Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Children’s Book Festival 2012

26 March 2012

The Children’s Book Festival is aptly named, being a celebration of children’s books and in the tradition of all good festivals, having so much on offer as to make it impossible to do justice to it all.

When I read out the festival program to my six-year-old and asked her whom she most wanted to see, without hesitation she nominated Sally Rippin, author of the Billie B Brown books.

I was happy about that, being a Sally Rippin fan myself. Given some of the inane, poorly written fiction targeted at young girls, Billie B Brown is a breath of fresh air: well written stories with a feisty heroine at the centre who might well be my daughter’s peer.

Perhaps it was no surprise then to hear Sally Rippin describe how Billie B was inspired by her own childhood as a ‘bossy older sister’. Billie B Brown – The Beautiful Haircut, for example, was based on Sally’s own experience of cutting off her younger sister’s pigtails. The moral of the story, she told her audience was, ‘when you play hairdressers, don’t use real scissors.’

We saw Sally as part of a Meet the Author session in Queen’s Hall at the State Library of Victoria (where I last visited for a very fun photo shoot). Sally talked about how the character of Billie B developed as a combination of her experience and the imagination of illustrator Aki Fukuoka, who has been known to look and dress like Billie. I like that Billie is named in part for Billie Holiday.

Sally read Billie B Brown and the Copycat Kid to her rapt audience, before adjourning to the Readings Signing Tent, at which point I realised what a rock star welcome awaited the children’s authors. I lined up (willingly) for 35 minutes in front of the State Library to get some Billie B books signed, while my daughter and her best friend, accompanied by the latter’s father, had their faces painted and visited the petting zoo around the corner in Little Lonsdale Street. As luck would have it, I reached the top of the queue at the right time for the girls to be free to meet Sally — a highlight of the day.

Meanwhile, the signing queue for Andy Griffiths had grown like Jack’s beanstalk before the author had even left the building. As writer Fran Cusworth tweeted, ‘Anyone who thinks kids aren’t reading hasn’t seen the 5,889,556m queue to get Andy Griffiths’ autograph at kids’ book fest.’

I gave our girls a choice between another author talk and an illustrator’s workshop and they chose the latter, which found us in Anna Pignataro‘s wonderful world of fairies, rabbits and glitter. Again I was impressed with how much respect and patience children’s authors and illustrators show their fans as we crafted up a storm of bunnies, wands and tiaras.

As Anna’s workshop was coming to an end, Bernard Caleo (full disclosure: close personal friend) arrived for a story telling session using his amazing kamishibai story box; and although my six-year-old and her friend were shattered by then, both were intrigued enough to stay for the opening and might’ve stayed for the duration if not for their flagging energy levels.

A word to the organisers for next year: load the morning sessions with stuff for 3-6 year olds, because that’s when they peak. Advertise cool stuff — like Bernard Caleo’s comic strip workshops — expressly for older kids in the afternoon.

I would’ve loved to have seen/met Graeme Base and Alison Lester, two of my favourite Australian author/illustrators. But clearly the 1:1 ratio of adults to children we had this year for the Children’s Book Festival was not enough. Next year I’ll aim for a 2:1 ratio in the adults’ favour and see if I can get to more author events.

Kudos and thanks to The Wheeler Centre and the State Library of Victoria for another excellent event.

Working like a dog

25 September 2008

I caught the eye of a man in the crowd the other day. He was carrying a pole across his shoulders, a tin hanging from one end, a set of bathroom scales from the other. He glanced at the sky as if to judge how fast he should walk in light of the approaching storm, then I caught his eye. He had a striking face: high cheekbones, slightly hooked nose, square jaw, eyes set deep within pockets of creased skin, like black buttons on the back of an old leather couch. I smiled. He looked back at me as if to say, ‘Yes, you can afford to smile.’

The man earns his income by setting up his bathroom scales in a public place—the entrance to a market, the footpath of a busy shopping strip—and for a small fee, tells people their weight. Bathroom scales, a household item in Australia, are an unaffordable luxury for most Cambodians, and the man is one of many who put the emphasis on the ‘small’ in ‘small business’ in a city where earning $0.75/day puts you above the national poverty line.*

But the man with the scales has it easy compared with what some people in this country do for a living. Take the garbage collectors. Some work on the foul smelling trucks that collect household waste several times a week. Some push carts like oversized wheelbarrows by hand around Phnom Penh’s neighbourhoods, squeezing toy trumpets to bring people out with their recyclable materials—paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum—often with their babies riding in the carts amongst the rubbish. Some young children fossick through piles of rubbish on the streets for recyclables, too, dragging around sacks bigger than they are. Many sniff glue or take amphetamines to enable them to work harder, for longer, with less fear.

But the dubious award for the worst job in town must go to the 600 or 700 people, including children, who scavenge the garbage dump at Stung Meanchey for a living. Stung Meanchey, ‘River of Hope’, is a stinking, smoldering shit-heap covering 6.8 hectares, infested with flies and rats and containing dangerously high levels of cancer-causing dioxine and arsenic.

The scavengers eek out a living by extracting recyclable materials from the mountains of putrid, shit-smeared, piss-soaked, blood-stained garbage produced by a city of two million people. They start work when the first garbage trucks arrive at 5am and continue until 6pm. Some pay bribes to the truck drivers for exclusive rights to pick over the load.

In addition to suffering from nausea, headaches, chronic diarrhoea, skin infections and depression, the scavengers risk injury and illness from medical waste dumped at the site. According to Kuo Sineth, a 21-year-old gleaner interviewed by the Phnom Penh Post in July, ‘Bags of blood, human parts such as hands, legs, lungs, livers, whole babies and heads are found in that medical waste. It is disgusting but it is a means to life,’ he said. ‘From each truckload of medical waste, I can collect plastics, syringes, serum bags…worth about 30,000 riels to 40,000 riels’ ($7.50-$10).

That’s about what I made every 20 minutes in my last office job in Melbourne.

In the same article, Chen Vuthy, 15, one of seven children, says he doesn’t worry about needle-stick injuries, so much as the prospect of not being able to collect recyclable materials. The 5,000 riel ($1.25) he makes on an average day goes towards buying rice for his family.

A couple of NGOs work with the communities of Stung Meanchey to improve their livelihoods, providing health care, food and education for the children, compensating families for the loss of labour so the kids can attend classes. One pub in Phnom Penh even offers tourists the ‘unforgettable experience’ of doling out food to the families at Stung Meanchey, which probably undermines the work of the NGOs.

The Cambodian government intends to close down Stung Meanchey at the end of this year and open a new, sealed tip on the road to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. And as of this month, the Cambodian Red Cross is to start a new medical waste disposal service using a special incinerator installed at the new dumpsite.

According to a Phnom Penh Post article of 22 August 2008, the people living off Stung Meanchey will be evicted and relocated to Kandal Province, where they will be sold plots of land at a cut-price rate.

In a sad indictment of what they see as their limited job prospects, many are reluctant to leave.

I’ve thought a lot about the garbage collectors of Phnom Penh over the eight months we’ve lived here. But I am dedicating this week’s post to them specifically because I’m currently in the process of applying for jobs both in Cambodia and Australia. And should I be tempted to bitch about how tough things are, this post is intended to serve as a reminder to pull my head in.

For reasons neither clear nor just, I will never, ever have it that tough.

Click here for a wonderful post on the people of Stung Meanchey by a braver man than I am.

* The 2007 national poverty line in Cambodia was set between $0.50 and $0.75 a day to account for differences in the cost of living between urban and rural areas. An estimated 31-33% of Cambodians live below the national poverty line. Using the international poverty line of $1.25 determined by the World Bank, 42% of Cambodians, or about six million people, live in extreme poverty.

Four days in Battambang…

25 May 2008

Battambang Villa 5I have been in Battambang province, northwest Cambodia, for much of the last week doing some research for my half finished crime novel.

Aside from a fleeting visit to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin (the subject of a forthcoming post), I spent most of the time in or around the provincial capital, Battambang.

On one level there is not much to do in Battambang. There are not a lot of ‘attractions’ and the city goes to bed early. This is partly why it is so great. It is a beautiful low-rise town straddling the banks of the Sangkar River, featuring some of the best-preserved architecture I have seen so far in Cambodia.

Battambang Market 4Beside, Battambang and its inhabitants have also experienced a rough few decades, so the locals probably welcome the peace and quiet.

The civil war that raged throughout Cambodia in the sixties and early seventies left Battambang relatively untouched. As a result of this, the Khmer Rouge viewed the city with particular suspicion when they took over the town two days after Phnom Penh fell in April 1975.

In addition to emptying the city of its inhabitants at gunpoint, as they did with all the country’s urban centres, the population was the target of a series of particularly brutal purges.

In the eighties and early nineties it was at the centre of much of the heavy fighting between government forces and the Khmer Rouge guerrillas along the Thai border. Government soldiers used Battambang as the staging post for repeated dry season offences against the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin, 40 kilometres southeast, only to retreat back to the town in the wet season.

The fighting, particularly the laying by both sides of hundreds of thousands of land mines, decimated the provinces’ agricultural production. According to the locals, many of the town’s inhabitants were also press ganged into building roads and fortifications by Vietnamese troops who were stationed in Cambodia to fight the Khmer Rouge until the late eighties.

Eighteen kilometres out of Battambang is Phnom Sampeau. A steep mountain dotted with foliage including beautiful plants knows as ‘fire flowers’ in Khmer. It is host to several pagodas and is also the location of the ‘killing caves’.

According to the locals, up to 12,000 people were thrown down the cave to the deaths. Some were reportedly bludgeoned or had their throats slit beforehand.

Gun 5Phnom Sampeau was the frontline of Battambang’s defence against the Khmer Rouge. Aging artillery pieces supplied by the former Eastern Bloc still sit in bunkers at various points on the mountain. Instead of Pailin, some wag has pointed them towards the Thai border.

Battambang has changed hands numerous times over its history. In addition to the Khmers, the Thais and French have all had a go at running it.

The French left the most obvious legacy, a large number of reasonably well maintained French colonial era buildings, including many villas and shop-houses than line both banks of the river. There are also large areas of traditional Cambodian-style wooden houses in the city’s outer suburbs.

I spent a night in Battambang in 1996: myself and about 30 other journalists were stranded there when the military helicopter that had been ferrying us around was unexpectedly called back to Phnom Penh. It was heavily militarised and at night the place was full of Cambodian soldiers kicking back at various traditional Khmer dance halls that Battambang was famous for.

Many of the troops have gone. Unfortunately, so have the nightclubs. The last one to go was the Than Sour Night Club, which I am told was mysteriously burnt down a few years ago and is now the site of a soon to built shopping mall.

Cinema 5The most famous of the city’s dance halls was long gone. Green River was the Bombay Rock of its time, infamous for the number of shootings that happened on its premises.

Battambang is also a great place to indulge my other great architectural passion, old cinemas, of which there are several.

Two quick plugs while I am at it.

While I was in Battambang I stayed at the Royal Hotel. It has large, bright rooms and a fantastic rooftop bar/restaurant, which is a great vantage point to watch the locals gathering on rooftops to indulge in what I am assured is the uniquely Battambang activity of betting on the weather. Check it out www.asrhotel.com

My guide to Phnom Sampeau was a great young Khmer called Ido Nhean. He speaks great English, knows the area well and did a fantastic job ferrying me around the incredibly crap roads outside of Battambang. If you are visiting the city and need a guide, get in contact with him on his mobile number 012393356, or by e-mail nheanho@yahoo.com

On location

4 May 2008

Buddha at Wat Tham Seua

Writing crime fiction set in Thailand presents a conundrum. I want to showcase the beauty and culture of the country and its people. But writing about crime means exploring the underbelly of the place, the seedier side that only makes it into travel guides under ‘Dangers and Annoyances’.

Take my current draft novel, working title Down by Pattaya Bay. Most of the action takes place in Pattaya on Thailand’s central coast — not the sort of place I’d recommend to anyone as a holiday destination (although more than a million tourists a year would beg to differ).

So I decided a couple of characters should come from Kanchanaburi in the west, a town Roo and I first visited in 1992. Kanchanaburi is probably most famous outside Thailand as the site of the Bridge on the River Kwai and the Death Railway built by the Japanese during WW II using Allied Prisoners of War and indentured Asian labourers.

But there’s more to Kanchanaburi than its wartime history. The riverside town is charming — floating discos and karaoke bars notwithstanding — the people are laid-back and the food delicious, especially the freshwater fish. The province, also called Kanchanaburi, is rugged and picturesque, home to wildlife sanctuaries where wild elephants and even tigers roam. Erawan Falls. Tumeric Stream. Tiger Cave Monastery. Hellfire Pass. Golden Dragon Temple. Three Pagodas Pass. The names on the map alone make it sound alluring.

For all these reasons I chose Kanchanaburi as a secondary setting for my current book and, just after Buddhist New Year last month, my family and I paid a visit to the place specifically to scope out settings for my book.

Tash at Wat Tham Seua

In addition to local colour, I was interested in visiting a place I’d read about called Wat Tham Seua — the Tiger Cave Monastery — as the setting for a scene involving my heroine Jayne Keeney and a Thai Buddhist monk. The trip to the monastery brought home the importance of checking out a setting first-hand, rather than relying on other people’s accounts.

Here’s what the Lonely Planet guide to Thailand (2005 ed) has to say about Wat Tham Seua and the neighbouring temple of Wat Tham Khao Noi:

“These large, hilltop monasteries about 15km southeast of Kanchanaburi are important local pilgrimage spots, especially for Chinese Buddhists. Wat Tham Khao Noi (Little Hill Cave Monastery) is a Chinese temple… Adjacent is the half-Thai, half-Chinese-style Wat Tham Seua… Both are built on a ridge over a series of small caves. Wat Tham Khao Noi is not much of a climb, since it’s on the side of the slope. Seeing Wat Tham Seua means climbing either a steep set of naga stairs or a meandering set of steps past the cave entrance.

“A climb to the top is rewarded with views of Mae Nam Khwae on one side and rice fields on the other. Wat Tham Seua features a huge sitting Buddha facing the river, with a conveyor belt that carries money offerings into a huge alms bowl in the image’s lap. The easier set of steps to the right of the temple’s naga stairs leads to a cave and passes and aviary with peacocks and other exotic birds…”

Putting coins on the conveyor belt at Wat Tham Seua

In fact, Wat Tham Khao Noi is a hell of a climb, especially if you continue past the summit of the hill up five spiral staircases to the top of the pagoda — where the dizzying views are truly spectacular. Wat Tham Seua, by contrast, has a funicular railway making the ascent a breeze.

The LP’s description also fails to capture the fairground atmosphere of the quirky Tiger Cave Monastery with its glitzy, gargantuan gold Buddha and garish concrete tiger. Devotees can buy all sorts of offerings, including little dishes of baht coins to feed on to the conveyor belt that drops the coin into the huge bowl at the Buddha’s feet. Low-tech, high-kitsch, gloriously Thai!

I had planned to set a rather solemn scene at Wat Tham Seua, but having been there, I’ll be setting the scene next door in the more tranquil grounds of Wat Tham Khao Noi.

Still, I’ll find a way of bring the Tiger Cave Temple into the story, too…

This post also appears on my other blog.

24 March 2008

Andrew and Angela write:

We’ve been off-line for the past week due to ill health, the gory details of which we will spare you. Suffice it to say, Roo is recovering from having abscesses removed (a process involving 2 of his least favourite things, needles and pain) and Ang has lost 3 kg in 4 days on a weight-loss program she wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

Tash, though grumpy, is fine. We all hope to be back in top form very soon.

Meanwhile, Roo is now filing stories on Cambodia for Inter Press Service, both the general news wire and its Mekong News Service. The first of his articles on the expansion of large-scale hydro power dams in Cambodia can be viewed here.

We’ll be back again soon.

Bangkok with children

29 January 2008

BANGKOK – THAILAND, 24-25 Jan 2008. Bangkok with children: once a contradiction in terms, now a way of life. We chose to stay at the Sri Ayuttaya Guest House, a place of teak and exposed brick recommended by the Lonely Planet as ‘romantic’, which proved difficult for our taxi driver to find.

Although the guest house was clean and picturesque, the staff weren’t very helpful, and the traffic noise would have pissed us off if we didn’t have a toddler already waking us at 5.30am. That said, we enjoyed our stay in Thewet district, an older, leafy part of Bangkok, that is not only family-friendly but that rarest of things in Bangkok: pedestrian-friendly, too.

Thewet pier 1 We started Tash’s tour of the Thai capital with a swing past the local fresh food market where a vendor was netting live catfish from a shallow tub. The ones that (almost) got away writhed on the muddy pavement with as much confidence as they do in the water.

We made our way past mangy cats munching on fish entrails to Tha Thewet (tha = pier), famous as a place where monks and lay people alike feed the fish that gather there, leaping out of the water at the prospect. You can buy bread crusts or fish pellets on the pier or, as in our case, be accompanied by a child so lovely people give them food to feed the fish with. The water around the pier is so thick with jumping fish it appears to be boiling.

Thewet pier, fish are jumpingFrom the Thewet pier we caught the orange-flag ferry along the Chao Phraya River to Saphan Phut—the Memorial Bridge—the stopping off point for the Pahurat Market, the Indian district I wanted to scope out for my next novel.

Tash loved the boat ride and managed not to ‘pollute’ any of the monks on board by touching them. She also seemed to enjoy the market; at least she kept it together while Andrew and I took photos and I took in the atmosphere.

At this point, Tash started asking for a ‘red icy pole’ and we figured given how well-behaved she’d been all day, especially during the taxi ride from Jomtien, we’d try to find something along the lines of what she was asking for. We ended up at an ice-cream franchise called Swenson’s in a mall near Pahurat where, to her delight, Tash was given a placemat and crayons to colour it in, along with a scoop each of vanilla and chocolate ice-cream. Roo and I had our longest uninterrupted conversation since leaving Australia.

We don’t know whether it was something in the ice-cream but Tash went crazy soon after eating it, running laps around the mall, dancing to music, climbing on and off weighing scales, trying to open doors and jump on to escalators—we’d never seen her like this. We did the only sensible thing we could do and took her on a tuk-tuk ride back to Saphan Phut—the noisy, motorised pedicabs being the hyperactive child of the public transport family. And our little thrill-seeker loved it!

From Saphan Phut, we caught the ferry back up-river to Tha Phra Artit where I’d planned for us to have dinner at Ton Pho, a Thai restaurant on a floating dock between the pier and the UNICEF office and an old favourite of mine. Alas, the place where Ton Pho used to be is now the site of a new condo. However, we stumbled across an alternative called ‘The Old Phra Artit Pier’, a lovely teak place with a deck fronting on to the river, Beer Chang on tap, good Thai food (albeit under-spiced), groovy music and very kid-friendly, accommodating staff—especially given Tash was still pretty hyped up. She ate their custom-made chicken fried rice with more gusto than we’ve seen her eat anything since we left Australia.

Wat at sunrise Ang TashBack at the guesthouse, she slept soundly enough in the evening for us to chat over a couple of beers but woke early as usual, still adjusting to the time difference. By 7.30am, we were taking in the sunrise with a walk down to the end of Sri Ayuttaya St through the Rachathewet temple complex to the river (at least, the map says it’s called Wat Rachathewet, although it’s changed names a few times since it was made a Third-Class Royal Temple). The reflection of sunlight on the gold, red, green and blue glass of the temple exteriors prompted Tash to exclaim, ‘Rainbow!’

It was a lovely walk through what is effectively a Thai village nestled between the wat and the river. Schoolgirls in white shirts and navy pinafores bustled past us, while parents carried sleeping toddlers to the childcare facility within the temple grounds on their way to work. Various shrines were already smoking with incense and the monks were on their way back indoors after collecting alms of food and lotus blossoms.

Wat at sunrise, Tash & Roo After breakfast, we walked to the Dusit Zoo—or rather, Roo and I walked while Tash got carried. In one of the few signs she’s given of not being entirely comfortable with the change of scene we’ve subjected her to, she’s preferring to be carried rather than walk; Roo and I are building our upper body strength as a result.

Most of the Zoo’s exhibits had seen better days, though we were conscious that we’d never get this close to the animals in a contemporary Australian zoo. The highlights were: the Tapir taking a bath, the panthers rolling around in the sun like the big cats they are (signs warned us not to dangle any limbs inside their cage); having only plate glass and 3 metres between us and two Sumatran tigers; the dusky langur that scaled the side of its cage, took a flying leap, grabbed a rope and swung right up to where Natasha and I were standing, making her laugh out loud. Tash also enjoyed watching the Asiatic elephants and encouraging them to ‘Bath, here, now!’

Dusit Zoo tigerThe rest of the day was a write-off, spent getting us from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. It was our first experience of navigating the new, town-sized Suvarnabhumi Airport outside of Bangkok, flying on a relatively new budget airline (Thai Air Asia, not too bad). We got visas on arrival in Phnom Penh and then took a taxi to our guesthouse—only it turned out to be the wrong branch of our guesthouse, and we had to take a tuk-tuk to the correct place (Boddhi Tree Del Gusto). In retrospect, this day of waiting and intermittent travel was good practice for hunting for real estate in Phnom Penh…but that’s another story.

Some things change…

22 January 2008

JOMTIEN, THAILAND – As Roo, Tash and I sped from Suvarnabumi Airport in Bangkok to Jomtien by taxi last night, I tried to remember whether driving in Thailand was always this scary, or whether Tash’s presence made it so. We bartered the driver down to 120 km/hour and I contemplated trying to sleep, figuring what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t skip a beat over. But it was too exciting not to watch. It feels good to be back. I can already tell that my writing is going to be the better for it.

Tash slept through most of the hair-raising ride, apart from complimenting the driver on his choice of CD with ‘Nice mia’ (‘mia’ is her word for music). She was so well-behaved on the plane that other passengers commented on it. I could hardly believe our luck, especially after the night before: Tash came down with a fever and slept sporadically, still a bit on the warm side when we got on the plane; I’d had about three hours’ sleep, Roo not much more. But we survived the nine hour flight to Bangkok, the two hour drive to Jomtien (just south of Pattaya), and getting to bed around 11pm local time – 3am in Melbourne. Tash woke at four’, which is when she was due to wake up if we’d still been at home. But then we managed to get back to sleep, all three of us finally surfacing at eight this morning. Miraculous!

We’re staying at the Silver Sand Villa in Jomtien, recommended by Tash’s grandfather Haydiho. It’s a charming haven in a sleazy town. There are two pools in the leafy garden separated by bowers of bougainvillea, a fountain off to the side of the lobby containing jumpy carp and a langurous frog, pots of waterlilies, and a children’s playground with swings shaped like a train and a duck. So far Tash’s favourite past-time appears to be jumping in the pool, then getting out to play on the swings in order to get her feet covered in dirt, necessitating an outdoor shower before returning to the pool. I’m not even going to think about how we re-train her for drought conditions back home.

She seems to be taking it all in her stride, less beguiled by the exoticism of live turtles, frogs and eels in the Chaimongkon Market than her parents were, but excited about the advertisement for icecream in the back of the songthaew (literally ‘two benches’, the pick-ups used here as public transport). She shows no signs of being discombobulated by the radical change of scene, apart from expressing disappointment that she can’t watch Maisy on DVD. Ah well, there’s always the books. Shall we read ‘Maisy goes to the fair’ for the twenty-fifth time today? – Yes, let’s!

We’re off to the beach this afternoon, just over the road from our hotel. Tomorrow I have an appointment with a nun with the wonderful name of Sr Supaporn, who runs the Fountain of Life Women’s Centre in Naklua, our interview kicking off what will be my first full day of research.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

18 January 2008

This is a blog dedicated to the adventures of Tash, Ang and Roo and the places they go. The title takes it’s inspiration from the Dr Seuss book by the same name ((c)1957), and particularly the following passage:

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

Be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.

On the occasion of this blog’s inauguration, we are on our way to Cambodia, via Thailand, for six months. Our Great Balancing Act is to save enough money to enable us to spend time together like thisand write fiction. I’ll be working on my second novel, Roo’s writing on his first, and chances are Tash will be gathering material for when she starts writing, too.

Andrew, Angkor WatRoo and I first visited Cambodia in late-1992; these photos were taken at the magnificent monuments of Angkor Wat and the Bayon, which we virtually had to ourselves back then. The country was under the control of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), the Khmer Rouge were fighting a protracted civil war against the Hun Sen government, and the economy was an unsettling mix of fast money and entrenched poverty.

UNTAC is no more, nor the Khmer Rouge, though Hen Sen is still in government and I suspect the economy is much the same. As for me and Roo, despite the sobering influence of our exquisite if somewhat bossy daughter, we might be older but we’re still keen to ‘get mixed up with many strange birds’, to quote Dr Seuss. Perhaps we’re crazy taking off for six months in SE Asia with a two-year-old just in time for the hot season then the monsoon.

But as they say, when you get older it’s not what you did that you regret, it’s what you didn’t do.

Bayon 1992(Does anyone know where this saying originated? Was it really with Grace Slick, ex-Jefferson Airplane?)

And so we’re off…