Sunday, September 16, 2007

Of openess 1

A story starts with a beginning and a philosophy starts with a reason.
My story of transparency began a few months into university. Being more regular in cell group both in campus and in church I began to notice a personal trend. There would be questions, issues that I was struggling with and bursting to share yet it would get smothered by my own reluctance to open up. After all who would dare stick up his/her hand and say I'm struggling with such and such when others are mumbling that the biggest struggle and prayer requests were that of exams. There was somehow an unspoken rule; we'll talk about our external struggles but not our internal. We will be pleasant with each other, we wouldn't want to have negative impressions of one another, we're good Christians after all and so lets stick to struggles everyone deems as "safe"

Fearful and petrified that I was the only one wrestling with these issues, I wondered what was wrong with my spiritual life. No one seemed to be struggling; was I the only one who did not have faith? Was I the only one who found prayer a chore? Was I the only one dissatisfied with such and such?

I guess I was crazy enough one day to say.."this is what I'm struggling over" in 2 cgs. I remember the awkward silence that followed. It was an embarrassing struggle; the struggle of singleness and contentment. And at the time I doubt some even knew me well enough to know if I was attached or not.

I must say, I went away feeling really exposed; now people will know that I'm not that cool after all..gasp I'm unattractive! (haha, I'm never cool to begin with so I guess it was pride). But what followed up after that was amazing. It was only after that, my friendships with Cindy and Philip grew deep. And from then on, through relating with others in dual roles of both sharing and hearing, my eyes were opened to the reality of life; everyone is not as cool as they seem. I realized no one is immune; not even the most profilic leader nor the strongest Christian.

My own journey of transparency and being privileged to share in others' have revolutionized my Christian life. It has allowed me to learn from the lessons of others; to gain from their experiences and to see God's hand in their lives. At the same time, sharing my own has opened up deep friendships, invaluable advice and most importantly brought in accountability.

Yet over the course of championing openness I've also learnt a couple of lessons on the way. Certain mistakes that I shouldn't have made and in others where applying wisdom would have been helpful.
And thus, this is why I've decided to start a series on the issue of transparency; for better or worst some people in CF associate transparency with I do want to be sharing the right thing and to warn of pitfalls as well.

I'll leave this 1st post with a poem I found to be true...
If we cannot be true to ourselves in the very place we call refugee, then were can we can we hide?


If this is not a place where tears are understood
Then where should I go to cry?

And if this is not a place where my spirit can take wings
Then where should I go to fly?

I don't need another place for tryin' to impress you
With just how good and virtuous I am,
no, no, no.

I don't need another place for always bein' the top of things
Everybody knows that it's a sham,
It's a sham

I don't need another place for always wearing smiles
Even when it's not the way I feel.

I don't need another place to mouth the same old platitudes
Everybody knows that it's not real.

So if this is not a place where my questions can be asked
Then where shall I go and seek?

And if this is not a place where my heart's cry can be heard
Where, tell me
Where, shall I go to speak?

Ken Medema

Monday, May 14, 2007

And again the leaves fall,

it seems that the end is near.

finally, finally?

it still is never easy.

Friday, November 17, 2006


I think I never truly appreciated my piano lessons when I was learning to play.
Detested scales, guessed through the aural exams, fumbled through sight reading (I will never forget having a 5 flat piece during grade 6! ah, total disaster!). Even a beautiful piece would be massacred into a formula; louder at this phrase, remember to slow down at the end to give a "rallentando" effect. Full of pencil marks to remember what to do and where to do it.

I never could "feel" a piano piece. The only reason I think I could finish grade 8 (besides God's grace) was that I just "memorized" the effects to play the piece.

I could never really tell if I was playing well or terrible. I remember playing a piece and my piano teacher would say "lousy" and then I would try to "feel" the piece, and then she would say "good." But I myself could never hear the difference.

In short, to me it just seemed like a dead, mathematical system of hitting certain notes at a certain sequence to pass it off as a song.

No wonder I never captured the beauty of playing the piano..even though I took my final grade at the old age of 16. Never quite marvelled at the little jems in a song, or be in awe of a movement.

Just complained and struggled through to pass exams!

And today I just happen to chance upon hearing a classical song.

Since it was louder and with headphones on, the details in the song became crisp. You could hear the ever so slight pause between notes, the gentle build up of slurs. The diminuendo effect. It's almost as if you can hear the player take a breath as he ends a phrase and lifts up his hand to begin a new phrase.

The slow but sure build up; a stuble shift in loudness and forte. Almost could imagine the player hunching forward as he builds up the song.

No need to strive and struggle with music terms, pencil marks on the ABRSM book for an exam.....but playing...yes playing (just like playing a toy) a ode to the King, or a waltz accompaniment, a dramatic opera finale. A cheeky overture for a play.

No longer a mathematical formula, but a melody.

If only I caught this during grade 8, my piano teacher would have been less stressed!

But at certain times, that's how life as a Christian feels like; merely a set of rules, a conduct of life.

Sometimes it feels as if the bible is just a self help book not to different from the motivational books in the market. Even if lives get changed in Christianity it's because people are bound by certain rules and directed to think in a certain way.

Other times, Christianity feels like a burden. It's always something you didn't do or should have done. If you feel distant from God it's because you haven't tried enough. If there's problems in your life, it's either that you've sinned or that God has something to teach you. If there's no answer it's because you haven't prayed enough. If you want a breakthrough you should fast and pray. Only if you do this, you'd get blessed like this...

All above which are correct and not wrong in a proper context...yet unaccurately makes Christian life feel no different than hitting a mathematical formula on a piano (do this and this)...instead of playing a song.

And no matter how we try to manufacture the song; while it may sound pretty good to others, we know deep down, we can't really hear the difference between a piece well played or a lousy piece.

Maybe it's time to play again.
To capture the songs of our lives.

To not view God, the piano player in our lives as a struggling piano student who memorizes formulas and forgets the beauty of the song.

But the God, the concert maestro, gives the best performance and brings out the beauty of the song.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It's the dawn of the new era

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
The famous opening from Charles Dickens masterpiece, A tale of two cities.

"It is the best of bimboitic times, it is the worst of intellectual times."
The infamous opening from the life of yours truly.

Having a mammoth 5 hours warming the hairdresser's chair, yours truly had lots of time to reflect on the deterioration of her intellectual poweress since entering medical school, not that she had lots of it in the first place.

She recalled fondly her burning crusade; albilt misplaced considering her lack of talents, to take up the mighty pen. To fight the cause of the oppressed, to unearth corruption, to purge the world of evil..with the humble pen. For after all wasn't the power of the pen mighter than the sword?

She wanted to be a crusading journalist; with hair practically bunched in a pony tail or cropped short, dressed in sneakers and khaki pants to chase interviews. Never mind the grim dirt on face, it just added pizzaz to the image of a war-time journalist blazing her way to the Pultizer.

Or the next best thing, to read political science or some obscure course in the hallowed grounds of some musty old university, churning out papers on the impact of Taiwan's diplomacy with the South Pacific Islands or the evolving Communist Party in China; reports 10 inches thick that only other geeky academics would read with zeal. She pictured herself sitting in the green lawns framed by the background of a 1700s building in a sweater and jeans while devouring the latest book on the rise of the New Russia.

Yet now she finds herself 2.5 years later, sitting in a gaudy hairdressers saloon, reading a woman's magazine on 10 tips to keep your face pimple free..while the hairdresser paints a peroxide smelling chemical on her hair.

While she used to read about Madeline Albright's policies in the Middle East, now she's wondering how does Condoleeza Rice look so good in her lilac power suits as she tackles the war in Lebanon. Come to think of it, Madeline Albright should have done something with her hair!

And while she used to admire the Iron Lady for her liberalization of British state-owned industries, now she admires the Iron Lady for her Ferragamo handbags.

Oh yea, it gets worst...she used to think that M'sian politics were drab due to their policies and mismanagement, but now she can attribute her lack of interest of M'sian politics to the lack of beautiful women in the Cabinet.

Madam foreign trade is a grandmother, so it's a definate no-no to look to her for fashion tips. Plus, with only 10.9% of women in the Lower House of Parliment (1), it makes it less interesting to tune into politics to see who's wearing what. Plus, after the Rais Y. incident on national dress code in the Parliment, there's even less incentive to look for fashion trends there.

If only F. Po Kuan would be made a cabinet minister (with the perks of a personal stylist) or something like that...I'm sure more 20something yuppie females wearing their Vincci shoes would be more inclined to vote/participate in politics. (2)

So instead of knowing the economic impact of the country of stars and stripes' sanctions on Iran, she's having the stars and stripes' flag colours of red and blue metal foil wrapped on her hair for highlights.

Previously: Dying to battle the woes of the world with the powerful pen.....

Now: Contented to battle the woes of a bad hair day with HAIR SPRAY!

She laments how she has changed!

How can she sit under the green lawns to read now, don't you know excessive sun exposure can cause premature wrinkling?!

And a crusading journalist? Don't they go to war torn countries..............
without toilets? How to cleanse, tone and moisturize every day?

Never mind Alexander Solzhenitsyn's work, that guy has frizzy hair!

So what if she misses the with the interview with President Bachelet of Chile for being late......
cuz how can anyone wear sneakers and khaki pants? Don't you know that makes people look short? High heels please!

At least her mother's fears that she will morph into a thick-spectacles wearing, grubby haired messy girl when she graduates as a doctor won't come through. You know the false perception that all women medical students are nerdy and unkept?

Oh man, that's so outdated. She realizes that since entering medical school, she's become more and more airheaded. Why, she's reading more Cleo than Time since then! And one of the joyful moments during her Seremban hospital bedside teaching in sem5 was when she saw a MO wearing 3 inch red high heels, because if someone can do it in Seremban GH with all its impossible staircases, it's possible to be a houseman without sacrificing high heels!

Since becoming a medical student, she now has no qualms of spending the equvilent of West Gabon's (3) annual GDP on her dead keratin while in the past she would thought that such money should be used to feed orphans. The side effects of memorizing IMU's notes must have caused a displacement of logic in her neurons. But she consols herself. At least all the medical knowledge can be used to guess if the peroxide chemical on her hair is causing a point mutation, or a chain deletion of adenine and thymine in her DNA sequencing.

And while she used to scoff at Marie Antoinette's phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" (4) during a crisis of bread shortage in France (5), she now thinks the phrase makes sense. After all, if there's no bread, eat cake la right?

Oh wait, that's wrong.

Don't eat cake.

Cake makes you fat! (5)

(1) 1999 figures
(2) Abrevations of names used on purpose. Don't want to be under I.s.a
(3) Yes, West Gabon is a real country with the annual GDP of USD7228million (2004 figures)
(4) French for "Let them eat cake"
(5) A phrase incorrectly associated with Marie Antoinette. Source
(6) cuz it's high in calories. (yey! medical knowledge for 2.5 years finally useful)


Yea yea yea, too free already. This is meant to be a mild satirical comedy post. Lots are exaggerated. I don't use hair spray for instance. Haha.
But laugh while you can because soon I won't be able to dream up this kind of nonsense. Classes start on the 15th of Jan! That's like a whole month earlier than some of the Oz and NZ folks.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Tuol Sleng

This was a former secondary school that was turned into a detention and torture centre during the Khmer Rouge rule. It's the infamous prison where inmates were tortured badly. Out of the 17000 people that went through the prison, only 12 survived.

We went there on the 2nd last day, during our R&R in Phnom Penh. Because I've read about this place in Time/Newsweek, I was actually quite excited to go. 2 of my team members elected not to go because they felt they won't be able to stand it. On the other hand, it was a must see for me.

We went around 4+ in the afternoon, when it was getting a bit dark and windy. It's eerily quiet, with tourists walking silently. The first block of building was were the inmates were tied to the steel beds and tortured. The Khmer Rouge imprisoned anyone they suspected of treason, including their own soilders, children, pregnant women. The first to be killed were all the educated people, where anyone who wore spectacles would immediately be executed.

Prisoners are chained to the steel beds and beaten, whipped or tortured a slow death...there are still blood stains on the floor.

As I walked on and looked, I felt the sense of death becomeing stronger. My team member was saying she felt nauseous, because she could see blood stains on the floor. The pictures of the tortured prisoners were so revolting, you couldn't even recognize the human bodies. It just looked like burned sticks...
Even children were imprisoned and tortured. In the killing fields of Choung Ek, the babies were smashed against tree trunks..or thrown in the air and used as practice targets for gunners.

Then we entered another room where it was rows after rows of pictures of all the inmates. The men, the women, the children...the black and white pictures with multiple pairs of eyes looking forlornly back at wonder, what were their stories?

How much fear did they feel? Just walking there I could already feel the fear of death and doom...what more if I was a prisoner?
Could I have heard the rest of the prisoners screaming in the next room? Or smell rotting corpses? The pain of being seperated from my family? Or the even greater fear for my family, the fear and worry that they would be tortured as well.

The girl in the picture is Debbie. She's reading the framed picture and narrative of a prisoner. Each frame tells the story of a prisoner. As you can see, the classroom is deathly quiet and run down, just like how it was originally.

Next block was a empty room in the 2nd floor..with pictures and a short narrative for every prisoner pictured. I saw the pictures of the prisoners before they were imprisoned, when life was normal. Some girls with the 70s hairstyle, smiling..guys posing with their military uniforms..looking macho and hopeful. Students, medical assistants, farmers, wives, fathers, labourers. Then you read the stories, how some of them joined the Khmer Rouge for ideology, some to provide food for their family, some because they had no choice...and how they were arrested, brought here and just go missing, pressumed dead.

I felt very uneasy..because the whole place is so quiet, the building is really old and fading, and the pictures just make you ask so much questions about the prisoners. I realized from the happy time pictures that they were not much different from me now. They had their dreams, their fashion styles, their hopes for the future. Reading the stories, in the classroom where torture took place and added with sounds of children laughing from outside the museum, the wind blowing, the sky going dark outside.....really gives a dreadful, coming from deep in stomach kind of feeling for me.

Top: individual cell, just large enough for one person to stand. 3 pictures: Instruments of torture

Then it was the torture block. The individual cells were so small, you can't even lie down. I saw the leg chains, and unwisely stepped into one of the cells just to feel how it was like... and oh man, I felt the strong feeling of despair and quickly stepped out! I just can't imagine being a prisoner, chained there!

Most of us didn't even want to read how they used the instruments of torture. You can still see chain holders drilled in the floor and the original instruments used. I didn't even want to touch any of them! One of the ways of torture was to gorge out the eyes and pour salt. I saw a skull driller too..and a chair where they tie you down and electricute prisoners.

Then we walked on, and I really hated this particular block. When I read the description of the building, I really felt, sad, angry, shocked, grief, fear....and just though, ugh, God! how can man do this to their own fellow man? The building was covered with a huge sheet of rusty sharp barbed wire spanning from the 3rd floor to the ground floor. And you know why?

They covered it in barbed wire because they didn't want the prisoners they tortured to commit suicide! Imagine, they won't even let you kill yourself, but want to kill you slowly, painfully, gorging out your eyes, beating you, letting you scream in pain......and won't even permit you to end your misery early.

I mean, if you really think that this prisoner is a traitor to the country, won't that save you trouble and time to kill him if he kills himself? But no, they would not let you do it. They want to have the fun of killing you to intimidate others! It's almost as if the prison guards enjoyed employing different methods to prolong death and practice their "experiements" on humans, their fellow countrymen.

The worst, worst part of the whole museum for me was this particular room.
If you know me, you'd know I'm not really the kind that gets scared that easily. I'm not afraid of spiders or any other creature, nor of heights or dark. Even after having two accidents I don't have a phobia of cars, I'm very gung-ho about visiting new places. I love to try new experiences, I don't balk at a challenge.

BUT! I was really, really afraid to enter this room alone. At first, I just walked in...but when I saw what was in the room..I quickly walked out...and then only waited until Joel came..and told him.."eh, go in with me."

In the room was a huge Buddhist shrine, and 2 cupboards that span from the ceiling to the floor full of skulls and bones. It's not the skulls that scared me but it was the atmosphere of the room. Especially since we were on a mission trip, the "off, something's not right kind of feeling" of that room made me hesitate to go into the room alone. The room was filled with a heavy Buddhist atmosphere...the shrine was a huge bell, 1.5 metres tall, and there were joss-sticks were some tourists had lighted and prayed.

In the Buddhist culture, it's symbolic of praying for the dead. And added with the skulls.....I really didn't feel comfortable, so much so, it's the only place I where didn't take any photographs. I didn't even want to store any pictures of the room in my camera! That was how off and weird I felt about the room.

Look into my eyes. See my baby. What did I do to deserve this?

Even that night before I slept, everytime I closed my eyes..I could see the black and white pictures of the prisoners! I was even a little fearful to be in the dark alone. The stories just kept playing in my mind when I was in the dark.

It served me right for being over-enthusiastic for wanting to go to the museum. You see, since I am normally not affected by horror movies or gross pictures I didn't really prepare myself before I went into the museum. I went in with an attitute of "nothing will scare me or shock me" because hey, I was a medical student who's seen drown corpses etc.

And I learnt my lesson that spiritual atmospheres are real and shouldn't be taken lightly. I told God, "Okay..I should have prayed more and not be so confident of myself." Thankfully the fear and picture flashes went away after that.

But I'm glad I went because it helped me, helped us (my group) understand the people, the land better. There is almost no family in Cambodia that hasn't been affected by the Khmer Rouge. The scars go deep, and I will never be able to comprehend or share even a little of the pain they have been through. The suffering the land has been through and is still going through with the corruption and oppresion is heavy.

Yet, there's hope because of Jesus! Two out of ten of our Cambodian pastors were former Khmer Rouge soilders. Ps Kim and his wife used to plant land mines to blow up tanks. And Ps Rom used to be a store house keeper for guns. We saw the pastors there united in prayer and fervant for God's work. Some pastors run 3 to 4 churches each at different villages, travelling in their motorcyle to preach. We were so encouraged by their love for each other, for their people. When one leader was pouring out his frustrations in one of the pastors meetings, with tears running....some pastors also cried along with him! And when you see them sing in Khmer, singing about Cambodia for, it's just so magical!

Friday, September 01, 2006

What did we do there? Medical work

For the first two days, our team travelled to different villages around the Baray district since the youth camp had not started.

The CMS (Cambodia Methodist Services) actually employs a doctor 3 days a week. They also have a dispenser and medication. It's really very well organized.

We would normally stop at a village, step up "clinic" underneath a person's house. The patients would register with a pastor, get a number, see the doctor, get a prescription, go to the dispenser's table, and after dispensing there would be another pastor there to pray for the patient. The rest of the pastors would talk to the patients while they are waiting and share the gospel. So in a sense the medical work, is a platform for the pastors to get to know people from villagers that have not heard of the gospel.

Doctor, operating from the space beneath someone's house. In the back is firewood for cooking.


The doctor would be really busy. In 3 hours, he would normally have to see 70-90 patients!
Well, since I was there, they asked me to set up a table, as in, I would become the 2nd doctor. Of course there would be a translator with me.

For starters I really didn't want to because I am just a 3rd year medical student. And I can't read the medicine labels or know what medication they stock because all the medication labels are in FRENCH. (Cambodia was a former French colony, to study medicine, you need to know French). The only French I know is Bon Jour, Petite, Amore. Ha, hopeless.

But the crowd was just to big! And so, I stumbled along. The 1st case was some UTI case. When you start seeing the patients, you realize how desperate is the need for healthcare in Cambodia. There are government hospitals but again because of corruption, the doctors won't treat you unless you pay a significant amount of money. So most people go to "pharmacists." Which aren't really pharmacists because a lot of them are not qualified. And they sell to the patients, antibiotics; IN THE AMOUNT OF 2 TABLETS! Meaning, each time you think you are sick, you go to the "pharmacy" and get 2 tablets of antibiotics and hope to get well.

Then there are patients with scabies, and for the life of me, I don't know what to prescribe. Next was a woman 5 months pregnant who has not felt her baby move and feel pain in the night. It's bad enough that I don't really know how to palpate a pregnant woman, added with the fact that there's no bed, you must try to palpate while she's sitting and you have to rely on a translator. The sad thing is that she went to the district hospital and the doctors can't do anything because there's no ultrasound in the district, she would need to go to Phnom Pehn 2 hours away if she wants an ultrasound.

Then a guy with TB, and we don't have any TB drugs. Next someone with suspected malaria.

In the end the dispenser also couldn't figure what I was writing as all their drugs are in French, so I told them, never mind I'll just help take BP for the patients.

Ah, I look so garang here....! Concentrating la..haha
Surface to say, I've never taken BP for so many people in 1 day, and it sure triples or quardaples the number of times I've taken BP in CSU, clinic or every other senario in my whole life. I think it must have numbered 130+ and it's really good training because you learn to hear for Korotkoff sounds while chickens are squacking at the back, and 50 other people crowd around you, punctuated by the moos of cows.

It can be hard to hear the Korotfoff sound especially among women because some of them are so aneamic and have low pressure with the added medly of background sounds. In Cambodia, it's either your BP is normal, too low (around 70/50) or too high (hitting 190/140 or 200+/170)!

Something interesting is that, most of them have muscles! Even the women have biceps muscles. It's because of the hard labour they do in the fields. And in the midst of hearing and hearing and hearing for BP in the heat, something came to mind. I felt, that God was saying "hey Sarah Ong Kai Li, don't just hear mechanically to record the BP and make it like a task okay, but hear with my ears.... the heartbeats of the people...beating to know me, to know of my love and my gentle touch for their wounded hearts."

The call?

There are so many things we take forgranted, or at least I take forgranted in Malaysia.
Of course since I'm studying medicine, it's always interesting to find out on how the healthcare in other countries are like.

Some of the things I hear and see in Cambodia are so shocking that you won't even think that such practices exist.

Chern-chern and Yew On are dentists formerly from DUMC and now teaching in the one and only dental school in Cambodia. They are under the OMF and have been serving in Cambodia for 7 years. Chern-chern is an orthodentist and both of them can make a really comfortable living if they chose to practice in Malaysia. But they are here in Cambodia, receiving less than 1/20th of what they could earn, staying in a humble aparment above the market, staying and working in Cambodia to train up young Cambodian dentists. It's a sacrifice especially to raise up 2 boys in Cambodia, accepting a much lower pay and an uphill battle to change the bribing culture in university.

They were sharing some of the things they have experienced in Cambodia.

Do you know in Cambodia, you can bribe for someone to sit the Year 12 exam for you, then pay USD 7000 to get a place in Medical School? You can bribe all the way to passing your university.
And if that's not worst to make you question the competency of doctors, some medical and dental students only study for 1 or 2 years, and then quit school to set up their own clinics!!!!

I can be a super qualified doctor there, being a 3rd year medical student!
Imagine, 1st year medical students practicing as full fledged doctors! And the health ministry doesn't clamp down on these clinics, but allow them to operate. I won't even want to see a "doctor" in Cambodia if I'm ill!

The country is so poor that even in Baray, which is not a really small or far province, most children don't get even the basic immunization jabs. There's no health checks for pregnant mothers, you give birth at home yourself.

And if you don't have money, you can just wait to die if you are involved in an accident. No doctor would treat you unless you pay, even at the government hospitals. It's not just because the doctors are being cruel and money minded, but unless they do that, they can't even afford to support their families with the pay that they receive from the government.

Children die from diarrhoea, a simple treatable disease. People get paralzyed by polio. And of course, from the remnants of the Khmer Rouge a lot of men have only 1 leg. We have 10 local pastors there, but they only have 18 legs. 2 of them have both loss a leg each.

Chern-chern and Yew On were dating when they were studying in UM when they felt the call of God in their final year, and after marraige they went over to Cambodia.

The impact they are making there is wonderful. They have bible studies with the dental students, teaching them about Christ-centred marraige..where even non Christians join because they are interested to learn. Chern-chern and Yew On also raise up compassionate dentists. The powerful way how their expertise is used and multipled many folds because the students they teach would then pass it on, and impact the rest of the nation as they return to serve in their provinces once they graduate.

The Day

Disclaimer: this is not a post to highlight my birthday cuz I don't like to be reminded I'm getting old anyway..haha, but just the events that happened. :)

Of all the parties and presents I've ever had or received, I dare say this birthday would be one of the most significant. Although not the kind who is sentimental, the day before the birthday, it did struck me, that I'd be celebrating what people call the "significant" birthday of turning 21 away from family. And since, we were really busy with the youth camp and thus I didn't expect anything.

Julia's birthday was also on the same day as mine. Right after one morning session in the youth camp, they called us upfront and sang for us the birthday song. Well, the really great part was that, all of the youths then prayed for us! It's a feeling you get when you see people of different language, people whom you think lack so much in terms of quality of life..yet people who can stand in God and bless you in return.

Then the pastors lead Julia, Aaron and I (Uncle Aaron's birthday was on the 13th) to a table, which they specially covered with red cloth...and there was a birthday cake.

This is the cake. Really, it doesn't look like much. It's just a simple sponge cake. But you know what, they had to go to Baray town just to buy this cake. No one sells cake in the village, a majority of people, the youths and pastors have never tasted cake.

And yea, that cake..cost..USD15! (FYI, teachers earn only USD30 Per month)

I quote from my friend's blog

One day, the local pastors celebrated some of our birthdays, which happened to be during the youth camp. It was an eye opener to see what their ‘birthday cake’ looks like. It is a large version of the egg bread the Chinese use for prayers. No icing or toppings. Just plain. And that alone costs US$ 15. We were so touched by their graciousness. We managed to cut the cake to share it with 180 people. While serving the cake to the youths, they thankfully took a piece each and some were shy to take it because like I’ve mentioned before, it is rare for them to have such a nice thing to eat. To us, it probably looks unappetizing and we’ll probably react like, “What on earth is that?”

The most "touching" moment for me was what I saw later in the afternoon. Ps Samreth actually saved up his portion of the cake, wrapped it up in paper and when he saw his young daughter, he unwrapped the cake and gave it to her.

To them the cake was that precious. So much so that the father would not eat it, but save it up for his daughter.

Honestly that cake is not of Secret Receipe standard. It's plain, looks like a big pau, and it soggy and sticky at the bottom (not baked properly).

But it's only when you're there in Cambodia seeing a father save a piece of cake for his daughter because it's so special, then you realize how much I've enjoyed in life. I mean, how can anyone NEVER eaten cake before? It's really a mini "shock" to me.

Especially because we didn't really live with the Cambodians their level of poverty didn't really sink in to me. And plus, we ate good food there, the equalivent of their feast was to us, normal lunch or dinner. It was until then when I actually realized how much I had compared to the people there.

And I began to see the local pastors in new eyes. I saw how much they loved their people. How Ps Kun would sleep in the church with the youths, so that he could go to the village with another youth the next day to invite his friends. How Ps Rom would carry water to fill the stone filter for the youths, even though he only has 1 real leg..and one prosthetic one. How Theara would shout and strain his voice when translating so that the youths can hear, although he has a history of TB and is actually endangering his health.

How Ps Kun and Ps Rom actually don't receive salaries because CMS would only pay salaries after a trial period of 2 years...yet they are there to preach, to go to villages, to be at the camp...and then go back home to tend to their farming and that they can still feed their family (they get love gifts which is a basic "salary" but it's really not enough to feed a family)

I am just so thankful to God that my 21st birthday was spent among the Cambodians in Cambodia. If given a choice between having a big party with some fancy dinner in some hotel or sharing a cake with 200+ people, learning to love them, being blessed by them, I know which one I'd choose. No doubt!

And although yea I was far from family and friends, I was around people who accepted me, and treated me like a star! ahahhaa. One girl gave me some grasshoppers, the kind where you fold from coconut leafs. Another boy, Daniel, gave me a small woven thing..and a letter in broken English.

I will not trade this experience for anything else. And I guess to a certain extend I caught a glimpse of what it means to be following God's will.

It may never be extremely comfortable (just like being in the hot sun in Cambodia, with no electricity, no aircon party or frosted cake) but it's always better and fulfilling (being prayed for by the youths, sharing cake with them, being honoured and treated with such a precious cake).

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The glorious food! Part 1

One thing's for sure, if you are on a Cambodia mission trip with DUMC, your stomaches will be satisfied to the full because CMS (Cambodia Methodist Services) has a great cook!!

In fact, haha, you guys are going to say that we get pampered and are super spoilt, because if you go out on village outreaches for the whole day.......

.....guess what, your cook travels with you!!! The cook would bring her pots and pans and ingredients, load it on the van...and stop at a church member's place in the village to cook. Once your outreach is done, you just go to the house to enjoy your hot lunch. Then, everyone will pack up and move on to the next village in the afternoon.....HOW COOL is that???

Another highlight for me on this trip is trying out the different kinds of Cambodian food...
You can be sure the food served is 100% fresh...because outside the city, there's no electricity except generators. This means, there's no fridges so everything cooked is bought fresh from the market everyday!

Fresh water fish soup which has a sourish taste to make you hungry...and ginger chicken plus veggies. The fish is very fresh and has a sliky texture; though the small bones can be a problem.

Cambodians love their port (curuck), their vegetables and their soups! We had soup for almost every meal. Yummy, especially with white rice and....chili! The chili there is very hot, perfect when a slice of chili is dipped in soya sauce and paired with a slice of pork......wahaha!

Cambodian curry: Not too spicy, with a mix of sweet & spicy taste, very fragrant's so good we lapped it up, and ate rounds and rounds of rice. Imagine, curry with white steaming rice!!!!!! One of the best dishes!

Sorry for the pic quality...this is fried chicken with a special fish sauce+pepper+soya sauce dip. Nice nice nice.

This is what our cook cooked during our outreach from her mobile kitchen. The soup is kind of like our salted veg soup with pork and short, juicy taugeh with pork again. The taugeh are like those from Ipoh.

Ok, a pause first: let me teach you a Khmer phrase, hok bai is eat rice in Khmer.

This is one of the best dinners we had. We ate with all our 10 Cambodian pastors and their wives. The top dish is some kind of vege dish with pinapples and tomatoes. The one with the leafy green is pork...the supposedly star dish & highlight for everyone. The soup is good!!! Chicken soup with don't know what vege. Oh and desert was sweet dragon fruit! The food's so good that you'd jsut eat and eat and eat, only to realize you've consumed 2-3 plates of rice.
For the people there, this is considered a feast. In fact the things we eat everyday is a feast to the average Cambodian. Most of the people only eat vegetables and rice, the poorer ones rice and salty fish sauce only.

I don't have a better picture of this but must put it up....cuz the joke among us was that we were drinking detergen. Seriously, look at the colour!!! And oh yea, it was also the one and only time we drank ice in the village, because we were warned not to drink ice anywhere else except in CMS because of hygeine purposes.

Yea looks gross?? But nice! Guess why it's green? It's actually kangkung soup...boiled until it disintergrates into this colour. Another soup that's very deliciousssss there is seaweed soup. It's also a local soup...I didn't know Cambodians used seaweed in their cooking. It's gooood!

I know you'd say we were spoilt AGAIN. We were in a village for outreach when they noticed we were thristy. So on the spot they got down some coconuts from the tree, cut it, for us!!! Truly in Cambodia I felt I was being blessed far far more than blessing the people there.

The glorious food. Part 2

Our youth camp ended on Friday lunch time. Then it was the start of R&R, rest and relax for us. You see, in every DUMC mission trip, there would be 1 day scheduled for the team to rest and relax where we get to SHOP!, sight see, EAT! and do the tourisy stuff! Yey, fun rite?

We get to spend 1 day and 1 night of R&R in Phnom Penh, the capital city.
The adventure starts on the way back from Baray. It takes 2.5 hours from Baray to Phnom Penh, and our missionary travelled with us. Along the way, we get to stop at each village to sample their food. Each village have their own specialty and food! Our missionary told us that she feels God is very fair, because He blesses each village with a special produce.

First stop is the Baray Market where I got to eat my SPIDER and TOAD! :)

Oh wow, a plate full of spiders..yum! hahaha. Each costs around 50 malaysian cents

WELCOME TO THIS EPISODE OF FEAR FACTOR. I'm trying hard not to laugh, cuz only 2 out of 9 of us dared to eat the spider and thus both us were filmed and photographed a lot in our "experiment" I actually have a video recording of the whole process, but I won't embarrass myself and show it.

The spider is big (half the size of my hand), black, with furry legs, cindy..haha!
It's fried in garlic oil so it's nice! Yumm..haha. The legs are crispy, the body's a little mushy I can say this...I'VE EATEN A SPIDER AND SURVIVED TO TELL THE TALE. :)

They would walk up to the van/car to sell you the food. This is the "beheaded" toad.

Toad taste just like otak-otak..the head is already removed. Kind of delicious cuz it's stuffed with spices.

From top: Palm fruit, lotus plant, lotus seed, Cambodia apple.

Next stop was in another village for Palm fruit or what we call sea cocunut in Malaysia. This tasted okay for me. The pokok pinang is actually the national tree in Cambodia. Another stop in the following village was to buy lotus plant. I'm quite a jakun cuz I've never eaten fresh lotus seeds, I've only eaten the ones you find in mooncakes. It tastes like nuts with a softer texture. Then we continued on our journey and stopped by this village that sold Cambodian apples. Yea seriously, they are called Cambodian apples. It's kind of sweet with a sourish tinge, quite good as well! :)
This is our favourite stop! I love the hammocks!

There's shacks like what you see in the picture, full of hammocks. What you do is buy the corn, then you can sit on the hammock while eating. The corn is very very sweet! Juicy, and you have to bite carefully otherwise the juice would drip down your face. WAH! And, the wind that blows while you sit on the hammock gives a cool and refreshing breeze. If you come later in the afternoon, you'd get to see the sun set over the paddy fields while lying on the hammock, eating the golden corn. This is where the Cambodian people come and pak tou. So romantic..hahahaha.

The next day, we went to the Russian Market in Phnom Penh for breakfast. And that's where I tasted the BEST BEEF NOODLES ever! Seriously! With Great Coffee!

The beef noodles is favourful, the beef balls not too tough, but springy enough..and drinking the soup doesn't leave you with thristy from ajinomoto like in Malaysia. The coffee is grown in the hills of Cambodia. It's thick, very "kau" and strong! Just like Ipoh white coffee, kind of like that. (koa fey ohlay) white coffee in Khmer.

Then for lunch, we went to this famous ice-cream and bread shop. Since Cambodia was a former french colony, they eat french loaves instead of bread. We got to ate the pate, beef stew with toasted french bread and DURIAN ICE-CREAM!

You start of by eating the pate first. It's basically french bread with salad kind of garnish, sour pickels and ham. Kind of like a starter.
Then the beef stew would come. You dip the french loaf in the sauce and eat, or you can put the beef between the bread and eat. Joel loved this so much he ate 2 plates! The beef is cooked so tender that it is soft and easy to chew. The broth is thick with spice.

Heaven in a coconut.
But of course the highlight would be the ice-cream in coconut. They empty the coconut, pour the coconut water into a glass for you to drink and serve you the ice-cream in the coconut shell. I had the combination of durian and cempedak ice-cream! Hahaha, glorious! Cuz normally durian is "heaty" when eaten, but when it's turned into ice-cream, you still get the favour, but now it's cold and refreshing!

Imagine, we are on a mission trip..and feast like Kings and Queens! The food is very good because the missionaries know which shop serves the best the experience is even better than that of being a tourist in Cambodia. You eat where the locals eat!

Oh yea, these are the durian biscuits we had when we were in Baray. Very very very nice. Sorry, my vocab is limited, I can only describe everything as, nice, delicious. ;) The cream has a strong durian taste, creamy and sweet. The ones I brought back from Cambodia was from a different company and didn't taste as estatically nice as those we ate there!!!

Okun la...(meaning, very good in Khmer)

Caught in action EATING!

See, next time if there's a mission trip, join it! You people should have come along with me! :)

Oh wait. I must tell you about my bettle eating experience. Just before we were heading to the airport, we dropped by at Central Market. Central Market's a tourist attraction where the dome is supposedly the biggest dome in SEA? or something like that.

I just HAD to try eating grasshopper before I left. But I also bought the black bettle. The grasshopper was okay, crispy just like eating shrimps. Kind of delicious in a morbid way..haha. But believe me, the bettle was horrible! HORRIBLE. You know, the kind of smell that cocroaches emit,'s that kind of taste, exploading in the mouth. Don't ever eat that!!!! That was the only thing I ate in Cambodia that was not nice. The rest,! :)