Sunday, March 29, 2009

11 things I learnt in Cambodia...

1. A moto is a great replacement for a transport truck.

2. All the earth-days in the world don’t beat Cambodia’s method of saving electricity : turn it off for a few days.

3. A beauty saloon is not what you think.

4. Red lights are useless. So are line-ups.

5. Five dollars is way overpriced for a GAP t-shirt. I’ll offer you $2.00.

6. You can use plastic bags for just about anything. They’re great for take-out drinks, especially coffee.

7. Beef makes great chewing gum. It’s all in how the butchery’s done.

8. Helmets are only necessary until 5pm. That’s when police officers go home, so you won’t get fined anyway.

9. A moto is also a great replacement for a mini-van.

10. If you do have a truck to use, pile as much stuff as you can on it, as high as you can. Make it 3 times the height and size of the truck. Then, have your buddy sit on top of the pile to make sure it doesn’t fall off. Don’t worry, there’s a slight chance you won’t topple over.

11. Life IS much better when you nap at lunch time.

I'm staying longer!

Moo and I with some of our students and some of the cell group girls at the end of term party yesterday

So it’s official, I’m staying now in Cambodia until April 20th, just after Khmer New Year. I do miss home, but I’m not quite ready to leave here yet. It felt too rushed. There’s still quite a few things to do, and we’re hoping to spend Khmer New Year up north in Mondulkiri, a beautiful Cambodian province. It’s an eco-tourism spot. Apparently, even in the dry season (which is now) it’s still lush and green with rolling hills and waterfalls. And it’s a bit cooler. We may actually have to wear a light sweater in the evenings. Oh, I’m so excited! Mondulkiri is also much more tribal. I think it’ll be really interesting. One of Moo and I’s students, Savy, is from there. The only 2 things we have to watch out for are malaria probabilities and actually booking a guesthouse for 6 to 8 girls. So hopefully it all works out!
This weekend was the Encounter. There was so much excitement. I didn’t know any of the people that went to it, but it was still cool to see what God was doing in their lives. And it’s such a blessing to be here for it. 3 years ago, it was our little team from Canada who helped get them started. God is so good.

Moo planned an “end of term” party for Sunday 4 pm. I ended up playing piano at all 3 services that day, so it was a bit hectic. Between being there for practices and for each service, skipping out in between the first two for breakfast with Leah, Omy, Anna and Karen, then going home, prepping the pasta salad, having a short nap, and being back to church for piano class at 3, and then the party and last service…. Somehow it all fit.

The party was an outreach idea Moo came up with. Michelle teaches one class from Tuesday to Thursday. Most of them also attend my small 10am class. So we invited them to a party on Sunday, and combined it with our cell group. Chanra, our cell leader, organized some of the food. I just made the pasta salad, which is western food, so it was their first time trying it; and they loved it! The cell group girls had organized games and it was quite fun. Many of our students showed up. It’s hard to know for sure, but I think the majority of them are not Christian. We met on the roof of the church. And after the party, everyone joined the Encounter celebration downstairs.

The place was packed to overflowing. It was a sea of people. It was a lot like our Encounter comeback at home, except that the lights were off (all except for the stage ones) and they used candles to light the path for the Encounter participants to run in. And they were so excited! Their testimonies were more shouting that God is great than anything else! I think freedom from unforgiveness was the greatest testimony for these people, as most of them have had a difficult life. I know that there’s a lot of deliverance ministry at the Encounter here, people who have been plagued with generations of demonic influence. The Encounter has been such a blessing to this church!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Khmer Traditional

Sarah Chea, this one's for you! I'd put up more pics, but you know how long it takes to upload things out here... I'll try to show you the group ones, maybe scanned or something... we'll see what can be done! Definitely a moment of hilarity! Wish you'd been there!

On we go

Sorry for not updating this in a while. It’s been a very challenging couple of weeks. But things are settled now, and I feel I’m able to write again.

I feel like I’ve settled into life here now. Weekly going into the office, where I have English and piano classes to teach, Sundays with church, and then the random shopping excursions at the market, or riding around town, or hanging out with expats or some of the people from here.

Sarah Chea, one of the Australian expats that was here for a couple months, left a week or so ago. We had a goodbye party for her at Pr Jesse and Soar’s house. I’ve never seen such a gorgeous house (although I’d seen it before 3 yrs ago when Pr Chuck and Cynde lived there). It’s surrounded by a wall, as all houses are here. When you enter, you see a small yard with green grass and beautiful flower and fruit trees and palm trees. There’s the most beautiful palm tree right in front of the huge entrance door. It looks like a Chinese fan. You walk in through the main door into this huge room with high ceilings which serves as living room, kitchen, and altogether living area. You can fit quite a few people comfortably in there. Yet it’s cosy at the same time. And they have a pool table in the middle of it too.

The outer walls are not closed walls. Instead, they’re made like a gate, with a mosquito screen as sole protection from the outer world. It keeps the house cool and airy. The other two walls are closed, but have doors leading into the 3 bedrooms and the most beautiful study room. It’s one of those houses that doesn’t seem that huge, but really is, and that looks so classy yet without being uncomfortable or rigid. You gotta see it to understand I think.

Last Friday, I went with Leap, Michelle and Marie (another expat) to the Russian marker, or Toul Tompong, for a bit of shopping. It was so incredibly hot and stifled in there. I tried on a couple brand name t-shirts over the shirt I was already wearing (no changerooms there) but nothing seemed to fit quite right, so I quit after only a few tries. Marie couldn’t be deterred though (she’s a real shopper girly girl) and she walked away with lotsa treasures. Brand name t-shirts that should cost $20 or more back home for $2,50. Right now, because it’s so hot, I prefer settling for Pink, a small store in the mall close to our house, where we can get the same deals, but with AC and a change room! Or there’s also the night market, where it’s much cooler. They have it every weekend by the riverside. I think Moo, Amber and I will be going this weekend, if all goes well.

The market is pretty amazing. Clothes and things are piled up high and tight, and with no apparent order to them. Yet somehow the vendors seem to now exactly where their stuff is. Only pictures can explain that properly. Some markets are really stinky though, especially where they sell food. There’s one near our house that’s open 24 hrs, so it never get cleaned properly. Rotten fruit and veggies (including Durian, the stinky fruit, which I have yet to dare try), fat and blood from the meat and fish, mixed in with sewage overflow from the toilets that don’t get cleaned properly. Even Cambodians often don’t dare to venture there, though it’s the cheaper of the markets, the wholesaler place. The mom where we live doesn’t like to go there. I’ve been close by, and some days you can really smell it. It’s known as the stinky market. Couldn’t imagine working there everyday!

Monday afternoon, some of us girls went for a traditional Khmer photo. It was awesome. Angie, Marie, Amber, Moo, Soar and I paid $15 to get all done up and have our picture taken. It was hilarious. Like a combination of 1980’s and asian style. They put little crease increasing stickers on our eyelids, and covered us in golds and reds, then put on the biggest fake eyelashes in the world – total eyelid workout – we call them spider legs, cause they’re huge, plastic and fake looking. You could barely see the white of our eyes by the time it was done.

Then the hair! Teased to the max, and with hair extensions too! Amber looked hilarious! She called her do a curled mullet. Several of us got crowns. Marie and I ended up with the same hairstyle, maybe cause people here think we look alike. I disagree, but definitely take it as a compliment. Marie is gorgeous.

Then we got our traditional Khmer outfits on. Definitely a work of art! The girls from the studio dressed us of course; there’s no way we could’ve done it ourselves.

It was such a fun afternoon; now we’re looking forward to seeing the pics!

Other than that, I’ve been focusing on my lessons, reading, and going swimming with Amber. She found a small pool at a hotel near our house that no one ever uses. It’s big enough to do a bit of a work out, yet really cosy and the water is beautiful. I got my first sunburn of Cambodia on Sunday there. No one is around so it’s really private. But it’s close enough to the stinky market that we can get whiffs of it here and there. Still, it was definitely worth it! Last time we went, on Monday, we got to swim with bats! They go there to drink the water. They didn’t bother us. It was after nightfall anyway, so it was their time I guess. It just made it interesting – never swam with bats before!

Personally, as I said, it’s been a hard few weeks. But I can see through it all that God is involved, and somehow He knows what’s best. Just this morning, I got an e-mail from Frances Coker back home telling me “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Then I read an e-mail from Brianna that quoted the same scripture! Again I’m aware of God’s presence when things are tough.

Other than that, it’s fun to be here. Everyday is a bit of an adventure. My students are great. Some of my piano students are learning really well. A few of them come in to practice everyday. This morning, I taught my morning English class why it’s a bad idea to cheat. Simple things like that are just not taught in a culture where you can buy off marks and certificates. But they seemed to appreciate my concern and instruction this morning, even just the fact that I actually cared enough about their education to mention this... so hopefully those little seeds will bear good fruit. It's rare for teachers here to care about anything more than getting their paycheck. Most children haven't grown up with teachers who really wanted them to learn, and who believed in them.

Well, now I’m off to prepping for Bible classes tomorrow and Friday, and for one English class tomorrow. I have one piano student this afternoon. Onward we go!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Ocean!

The expat staff at lunch! you can see Jason and Angie, Matt and Marie, Michelle, Sarah, me, Karen and Amber... Caleb, Justus and Emma are hiding amongst the adults.

mmm BBQ squid!

beautiful beach!

Marie, me and Michelle

Just came back from the staff retreat – and guess where it was held! At the Oceanside! We packed 2 bus loads of people (most of them are fairly young, young adults mainly… this church is young), and all headed down 240 km to Sihanoukville, by the gulf of Thailand. Actually, I ended up being on the worship team for all 3 Sunday services (the buses were leaving right after the 1st service in the morning), so I got a ride in Pr Jesse’s SUV – 6 of us crammed into a car that should not contain more than 5, for 3 hrs… But it was great!

The hotel was nice, not the best, but it did have AC, comfy beds and accommodated us well. Only thing they didn’t provide was toilet paper… yeah. Wish they’d warned us about that one. But we all slept wonderfully and enjoyed our stay there.

Monday morning, the day started with breakfast at 7:30. We walked over to a nearby restaurant that offered typical Cambodian breakfast (like chicken and rice or noodle soup), and some special American breakfasts! Amber and I opted to try the sorombled (scrambled) eggs, bacon, and pancakes. Not quite like home, but it was a good attempt. BTW, I love the typing and spelling mistakes they make on menus and sdvertisement signs here. You gotta give them some credit, using so much English when their official language is so different. It must be such a challenge. But you end up with lovely combinations like “Beauty Salloon”, “first aid supply kids” and “sorombled eggs”. Never a dull moment!

After breakfast, we had some training sessions about staff policies and such. Then, we went out for lunch at a seafood specialized restaurant. And then headed out to the beach!

My only experience at the Ocean was going to the Maine with my family when I was a tweenager. The waves were really cool looking, but the water was ice cold! We still tease Mom cause she went in, trying to be brave, and then couldn’t get out; the water was so cold it literally paralyzed her! My step-dad had to eventually run in and carry her out.

So you can imagine my wonder when we arrived at the beach… The water felt like soup! Not quite, but it was definitely not cold. More like a shallow pool on a really hot day. But it’s the ligit, salty watered ocean! It was awesome! We found a star fish, a bunch of sand dollars (even a really big one, around 20-30 cm diameter, and hermit crabs and such fun stuff. I spent the whole afternoon in the water.

Cambodians don’t like the sun very much. They like being lighter, and most of them are very dark. Apparently the race is Asian (Chinese like) mixed with Indian (from India). A lot of the religion here is more hindu than buddhist. So the majority of them stayed in the shade, or waded fully clothed, with long sleeved sweaters on.

I eventually wandered out of the water to get a closer look at what Cambodians actually do at the beach. Most of them were resting in hammocks or lounge chairs, but several were buying trinkets from the little vendors that walk around, or snacking away on things they’d bought. A couple ladies had settled their portable “kitchen” by our shelter area and were cooking soup and typical Cambodian foods to sell. One of these curious items was skewered bbq-ing squid. They taste pretty good actually. Not rubbery like I’d thought. I even had a couple…

Finally evening came, and we unfortunately had to leave the beach. We went back to the same seafood restaurant where we’d eaten lunch, and were served “family-style” again. That’s when they bring you a pot of rice to share as a table, and everyone takes a large spoonful of it in their bowl or plate. Then, the servers bring the dishes to each table one at a time, and everyone at the table shares the dish by scooping however much they want onto their rice. It’s kinda like “all you can eat” except it’s limited to the 6 or however many dishes they bring to each table. A table in that restaurant sits 6 people, so I assume they count it as one dish per person.

Anyway, I don’t think I can eat anymore seafood, especially squid, for quite a while now. I had my fill on Monday.

That night we finished with a session on the 4 temperaments, and then some social time, and finally bed. Next morning, breakfast at 7:30 again. Then we had a session on the 5 love languages, led by Chuck and Cynde McCaul, Pr Jesse’s parents.

Chuck and Cynde moved their family from Oregon, USA, to Cambodia more than 10 years ago, when Jesse was 17, to take over a brand new church called New Life Fellowship. Pr Dooley, an apostle and church planter, was ready to move on to Thailand, where he felt the next church plant needed to be, and needed someone to take over. Chuck, then assistant pastor in Oregon, had come on a short trip here, figured out someone needed to come out here to do the work, but didn’t want to do it himself. Until finally God convinced him, and they packed and came. Jesse did not want to come at the time, at all.

Today, Jesse has become the senior pastor at NLF. He’s married Soar, a wonderful and hilarious Cambodian woman, and they have a daughter, Jessica. But it’s only been about 3 years that Pr Jesse has taken over for his dad.

Shortly after our missions trip to Cambodia, where I’d had the privilege of interviewing Pr Chuck personally for a Bible College project I was doing, He fell morally. For the church it was heartbreaking. It tore up his family. And it crushed me too, though so many miles away. But God had been watching over the whole thing. Pr Chuck had been preparing Jesse to take over, cause he knew he was playing with fire. And Ministers Fellowship International, the pastoral umbrella under which NLF, and our church back home, OCC, are covered, stepped up to the plate immediately. They couldn’t convince Pr Chuck to return to his family. But then his visa ran out, and he was forced back to the US. Through the love of a church there, the forgiveness of his wife and family, and counseling and care, and much prayer, he has now been completely restored to his wife. This month was his first time returning to Cambodia since. And it’s been healing all over.

The church welcomed him with open arms. They don’t ignore or hide what’s happened, but they’ve forgiven. They’ve recognized man’s weakness, but also God’s grace. And for me, I happened to be here right at this time. I really believe God had intended it that way, for healing for me too, and a ability to trust more again. To see that God is truly able to turn the greatest disaster into the most wonderful blessing.

As Chuck and Cynde taught the lesson this morning, tears kept creeping up on me. I remember there being a cold, a breach between them 3 yrs ago when I met them. And here they were so affectionate, laughing together, teaching together, joking around with each other. Complimenting each other. And saying how much they love each other. When God restores, it’s always to better than it was before. Faithfulness is so beautiful.

We had some more fun at the beach after lunch. This time all the expats took off to a cute little restaurant where I had an American style chicken fajita and salad. The store also had a lovely little fair trade souvenir shop of handmade things upstairs. The beach was still as great as the day before, but the time there was a bit shorter.

The bus ride home was long, but fun. It was great getting so know some of the Cambodians and other staff better this weekend. One of the girls I met, Sinight, is awesome. She was rooming with us and had brought her little daughter with her, Si danae. Sinight is gorgeous, and not married. She’s a teacher at New Life School. She’s never gone to college or teacher school. But she learned everything from assisting other teachers, and from the Lord’s own creativity. She loves what she does. She had me, and herself, in tears as she spoke of the ministry she has there with the kids. It’s the Christian school that’s run by the church, but it’s also open to non-christian students. Many of them meet the Lord there. They don’t get beaten by teachers. The teachers actually care about their well-being and education. And they love the kids. You can tell it so clearly when she talks about it.

As for her daughter, well, she’s a story of how God has set up things for this young woman’s ministry. Sinight was 21 years old. She had a friend who told her of a new neighbour that had moved in next door. This neighbour was also beautiful. But she was in trouble. She had moved there because she was running away from the wife of the man she was having an affair with. This girl was an orphan, and the man – already married to several other women, which is not uncommon here – didn’t treat her well or care for her at all. She was working in a factory. And she was pregnant. She knew she couldn’t take care of the baby when it came.

Sinight’s friend, for some reason, recommended her for the adoption. Sinight was not interested. For months she said no. Then the baby came. Several couples, unable to have children of their own, offered the mother to by the baby from her, to adopt her. But for some reason, the mom didn’t feel right about any of them. Sinight was still her first choice. I think she knew Sinight was a Christian. Somehow, she felt that it was her first time making a right choice in life, and she didn’t want to steer from it. But maybe it was just a God set-up, or Jehovah Sneaky, as they say…

Anyway, after a few days, Sinight’s mom, who had heard of the whole situation, of course (Cambodians live with their parents until they get married, and sometimes even afterward too), asked Sinight to at least go see the baby. She finally consented, and when they got there, a God moment took place. Sinight had one look at the baby girl, malnourished and tiny, and beautiful like her mother, and couldn’t turn away. She went home with the child that day, and has been raising her as her own since.

Although Sinight is pretty in looks, it’s really her heart that makes her so beautiful; her passion for God, her love for the children, her love for her daughter, and joy in serving, her conviction over the will of God for her life, and passion in living it out every day. It’s amazing to meet people who have such a simple relationship with God, such a love for Him. Faith is beautiful. The Bible says to have faith like a child. And when you see it in someone, you want part of it too!

ps : I tried posting pictures from the beach, but it's taking much too long. I guess the connection's not that good right now. I'll try again another time.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Angkor Wat

I think Wat means temple. This weekend we got to see lots of those; but the ones we traveled 6 hours north to see were about 1000 years old. It was like stepping into another world.

Friday Afternoon, Michelle, Leap and I boarded our bus to Siem Reap. After sore bums and heat for several hours, we finally arrived to be assailed by tuktuk drivers. One of them finally got our business, and we headed out to the guesthouse where we’d spend the next couple days. His name was Sterlin I think… very smiley, as most Cambodians are. We secured his driving services for the next day, and then took off to hunt for food.

Only problem was that I’d gotten ill again since that morning. I think it was from lack of sleep. The electricity had still been out when we left, and I didn’t manage to sleep hardly at all at night because of it. I don’t want to sound fussy, but there just isn’t any airflow in my room without a fan.

Anyway, I wasn’t well enough to walk around for long… but we found a lovely little spot for dinner, and the evening started. When we got back to the guesthouse we swam for a little in the pool, but went to bed early. Big day tomorrow!

Oh, the bed was so comfy, and I slept so well that night. Next morning, we prayed for God to heal my tummy and help us enjoy the day.

We got up at 4:30 am on Saturday; our tuktuk showed up at 5:00am. We were off to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

When we got there, all was dark still. We found our way around by following others, and got to a spot where we could sit and watch. We didn’t see much except for the sky getting lighter, but that was still cool. It was kinda cloudy. We set off to visit the first old temple ahead. It wasn’t till an hour later that we got to get some cool shots of the soon peek-a-booing from behind some stone walls.

Most of the statues in the temples are headless. Apparently they were chopped off to be sold. I thought it was a Dagon mass re-enactment, but not quite. There were some people there selling incense to offer idols, for good luck they said… we passed by though with a ‘no thank you’. But other than that, it was so cool to walk around in these buildings that are so old; people carved each stone so carefully centuries ago. And here we can walk around, climb all over, wherever…

The 3rd temple we went to see was the one I was looking forward to. It had trees all over, growing under, over, in between rocks. It looked surreal. Like a scene from a fairy tale or something… Leap thought it hilarious that I was more excited to see the trees than the temples themselves… but you had to see it to understand!

The carvings are impressive. So much detail in everything that was done. These temples were lost for quite some time, from what I remember, and only rediscovered not that long ago, I think it was after the Khmer Rouge regime… Imagine walking in the woods one morning and coming upon these huge old buildings with magnificent trees all intertwined… that would’ve been amazing!

Oh! one of the pastors here told me this morning that there’s a carving of a stegosaurus in one of the temples. It’s been carved alongside the swans and other ordinary animals the people of the day, hardly even 1000 years ago, would see. Pretty cool. Another proof on the creation side!

We got to see wild monkeys walking around – they’re kinda scarry… one of them was walking closer and closer to me… but apparently they can be pretty nasty, so I took a pic and walked back to the path asap. There were tame elephants too. And birds making lots of cool noises, and bats, and a flying cockroach…

Before nightfall, we walked up a mountain. There’s a temple up there from where we were to watch the sunset. It’s old, like all the others, and some parts have crumbled. But it’s also very tall, with very steep stairs. It’s dangerous. Apparently they were built that way so people would have to go up on all fours as they climbed to the place of the gods. I don’t think a temple God designed would’ve been made like that. God would never force someone to come in on all fours… He always prefers our free will in worship.

We didn’t wait for the full sunset. It was kinda cloudy, and all we could see ahead were trees anyway. I’ve seen more beautiful sunsets in my life… The only difference was that we were sitting on an old relic watching it. So in the end, we decided to head back down while we could still see clearly. The sun set as we were riding our tuktuk back into town.

God answered our prayer and I felt fine walking around throughout the day. But then Michelle got sick near the end of it, and she’s just recovered overnight last night. Maybe it was a virus or something, not sure…

I’d love to post our pictures from the trip – they really speak way more than anything I could say. I’ll try to put a few of them on anyway, however much the internet connection allowed. I so wish I could’ve brought more people from back home with me!