Persistent myths about foreign aid

No, we do not spend 28% of the budget on aid. The actual figure is less than 0.7% (eg less than 1%). There's no shortage of polls that demonstrate just how uninformed people are on a range of everyday topics. I certainly might bump the stats against Americans myself if interviewed. But a curious myth that just won't die is how much of the budget Americans think goes to foreign aid. With so many clarifications across news and edutainment sources, why do people hold on to the belief that foreign aid is bankrupting the country?? No, foreign aid is not all about altruism. There must be hundreds of (google-able) essays on the objectives of foreign aid, and it isn't about helping the poor. Perhaps people on the ground, like me for … [Read more...]

Dessert ingredient: Taro

We mark our 10th anniversary this year (wow). It was a small wedding; we chartered a yacht and a live jazz trio for a brunch cruise around New York Harbor with just our closest friends and family. Great memory. Our wedding cake (first photo above) got rave reviews. And now I want to recreate it, but I'll have to experiment a bit because I lost our records. I wasn't a cake fan. We considered doing without one but we found a pastry chef who, back then, was still practicing and perfecting her craft, so she was open to ideas. The typical western cake flavors weren't very inspiring. I wanted tropical mixes - using real fruits and roots, not powdered versions or syrup flavoring or extracts. She was quite accommodating, and agreed to experiment … [Read more...]

Khmer food: Svay bok Trai cha-aa

(Smashed grilled fish) I'm always discovering new Khmer dishes I haven't tried yet. My colleague brought some of this the other day for her lunch. The photo doesn't capture it well, but it's a very tasty dish (for those not turned off by pungency, that is)! It's made of fish (grilled river catfish was used here), smashed in a mortar and pestle with grated green mango and spices. I asked Sopheap to make it and watched. Into the mortar with the mango went chopped red and white onion, a little garlic, salt, peanuts, some fish sauce and herbs that they call chee (gee?), for which I don't know the English names. (I'll add to this post when I find out.) Similar to it is the more famous green papaya/mango salad. This salad has river crab, … [Read more...]

maintaining a multilingual environment if we move back to the US

One of the things I appreciate about expatriate life is its cultural exposure, especially in a city like Phnom Penh. The kids are exposed to so many languages on any given day. Contrast this with my early years back home. I only realized after many years in the system that a multilingual upbringing wasn't normal in the US (I went to school in Spanish Harlem). I'm the only one in my family who knew just two languages. That was bad enough - I certainly didn't want my kids limited to English. So we put our little boy in a French immersion program. His teacher is a creative, gentle Frenchwoman. He's been in her class  just four weeks and already he's counting, singing and carrying on conversations in French. Their absorptive capacity at this … [Read more...]

a story from hummingbird banding in Louisiana

  I came across a banding blog post that brought back memories. Hubby and I banded hummingbirds in Louisiana years ago, to help our friends Olga and Walter at their (bird-friendly!) property. A lot of early mornings were spent at our friends' house, just sitting by the pond or by the side of the house to watch birds. Over the many decades that they owned the property their love of birds drove the property's design. It was overgrown to begin with, but every year they cleared and planted the varieties that were the most attractive to birds. By the time we met them and visited this bird paradise, hundreds of winged creatures already called their place home. You can sit on their property on any given day and spot a huge variety of … [Read more...]

Google doodle statement for Russia

Props to google for the rainbow doodle, to kick off the Sochi Winter Olympics! Nice statement against Moscow's anti-gay laws. … [Read more...]

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Center for a birthday party

We've been to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center several times and I'm always impressed with it. The grounds are large - it's certainly possible to walk from one exhibit to the next, but a vehicle would be useful. They have many exhibits. I still haven't seen all of them. Most animals have a fairly wide area to roam (they aren't confined to small concrete cages as I expected). They're rescued from accidents or illegal wildlife trade, and rehabilitated. Those that can't be released back to the wild stay on the grounds. The center is staffed by dedicated conservationists, and they're routinely visited by experts in specific species. Our little boy and his friend celebrated their birthday together, so we took them to the Rescue Center with … [Read more...]

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

All's quiet in the Penh as celebrations to welcome the year of the Horse continue. It's our second chance to kick into gear those New Year's resolutions. But for those who truly excel at procrastination the biggest one is yet to come, Khmer New Year in April. … [Read more...]