Cambodia – Phnom Penh

11 Feb

As we started planning our winter trip south – a tradition when we live in China – we knew we wanted to return to Thailand but also thought we could add a few places to our itinerary. At first we were looking at Vietnam and Cambodia but once we found out that we would have to get rather expensive tourist visas for Vietnam, we decided to skip it. After looking at our Great Mekong guidebook, it looked like Cambodia would be a good place for biking – but more on that on future posts.

We flew into Phnom Penh and arrived before midnight. Milad had managed to fall asleep just as the plane was landing. Already on the plane, I had filled out three sets of papers for customs but once we got into the airport, we were told we had to fill in another paper to get our tourist visa. Peiman was carrying Milad and I was frantically filling out the papers. One official came over and said he could get someone to help us faster so we wouldn’t have to line up. I was grateful but it turned out this was a scam to rip us off. First the said they would accept Chinese Yuan but at a ridiculous exchange rate – 10 to 1 instead of 5 to 1. When I realized that, I quickly went to take out American dollars from the ATM and paid with that. The visa was to cost $30 so I gave them $200 and was given $100 back. I thought they were being generous and we went to line up at the immigration line. While lined up, I looked at the four visas and noticed that the price for the two adult ones was indeed $30 but the two children ones were free; therefore I had overpaid by $40. We were all annoyed but too tired to go back and do anything and decided to let it go.

Once we got our bags (for which we were grateful when we saw some people at the lost luggage line), we went outside and were pleasantly surprised to find a taxi driver standing with my name. (I have never had this happen to me and had always wished to see my name written down and being picked up – sounds silly but it’s true). The ride through the city revealed a lot of garbage and rundown housing. My daughter was not impressed. We finally arrived at our hotel and the taxi driver asked for $15. We thought that was a bit much and since he had no change for $100 and I only had $11 from before, we gave him that. He left and the hotel personnel translating said he would come back for the other $1 the next day – so the real price turned out to be $12. He deserved to lose that dollar for trying to overcharge – he never came back.

By the time we went to bed it was 2am (3am China time) and well we didn’t get enough sleep but things looked brighter in the morning. We stayed in a very lovely large family suite with two rooms with large beds, lovely furniture and large bathroom. We went off to search for more ATMs, sunglasses, bus tickets and a swimsuit for Roya (she forgot hers at home!). We found all but the swimsuit. The funny thing about getting money from the bank was that our Chinese bank cards worked much better than our Canadian one – allowing for more money to be taken out and working in more machines (at first we tried but failed with our Canadian card at a few machines, even causing one to go temporarily out of service).

Milad trying on sunglasses in the market.

Milad trying on sunglasses in the market.

Money in Cambodia is an interesting thing: there is basically a dual currency system, with US$ and Cambodian Riel. The conversion rate between the two is 1:4000 or 4100 in some stores. So you can pay with either or a combination of both. When your change is less than $1 you are give the rest in Riel. $2.50 is often given as 10 000 Riel.

Khmer restaurant for lunch near our hotel.

Khmer restaurant for lunch near our hotel.

Inside the restaurant.

Inside the restaurant.

After our mostly successful outing, we went back to our hotel as Milad needed to rest, having caught a nasty cold just before our trip and not having had enough sleep. We ate at a Khmer restaurant near our hotel (Green Oasis Villa where we had a lovely stay) and went back to our room. After some attempt at making the kids rest, I decided to go to the Royal Palace nearby by myself and the rest were happy to stay at the hotel in our room or by the pool below.

I had a nice time visiting the palace – as the reviews said, it was not as grand or large (or crowded) at the one in Bangkok but it was still lovely. Here are some pictures:












After some selfies, I noticed a Chinese couple asking a guard to take their picture so I decided to do the same 🙂



The next two pics are the outside of the Silver Pagoda, whose floor is all made of silver (though mostly covered by carpet).










At the little exhibition centre outside the building area, I took a picture with the lovely statue and then took a picture of the lying down Buddha, the musicians playing some traditional Cambodian instruments and their audience.





Back outside, I thought this man sleeping in a hammock in his tuk tuk was great. Then I made my way back to hotel, snapping a few more pix.




When I got back to the hotel, I leaved that Milad had managed to badly snub his big toe whose nail he partly broke – my poor accident-prone boy! We all went down the pool area, Peiman playing the travel guitar he had made and I take a dip in the pool.




This is the view from our hotel window – interesting contrast between the peaceful inside and dusty, poor outside. But we really loved our hotel – Green Oasis Villa – with its large two room and two large bed family suite plus well-made furniture and large bathroom.




And then it was time to head out to the bus station: we may not come back to this city again, not being super impressed by it, but we did enjoy our stay at this well-located and well-priced hotel, with great service, esp. from Vishna.




14 Oct

As I was returning from Shanghai after a successful day in which I managed to: FINALLY get my ECNU student card (there had been a complicated problem with my registration) and passport with residence permit, as well as conduct one research interview, I was reflecting about “timing”. When I first moved back to Nanjing, I was eager to get my research going as quickly as possible (to capture my participating children’s transitions to life in China). Yet settling down took so much longer and required so much more effort than I thought it would – it basically took up my entire first three weeks. Then I spent the next few weeks following up with participants who have moved from Canada as well as looking for new sites and participants. It was all very exhausting work, with few results. I faced a lot of closed doors (or more accurately, closed school gates). But I didn’t mind that so much as I figured that the “right” research site(s) would eventually turn up and each closed gate was one step closer to that.

Yet I had my share of anxiety, such as when an email to an administrator at a promising research site received no response for two weeks. Two weeks seemed like an eternity. Now I am starting to see the wisdom in waiting patiently for things (not my strong suit). A wise friend once told me that when we ask for something, there can be three responses: “yes”, “no” and “not yet”. I don’t have a problem with the first two but the third is hard for me. I always try to change the “not yet” to “yes” but sometimes I end up changing it to “no” in the process! That’s because sometimes the timing of something is not right and not respecting that can lead to problems.

So now, I am very wary of “not yet” answers. I hear them, and I accept them. And I try to await patiently for the time when they either become “yes” or “no”. I am also reflecting a lot on the form of “not yet” answers, which are typically quite subtle. I am not very good at interpreting subtle things. But instead of just accepting that this is “how I am” I have decided to become a better reader of subtle clues, to listen carefully both to what is said and what is implied, something that will come in very handy in China, where things are often answered in very subtle ways.

So next time, you are told “not yet”, just say, “Ok. I understand.” and wait patiently for when the timing is actually right. You will be surprised by how smoothly things develop when the timing is actually right.

Reflections on Friendship

17 Jul

Those of you who know me know that I am sometimes critical. That is in large part a result of my upbringing and affects many aspects of my life. Something that I have not consciously realized is how I am also critical of friendships. Recently, I have been working on various personal issues and gaining new understands of myself and my relationships (past and present). At the same time, I have also had opportunities to visit with various groups of old friends (partly because I will be moving back to China soon). I have enjoyed these visits and did not feel the vague disappointment I have sometimes felt in the past when, after visiting with a group of friends, I felt like, “We didn’t talk about anything substantive.”

Don’t get me wrong. I still value deep, one-on-one discussions over other interactions but I am starting to appreciate other friendship relationships FOR WHAT THEY ARE. Basically, as with many other things, it is a matter of changing expectations. Instead of wanting things to be the way “I want”, I am starting to allow them to be what they are. And surprisingly (or not really), I am able to find new enjoyment in those friendships. In a way each friendship is special and brings something unique and that is what I am starting to see rather than looking at what is missing. The way you connect with someone is like two puzzle pieces – they fit together in a very specific way that are unique to that friendship.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Related to this is a feeling of gratitude for all the wonderful people I have in my life. Granted we are all very busy and sometimes long time passes before I am able to connect with some friends. But the wonderful thing is that, even after long absences, those friendships are still meaningful and the feelings remain unchanged. Of course there have also been some friendships that have been lost and that is always difficult. But I have accepted that and remain open to the possibility of potentially reviving those in the future. But since the possibility of that is not in my hands, I have let go of any expectations in that regard – in a way, it is interesting just to see how things will develop over time and what life will bring with it. And if a friendship is only meant to last for a short time, so be it. The duration of a friendship is not what defines it. Sometimes even a brief friendship can have a profound impact. People come into our lives for a reason and a purpose and when that reason and purpose are fulfilled, we may have to say goodbye to that friendship, grateful that we had a chance to experience it.

Bottom line, whether from the past or the present, I am very appreciative of all the people who have been there for me, cried with me, laughed with me, challenged me and made me a stronger, wiser and hopefully better person. Thank you, dear friends, one and all.


It’s a New Day – how do you want to live it?

21 Mar

Today is Naw Ruz, the New Year (or literally New Day) for Baha’is and Persians. For Baha’is the New Year comes after nineteen days (one Baha’i month) of fasting. The purpose of the fast is spiritual cleansing and renewal before the New Year. Except for a few years when I was pregnant or nursing, I have fasted every year since I became a Baha’i at the age of 20. Each year the fast is a unique experience – this year, it was one of those special fasts for me – probably because I had begun my “cleansing” months earlier as I dealt with personal challenges, both present and past. It was during the fast that the work I did to deal with these found a kind of resolution. But it wasn’t until last night, when I had yet another sleepless night that has become commonplace over the past few months (though the past week or so, my sleep had been much better), that I realized what I wanted to focus on in the coming year.

During this time of personal change, I have been trying to understand my automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) that caused me to have strong reactions to seemingly commonplace events. These are thoughts that I was not aware of, that had been with me for decades. Relatedly, I had also started trusting my heart and my intuition more. I have always had a very open and trusting heart but I often made decisions purely with logic and thinking; this was often effective but seeing things with my heart and intuition adds another important layer to my understanding of situations.

What’s more, I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship and those connections we feel to others. Have you ever started speaking to someone on a plane, at a lecture or elsewhere and found yourself connecting to that person, only to leave them when the plane landed or lecture ended, never to speak to them again? Or perhaps you got their contact info but never contacted them? I think it has happened to all of us. But what if that person was meant to be your friend, had something to teach you and/or you them and you missed that chance? I don’t want to miss those opportunities anymore and want to honour what my intuition tells me in those situations. So I have decided to make a more conscious effort to invest in new and existing friendships, to express the love I feel for others, and to accept friendship, in whatever form it may take, and offer it. May friendship and love cross your paths and may you follow where they lead you.


Personal Transformation and Change

24 Feb

For the last three months I have been going through a huge personal transformation. The source has been revisiting traumatic events from my past (childhood and youth) through writing and sharing with those closest to me. I have been making discoveries about how these events have impacted my life in ways that I literally had no idea about on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. It has been incredible how once the door was opened, realizations started coming one after another. Part of the reason that I think I was able to go through this right now is that I have been able to build a support network of friends, family, a counsellor and a support group that have all been there for me in incredible ways. It all just kind of came together and now each of these feeds off the others and my insights continue to grow. That is not to say that it has been an easy time – in fact, it has been very challenging and difficult but I have able to keep going, have needed to keep going because these things need to be dealt with and it feels like the right time now (though understandably I have not been able to dedicate as much time as I would like to academic and other obligations). Another result has been that this is affecting my relationships with others since when one person in a relationship changes, the nature of their relationship changes as well. I hope my change has been beneficial to others as well. One day I would like to share these stories with a wider audience so that perhaps they could help others who have been through similar experiences but this is not the time for that yet.

ButterflyInWaterOne big change has been that by uncovering and processing pain from past, I have started to have moments of joy. It’s not that I have not had such moments in the past but I have realized that I have been living with a constant burden weighing down on me and not even realizing that it is there or what its nature is. Now there are brief moments when the burden is lifted and I feel amazing freedom, joy and am able to fully enjoy the present moment.

For those who know me know that I am a planner. I typically live in the future; hardly even in the present. I think that planning urge comes partly from fear of the unknown and fear that terrible things like those that happened in my past could strike at any time and so I must plan in order to avoid them. Of course, planning has its benefits (esp. for my research, work and life path) but it has to be kept in check so that I can actually live my life, rather than just planning it, which is truly the source of connecting to the world and to ourselves.

Another realization has been learning to love myself. I am always very critical of myself and by extension of others. But I am starting to become more gentle with myself and more loving, which is also leading to being more loving and understanding with others. It also has the benefit of being able to give myself what I need rather than expecting and demanding that others fill my needs. It feels incredible to realize that I can fulfill many of my own needs.

IMAG2342One of the reasons that I wanted to share this, however vaguely, with my community is that people I know often think I have it all together and all figured out. Well things could not be farther from the truth. I am just like everyone else and I know we all struggle with different aspects of our lives. Also, I hope that by reading, you may be inspired to gain the courage to go through your own transformation and to confront things you may not have dealt with in the past when it was not possible to deal with them but that maybe you can deal with them now or whenever you feel the time is right. When that time comes, I hope you feel the courage to open the door and begin your own healing journeys.

I will try to share bits and pieces of insights as time goes by and the realizations continue. There is still a long way to go on my journey and I am both excited and scared but I know I have the courage within to keep going. A special thank you to my amazing support network – you know who you are but you have no idea what incredible gifts and blessings your friendship and support have brought to my life. I will be eternally grateful for you coming into my life.


7 Dec

Perseverance has been a theme in my life this fall, as I began the second year of my PhD studies. As I embarked on my self-imposed, crazy deadlines in order to finish my comps and proposal (successfully defended 🙂 Nov. 26 on the five year anniversary of our move to China) and submit my ethics application by the end of November so that I could (hopefully) begin data collection in Jan/Feb (to be able to be in classes at least 5 months before moving to China for the next phase), I felt overwhelmed many times. One example: 16 consent forms to write and then translate into Chinese – yikes!

Two things kept me going. One was to take a deep breath and just do it, one tiny step at a time, to try not to think about the amount ahead of me. The second was the amazing help I got from friends: friends who helped me translate and those who gave me feedback on things I was struggling with, like my research questions – without you, I would not be where I am – thank you, you know who you are! There was also the encouragement. We all go through times when we lose all form of self-confidence! That’s when a friend can do wonders reminding you of what you already knew – that you are capable, that you can do it! And then a few days it’s your turn to help her. It works great that way 🙂

Roya doing "tawaza" (sp?)

Roya doing “tawaza” (sp?)

As is often the case, when we struggle with something our children do so as well. So my daughter, Roya, who has been doing karate since August 2012 (along with her brother) with relative ease, reached the point where was trying to pass a belt to reach intermediate level. Suddenly things became a challenge and her first instinct was to think about quitting. We met with her teachers at Intention Martial Arts and had a LONG talk about perseverance and how when things get hard is the time to really learn perseverance. From the beginning, I’ve been impressed with how the teachers at this dojo focus on teaching virtues along with the physical aspects. The talk really made an impact on Roya, who restarted with renewed energy and dedication. At the end of the three months when it was time for her belt test, she and a friend were both awarded two belts higher because of the amazing progress they had made. It was a very proud moment and a reminder that we accomplish amazing things when we choose to persevere.

Roya at her belt test

Roya at her belt test

My final reminder about perseverance came from Joyce, a Japanese-Canadian lady who had been interned as a child during World War II. We had taken our Rits-UBC exchange students on a field trip to the Nikkei Museum so they could learn about Japanese internment for our class about social exclusion in Canada. Joyce’s most difficult time was when she was a teenager, after the end of internment but before her family was allowed to return to the West Coast, when they lived on the prairies. She had to spend long days toiling on sugar beet farms to help her family make ends meet. She said this was when she learned perseverance. She felt that this made her the person she became even though she would not wish it on anyone. When her own children were teenagers they decided to pick berries as a summer job. Joyce told them if they decided to do it, they would have to persevere and do it until the end of summer. After a few days they were ready to quit but they didn’t. Joyce was proud that her children had learned perseverance. I couldn’t agree more – teaching my children perseverance is also my goal and it is great when others are able to help with this process. Perseverance is an important lesson for all of us and one that we will continue to learn as we face harder and harder challenges in life.

15 minutes a day

14 May

One of my learnings this year for me seems to be about developing consistent good habits for myself and my children. Earlier, around the time of Baha’i fast (March), I realized that I need to commit to a certain time to do my obligatory prayer if I am to remember to do it (yes, after so many years as a Baha’i I still struggle with this). It happened kind of naturally really as we are allowed to eat after sunset so I was ACUTELY aware of when sunset was. As I waited for that time of day, I realized I had not prayed yet and doing this several days, I made the conscious choice to make it part of my daily routine. This worked well because on days when I work, I get home at 5:30 and need a little time to myself before facing the family – the perfect time to pray. I also combined the prayer time with the time for my daily exercise routine. This works well for me because I am very mental and not really “in my body” most of the time but exercising made me much more present, which then helped me be present in my prayers. This routine worked really well during fast but slipped a bit afterwards then improved again. It is a work in progress but I am doing much better than I ever had before.

Another learning came a few weeks ago, thanks to our friend Matt, who is also Roya’s piano teacher. Let me just say that I think he is an amazing teacher – he is so patient and in tune with what Roya needs in terms of instruction and so flexible – I wish we had started her on piano with him much earlier! We will miss his lessons very much but are really grateful for his foundation….Back to what I learned from Matt – he and Roya started a daily practice chart where she would write how long she practiced every day. The great thing is, Matt told her at first that she should practice no more than 10 minutes a day – he was trying to develop the habit and chose such a short time so as to not encounter resistance. Well, it is now week 2 and she herself chose to move up the time on the weekends to 15 min. She feels a great sense of accomplishment when she does her time and checks it off. So I decided to do the same for the kids’ English reading – ie. have them read 15 min. with me every day. I had tried before to read “a little every day” but without a firm goal/plan, it was far from consistent. Plus when you tell them it will only be 15 minutes, it does not seem as daunting as “Come read with me (endlessly!)”

So after all this, I decided that I myself need to adopt this for my Chinese study. It has been almost a year since I stopped formal Chinese classes and I know my (intermediate) level is just not good enough (I mean esp. for my research which I want to do in China). This term was less busy than I’ve had in a long time and I started doing some Chinese on my own but again, not consistently. So today I began my 15 minutes of Chinese a day. If I want to do more, I can but it is a base I hope I can keep up with.

So if you want to work on something, why don’t you try doing it for 15 minutes a day?