What am I up to?

Some of you may know that I have recently arrived into the UK. I am here until 30th December, when (assuming I don’t have COVID-19 and can get a fit-to-travel certificate) I will return to Cambodia. You may be wondering why I am here.

My study space

Well, first, because I was meant to come home in the summer. I finished my time at HOPE school and it seemed it would be a good time for a UK stop-over before I recommenced life over in Cambodia. However, coronavirus’ shenanigans meant there were questions about visas and self-isolation back in June which made a return unrealistic. So I stayed on until September. The organisation I work for has an annual conference, where the workers from across Cambodia meet up, spend time together, make important decisions, write minutes (that was my job!), and eat food. It was important for me to be there because I’m the only native English speaker in the team that is still in the country and the minutes have to be in English. Also, because one of the important decisions was about me.

Up until now, I have only been a part of my mission organisation in short-term roles (2016-17 as a TEFL teacher in Siem Reap; 2018-2020 as a middle school and IGCSE English and English literature teacher). If your roles are for no more than two years, you are a short-termer. However, I want to transition from a short-termer to a full-termer. (This means being a real missionary – I’ve ordered my pith hat and sandal-shoes combo.)

This takes two to three stages, which usually go in this order (because it’s the sensible way to do it).

First, conduct some training in your home country. This is to prepare you for life abroad and some of the problems you might encounter. During the 11-12 week course, you decide whether you do actually feel like you fit with the organisation or not and the organisation decides whether they agree.

Then, you go to the country you will work in and start a two-year stage as a new worker – again to see if the culture, country, work and language is a good fit. After that, you get accepted as a full time worker in the country.

Either before you start, or sometime within the first five years of being accepted as a worker in your home country, you need to do some theological training. It’s more common to have had this training before you start, but it’s getting increasingly flexible.

Well, of course, I’ve done everything in the opposite order. As I’ve already spent three years in Cambodia, the folks there decided it was apparent the county, culture, work and language was a good fit. So at the conference, one of the big decisions was to recognise that and appoint me as a full-term worker. This did take a bit of negotiation with the UK end, because it is the opposite way to how it usually happens. But it worked out, and I have started the 11 week course at the UK end to allow me to join the organisation. Due to coronavirus, it’s mostly on zoom and I was actually in Cambodia when it started.

As for the theological training, I’ve also started an MA in missiology (the study of mission). The college agreed to allow me to learn more flexibly for the next few weeks, rather than attending all the lectures “live” because of the other course I am on (again, this was the result of some negotiation and juggling). There is a lot of reading. In fact, these are the pdfs for the reading for the first two weeks. Fortunately, a lot of the theory side is familiar from my English degree, so old friends like Ferdinand de Saussure, Michel Foucault and Edward Said keep cropping up.

That’s quite a bit of reading.

If that overview is quite confusing, don’t worry I feel it too. It’s been a bit of a struggle fitting all the pieces together. If you are still unsure, here’s an overview:

  • I have been accepted as a full-time worker by the Cambodia team of my organisation;
  • I am taking the training course that allows me to be accepted by the UK team.
  • I have started a masters.
  • My life is currently conducted by Zoom and through reading pdfs.

If you have any questions, let me know! I’d be happy to answer them.

August

I know it’s nearly the end of September, but I’ve been busy, so please be nice.

The first week was just dedicated to my Gateway 2 Khmer assessment. I had some reading, writing, listening and a presentation. I might be a little bit obsessive when it comes to the presentations. That week was really intense so I purposely booked myself a staycation in the centre of Phnom Penh. I stayed at the White Mansion Hotel and just spent two days exploring the area and trying new places.

The next week was not so good. I attempted to do some training at HOPE, but unfortunately, none of the technology worked and it was a terrible shambles. It didn’t help that I had a very sleepless week. Then that weekend, I had a family bereavement back in the UK. It was one that I had emotionally prepared for in coming to Cambodia, it was more the sleepless nights that led to it that were causing problems.

However, on the day that I heard to news, Vitou arrived home very – er – merry. (As was pretty much 90% of the Cambodian population as it was a national holiday.) He was hilarious in his attempts to console me, so that was a welcome distraction. The Khmer New Year holidays had been postponed from April due to the pandemic, and therefore fell at when I needed them most. It was great to have a time to just relax and recuperate.

We went to the provinces a few times with Vitou and his extended family. First we went to the Phnom Baset on the Kandal Provice/Phnom Penh border.

The next day, we went to Vitou’s dad’s house in Kampong Speu.

I led some more training, which was far more successful (possibly because it was paper based and practical). This time it was at LEC, looking at techniques on how to teach pronunciation by breaking up the phonemes and all that good stuff.

The rest of the month was spent reading the material for my sending mission’s course and for my MA.

Ask a missionary: some answers

Back in January, I wrote a blog post called Ask a missionary. Basically, it was a series of different questions that someone could ask a missionary as ice-breakers. I did create a video answering this first set of questions, but it was a while ago and it’s somewhere buried on my facebook page. I am currently in the UK, but this is only temporary, so the answers are still valid.


Where do you live?

I live in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. I live quite far in the north of the city, in an area called Phnom Penh Thmei (New Phnom Penh).

Phnom Penh Thmei

How would you describe your neighbourhood / village/ city / area?

I live in a borey, or a gated community. Basically, it is a set of uniform houses and there are guards the man the entrance and exit, especially at night. The houses are typical phteah lveng, or town houses. There are mango trees lining the roads, shops and cafes in this borey and it is just lovely. (Except the smelly stream through the middle and the rats.)

Phnom Penh Thmei is great but a bit far from the rest of the city. Phnom Penh city centre is vibrant, exciting, often chaotic, but also filled with oases of calm. I love the city. I feel so privileged that I get to call it my home.

Continue reading “Ask a missionary: some answers”

Follow the way of the tribes.

Today, I had another assessment. For this, I prepared a short devotion in Khmer. I was going to record it and maybe upload it, but I kept making mistakes. (I’m probably just too tired to do it right now.) So I have the Khmer here and the English below.

(I will add some bits for clarity in English. They will be in italics. As I had to keep it within a certain time length, I didn’t want to expand on those points too much. I also will rephrase sections just so it makes more sense and has a bit more nuance in the English.)


យ៉ូស្វេ 1:12-18 គខប

“បន្ទាប់​មក លោក​យ៉ូស្វេ​មាន​ប្រសាសន៍​ទៅ​កាន់​កុល‌សម្ព័ន្ធ*​រូបេន កុល‌សម្ព័ន្ធ​កាដ និង​កុល‌សម្ព័ន្ធ​ម៉ាណា‌សេ​ចំនួន​ពាក់​កណ្ដាល ដូច​ត​ទៅ៖ «ចូរ​ចង​ចាំ​នូវ​ពាក្យ​ដែល​លោក​ម៉ូសេ ជា​អ្នក​បម្រើ​របស់​ព្រះ‌អម្ចាស់បង្គាប់​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​ថា “ ព្រះ‌អម្ចាស់ ជា​ព្រះ​របស់​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា ប្រទាន​ឲ្យ​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​បាន​សម្រាក គឺ​ព្រះអង្គ​ប្រទាន​ស្រុក​នេះ​ឲ្យ​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​ហើយ”។ ប្រពន្ធ កូន ព្រម​ទាំង​ហ្វូង​សត្វ​របស់​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​នឹង​ស្ថិត​នៅ​ក្នុង​ស្រុក ដែល​លោក​ម៉ូសេ​បាន​ប្រគល់​ឲ្យ​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា នៅ​ត្រើយ​ខាង​កើត​ទន្លេ​យ័រដាន់។ រីឯ​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា ដែល​សុទ្ធ​តែ​ជា​ទាហាន​ដ៏​អង់‌អាច​វិញ ត្រូវ​ប្រដាប់​អាវុធ ដើរ​ខាង​មុខ​បងប្អូន​របស់​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា ដើម្បី​ជួយ​គេ រហូត​ដល់​ ព្រះ‌អម្ចាស់​ប្រទាន​ឲ្យ​បងប្អូន​របស់​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​បាន​សម្រាក​ដូច​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​ដែរ ហើយ​ឲ្យ​ពួក​គេ​កាន់​កាប់​ស្រុក​ដែល​ព្រះ‌អម្ចាស់ ជា​ព្រះ​របស់​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នាប្រទាន​ឲ្យ​ពួក​គេ។ បន្ទាប់​មក អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​នឹង​ត្រឡប់​មក​កាន់​កាប់​ស្រុក ដែល​ជា​កម្មសិទ្ធិ​របស់​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា​វិញ គឺ​ស្រុក​ដែល​លោក​ម៉ូសេ ជា​អ្នក​បម្រើ​របស់​ ព្រះ‌អម្ចាស់ បាន​ចែក​ឲ្យ​អ្នក​រាល់​គ្នា នៅ​ត្រើយ​ខាង​កើត​ទន្លេ​យ័រដាន់»។

Continue reading “Follow the way of the tribes.”

Cambodia: the basics

Last year, when the world was a simpler, less diseased place, I wrote a post called a million questions. It basically goes through 260 questions that give a rough overview of a country and its population. Some of the questions can be answered with a single figure, some of them in a whole book. However, as I’m soon starting an MA and currently reading up on basics of anthropology, I thought I would my “fieldworker” hat on and write what I have currently observed.

Today, I’ll only be noting down some of the basic facts about the country.

1. The basics

What is the name of the country?

English: The Kingdom of Cambodia Khmer: ព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជា IPA: preah riəciənaːcaʔ kampuciə Romanisation: preah reacheanachak kampuchea

The flag of Cambodia

What is Cambodia’s motto and national anthem?

The country’s motto is Nation, Religion, King and it’s national anthem is “Nokor Reach” or “Majestic Kingdom”.

Who leads the country?

King Norodom Sihamoni is the head of state; Hun Sen in the prime minister and head of government.

What type of government is it?

  • It is a constitutional monarchy – so there is a monarch that exercises their powers within the limits of a constitution. In Cambodia, the monarch is decided by the Royal Council of the Throne, rather than through a line of succession. (Think of how the next Pope is decided.)
  • The Prime Minister is the head of government.
  • It is a parliamentary representative democracy and is a unitary state.
  • The parliament consists of two chambers. The upper house is the Senate and the lower house is the National Assembly.
  • Hun Sen has been prime minister 1985.

Hun Sen is the longest-serving non-royal head of government in South East Asia, and one of the longest in the world.

  • The dominant party of Cambodia is the Cambodian People’s Party, which has ruled since 1979.

Who are Cambodia’s nearest neighbours?

Cambodia borders Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It is also a part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which consists of Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. There is also the ASEAN plus three group, which adds China, South Korea and Japan to the list.

What are its major languages?

Khmer (IPA: kʰmae; English rhymes Khmer with pear, but in Khmer it nearly rhymes with pie) is the official language of Cambodia. There are around 19 minority languages spoken. Various forms of Chinese and Vietnamese is commonly heard in Phnom Penh, and a lot of market workers or traders are of Chinese descent. English and French are widely taught in schools, and many Cambodia families in Phnom Penh choose to speak English among themselves as well.

Welcome back bingo

In a few months, I will be in England. This is a temporary stop-over. (Just a side note: I will be very, very busy. This isn’t a holiday. So, I won’t be able to meet up with as many people as I would like. Oh, and social distancing.)

Of course, there is much to look forward to when returning to your passport country. But, it’s not all sun and roses. There are some really hard, complex and baffling emotions going on that can make it really daunting.

I created this “Welcome Back! Bingo” card, which will hopefully give a chuckle to those who have been in my position as well as shed a bit of a light on some of the pit falls that those welcoming us back can fall into. (I think I’ve experienced all but one of them.)

First, don’t assume where home is. The expat or missionary has probably been working really hard to settle into their new country, putting loads of effort into building relationships, understanding the culture, creating routines, familiarising yourself with your surroundings. This emotional investment, and the fact that a large portion of their life has been spent in a different place, might mean that their new home feels like home. Hopefully, they feel welcome in their passport country and their new host country. But it can be a bit of a confusing rollercoaster as you try to find your roots. (Of course, my parents’ home feels like home. So, I’m looking forward to that!)

Second, reverse culture shock is a thing. Here’s a video from someone else’s perspective.

For example, I went away for a year. When I came back, suddenly there were some unexplainable crazes, namely pineapples and unicorns. They were everywhere. Why, people? What is so amazing about pineapples?

Third, now this is where I try to avoid humble bragging. Our experiences as the same as yours. Markets in the UK are not like markets in Cambodia. And the differences are often unexpected: mall bathrooms are way cleaner in Cambodia than the UK. (Petrol station bathrooms seem to be universally grim, though.) Service is generally quicker in Cambodia (mainly because supermarkets and restaurants tend to have so many staff). It just means conversation can be a bit difficult as you navigate the common ground. Take an interest and ask stupid questions.

Lastly, we are not special. Although our experiences are different, they are the experiences of the millions of people in your host country. There will be some experiences that are universal to the most of the continent (e.g. eating loads of rice in Asia), so that means it’s normal for potentially billions of the world’s population. Therefore, the things we do are normal for a lot of people, just not those back at home. This means that we aren’t in anyway superheroes or extraordinary. We just have a different ordinary. (Which I can assure you, is often dull or sweaty.) Also, the process of moving to a different country is really similar to getting on a plane for a holiday. Just the gap between the inbound flight and the outbound flight tends to be a lot longer.

But making mistakes is okay. But being genuinely interested, intentionally welcoming and seeking to bless can make a world of difference.

July

Well, this month is almost done. It’s mostly been taken up with language learning. I’ve been doing about 22 hours per week. I’m not going to lie, that’s quite full on. Of course, it’s not without it’s funny moments- mixing up the word Samdech (which would roughly translate as “the right honourable”) and sandaech (bean).

At the beginning of the month, Kristi went back to the US for six months. So a lot of the week running up to that was me accompanying her to goodbye meals. I ate very well that week.

I’ve also been enjoying venturing around Phnom Penh and even revived my instagram account.

I also had an adventure with a bird flying into my house. Fortunately, birds fell down the chimney back in the UK on a regular basis so I’m rather skillful with the old tea towel.

It was rather cute.

Have a look at some of my arty posts.

Finally, follow me! Here are the places you can do that.

Addressing issues

My goodness, my brain has just melted. I have just had a culture lesson as a part of my language course on terms of address within the family. I knew Khmer terms of address was complicated, but I knew nothing.

So terms of address are what we call each other (Mr, Miss, buddy, sweetheart…) etc., with various levels of formality. In British culture we do change the terms of address in relation to the context. These terms of address can also refer to the person you are addressing or yourself. For example

Your humble servant asks your majesty to close the window.

The “Your humble servant” part refers to you as the speaker, and “your majesty” is the person you are addressing, in this case, the queen.

One of the most noticeable contexts we switch from terms of address is within a school. Students also refer to a teacher by their surname and a title (Mr, Mrs, Miss) or by Sir/Miss when not using their name. Teachers refer to other staff by their first name, unless when talking to or in front of the students.

  • Whilst in the classroom: “Mrs Smith, can I borrow your red whiteboard pen?”
  • “Jimmy, can you return this to Mrs Smith?”
  • In the staffroom: “Debbie, thanks for lending me the pen earlier.”

Parents and usually visitors will also use the polite form of the name when addressing or referring to a teacher. (This might not be so much the case in America and I have had visitors refer to me by my first name to a student, much to the student’s horror.)

We also do it within the family:

  • Sweetie, can you find mommy the sticky tape?
  • Come give granny a big cuddle and a kiss!

However, in Khmer, these terms are generally used instead of other personal pronouns. So you don’t use អ្នក (neak) which means you that often or even ខ្ញុំ (knhom / kʰɲom), for I, that often.

So you would say for a word-by-word translation:

  • “Big Brother well and healthy?”
  • “Mum go where?”
  • “Grandmother [I] will give Granddad [you] 20 dollars for the market.”
  • “What is wife cooking?”

These all come with varying levels of formality. Furthermore there are other specific examples, for example a grandfather can call his oldest child father (as long as he is actually now a father), to show his status within the family:

  • “How much did Father Suon [you- Suon is a name] pay for that motorbike?

I’m not sure if Suon would respond with dad or granddad at this point.

And this is just within the family. You’ve got to change the Is and yous to different words when addressing teachers, staff, managers, very close friends, monks, strangers, those of a higher status than you, kings and gods. You also might have to change the verbs you use as well.

I’ve started creating a table for this and will sit down with Vitou and make him help me fill it out. I expect it to be rather tear-stained before it’s finished. But I’m going to persevere!

Khmer superheroes

Okay, so you’re going to need to hear me out on this. I think Khmer people descend from a race of superheroes. Even if it’s not true, it’d make for a brilliant comic book series. (Copyright ThomasinCambodia.com 2020 – because we all know that’s how copyright works). I did read somewhere (I’m not entirely sure where) that there are legends about how during the Khmer Empire, its soldiers had superhuman strength. This was something to do with magic strings around the arm or herbal tea poured over stone phalluses (you think I’m joking – I will probably take the magic string option in my comic book). Then somehow, during the Cambodian dark ages, these superpowers disappeared. Perhaps the powers were like some sort of natural resource, that was over used? Like the mystery of why the great Empire itself fell, why did the superpowers disappear?

But, today there are still signs of these once incredible superpowers. Like today, I was being driven by another tuk tuk friend. (I have a cold and I don’t fancy getting caught in a rainstorm.) Near my local market, a child lost control of his skateboard, he jumped off and the skateboard shot out into the road. My tuk tuk driver friend expertly weaved his tuk tuk so the skateboard glided between all three wheels. This happened in a split second. See, superpowers.

Any foreigner living in Cambodia will have their own examples of Cambodian superpowers.

However, maybe in a comic book series, these superpowers will start emerging, maybe in a group of young university students. They will have to navigate life in Phnom Penh, study, the discovery of their sudden abilities and fighting a band of evil witchdoctors… Then Hollywood will buy the rights to the story, and having learnt the lessons of its past, cast all Asian (preferably Cambodian) actors and film it all in Asia, thus boosting the COVID-19 stricken tourist industry of the region. (Well, in that case, maybe this comic book story will have its own superpower.)

There’s a season for everything

I’ve nearly completed my third year in Cambodia. One thing about doing it for a second time, is that the rhythms and seasons of life become more normal. The rains come, the rains go; the mosquitoes come, the mosquitoes go; the hot days come, the hot days go; the weddings come, the weddings go; the power cuts come, the power cuts go.

Now, we have nearly reached the wet season.

We have also reached the goodbye season. The cycles of the academic year bring people to the school and the country, and as the academic year ends, so people also leave. For the local staff at HOPE and for those who stay longer, goodbyes are hard. They don’t get easier and as a result first hellos can be also difficult.

In 2018, I began my job at HOPE school. That was for a season. That season is coming to the end now.

It makes me aware that Cambodia is probably only for a season. So far, it’s been three years. I’m not sure how long it’ll be, so I should make the most of enjoying it. One day, I might be saying goodbye to Cambodia for the last time. There is a time for that, as there is a time for everything.

There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
     a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
     a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
     a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Who knows what this next season will bring?