Yesterday was a good day for Bloom. I had invited the volunteers from Singapore Airlines cabin crew for a special lunch menu of Khmer food created by Chantou, our chef who used to work at Malis restaurant. For USD6 (about SGD9) a head the menu comprised:
• Amok Fish Curry (Fish curry steamed in a bed of leaves)
• Beef Loc Lac (stirfried marinated beef on a bed of salad. The dip is a mixture of pepper, salt, sugar and lime. I suppose you could say it is the Khmer version of Thai beef salad)
• Prahok Ktis (Fermented fish paste fried with minced pork and eaten with rice or with raw, fresh Cambodian vegetables like small round brinjals and long beans
• Deep fried Chicken Wings marinated with kreung (Cambodian spices)
• Stirfried morning glory
• Seafood Tomyam soup
• Cambodian dessert of bananas and sago in coconut milk
The SIA team really enjoyed the meal and said it was the best Khmer food they have had in Cambodia. I don’t know if they were just being nice, or it was the atmosphere or the company, but all of us at Bloom (me, Chantou and Ruat, who made the very popular dessert!) were very happy. One guest said it was a nice ending to their trip, as they were due to fly home at 6pm that day.
Although I can’t cook, I helped prepare the food in the morning and was amused to see Chantou separating the leaves of the morning glory from the stems. Cambodians only use the stem in the dish. I said, “No,no, it’s ok, Singaporeans eat the leaves too. In fact we prefer the leaves!” So they purposely cook only the stems! Alan and I have always wondered why we only get to eat wood every time we order morning glory and now we have stopped ordering the dish when we eat out. Come to think of it, it is the same with kale (kailan). We always only get stems too.
I had a fantastic time with the volunteers, updating myself on Singapore happenings and speaking Singlish (Singapore English) with my compatriots. When I described my yuppie lifestyle back home, everybody understood at once. About being a consumer and being seduced by beautiful things you do not need, just cos it’s there, and you can afford it. Some said I had inspired them to do something with their lives. I get that a lot, that I am inspiring, brave etc. But really, for me it was a very simple, personal decision at that point in my life to want to make a difference. I think it will come at different times for different people. Many people in their 50s especially, I have found, have achieved personal satisfaction and are ready to help others. Although I am sure there are those who never awaken and live their whole lives unconscious, as automatons, going through life earning money in order to spend money on many things we do not need. (And I know about needs now, seeing how the Khmers can live with just 3 outfits and a small basket to hold all their worldly possessions).
They also understood parental pressure. One of the volunteers came with his parents and he was saying in front of his mom, “She would never let me live here” and his mom was nodding furiously. Exactly like my parents. Which is why it is always a question I get from Singaporeans and no one else: “What did your parents say?”