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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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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The traditional and modern Khmer women

My Cambodian/expat football team

My inspiring and strong Khmer friends on our football team. Seeing them every week on and off the field is always a great time.

“Cambodian men won’t like me, because I’m independent. They don’t like women who say, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.'”—One of my modern Khmer friends.

I’ve spent a year in Cambodia to date and have met Cambodians in rural villages and the heart of the busier cities in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh around the country. I’ve become very accustomed to seeing women who always greet you with a smile, often timid, and who have been raised to become a good wife to somebody, especially in the rural villages where over 85% of the Cambodian population lives.

Traditional Khmer women
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I’ve learned from my close Khmer friends, including those who have grown up in the cities, that their parents didn’t support their education because they were girls and prefer to send the boys to school. They would essentially say, “What’s the point? You are going to be a housewife so you need to learn to cook and clean the house.”

A “good” Khmer woman is a woman who does not speak back against authority, parents or their husbands. They are responsible for managing the house and taking care of the children while many of their husbands drink, laze around or cheat with other women. I don’t want to generalize but around Asia, particularly rural areas, this is a very common problem among the men. And the women often just tolerate it.

Modern Khmer women

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More of my confident, intelligent and talented Khmer friends at the one year anniversary at King’s Road restaurants.

 

I have been meeting more women in in Cambodia, particularly in sports groups and NGO employees, who very much surprise me with their boldness, confidence, LGBT friendly attitude, humour and sometimes sexual jokes. They are very liberal even by Western standards.

I very much admire and respect some of my friends who went against their parents wishes, which is very difficult in a culture where you are trained to respect and obey your elders from the moment you are born, and they fought to go to school anyway because they wanted to learn so they found a way to get their own scholarships or pay for their own education. In my previous post, I spoke about some of my strong friends who went against their parents to pursue their passions.

Socially, my modern Khmer friends are very outspoken, don’t take BS from anyone, especially men and earn their own money to live the way they want and learn whatever they want. We see each other at least twice a week and always enjoy a good laugh and be as loud as we want. They are one of the funniest people I’ve met in my life of all the places I’ve been in Europe, Mauritius, Asia and North America.

I know my friends will educate their daughters and their sons to respect women and I hope in the next generation this mentality spreads in more parts of the country.

 

 

This generation of inspiring Khmer women

Apologies again for delayed posts, it’s been a crazy two weeks of life transitions, getting a bad cold in a country that is at least 27 degrees on any given day and social obligations.

I’ve met some more inspiring and strong Khmer women on my soccer team that plays games weekly. In many traditional Cambodian households, particularly rural areas of the country, which over 85% of the population lives in rural areas, many Khmer girls and women are expected to become housewives and are often not supported to attend school.

When I joined my first game, we did the usual introductions then one of my friends told me, “I’ve been playing football since I was small. But when I was young my father cut my ball in half because he said women do not play soccer and should learn to clean and cook. But he could not stop me and after a long time, he finally understands he cannot stop me. Women empowerment!”

I learned that this same friend was sponsored to attend a five-day program that uses football to also empower women too, which is amazing. When I first joined football, I wasn’t expecting to as many Khmer people playing as there were. But I’m very happy especially to see more women playing than I expected.

Another one of my teammates told me that her family often discouraged her from going to school and only supported her brothers’ education. But she found her own scholarship that enabled her to go to university. She was the first woman in Cambodia to graduate at the top of her marketing class at her university. Now she earns much more money than most of her male colleagues and uses her extra money to buy good books for her younger siblings.

Another teammate is raising her niece in addition to her own children but she keeps reinforcing the important of working hard and always learning. She provides everything that her niece needs to thrive.

While there may be some NGOs that have some impact with advancing women’s rights, it’s ultimately the women like my friends who will have the biggest influence to change the mentality of the next generation and their siblings to value education and support the empowerment of women.

 

Belated Blog Action Day

My friend’s sister and her adorable daughter in Banteay Meanchey province, Cambodia.

Ok I’m two days late for posting on Blog Action Day on the topic of inequality. When I read the announcement of the topic “inequality.” The very first thing that came into my head was, “women.”

I’ve been fortunate to grow up in Vancouver, Canada where, for the most part, I haven’t felt deprived of opportunities because I’m a woman. Yes of course there is still discrimination on Canada in terms of pay and I have been underestimated at times because I’m a girl.

I grew up mostly playing with boys because I enjoyed sports. When I was 10, almost all of the girls would chat during our school breaks while the boys played football or rugby. I always thought that was much more fun than just talking. Guys would often be embarrassed when I would kick their ass they their friends would tease them that they got beat by a “girl.” To which I would then reply, “Girls are good too.”

I always believed in women’s rights to choose any career they want, have the freedom to live a lifestyle they choose, study whatever they’d like and have the choice to not get married or have kids if they so please. And after living in Asia for a year and being in my home island-country Mauritius in Southeast Africa, I have never felt more passionately about empowering women and wanting every woman to have equal rights to men around the world.

After spending time in cities and remote villages in Laos and Cambodia, my blood boils when I see and hear so many stories of women who have no say when they get married, particularly when they are only 13 to 20 years old. In Laos, women often stop their schooling once they are married and have no say in their marriage or lives. They are slaves to the country’s customs.

In Cambodia, one of my friends works incredibly hard for her money and to support her family to the point where she has no savings for herself. But she really wanted to buy a sexy 125 cc motorcycle. But in Cambodia, “good Cambodian girls” don’t ride motorcycles because they look like a “gangster” or it’s not ladylike. She told me how so many people discouraged her from buying it and I told her, “That is even more reason for you to get it. Show them you can get it.” She said, “I work hard for me money and I want to buy it for myself.”

I’m very happy that she has been sporting her bike the past year. When people like her start to willingly dismiss old mentalities, this is where change happens.

Communities would absolutely crumble without all of the work women do for the house, children and their families. They give so selflessly, whether it’s voluntary or not, and expect very little in return. And what’s sad, however, is often women themselves pass on these old customs to their children and the cycle of inequality continues. The women demand so little of their husbands to help around the house instead of spending most of their time drinking, smoking and waiting to be served.

However, it’s interesting being in Siem Reap and seeing what’s happening in Cambodia with this next generation. Some of my female friends are incredibly driven and value education and they will pass that on to their own children. This is where change happens.

I’m not trying to sound like a man-hater because I’m not. I have been so grateful to meet the unique, unfortunately, a minority of men, who do domestic work, cook for their families and take good care of their kids. I’ve met many genuine and gentle men who have such great characters and are great models for how men should be and act around women.

So my wish for women and men around the world is that they are able to go to school, determine their own destiny, stand up freely against injustice and be able to choose the life they want to live.

Daauw homestay guesthouse in Huay Xai, Laos

This is where people can relax, buy the women’s handmade crafts and enjoy a wonderful meal.

Now I’m backtracking to October 2013 when I was in Laos. I stayed alone in Huay Xai to do a three-day ziplining tour. I stayed at a random guesthouse the first night I was there. As I walked up to the temple, I saw a sign that pointed to a homestay, which always appeals to me.

When I went, I met the family who runs it. The family is originally from America and they run this wonderful guesthouse in collaboration with other Laos families. They teach the women life skills, women’s rights and sell the women’s handmade products at their Women Empowerment Shop. It’s a beautiful environment they’ve created and all of the revenue from the guesthouse is invested in empowering the families.

These are the daughters of some of the women who participate in the workshops.

In Laos, many women, especially in rural areas, don’t have many rights or a space to express their opinions in their lifetime. They are second class citizens and very submissive to men. The legal marrying age for girls in Laos is 15 years old and they often stop school as soon as they become a wife.

Given the challenges girls and women face in Laos, I was impressed that Daauw Homestay was running these programs for women because these kinds of projects can be controversial among the local people or condemned.

I enjoyed dinner with the founders and other guests.

The couple has an adorable story themselves. The guy was traveling for years and when he only went to the U.S. for a few weeks, that’s where he met his wife and she continued on the journey with him. Now they have three beautiful children who attend a local school and learning Laos.

Because they’re just across the border to Thailand, they have been renewing their visa for years by taking the boat ride across the water every month.

A family’s kids who were playing with Laos kids.

Around dinnertime, I walked back to Daauw Homestay to have dinner with the family. For about $4 US, you could eat as much as you wanted of whatever they were serving that night, which included rice and several stir fried veggies.

I spoke with the family and a few of the other guests who were at the home. While we ate, their children were playing with the children of the Laos women who lived and worked at the guesthouse. It was a beautiful and open environment.

These are some of the beautiful crafts made by the Laos women.

After my 3-day ziplining tour was over, I stayed one night at the guesthouse with a woman who was on my tour. She was from France and was traveling around Asia long term.

We got along well during the tour, she was very easygoing. During our dinner with the family and guests, I chatted with another retired French couple who was traveling in Asia. They were going to make their way down to Siem Reap so I told them a bunch of advice on places to go.

These are some young girls taking one of the classes.

The room was very comfortable and it was about $8 US for the entire room. There was a fan and clean bathroom. It is probably the nicest place to stay in the Huay Xai, which is a very small city, not only because of the cleanliness but the people there who create a welcoming and warm environment.

I love places like Daauw that create an open environment and attract a certain type of guest and it’s an easy place to come alone. I encourage any person to say here if they want a comfortable place to stay, meet wonderful people and also support the women who are gaining valuable life skills.
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DSC_0472 He is one of the founders of Daauw Homestay.