Sunday, August 22, 2010

Various ideas....

Sorry for the lack of updates, but there is not much to report.  Since my last post, I have been staying busy teaching, organizing my health workshop and preparing for my parents’ trip to Thailand and Cambodia.  I spent last week in Kampong Cham helping with practicum for the new group of volunteers.  It was very interesting to see just how far we have come in one year.  It was a nice checkpoint for all of us that went to help with training.  I have also heard a lot about the Kampong Cham province- it is the richest and “most beautiful” province in Cambodia.  While I believe that it is extremely beautiful, Battambang is still my favorite. 

 Chun Liap and Chun Lai.  Too cute to not post this...

On Saturday at noon, I will be taking the bus from Battambang to the border town, Poipet, then to Bangkok.  I will have some time to kill since my parents don’t arrive until 1am, but I think that I will be able to manage.  I can hardly contain my excitement.  I haven’t seen any member of my family in over a year.  Moreover, being away from home really puts into perspective just how important family is.  I have always appreciated and loved my family, but my appreciation has gone through the roof because of all the support that I have received from so far away.  I just can’t wait to see them (and hopefully Pat and Maura for Christmas, fingers crossed!!)

 Phnom Penh during the rainy season.

Since there is not much else to report, I wanted to let you in on something that I have been thinking about for a while….

About 10 years ago (wow, I’m getting old if I can say that), I went with my friend Ann and my little sister Maura to see a movie with Jim Carey called “The Truman Show”.  Jim Carey plays a man called Truman who unknowingly the star of a reality TV show about his life.  There is constant video taping of his entire life and the show is really popular in America, but he has no idea what is happening, so he acts normal. Everything is staged his entire life from his family to vacations to his job and even his marriage. The show is made possible by hidden cameras all over- in mirrors, windows and all the nooks and crannies of his entire life.  Maura and I loved the movie but, of course, took it too far (typical) and looked in every mirror and window with suspicion and carried on conversations whenever we had a theory (The fight I got in with Sara felt staged or do you really think that trip to North Dakota was real?)  We incessantly asked each other for a few months if there was such a thing as “The Kealan Show” or “The Maura Show” and even questioned if the whole world was in on it and there was a show involving both of us called “The Kealan and Maura Show”.  One time when I asked Maura for the umpteenth time if there was a “Kealan Show”, she cleverly replied “no”, then looked in the nearest mirror and mouthed “Cut this! She knows!” while motioning the “cut” sign with her hand.  After it became clear that there was no such show (we were too boring), we let it go, but laughed about it whenever we remembered.  I have been thinking how funny it would be if there was actually a “Kealan Show” right now or rather, just a highlight reel of my life. This idea comes from the few times a day that I am doing something and I say to myself, “Man, I wish my family could see this now…”  “Or what would (insert friend or family members name) say about this if he/she were here!”  The show would just be a hidden camera show capturing all the weird, funny, embarrassing events throughout the day and shown like the “Web gems” on Baseball Tonight. Because most of it would be really boring (me reading, washing clothes, sleeping, drinking water), the show would just skip over that unentertaining stuff and get to the good stuff. Maybe an hour-long show once a week?  Some parts that would make the cut are as follows: when I am riding my bike slow motion against the wind and cursing the bus to Phnom Penh that just cut me off and moto drivers are yelling hello to me and I contemplate throwing a tantrum like my 4 year old host nephew Chun Lai then deciding against it and riding on, slower still.  Or when someone is trying to tell me something in Khmer and I just don’t get it, no matter how many times the person repeats or rephrases what they are saying and eventually I just accept defeat and agree, which one time led to me almost losing my entire eyebrow.  Or when I fell face first over my handle bars over my bike after skidding on the national highway.   Or when I am sitting awkwardly at a wedding sweating more than the entire bridal party while trying to eat rice with chopsticks. Or when my host family tells me in English that we were eating monkey my first night in training (we found out it was chicken, not monkey, through hand motions after I refused to eat it).  It wouldn’t all be embarrassing or funny things though.  There would be heart warming things, essentially the parts of the experience that last a life time and keep me coming back for more.  Like when a student tells me that if she had enough money, she would open an organization that worked with the old, poor and sick to give them the attention and care that they need.  This would be supplemented with a video clip of me talking about winning the lottery with my friends from home and would entail me saying something along the lines of “I would buy an island, fly my family and friends there and throw a month long party.”  Or when a tuk tuk driver or coffee vendor refuses to accept money because I am a volunteer helping his or her country.  Or when one of my students who has struggled with critical thinking expresses himself or herself for the first time.  Or when my host nephew or niece cries when I leave the house or runs out to the patio when I return home, laughing and smiling and wanting to play.  Or when I go to pagoda with my host family and the monks and other members of the congregation ask about me and my host mom puts her hand on my leg in a show of affection and pride to show that I am her “adopted daughter” as she calls me.  See, these blog entries are a great way to express how I feel about what I experience, but it’s totally from my perspective, no matter how hard I try to be objective.  Being an observer would offer such a better idea of what it’s like here, but for now, I hope that this blog will suffice.  I just can’t wait for my parents to make it over and see “The Kealan Show” live, not just the highlight reel.  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Have you eaten rice yet?

Hello family and friends.  I wanted to clear the air on a two topics that people ask me about a lot so I want to discuss them to give everyone a better idea of these two topics, time and food.  I should have done this a long time ago, but I am still learning a lot, so it’s all a process.  Food was a huge part of my life in America and although there have been a lot of changes over the past year, that hasn’t changed. 

So here goes nothing…

Every time I talk to someone from home, I am asked within the first few minutes “What time is it there?”  Not that I get annoyed by this question, but there are many misconceptions. Let break it down for you, I am currently 12 hours AHEAD of Chicago.  So that means when my parents call me on Saturday morning at 7am, that means that it is 7pm on Saturday night in Cambodia.  I am 11 hours ahead of New York and 6 hours ahead of Ireland.  However, Cambodia does not observe daylight savings time, so when that comes around, I will be exactly 12 hours ahead of New York, which means 13 hours ahead of Chicago and 7 hours ahead of Ireland.  But we can cross that bridge when we get there. Just to be clear, if I call my parents in Chicago at 7am on Sunday morning in Cambodia, that means that it is 7pm on Saturday night.  A few times everyday I check my watch and calculate the time difference to my family and friends around the world and guess what they are doing at that very moment.  It’s kind of fun to think about how when I am first waking up in the morning, my parents are cooking dinner.  Or because I go to bed so early and my friends probably sleep in on the weekends, because it is 8pm for me (aka bed time) my friends are still sleeping because it’s 8am for them- just as my day is ending, theirs is about to start. 

Ok, now that we are on the same page.  I was contemplating answering the phone “Hi, it’s 11am on Saturday.  How are you?” from now on. Just kidding.

Food (see pictures for reference): 
My general observation in my past year here is that there are two main kinds of food- fried food and soups.  Sometimes they cross over (fried noodles).  The carnivores of America tend to focus the meal on the meat, but in Cambodia, it is reversed.  The dishes have a lot of vegetables and the meat is sort of in the background.  Imagine just a typical stir fry, that is what I usually eat.  Everything all mixed together and served over rice or eaten alone.  Soups obviously are a mixture of foods already.  There are exceptions to this rules that I just came up with on my own, but it applies to the bulk of the food that I eat. 

While at site, I have a routine when it comes to food.  So this is what my life food looks like over the course of a day or week.

Breakfast: I wake up at 6am and boil water for oatmeal and coffee.  I buy oatmeal in PP and put some sugar and cinnamon in it.  I also try to incorporate some fruit into it, but apples are really expensive and oranges won’t really work.  During mango season, I cut up a mango into the oatmeal, so delicious.  The coffee is either sent from home (hint hint!) or bought in PP for way too much money.  I usually, however, buy my coffee from a little place in town that imports it from Vietnam.  It’s not the greatest, but it does the trick.  Thank goodness for my French press(thanks Mom and Katie!)!!!

Lunch: After teaching or doing whatever takes up my morning, I typically head to what I refer to as “my lunch place” which is essentially just a little stand that makes various dishes and soups.  I opt for some sort of soup and rice.  My personal favorite is a soup that has pumpkin and a bunch of vegetables.  After lunch, I usually head home to chug water.  Sometimes I mix it up and get friend noodles at a different place, but for the most part, I eat at this place during the week.  It is run by a really great Khmer family and I am probably the only foreigner that eats there, but I’m pretty sure that sales have increased since I came to town. This usually happens at 11:30 or 12:00.  Sometimes if I am really hungry, I eat at 10:30. 

Brunch: I try to venture out on the weekend to make sure that I don’t overdo it at my lunch place, which I have done before and avoided going there for a while, which got awkward.  On Sundays, I usually go to mass at 8:30 at my church then go to brunch after.  Now, I am a good Irish Catholic girl that heard the phrase “You can make an hour sacrifice per week and go to church…” on countless occasions.  Well, that is not the case at the church that I attend.  It is at least 2 hours, but I suppose I am making up for all of those hours missed.  You win, God.  So, mass usually gets out around 10:30, so I usually head over the place that Darlene and I refer to as “The Spot”.  The proper title is “Espresso House Cafe” but we coined the term after we began our boycott of this other place that treats its employees terribly.  So the cook quit and opened up “The Spot” and after going there once and falling in love with the family, the boycott was on!  I almost always order banana pancakes or the Special omelet. We go there to order breakfast but end up staying for a few hours just hanging out with the owners (a husband and wife and their 4 children).

Dinner: This is the only meal I eat with my family, unless there is a party or holiday.  We eat around 7:00, sometimes earlier, sometimes later.  Because my family is ethnically Chinese, we eat many Chinese dishes, which are healthier and so delicious.  My mom and sister are really good cooks, so dinner is always enjoyable.  It consists of a bowl of rice for everyone then 3-4 communal dishes.  There is usually a soup and sometimes a fruit.  We have been eating a lot of watermelon with dinner, a fruit that I never really liked before, but I suppose my taste in food has changed.  Sometimes we go out for dinner, but we usually eat at home.  After dinner I hang out with my family, play with the kids, watch the news until 8:00 then I head to my room and read for an hour then “hit the hay”.
 A typical dinner for me.  So delish

My host mom and host brother (who I eat dinner with every night)

Chun Lai and Chun Liap eat dinner in the other room with their mom

Common dishes or common in my life (pardon my phonetics…):
-Rice- I eat it twice a day.  Sometimes 3 times.  
-gwee-tee-you- This is a soup that is eaten for breakfast.  It is rice noodles with broth.  I usually order it without meat, but you can get it with beef, chicken, fish or pork.  I am not a huge fan of eating meat for breakfast everyday, so I usually order it with vegetables. 
-Bye saik cheruck- Translated directly, this means “rice pork”.  It is simply a plate of rice with grilled pork and is usually served with vegetables on the side or soup, sometimes both. 
-Banchayoo- I blogged about this before, but it is my favorite.  It is made by first putting a rice batter on a huge skilled and filled with pork, sprouts, seasoning and carrots.  It is a Chinese dish, I think, but it is another breakfast food and is about 50 cents for one.  It is eaten with various veggies (herbs, lettuce and cucumbers) and dipped into a peanut/garlic sauce.  

-Prohuck- This was essentially a sick joke played buy the French.  Because the French typically love their cheese and dairy is almost impossible here, prohuck is often referred to as “cheese”.  Prohuck, however, does not contain ANY dairy, instead it is fermented fish.  Yep, that’s right, fermented fish.  I thought it was awful at first, but it has really grown on me.  It’s not my favorite, but it’s in many of my favorite dishes. 
-Nompon chuck- Often referred to as “Khmer noodles” and is a curry-like broth with prohock (see above) with rice noodles.  They also put in herbs and some veggies.  I really like it, but it is sort of rare to eat it.  I only have it for celebrations, but many people in the market eat it. 
-Boh-Boh- For breakfast, many Khmer people eat boh-boh, which is rice porridge.  My family eats with grilled fish, but it can also come in a few other forms- garlicky chicken being my favorite.  My family offers me boh boh when I am sick. 
-Mee cha and bye cha- Fried rice and fried noodles are a cheap and easy meal (or for many volunteers, a snack).  You can get it many ways- veggies, beef, pork, fish, chicken, etc.  It costs anywhere from 50 cents to 2 dollars, depending on where you go. 
-Prohut- Not to be confused with prohuck, prohut is mashed up fish, made into balls and put into soups.  Sounds nasty, but it’s really good.
Chun Lai's birthday cake
-Nom- Directly translated, nom means cake.  But this category is so broad; I needed to bring it up.  Now, cake brings to mind a very specific food: for me, a nice birthday cake from Oak Park Bakery (yum).  While nom refers to that kind of cake, it also covers food that I firmly believe should not be included.  For example, potato chips are called nom, as well as crackers.  Maybe we are just too specific, but when in doubt of what I am eating, I just call it nom. It makes it easier when I have to explain what I am eating, but complicated when I am trying to find a specific type of nom. 

Fruit is seen as a dessert here, but is sometimes a snack incorporated into the meal.  After dinner we will eat an orange or share some mango stein, but eating an apple for breakfast is kind of weird here.  When people visit someone else for the first time, they bring fruit as a gift and is used for offerings to the ancestors for holidays. There are some fruits that are familiar and some that are completely new.  Here are some personal favorites or in some cases, least favorites:

Bananas- While we have one type of banana in America that I am aware of, there are many kinds here in Cambodia.  There are bananas that are long and green on the outside (contrary to in America, where green is not a sign that they aren’t ripe yet) and “chicken egg bananas” which are really small ones.  They are used in many kinds of desserts, either served plain or in a concoction.  One snut or bunch costs about 50 cents or less.
-Sow mow- There is a translation for this fruit into English, but sow mow really captures this fruit.  It was really popular when we first came to Cambodia and is now making a come-back.  Unlike what my friend Nick Campbell believes, fruit actually comes in and out of season.  On the outside, this fruit is red with soft green spike looking things that you cut open and eat the inside, which has a pretty big seed.  It’s a fruit that requires a lot of work pre-eating, but totally worth it.  Plus they are really pretty.
 Sow mow

-Mango- It broke my heart once they were out of season again, but during hot season, mangoes were everywhere! Mangoes are sold for about 25 cents usually, as in out of season, but people were just giving them away during mango season.  Out of season, they taste really sour and people eat them with either the Ramon soup packages or with a sugar-salt-chili pepper mixture.  I opt to not eating mangos if they aren’t ripe or with seasoning.  It just breaks my heart to degrade mangos by eating them with soup powder or while they taste inferior. 
 Mangoes (green ones are kijay (not ripe) and the yellow ones are toam (ripe)

-Oranges- The province just to the south of Battambang is called Pursat and it is famous for it’s oranges.  The translation in both languages is “Orange” but they aren’t orange, they are green.  Regardless, they are really delicious.  

 green oranges

-Durian- You have heard my ideas on this topic already.  I am really open-minded when it comes to food and some things have grown on me.  I don’t think that this one will though.  Nor do I want it to. 
-Dragon fruit- I overdid it in training with dragon fruit by eating at least one a day.  I haven’t really had any recently, but I think that I will start again.  They are pretty too.  Peeling isn’t so fun, but the soft, seedy inside is worth the work.
-Jackfruit- This is another fruit that I don’t really like.  They are huge and ugly.  I think that there is a connection to how good looking a fruit is and how good it tastes.  Jackfruit not only looks ugly, but tastes kinda, well, gross.  It also leaves a glue-like remnant on your fingers.  Too much work and it’s really not worth it. If it is offered cut up and prepared, maybe I will eat it.  If not, no thanks.
-Apples- They are imported from Thailand and although I will splurge every now and then for one, I pass this one up usually for a different kind of fruit.  $2.50 for 4 apples?  Where am I?  America?
-Plai Mein-  Again, this fruit has a name in English, but for many things in Cambodia, we choose to use the Khmer word rather than the English one if we don’t have it in America.  (For example, “doing laundry” to me means throwing my clothes into a machine that cleans it for me, while bow cow ow means washing my clothes by hand with a brush in my bathroom, so therefore, “doing laundry” isn’t in my vocabulary and has been replaced by bow cow ow.)  This is a cute little fruit that is peeled and although there is only a little meat and a huge seed, it’s pretty good. 
-Pineapple- Pineapples are everywhere and they are eaten plain or put in many dishes.  I have eaten them fried with pork or in a soup with fish.  Gives it a lot of flavor. 
-Watermelon- I was surprised to see this fruit here, but welcomed it with open arms.  My family eats it after it has been in the cooler.  I cannot believe I never appreciated a cold watermelon before.

There are many types of drinks here, and although I stick mainly to water, there are some types that I enjoy. 
-Coffee- I like to start my day with a homemade cup of coffee, as stated before.  But sometimes I drink it at a restaurant.  If I eat at a Khmer place, an iced coffee (without sugar or milk aka black) costs about 25 cents, but as we commonly say here: you get what you pay for.  So, it is about 25 cents worth of coffee, which means that I usually drink two to three of these.  I used to drink it with sweet milk (which I will discuss next) but I cut back on my sugar intake, so I gave them up.  They taste exactly like a frapaccino from Starbucks, except here they cost about 30 cents, not one day’s per diem.  Hot coffee is also possible, and sometimes I drink it, but I try to stick to iced coffee because it’s hot enough as it is.  There are western places that have Arabica coffee, but that costs about $1 and it’s tough to justify a $1 cup of coffee when lunch costs about 60 cents and an entire bag of coffee costs $2 near my house.  Sometimes I splurge though, I’m only human.
-Sweet milk- Because most people don’t have fridges, milk isn’t really an option.  So, instead, most people have sweet milk in small canisters.  Khmer people love sweet things, so it is added to coffee a lot and other such sweets.  Sometimes people drink it over ice.  It’s really syrupy and I can only have a little bit before the sugar headache comes. 
-Tea- Every restaurant offers water or tea.  Sometimes it is cold tea, sometimes hot.  But with every order, they bring out tea cups and a teapot.
-Beer- Drinking in Cambodia is a very interesting concept.  In America, teenagers and college students always hear about what we people like to call casual drinking, which means a beer or two with friends.  Most important is the “sipping method”.  Well, here, it is totally different.  Beer costs anywhere from 50 cents to $5 and that is expensive in a poor country, so people usually drink to get drunk.  There is an etiquette to drinking- you cheers and chug, there are no in between little sips; the “sipping method” has no place here.  “Newcomers” have to chug a whole beer when they enter a drinking circle.  It is really fun and a good time, but after a round or two, it’s rough on the stomach.  One very important element is the ice that is added to beer.  Beer is usually room temperature and ice is rather inexpensive here while refrigeration is expensive, so ice it is.  That helps water down drinks if you don’t know how to politely bow out of a drinking situation. 
-Dong- Dong, or coconuts can be bought just about anywhere.  For 25 cents, some kid with a machete will chop a coconut for you to drink.  There are many places that keep them cold, and let me tell you, there is nothing more refreshing than a cold coconut.  I like to have them cut it open and eat the meat inside.  Coconut milk is also used in many desserts.  

 Cold coconut

-Tuk a luk- A personal favorite during training that led to a bunch of us gaining weight.  It is essentially a smoothie, but made a bit differently.  Most of the ingredients are the same- ice, sugar, milk, fruit, etc but here in Cambodia, a duck egg is put in, as well as sweetened milk.  We always make sure to ask them to leave out the durian or else it will taste like an onion smoothie.  It’s super refreshing, but I haven’t had one since training, for very good reason.
-Water filter- My savior.  I got through at least one filter a day. 
-Rice Wine- At first I was baffled that rice is in literally everything here (except the salt shakers), but I guess it makes sense.  Corn syrup is in everything back home.  So, there is rice wine.  I have only had it once or twice and although it is turning into a friend’s drink of choice, I’m not convinced.  There are huge tubs of them that are at basically every stand and a small water bottle full can be bought for about 25 cents. 

I am pretty good about eating healthy and watching my intake, but all bets are off when I am traveling.  It’s something about the 5.5 hour bus ride or my experience snacking on the bus as an athlete, but I tend to just snack all day.  I usually have a supply of crackers when I board the bus.  The bus stops at least 2-3 times on the way to Phnom Penh and each rest stop has a make shift store and various snacks to buy.  This is what I usually eat:
-Jake ong- The direct translation is grilled bananas and it comes in two forms.  First is the harmless set of 5 small bananas with a stick stuck through them on grilled over coals.  The bananas are actually first sun dried then cooked.  They cost about 25 cents.  The other deadly option is a sort of cake.  It is made by a rice/coconut milk outside with a banana on the inside.  It is wrapped in a banana leaf then grilled over coals.  It costs about 30 cents for 2.  They are so good and so addicting and at every rest stop. 

-I actually don’t know the name of it, I always seem to forget, but it is a soupy sort of dessert.  My family makes it a lot and I am very thankful.  It is bananas, coconut milk, tapioca balls and sugar that are cooked to make a sort of soup then put over ice to chill.  It costs about 25 cents for a bowl.  My family sometimes makes it with pumpkin instead of banana, but either way, I’m happy.  There are many variations of this using, instead of bananas, corn, gummy worm looking and tasting things, beans, etc.
-Nom angsom- This “cake” is rice with coconut milk (are you noticing a theme yet?) with beans in the middle.  It is stuffed into a circular bamboo container and cooked over a fire.  During Pchum Ben, a 15 day holiday, this nom is literally everywhere.  But they put pork into it.  So delish. 

Transporting food:
If I go to my lunch place and want to eat it at home, they will put my rice in a Styrofoam case and put that in a bag.  But when it comes to the soup, it will go directly into a bag.  For coffee to go, it mostly comes in a bag with ice.  That goes for just about everything that is ordered, it goes right into the bag. 

Getting food is an interesting topic.  For my family that cooks meals at home, this means that my sister has to go to the market once a day to buy the meat and veggies, unlike America, where we load up an entire car full once a month.  They also prepare the food the night before for breakfast so it is easy to make in the morning.  Many people go to the market to eat.  There are a lot of stands there that sell just about everything.  Restaurants are a little more expensive, but then you don’t have to deal with the heat and noise of the market.  Just like we have the ice cream man in America, there are people to bring their carts to the street and walk around.  Many women put meals in buckets then carry them on a stick around town.  For the people who need a fire to cook, they have carts that they push around town.  So for fried noodles, there is a guy who walks by my house every day and makes it right in his cart then moves on.  There is also a man who rides around on a moto with ice cream.  Food is pretty much everywhere I look in Battambang.

Unusual food that I have eaten:
A few volunteers have better stories that I do about eating what we would consider “weird” in America, but I have had a few things that could possible end up on Fear Factor.  First off, no, I have not eaten rat, dog, cat or horse.  But I have eaten fried ants with my first host family, some sort of forest lizard that I don’t think we have in America called tra kuen in Khmer with my second host family, as well as many types of bugs.  At a rest area once, a young Khmer woman sat down across from me and I offered her some fruit.  She said no, but then offered me some grasshoppers.  I tried them in America, but I have never tried them here.  She made me a little bag and showed me how to eat them (pull off the legs and throw them away then eat the body).  For Chun Lai’s (my host nephew) 4th birthday, we had a feast and after the dinner, but before cake, we ate water beetles.  They had a lot of meat to my surprise and were really good.  Most of it has to do with money.  For example, grasshoppers are everywhere and sold for very cheap, but this forest lizard that I ate is rare, so it was expensive.  My first host family didn’t have a lot of money, so we ate frog a lot (so delicious but the bones are annoying) and when I told my second current host family (who has a lot more money) that I liked frogs, they told me that they don’t eat that here because it is what farmers eat.  When I came back to visit my first family around Christmas, they threw a sort of party and served some sort of uncooked pig intestines.  I have never really been a fan but it is sort of a big deal to have it and I knew that my family spent a lot to have it, so I had a few pieces.  It’s very common with beer.  But some bugs are a delicacy and eaten on special occasions while others are cheap and sold everywhere.  At the market and at rest stops, there are always baskets full of various types of insects.  My friends who are rural volunteers are the ones who get more of a “strange” variation on food.  A few have eaten dog, which they describe as very tough.  I keep it pretty simple.  I am pretty open to at least trying food (spiders, scorpions, etc) but I draw the line at fermented duck eggs (which means that the duck isn’t an egg but isn’t fully formed). 

Other notes on food:
Snacks are different here.  Because this is Asia, chips came in different flavors than I am used to.  There are prawn (shrimp) flavored chips everywhere with a side of spicy, garlicky, ketchup, etc to give it an extra kick.  Also, there are a lot of seaweed flavored snacks, such as seaweed strips.  These things all threw me for a loop, now I will bypass the BBQ chips for some seaweed. 

Also, many dishes are eaten a special way.  There are communal soups served at restaurants where people add what they want to eat, I guess the best way to describe it is a family style soup over a burner.  Those are always fun to do as a family.  The rule is that any soup served with noodles (as opposed to over rice) is eaten with chopsticks.  And a spoon.  Tricky but I have improved.  The proper way is to use your dominant hand for the chopsticks then transfer the noodles to the spoon in the left hand.  At the begging it just went straight to the face… Rice is eaten with a spoon and a fork.  When it comes to meat or something awkward, you just use your hands.  Since I am a righty, I put the spoon in my right hand and the fork in my left and use the fork as a kind of shovel and eat off of the spoon.  I guess the opposite of what I am used to, but it’s natural now.  Pre eating, people wipe down the utensils and sometimes the glasses with a napkin.  Dishes are served with specific kinds of sauces.  If you are eating a fried egg, soy sauce comes on the side.  If you are eating a soup or fried veggies, fish sauce comes with that.  For various meats (duck, chicken, beef, pork) there is a dark brown sauce that comes for that.  I don’t even know what it’s made from or what’s even in it to be honest.  Squeezing a lime into basically anything is totally appropriate (I’m a firm believer in lime now) and many volunteers, including myself, squeeze a little bit into beer.  Chili peppers are also put into sauces on the side or right into the rice or dish.  I was a total baby when it came to eating spicy things in America, but I have converted.  I love spicy food now and I can actually handle it. 

Final Thoughts….
When it comes to really any expense here, but especially regarding food, I am very loyal to the places that I like.  A perfect example is “The Spot.  I feel guilty going anywhere else when I need my fix of western food.  Likewise, for those little purchases (phone credit, detergent) I like to support the people that I have a connection with.  I don’t earn much money, but I would like to see it go to the people who mean something to me.  I’m not sure where this loyalty is even coming from, but it’s almost like I need a cause for my investment.  I know that when I go to “The Spot”, the money is going towards the kids’ education, as opposed to some skeezy westerner that I don’t trust.  That’s just me though. 

Obviously I am not an expert on Khmer cuisine, but these are the observations that I have made in my year here.  I’m sure that it is totally different for different volunteers, but there ya have it!

In other news, Chun Lai has discovered that I have moles on my arms and they are his new favorite thing.  He lifts up my sleeves to look at them.  I think that it has something to do with the difference between my skin color and the color of my moles.