And then there were three

 

I have been somewhat neglecting my blog of late, due to perhaps the biggest adventure of all: giving birth to my daughter. Having travelled from Malaysia to Cambodia to Camden, with frequent hospital trips to Bangkok in between, Ella Skye Halliday finally popped out on 2nd December 2014, inheriting her mother’s aversion to punctuality by being ten days late.

Since then our lives have been turned upside down in a whirlwind of emotions – from the first few days of giddy euphoria coupled with the absolute certainty that we would never sleep again, through the blurry ‘anchored to the sofa’ weeks of feeding, feeding, feeding (I dubbed my daughter the ‘milk vampire’) with only X Factor, relatives and (this being the run-up to Christmas) non-stop cheese-boards to sustain us. There were highs, there were lows, there were days where I cried at Undercover Boss USA and the occasion I swore out loud (while sobbing hysterically) because the doorbell had woken Ella for the third time. There was the day she finally smiled for the first time and the horror of her first ‘up the back’ poo.

Six months on, and my daughter is, generally speaking, a happy, contented soul; smiling her gummy smile at strangers, laughing at raspberries being blown on her tummy and joyfully pulling the hair of anyone fool enough to get that close. She finds it hysterical when I whistle ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and is fascinated by our cat, bits of paper and (sadly) my mobile phone. Best of all – she now NAPS (the doorbell and phone safely unplugged – I learnt that lesson). So much so that I actually have time now to attend to my blog, and realise I never posted my last piece – an article I wrote for Spa Breaks in January on pregnancy yoga. Please click on ‘Bumps and Yoga Mats’ to read more…

 

Leaving Siem Reap, aka two travellers, two cats and a bump

My final piece for the Phnom Penh Post, as my time in Cambodia draws to an end. As published in Siem Reap Insider earlier this month:

My pals and I playing dress-up, Khmer bride style

Leaving Siem Reap with a baby on board

Fri, 5 September 2014

When I first arrived in Siem Reap for a six month stint teaching English with my husband, little did I know that three years later I’d be leaving with two years as a journalist under my belt, a couple of Cambodian cats and a baby bump.

I had no idea I’d end up working with four-year-olds for the very first time (a concept which terrified me), learn to ride a bicycle at the ripe old age of 35, and embark on various adventures in the name of journalism including zip-wiring (sustaining a blackened toe from the experience), hot air ballooning (the balloon crashed on a busy road) and eating scorpions and tarantulas (by far the safest option of the three).

I learnt to navigate dusty, pothole-filled roads to work, survived the Great Flood of 2011 (our first year), put up with power-cuts and deal, after a fashion, with my lifelong phobia – cockroaches, which became my unwelcome office companions at the Post.

I discovered what it was like to dress up as a Khmer bride, attended more weddings than I can remember and ran my first (and frankly, last) half-marathon.

So it is somewhat surreal, and with a heavy heart – and even heavier belly – that my time in Temple Town ends. As I pack my bags, dust off the CV and cry into my mango juice, I find myself reflecting on my time here. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve cycled down Pub St dressed as a witch in a tiny black cape.

In my final farewell, I have rounded up my checklists of the Best and Worst things about Temple Town. But mainly the best which I list here:

Sunshine –There is no doubt about it, sunny days and blue skies make everything better.

Swimming pools – where else in the world can you lounge by crystal-clear waters in a boutique hotel, for the cost of a coffee back home? Something I will miss when faced with my local north London municipal swimming pool, full of shrieking kids and floating plasters.

Fruit – mangoes, passion-fruit, watermelon. Cambodia is where the fruit is almost as good as the sweet treats. Almost.

Blue Pumpkin pastries – I am addicted. The custard slices are divine, the chocolate tart decadent, the lemon tart zingy and refreshing. I also have a soft spot for The Hive’s lime and coconut slices, and Park Hyatt’s cupcakes.

Foot massages (and general pampering) – some people come to Asia for the 50c beers, but I’m all about the foot massages. And let’s not forget about mani-pedis, an affordable treat here.

People –the “Cambodian smile” is one of the biggest clichés in the book by and large, Siem Reap locals beat Londoners hands-down in the friendliness stakes. Never before – and particularly since becoming pregnant – have I encountered such interest in my general health and wellbeing. Staff at my local swimming-pool ask how the bump is, and are full of sage advice – my favourite being that I should eat a swan’s egg for the baby’s development.

Creative freedom – I have never lived anywhere where entrepreneurship is so rife. It seems easier here than anywhere to reinvent yourself, or start a new business. Siem Reap is a town where bankers can become restaurateurs, graphic designers can become photographers and producers of trash TV can even become journalists – and language school owners (oh did I mention? Somehow we ended up buying an English school too).

And here’s my worst list:
Humidity – in all my three years here I don’t think there is one good photo of me. Make-up? Pointless – lasts about half an hour. Hair goes puffy and frizzy within seconds of stepping outside the house. In my pregnant state, friends have commented that I am “glowing.” This is nothing more than sweat, and I will not miss it. Not a jot.

Mosquitos –Nothing good to say about these little buggers. Lurking in dark corners, they will find a way into your house, through that one hole in the mosquito net, they will hunt you down.

Ants – there is always an ant. In your kitchen, in the crevices of your wooden furniture, marching in little determined trails up your walls.

Cockroaches – (notice a theme here?) Even after three years I never quite got used to them. Large, black, shiny and FAST – the scuttling sends chills down my spine.

Power cuts – An occurrence that is both random and regular (at certain times of the year , usually April, the hottest month). Blackouts taught me all sorts of inventive ways to stay cool – the most effective being lying prone on the balcony, clasping a tea-towel full of frozen peas to my head, and trying to move as little as possible.

But all this aside, the last three years has been nothing short of a great adventure, full of memories that I will treasure forever. It will be hard to say goodbye, but I have no doubt that I will be back. Until then, li-hy and som nang la’or. And don’t forget the frozen peas

Contact author: Miranda Glasser

Bugs for Breakfast

A piece published in The Phnom Penh Post this week that saw me dutifully munching on crickets, scorpions and tarantula in the name of research:

A house special: scorpion & green papaya salad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not every morning one gets to chow down on crickets, silk worms and tarantula – and all before 11am. But it was bugs for breakfast when Insider visited the new Bugs Café, which opens tonight.

The Asian fusion eaterie specialises in ‘insect tapas’ presented in a non-threatening way.

Co-owner Marjolaine Blouzard, former operations manager at Casa Angkor Hotel, conceived the idea along with her cousin Davy after multiple requests from adventurous tourists seeking insect fare.

“I’ve lived in Asia for a long time and I’ve seen insects being eaten, especially in Thailand, and I’ve always really liked them. They have a really good taste especially if you cook them nicely,” she says.

“A few times I had customers coming into the hotel asking where they could eat insects. I told them they can find them in the street but they’d ask if there was a special place, like a restaurant.”

Blouzard says often the tourists were concerned about sanitary aspects – how long the insects had been out on the stalls, the cooking method and so on.

“So I thought why not try to cook something interesting with insects because we have many different flavours we can use, and also many people travelling in Cambodia would like to try it,” she says.

Billing itself as an ‘insect tapas and cocktail bar,’ Bugs Café serves everything from feta and tarantula samosas to Mediterranean feuilletés with ants, as well as dishes where the critters are more obviously on display.

“We have things like savoury cupcakes and Danish pastries with insects inside – it’s less scary, it’s a European taste, done with pesto and parmesan,” Marjolaine says.

Some other dishes are done in a more Asian way, such as wok-fried. Some dishes really feature the insect visually, while the bugs are sort of hidden in other dishes “so it’s more acceptable for people who are scared,” Marjolaine adds.

As a life-long hater of creepy crawlies, Insider is relieved to be eased in gently – we start off with a light salad of guava, parmesan slices, salad and flying ants served with honey vinaigrette. It is zingy and refreshing – the ants taste a little like apples, with a nutty flavour.

More daunting is the scorpion and green papaya salad – there is no getting away from it: those are definitely three shiny black scorpions perched jauntily on a bed of leaves.

“We take the sting out,” Marjolaine reassures me, before I gingerly tuck in.

The scorpions are surprisingly palatable, marinated in honey, ginger and lime juice then pan-fried – “like it was a langoustine,” says Marjolaine.

But a tasting plate, however, presents me with a tarantula doughnut, and again there is no avoiding the clear arachnid shape. I have to admit it’s not my favourite – perhaps my brain just can’t deal with eating a spider – but I am encouraged to find the wok-fried crickets and silkworms pretty tasty, the crickets not unlike a prawn in flavour.

The wok-fried insects are available with a choice of seasonings; ours are done Mediterranean-style with olive oil, garlic, parmesan, parsley and cashew nuts.

Recipes were devised from research and experimenting with flavours, Marjolaine says, along with input from head chef Seiha Soeun who used to work at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra – although cooking insects was a first for him.

“For my part, in France I used to run commercial centres,” says Davy. “I worked on many shop openings, especially restaurants, and had the opportunity to see many new restaurant concepts, mixing different ways of cooking.

He says that, for example, in the ant salad, there is parmesan, green salad and the ants which taste a bit sour like a green apple. “So with the seasoning it works well – it’s very light and fresh,” he says.

“All insects have a particular consistency, texture and taste, and we try to imagine what would fit with that. With the crickets, they’re very crispy so they’re very good in a cheesecake for example. We have a cheesecake with passion fruit coulis with crickets inside – the cake is very soft and the crickets are very crunchy – it’s a great combination.

“So far people have been quite surprised because it’s quite unusual to taste insects with ‘real’ cooking. A good presentation makes all the difference – it’s also important that it looks safe.”

Bugs Cafe’s grand opening is tonight from 7pm onwards. Non-buggy options are also available, as well as an extensive cocktail and shake list.

 

 

Dog days in Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am an animal-lover. I am also a tea-and-cake-lover. So imagine my joy when I learnt of a place where I could combine my two passions: the slightly peculiarly-named True Love Cafe in Bangkok, where customers can pet 17 Siberian huskies in between dining.

The cafe was originally a pet breeders’, before the owner had the innovative idea of combing it with a canine caff. When myself and my better half go, we are the only ‘falangs’ there bar one – hordes of excitable Thais slowly chasing a few huskies around the large enclosure (the cafe’s tables are set back from this area, and you must take off your shoes and don plastic-bag foot-covers, plus hand-sanitize your mitts before entering).

Although huskies are my all-time favourite dog, and I was beyond excited about going there, it’s a little – well – odd. The pooches are let out in groups of 3 or 4; punters sit or wander among the largely disinterested animals, apart from one strange fellow (the other falang, naturally) who seems intent on catching each one and burying his face in its fur to snap a selfie on his iPhone. Hmm. It feels a little like we’re all competing for doggie attention, so eventually I retreat the table section where I can watch the goings-on.

Eventually the pack is taken away and replaced with a new trio of mutts. This time this decidedly non-husky fella is among them, still, he’s cute so who cares.

Not a husky

As the petting session draws to a close, we are invited to stand at one end of the enclosure next to some gates which lead to the building where the mutts are fed & watered. As my fellow dog-lovers get their cameras ready, I’m just wondering what all the fuss is about when all 17 dogs come charging down from the other end of the yard, in a feeding-time frenzy. They stampede into the kennels and eat as if they’ve never seen a meal before, then they are gone. So long, furry friends.

Just chilling

The rest of my short trip is spent largely eating, shopping and – erm – more eating.

There’s always time for an Angry Birds cupcake

… Or some chocolate con churros at Chu Chocolate Bar & Cafe

Words of wisdom from Thai stationery

The big blue

Turtle Beach, Pulau Perhentian Besar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching a shark circle below me, so close I can see its beady eye and the black tips on its fins, I am filled with an icy awe… mixed with dread… mixed with excitement, then back to a clamp of fear again.

Ever since I can remember I’ve always had an irrational fear of sharks. My childhood was plagued with sharky images all of which could and did make me jump out of my skin – particularly if my brother sneaked up on me with a picture, as he was wont to do. Sharks on the cover of Sunday magazine supplements (what was it with the 80s and shark magazine covers?), in adverts (I remember a certain car ad in which a great white pummelled a steel cage in order to demonstrate the safety of said car). Even my beloved Aha got in on the act with their video for ‘Hunting High and Low’, with singer Morten Harket turning into one. I couldn’t watch James Bond films for fear of You Know Whats appearing – any time it cut to an aquatic scene be it sea, swimming-pool or underground/underwater lair I’d leave the room. As for watching Jaws, forget it (I did, eventually, but it took many years and a good few drinks to do it).

Obviously as an adult I’ve marginally overcome my phobia, at least to the extent that I now find myself in Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands, watching a black reef-tip shark circle below me. We’re in a place called Shark Point (clue’s in the title really), and I have paid good money to see this, so really I should relax and enjoy the view. And it is quite fascinating. The presence of a snorkel guide waving a dead fish around, slapping the water with it and making a peculiar whooping noise does explain the shark’s proximity, but I can’t help wondering if the great fish is going to get a little pissed off in a minute if he doesn’t get his prize and go for a nice tasty human instead. In fact, black-tip reef sharks are quite harmless but they are so – well, sharky-looking – proper James Bond style, and I can’t help but feel a judder of fear when, having lost sight of him, I look down to see him coming straight for me, or so it seems.

The joys of Shark Point over with, we move on to the more relaxing sights of Turtle Beach where we see three of the great, slow-moving beasts, plus a baby one with two fish hitching a ride on its back. I feel a bit sorry for Turtle #1 when our boat captain pulls up next to it, yells ‘jump! Follow it!’ and we do, crashing into the water alongside. But I have always had a soft spot for these creatures and any feelings of guilt are soon overtaken by the sheer joy and incredulity of swimming neck and neck, close enough to touch, with a giant green sea turtle.

At Turtle Beach

Pulau Perhentian Besar is the larger of the two Perhentian Islands and a divers/snorkelers paradise. Far less developed than Thailand, the beaches are picture perfect but the true magic lies under the crystal-clear turquoise waters. During our time there we also spot stunning coral gardens, rainbow-hued parrot fish, trigger-fish, trumpet-fish, comical-looking puffer fish, a wriggling black & white striped sea-snake looking like something out of Beetlejuice and – my favourite – a huge sea anemone containing twenty or so clown fish, bobbing around and darting out every now and then to ‘protect’ their territory.

Trigger-fish, clown-fish and even a baby reef shark are all found just yards from the shore

Our neighbours, a spectacled langur monkey & baby hanging out on our roof. There was also a flying lemur, but sadly he was a little shyer about being photographed.

Three nights of island life and we drag ourselves away to the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur for shopping, nasi lemak (banana leaf-wrapped rice cooked with egg, sambal sauce and roasted peanuts) and of course, a peek at the glittering Petronas Towers. Both urban and sea life vie for my attention but I think ultimately, the latter wins out… even with What Lies Beneath.

Ah yes, shopping… At KL’s Pavilion mall

The reluctant runner

As someone who, as a teenager, was famed for forging sick-notes to get off games at school, imagine my surprise when I found myself running a half-marathon some twenty years later. Here is my account of the experience, as published in The Phnom Penh Post: 

The agony of the long distance runner

Fri, 7 December 2012

I hate running. It is painful, boring and I’m not very good at it. But last year I allowed myself to be coerced into doing the 10k part of the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, and this year, God help me, I signed up for the actual Half Marathon.

Since moving to Cambodia a year and a half ago, I have become the reluctant runner, plodding around the dusty red roads and broken pavements of Siem Reap. Actually, my running generates quite a lot of attention. Small children bellow “hello, what is your name” while running alongside, excitable dogs give chase, a family of six ranging from a 4-year-old to a wrinkly old man always reliably shout, “moy, bee, bye” and do comedy impressions of me running, before collapsing into giggles. It’s all very encouraging.

So having signed up I was committed and before I knew it, the day of the race had arrived. My 5am alarm screech on Sunday was a rude shock, but the 6.30am start was necessary to avoid the scorching heat. Actually, heat was the last thing I had to worry about as my other half and I motoed up to Angkor Wat, the starting point of the race, I found it was so early I was actually cold. Freezing cold. In Cambodia.

We arrived, had a last-minute energy gel – chocolate in a tube – and joined the throng milling around Angkor Wat. I spotted a Japanese man in an aubergine costume. I’d seen him in similar attire the year before and journalistic curiosity compelled me to ask why. “Because it’s funny,” he explained. Fair enough. The atmosphere was jolly and expectant; within seconds an excitable runner had gestured for me to join his group photo. “From?” he asked me. England, I told him. “Thailand,” he replied happily, shaking my hand. Photo taken, the group dispersed, smiling and thanking each other and I realised he hadn’t actually known any of them. Two minutes later I heard my name being called and turned to see an ex-work colleague from London I hadn’t seen in three years. He had moved to Phnom Penh and was here supporting his wife. Small world indeed.

But there was no more time for pleasantries; the race was upon us and before I knew it I was shuffling towards the starting line with the other 2,500 or so runners. Then we were off, to the thudding beat of Japanese drums played by band MILO Cambodia. Running with that sort of crowd was quite new to me. You feel a bit like a cow in a herd. Spirits were high as we passed two, then four, then 8k markers. I found myself sussing out the ‘competition’ – wondering if anyone was slower than me. It seemed unlikely.

At various different points along the route hordes of kids lined the side of the road, high-fiving us as we ran past.

Around the 9k marker we passed a bemused monkey sitting in the middle of the road, staring up at us all as we thudded past.  Somewhere near Angkor Thom a huge elephant plodded slowly past, pinky-grey ears flapping as it transported temple-bound tourists. Random mini conversations were had with strangers; one complimenting my husband on his Tin-Tin t-shirt, another agreeing with me that we had indeed passed the 11k mark – you start to view each marker as both a blessing and a curse after a while, depending on your frame of mind.

At only one point did I question my sanity and wonder if I might actually make it: those difficult last 5ks. But with a little gentle – or not so gentle – prodding from my better half, water breaks, more chocolate gel and sheer grit-your-teeth willpower, not to mention reluctance to admit to all my friends that I had to walk the last bit, I made it. Shuffling, limping, with burning knees and new blisters on my toes, but I made it.

And you know what. All those (alcohol-free) weeks of pain were worth it. As someone who, frankly, hates exercise and early mornings, and is certainly not built for speed, I was delighted to finish the race – it took me 2 hours and 36 minutes, twice as long as the winner, Australian Joji Mori. But I finished. The route took us past Ta Prohm, by the Bayon, along the Terrace of Elephants and through the South Gate of Angkor Thom. We finished up at a sunlit Angkor Wat feeling elated.

Not bad for a morning’s work.

- Miranda Glasser

Flags at Angkor

A hack’s life

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, it’s been quite a while since I wrote – I’ve been shamelessly neglecting my blog of late due to the fact that I have a new job as a proper, actual journalist. I know. I can scarcely believe it myself. That’s the thing about moving abroad and embarking on new adventures – the most unexpected opportunities present themselves and, like most things, it’s all about timing and ‘right place, right time’ (with a little bit of ‘who you know’ thrown in).

Writing for the Siem Reap Insider lifestyle supplement of the Phnom Penh Post (Cambodia’s national newspaper) has led me to some interesting places and some fascinating people. In the last three months I have witnessed a monk blessing ceremony in Wat Damnak, watched bullet casings being melted down into bracelets and seen Angkor Wat lit up in a son et lumière extravaganza.

I have heard tales both extraordinary and downright bizarre – of the Khmer Rouge passing right by someone’s house, of ladyboys who dream of fame (and who have better legs than me) and of lizard liver-guzzling snakes.

I am learning to write to a word count and to avoid the word ‘event’ because my editor hates it. The thesaurus has become my new best friend and I have grown quite skilled at finding new synonyms for ‘restaurant.’

It is – I’ll admit it – with some excitement that I look for my name in the paper every Friday, in much the same way that I used to watch for my credit on TV shows I used to produce. Vain and needy it may be but true to say the novelty of ‘seeing your name in lights’ never quite wears off.

So it’s all good. Apart from the cockroaches that like to occasionally run around the office, sending me squealing from my chair, and the loveable but bonkers office dog that snoozes by my feet but tries to attack my chair every time I get up (we think a wheel ran over his tail as a pup) I am really loving my new job. It may not be Fleet Street but I can cycle from interview to interview in approximately 5 minutes and getting a last-minute request for 700 words by Monday lunch-time on the new riverside café , or the latest art exhibition is about as stressful as it gets.

 

Cambodia to Camden

Riverside at ExCel London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s an interesting experience being a tourist in your own home-town. In the last month I have unashamedly posed for pictures in front of Olympic mascots, eaten more cream teas than I care to remember and merrily ridden a Boris bike along Regents Canal (narrowly missing the sight of the great man dangling from a zip-wire at Victoria Park). Goodness, it was all I could do not to visit Madame Tussaud’s or try & make a Queens guard laugh at Changing of the Guard.

Wenlock mascot at Southwark Cathedral

Being a ‘tourist’ in London led me to places I’d never been, like this hidden gem, Towpath Cafe on Regents Canal

Having decided to stay in Cambodia for a second year we came back to London for the summer to catch up with friends & family (and yes, show off our tans – well wouldn’t you?). Frankly, we couldn’t have picked a better time, arriving smack-bang in the middle of Olympic fever. London was awash with flags, cheer and general patriotic giddiness. We even got a couple of weeks of sunshine – I actually swam in Hampstead Heath ponds and sunbathed on a beach in good old Camden Town. It was glorious.

Urban beach

Bunting at St Mark’s Church, Primrose Hill

Watching Wiggins win GOLD

Olympic Village

It was a real luxury to just be able to enjoy the city – not rushing to work every day meant I could drink in the parks, museums and café life. And not sweating for 5 weeks was quite a novelty. Why, I was able to wear make-up. Do my hair. Not have 3 showers a day! It was interesting to wear jeans again too.

Not that I’m complaining. I love travelling and am very lucky to be able to do so but the fact remains that I am unapologetically a London girl at heart and the year away has made me appreciate the Big Smoke even more – traffic, grumpy bus-drivers & all. Plus let’s face it we weren’t too shabby in the Olympics which fills my little heart with unprecedented patriotic pride. London may not have Siem Reap’s mangos, sunshine & 50c beers but it is still – in this barang’s humble opinion – the best city in the world. So while I look forward to my return to Temple Town, I shall be wearing my ‘Team GB’ bracelet with pride.

This bus was doing press-ups in the middle of Islington’s Upper St

View from the Tate Modern

The ‘Spun’ chair at the V&A (my favourite museum in London) had me spinning around for ages, wondering how I wasn’t falling out

For some reason I found this very funny

Primrose Hill at dusk

Top 10 Tips for Moving Abroad

 

 

 

 

 

 

This month sees the one year anniversary of my moving to Cambodia, so it seems fitting that I was invited by super-stylish travel blog Savoir There to write a guest post with advice for those moving abroad. I hope you enjoy it – and don’t forget your teabags.

 

 

 

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