I Miss O-Man!

Today was Orion’s first day back to school after a month long Christmas break.  I miss the little man.  It was such a treat to spend some one on one time with him, taking advantage of Charlotte’s nap time and school schedule to have daily fish and rice parties.  We built plenty of Legos, ate jian bing, visited art museums, slept in blanket forts, made arts and crafts, and I even let him watch a few episodes of Fireman Sam and Ninjago.

P.S. to the O:  YOU are the stinky fish and Mommy is the nice, clean rice!  😉

Cheat Sheet to Cambodia

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Mommy, I miss Cambodia.”  ~Orion

Orion’s sentiment sums up how I think our whole family felt about our Christmas trip to Cambodia–it was one of the best we have ever taken.  The country has just enough tourism infrastructure to make the journey pleasant and relatively smooth, yet it is authentic and non-touristy.  Adding to our ease of travel is that most everyone speaks a bit of English and the U.S. dollar is accepted as currency.  The kids, being a bit older, were for the most part well behaved and we had a looser itinerary to adhere to.  As long as they had ancient temples in the jungle to climb through, they were happy.  Glad Mom reminded me to bring band aids!

The Khmer people are the friendliest we’ve met, the food delicious, culture unique, and landscape gorgeous.  December is high tourism season as it is dry season, no humidity  and the temperature is lower (a brisk 90 degrees some days!).  Layne proved his manliness daily by “shooshing” geckos out of our hotel rooms–so brave!  Our wardrobes are more and more resembling a J. Peterman catalog, a la Seinfeld, with sarongs, carved wood drums and elephant print pant acquisitions.  I have so much to write about!

FRIENDLY PEOPLE:  Cambodian smiles are well known, and for good reason; they are bright, lovely and sincerely warm.  My favorite example of their kindness comes from a little girl selling snack and breakfast items on our morning boat from Siem Reap to Battambang.  I gave her three lollipops to enjoy which she happily tucked into, then unflinchingly offered one to Orion.  Truly a “widow’s mite” level of generosity as I am sure she does not come across sweets regularly.

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CHILDREN WORKERS:  As a reminder to be thankful for the gift of access to education were the many, many children workers in Cambodia.  They are everywhere, hawking shirts, drinks, bracelets, postcards, not to mention performing manual labor.  It is easy for me to think that these children should be in school instead, but when your family is poor and living hand to mouth, a day’s take puts rice in your dinner bowl.

TUK TUKS:  CAR FOR SALE.  2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid.  Runs great, looks great, baby girl born in front seat.  Will accept trade-in for late model tuk tuk as payment.  How much more fun can a vacation get when your primary mode of transportation are these fast, open-air rides?

MONK ON A MOTORCYCLE:  This is a game we played when we needed to refocus the kids and make sure they were taking in the scene.  A very common occurrence, it was never long before one would zoom by.  The winner’s prize was a kiss from Mommy.

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BUGS–tarantulas, crickets…just some of the tasty street snacks we saw.  At one point Orion said he would try one but that fizzled out soon after we said it was fine if he wanted to.20141223_010049HAMMOCKS–are everywhere.  I love a culture that has as many hammocks as chairs and many eateries are encircled in them to lounge while you wait or eat.  Napping seems to be a way of life here, and mothers aggressively swing their babies inside.  It gave me a start the first time I saw one practically on the verge of a loop-de-loop but the little ones seem to enjoy it!

Naked cutie swinging his sister

Naked cutie swinging his sister

Oh yes, and beer….lots and lots of Angkor Beer.

20141219_001852Don’t fret…excruciating detail and many, many more photographs to come, from as far back as Halloween as I am waaaay far behind in my writing!  So pull out your jack-o lanterns and get ready to do some time traveling with the Lowery Family.

Greetings from Angkor Wat!

Greetings from Angkor Wat!

Cambodia Day 2

WHAT IS THAT SOUND?  No, seriously, where is that racket coming from? The twang of exotic instruments jolting us from sleep remind us we are a looooong way from home.  Starting at 6:00 this morning, traditional Cambodian music is being played throughout our neighborhood at an earsplitting level that even Pantera would be jealous of.  We later learn this is a funerary custom (my guess is to wake the deceased) and it should not continue more than one more day. Though still sleepy, we can’t escape the music and it serves as both a great alarm clock and backdrop to the scene below our window; street vendors lighting cooking fires, tuk tuk drivers awaiting passengers, men in sarongs sweeping driveways.  The kids and I are faster than Layne who bravely tried to fight off the music with the old “pillow over head trick” (the music won) so we stroll while Layne dresses.  The best way to really get to know a place is by local wanderings, and our brief 20 minute walk did not disappoint.

Breakfast is a wonderful mix of Western and Asian (fried pineapple slices?  Yes, please!) and we fill up before meeting the brother of our taxi driver from last night.  Our first tuk tuk ride is fast, fun and memorable.  Charlotte would not stop smiling!  We start our tour with the most famous of them all, the pride of her people, the temple that has beer named after it and emblazons both the currency and flag of the Kingdom; Angkor Wat.  What I sadly lack in historical knowledge, I make up for in photographs.  So. many. photos.

We finish the temple and Layne runs kid interference so I can do a little sarong shopping.  There are plenty of little food stalls, and we eat practically in the shade of the famous temple.  I get a good laugh as the lady plugs a pedestal fan into a car battery–such resourcefulness!  While waiting for our food, monkeys slowly climbed down from their trees and we held our collective breath, wondering if the “Monkey Incident” in Malaysia would make Charlotte run for cover.  But alas, her fears have calmed and she watches them excitedly.

There is a list of items I promised the children would see/experience on this trip, and the “giant stone heads” are our next stop.  The Bayon temple is covered with carvings of the face of King Jayavarman VII who (supposedly) commissioned all the temples to be built.  Good thing he was handsome, because it is impossible to escape his gaze.

A short tuk tuk ride away, we visit Baphuon temple, the Phimeanakas (doesn’t that sound Greek?!) temple, the Terrace of the Elephants (where the King would stand to watch returning troops) and the Terrace of the Leper King, containing thousands of carvings on inside and outside walls.  The steepness of the steps reminds me of descending Chichen Itza on my bottom as a girl!

On the ride back to our hotel to freshen up before dinner, we stopped to check out an ancient gate and bridge that we later discovered we would cross many more times over the next couple of days.  Oh yeah, and there were elephants too.

Charlotte and I head out in our new elephant-wear (more attractive than it sounds, I promise) and we have a five star Cambodian dinner at a two star Cambodian price, thanks to multiple recommendations for the Chanrey Tree.

The rarely seen "double-bed-straddle"

The rarely seen “double-bed-straddle”

An absolute dream day!

Cambodia Day 1

How is it, that no matter how many hours or days I put into packing, I still am working right up until the last minute?  Mr. Max helped us load the car, we picked Orion up at school, then headed straight for the airport.   We’re pretty confident he will learn more at the ancient temples of Angkor than watching Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer at his class Christmas party tomorrow, so pulling him out for the last half day before break was a no-brainer.

Later, China!

Later, China!

Upon landing in Siem Reap, the heat hits us as we walk from airplane to terminal, completing health cards before entering.  We breezed through the VOA (visa on arrival) line and thought, prematurely, “this is so easy!”  Unfortunately, one of us (I am now very discreetly tilting my head and rolling my eyes in the direction of my husband) misread the visa directions and we do indeed need to complete paperwork for the children.  Out of the line, back to the visa desk.  In the meantime, a plane from Korea lands and scoots in front of us.  Fantastic.

Finally, paperwork is processed, paid for, and we wait.  There are no computers here, everything is completed by hand with a great flourish of stamping and signing.  The passports make their way down the line of a dozen uniformed, serious looking immigration officers until they reach the very end.  Your name is yelled out, passport held up, and you come forth to claim your prize: permission to enter the Kingdom of Cambodia.  I am like a child at Christmas, rifling through the pages to find my new treasure inside.  My heart always quiets a bit when waiting at customs and is once again jump started by the reverberating THWAK of the stamp inside my passport added to my prized collection.

Bags claimed, we are out of the airport, accosted by tuk tuk and taxi drivers, and again–that heat.  But, alas, our prearranged tuk tuk left without us due to our visa line woes.  The kids are disspointed (and so am I!) but arrange for a regular-old-boring taxi instead.  It is late and we just want to sleep.  After initial pleasantries with the driver, negotiations start for a tour of the temples the following day.  We agree on a route and a price, and are eager to start our adventure in this new country!

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Thanks, readers, for your continued patience as I play catch up and slowly creep toward our present month!)

It’s hard to remember it is Thanksgiving time around here. Trees do not change color, the only Autumn event celebrated is Halloween (in it’s own uniquely Chinese fashion) and I can see the confusion on my veg lady’s face with my multiple pumpkin purchases.

I issued what was probably the world’s worst invitation to our dear friends The Higgs Family. I basically told Laura “please come for Thanksgiving but you have to bring your own turkey.” I toyed with the idea of going local and ordering a duck but that would not be very vegetarian of me, ordering an animal’s execution.  Mrs. Li was also part of our festivities, and we were proud to share our traditions and foods on her first ever American Thanksgiving.  The menu was pretty typical with only one last minute substitution.  I had been squirreling away a can of cranberry sauce for months specifically in anticipation of this feast, but had to serve lingonberry jam instead when I discovered the top was oozing.  Disappointing, but a great stand in!  And definitely much more delicious than botulism.

Melton, the Warm-Hearted Snowman

After weeks of rehearsals, today was Orion’s big theatrical debut in “Melton, the Warm-Hearted Snowman.”  Playing the critically acclaimed role of Elf #2, Orion knocked it out of the park with his enthusiastic performance.  We have been practicing so much, none of us will ever forget his lines which he delivered wonderfully:

“A few questions first, and I mean just a few,

and then we will know if this warm heart is true.”

A great way to kick off the winter season.  We are so proud of you, O-Man!