1st Day at School

Authors Note: I wrote this post a while back whilst in the UK (June 2017) and posted it on my other site: ‘All Things Sara Perry’ but a revamp of that means it’s now actually more relevant for it to live here, so here it is!

Last night I had two dreams.  In the former I was desperately fighting to be included in a group of my friends and family who continually pushed me away and rejected me no matter how hard I tried, whilst in the latter I held court in full on entertainer mode, the life and soul of the party (it wasn’t actually a party but I sure as hell made sitting in a hotel room with three people I only vaguely knew watching tele into one!).


Within seconds of waking to my alarm at 6.45am I had that aha moment as I recognised that these dreams were my muddled old brain’s way of processing what I am heading into today.  For today sees the start of a three-day induction for my summer as Course Director for a Summer School in Chichester.


Norman has been having a field day in respect of this looming opportunity, especially as I didn’t actually apply for the position but was asked to consider it by the recruiters (I originally applied to teach). Thus allowing Norman the opportunity to goad me on and off for the last few months about how I’m going to be shit at the job, that people will soon realise that I’m a fraud and the whole thing will be a nightmare as I’m basically a big, fat, fraudulent, fraudy fraud (Norman often resorts to truculent, childish rants when he knows he’s on to something).


However, in Norman’s bid to remind me of my shortcomings in the upcoming job he’s missed a priceless opportunity to actively play on a massive insecurity of mine – my presence in groups of people I don’t know.


And that’s where the dream’s come in.  As well as occupying my waking mind, Norman has also very kindly invaded my sleeping subconscious.  He’s done so to point out to me the only two scenarios that, in his opinion, will occur upon my joining of the group today, namely I will either be excluded or I will be accepted but will play up for the crowd, basking in the attention bestowed upon me but in the process behaving like a nob but not being able to stop.


In Norman’s defence I have had experience of both of the above scenarios – secondary school was a den of rejection and acting up for me and my adult life has seen me behave like a nob on numerous occasions though admittedly in a large number of cases it’s been thanks to me drinking too much alcohol too quickly in a bid to deal with the me and a bunch of people scenario that I’m headed in to.


But that was then not now.  Now I know that whilst walking into the room as a stranger will be tough, it certainly won’t lead to wholesale rejection, any rejection that does occur will most likely be as a consequence of the other persons ‘stuff’ and it won’t matter a jot to me in the grand scheme of things as longer term I actually only have to get on with the two other members of the management team I’m going to be part of.


And as for behaving like a nob, well there’s no guarantees on that score – sometimes I am a nob, with or without alcohol.  What’s important for me today and over the next few days is to recognise my nobness for what it is – a moment in time, a brief foray, a blip, sometimes bloody good fun and something to laugh at, other times something to have a little cry over and then get on with my day.  Whatever the case, it is never an opportunity for Norman to reiterate his belief that it defines me as a person and makes me stupid, unlikeable and generally a substandard human being.


Unfortunately, it appears that I’m on a mission to make life with Norman as difficult for myself as possible this weekend as only two hours in I’ve already given him two opportunities to pop his head up and chime in.


My first act of nobness was rocking up at the ticket machine to collect tickets that it turns out I collected on arrival in the UK three weeks ago.  It appears that in my jetlagged, discombobulated state I promptly threw them away, resulting in the purchase of a £100 replacement ticket this morning #ouch.


I’d just about put Norman back in his cage on this one – after all my credit card is interest free until December 2018 so it’s not like I’ve actually had to pay for the tickets anyway – when I promptly allowed him back out to chime up again.


Coffee and £100 piece of orange cardboard in hand I headed up the stairs to the platform bridge only to catch my flipflop on the step (I’m still doggedly wearing them despite it being flipping freezing in Loughborough today) stub my left toe and stumble up three steps before unceremoniously landing on my right knee.  At this point I will just add for those of you that have been with me from the start, it is the same toe/knee combo involved in the ‘turning the corner on the way to work in Phnom Penh’ and the ‘falling off my bike in Kampot’ incidents. #hmmmm


Hearing an “are you ok?” behind me stemmed the tears threatening to flow and instead I switched on a fixed grin, brushed myself down briefly and then determinedly strode onwards whilst uttering “that’ll teach me to pick my feet” to allay the concerned gentlemen behind.


On reaching the platform I scurried off to a quiet spot to surreptitiously examine my war wounds. Two significant gashes on my big toe meant a tissue was needed to mop the pool of blood in the toe well of my flipflop and stem further flow whilst a brief examination of my knee area revealed no tear to my leggings but a distinct tenderness which will no doubt manifest as a graze and bruise over the coming hours/days.


Norman had a field day revelling in my stupidity and the fact that everyone was now laughing at me (like I’m really that interesting!?!?!?!) and I bit down hard on my lip as I messaged Vic to share in my misfortune.


By the time my train arrived the need to cry had abated and I hobbled on with my bloody tissue flapping in the wind and made my way to my expensive seat (as I still have the email from the lost tickets I’ve been able to claim the, now very expensive, reserved seat from that on a packed to capacity train – stick that in your pipe Norman).


And so this blog comes to you from my window seat with a table as requested. I have coffee, a cool playlist and a cold nose (the A/C is certainly working on this train!) and apart from a few gashes and aches I’m good to go.


I’m sure today’s words won’t be the last Norman and I have over the next few days but that’s ok because I’m on to him and whatever psychological games he tries to play I’ll deal with them as I enjoy 3 days of learning with likeminded people who in all honestly are probably as anxious as me and Norman are!


to market, to market ….

Shopping for what you need on a day to day basis is the norm here in Cambodia.  And the place to head to engage in this daily activity has to be the local market.


When I lived in Phnom Penh my local market terrified me.  It was a small, dark place, with low ceilings and narrow walkways which seemed to close in on you the deeper in to the maze you went.  And as the market closed in around me so the air supply lessened becoming hotter and more stagnant by the second.  My first ever visit to said market ended with me turning abruptly to my friend Totie and ordering her to “Get me out of Here!” in a manner that left her in no doubt of my seriousness in this respect


Needless to say, I didn’t go there much after that! But then again I didn’t really need to as Phnom Penh is home to a number of really great organic greengrocers (there were at least 4 within a ten minute walk of my home) whose prices are not that different to those you pay in the market and worth the premium in my mind just to avoid that claustrophobic hell.


Outside of the capital, most towns and cities here have a main (or central) market and Kampot is no exception.  My first visit was on a weekend jaunt to Kampot with my friends Phirum & Dina when we stopped at the market on route to a waterfall based picnic to collect provisions.  My first impressions weren’t favourable.  A narrow, dark alleyway drew us inward into the chaotic labyrinth that lay within.  The ceilings were low, the floor muddy, wet and uneven, the heat was oppressive, the air stagnant and the smell vaguely repugnant.  But on we went, Phirum on a mission to find the exact delicious snacks needed to make the picnic perfect.


And boy was I glad she was on that mission, because it led me to the discovery of an aspect of food heaven I never dreamed I’d encounter here in Cambodia – pickled onions – and taught me that, whatever my fears surrounding the layout and environment of the market it was a place I wanted to explore more.


The market is split into sections with specific areas for fabric, clothing, tailoring, gold, household goods, shoes, pickled stuff, meat, fish, veg & fruit (sure there are more but you get the picture) meaning that wherever you enter the market you are faced with stall after stall selling exactly the same stuff at exactly the same price – and in true Cambodian style, not bothering their boots one bit if you choose their stall or the one next to them to make your purchase.


There are many entrances into the market on all of the four sides, but I always enter at one of two points, when I’m on my bike it’s the entrance near the official bike park, when I walk from home it’s the nearest corner.  However, no matter how hard I try (though to be honest with you I’ve long since given up trying) I have never managed to find the same point to exit from.  The market is so disorientating to me that standing in the middle of it (or where I imagine the middle to be which is the gold (bling bling) section) I have absolutely no concept of which is north, south, east or west and which way to head to get whatever it is I need.  And so instead I wander aimlessly along, sometimes intuitively deciding when to turn right or left, other decisions being made on the basis of my positive or negative feeling towards a walkway, smell or sight.


I find myself wandering through stalls laden with bolt after bolt of fabric before abruptly happening upon fish flailing about in metal bowls on the floor. My nose tells me when I’m reaching the pickle section and the sight of copious tubs of pink pickled shrimp interspersed with lumps of fish paste and bowls of juicy pickled spring onions confirms my olfactory skills to be on point.  The sound of grinding indicates that the coconut stall is not far away, sewing machines whirring a hint that tailors are nearby, giggling chitter chatter a sure sign that I’ve found the beauty parlours.  Pigs heads gaze forlornly at me as I stroll past stall upon stall of red, bloody meat, bright yellow chickens plucked to within an inch of their lives, offal slung lazily over hooks and into buckets and once more I’m blinded by a vision of bling as I turn back to centre to the gold quarter where the jewellers work and the money changers squat waiting for the next customer to come along.


Everywhere people are bustling along, unlike me, knowing for certain where they’re headed, some sporting lists carefully written in notebooks purchased specifically for that purpose, others laden with bags and baskets stuffed with purchases already made, many heading to one of the many eateries dotted about the market to indulge in a communal breakfast of ban chaa (pork & veggie stuffed pancakes), kway teow (noodle soup), or a regular breakfast favourite here – pork and rice, whilst slurping on bitter, rich coffee laced with copious amounts of sugar and sweet milk.


Transactions take patience, long conversations ensue as buyer and seller negotiate, discussing the intricacies of the product and god knows what else besides, all the time either unaware or uncaring of what’s going on around them.  Talking to the butcher with a cow’s intestines hanging in front of your face – no problem! Blocking a two foot wide walkway whilst you examine the peppercorns like for forever – ah well!  Weighing in your gold whilst the woman to your right guts fish and the one to your left picks her nose – #whatever!


I occasionally stop to buy stuff, fruit and veg, household goods, pickles and peppers, bread and coffee.  There’s no structure to my purchasing, I don’t have my preferred sellers – to be honest I can’t because I’d never find them – instead I choose the one who has the nicest smile or friendliest hello on the day, finding myself turned off by those who refuse to speak Khmer to me even when I try my best and tell them I do understand (although I often don’t help myself by immediately failing to understand what comes out their mouths immediately after I assert my ability otherwise).


And at some undefined point in my adventure, I’ll decide it’s time to head home.  Unlike in Phnom Penh it’s never the result of a mild panic attack, fear and loathing or suchlike but  could be fuelled by an inability to cope with my sweatiness any longer, the impending loss of circulation courtesy of knotted plastic bags hanging from my various fingers, a need for the loo or any of a million other reasons the reaction is always the same.  I glance around to see where I can see light and that’s where I head weaving my way out into the glaring sunlight and, once my eyes have readjusted, working out where the bloody hell I am and heading home.


Photos from my latest visit to the market:



On the street where you live

In a fit of bizarreness yesterday, the song ‘On the street where you live’ from My Fair Lady came into my head mid-meditation and regardless how hard I tried to  practice non attachment and ‘let it go’ it hung around like a bad smell.


So much so that in my quest to avoid doing meaningful work post meditation I trawled through the internet looking at shite whilst listening along to the My Fair Lady soundtrack on Spotify.  And just as The Street Where You Live came on I happened upon the giggle inducer below, put two and two together and started to form a blog post in my head.

And so here I am, a day later, introducing you to my neighbourhood.


As you may or may not know, I am blessed to be living in a large house owned by an American woman named Linda who no longer lives full time in Cambodia.  My Kiwi friend Linda (confusing I know) had been living there a while but was due to leave shortly after I came back in September and spoke to American Linda about me moving in to which the response was positive and so I moved in.


The house is in a fab location, just off the main market in town (the blog about that is coming I promise) along a very bumpy dirt track which in the rain turns into the stuff of my phobic nightmares.  To try to give you a taste of what the journey along there is like I very bravely did a one handed cycle ride this morning in order to make the following little clip (the lengths I go to for you my beloved readers eh):

IMG_1327 from Sara Perry on Vimeo.


The house itself is an imposing blue structure surrounded by coconut palms, with a pond on one side to provide me with my nightly frog chorus and a swampy pond area on the other side to provide Sareth and the girls (my housemates) with a supply of salty crab (that’s another blog in the writing).

My big blue home (that’s my bedroom window on the right)

I live upstairs, occupying two rooms and a lovely large terrace which houses the hammock from hell as well as lots of lovely greenery, two different seating areas, a magic mop (OMG everyone should have one of these!!!!) and my yoga mat.  I say I occupy two rooms but that’s not strictly true.  The house itself is getting pretty old by Cambodian standards (20+ years) and the utilities are starting to show their age.  I therefore have one room where I live/sleep that has everything I need except for a properly functioning loo with bum gun and that’s why I use the other room – for the purpose of bodily functions that require a toilet to flush properly and powerfully.   You may ask why, if this is the case, I don’t use said other room as my main residence, especially if I tell you that it’s bigger than my room and has a much bigger bed with a fabulous proper non dippy mattress.  Well, here’s the thing, despite those positives the room isn’t as bright as my room is and I really enjoy the light, the light in the bathroom doesn’t work due to the quirky electrics of the house which means miss scaredy cat wouldn’t be able to get up and go for her woman of a certain age middle of the night wee without having a hissy fit about what might be creeping around, the shower doesn’t drain well (another nightmare for Mrs wet floor phobia here) and if that weren’t enough – the wifi doesn’t work in there.  How on earth am I going to engage in my lying in bed, procrastinating by watching Real Housewives series activities if I move room?

Here’s a little video of the terrace between the two rooms that I made when I first arrived: my home

Anyway, moving on.  Downstairs (accessed via another example of ridiculous Cambodian staircase design) is a massive kitchen and dining room that we all share which has the luxury of a full sized proper oven and hob – a real rarity in Cambodia.  Sadly, it’s a victim of quirky electric problems and so working in there in after dark is something of a challenge, I have still not quite mastered Kiwi Linda’s method of teasing the light switch into submission method and instead opt for only cooking in the daytime and reverting to the ever faithful iPhone torch to lead me to the fridge and back for pre-prepared foods for after dark.


Outside the confines of my fabulous quirky home a small community resides, most notable being my immediate neighbours.  My bedroom and terrace overlooks their long windowless home and so, even when I can’t see them I feel I’m a part of their family as I listen to them going about their lives, cooking, cleaning, washing, babies crying and doing something which sounds like they’re playing a very loud one sided ping pong match for approximately five minutes at exactly the same time each evening.


My view as I listen to one sided ping pong matches next door

Daily evidence of the activity going on next door

This little window into their lives is a lovely part of living within a Cambodian community, but the best bit is when I venture out.  No matter what mood I leave the house in, I can guarantee it’ll be lifted before I’ve managed to negotiate my way out of the gate and closed it behind me thanks to this family.  Day or night, one or more of them is always there with a cheery hello and if the kids are there there’ll also be a “what’s your name?” exchange which never goes any further but induces grins on all sides.  Baby (the one of the gravy browning eyebrows blog post) blows kisses on command and generally grins and waves and they’ve recently acquired the cutest puppy who barks and yaps and wags his tail whenever he sees me.

Cute waggy tailed, yappy puppy just chillin’

The “hello, what’s your name” gang

The neighbour’s source of income – noodle carts

Diagonally across from the gate lives Mr ‘Cop a Squat’ (yes that is a line from Pretty Woman – so shoot me).  You may have noticed him in the video earlier in the post.  Despite my attempts, he doesn’t speak and rarely cracks a smile, he just squats.  Barky dog may or may not greet me on the corner although I think he’s so relieved that the mad water pistol wielding foreigner has left, that he more often than not just trots silently alongside for a few paces as I make my way along the lane before leaving me as a pile of rubbish becomes infinitely more interesting.

Mr Cop a Squat, copping a squat

As we reach and round the corner (the one where I nearly went head on into the car) live a few families with ‘hello’ yelling kids and adults who are now getting to know me well enough to throw out their own hellos as I wobble past on my bike (I wobble even when two handed).


And before I know it I’m spit out into the madness that is the market square, but not before another exchange of hellos with the lovely friendly family on the corner who sell food and have a, usually adorable, baby who was today covered in snot rendering it (yep I have no idea if it’s a girl or boy) slightly less cute and extremely unphotogenic.


So there you have it, a potted commentary of my home and the street where I live here in supposed to be rainy, but currently very sunny Kampot.

Starting the day right

Spoiler alert: this post includes tales of internal angst – readers who don’t want to indulge in my existential moping please step away now.


This post comes to you from one of a number of amazing cafés in Kampot – Epic Arts Café.


I chose this lovely place as my office of choice this Monday morning for a number of reasons:


  1. They open early and I needed to get out
  2. They make the most amazing porridge served with roasted cashews, raisins, bananas and palm sugar
  3. The people who work here and the work the organisation does is truly inspiring – this little video of some of their work never ceases to raise a smile which was much needed today
  4. Their playlist is an eclectic mix of guilty pleasures that I often end up singing along to a little too loudly #whoops mixed with cool previously unheard tunes that I add to my own Spotify playlists
  5. The coffee is pretty damn good
  6. Did I mention that they make awesome porridge?


I’m not ashamed to admit it, this weekend I sank.  It’s been coming on for a few days (I blame the full moon) and I’ve half-heartedly fought it off (for fought off read tried to ignore by indulging in mindless web surfing, TV gorming and copious amounts of sleeping) but as of Saturday afternoon I finally gave in, acknowledged that there was stuff on my mind and stuff that I was doing (including the avoidance techniques I’d been employing), that was making me feel shit and took to my regular place of refuge – my bed.


There were glimmers of joy interspersed in my trip to the doldrums – a lovely chat with my sis et al on Saturday was a temporary reprieve, the one that followed with Jackie was positively hilarious and actually inspired me to get off my arse and go see the sunset on the river before scurrying back to my cave to mope.   Sunday morning started well with an early morning visit to the market – there’s a whole post about that place coming soon as I bloody love it there – and at one point I did step away from my bed once more to indulge in hammock time only for another bloody bracket to come loose, causing the hammock to unceremoniously dump me on the terrace once again – me and that contraption are going to fall out soon I tell you.


Thank you Jackie for inspiring me to get out and go see this

And the time in between the little spurts of joy was used in both wise and foolish endeavours.  I stepped into meditation to try to ground myself and shift some of the stuck emotions I knew were lurking and finally managed to have a damn good gut wretching cry which was painful and cathartic in equal measure.  I stretched my crunched up, shrunken body to relieve some of the tension I’d amassed from carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and having regained the inches I’d lost I got up from the bed and tidied my room, mopping the floor with a mint infused mixture which I also sprayed copiously around (yes I have uninvited, unwelcome visitors to my room who need to jog on).


The less wise periods of time were spent in conversation with Norman who, rather than laughing in the face of my ridiculous existential crisis added fuel to the fire with his assertions of my worthlessness, fraud and the same old shit he always spouts.  Needing to feel shit (and knowing that I’ve been engaging in some stuff of late that hasn’t helped with how I’m feeling) I indulged him for a while before turning up my music and tuning in to that instead until he finally stopped chattering and hopped back into his cage.


And as I sit here this morning, replete after a yummy bowl of goodness and a mug of strong black coffee I’m aware that the feelings are still here – I haven’t sorted this shit out yet, maybe some of it I never will, maybe some of it I don’t want to know the answers too and maybe still more that I already know but can’t yet face.


But regardless of what remains unresolved, fundamentally I’m OK.  I admit it, at the moment life doesn’t make sense and I’m to a degree enhancing the confusion of it by engaging in unhealthy coping strategies rather than facing the shit head on and dealing with it.  But step by step I’m getting there and when I do do the good stuff and start the day right by surrounding myself with amazing people like the ones here at Epic it ain’t all bad.



Sitting in a café in Kampot I’m watching a fabulously Cambodian contrasting approach to work life unfold.


To my left, an electrician kitted out in overalls befitting of someone going to stick his hands in  box containing 220 volts fastens his safety harness to the concrete pole, unfolds his ladder to the exact height required, dons his safety helmet and proceeds to climb the ladder and open the circuit box.  He has the correct tools for the job and works methodically, checking a fuse or whatever electrical contractors do in those boxes before replacing it and moving to the next.


To my right, another guy works on scaffolding.  Dressed in jeans and a shirt, with a baseball cap jauntily perched on his head and flip flop clad feet he balances precariously as he goes about whatever task takes him up there (from my vantage point I’m unable to fully see).  What I can see though is that his current position does not allow him the access he requires and so he calls to his mate (standing below similarly dressed and smoking a ciggy) to move a step ladder closer.  Friend does said task half heartedly, dragging the step ladder before wandering off without checking it is stable, balanced and secure.

Flip flop clad roof man doesn’t care though – he reaches his right leg across and straddling the roof and the ladder continues with the task at hand before totally transferring himself to the top of the ladder, facing away from his work and so having to rotate through 180 degrees to complete it.

And I’m talking contrasts too.  My lovely friend Vivian and I regularly discuss the fabulous contrast that is her Dutch call a spade a spade approach to life and how it jars so beautifully with my British call a spade an implement that can be used for moving natural matter from one place to another should one so wish one.


And in a fit of irony, just as we finish the conversation I contrast my roots by very bluntly telling Vivian how it is in that way that only Sara can.


Contrasting cultures – same crazy smile

The contrasts abound.  Khmer women amazingly adept at producing fabulous western lunch dishes for western travellers and residents alike, from cultures both diverse and similar, their reasons for being here both similar and different.  Coarse Cambodian coffee used to make smooth barista style caffeine laced creations, the bright sunshine of a hot sunny day contrasting with the dark clouds of a brewing storm on its way to our home.   The western music of the café and the khmer tunes emanating from tuktuk next door.  Jarring in a beautifully harmonious way to create extra interest for my day.

And suddenly the work I was observing is no more.  Mr safety first electrician removes his harness and hard hat and hops onto the back of a motorbike with two other guys to head off for lunch whilst next to him Mr roof man removes his baseball cap to replace it with a motorbike helmet for his journey onwards on a push bike no less.


I reach into my purse to take out the contrasting currencies required to pay my bill – the dollars of the big bucks mingling with the riel of the small change – and smile at my life lived in contrasts right here in the Kingdom of Wonders.