Border crossing diaster: Cambodia to Vietnam

It’s Friday and today, we’re heading to Vietnam. We rush down breakfast and say goodbye to the FCC Phnom Penh. A minibus takes us to the Giant Ibis Cambodia office, where we transfer to a air-conditioned coach. Once settled into our seats, the attendant gives us a Blue Pumpkin pastry and a Giant Ibis branded bottle of water. He double checks our passports.

We sit in the city’s congestion for well over an hour. As concrete morphs into rice paddies, we pick up speed. I close my eyes and avoid watching vehicles chaotically overtake one another.

At precisely the two-hour mark, we cross a cable stay bridge over the Mekong River and pull into a petrol station. The town’s called Kompung Soeng. Stuffing a note into the clear plastic box outside the toilets, we then compete to get to a cubicle first. The petrol station only has squat toilets, with buckets of water to scoop from and wash down your business once you have finish. A communal sink stretches the length of the outdoor cubicles and offers harsh, industrial soap to wash your hands.

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Dinner at Star Rise

We wait for our meal to come, two candles lightly glowing from the middle of our table. The family house and kitchen are perhaps two metres behind us, the open street in front.

We are in fact sitting in what would have been the front garden, now cemented over, with high concrete walls, a tin roof and a retractable gate that has been pushed to each side of the restaurant front.

A breeze sweeps through and blows out one of the candles. “Is ok, is ok. I fix,” says the daughter as she rushes over to re-light the candle.  We smile and thank her before she returns to the table next to us where she had been sitting with her father, older sister and two brothers.

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Meeting Mr Setha

We sit in the living room of our Khmer teacher’s house. The ceiling is high and floor is tiled white. Our teacher has pulled together a row of seven chairs, upon which we sit, facing the discoloured whiteboard.

“Learning Khmer language is more than the words. You must learn culture also,” he begins today’s lesson, our last of six. “You must want to know about Khmer New Year, no?” His eyebrows go up with the inflection of his question.

We all nod our heads in agreement. It is two weeks until the three-day celebrations for the New Year and we are eager to know its history. “Long ago, it is Brahma, Hindu God of Creation, that holds the earth away from the fires of the sun,” he informs us.

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Bespoke therapy for young patients

Originally published for Brink, a publication distributed monthly in The Sydney Morning Herald, by the University of Technology, Sydney.

Life for the Ledwith family was turned upside down on the long weekend of June 2012. Hours after attending the emergency department at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead with their older son, Thomas, then three, Melinda and Gregg Ledwith were in the midst of a medical drama that would dominate their lives for the next two years.

Thomas was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer, and went straight from the emergency department to the children’s cancer ward. Thomas was an inpatient for a fortnight while he began his long painful slog through chemotherapy. His treatment included inpatient and outpatient stays at the hospital for the next nine months, followed by 11 months of oral chemotherapy at home.

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A Taste of Italy at the Beach

Originally published for Revista Revolver.

A portly Italian grandmother stands in an alleyway of market stalls and Chilean eateries, pointing towards Panzoni Ristorante. This cute Italian picada appropriately puts a capital B on its Bueno, Bonito y Barato (good, beautiful and cheap) style.

Panzoni offers uncomplicated Italian food, mostly fresh pastas with homemade sauces that are served quickly by friendly waiters. The simple deliciousness and unique homemade style of their food works perfectly in a country that tends to stay away from spicy and exotic flavors. It’s not unusual to find a lunchtime queue of people waiting to eat inside the dainty space.

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Beautiful Girls’ beautiful noise

Originally published for FasterLouder

As I sat, soaking in their latest album, Ziggurats, I couldn’t help but jolt my body back and forth to the rhythm of the melodies. Each song transpires a different undertone, and also boasts enticing lyrics. There is even a hint of social commentary amongst the words of the songs, particularly Under a Southern Sky and General. As the songwriter for the band, Mat commented that music is his form of communication to the people. “Music is a great way to communicate because it is just really instant and people can, maybe, get sucked in by a nice melody and a nice tune, and before you know it they are starting to contemplate a source that they haven’t contemplated before – in an ideal situation.” It’s true – the songs are catchy, melodic and the lyrics made me think.

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