Sunday, December 30, 2012

Dispatch from Cambodia, 4 // Familiar Faces

I've been able to catch up with a few friends from Los Angeles while in Phnom Penh:

Ryan, who spent two years working with youth here and is now back in California:
At Chuck Norris Dim Sum (12/12/2012)
Sean, who took a whirlwind trip through Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on his way to Hong Kong:
At The Terrace (28/12/2012)
 David, who was visiting from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam:
At smoothie stall on St. 13 (29/12/2012)
The excursion to see David and his ladyfriend was the first one in which I spend any time roaming around Phnom Penh at night without being escorted by family. We took a tuk-tuk from their guesthouse to the riverfront, wandered around for a bit, then put together a dinner of various dishes from street stalls. The meal we made was the kind you'd have on an ordinary night at home-- an omelette with a green called s'ahm, grilled salted fish jerky, string bean stir-fry, chicken ginger stir-fry, and pickles.

It was my first real streetfood meal, and probably the cheapest I've had since getting here. I have little reason to seek streetfood when I'm having wonderful home-cooked meals, and my family was pretty cautious about what we ate for fear of illness. The verdict for me? A negligible bit of IBS in the night, and a slight rash on my right arm the next morning, both of which might just be a coincidence. 

David asked me whether I've explored and "just gotten lost" since I arrived in Phnom Penh, and I talked a bit about how I feel much less independent in Cambodia. I'm not used to being fearful, and articulating the fact that I am is helping me consider breaking out of my comfort zone a little more (though I'll still be appropriately cautious). 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Dispatch from Cambodia, 3

Mom & Dad on a boat on Tonlé Sap
Over the last month, I’ve spent more time with my parents and with my family than I have in the last few years combined. Eight years have passed since I moved out, which was soon after we returned from our first trip to Cambodia. The last time I went on a family vacation was probably 2005. There always school or work to use as an excuse to cover up my painful inability to reconcile my Khmer and American identities... and my preference to remain at a distance rather than confront our difficulties and find middle ground. 

In writing this, I realized a pattern in my search for middle ground: I do it by myself. Hm. 

I spend copious amounts of time agonizing about what the middle ground looks like and how to fit myself into it-- instead of sharing the process with the people I’m trying to find the middle ground with (though I often share it with the internet). 

Now that I see that, I have to muster the courage to change my behavior accordingly. We'll see how that goes. 

On Wednesday, my parents returned to California. I waved goodbye to them through the glass at the airport along with the sisters, cousins, and other relatives they left behind. It was a strange feeling, being there with those who were staying, riding home with them as things returned to normalcy. 

That's what I want out of this stay in Cambodia: not an adventure, but to have a glimpse of what "normal" feels like here. And to create my own version in the brief time I have. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dispatch from Cambodia, 2 // How to Eat a Duck Embryo, Khmer-Style

Last week we went to stay at my aunt's "farm house" in Setbho to spend a day outside the dust, smog, and noise of Phnom Penh. Wherever we are, a family gathering always means rather continuous eating. It's been overwhelming. It's hard to get hungry when I'm often sweating just sitting around. The lucky part is that most meals consist of fish and rice, which means I still feel relatively healthy. 

After the main part of lunch was over, and after everyone recovered a bit from the food coma, pbong tdia kohn time was announced. Also known as balut. This isn't a typical occurrence in the US, where we've become much more faint of heart, and I would usually shake my head and scamper off, but I decided to go for it this time. My 8-year-old cousin was rumored to be able to eat six or seven, which added to my motivation. 

I'd always seen pbong tdia kohn eaten in the shell, but this time I saw some relatives cracking it into a bowl. Since I managed to open the egg at the wrong end (meaning the larger end, which leaves space to tuck in seasonings), I had to go this route:
It's not cute, I know. And to be honest, I only ate the yolk, which makes me feel like a cheater. I gave it another try, opening it at the correct end this time, which allowed me to use an egg cup (aka a tiny tea cup).
I was used to seeing the salt, pepper, and lime juice as seasonings for the egg, but not herbs. Herbs truly make everything better. I'm not sure whether what we used was a variant of Thai basil, or some other herb, but it was fragrant, slightly sweet, and quite a nice compliment.

Alas, once again, I failed to bring myself to try eating the little partially-formed chick inside the egg. I told this to a relative, and she gave me these tips for next time:
  1. Make the hole just barely big enough.
  2. Break up the egg inside with the handle of the spoon after adding the seasonings.
  3. DON'T LOOK AT IT when eating.
The last tip is my favorite. I think the duck embryo feast was a just-this-once kind of thing, which is fine by me. I'll tuck these tips away for next time. And hope that the eggs are even younger so I won't have to think about feathers.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dispatch from Cambodia, 1

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From Soriya Mall
I'm sitting in my uncle's pleasantly air-conditioned and WiFi'd house in Phnom Penh. I'll be here until tomorrow, when I return to my aunt's house across town, which I affectionately call the Mosquito Farm. I haven't been as itchy since I've been out of the 90-degree heat. According to my aunt-in-law, Phnom Penh is unusually warm right now-- she's usually able to wear long-sleeved shirts at this time of year. Since I'll be here until late February, I'm hoping to experience some of that weather before I leave. 

So far I've traveled with my family to Battambang, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Pailin, Bokor National Park, Sihanoukville, Kep, Kampot. There's been a lot of time sitting in a van, crossing the country on roads of varying quality. 

I have a strong attachment to Cambodia, but this trip has made me even more aware that I'm a Khmer American. Being able to speak passable Khmer and slowly learning the alphabet don't change the fact that I feel... different. At this point, it's probably smart to just accept that difference rather than keep worrying over it or fighting it or trying to fit somewhere. 

In college, I wrote a poem calling myself a "second-generation mess." I'm starting to let go of it, and of the insecurity that made me call myself that, but I still have a strong feeling of being adrift, belonging nowhere. Then again, that's also the intention I set for myself, because I want to be everywhere. Emotionally, it's not as easy as it used to be, or maybe just not as easy as I once thought it would be. But I'm here, being.

One day at Angkor Wat really wasn't enough. Hope to head back for a longer stay.