Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Khmer New Year

15 April 2011

Sousaday joul ch’nam thmei! Happy Khmer New Year! It's my fifth Khmer New Year - how time flies. I’m working in the Bloom shop here in Siem Reap for the next three days as my team has gone back to their home towns in the provinces. The Bloom women come from all over Cambodia – Prey Veng, Svey Rieng, Kampong Thom, Kampong Cham, etc.

Siem Reap is so quiet today, as most Khmers have gone home for the three- day holiday. There are few tourists around, probably because it’s so hot (my neighbour keeps spraying the ground with water in a bid to keep his shop cool.) The tourists must all be at the pool. It’s so quiet I should close the shop but I keep thinking I’m paying rent and everyday I don’t open and sell something, we are losing money.

I’m taking this opportunity to finally write something for the blog. It’s been three months – the longest I’ve gone without writing I think.

I’ve been so busy since opening the Bloom Garden Guesthouse in September. Already, we are number three on TripAdvisor, which is very motivating to our small guesthouse team. You can see the pride in Kagna’s, Ya’s, Rathy’s and Piseth’s eyes. Every time we move up the ranks they tell each other excitedly and seem more driven to be the best.

The guesthouse business can be tiring – well, it’s as tiring as you make it to be, I suppose. I’m the sort of guesthouse owner who is involved in my guests’ holiday, simply because I’m a people-person, and love, love, love, getting to know new people.

I’m always curious about other people’s lives, so I spend a lot of time with my houseguests, having dinners, hanging out at pubs, talking about the Cambodia I know, and learning about their home countries.

One of the most amazing conversations I had was with a young Israeli couple, who told me most Israelis want peace. They were once on the right track but that process was derailed. I found the couple to be very educated, well-travelled and compassionate and humble. We had $1 tapas and drinks one night together with my expat friends, mostly NGO workers and volunteers. Their friend from Ecuador joined us (first time I’d met an Ecuadorian in my life!) and I learnt Ecuador is one of the biggest exporters of bananas, as well as having oil.

Although tiring, it’s been great fun – I’ve met so many incredible, lovely, amazing people. I will remember always these two crazy Canadian ladies, whom I met at separate occasions, both travelling on their own. I say “crazy” with affection. I love crazy people. With them, what you see is what you get. It’s the ones who appear normal that freak me out, because you never really know what they really think or feel.

One evening Alan says to a mutual friend he doesn’t understand why I invest so much in transient friendships. Well, what is one supposed to do? If I have chemistry, and “click” with someone, I’m not going to hold back and pretend it’s not there, and stop myself from getting to know someone. Anyway, it’s the nature of an expat’s life – friendships are transient because either your friends leave, or you will, someday. If you believe what the Buddhists say, everything is impermanence anyway.

Thank goodness for Facebook for keeping in touch. I do fear the Big Brother aspects of Facebook, something that is always lurking at the back of my mind, but for now, its usefulness outweighs the fear.

Anyway, so between running the guesthouse and the shop, I’ve had no desire to write. I find when my life is full, writing takes a backseat. It’s a shame because I find writing cathartic. If I spent more time writing, I’d probably drink less!

My neighbour, the owner of a restaurant, just told me his four staff members are working today because “they have the Hun Sen spirit; they want to work”. (Hun Sen is Cambodia’s Prime Minister). Yeah, right. I am sure they’d prefer to be with their families during this holiday. But I have a guesthouse now, and I understand there are no holidays for those in the hospitality business. So the staff members at the Bloom guesthouse are working over Khmer New Year. We have real team spirit and I left it up to the team to decide who works when so we’ve planned to take turns going on leave during the holidays. Rathy, who chose to work all through Khmer New Year, gets paid twice the daily rate, as is according to Cambodian law.

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