Note: *4,000 riel is the equivalent of $1.00 USD
This past week I went on an adventure to explore the local flavors of Cambodian cuisine. While there are many good restaurants to choose from I decided to go native and ditch the air-conditioned establishments for the flavors of the street to show where and how most Cambodians eat. My street food extravaganza was filled with pungent aromas, intense flavors, and interesting textures.
One of my favorite songs is James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind”. Though I’m not from Carolina, the song reflects a universal feeling of being homesick, when one is far away from the place where fond memories were made, where you were among people who shaped you, and where everything seemed familiar.
While I love being in Cambodia, there is a part of me that is feeling a bit homesick. This feeling seems to grow stronger as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are approaching. Growing up in the U.S. we never really celebrated these holidays in the traditional American way. We didn’t have turkey, ham or mashed potatoes but Yao Hon or Cambodian Hot Pot, a meal composed of a savory broth, assortment of meat and vegetables and nom banh chok (thin rice noodles).
This past weekend we took a road trip to Mondulkiri, a remote province in Northeastern Cambodia. The natural beauty of this rough terrain was like no other place I have seen in Cambodia. It was a rare opportunity to get out of the urban jungle to see the real jungle and enjoy the true splendor of nature.
Yesterday marked the 60th year when Cambodia reclaimed her sovereignty from French rule. Yet, the road to independence was not always easy and the years that followed would lead to decades of political instability.
My mother, Sakhan, was born in Takeo Province, Bati District in 1940. She has witnessed many of Cambodia’s historical transitions, from living under French rule, independence, civil war, to finally the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Now she is back in Cambodia witnessing a new phase of the country’s political development. While she loves her country, and her heart belongs here, there will always be a part of her that fears Cambodia’s peace and stability could fall apart at any moment. This fear started at a young age when her first childhood memories were of grenade attacks and arrests...
(I first visited Cambodia in 2004 with my parents. This story was originally published on the World Bank website in 2004 and recounts my first unforgettable experience with the country I would reclaim as my homeland. So much has changed in Cambodia and in my life since then. As I look back on this story and the photos I remember why this visit was so special and why I came back to live here nine years later).
April 5, 2004—My eyes swelled with tears when the plane touched the runway of Phnom Penh International Airport. All I could see from the window were the lazy palm trees and the barren rice paddies.
It had been 25 years since I left Cambodia. My only previous memory of the country was a blur. I was four years old when my family escaped the civil war in 1979. I can still recall sitting on my dad’s shoulder and holding tight as he ran away from bombs in the distance...
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