Posts Tagged With: tradition

Visiting Yoot’s Village: An Hour Out Of Phnom Penh

Happy May! I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but it’s been over 100° every day here in Phnom Penh. Yep, 100°. Humidity, you ask? Isn’t it also humid in Southeast Asia? A simple Google search informs me that humidity is currently at 62%. 

100° Fahrenheit with 62% humidity. If you don’t know much about science—like me—let me fill you in. The hotter the air is, the more water it can contain. As the temperature rises, the humidity will feel worse, even at the same percentage. So, 40% humidity feels a lot worse when the air is 80 degrees than when it’s 45 degrees. Here’s a screenshot of Accuweather’s “Real Feel” for the current weather in Phnom Penh:


And if that STILL doesn’t make sense, let me explain it this way. Turn on your shower. Crank the heat up as high as it will go. Close the door to your bathroom. Walk away. Enter your bedroom. Put on the following garments: wool socks, sweatpants, turtleneck, snuggie, gloves, scarf, hat. Next, complete fifty-five jumping jacks. After the jumping jacks have been completed, locate your one of the following items: cooking oil, vaseline, Chapstick, or mayonnaise.  Rub selected item all over any exposed parts of your body. (Presumably your face.) After all of the above events, approximately twenty minutes should have passed. Return to your bathroom. Is the shower still cascading steaming water out of the faucet? Has the room become a sauna of mist and heat? Good. Shut the bathroom door. Sit on the floor of the bathroom. Close your eyes. Imagine palm trees.


But this blog isn’t all about the current heat situation of Cambodia. It is about the time we visited our friend’s village. It was a special day. Our first village visit, actually. And while the heat can melt my ice cream, it can’t melt my memories. (Thank you, thank you. I perform every Thursday.)

Our friends, Sarah and Yoot, invited us to Yoot’s village, located an hour’s drive outside of Phnom Penh. Yoot’s mother was holding a ceremony for her husband who has passed away. While he had passed away fifteen years ago, they didn’t have the large ceremony for him at that time. Now, even though years later, they held the large celebration on the anniversary of his death. Sean and I were flattered to be invited to go.

IMG_1208When we first arrived, we met friends and family. I handed my gift to the man receiving them, and in doing so received a blessing. The above photo is Yoot and I, about to hand my gift over to the man who was responsible for receiving them. As you can see, the woman in front of me is bowing to accept her post-gift blessing.

Another observation: Sarah asked us to wear a white top and black bottoms. Look how well I fit in!


IMG_1213We sat down to dinner shortly after arriving, and relaxed speaking with Sarah and Yoot. Family was everywhere, the sun was shining, and it was beautiful.
IMG_1214Yoot insisted on serving us, even though we asked him to sit and relax with us. He was pretty proud to host us on his home turf. He grew up in the house on the left, with the steps heading out of the photo. He and Sarah live in Phnom Penh and have for quite some time, and he said he loves to visit his home and share it with others. (Sean wanted me to mention how handsome Yoot is. Isn’t he a handsome man?)


IMG_1219And OH WOW, the food was fantastic! Truly. Fresh grilled fish, steamed rice, roast duck, sweet porridge, and deep-fried coconut rice for dessert. The fish was grilled to perfection. It was a divine combination of tastes and textures.


IMG_1222After dinner, we walked around the village a bit. (I told you we were well-dressed!) Yoot showed us the fish farm, where his family raises fish to sell in the city. They dug the well themselves, irrigated it with a nearby stream, and now have a lucrative fish business. They transport live fish into Phnom Penh every morning, where Yoot’s sister sells them at Orussey Market.


1526429_627595060660675_801304591_nThe chanting went on all evening, with intervals of music. We knelt on the mats, hands folded in prayer, and took part in the ceremony for Yoot’s father.


IMG_1235Sean snapped a few photos of the instruments, which were absolutely fascinating.

IMG_1238And, of course, a Khmer party is not a party without dancing! We finished the evening with a few dances, which ranged from contemporary Khmer artists to American music from this decade. We didn’t want to leave, but we knew we had an hour’s drive back into the city ahead of us.

I can’t wait for another opportunity to visit Yoot’s family and village. It was amazing to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, talk with lovely people, and relax with friends.

But maybe the temperature will have to drop a bit before we venture out of A/C again…

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Beijing Street Food

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. – JRR Tolkien

Aside from the views and outdoor recreation, food is definitely my favorite thing about traveling. When city-traveling, it’s all about the food. In the countryside, food takes a backseat to the activities, but it’s always an adventure planning the next place to eat. I’m not a foodie—I have no desire to taste quail eggs or snake venom—but I want to get a feel for a place through the food.

Our last day in Beijing was a hedonistic journey through the narrow, ancient alleyways of the central part of the city. We were on a mission to eat some street food.


We took the metro into the old part of the town. When we climbed out from underneath the ground, it was as if I stepped into every movie and every picture I had ever seen about China while growing up. It was so “Chinese”! I felt it in the colors, the smells, the people, the sounds, everything.


Red lanterns covered the streets. We were clearly in the busy part of town, where the socializing, the eating, and the shopping happens.


We found what seemed to me like a cross between a gourmet and a traditional grocery store. It was a tiny market with aisles of whole grains, spices, dried herbs, noodles, rices. Rice was pretty much the only thing I could identify. Ice bought two kilos of walnuts; they were cheaper and better quality than what we can find here in Phnom Penh.


Lining up to purchase meat for supper.


This is a traditional Beijing sweet. It is caramelized sugar that coats things like grapes, cherries, and oranges.


Then we came across fresh yogurt. For 3 RMB ( fifty cents), you get a fresh pot of yogurt and a straw that you stick through the paper on top. You stay at the shop until you finish the yogurt, and hand the pot back to the vendor when you are finished. I paid them an extra ¥2  to take the pot with me. It now houses our toothbrushes.

Then, we got to the Hutong neighborhood. Hutongs are narrow streets or alleys that reach upwards of 400 years old. It was my favorite part of our whole trip. Many of the hutongs had converted store fronts to house cafes, pubs, or accessory shops. It was a walker’s delight!


Fresh oysters with garlic paste, roasted over the coals for you. I had one to go. It was delicious!

For the past three days, I had been smelling something foul on the streets of Beijing. It was somewhat sweet smelling, but also smelled, honestly, like feces. I didn’t really believe people were defecating on the street, so I thought it better not to bring it up to Ice. When we were in the hutongs, she pulled me over to a street vendor, and immediately I smelled the fecal smell again. Believe it or not, it was tofu. Ice told me I would like it, and she was right. It’s a form of fermented tofu, or “stinky tofu”. I really can’t do the explanation justice, so I’m just going to quote Wikipedia here:

Stinky tofu (   in Chinese, Pinyin: chòudòufu): A soft tofu that has been fermented in a unique vegetable and fish brine.The blocks of tofu smell strongly of certain pungent cheeses, and are described by many as rotten and fecal. Despite its strong odor, the flavor and texture of stinky tofu is appreciated by aficionados, who describe it as delightful. The texture of this tofu is similar to the soft Asian tofu from which it is made. The rind that stinky tofu develops from frying is said to be especially crisp, and is usually served with soy sauce, sweet sauce, and/or hot sauce.”

I can’t wait to go back and get some more stinky tofu!


A Starbucks in  a converted hutong.


This was a delicious treat. She’s making a savory omelet, which will then be placed on the crunchy discs on the left.


It’s then folded up and you munch on this delicious, salty, savory omelet sandwiched between a crisp, oily fried crust.


Later on, in the bathroom….


A very popular bakery, which is apparently endorsed by some very famous people.


We kept eating. I had deep fried vegetables on the left, and Ice had cow stomach, on the right.


The doorway of a cafe.


Looking down food street of the hutong.


Just like China town in the States…


Cotton candy.

And that was it! At 10:00, we were ready for bed. We had to fly out bright and early the next morning, so we headed back to our hotel.


In the Hong Kong airport, where we had a layover, I spotted Astronomy magazine! My dad has an advertisement in there for his business, Obsession Telescopes, and a great friend of ours is a columnist in there. All the way in Hong Kong, a memory of home!

In the end, I really loved China, and not just for the food. The people were friendly, there was so much history, and the city felt almost like New York. I’d love to go back, next time with Sean. I never even got to see Tiananmen Square or the Great Wall!

Check back soon for more Cambodian rainforest adventures!

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