#KidLit for encouraging girls’ education

The challenge of educating girls (worldwide) is a complex topic, involving the myriad responsibilities placed on them by their households and communities. High opportunity costs make this a volatile issue for many poor rural families. With firsthand exposure to this important issue, it's not a new conversation to our kids. This book makes it approachable. It's a particularly common problem in Cambodia. It's capital, Phnom Penh, adapted quickly to the fast-paced world around it soon after emerging from decades of conflict. But progress is slow to reach those less affluent and villages outside of the capital city and tourist towns like Siem Reap with Angkor Wat and Sihanoukville with its beaches. The gap between the educated and … [Read more...]

Reading: Beliefs about the Mrenh Gongveal: Chasing the Elves of the Khmer

I've just had a chance to flip through this book. It's a photo essay on the Khmer tradition of providing a home to beings (elves) believed to provide them protection, guidance and advice. Look around Phnom Penh and it is such a common sight on the streets outside of residences, that it barely registers in your peripheral vision. … [Read more...]

Project: Educate a girl and you educate a family

My old Khmer language tutor, Mdm Soun Neang, has a generous heart. In her youth during Cambodia's darkest years under the Khmer Rouge regime, she taught languages secretly to children, at great personal risk. Today, she supports girls in her hometown in rural Kampong Thom go to school, where the opportunity costs of educating a girl is too high for poor families (who send their sons instead). This is despite significant evidence that educating a girl has a powerful impact on the future of her family. … [Read more...]

Getting a dog on a flight out of Cambodia

Want to take your pet out of Cambodia with you? Airline rules are changing in Phnom Penh. Small pets (<5kg) can still be stowed in the cabin with you. Pets over 5kg must go in the cargo, but several carriers have recently announced that aircraft flying out of Phnom Penh are too small for them to safely transport live animals in the cargo. The expat community was incredibly helpful when I posted a query on several forums for any experience in getting pets out of Phnom Penh, and compiled here the options (as of 2015): . I. Go overland Phnom Penh to Bangkok. Bus companies like Virak-Buntham does trips Phnom Penh-to-Bangkok via Koh Kong, without making passengers transfer to another bus at the Thai side of the border. … [Read more...]

Khmer cuisine: Koh saek chrook k’nao (Pork stew with jackfruit)

Koh saek chrook is usually a plain beef stew (of garlic, onions, soy sauce, fish sauce and small amounts of tubers) when our nanny Sopheap makes it for us. This variation below is with jackfruit, which lends a sweetness so that there's no need to add sugar. (With growing affluence and its associated sweet tooth, sugar is increasingly added to Khmer dishes like this one.) Tender shreds of meat are what's left after the yellow fruit is taken out and the tougher rind and tendrils discarded. The seeds of jackfruit are edible when boiled. It has a hard shell that's easily cracked and removed. They can be tossed into the dish as well. Sopheap leaves this shell on, but if I were to cook it myself I'd take them off. First, garlic is … [Read more...]

Insect cuisine: Ongkrong saek koo (Beef stir fry with red tree ant larvae)

The first time I had this dish was in Kampot, at a small stall by the side of a building away from the busy center of town. I loved it! Then one night I sat underneath a particularly bright light source and saw all the ants in my meal. After my initial shock, I managed to have a civil conversation with my Khmer colleagues about the food they had me eating. These ants lend a tangy taste to dishes, especially when paired with meats in a stir fry. I did end up finishing my meal that night, getting over it very quickly. All manner of insects make it onto the menu in Cambodia, so psychologically-speaking it wasn't the worst thing I've ever eaten, and besides it was rather good. There are several names for this ant -- Fire ants, Red tree ants, … [Read more...]

Desperately seeking peace and quiet in Kampot

It was a long-overdue trip to escape the ambient noise of Phnom Penh rapidly industrializing. Check out this house! Our friends moved back to Kampot from the US and built this house. It's a modernized version of the traditional house, complete with the stilts and architectural elements that make this country so unique (even to the very closely related Thai constructions). … [Read more...]

Things to do with kids in Phnom Penh

On this last stretch of our time here in Cambodia, we've met a lot of new families with questions on what to do with their kids in the city. "Good luck" pops initially to mind. Activity generally means access to some space and fresh air for a bit of exercise. But to be fair, there are plenty of day trip options: Cambodia Country Club - They have a pool, play tennis and other sports, ride horses etc. Soun Soben Resort, where they have stocked fish ponds, a pool for the kids, caged animals and lots of running space Phnom Tahmao Wildlife Rescue Center - This place is fantastic and I can't recommend a day trip here enough. In the time I've been here the guys there have done incredible work rehabilitating trafficked or injured animals … [Read more...]