Saturday, January 19, 2019

“Mummy, you’re so tiresome.”

... a one-word prompt every week, and you have the opportunity to free write for five minutes flat on that one word, then join the link-up...

“Mummy, you’re so tiresome.”

This made me laugh, we don’t use that word normally so it sounded strange coming out of his mouth. But I know where he got it from. I had been reading an Enid Blyton book to him, which he LOVED! I hadn’t expecting it to influence his speech like that though.

Which made me think- what do I read? How does it influence me? Over the last years I have mostly been reading this blog which I wrote about here: A Life Overseas, and books and blogs associated with it/similar to it. I guess it’s  fascinating to me as it’s written by and for other expats Christians living outside their passport countries and facing similar issues to me. 

So when one of the writers feels differently to me, it’s really noticeable. For example to day I was reading a blog by an American missionary (not on ALO, somewhere else I can’t remember) she mentioned how she can only get real rest when she is back in her own country, she can never truly rest in her host country. I feel very differently, at least so far/ in this stage of life. Visiting my passport country (Australia) is hard work, the prep, the being there, the recovering.  My best rest is in my host country (Cambodia).

And another noticeable time was when I was reading a book by an ATCK (adult third culture kids) and she mentions she likes travelling, like she needs to travel. That highlighted for me, I really don’t like travel at all. Our best holidays/vacations are at home, we only go away for things we need to.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Better yet?

Five Minute Friday link up time! 

This week the word is BETTER.

"Are you better?"

Soon after we got married I felt like my husband was lying to me. He was sick with a cold. At one point I asked him if he was better. He said yes. So the next day when he was still obviously sick I felt betrayed.

 "Hey, I thought you said you were better?"

It turned out he thought I was asking if he was better as in, not as bad as before. In his native language, Khmer there is a word "more good"/ "gooder". But I actually wanted to ask if he was complete healed already. We speak English and most of the time I forget he only learnt it as an adult.

We kept laughing about that misunderstanding and referring to it over the next few years. Little did we know it would feature in our conversations even more as in our 5th year of marriage he developed a chronic illness. The first 2 years he was debilitated and mostly not diagnosed. But these days we know how to live with it, a new normal and just celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.

He is never going to be completely sick-free until the Final Healing, but some days are not as bad than others. Better but not better.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Mixed reactions, mixed success. Baby steps toward zero waste.

She screamed out in horror when she saw me coming. Approaching the soy milk seller was amusing this morning. She was calling others for help as she doesn’t speak English. It’s not the first time I’ve scared someone with my white face.

I got a very different reaction from my regular sellers who work at the back of the market.
“Haven’t seen you for a long time! Where did you go?”

They usually see me a few times a week and they know I can speak a bit of Khmer so no need to be scared. Between eating foreign treats for Christmas (bought at the supermarket) and having Khmer relatives stay over New Year (so they did all the shopping and cooking) I hadn't been shopping for a couple of weeks.

Like the reaction of the sellers, my success at zero waste was also mixed. . As I wrote about here our rubbish is piling up:  Breaking up with plastic.

We have no garbage truck to whisk away our bread bags and milk cartons since we moved out of town. All our rubbish stays with us in one form or other.  If we can’t compost it, or send it out to be recycled we either burn it (breathing in the smoke), or bury it (so it becomes part of the soil that gives us our water and food). 
Horrifying! Is this a mini version of what’s happening on the whole planet? All the rubbish/trash has to go somewhere.

Success this morning included taking my own bag for vegetables and box for eggs. Now that the sellers are used to my weird habits it’s easy. Even though some of them need to use a bag to weigh the produce, they know to tip it into my cloth bag. And the egg lady has finally given up trying to give me a plastic bag.

This morning’s fail was buying chicken and beef while my meat boxes were at home with pork in them. You can see in the photo the sellers had to put the meat in the single use plastic bags. And I mean really single use, they often break before I even get home. Not like the supermarket bags which you can actually use many times. The ones from the market are too small and break too easily to ever really use for anything.

A new rule recently came in that we have to pay for supermarket bag; a step in the right direction. But there are only a handful of supermarkets in the major towns in Cambodia as far as I’m aware, and the majority of shopping is done at markets where vast amounts of really thin plastic bags are used.

I’m not sure whether to call buying soy milk a success or fail? I’ve been meaning to do it for a while. A few months ago a dog broke open our rubbish bag during the night and I spent the morning picking up the mess. It was really interesting to see what we throw out! One things is milk cartons and bottles. With no local dairy industry I don’t think I can go anywhere to refill reusables. But locals make soy milk. Maybe we should try to swap? There are some issues with that though but I was happy to finally take the flask and get it filled today. Baby steps in the right direction. Even if I did scare the soy milk seller!

Thursday, January 03, 2019

3 things I learnt in 2018

If I had a magic wand to make suffocated emotions, plastic waste and tiredness disappear I wouldn’t be writing this post.
On pondering 2018 with this month’s A Chronic Voice link up prompts I noticed 3 things I learnt that caused to me consider some new habits. It turns out all 3 of them involve toxins/nutrients cycling though a system.  So here they are:  In 2018 I learnt about the importance of Establishing,Breaking and Allowing. 

Establishing good eating habits
Disruptions to our family life came in the form of my fatigue and other symptoms. Over the last few months life for my chronically ill husband was forced even slower. Unconfirmed, but likely due to anaemia from me not absorbing enough iron. (At this point I can hear everyone getting ready to tell me to eat leafy greens and make sure I have Vit C with that.)

Although this isn’t new information for me, the importance of it was driven home last year, something so simple and obvious.  If I want to have energy to support my husband and look after our energetic, curious children I need to get the right nutrition. 

Breaking up with plastic
We have no garbage truck to whisk away our bread bags and milk cartons since we moved out of town. All our rubbish stays with us in one form or other.  If we can’t compost it, or send it out to be recycled we either burn it (breathing in the smoke), or bury it (so it becomes part of the soil that gives us our water and food). 
Horrifying! Is this a mini version of what’s happening on the whole planet? All the rubbish/trash has to go somewhere.
My parents were upcycling before the word was invented, so thinking about the environment and waste is not new. But if my yard and house are filling up with coffee packets and shampoo bottles I’m going to need to pay more attention to moving towards zero waste.

Allowing Emotions
A familiar sight caused me to double take while scrolling Facebook. It was a picture of the emotion chart my counsellor gave me that I didn’t know I needed.

The colour coded wheel starts with general emotions in the centre and fans out into more specific ones (see photo, credit unknown). It helps identify what you are feeling.

A long time ago in a country far, far away my husband was sick.  His illness was debilitating over a period of two years, but still mostly invisible to doctors and others. Soeun’s health is manageable now. That was a stressful season of life but we have been out of crisis for more than six years. We’re glad it’s over!

 Or is it?

Invisible emotions can spring from invisible illnesses. So much loss and grief at the time, but it wasn’t allowed or acknowledged.

The ubiquitous yard stick of health problems kept appearing “At least he doesn’t have cancer”.
Papering over the pain with thankfulness helped me get through each day.

When I tried to explain what was happening people reacted as if I had a paper cut on my finger when really it felt like my finger had been hacked off by a blunt axe.

It actually felt like my husband was gone and I didn’t know if he was ever coming back. (I’ve since been told losing a spouse is one of the most stressful life events.) But that was too huge to feel and also felt silly to say out loud as the doctors said he was fine, all his tests were normal.  And the doctor I went to see about my mental health also said I would be fine in a few months. Plus, Soeun was the one in pain, why was I complaining?

On the surface Soeun was just dizzy, and mostly without a diagnosis, medical tests ruled out all the diseases he didn’t have. And he’s pretty much fine now. So what’s the problem? When I’m explaining the circumstances I feel like there is no problem.

This is what I see out my window. Even in "winter".

Using the emotions chart revealed something unexpected. It was like the shock of opening the curtains and seeing the palm trees in tropical Cambodia covered in cold snow. When the counsellor asked me to check off which emotions I felt during that season it revealed huge losses and grief!  

“Because of course, feelings you don’t feel don’t simply go away. They don’t seep into the ground never to return again. In fact, it’s more like the water cycle. Whatever the earth absorbs eventually comes back as rain. Except in this version of the water cycle, the more water that goes unused and unprocessed, the bigger the storm. Water you ignore comes back with fury, demanding your attention, raining big, angry drops on your head.”

So I don't have a magic wand to deal with the tiredness, trash and tears but potentially I could turn these into new year resolutions. I'm not willing to make such a commitment on the internet though, but it will be interesting to ready this again next January.   


Another article and video also helped me to keep thinking through "Allowing Emotions". Have a read & watch. It makes so much sense and was so eye opening for me.

And this video from Refuge in Grief , Megan Devine:

Friday, December 28, 2018

An Aus-Khmer Advent with chronic illness

Happy Birthday Jesus.  

“Articulating lifelong illness”. 

When I saw this tagline of A Chronic Voice blog I was excited.  If only I had something like this to read years ago when my husband’s illness was new and debilitating, perhaps things would have been less overwhelming.  Invisible challenges choked us that season, so to have them expressed feels like Ventolin for an asthmatic.   

The 5 link up prompts for this month seem like a great way to record our family’s lead up to Christmas this year. De-stressing, Savouring,Simplifying, Resting and Finalising.


Most of 2018 was one big de-stress for me! A “normal” year in my adult life usually involves either:  giving birth, having to travel overseas or moving house. Those events suck up all my emotional energy.   But this year was free of big transitions. I had time and energy for other things.

Having said that, the last few months both my husband and I have been unwell-ish. His chronic vestibular symptoms are always likely to flare up during stormy season so his sickness didn't take us by surprise. But we weren’t expecting me to also be fatigued. I  found myself tired in September, no matter how much sleep I got and how well I tried to balance bike riding and vegetable eating. I’ve had some tests and will have some more soon (anemia? thyroid?).

So we started December on low energy and not knowing if we would be feeling better soon or not. Knowing that meant we didn’t have expectations of doing too much.


Although my husband Soeun has been sick recently we are savouring that is stress free compared when it was new. It was like a dizzy monster had invaded our lives as I wrote about here.  Now we know what it is and know what we can and can’t do about it.  It’s horrible to see him in pain, and so frustrating for him but no longer debilitating and unknown.

My first few Christmases overseas it felt so wrong that December 25th  was just a normal day in Asia. After growing up in Australia where Christmas is a public holiday I found it hard to get my head around seeing kids go to school and banks open as usual. And once I was even expected to work on Christmas day. Luckily I got dengue fever so ended up staying away from work. Phew!

Christmas in Asia was weird before, but now feels freeing.  Celebrations can take on a life of their own in Western cultures, and people can end up spending too much, eating too much and being too busy. In my situation I have the luxury of choosing which bits of an Aussie December I want to enjoy and teach my family about (I’m the only one with an Australian childhood behind me). We can leave behind bits that would cost too much in terms of money or energy.

I think parents always have the tendency to want their kids to have certain things from their own childhood, I feel like I see that a lot at Christmas with expat parents. And its great to carry on some family traditions but I'm also mindful of the fact that our cross cultural kids are having a totally different childhood to us. We're savouring the chance to create new family culture rather than striving to replicate everything from our own. 

Instant Advent inherited from expats 


With limited energy between us, and no pressure to decorate our house, exchange gifts, or whatever other things people do in the West, we ended up just reading about the birth of Jesus from the Bible and from Bible story books. I was thinking about making an advent calendar and/or reading plan, but in the end I just grabbed a Bible one night and we ended up reading bits and pieces from the gospels. We had no plan, so there was no such thing as missing a night and then having to catch up.

We didn’t make the toilet roll tree like we did the last 3 years, even though we had everything to do it. But we did watch our Veggie tales DVD and listen to Colin Buchanan (both inherited from Aussie missionary families who left).

A small plastic tree (also inherited) did end up going up a few days before Christmas, unlike last year. Although we never did find that bag of tinsel or make those paper chains.

The kids were excited on Christmas morning when they saw a box of “new” toys waiting for them. We didn’t buy or wrap any presents but, again, thanks to expat families who have since left town we have so many kids books and toys. We only have some out and any one time, and the others packed away. Every few months we rotate, and each time it’s a bit like Christmas. And this time it was actually Christmas.


In November there was a day when I used up all my energy and then frustratingly it took me a few days to recover. Even though by that stage I had noticed I was fatigued it still took me by surprise.  So resting was a high priority during advent, even though I’m pretty sure I’m feeling a bit better.  I couldn’t afford to run out of energy with the possibly of my co-parent also fatigued, dizzy and in pain.


By the time December 24th arrived I felt we had completed all the big Christmas things, and we were ready to just stay home, eat easy to prep food and relax.

Our Cambodian church celebrated Christmas on December 9th with a huge loud colourful church service, complete with a banquet afterwards. Dances, songs, a nativity play and lots of decorations made it a big event.  In Australia church services are held on December 25th but it isn’t a holiday here so each church decides which Sunday to have their Christmas on.  It was strange for me to be at church on December 23rd and see that Christmas was over.  All the Christmas decorations including the tree had been taken down already, although it was not yet Christmas Eve.  

Thanks to American friends we decorated “cookies” with others. I kind of wished I had energy to bake, but I was happy we could join friends for festivities. 

We gathered with other English speakers on December 16th to sing carols and look at what was said about Jesus before he was born (Isaiah chapter 9). I was glad we could enjoy an Advent meeting even though we missed the Christmas service. (Expats had Christmas on 23rd but we were at Khmer church.)

So when December 25th arrived we were breathing easily, perhaps similar to the post-Ventolin feeling of an asthmatic.  It wouldn’t matter if either or both of us were a bit unwell on Christmas day as we didn’t have any commitments and the children would be happy to play (with "new" toys) and eat at home.  Staying home with just the four of us and some food is basically our favourite holiday. It was a relief to do it and I think we all enjoyed the day. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Silent, settle, still

The silt has sunk.
Hi Friend,

Thanks for your post last week about the jar of river water. Thinking about muddy water settling, and leaving the top bit clear is a vivid way to think about chaos in our minds and meditation.

I've been trying to do a lot of different things recently, all at the same time. I'm not particularity busy, it might just be that I have more energy than recent months. The iron rich diet is doing its work, feels like my fatigue was indeed from anemia. I'm ready to start doing ALL THE THINGS again- right now! I feel like I have too many browser tabs open in my brain.

I was reading Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield earlier this week, and he also mentioned a jar of river water. It looks murky but if you let it settle it becomes clear. The sediment sinks to the bottom. He quoted someone else who talked about contemplation as a way to confront the toxicity in our lives.

Two jars of muddy river water within days of each other! I really do need to work on closing some of the tabs in my brain! We read a Psalm each week, this week is Psalm 42, so I'm trying to think about that more, and think about others things less.

I just checked Five Minute Friday word prompt for the week. "Still"! 

I was thinking I would try to write and link up at some stage, but feeling like I should just be reading and listening these days, before I start writing and doing things. So I'm not really planning on  writing this week. Probably better to just do essential things and pay more attention to my kids. I might start writing and linking up next year, after I've spent some time being still.

Thanks again for your words,

Thursday, December 13, 2018

10 things I hate about renting.

1. Having to wait for the landlord to fix something. Like that time we had no water for a week. Each day he said the tradesman was coming to have a look at the water pump. Tomorrow...tomorrow... Of course by the time we got around to buying our own water pump the landlord turns up to install a new one anyway.

2. Getting rid of all belonging when going overseas for a long time.  Especially when it took 6 months to empty the house. And to make it worse being overseas wasn't really working out, but it felt too hard to come back after all that emptying effort.

3. Knowing that the landlord can and does move around your things when you are overseas for a short time. Even when they said they wouldn't unlock the front door.

4. In some cases being constantly ready to move with a months notice. Like if your landlord is known for asking people to leave, or if they are trying to sell the house and you don't know if the new landlords will want to let you stay. A lot of brain space is used up this way meaning other things get neglected.

5.Having to move often, so although you need to settle in to get on with life, you can't make yourself too at home.

6. And when the inevitable moving day arrives there is stress and chaos.  And usually things get lost or broken. And your furniture doesn't work with the new place so you need to get rid of it and buy some more.

7. Being stressed about trying not to ruin the landlord's property. Like when the kids draw on the walls.

8. Growing food is harder. In boxes, ready to uproot at anytime. Remembering those trees you planted at the last house, do you have energy to plant more knowing you will leave soon?

9. Making do all the time, apart from when you can't stand it anymore so invest only to find it was a waste. Like that time we wanted fly screens on the windows. The landlord didn't want to pay for them. By the time we got around to having friends help with a DIY version the landlord said he was selling the house.

10. Financially it feels so wasteful. Between us we have about 40 years worth of renting and boarding with just some packing boxes and suitcases to show for it.

Photo by Stoica Ionela on Unsplash

Thursday, December 06, 2018

3 ways parenting preschoolers is like teaching adults English as a second language

During ELTA training I was  taught these 3 things, and they keep going around my head as I spend my hours, days, weeks, months with small people at home.

1. Speak the language correctly, you are modelling it. 

Not just teaching during teaching time, not just telling people what to do, they will copy what you actually do yourself. I thought that was a funny thing for a trainer to say when I was sitting in my classroom in Sydney. Of course I'm going to speak English properly! Just months later I found  myself fully immersed in Chinglish. Have not have your east-west?

And with kids, its not just language, but everything. They will do what you do, rather than what you say.

2. Try out the activity first, before doing it in class.

Eg, fill out a worksheet yourself. Things can look straight forward on paper, but unforeseen things can take you by surprise if you don't run through it yourself first.

Same with cooking with kids or trying out something new with them. So if I don't want them to put the eggshells in with the egg, and I've just told them not to put them on the floor, where should they put them?

3. Stop activities when they are in full swing.

It sounds counter-intuitive to end a conversation exercise when it is in full swing. Lots of learning is happening! But if you end on a high it will be easier to come back to it  next time. The other extreme is drawing it out for as long as possible until it is dwindling and torturous.

If it is time for the kids to stop playing and come inside, it can be such a struggle if they are having fun and don't want to stop for dinner. But I think then it's easier to get them outside the next time, as they feel like there is still more fun to be had.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Water Festival, Fatigue, Family and Fire {Time Capsule}

A cold rainy day, the last drops of rainy season are falling!

The kids are busy building rockets and reading new-to-us-again books. We stored some kids books in a packing box for the last few months, opening it again this week felt so exciting.

So glad they can keep themselves entertained a bit more independently. I've been feeling so tired last few months (and I think there is a medical reason). Last week we had relatives staying and they did all the cooking and kids stuff so I just rested, mostly even too tired to read.

While family were here Soeun made a bonfire in the yard and the kids enjoyed cooking bread on sticks.

We totally missed all the boat race festivities in town, but we did have a couple of homeschooling families over one morning.

Friday, November 16, 2018

6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence

“Going “home” was one of the most successful failures of my life.

Not that repatriation is a competition, but had it been the summer I moved back, I would have been a shoo-in for the win,” writes Jerry Jones of The Culture Blend , in Arriving Well*.  

He had all the knowledge, being a cross cultural trainer and all, plus he had some amazing friends. I almost fell off my chair with emotion when he described the way they set up his apartment and met them at the airport. And I say ‘emotion’ as I’m not sure if I was laughing or crying. Talk about attention to detail- even the cat had a welcome sign. Everything was set up so they could have a smooth transition, and yet it was still hard.

““It’s hard to feel incompetent, isn’t it?” Yep. That’s the word. It echoed for a while. Maybe it still does.
I despised feeling incompetent, but at least in China it had been expected. One look at my face set the bar incredibly low and anything I did to surpass that was met with shock and high praise.”

So after I read Jerry Jones’ chapter in which he so competently explains his incompetence I went back and looked at the re entry post I wrote a few months ago;

I realised that 1-6 are basically all incompetence. (#7 is Loss)

So here I adapted the original and turned it into:

6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence

1.You look like everyone else so drivers assume you will know how to cross the road; people in the supermarket expect you to be able to put a box of corn flakes in the cart trolley and the line up to pay for it. (The Cereal Aisle had to get a mention.)  
You can’t do stuff people expect you to be capable of doing.

2. You've lived there before so you (think you) know how to do all those simple things. Like feed yourself and participate in conversations. Like buy and wear shoes after wearing flip-flops thongs for many years. Like speak Australian English.
You can’t do stuff you expect yourself to be capable of doing.

3. “Have you settled in yet?” It sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to ask but sometimes sounds like “You should feel settled now that you have been back for almost a year.”
You can’t be settled in like it seems people expect. 

4. Every little thing takes so much more effort so you are extra tired. But the bed is too soft, there is no hugging pillow, and it’s so cold you need to use a blanket. Even sleeping needs to be relearned.
You don’t have the ability to sleep as much as you need.

5. In a new environment your hobbies and habits that kept you sane can’t happen.
You aren’t equipped to have fun and relax.

6.Feeling like your arms have been chopped off is such a huge part of your thought life but you don’t know how to communicate this to anyone. 

Incompetence is going to be part of reentry, so get the tools- like Arriving Well. My favourite description of the book:

“The difficult but necessary topic of re-entry is approached so eloquently through five honest, raw, healing personal stories we are all certain to learn from. The co-editors/coaches neatly sum up the useful lessons learned from each story and ask the readers pertinent, reflective questions to help them through their own repatriation journeys. This is one book I will keep handy along with all my other favorite expatriate resources.“

Tina L. Quick, author of The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition and Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. and founder of International Family Transitions.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Expanding in October {Time Capsule}

It feels like everything got bigger in October. Well, by everything I mean the town and our health issues.

The town is expanding out to us. A few weeks ago the electricity company installed these huge concrete poles on one side of our street. They totally dwarf the homemade wooden sticks we have been using to hold up our cables.  Sorry no person or moto for scale but in the centre of the photo you can see a pole almost as tall as the palm, while on the right you can see our maybe three metre toothpick holding the wires.

Also our pin on google recently changed from 'unnamed road' to a string of letters and numbers! Exciting times. I have no idea what they are referring to though.

The kids had some one off days of fever, tummy upset etc etc, and I also was feeling really tired from late September. No matter how much I slept and tired everything, still exhausted. So last week I had some blood tests and turns out there are at least 2 reasons for that. Both treatable, seems straight forward, although for one I will need to travel out of town to find a doctor.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Regular routine in an irregular time period {Time capsule}

So far this blog feels like my favourite way to record what's happening, so here is our time capsule for mid July-ish until early October-ish.

Finished up at preschool but not yet started official homeschooling. We are getting used to all being at home together and still setting up things/unpacking in the house. It’s like deschooling, or homeschooling preschool or maybe even just playing and reading at home with the kids. 

Our ducklings are enjoying our flooded yard.
Within in this irregular time period there are some regular things that happen. Including but not limited to:

- one afternoon week we open the laptop and turn on Skype to talk to family members in other countries. We don't always end up catching them, but we have that regular afternoon when it might happen.
-Soeun is doing Psalms in a weekday cell group and Revelation for sermons. We have just set up an office for him so he can focus better. Bought a bookshelf, unpacked most of his books! We have a code word he uses to tell us he is going to work and can't play- because the kid always want to play with him.
The vacant lot opposite us fills up with water at this time of year. Apparently a good place to take your water buffalo. 
-weekly morning playdates with a group of people we have just started getting to know. Although a few of them I have sort of known for awhile, others just moved here. It feels like the 3rd wave of playdates since I moved to Siem Reap. The group that used to meet weekly when I arrived pretty much all left town around June 2016. Then I was meeting weekly with one or two others for awhile, but then all our kids were at preschool and we didn't meet as much, and then we moved we meant we couldn't do weekdays anymore. But now, post preschool we are getting to know some others from House Church and also starting to form a homeschool community. 3 years ago I asked on Fb if there were any homeschool families and got no response. As of the weekend we I know of 5 others!
Since we finished up at preschool in June its been nice to be able to use the market near our house regularly, I end up going every few days. The transition time between when we moved but hadn't yet stopped going to preschool didn't really allow me to shop at a market.

Soeun had to unexpectedly leave one night to go and stay at church overnight with all the water... 

Current favourites. From the 1960s and 70s, new to us via American friends. 

Out the front door.