a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

first trip back to the US

It's March 2012 and I'm a little amazed at where I am and what I'm doing. We live in Cambodia and in a few days we are going to visit the US. And that feels a bit strange. I'm actually kind of nervous about going back to the first world. When we left South Africa we were very eager to get out of the rough living conditions of Tugela Ferry. But that's not at all how I feel now. Cambodia is nice. Phnom Penh is great, actually. Our apartment is awesome. And I really like my new friends.
Last week I went shopping in the informal markets with Leakhena and her 4 year old daughter Coco. We took a tuk-tuk around the city which was a great excitement for Coco. She kept squealing. :) And it was just cool watching Leakhena bargain in the markets. What an expert. She got prices for me that I would never have dreamed of even asking for, let alone getting. I ate lunch with Leakhena and Coco inside the market at a food stall for the first time. The food was delicious (and cheap! only $1 per bowl) but I was worried about food safety so only ate half of it. Even Leakhena said it was hot inside the market! Of course the sweat was pouring out of me. :)
After the markets, we took the tuk-tuk to Leakhena's house. I asked her if I could see it and she said she wanted to invite me over but was worried that it was so small. But I thought her house was nice. With less furniture to clutter up the rooms, it actually felt spacious and pleasant. They have an upstairs that you can get to through ladder steps. And they own an air conditioner, one just like ours in our apartment, but older. I was so happy to see that because the heat can get really rough here. We sat on the tile floor of their living room and looked at their wedding album. Leakhena's husband brought it out for me to look at. Traditional Khmer weddings call for many changes of outfits for both the bride and groom. Leakhena had seven different dresses and her husband had five different suits. The couple rents all the clothes; they don't buy anything. Leakhena told me that she went to a tailor, picked out the dresses she liked and the tailor fit them to her. The wedding ceremony is an all day event and she said more than once that it was tiring.
Coco is a nickname for Sreymeas which literally means "gold girl". Leakhena told me that when she was pregnant with Coco, she dreamed about gold all the time so she decided she needed to give her daughter that name. "Srey" means girl and lots of women have that as part of their name. I think Leakhena has taught herself English. But now she is teaching Coco, and doing a great job of it. Coco has a wider English vocabulary and understands more than most of my preschool students. That's the difference between one-on-one interaction and a classroom setting. But Coco is of course more fluent in Khmer and that's how she tries to talk to me. She apparently has a lot to say. I only wish I was conversant in Khmer because I'm sure it would be interesting. :)
Both Leakhena and Coco call me "Teacher" as if that is my name. I once told Leakhena she could call me "Sabrina" but she has never used my real name. Calling me "Teacher" is a show of respect. In Khmer "Bong" is a respectful way to address someone, similar to "Sir" or "Madam" in English. Khmer use respectful language lavishly. Khmer almost always address me "Madam" or "Bong" depending on whether I speak to them in English or Khmer.
Our tuk-tuk driver drove us all over the place and waited for us at each stop. He had originally agreed to $5 but it ended up being about 3 hours from start to finish so I gave him $7. And he was appreciative. Five dollars is a good day for a tuk-tuk driver. But can you imagine? I think the last taxi we took in Portland was $25 for a 15 minute ride.
I imagine I will enjoy the clean, orderly streets of the US. I'll get to drive again! And I'm looking forward to different grocery store items I can't or don't buy here. Like fresh milk. We buy our milk in boxes that have been heated at extremely high temperatures "ultra heated treatment" or "UHT" that sits on the shelf until opened. I buy brands from New Zealand and Australia. And chocolate. It's hard to find fair trade dark chocolate that isn't three times the price of what it is in the US. Speaking of crazy prices, a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream is $14.75 at Lucky Market!
And at the this time of year, the Pacific Northwest has pretty cool temperatures. It will be fun to wear long sleeve shirts for a change! But Vietnam felt cold to us in December so I imagine Stephen and I will have to bundle up as we have our air conditioner set at 73 degrees. Yesterday I noticed that the temperature in Portland was 40 degrees and in Phnom Penh is was 90 degrees. :) I'm definitely taking my big scarf!
I'm sure it will be a good trip. Visiting family and friends we haven't seen in over 8 months. Noticing the differences between the two places we've lived. But I look forward to coming back to the life we now have here too. I'm already starting to miss it a little and we haven't even left yet. Our friend Mouychean said she already misses us too. And I that's a bit surprising to me. To feel such a strong connection to a new place and new people in such a short time. But I'm glad. My world just got a little bigger.

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