Long overdue.

Technically I am supposed to be working today. Or at least considering my future, since although it must be said that winning the weekly mexican laundry standoff with my mother affords me a ready supply of clean pants  (which I personally consider the key to happy life) I can’t really live at home forever. Also technically supposed to be prepping for my driving theory test, but since the highway code is so boring I would rather find myself starring in the next instalment of the Saw franchise than look at yet another pedantic road sign I think I’ll tell you all about the girls instead.

I have owed the girls this post for a while now, I owe them a homage for making my time in Cambodia what it was… downright hilarious. So here I am at last to tell you all about Gabby and Katie… or “Smice” (please let me know if I spelt that wrong? I was fighting the temptation to throw a y in there for some reason) since they came as a pair, and as such must be known by a cute little portmanteau of both their surnames.

But, as ever, WHERE do I start?!

These two battle-hardened stalwarts welcomed me with the warmth of friendly cynicism: teaching me that no, the world would not end if Savin was crying. He cried quite a lot. Once or twice I was even convinced that, mid wail, he forgot why exactly he was creasing up his face and noisily shedding big salty tears. Even having forgotten, however, he always continued because he knew something it took me a little while to realise. He knew that somewhere, no matter where she was on site or what she was fussing over, Ma Susan would respond to his bat signal and shuffle over in her ill-fitting blue crocs to scoop him up for a cuddle and a hearty session of sympathy. So often did he pull this fast one, however, that one day the inevitable crying-woolf lesson had to be learned. It took us upward of a week to realise that poor Savin had toothache. So varied and slight where his usual causes for weeping that we never dreamed of blaming his squalling on actual pain. On the bright side however (a side that the girls taught me early on it paid to consider) Savin’s misfortune prompted a mass exodus to the dentist, which was considered by all rather an adventure.

From early on they allowed me to feel useful without me having to do very much, a combination absolutely certain to win them a place in my heart. I spent much of my early days at HVC sat on the floor (the tiles were a brief escape from the heat – until you started to stick to them and the ants discovered you) helping Gabby with her lesson plans… and when I say helping I mostly mean asking her what a lesson plan was and then agreeing with all her ideas. Although I did steadfastly refuse to take over her afternoon lesson – I was just as scared of the silently staring flock of 17 years olds as Gabby was! – I did my bit with them, after all, ensuring that it was me they were sniggering at rather than Gabby was an invaluable service.

As I found my feet at HVC I quickly took up the role of in-house sugar dispensary. After Jo left I was the only one who lived in town and regular bag-fulls of sweets became my weighty responsibility. Lollipops nominally meant for the kinds would often find their way into the mouths of teachers, while catering to Gabby’s milk candy addiction was pretty much a full time job. Actually, come to think of it, I developed a pretty hardcore candy addiction of my own: working with kids is perilous business.

When I finally, officially took up the role of teacher and began flapping around in front of my class yelling things like “synonym!” and “adjective!” (I think my logic was that if I could make my kids jump I could make them listen and then it was just a hop and a skip to making them learn) bless them, the girls didn’t make fun of me… too much anyway.

But their talents were not restricted to the classroom… oh no! Extra carriculars were a special gift for Gabby and Katie. I learned many things from them, including but not limited to the following…

1) Nothing says Jagerbomb like the evening’s fifth rendition of Call Me Maybe.

2) Cambodian Red Bull is flat and often warm… but may or may not make up for this by being about 40% amphetamines.

3) It is mandatory to know all the words to Justin Beiber songs, and it is mandatory to sing them at the top of your lungs… even if it’s 9pm and Temple is empty.

4) It is ok not to go with Mitch to the same club every single night for a whole week.

5) Dodging angry prostitutes is an art form requiring months of diligent practice to perfect.

6) Angkor What? is where your odds of picking up a squeeze for the evening are highest.

The subject of squeezes is where Katie came into her own. Halfway through a night, just as Gabby and I were starting to ebb a little; sitting down a little more often, maybe even switching to water for a few rounds (scandalous I know) up would bounce Katie and proclaim that she was bored: now was the moment for action. Leave no man behind! Gather yourselves girls, grab another Jagerbomb, pull up your sassy pants and follow me to Angkor What?

Now the fun would really begin for it was the task of Gabby and I to get our acts together, position ourselves strategically near the likely lad of Katie’s choosing… and dance so badly that we repelled him toward her. The intricate maneuver of magnetism accomplished, we were to retire, also strategically, and keep a lookout for danger. If – the horror! – the strategy failed and the target took a fancy to either Gabby or I we were to retreat immediately and make a giggly dash back across the road to Temple and the safety of Carly Rae Jepsen to regroup and consider our next move. This, interestingly, was also our retrenchment strategy should the target turn out to be a bad kisser. Ah, the casualties of war. I remember one evening where the target turned out to have friends and in an endeavour to distract them I ended up buying my own Jagerbomb! Pretty sure I was the casualty of war that time. Worse luck.

Or the night we spent perched on a rusted out old skating ramp on the roof of the world’s seediest bar and watched the sun rise over downtown Siem Reap. Or all the times we had to wake Tee Tee up at 3am to get back into Prom’s… something that got much more fun after he started working at HVC with us and we realised he was a horrible man who deserved to be pulled out of bed to unlock the door at awful o’clock in the morning for three giggling drunk girls. Or getting Gabby drunk enough to throw some moves on the dance floor… not always a straightforward as it sounds!

Back to more serious things and it soon became apparent that one of my major responsibilities would be helping the girls not to go completely bat sh*t insane over Sue. This woman could make Saint Peter swear.

Example: The Great Vulva Mishap of 1950-something. 

Picture the scene, I am quietly minding my own business over my customary plate of rice, cucumber and hot sauce, half listening to the chatter around the table: Wa asking obscure grammar questions, Mitch asking who is coming to Temple that night, Robbie’s crime against fake british accents, general mutterings of grossed-out curiosity as to what might be in the soup today. Mostly I was staring out at the front gate watching the kids line up on their bikes to head off to Khmer school for the afternoon. Sue’s high-octave sigh intrudes on my total absence of thoughts: “Ohh some of the little ones are riding big bikes! Ohh that’s very dangerous.” Not really up for a full-blown conversation I attempted to make light of it. Big mistake. “I’m sure they’re alright Sue, they’ve been riding since they could walk.” And then out of nowhere, BAM, this gem fell into my ears. “Ohh no, it doesn’t matter how good you are at riding. I very seriously injured my vulva once riding a big bike when I was a little girl.”

Kill me. Kill me now. A 70 year old woman with crocs and a buzz cut just talked to me about her vulva. Where is sudden-onset deafness when you need it, or a handy case of full retrograde amnesia.

Part 1 of my homage to Gabby and Katie will have to draw to a temporary close here because my enormous Irish driving instructor is going to pull up outside my house in two minutes and I’m still in my pyjamas.

But for now, thank you, thank you to the huge force of life, laughter and hilarity that is the Gabby and Katie show.

And thanks for making the other side of the world feel like home.

Bye for now



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