Sampeah – The Cambodian way to greet


At my office a poster reinforces to staff how to properly greet in Cambodia.

Every place has its own way to greet somebody. In many Western countries a shake of the hands or a kiss might do the trick. In Japan, a bow can determine levels of respect and formality. In Taiwan they usually start with “have you eaten?” while in Benin they snap their fingers as they shake hands. Many people know that in this region of the world, many Southeast Asians put their hands together in prayer gesture and greet each other. In Cambodia, although it seems simple enough to carry out, there are traditional complexities that say much more than words could express while performing “the sampeah”, Cambodia’s local greeting. Continue reading

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R.I.P. Dara – a skilled teacher, inspirational storyteller and undying romantic

daraToday I received the sad news that my Khmer teacher, Dara Than, passed away this morning in Phnom Penh. Dara is very well known among the VSO and Cuso community here and introduced many and most of us to the Khmer language during our first weeks upon arrival. Dara had an extremely unique sense of humour. He would often intertwine a romantic twist into his lessons and belt out a few lines from country songs like “Don’t Cry, Joni”. He has a life story of both unimaginable tragedy and uplifting inspiration. He kept our intensive classes full of laughter even during moments of regular frustration that foreign language-learning can induce. He also let us into his past at times and shared moments of unthinkable human acts during the Khmer Rouge . Continue reading

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One year to the day – looking back at my Cambodian journey


My first month in Cambodia can be summed up simply as “feeling hot”!

Today is special day for me. It is one year since I got on a flight from Vancouver to Seoul, en route to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I remember so clearly the morning of June 3, 2013. I woke up with a knot in my stomach.  I had big plans, but I couldn’t shake the profound sadness I felt to leave the life I had built up for myself over the last five years since I had returned to Canada in 2008. I knew that this journey would be taking me on a new path. Continue reading

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Blind massage – social inclusion and a source of relief!

blindmassageWith renewed physical strength and relief from ongoing throbbing pain, I feel like this is something I must share with you immediately. Blind massage is common in Cambodia and it’s not hard to find a place to visit when your joints are sore. I’ll be honest, I love massage, I love spas, and I love all the environments that a bit of imagination can conjure in constructing a place of zen. I get frequent massage to relax and to make sure that life in an office doesn’t get too deep into my posture. Continue reading

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Building the basics – I just need a ride to the hospital…


Sometimes innovation is simple. This hospital provides mosquito nets, cooking facilities, and clean water in the waiting room where some patients wait overnight.

When you think about healthcare in a developing country you probably imagine pretty rudimentary equipment, long waits, questionable doctors, and lots of other challenges that might put your health at risk. I can’t deny that much of Cambodia might fulfil that vision. Healthcare is really a huge issue here. Even for me, if anything major comes up I will be whisked away to Thailand for proper treatment. But where does that leave the common Cambodian? I have heard many stories of people who simply died because they could not get to any facility. Clinics are popping up around the country, often funded through development aid projects. But building a clinic in a rural area doesn’t always override major obstacles. Continue reading

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My 6 Phnom Penh stars******

starI used to move around the world a lot. Changing city or country was easy, and the people I met along the way make up the foundation of the memories I have today. Before coming to Cambodia, I had been in Canada almost five years – a sort of break from globe trotting. Although in those five years I moved from Vancouver to Ottawa to Toronto and back to Vancouver, I definitely had the sense of stability in re-discovering my Canadian-ness. I dare say I got used to it. By the time I left Vancouver in June 2013, I felt a tsunami of emotion. Continue reading

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So what am I really doing here from 9-5? Space for a civil society voice in Cambodia

It’s a new year. It has also been six months since I actually started my work in Cambodia. I have been blogging about quite a few things, but haven’t touched on the bulk of my daily life in Cambodia. This has been deliberate. Most of you that also know me professionally will recognise that I am very careful about interpreting my work.  I wanted to really take the time to deeply understand my work and the environment before attempting to explain what I’m doing and how it fits in the larger picture. Continue reading

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Home is where the heart is – and where your friends are! Back to Japan

sakurajimaI want to take an opportunity to write a few thoughts and revelations from my recent trip to Japan. 11 years ago I moved to a rural area in Kagoshima Prefecture of southern Japan. I met incredible people, many of whom are some of my closest friends today despite the distance that separates most of us. Little did I know 11 years ago that I’d end up spending nearly half a decade in the country of the rising sun. It had been almost 7 years since I had been back to Japan – and it was a true treat to my nostalgic senses in every way imaginable. Continue reading

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Top 10 favourite places in the world that inspired me

I’m always asked where my favourite place in the world is. I am fairly consistent. But I want to take the chance and reflect on other places that are ingrained in my mind.

10. Salta, Argentina

saltaUnexpected and not my usual type of sought paradise, I was pleasantly surprised to look at my surroundings  in dry and arid Salta. Cushioned up in the mountains of Northern Argentina, a small colonial city lined with orange trees and a rocky background releases a sort of charm that hits you upon arrival. Beautiful but simple cafes, plazas that typify Spanish heritage towns, and a population that really shows the mix of colonial and indigenous roots in the region. My fondest memory during this trip I took whilst doing my Masters in Buenos Aires is of the gondola going up the mountain. Continue reading

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Development work and the blessed/cursed ‘per diem’


In Cambodia, like many development aid recipient countries, a ‘per diem’ allowance to participate in a workshop can be a major incentive for attendance.

Unlike many of my colleagues working with grassroots in the field, this is an issue that I haven’t reflected much upon before coming to Cambodia. As an employee, I’ve received ‘per diem’ allowances for lots of travel with organisations. Per diem is the term used to call a set amount of money that has been calculated to cover expenses for work-travel. Sometimes that amount includes accommodations, food, transportation, incidentals, or a combination of these expenses. If I think back to some of my per diems, they were often very generous. I might not have been able to spend the full amount even if I tried. Continue reading

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