Sunday, February 28, 2010

Make me an instrument . . . maybe a sralai?

A few of you who know me well may also know my fondness for making lists. Nothing practical like a to-do list (I'm not what they call a planner . . . ), but lists that just help me arrange my thoughts, kind of inspired by Brod's list of sadnesses in Everything is Illuminated, which approach a sort of poetry (Brod's list, not mine). If not poetic, hopefully mine are interesting enough to be worth reading.

Songs I think I hear being played on the sralai (a Khmer oboe, unlike any oboe you've ever heard before!) which are assuredly not actually being played on the sralai:
  • The Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • Simple Gifts
  • Peter and the Wolf (the oboe part, of course, although I forget what animal that is. The duck?)
  • Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy
  • The overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Things the kids call me (just a sampling):
  • Sister
  • Teacher
  • Ann Marie (harder than it seems, believe me)
  • Marie (much easier, evidently)
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Merry Christmas
  • Reat-bot-rei (as close as I can come to approximating the Khmer word for princess . . . the little charmers)
  • P'kah (Khmer for flower, once again, aren't they the sweetest?)
(Mostly) Green foods I'm (still) really enjoying:
  • Maaannnngoooooooes (preferably with chili salt which is not green, but extremely delicious)
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant (As we all know, the eggplant is the king of all vegetables. It is also featured prominently in my favorite Khmer meal.)
  • Tiny eggplants! (Perhaps the princes of all vegetables?)
  • These little olivey-type . . . fruits? I think they would technically be fruit. They're savory, even a little bitter, and they make dining more delicious.
Reasons Chansy's awesome:
Please, do we need more of these? Yes, of course, absolutely!
  • She gives me hot, black coffee (Coffee in Cambodia - and Vietnam - when you can drink it unadulterated, is incredible! It's so rich it's almost like drinking liquour, and nice and strong. Taking in the aroma is almost as good as a sip.)
  • When Chansy and I go out to Phnom Penh, we eat ice cream.
  • Twice!
  • She doesn't question the number of chilis or any other spicy flavor enabler I enjoy in my food
  • Chansy does so much all around FLO. She teaches a class with me, works with the handicrafts, and feeds me, just to name a few of her many duties
  • She is a model of beauty (outward and inward), charm and composure; while being a 100% Cambodian lady she remains admirably capable of friendship with a crazy foreigner like me
  • Chansy is pretty much just straight up the best. I adore this lady!
Creatures with whom I'm sharing living quarters:
  • At least twenty geckos
  • At least one th'kai (another approximation for a Khmer word for a big ol' lizard who makes alternately lucky and unlucky croaking sounds, whenever he wants to)
  • Several frogs, some sticky, many just slimy ~ and for the most part, the frogs live downstairs, actually. One talented little guy regularly sneaked into the corner of my room and formed himself into a perfect circle, just a little drop of a frog, usually just waiting for me to find him under a shoe or backpack. What shenanigans! I miss him.
  • Only occasional mosquitoes, and certainly no yellow fever of any sort
  • One nighttime butterfly
  • Oh, some spiders
Rules about spiders in Cambodia:
  • Spiders in Cambodia must be either fuzzy or capable of leaping great distances, or both (The other day I walked out of my class in the library and saw a spider jumping all over everybody's shoes. "What a cute jumping spider!" I said to myself. I'm not as squirmy around spiders as many folks, but I'd never had a thought like that before. Evidently I've been in Cambodia a little while now)
  • Spiders are not, however, required to have all eight legs. I have a medium~sized fuzzy yellow roommate right now who only has 5 legs. Clearly he's been through a lot. We get along well, although I'd prefer if he'd stop sleeping in my towel. All roommates have their problems, though, I'm sure we'll get through it.
  • Just like you've heard, spiders are edible. I haven't been offered any spider yet, but if I am, and Chansy tells me it's delicious, I will eat one.
Things I've seen geckos do:
  • lack a tail
  • lack most of a tail
  • appear blue (as a prize-winning French bulldog)
  • be in love (NOT making love, although I guess I can only imagine that that was the result; gecko sex is really not an activity I hope to observe. There are a lot of tiny geckos wandering about these days, and I like to imagine that they're babies, although it's just as likely they might be a tiny variety of gecko.)

Perhaps also of interest:

One of my more resent notable interactions with animals involved a particularly persnickety monkey outside Wat Phnom. Chansy and I were snacking on some eggs (with some baby ducks inside them) when a monkey ran up behind us and snatched the empty eggshells off our plate. When he realized they were babyduckless, he crushed them in his hands and threw them on the ground, lept back onto the bench and snagged a (full) egg! He ran off, shook it up and slurped it down right in front of us before preparing to approach again. We bought a bunch of bananas to feed him so he'd leave our eggs alone, but he would have none of it! This monkey was interested only in baby ducks, no banana would appease him. (Leaving Chansy and I to eat the bananas like good monkeys.)
Wat Phnom is also the home of Phnom Penh's only elephant. You might think there'd be more (there is, after all, an elephant hitching post at the royal palace), but there aren't.
The most common ingredient in Khmer cooking is rice, spluh. ('Spluh,' it should be noted, is not an expression of disgust, but a supercoolfuturistic pronunciation of the term, 'duh.' Spluh.) The second most common ingredient, from what I've observed, is salt. I would need to say the word 'salt' or 'salty' three times just to list what I usually have for breakfast, and I've become accustomed to eating fruit with salt, which is amazingly delicious. Chansy gets all happy when I ask for salt with my fruit and tells me I'm Khmer style (the highest of compliments, of course).
Yesterday, in the excitement of all mine and Chansy's adventures mot0~ing about Phnom Penh, I got sunburned. On my nose. The kids think this is just hilarious. Last year, when I was in New Zealand in January/February, I know it was the first time I'd ever had a sunburn in January (or February, for that matter), so I've been trying to recall whether I've ever been sunburned in March before, and I think this is a first for me.

Well there you have it, I updated my blag. I think I'll throw in a photo of Chansy with me, since a lot of this writing is connected with Chansy-related activities. A lot of food, and animals, sure, but sometimes it's just a little too distant to get into the thoughts that fill up my head most of these days.

If you're reading this, I really like you for it!

Also, I miss you all.

Til next time,


  1. Years ago, I was a camp counselor at music camp. Okay, band camp. One of the activities the kids would have would be to form ensemble groups and learn a song. We'd try to match them up by ability and instruments, but invariably there would be a group left over of something like a tuba, a bassoon, 3 french horns and an oboe. Sometimes, some of them could keep time. This is the group that would play "simple gifts".


  2. Hahahe . . . aptly so, apparently. You're great, Kate! Miss you lady!

  3. Lovely photo, and lovely post. Thanks for the sunshine, Merry Christmas!

  4. What a fabulous story- and so uplifting and full of simplicity. Thank you for the wonderful reminders of life miss Ann Marie!