What’s Your Story?

On the weekend after another trip to the hospital, nothing serious this time Beau split his toe open when a heavy wooden chair left backwards on to it.  The kindly security guard with good English always has a joke about life philosophy. Beau slept through the dressing and rectal suppository. Not requiring stitches, we’re ushered home again.

An old shed from the outside but what a find..

An old shed from the outside but what a find..

Quinn and I took off for Mother and Son time whilst the other two were shacked up at home. We discovered a swish, indoor skatepark minus the skates. A concrete maze of curved waves, jumps and pillars. Bikes and rollerblades were the choice. Quinn took his bike for a spin and even tried his hand at blading. Not a bad first effort, especially considering his guts weren’t great.

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I’ve barely made it through the door when the owner, a middle aged Khmer with a pleasant round face asks me the obligatory question;

‘Where are you from?’

His eyes lit up as he shares his story:

My father live in Melbourne. I call him 5 years ago except he say he’s not my father.

What kind of curlie is this?

I search for him on internet. He has same name and from photo he looks like my father. And people I know who knew him in Cambodia believe it is him as well. I haven’t seen him for 35 years.

Geez this guy has such a sweet face. He keeps talking.

He escape during Pol pot regime because Pol Pot was going to kill him.

We’re all versed in the horrors. But hearing it firsthand and seeing the fallout all these years later really brings it home.

What about your mother? Does she know if it’s him? I ask

She doesn’t like talking about it much. He left her.

He’s on a roll now:

So I call my (not) father, I speak to him and ask him if I am his son. He says no. He has new wife and family in Australia now. His new wife doesn’t want him talking to me.

Why don’t you write him a letter? I suggest.

He shrugs not believing the letter will reach its rightful owner without interception

I don’t want money. I just want to know‘.

He has 3 school age children and a shiny black Lexus parked out the front. Even though he has obvious pain around this large question mark, he looks peaceful. He can discuss this with a contagious calm. Maybe he gives him some solace disclosing it, or maybe he’s an expert poker face. The conversation turns to DNA tests and possibly another phone call. I get this uneasy vision of the father who is over 70 now confessing on his deathbed in a ramble of delirium.

But what’s the truth? Maybe it will never be known.

Leong Bo’s story reminds me of meeting my own brother when I was 26 for the first time. The joy around finding a long known but not discussed piece of a puzzle. I knew I had a brother who lived on Norfolk Island. He had a name but I hadn’t seen his face.

As the hedonistic, self absorbed university chapter closed, I remembered the baby photograph sent by his mother in 1987 of a chubby, blue eyed babe in what looks like a Christening gown.

Unsure where to start, I call the telephone operator on Norfolk. I ask what PJ Wilson’s number is?

A bonny madam replies ‘Auy, PJ! You can call him on Pelly and Dinty’s number, 6475839.’

I’m scrawling down this gold on a tightly held paper. Within minutes I’m yards closer and I can’t quite believe how easy and quickly this is all happening.

The oil still spitting in the pan, I dial the number.

A spritely, strong female voice answers. Hello. I introduce myself.

A bit of a pause, and then ‘Oh Amy. Hello! I’m PJ’s mum Dinty’.

An easy conversation follows. I find out PJ now lives on the mainland. His proud mum tells me he got a scholarship to uni. I get his direct line.

Dinty and I taken at PJ's wedding

Dinty and I taken at PJ’s wedding

It takes me another week to digest it all. When I’ve worked up the courage, I’m sitting on a park bench in Glebe, the grass lush from summer rain. He answers, I’m up on my feet pacing circles under the trees.

I remember hearing the warmth and excitement in his voice that first time. His Ma had given him a heads up. But what struck me so clearly…was the ease of it all. We must have spoken for half an hour. Filling in our stories. Talking about his uni, friends, life at college. Our shared love of horses.

We arrange to meet, a necessary step to complete the journey. With Easter bunnies jeering from supermarket shelves, Tim and I fly north. We stay at a friend’s place in New Farm, a treehouse built high on a hill, its deck amongst the banana palms. Art books line the shelves, a dishevelled, lived in feel. The smell of coffee grains, peeling paint on the kitchen table.

PJ and I plan to meet at Queen Street Mall outside Hungry Jacks. What a romantic place! Ha. When in doubt find a fast food landmark. I remember responding to a foot model advertisement once with an ‘interview’ at McDonalds involving a dubious character salivating over my sandals. I digress…

The day arrives, I can’t walk slowly instead I stride out with nerves leaving Tim in my wake. He is sensitive enough to leave me to it. I spot the glaring red/yellow sign and I can feel the spike of tears forming. By the time I reach the spot I see a tall dude with jet black hair and a beaming smile. I already know who it is. I’m crying and we give each other a huge hug. I’m home in my brother’s arms.

Family resemblance?

Family resemblance?

We spend the rest of the day cruising the Brisbane River on a ferry. Non stop talking as we catch up on a lifetime of news. We have similar crinkles around the eyes, snub noses and flashing whites. We disclose our dreams, his to improve Norfolk’s environmental practices still stuck in the 70s where rubbish is burnt or worse ends up in the sea . I speak of my love of art and artists. He meets Tim. I hear about his homeland: 35 square kilometres of rock in the Pacific Ocean nearly 1500 miles from my birthplace. Only 2300 ‘odd’ people live there- a courageous, heavy drinking, outspoken lot with resilience in their veins. PJ talks with love for his clan not by blood, but forged through childhood, birthdays, bruises, work and acceptance.

'Odd' lot

‘Odd’ lot

Our friendship has grown. PJ has stayed at my house several times, meeting both my sons after their births. I’ve seen his Norfolk and met ‘Pothole’ (named because everyone wishes to avoid him) and his childhood bestie. We went to his wedding last year in Sri Lanka. I have a beautiful sister in law Ashley. Life is richer and reflecting on having made the step to meet him, I’m thankful to have answers and for those answers to be easily found.

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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?

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.