And Just Like That, It’s All Coming to a Close

This is it! I had my last day of Khmer language class today. My test is over and my presentation is complete!

This must have been the most difficult six weeks in my academic career. I’m lucky that a lot of things come easy to me; foreign language does not. I’ve had nine-hour school days just to go home and study for several hours more, drilled my brain with new concepts and words, and generally immersed myself in this program.

I knew an accelerated course would be tough, but I had no idea how much content we would truly pack into this month and a half. I probably end up doing more work than this during the school year, but the difference is the type of work. At least with several slower classes I can take a break from a subject if I need one. With this course, I had to power through without stopping.

I feel like I gained valuable skills from this class. My language has improved tremendously over this last six weeks, arguably progressing more than I have in my two years of language courses. Immersion does wonders. I’m able to carry on conversations and understand more than ever before. Even beyond language, I feel as though I’ve learned some other important things as well. Determination was essential, discipline mandatory, and sheer willpower to carry me through.

This course has taught me about what it means to be a hard-working and driven student, from accepting your challenges and working to correct them, communicating problems with your professors, asking for help if you need it… All of these are things that I’ve had to do in this class, and many that I’ve refused to do before. Moving forwards, I need to remember this.

Overall, I’m so grateful to my professors, the coordinators of this program, and my amazing host family. Thank you for helping me learn so much.

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My Weekend in Krong Kampot

Despite this being my third time in Cambodia, I have never made it to the beautiful Kampot.

I was in awe of the scenery. I haven’t yet seen a place in Cambodia with so many mountains (or hills, I suppose). Most of my weekend was unfortunately consumed by studying, given that my final test is coming up in only four days now. Fortunately my hotel had a pool, so I was able to take a dip every so often and lay out in the sun while I studied.

I did manage to make it out just a little on Saturday morning. I went to see a cave in one of the nearby mountains, and also to visit a pepper farm.

My guide and I clambered up 200 or so steps. I chose to take the easy route, as my guide pointed to a cliff and said the hard route used only vines to climb up the surface. Given the inside of the cave, I don’t doubt it. The cave had a beautiful little temple dating clear back to the 1300’s, even before Angkor wat, a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Shiva. The way down was the really interesting part: the drops were steep, climbing through the cave and sometimes lowering myself down about six feet or so. The truly terrifying part was when I had to climb upwards on the side of the rocks directly next to a twenty foot drop to craggy rocks below. I was painfully aware the drop would cause some serious injuries, but we made it through safe and sound.

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Kampot is known for its pepper, a major export which is highly praised by cooks around the world for its qualities. The farm I visited was called La Plantation, which prides itself on organic growing and uses no chemicals in their production. They also provide housing for their workers, should they choose to live on the farm.

Growing the pepper is a complicated and carefully designed process. First, the ground is tilled and any large rocks or roots are removed. Four-meter poles are placed in the ground to tie the growing pepper plant to. After one month the sprouts come up out of the dirt. After one year the plants are as tall as the poles, but the pepper isn’t ready yet; for the first two years, the flowers are trimmed off because the pepper isn’t of a high enough quality. The third year, they begin harvesting.

After harvest, the pepper is processed to become red, white, or black. All three come from the same plant, but are treated differently after harvest to produce the different varieties. The black comes from green kernels. The red is soaked and sundried, or the skins are removed to create white pepper. The farm also produces long pepper, and a tiny kernel called pearl pepper.

In addition to growing pepper, the farm also produces saffron and other various herbs.

Overall, a lovely and much-needed getaway.

My Typical Day in Cambodia

I wake up around six every morning with the full intention of working out a little bit… but usually end up hitting snooze for another half hour.
Breakfast at seven, rice (or sometimes rice porridge) and eggs, pork, or fish. For breakfast here, we eat about the same thing as for the other meals.
We study in the morning for four grueling hours… Learning vocabulary, making sentences, translating pages from our books… When I was in Khmer class at the University of Utah for two hours, I thought that was tough. Staying attentive through four hours of mentally taxing work is incredibly difficult. 
We have a two hour break for lunch. My classmates and I typically walk to the Russian Market, very nearby, and eat at one of the restaurants surrounding it. I’m partial to Bahn Mi Bros, but we found a Japanese restaurant recently that’s really good too. Usually we have time after eating to run some errands or study a little more before class starts again. On a really rough day I take a nap in the corner. I’ve figured out how to arrange the chairs to perfectly match the shape I sleep, slightly curled up and on my side.
We study for another hour with our teachers, and then have the afternoon to either be taken out on a field trip with one of our professors or stay at the school to do our own work. We can study the class materials, or work on our final research project. Mine is about Voluntourism in Cambodia, so I’ve been reading a lot of very depressing things about the orphan trade.
At night, I go home and study for a bit before dinner. My host mother is an amazing cook. We sit on the floor together, and usually one of my host father’s brother and his family joins us as well. We always have fruit after dinner, and sometimes a dessert.
More studying… If I lucky, I have a light workload and can take time to play with the kids or chat with others in the family. With class winding down, though, I’ve had a lot less leisure time.
Once everyone else drifts off to bed, I stay downstairs and stretch a little. I’ve found that this helpsy stress levels.
I end up in bed around eleven after taking some time to decompress. Then, at six, I wake up and do it all over again.

The Water Blessing

Yesterday I had the privilege of going to a pagoda to receive a water blessing from a monk.

When you arrive at a pagoda it is expected that you bring an offering of something that is useful to the monks. Typically our class brings incense and candles, drinks, and sometimes sweetened condensed milk. You sit before the monk and bow three times, placing your hands on your forehead and then on the floor each time. The monk says a blessing over the offerings and the people who bring them.

In Cambodia, the monks often play dual roles both of monk and sometimes as fortune teller. Our teacher asked the monk if he would be willing to tell our fortunes and he agreed. He pulled out a huge book, which I presume to have had written fortunes for each year and the time of year it was. I gave him my birthday and sign according to the Chinese and Cambodian years (which happens to be a rat). He told me that I don’t always listen to my family, but listen to my friends too much. He said that sometimes this leads to me being taken advantage of. For me, this year is supposed to be a good one but that next year will not be. He also said that since the angel guarding my sign is a male I am strong, and when I set my mind to something I will be sure accomplish it. I’m not sure how much I believe of fortune telling, but perhaps it’s good to keep in mind.

After we all had our fortunes told, we went back to receive the water blessing. In my sleep deprived state, I had managed to pack two extra shirts and no shorts. Fortunately, they were equipped with spare skirts and I was able to borrow one.

One of my classmates, my teacher, and I chose to receive the blessing. We sat in a small tiled room with our backs to the monk. We held our hands in a praying position. The monk began to chant something, and I heard the sounds of splashing. All of a sudden, a giant bucket of water was dumped on my head.

The blessing went on for around five minutes, and every few seconds another bucketful came crashing down on my head. I was soaked.

Afterwards we changed out of our soggy clothing into the replacements we brought and headed home. The blessing is supposed to bring one luck, so I hope it works.

A Female Doctor?!

I haven’t watched Doctor Who in a long time, but I’m about to start again.

After 54 years, the creators of Doctor Who have decided to instate a female doctor. This announcement of a female Doctor has me so excited.

Yet, I keep hearing the cries of people claiming that this is breaking tradition, that a woman could never be the doctor, that we are ruining their childhoods, that the show has just lost a fan, and more and more.

This new era featuring strong female leads in the media is wonderful, and long overdue. Let me tell you why it’s so important…

I grew up in an era where practically every superhero and every strong lead was a man, and women were just plot devices to be used as hostages or love interests. Playing games on the playground, I had to either be a man or be a princess waiting to be saved. The number of times I was told I couldn’t even act like a boy was ridiculous.

When you watch shows as a child and almost all the characters are men, especially all the strong leads, it can be really damaging to young girls. If you grow up being constantly told, both literally and through subliminal messaging, that you are not and cannot be strong, you start to believe it.

Boys get superheroes saving the world. Girls get Disney princesses who have to wait to be rescued by the prince, and that sends a strong message. Girls are supposed to need a strong man to “protect” them, when in reality we are perfectly capable of protecting ourselves.

Even when women are featured in a lead role, they are often sexualized. Women leads wear tight fitting suits, use low cut dresses to seduce bad men, and are generally otherwise made more “desireable” than men. Never once have I seen a movie where a man uses a v-neck t-shirt to display his bulging muscles for the purpose of tempting the bad guys into giving away their plan.

Female leads are emerging. Wonder Woman was incredible, depicting badass fighting scenes that empowered women and practical costuming. Star Wars features a female jedi who can easily carry her own weight. Movies like Moana and Frozen target young audiences where girls can see women acting in power.

Girls can finally have role models who encourage them to be strong and independant, and I am thrilled.

So, thank you. Thank you so much for the inclusion of strong female leads after such a long wait. Thank you for giving girls strong women to look towards, to impersonate on the playground, to dress up as for Halloween, to wear on t-shirts. Thank you for helping to send the message to girls that they are strong, and beautiful, and smart.

And thank you for helping me look with positive outlook toward shows such as Doctor Who and the future they promise.

How to Make Ban Chaew

So far, my absolute favorite thing I’ve had to eat in Cambodia is a dish called Ban Chaew. Ban Chaew is basically the Cambodian mix of crepes and lettuce wraps, a thin yellow pancake with meat and vegetables inside that you wrap in lettuce and dip it into a side sauce. You can find it pretty easily just about anywhere in the street carts… that is, if you’re here. I’ve been dying to learn how to make it so that I can bring this delicious food home with me, and today I got my wish!

The crepes themselves were much more difficult than expected, especially because we used a wok to cook them over a small fire pit!

In case you wanted to try making it for yourself, I included the recipe below. It should feed five or six people.

Sauce:

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 chili pepper

.25 cloves garlic

.5 cup fish sauce

.5 cups lime juice

1 can of Sprite or 7 Up

 

Filling:

1 cube vegetable stock (crushed)

1 gram ground pork

1 gram ground chicken

1 yellow onions (chopped)

2 tablespoons oil

4 cups bean sprouts

 

Crepes:

400 grams rice flour

10 grams turmeric

2 tablespoons oil

1 can club soda

2 eggs

2 cups of water

Instructions:

Grind garlic and chili pepper together until it makes a paste. Add in sugar and salt, then grind again. Add fish sauce, lime juice, and Sprite or 7 up. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.

Pour oil in pan, then add the yellow onions and cook until soft. Add pork and chicken. Once no longer pink, add in the vegetable stock cube. Remove from heat, and gently mix in the bean sprouts. Set aside.

Mix the rice flour and turmeric together, then add water and club soda. Add eggs in, and whisk until smooth.

In a pan (non-stick is much easier) wipe with oil and pour in a scoop of the batter. Swirl around, then cover with a lid for a minute or so. Remove lid and place filling in the center. Place the lid back on. Once the edges of the crepe begin to lift, fold in half and place on a plate.

Serve with a large plate of lettuce and your choosing of fresh vegetables.

RIP, Larsen C.

I’m going to take a quick break today from my travel posts. Yesterday, the Larsen C ice shelf that has been developing a massive crack finally broke off. It is approximately the size of Delaware.

This break itself doesn’t constitute concern; however, the Larsen C ice shelf is the smallest it has been since the end of the last ice age. Larsen A and Larsen B have totally disappeared.

But why does it matter if the ice melts? No one lives there, and it’s far too cold to ever inhabit.

As the ice grows warmer and begins to feed into the ocean, water levels rise. If water levels continue to rise at the rate they have, there is a whole slue of difficulties that arise. I’ve written about future water issues before, but here’s a few reasons why this is a large problem:

  1. Land loss: as ocean levels rise, lower ground will be covered in water. People will be displaced, leading to massive amounts of refugees.
  2. Water corruption: seawater will encroach on freshwater sources, rendering them undrinkable and unusable in agriculture. With freshwater already becoming scarce in some areas of the world, less drinkable water will have tragic effects.
  3. Ocean wildlife is already being affected by the rise in the ocean’s temperature and will continue to lose life, and species will go extinct.

The loss of Larsen C, along with the rising ocean temperatures and other environmental concerns, indicates a huge problem building up for our Earth.

The USA recently withdrew from the Paris Agreement, which placed restrictions on countries and the pollution and environmental impact they put out. As a global leader, the example our country sets produces effects worldwide. An act such as this, blatantly ignoring the upcoming crisis, our withdrawal can have large consequences.