Thursday, January 29, 2015

Finding Hope in the Streets of Cambodia

Growing up, I never thought I'd visit Cambodia which was called "Kampuchea" back in the days when I still had to take Geography quizzes. Reports of horrible genocide dotted the news, and the award winning movie, The Killing Fields, loomed large in my formative years. Even after the Khmer Rouge's rule ended, they left the legacy of a decimated population and a maze of landmines throughout the country. It was the furthest place from a vacation spot that I could imagine.

438 anti-personnel mines and 809 unexploded ornances (UXOs) cleared from around Beng Mealea temple
The work is still ongoing.
Dogs are trained to detect them... and stop before triggering an explosion. 

Gradually though, the country has begun to heal itself. Instead of death and destruction, people come expecting to experience the wonders of the ancient Angkor temples. The Kingdom of Cambodia, as it's now officially called, has seen tourism grow by roughly 20% each year. I definitely feel that if I go back, visiting the temples will be a different, more crowded, experience. Comparing my trip to photos I saw in other blogs' posts, the temples are in the process of being superficially altered to handle bigger crowds — like adding boardwalk paths to keep visitors out of the mud and also control where they wander. It's getting harder to feel like Indiana Jones.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cambodian Snack Food: Bamboo Sticky Rice

It's Girl Scout Cookie time where I live in Texas. When we moved back this summer from Malaysia, I was so grateful that an existing Girl Scout troop was able to squeeze in my daughter that I uttered the words, "I will do anything to help." That, in short, is how I ended up being the Cookie Mom, the person who coordinates this fundraiser for our troop. If you're not familiar with Girl Scout cookies, they are only available in an area for 4-6 weeks, and they are HUGELY popular, especially Thin Mints. Girls sell them at booths outside stores on the weekends, and some parents sell them at work. American expats in Malaysia will hopefully ask that friends send a few boxes over. Even hardcore foodies who have sworn off all processed foods make an exception for Girl Scout Cookies.

To get my mind off of American cookies, I am turning my thoughts to Cambodian snacks.

You've heard of street food. What about highway food? The highway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is lined with stands selling Krolan (Bamboo Sticky Rice).  It's very similar to a dish I've seen in Thailand and Malaysia. The smoke rising up from the charcoal brazier is what first caught my eye, and then I noticed what initially looked like scrolls of parchment paper in baskets on tables. No one seemed to have a very big operation, but the stands were plentiful.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Couldn't Believe They Carried That on a Motorcycle

One thing that always amazed me about Asia was what people carried on the back of a motorcycle.

Some things don't give me much pause. A passenger on back? People in Texas do that all the time. Although, a Buddhist monk as the passenger is something I've never seen in the USA.

A Buddhist monk (Cambodia)

I sometimes see whole families including kids and even babies all sharing one bike. Coming from Texas where kids are required by law to sit in a car booster seat until they are 8-years-old, this type of sight was hard for me to get accustomed to. I get it, though. Cars are expensive, and for a lot of families in Asia, one motorcycle is the only way to get the whole family around town.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Have you tried Fresh Nutmeg?

I used to think of nutmeg as just an aromatic, brown, powdered spice that I added to my Christmas cookies and desserts. The smell of it brings to mind the image of festive holiday decorations, presents under the tree, and sipping eggnog by a roaring fire. Tasting it is like jumping headfirst into a Currier and Ives print.

Then, I moved to Malaysia and discovered fresh nutmeg. It tastes fruity and light — nothing like the spice. I love nutmeg juice which is a refreshing antidote to heat and humidity. It's a treat you should make sure you try if you visit Penang island. While it's not native to Malaysia, nutmeg trees were cultivated in Penang in the late 18th century by the British East India company as a way to expand their lucrative spice trade.

Nutmeg fruit

Today's guest post is written by 13-year-old Sean K. and photographed by 11-year-old Isaac K., two of the wonderful Malaysian kids I met while living in Penang. Their family and some friends toured the small, family-run Ghee Hup Nutmeg Farm and factory, and I asked them to share their visit with you.
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