Saturday, March 28, 2009

The great thing about living in Siem Reap

for me, is that I get to meet interesting people all the time. Just the other day, Alan and I went to vet/pet store here in Siem Reap and met an interesting German man of Korean parentage. He is retired and bought a huge piece of land (I cannot remember how big exactly but it was in the hectares!). He is done with city life and bought a farm where says he plans to grow tapioca and similar things--but has no clue how to go about it! Just like me, a city-girl, when I moved to the countryside.

One of the funniest things when we first moved into our rented house in the Svey Dum Kum village here was discovering that there is a fruit tree that smells literally of the toilet. Before the landlord told us that it was the tree, we were convinced there was a septic tank on the land, and it was the tank that was giving off the smell (there was a concrete bit in the backyard which gave us our suspicions).

It was hilarious, trying to explain the septic tank question to our landlord (you know, a place to store poo and pee and someone comes to collect it? Maybe a truck?). He was so puzzled. Eventually he understood what we were concerned about and explained it was not the toilet--just a tree!

The good thing about the tree is that it only gives out the smell once a year, when it flowers. The fruit is small and round and is eaten when it is green and hard and not yet ripe. Cambodians eat the fruit with salt and chilli, but I've never been a fan.

I am a fan of the local Cherry tree though, and used to stuff my face with the little red fruit. The taste reminds me of barley water, which my mom used to boil for us to drink. This was until I realised that many of the red berries I was plucking directly from the tree already had worms which had spotted the fruit first! I have no idea how many wriggly white fruit worms I have consumed--I prefer not to think about it! My parents remember the Cherry tree from their childhood in Malaya (before Singapore and Malaysia split), but I have never seen a Southeast Asian Cherry tree in Singapore.

So anyway, the nice German man invited us to visit his land one day, which would be interesting.

Then today, this Korean lady literally grabbed my arm as she approached me on my way to work at the Bloom shop. She thought I was Korean and said I look Korean. I was surprised as have never been mistaken for a Korean before because I am not as fair-skinned as Northern Asians. Chinese, Thai, Filipino, Indonesian, Malay--yes (I have what is called a pan-Asian face).

I have been wanting to learn another language (Korean, Japanese, anything) so asked if she would tutor me in Korean while I teach her English (we actually communicated in Khmer!). She told me her husband teaches Korean at a high school here and invited me to her house next week.

I think this is one of the privilege of being an expat--you have the opportunity to meet all sorts of people you otherwise would not have, if you lived in your home country.

Mainly it is because people living in their home countries have their social network already established: family, friends, colleagues, schoolmates etc, so do not have to go out of their way to get to know others. I have been told by expats living in Singapore that Singaporeans are a tough bunch to get to know, because we tend to be reserved and stick to our own kind.

I think it's because we don't feel the need to get to know an expat because we have so many friends of our own. And expats tend to leave so it is hard to develop the kind of friendships that can only come about with time. Having said that I am good friends with a number of Australians from the company I used to work in, and we still keep in touch via email and I've visited them at their homes in Australia after we all left the company. I became close to these former expats in Singapore (all journalists) because we share the same values about equality and justice.

Cambodians are different from Singaporeans in this regard. Cambodians are very happy to get to know foreigners. Partly they'd like to improve their English, but mainly--and I am aware this sounds cynical, but I believe it is true--they hope a foreigner can be of some help to them. Many Cambodians hope for a foreign sponsor because for them, it is often the only way to getting an opportunity to better their lives. So who can blame them? I met a Cambodian girl on the plane back here from Singapore who has a sponsor paying for her education in Singapore. Because of this opportunity, she will have a better life than most here. The young girl said to me food in Singapore is cheap and delicious--I concur!

I like that it is easy to meet people of all nationalities here and therefore easy to pick up a new language. It is also cheap to sign up for a language course here, compared with back home. USD5 an hour will be able to get you a private tutor. I love learning languages simply because I find it interesting.

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