And so after years of watering the idea from our Umina suburbian backyard with its dog and two babies later, my dearest Tim decided,

Ok, I’d give it a crack

Green light go, we rented our beach shack to a beautiful young family, escaping city living with dreams of having a pooch and more chicks in their brood.

Patrick Swayze in our Umina Yard

We were lucky to know of a reputable NGO, a young team of dedicated individuals trying to implement international best practice in social welfare. Supporting over 150 students, they provide income support, training, health care and education to children and their families. Importantly, they are trying to keep the family unit strong and together. Also, they understand intrinsically the role that Westerners should play in skills sharing and ultimately handing over management to the Khmers. We are self funded volunteers and loving the nature of this work. We were able to offer our skills, as artist, all-round handy man, yoga devotee and educator. I have also been approached by local expats to run yoga classes, so a little in the can will help.

One of Tim's sculptures, recycled steel

One of Tim’s sculptures, recycled steel

There is always a lot of conjecture over children’s education. As the next wave of knock kneed kids reach the playground, more theories pop up about how kids learn, how they can learn better, faster, quicker, even though the brain still remains somewhat of a black box. Personally, I was shaped strongly by my education, and my adult years have been somewhat a period of unschooling. So after recognising the whole disruption to our Grade 1 son’s schooling the move would cause, we decided it was still valuable. If anything, we were heartened by this ideal that maybe he would actually gain more through life experience rather than sight words.

That being said, I came armed with helpful hints from his teachers, and again, idealistic visions of being a cool grammar teacher (yup I am a foxy moron). It hasn’t quite gone to plan. We probably average 10 minutes a day, with Quinn honing his debating skills on why he can’t sit down, I try for calm without resorting to bribery and fail on both counts. If there are jobs going for illiterate lawyers, he’s sure to do well.

Quinn in legal attire

So we made it, fumbling our way through and grateful to have this opportunity. We are going to milk it and give it a real hard shake!

Trapped in an Elevator

The whole overseas experience is an interesting one.

It is a bit like getting trapped in an elevator, long enough to have moments of claustrophobic fears and sensory deprivation, that you bond firmly with all involved from shared experience.

I had a good laugh at myself, when I rounded a corner this week on my bicycle, out of the corner of my eye, the upstairs computer scanned ‘ALERT, possible English speaking boys’.

I literally shouted ‘Are you travellers?’ while making a beeline for them. Whereby their mum responded ‘No, we live here’. I leapt off the bike mid sentence. Me too. We should be friends.

Commandos in action

Commandos in action

Later that very day, the newly formed commando gang were testing out their survival skills on the security gate, and a kindly security guard!

Annie, their mother and I have much in common:

  • simply by sharing the same language (they are from the U.K.);
  • the fact that we both have boys (I don’t like being stereotypical but there is a mutual bonding between little ninja mothers, they get the insurmountable amount of energy, the weapon obsession, and the feisty ‘I’m going to bite your head off’ talk)
  • to top it off our eldest boys share a birthday. So let our forces unite, planned festivities have begun. Phew, Annie knows where to buy an ice cream cake. We better buy a few in this heat.

I wanted to mention a bit more about sensory deprivation. The pace is really much slower.

Getting OCD and liking it

As I said, we took away the telly as an experiment. It is all going well- they still have access to limited DVD use – and the negotiated minefield that presents, but at least the box isn’t in their faces as a constant reminder. So we play cards! We line them up and see the pretty patterns they make. To be honest, boys lost interest and left me to it.

Quinn got crafty with his own self directed project.

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‘Where’s the Bull?’ – Recycled polystyrene 2014

We’ve been thinking about recycling. All the stuff we have on tap at home. Not always stuff you have to buy, but stuff we can rustle up in the useful box (craft box of tit bits) without too much work. Well, here, I am noticing how resourceful people are. Their access to materials (for buildings, furniture, mechanics, tools) is of such a limited supply and quality. So the kids and I are collecting what we can find, a pretty ribbon in the street, cardboard box turns into a lego container. Milk carton, a home for pot plants.

We are also making stuff for the house. Everything you buy is often plastic crap that doesn’t last under the Wilson-Hall wear and tear. Nor, do we like spending pennies on it.

Now, handymen are sexy, look at what Tim rustled up in a flash:

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Guitar installation

And then, thanks to my darling pixie friend Peita, I got this idea whilst exercising the boys in local park at sun up. I spent an enjoyable afternoon doing this:

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‘Peas in a pod’ : Seed pods, fishing twine 2014

Let’s have a craft in, any pictures of your homemade creations welcome.

Here’s to slowing down and getting brain quiet through working with your hands. Isn’t that what we’ve all been doing for millennia?

 

Work It

I sit here barely propped up by a pillow, with ouchy legs as I’ve just completed my second day of yoga teaching: a grand total of 10 classes.  For an ok fitness kinda gal, who tries to squeeze in one, at a pinch two classes a week at home, and runs around after the kids, I’m feeling it and grateful that I have 5 days to recover before the next lesson.

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Beau had a few words with this meditator

The kids are very receptive to the meditation bit. I’ve brought over a Tibetan brass bowl, that I clonk the beginning of each class, we all sing a few outta tune ‘Oms’ then I try and squeeze as many minutes of meditation as possible. It saves my legs, and they like replicating all the Buddhist statutes that are dotted around town, not to mention part of their religion.

Call me totally naive (It’s been said before), but I never thought about how sexual yoga looks…until I am teaching it in a very conservative culture where shoulders and legs aren’t flaunted, nor organised female sports part of the programme. So every time I demonstrate downward dog, there is an avalanche of giggles, look at her bum IN THE AIR!  And then I proceed to cobra pose, which is followed up snorting and pointing.

Ok this might be considered sexy

I get my own back, when I turn to them panting ‘your turn’.  And they all freeze up, but admirably give it a go, and are loosening up (had to done) every time I see them.

So that’s the work update. I’m teaching my first class to adults this afternoon. I better go and don the fake tan and the bikini, Christy you’ve inspired me.

Hari Om dear friends xx

Our Patch

So Dad has made a speedy recovery over the past week.  We owe some big cookies, yesterday’s rice and some scented flowers to the heavens! It works for the locals.

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He no longer looks like this!

Thank you Life, our journey continues…

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Our Local Coffee Hang- Tim, the entertainer is back

On a sultry morning, six abreast in a tuk tuk, wind in our hair and persistent sweat on our tummies, we saw a bunch of houses. But ended up back at the first one, you know how that happens. It may not be a French Colonial villa (architectural preferences aside), it has its on palatial charm. It is more than one hotel room!

It has established bougainvillaea which reminds me of home, maybe i’m missing bogans.

Home Sweet Sleep

We are renting the ground floor apartment, with two bedrooms where the boys can jump on the beds without risk of decapitation so we are content.

The landlords live within earshot, getting an insight into the ‘loco’ foreigners’ lives. We declined the use of the cable television and removed the unit from the house. They were so flabbergasted, they had to ask us six times, in case something had been lost in translation. For the lack of privacy, the win is the security bonus, as foreigners’ houses can be targeted for the bounty they offer.

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Our Courtyard- Landlord lives on RHS

The walls are clinical white so I’ve commissioned the two little artistes to remedy that.

Harvest time

School holidays on at the moment, so only a few kids around. One being the landlord’s nephew, who doesn’t speak a word of English. But has the sweetest grin, and Quinn has formed a bond with him via The Universal Language of Sport. So they play, until the Two Star General’s Wife over the wall complains of the noise of the bouncing ball. Hahaha, she’s in for a whole lot more annoyance living next down to our kids, throw in Dad’s monster growls, and Mum’s peppered yells.

Welcome to a brave new world, madame.

Quinn and Yu

Battambang is the second largest city (140,000 pop.) but honestly feels like the size of Ballarat.  It has this small town charm and is easy to navigate by bicycle. Quinn has a reconditioned ‘Peugeot’ mountain bike, circa 1990s that he rides in traffic fearlessly. We’ve built a seat on the back of my bike for Beau.

Our ‘Get Around Town’ mobiles

 I’ve grabbed snippets of wifi around town all week to write this post. Soon we shall have internet on at the palace. More posts to follow that event. It is ‘humbling’ when what you create gets snatched away by crashing internet, and what we’ve learnt is EVERYTHING takes three times as long as you think. So adjusting to that.  Most of the time, it looks like this…

Maybe if I do this..

Maybe if I do this..

Best wishes to you all xx

Battambang Poos

Tim got cleared to make the trip, albeit gingerly with no moto action allowed, and a few more days of bed rest (for a hyperactive, this is some feat!).

Importantly, he will remain a fully fledged male.

Our first impressions of Battambang have been positive: the town is circled by palmeries and the local mosque’s Call to Pray this morning, reminiscent of a Northern African town.  The streets actually have planted trees, an array of frangipangi, wisteria and native grapes.  A definable beauty here, that many of the other popup, factory cities lack.

Trees dimple the landscape

Trees dimple the landscape

For anyone out there who may be a little bit envious of our exotic experience, I want to honour the guts of the issue. Beau, the little trooper, had a 39+ fever last night as his tummy fought a war of its own. The fact little guy seldom complains amidst copious trips to the loo and even thinks about me (‘Mum, make sure you’ve got a blanket!’) is extra-ordinary.

Quinn has already staked out the hotel, made friends with the cool 20 something hotel manager and invited him to his room to play darts.

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Living it up

He tried to cut me loose in the local market this morning, I think his Ma cramps his style. The overpowering fishy smell flushed hot with humidity slowed him down though, and I managed to make him walk home with me and carry a washing bucket.

Central Market, Battambang

So we are acclimatising slowly: to the heat, the bacteria, and the mild deprivations- the shower that is over the loo, so you get a wet kiss when you you sit down, and the sink that leaks its contents all over the floor. Life out of a suitcase, in another hotel, for an unknown amount of time, whilst Tim recovers, Beau gets his pallor back, I some sleep, Quinn’s TV addiction grows, and we wait.

The Waiting Place… for people just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite;

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

According to the Dr. Seuss, it’s a place that’s not for you! Instead there are many more (Oh) Places You Will Go. And yes, we’ve travelled to those Places, and yet paradoxically it took, these places to show us patience. So we wait it out.

There is much involved in sniffing out a house- every moto driver in town wants to show you their friends’ place, as the norm is that the introducer gets one month’s rent as a fee.  We have dreams of a romantic, French colonial house with a garden, cobra free (their numbers are quite plentiful throughout the dry season), rustic shutters with many different fingerprints, high ceilings for the geckos to play…  but this is all yet to be told.

Sending Oz some warmth, and mucho gracias for all the literary encouragement.

Touch down in Phnom penh

So we’ve finally arrived!

Tim did a short video of the trip dedicated to our beloved doggie, Patrick Swayze Wilson Hall. Leaving him was heart squeezing and he has been checking the door regularly hoping for our return.

We survived with teabag eyes and dodgey backs from carting our 140KG of luggage, and fell heavily into the comfort of hotel sheets and aircon. Quinn being absolutely amazed that Cambodia comes with Cartoon Network on tap, a pool and crepes for breakfast.  Nothing like easing them into a false sense of security!

Hope this finds our friends from home, rugged up and winter lurgy free.