Friday, December 1, 2017

oNe PhOtO a DaY NoVeMbEr 2017


WEDNESDAY 1st BLUE: This is the Kep Gardens remork and it is brilliant blue. We ride our bikes here and then at 8pm both our bikes and us return home in this carefully driven over the rough dirt track and National Highway 33A by Rim

THURSDAY 2nd RED: A red apple on the flash cards we used today to start our project to teach the monks in a local monastery English

A couple of shots of the monks studying for the first time are also included as they were just so disciplined and delightfully enthusiastic. They have better concentration spans and are more attentive than most adults

FRIDAY 3rd GREEN: The sea of green that is currently the ripening rice crop

SATURDAY 4th YELLOW: This particular variety of hibiscus has a brilliant yellow flower with a deep red centre. I always notice how many more are in bloom, when we are swimming as the garden beds surrounding the pool are planted with several of them

SUNDAY 5th PINK: Among the treats, toys and trinkets at the beachside in Kep these mobiles made of shells are a popular choice and pink is certainly the most popular colour. Not my style but still a winning product for the vendors

MONDAY 6th AQUA: It was the iridescent aqua wings of this bug that attracted my attention and the garden was teeming with them and all kinds of other bugs too

TUESDAY 7th ORANGE: It’s not everyday you see monks disrobing on the beach and taking a dip. Love that sea of orange robes. This was taken a week ago when I was delighted to spot so many monks actually on the beach and swimming not just walking along the foreshore

WEDNESDAY 8th WHITE: Kep Gardens living up to it’s name with one white orchid blooming at the entrance to the classroom

THURSDAY 9th BLACK: Black clouds looming on the horizon and the sun turning everything to black silhouettes as we cycled back along the shore in the late afternoon today

FRIDAY 10th PURPLE: I’m not a big fan of purple but I am in preparation mode for our classes next week when we will begin introducing colours. Don’t think I’ll start with this one but... Primary colours -red, yellow and blue seem the place to begin

SATURDAY 11th GREY: I was pondering this prompt while preparing to bake a banana cake when the idea struck. Kitchen still life with stainless steel. It doesn’t get greyer than that

SUNDAY 12th BROWN: This tangle of brown aerial roots is suspended above the footpath at the end of the beach strip on the main road in Kep. There are often monkeys in this zone and I am wary of them but I do admire this tribute to nature and the fact that only as much of it as was necessary to ensure access was removed

MONDAY 13th GOLD: The spirit house at Kep Gardens is gold as are the vast majority in Cambodia

TUESDAY 14th SILVER: A small sliver bowl usually used to offer water on a family altar but in this case a local charity group makes delicious smelling candles in them. This one is lemongrass scented and we had cause to use it when the power went out for a couple of hours on Saturday night

WEDNESDAY 15th NEON: It’s common to see kids wearing neon lifesaving vests at the beach here. Anyone who can’t swim confidently goes into the water wearing one

THURSDAY 16th CIRCLE: The circle of light in the sky as the sun sets over The fishing boats in the harbour at Kep

FRIDAY 17th CURLY: This one had me stumped all day but after a relaxing afternoon swim an ice cold beer revealed the curly alphabet of the Khmer script

SATURDAY 18th LISTENING TO: Not wanting to do the obvious (music) I opted for something I have always loved listening to: the ocean. Whether it’s waves crashing on the shore in a storm or gently lapping the sand as they were at twilight today it’s lovely to be listening to nature. So glad this prompt inspired me to return to the beach after a long hot day

SUNDAY 19th NOT MINE: I first met these two in 2011 when I was their class teacher in Rangjung. We have remained close and in contact and I often refer to them as my boys.  In truth they are not mine or even boys any more, but I love them dearly and miss them terribly. This is one of the last photos I took of them before leaving Bhutan. I hope to be blessed enough to see them both again and in the mean time we chat on messenger as often as possible

MONDAY 20th HOBBY: Cycling, photography, travelling, swimming and reading are all up there but experimenting with flavours and creative cooking is probably the one I enjoy the most. This is a sample of the weekend’s effort. Mushroom, spinach and tomato frittata, roasted vegetables, pumpkin hummus and chocolate chip shortbread. I have a rule that that I should give away at least half of what I bake, so 40 have been shared with local friends and the rest are ours to enjoy

TUESDAY 21st POP OF COLOUR: One of the littlest monks we teach. When you’re a Buddhist monk in Cambodia there is only one pop of colour and that’s orange. I have no problem with that. It’s my favourite colour too

WEDNESDAY 22nd UNDER MY FEET: The bicycle pedals are under my feet and the rough dirt roads are under the pedals. We ride these roads often but I did in fact fall off trying to take this shot. Ian captured the shot for me and my injured wrist will recover

THURSDAY 23rd SQUARE: After yesterday’s cycling accident, taking my PAD photo, this morning we had an early morning run to the hospital for X-rays!! This square informing us we were almost there was a welcome sight given the terrible road conditions and the agonising 45 minutes of bumping along in a tuk-tuk I had already endured. Not broken but severely swollen and inflamed was the welcome verdict. Less enthusiasm for getting the shot might be the lesson  

FRIDAY 24th CUT: I got a well overdue haircut in the capital today and Ian snapped a shot of it in process

SATURDAY 25th FRESH: Today’s trip to the iconic Central Market in Phnom Penh was to load up with fresh veggies we don’t see in Kep: snow peas, beetroot, lotus roots and eda mame were all purchases. However I couldn’t leave without checking out the fresh cut flowers. I resisted buying any as they would never survive the bus ride home tomorrow but the scent was divine and it was a feast for the eyes

SUNDAY 26th MAN MADE: These beautiful scented and naturally dyed candles and the packaging they come in are man made or possibly woman made by a local artisans group in Cambodia

MONDAY 27th HOLE: That delicious Asian vegetable that is full of little irregular holes: lotus root. We came back from Phnom Penh with treats we cannot buy here in Kep and this is a favourite

TUESDAY 28th TRIANGLE: Tonight’s left over rice shaped into the delicious little rice triangles, known as “omisubi” in Japanese, ready for our packed lunches tomorrow. Not that any Japanese would make them with red rice and black lentils or the night before. Fusion cooking works for me

Retake on yesterday’s prompt as the little mouse that has taken up residence nibbled on each one over night and we fed them to the hens this morning. Delicious little rice triangles mark two. These are more traditionally Japanese flavoured and freshly made this morning in the true Japanese spirit

WEDNESDAY 29th SUNFLARE: The sunflare in the huge Banyan tree outside the local high school. I captured this on Friday while we were waiting for the bus.  It is a landmark in Kep and directly opposite our driveway so useful for giving directions to our house. There hasn’t been much direct sun recently and none today so I’m glad I took it now. It has been overcast and windy for almost a week and we certainly aren’t complaining about that

THURSDAY 30th COOL: The weather is almost always hot and humid here. To be mindful of our ecological footprint we installed blinds and use a fan to keep cool. How ironic that the longest stretch of cool weather ended today and it’s hot again but yesterday when I wanted to take a sun flare there was no sun insight. Gotta love the vagaries of nature and climate change

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Carrying on in Kep

Things have been a bit quiet on the writing front for a few months but we now feel that we have settled into a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle here in Kep. The irony of having achieved a work-life balance precisely when paid work is not necessary is not lost on me.

Not the first but not the least of the reasons Cambodia was the choice for our trial retirement was that we thought we possessed a skill set, that would enable us to contribute to the local community in an area where there was a need.

Having spent the first six months of this year in travel and holiday mode we arrived in Kep ready to put down roots and test that theory. The urgent business of finding suitable accommodation and getting ourselves established took precedence at first but the pressing need to do something productive and engage gave rise to making the effort to put ourselves out there and research the possibilities for volunteering in the local community.

On the very first visit to Kep Gardens Association the vibe felt right. Coincidently the owners, Janine and Andrew are Adelaidians and have almost ten years of experience. They have a proven track record with volunteers in all kinds of capacities and offer a wide range of training and education programs. Janine was quick to see exactly what we would be able to do within the framework of her English teaching program and took us up on our offer to volunteer immediately. By the second visit we had established starting times and doubled our commitment as she had realised the kind of assistance we could provide.

Starting at the beginning of November, when she had no other volunteers arriving, gave us the time we needed to make a flying trip to Bangkok and Phnom Penh. Therefore now, for the first time since leaving Thimphu in January we have all our possessions either stored in Adelaide or with us, not scattered across several countries. It also gave us time to mentally prepare for the fact that after almost ten months we were heading back to work, albeit in a nonpaid capacity.

We cycle out of town in the worst heat of the day to arrive at Kep Gardens for a 1:30pm start on Mondays and Wednesdays. The place is alive with the sounds of kids playing and learning well into the evening and we make the small contribution of listening to individuals read aloud and providing them with opportunities to build their confidence in communicating orally. The final class of the day includes older and more capable high school students and adults and we attempt to facilitate conversation and assist with preparing them for debating.

Of course we have also found other ways to contribute and have already supplied photos for what will become a regular monthly display showcasing Kep Gardens events and activities. Perhaps less successfully we have also contributed food for the newly established canteen struggling to instill environmentally friendly eating practices and make a profit.

By 8.15pm we are ensconced in a tuk-tuk with our bikes tied to the back and heading home. The routine is still new and we still marvel at how different everything looks after dark. Lights illuminate the roadside stalls and community gatherings abound and we get a glimpse into an aspect of Cambodian culture we would otherwise not be privy to.

You can find out more about the programs on offer and the opportunities to volunteer at

At about the same time as we had confirmed our yearlong commitment at Kep Gardens to Janine another exciting project presented itself to us. The owner of the beautiful Bamboo House, where we lived for the first three months, arrived terribly excited one afternoon with a request. Madam Yary has become a friend and she is both visionary and tireless in her effort to help less fortunate Cambodians. 

She is a benefactor of many local projects and she had come directly from a very poor monastery in a fishing village outside of Kep. She had that morning decided to fund a well digging operation and several other projects at this “pagoda” as they call them here. She wanted us to visit the monastery- no I can’t bring myself to call it a pagoda, the next day and commit to teaching the young monks English.

We agreed almost instantly and actually meeting the young monks on a rare festive occasion the following day sealed our fate.

Despite having no resources at all and no real concept of exactly how to teach a group of monks of widely divergent ages and with no shared language, we were hooked. Thus our quick trip to the capital en route to Bangkok became a mission to find and purchase books, flashcards, posters and as many other resources as possible.

Now we also have our own personal project. Unlike most other overseas teaching positions we have filled, we were completely on our own with this. It’s somewhat daunting given that we know little or nothing about the Cambodian education system or the protocol of how to behave in the ‘temple’ or interact with monks, somewhat challenging in that the need is great and the funds non existent and somewhat exhilarating in that having never approached anything like it before both we and the little monks are having so much fun together.

We returned from the capital loaded with all we thought we might need with one notable exception – a whiteboard or blackboard. We thought the latter would be more appropriate, cheaper and less likely to be damaged but that meant we had to construct it. Once again, Yary to the rescue. When we next saw her she was keen to find out how our project was going and immediately stated that we needed to do a quick sketch then and there so that her carpenters could make us a board.

Due to their religious duties our little monks- I try not to call them monkeys tempting as it is, are also scheduled for afternoon classes, so Tuesdays and Wednesdays involve cycling off in the heat of the day and along another well rutted and dusty unsealed back road. We chose to begin with Kep Gardens in November since once we start consistency is essential.  Now after a grand total of just three sessions we can see the beginnings of writing and recognizing the alphabet and a few simple words, counting confidently to ten and several simple rejoinder conversations that they are able to retain.

We know so little about early childhood education that it is a trial and error process but we are eager to do what we can and they are delighted with the writing, chorusing and attention generally. Sleepy little faces emerge as soon as we dismount and they start setting up low tables and mats just as we did on the first session. It is the active learning activities, with cards, relay running and balls that they love the most. I wonder if they even have play time.

They have amazing powers of concentration and attention given that they do not eat after twelve noon and we arrive mid afternoon. Their earnest little faces and endearing mannerisms have already won our hearts and inspired us to do as much as possible to help.

Janine has been generous with the resources she has accumulated over the years and we have a growing client relationship with a local print shop due to the volume of material we print.   

This seems to have become an epic update but I will end with a few anecdotes from the first few classes:-
1. One of the youngest among them was painstakingly tracing and writing the letter “d” while muttering under his breath “Here you are. Thank you” like he was a chanting a prayer. We had been doing that just before the letters and he obviously wanted to remember.
2. Another of the older boys was colouring with such care and attention and repeating to himself “good boy, good boy” in exactly the tone I use.
3. After having lined up all the cards and realia they can recognise at the opposite end of the room, Ian and I tried to demonstrate the idea of hearing the word and racing to get the object nominated. As we took of running they ALL did too and returned with every single item!!

It would help to be able to explain and give instructions in a language they already know but we are getting by and its all part of the fun.