The Meanderthals

Not loving leaving

I walked home this afternoon from Lycofra, our neighbourhood Khmer hair salon where I get my usual $2.50 shampoo that includes a heavenly 45-minute head, neck, hand and arm massage.

I strolled along the broken sidewalk past Taqueria Corona, our favourite Mexican restaurant, where chickens pecked in the dirt and moto drivers buzzed along on the wrong side of the road. On the corner, our usual gaggle of tuktuk drivers – Tony, Poh and the chap whose name I never knew – waved to me, and the uniformed guard across the street nodded and smiled.

Our neighbour’s little dog, whose once white coat matted with 50 shades of grey, watched me walk by, and a handful of emerald-coloured leaves drifted onto the road from the trees in our front garden.


This has been our life for three years. In two weeks the chickens will still be pecking in the dirt. Tony and Poh will still be camped out in their tuktuks on the corner and the guard will still be watching the house of the big shot down the street.

But Skip and I will be gone.

It’s a painful feeling of loss, even though we’re still in Phnom Penh and excited about our travels throughout Asia (India, China, Vietnam, Laos and Borneo is the present plan). And it’s a bittersweet feeling to be extricating ourselves from a place we love but also feel it’s time to leave. Rather like slowly peeling a Band Aid from a wound, this time is drawn out with the ache of saying farewells


Over the past three years, there’s been many a day when we’ve complained about the insufferable heat and lack of stimulating things to do in Phnom Penh. We regularly discuss places we’d like to live and have often bemoaned the intolerable corruption and poverty in this country we’ve made our home.

There’s plenty we won’t miss, but right now those are hard to recall.

Take work, for example.

Over the past three years, I’ve often been frustrated and bored – too much time on my hands, too many mangled reports to edit that twisted my brain and caused me hours of irritation and too many unrealistic deadlines that drove me crazy. But my last day at work last week was anything but frustrating. I handed over my computer keyboard and air-conditioner remote control to Jenny, the delightful English gal I’d helped hire for my job, and spent the last few hours talking with colleagues and attending the small farewell lunch that had been planned for me by Sambath, the Executive Director.

They gave me a beautiful peacock blue shawl. Told me they’d miss me. I cried when I said goodbye and walked through the iron gates for the last time.IMG_0618 (2)

Do I want to stay there? No. I’m happy to move on. But it’s this limbo time that aches.

It’s locking the door for the last time in our beautiful third floor apartment with its wraparound balcony overlooking the street, where jungle-like plants fringe our view and dear friends, Philip and Katarina, live downstairs.

It’s taking leave of Tony and SomOn, our tuktuk driver friends, and Nara, our cleaning lady, all of whom have shared with us their problems, illnesses and joys, laughed at my feeble attempts to speak Khmer and invited us to their homes to meet their families.

It’s knowing we won’t be waking to the sound of monks chanting at 4am, the construction workers across the road at 7am and the call of the bread man selling fresh bread from his bicycle as he peddles down the street.

Those are the things moving on is made of.

What have I learned in my three years here? Here are some of them:

• That Cambodian people are the kindest, most generous, childlike and beautiful people I’ve ever met..20110920_PSE_Battambang_453• That poverty or wealth is not determined by what you have. We’ve constantly been humbled by people who have nothing yet are able to reach down into their nothingness and find something to give.

• That nobody ends up in Cambodia by accident. We’ve met so many interesting, varied and smart characters during our time here, most of whom came here to do something significant or good.

• That air-conditioning is a wonderful invention.

• That it’s nice to live with few possessions (it took us five months to buy a toaster) and lovely to live in a cash society (no bills).

• That pampering is a heavenly obsession (particularly at $10 or less an hour).

• That nothing should be wasted or thrown away if it can’t be fixed. Someone will find a use for it.

• That it’s easy to make friends in foreign lands. Through my writing I’ve been blessed in making many connections that became part of our lives. They include the incorrigible Ramon Stoppelenburg, who bought the Flicks movie house, the huge-hearted Ruth Larwill, who founded Bloom and keeps me satisfied with exquisite cupcakes , the brilliant Dr. Peter Ly, who runs the rural Graphis Health Center and Phnom Penh’s emergency services, our inspirational language teacher, Dara Than, who escaped from the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, the benevolent Johnny Phillips who founded Buckhunger soup kitchen for street kids, the delightful Steven Bimson, who opened the Phnom Penh Central School of Ballet and the irrepressible Wes Hedden who founded the Sarus programme for Cambodian and Vietnamese youth.

• That there are opportunities galore in this part of the world. Skip and I came here as volunteers for Volunteer In Asia, then found ourselves involved in heaps of other projects without even looking for them. Through good fortune and good contacts, I’ve written two books (The Definitive Guide to Moving to Cambodia and The Sweet Tastes of Cambodia), penned freelance articles and restaurant reviews for every significant publication in town, written the LeBoost Phnom Penh guidebook and done PR consulting and writing for Roomchang Dental Hospital, Mekong Viet Travel and Mango Tours.

• That there can be beauty and magic in dirt roads and behind broken walls – you just have to be open to seeing them.


Above all, I’ve learned that the memories of our days here will be etched on our minds and hearts forever and that these are the images I’ll be taking with me:

The spires of a pagoda shimmering in the moonlight.

The sparkle in the eyes of every tiny brown-eyed child.

The torrential downpours and powerful winds that come with rainy season.

The beauty of saffron wrapped monks carrying yellow umbrellas.

The hugs of Tony, our tuktuk driver.

The “but Gabi” comments of SomOn.

The laugh of Sarath.            .IMG_0639

The kindess of Heang.

The tears of Nara.

The teasing of Dara.

The farewell embrace of Sambath.

The tenderness, warmth, innocence and generosity of every Cambodian we were blessed to meet during our three years here.

Farewell, Kampuchea. For now.

Until we meet again.



  • That was lovely, Gabi …. it’s clear you are leaving a beloved place and people. But ready for other adventures. This is the mark of the true nomad, born to the road. Bon voyage, my friend. Keep in touch! xoxoxfbk

  • Patrick Holzen

    What a beautiful note. May your next gorgeous, mind blowing, soul enriching journey be just as inspiring. You are my brave hero. Love you xxx

  • Paula Gaull

    Stay safe and have fun on your travels! Can’t wait to hear about your new adventures! xo

  • Leslie Galacar

    Hi Gabi and Skip. It’s always so sad to say “good-bye” but your friendships and memories will endure forever. I’ve come to feel like I know the people you and Skip write about and even feel I’ve helped some of them. Thank you for always sharing your stories with us. Be safe in your travels and keep on writing about all of your adventures and relationships. I “need” these tales; I live vicariously through them! xxoo Leslie g.

  • Matt

    It was wonderful to read all you blogs and articles you have written for the past three years, a journey you will always remember and have a very special place in your heart.Stay well and God Bless.

  • Wendy Hiles

    Gabi and Skip – you will be sorely missed by all your friends in Cambodia. You are an inspiration to us all. Lucky those people who’s lives you will touch along your new path – enjoy the journey.

  • Jan/Joke Stoppelenburg

    Hallo Gabi and Skip.
    We think that you always must follow your heart and dreams. You will leave friends but you don’t lose dreams and good memories. Although we did not met each other very often (once ) we thank you for the support of Ramon. Against us he mentioned you as his second parents of him. We hope that the future prove you take the right choice and wish you all the best in the future

    Many Greetings from Jan/Joke Stoppelenburg

  • Meghan Coleman

    Beautifully written, Gabi. I know you’ve touched many people’s lives in Kompuchea, just as they have touched yours. I’m excited to read about the new adventures that lie ahead.

  • I put off reading this for awhile as I knew it would make me tear. I will miss you. Buckhunger will miss you. Your generosity with cash, time, energy, friends, kindness and strong willed support will not easily be matched nor found again. Your history with us will not be forgotten and will encourage us to keep at it..for the kids, for the seniors.
    Please help our paths to cross again. Good luck, good blessings for your travels and adventures to come.

  • Phyllis Boulter

    Hi Gabi & Skip,
    always love your postsck in your next adventure. I will have to go back and read the rest of your post. I am in rehab recovering from surgery. It is very painful and I can’t stay in one position long.
    ,I am u sing a different computer, not easy.
    Love & luck to you both!

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