The next generation of female footballers

footballI first joined a football team in October 2014 in Siem Reap and I thought it was mainly going to be expats who played. But I was very happy to see many Khmer (Cambodian) players and more women playing than I thought there would be. The reason I was surprised is because there are still many families who don’t encourage or allow girls to play sports and often raised to be housewives.

I always admire the strong women on my old football team because several of them went against their families’ wishes for them to stop playing football or go to school. They found their own jobs and funded their own education to enhance their knowledge and skill while continuing to find ways to play the sport that they love so much. We recently had a friendly game with a team of teenage Cambodian girls who were trained by a professional coach. I was ecstatic to see how fast, coordinated and well these young women played. They beat us but we were lucky to even get a few goals in for that game because they were so good. Football

One of my teammates coaches young Cambodians to play and I hope to see an increasing number of young women playing football to increase their confidence and so they continue to have the belief that they can play as well or do anything that the boys are allowed to do.

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Mega catchup on posts

This has been my very bad habit with my travel blog. I was taking my parents around for two weeks and then began catching up with friends and work in Siem Reap.

I have so much to share and write about including how to find food for less than $3.00 a meal in Singapore, how the food in Bangkok makes non-shoppers like me enjoy the malls, and VIP treatment from the heart in Cambodia.

More to come next week after I catch up on some other writing assignments.

Thank you for your patience and for people who have recently subscribed to my blog.

Our 5-hour biking adventure in the Angkor jungles

2I’m incredibly lucky to not only be living in Siem Reap, just 8 km away from the Angkor Wat complex, but having amazing Khmer (Cambodian) friends who often lead us through beautiful bike rides in the jungle.

I haven’t paid the US $20 entry fee to get into the Angkor complex most of the times I’ve gone because most people can get in the area, not the temples, if you come in through the jungle, often by bike.

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We planned to meet at 7 a.m. at our friend Dara’s restaurant for breakfast and he got his staff to prepare rice soup for us. When I asked how much the bill was he said, “No problem, we just enjoy together.” Such typical Cambodian hospitality.

I recruited two Western people I met to join the ride. The day before I warned them, “I’ll be honest with you, for the ride tomorrow, I don’t know if we’ll ride 20 km or 60 km in the day. All I know is we’re meeting at 7 a.m. and I’m just going to follow them.”

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We were about 10 people in our group and no one really knew the way through the jungle routes, but Dara seemed to know where he was going. The weather was perfect and we went on beautiful routes around the complex and had a wonderful lunch at one of Dara’s friends’ restaurants. He was nice to give us 50% off of the menu items.

The Cambodian food was delicious and was well-deserved after riding for so long. All of our Cambodian friends have much more stamina than us and could keep riding for a long time. This kind of guided bike ride would cost someone at least US $60 a day to join a tour.

The whole day was beautiful, adventured and filled with fantastic company. One thing I noticed after spending 2.5 years in Cambodia is Khmer people are very patient and flexible when there is someone in the group who is a bit delayed or need to stop for something, many Western people, including myself, would get easily annoyed and impatient. But they are so even tempered and easygoing.

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My friends’ visit to Siem Reap

My friend Eunice (white shirt) came to visit with her husband Nate (red shirt). The newlyweds loved the food of my favourite street restaurant Phai San BBQ.

My great friend Eunice from Vancouver came with her husband Nate to Siem Reap in July to visit me.

I have been friends with Eunice for a few years now and I felt horrible for missing their wedding in May because I was leading a group trip that month. So I was very happy that they took the time during their holiday to come to Cambodia for the first time.

They joined me at my favourite weekly hangout watching the ladyboys at Station Wine Bar in Siem Reap.

To be honest, I didn’t know how our connection would be after I’ve been away from Vancouver for 2.5 years and I saw her just one time in September when I went back to visit friends and family.

Every traveler I’ve spoken with has had a hard time adjusting back to their home country and I felt the strong connection I once had with some friends was lost when I went back to visit.

We saw a traditional dance show on their first night in town.

I was a bit nervous because Eunice had never been to a developing country before and they had just spent time in Singapore with their family, a completely different environment and place from Cambodia. I thought they may be uncomfortable in Siem Reap and have to adjust to so many differences from Vancouver and Singapore.

But it ended up being an amazing time with them and I’m so happy they enjoyed it. They were extremely easygoing, very polite with my friends and just went with the flow. We went to see a traditional dance show, eat at my favourite street food restaurants, see a ladyboy show, and traveled to Phnom Penh together.

At my favourite pool in Siem Reap exclusively for hotel guests. They got full VIP treatment. Thanks to my wonderful Cambodian friend for giving us access.

The day before we went to Phnom Penh, my friend was so kind to let us use the four-star hotel pool that is normally reserved for their guests who pay US $85 to US $220 a night. But because it was about to rain, not many people were swimming and we enjoyed a poolside cocktail, tea and enjoyed swimming in the rain.

They met my friends in Phnom Penh at night and we ended our second night in Phnom Penh with a beautiful view of the river.

I’ve appreciated and loved everyone who has made time to visit me and experience my world in Siem Reap.

 

Taking full advantage of a drink at the poolside bar.

Feeling fresh after our US $2 Cambodian hair wash, head massage and straightening.

Eunice and Nate met my friend and number 1 tuk tuk driver Somroeun and his family the day they returned back in Singapore.

Nate and Eunice looking glamorous again at a post-wedding dinner celebration in Singapore with their family.

The man who found my stolen bicycle in Siem Reap

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Chan the man.

I prided myself in being able to say that I never locked my bicycle in Siem Reap for two years and never had a problem. I’ve left it outside on the busy streets of the Old Market almost every day while I bought groceries and outside restaurants.

One time when my friend and I decided to go dancing late, I left my bike unlocked next to her scooter until 3 a.m. I thought for sure it would be stolen. We walked back to our bikes and they were both there and the last ones left in the pitch dark.

I knew of course if it ever got stolen, it would be my own fault it was my risk. In Vancouver, bikes get stolen within seconds I would never think twice about leaving it unlocked unless I was in a farming community.

The day it finally happened

I was playing at my weekly football game at Goal Academy and as usual, I did not lock my bicycle in the parking lot among many bikes and scooters.

After the game, I went out and couldn’t find my bicycle after looking around the whole lot. Some people thought someone might have accidentally taken mine by mistake.

Of course when someone takes your bike, it’s long gone and I can’t imagine trying to attempt to find it.

Chan, the owner of the small bar and the football field, surprisingly had a video camera tied to his phone and he played back the time I arrived and monitored to see who took my bike.

But the camera was only black and white and there were so many people in the shot, I wouldn’t have been able to spot who took it in the footage. Chan said, “I’ll investigate for you.”

I laughed and said, “No it’s ok please don’t waste your time there’s no way we can get back the bike. Thanks so much though for looking.”

After we looked at the footage for about 20 minutes, we saw a kid take a bicycle, but I couldn’t tell for sure if it was mine. He said, “I know that kid, I’ve seen him hanging around here.”

I left Chan my phone number in case anything turned up, but I was doubtful.

So I thanked him for his time and started making arrangements to buy another street bicycle.

My bike hero Chan

The next morning, I wake up and see a text from Chan. “Hey, I got your bike. It’s in my office, come pick it up anytime.”

Shocked, I asked him, “What? How the hell did you find it?” He said, “I’m FBI.” And I replied, “No you’re way better in FBI. No police in Vancouver could track down a bike.”

When I went back to his bar, he wheeled out my bicycle and asked him again how the hell he found it. He said, “After you left, I spent three hours looking for your bike. I would have felt so guilty if it got taken on my property.

I asked some people if they knew that kid around the market and one guy recognized the kid and knew where he lived. So I found the kid and took back the bicycle.”

I never met Chan formally until that night and couldn’t believe he spent that much time looking for my bike. I told him I’d bring people to his place or treat him a dinner sometime and said, “No don’t worry about it I would have felt bad if something happened.”

Unbelievable.

My wish for all women every day

One of my good Cambodian friends works at a well-known hotel and she is one of the most giving and hard-working people I’ve met. She works almost every day of the week managing the hotel, dealing with customers (often crappy ones too), taking care of her niece and supporting her other siblings and the family, some of whom don’t work at all. She barely has enough money to keep for herself because she takes care of everyone else.

This is unfortunately a very common story for both women and men, but women predominantly.

One day, this friend wanted to buy a nice motorcycle for herself and it cost a bit over US $1000. But in Cambodia, most women don’t ride manual motorcycles, it’s usually the men. Almost all of the women ride scooters. People, including women, told me friend, “This is not good for lady, you should get a smaller motto. It’s better for you.”

Glad she got it anyway despite people telling her not to. It’s women like her that will slowly change the perception of women can and can’t do.

After being in Asia for 2 years, I’ve had the honour of meeting women who have gone against their families’ wishes to educate themselves, go against society’s expectations of what it is to be a “proper” woman and women who work every day to raise and take care of their families without any complaints.

I have met so many strong women in every country I have travelled to and know many strong women in my family and friends and I admire all of them.

My wish is that all women, and men too, have the opportunity to be educated, to get paid fairly for the work they do, to have the freedom to choose who they marry or if they want to marry at all.

Happy women’s day.

Fine fusion cuisine from the Khmer twin chefs

The talented chefs Pol Kimsan (left) and Sok Kimsan (right).

Siem Reap is a food heaven where visitors, locals and expats can try everything from traditional Cambodian food, Indian food to fine French cuisine.

I was very happy I was introduced to two very talented Khmer (Cambodian) women who have worked their way up to become executive chefs at Embassy restaurant, one of the nine restaurants in the Angkor W Group of Restaurants.

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Pol Kimsan and Sok Kimsan have humble backgrounds and have worked hard to integrate their experience working at hotels, restaurants and Michelin Star training in France to create a unique fine dining experience at Embassy.

They first met when they worked at the five-star Victoria Hotel in Siem Reap and have been together through the development of their skills, food experimentation and running the Embassy kitchen.

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I went with friends to experience their five-course menu and was very impressed with the incredible and unique flavours they created. We listened to a personal introduction of each dish by staff before indulging in each of them.

I feel honoured to have had a chance to sit with these inspiring women so they could tell me about their journey first-hand.

Pol Kimsan

Pol Kimsan moved from Kampot to Siem Reap in 2002 and studied at Paul DuBrule hospitality training school for nine months. Her mentors and former colleagues pushed her to challenge herself and her skills.

“I’m from Kampot in the countryside and when I finished high school, I didn’t know what to do and applied to be a teacher. I came to Siem Reap because people said there are lots of tourists. So my uncle brought me here and sent me to Paul DuBrule school where I studied kitchen.

I came and learned English for one year and it was very difficult for me. I got a lot of experience when I trained at the hotel.

After I finished school, I came to work at Victoria Hotel cold kitchen to make things like salad. When I studied, I wanted to be bakery chef because around the world, women chefs cannot become an executive chef. My family is from the countryside so they don’t have a strong opinion on it or know what it is to be an executive chef.

The executive chef at Victoria told me to learn more about cooking food and transferred me from cold kitchen to hot kitchen and I learned a lot from him. When I work with him, I can follow everything that he taught me and he pushed me to make French food.

After I resigned at the hotel, I became the head chef at Champey and controlled the kitchen for another restaurant and got a lot of experience from the owner.

He is one of my mentors and he thought that me and Sok could create our own menu.”

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How did you choose which dishes would make the menu?

The restaurant opened on December 6, 2014 and we invited 15 customers from different backgrounds to try our food. We wanted to keep the traditional Cambodian flavours but with a Western twist. We tried different things but we just had to finally make decisions on the menu.

What message do you have for this next generation of Cambodian women?

We want to grow the young generation of cooks. We want Cambodian women to be a chef like the man.

Sok Kimsan

Sok Kimsan’s culinary skills were developed in Sala Bai training school and she also spent two years at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai. Her family grew up in the Siem Reap province.

Before I did not think I would be a chef. I never wanted to be a chef when I was young. But everybody said if you are a cook it’s better.

I just started learning at Sala Bai and I learned myself. They showed us many kinds of skills, provided training at the hotel and a cooking show in the kitchen. We worked in many difference places to get experience.

I was working in Dubai for two years at Grand Hyatt. It’s good for business but I prefer to live in Cambodia and came back in 2008.

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What message do you have for this next generation of Cambodian women?

My boss is very kind and it is only him to push and he pushed me when my family didn’t. I try to share my experience and teach what I know for the new generation and I tell them to work hard. They have to have confidence in themselves. I want women to be leaders. Women have many ideas.

Both women are part of the chef Association, which aims to promote Khmer food and encourage more Cambodians to go abroad and gain ideas.

When you are in Siem Reap, experience the twins’ fantastic fusion of flavours for yourself and the culmination of all of their culinary experience will be reflected in their food and presentation.

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