Mid year musings #6: Why I ride…


Ready to take my Cambodia training wheels off.

There are lots of mundane reasons for riding a bike. I ride for fitness (good fitness in constant humid heat). I ride because I can combine transport and fitness. I ride because it’s greener (not that I’m the greatest green warrior, but I try where I can). I ride because it’s cheaper (almost free, except for bike repairs and upkeep).

While not taking away from the goodness of those reasons above, below are three less obvious reasons for why we have chosen a bike over a car at the moment. [A disclaimer: In this post, I’m not trying to be prescriptive on how people should function overseas. I’m more just trying to be descriptive of our experience so far.]

Firstly, I ride as part of our family mission strategy. The phrase that I keep coming back to is ‘go slow’. The idea of ‘going slow’ seems to flow from our aim of being ‘vulnerable‘ on location. What does this mean? Riding helps explain this idea. Riding a bike means I go slower. Yes, riding is quicker than walking or running. But when I ride I go slower than a moto (think scooter), tuktuk or car.1 But I’m not really referring to my actual speed on a bike when I use the phrase ‘go slow’, more to my ability to do things. With a bike, and by inference a tuktuk for family transport, I’m able to do less than I would with a car. In a car its much easier to zip from here to there and do a few things, carry many things and many people. But with a bike I’ve gotta build up the motivation to ride in the heat using precious energy. I can then only carry myself and a small load if its an errand. In a nutshell I can do less with a bike than I can with a car. And so in this sense, life with a bike is slower than life with a car–it’s a form of ‘going slow’. The fact that we can do less on a bike helps us think through what things are important as we don’t have the ability to do as much as we would if we had a car. In a time when its easy to be busy, a car enables more of this busy-ness. However a bike slows the pace of life down (somewhat).

Secondly, as I ride I do less, but I also see more. I see Cambodia in a different way. I see the landscape differently on a bike than when I cruise on past in a car. And I see the people differently. I can interact with locals at the traffic lights and I have many conversations surrounding the fact that I ride a lot of places. I also have more Khmer interactions without a car. Instead of hopping straight into a car when we want to go somewhere, I need to interact in Khmer in order to get somewhere and get back if I’m taking more than just myself or running an errand that can’t fit in my backpack. So I see more and different things on my bike than I would when driving. When riding a bike, ‘going slow’, I see a different Cambodia.

Thirdly, I ride because in some ways its easier. Transport is a status symbol, especially in Cambodia. The bigger and more expensive the means of transport, the more important you are deemed to be. And the more money you are thought to have. Riding a bike … well that’s not even as expensive as a moto. For one, I’m less likely to be blamed for accidents, as people will see me on a bike and maybe take pity. They’ll probably also assume that I’m not rolling in it either. In that sense there are less complications from bike accidents than there are for other forms of transport. Plus I can do much less damage with my bike than I could with a moto or car. So, accident wise, a bike is much less complicated.

There are plenty of times when I have been tempted to get a moto or car. And there still may be a point in the future where we do get one or the other. But for the moment I’m biking.

  1. Although I would argue that there are plenty of times in Phnom Penh traffic when I think that my bike riding is the quickest form of transport. 

Mid year musings #5: Decisions decrease


Decisions made, now we can rest. (Only one is not actually resting. Who is it?)

I think we are past the initial set up and settling in period–that time with tonnes of choices. What we’ve moved onto is a time where we are living out those choices or living with the choices and their consequences (not necessarily a bad thing) that arose from the decisions we made when we first arrived. Some of these decisions were intentional and purposeful, like our go slow approach (see next weeks post) that flows from the idea of vulnerable mission. Some of the decisions seemed more to be related to circumstances, reacting to life, like Joel’s preschool closing down (originally chosen because of the Khmer influence he would receive there), and so us moving him to preschool at the girls school (with less Khmer input but other positives).

So we’re in a time of less choices, or a time of seeing how our first choices play out. Some of the angst around making those initial, and seemingly bigger, choices is gone. I read over some of my earlier journal entries from the beginning of this year and all of the questions that I raised for myself; some of them have been answered. Some of our wonderings that we had prior to coming to Cambodia have also been answered. So we are in Cambodia in a period that you could call ‘decision decrease’  instead of ‘decisions galore’.1 But as we look back we can get a glimpse of how God has been guiding us and answering prayer in different ways from what we had expected and also in ways that we had. He has been at work through our decisions.

  1. See first link above. 

Mid year musings #4: Missio saddle


These families have been a massive part of our expat saddle, helping us to ride here in Cambodia.

Lots of people talk about the missionary or expat bubble.1 This post won’t really address the reality of this bubble or go into a detailed pro’s and con’s about it. On reflection, I certainly did fear the expat bubble before arriving in Cambodia. And I’m still aware of trying not to be consumed by only having relationships with foreigners. But there has been a surprising find for me.

The reality and possibility of the expat bubble remains. However, what I hadn’t expected was the expat saddle. The expat bubble can be constraining and all consuming. The expat saddle, on the other hand, assists me in riding the ‘horse’ of cross cultural life. I couldn’t have made these same inroads into the culture without the help of all the expats that I have come across. The expat saddle is a wonderful support as we progress to riding the ‘horse’ of cross cultural life bare back.2

My relationship with expats, my expat saddle, has far from inhibited my entry into a new culture; it has enabled it in many ways. Examples include simply giving advice, or more substantially by offering help (mainly in time) to set up bank accounts and help us settle in. And it can be bigger than that, like paving the way for us missios who stand on the shoulders of giants, enjoying wins that have come from the hard work over many years of missionary service. These wins are things like being freed up to do language learning for a longer time period, which we now enjoy. As missios we stand on the backs not only of the supporters, but also of missionaries past and present. It is a great reminder of how dependent we are on others.

In coming to Cambodia, one of the things I am learning more and more is how dependent I am. It’s the opposite of what seems to occur in the West, ‘forgotten dependence’. In the West we are so set on being ‘independent’ and we pride ourselves on our abilities and skills and all that we can achieve. The reality of dependence can easily get lost in our focus on our own activity. Remembering my dependence shapes the way I look at myself (limited and weak, rather than an all powerful superhero) and shapes the way I relate to others, particularly God. In humility I realise that I am not the answer to my own or others problems and that I rely on another for life, for everything.

  1. That place where, while in a foreign country, you only end up interacting with other foreigners in your own language. 
  2. I’ve only ridden a horse, like, 30 years ago and I think I fell off on the last day of horse camp. While I’m no expert, I’ve heard that riding bare back is much harder than riding with a saddle. 

Mid year musings #3: First time expert


A dinner out in Cambodia with friends from a partner church

One of the refreshing things I’ve found about being in a new culture is that time when I become an expert in that culture. This first occurred when we had visitors. While I’m light years behind the cultural experience of a local and most expats have more experience than me, visitors provide that unique time when I get to be some-what of an expert. When visitors came, I was no longer the newest and most green. I was the experienced one, the expert (in a very limited sense).

Now this is not just about being proud about my new learning, or being able to put others down because they don’t know as much as me. The main reason that being an expert in a new culture is refreshing is because I’ve spent so much time learning from and relying on others. This has its own benefits (watch for the next post). But there is something nice about being able to share what you’ve learned with someone who is learning it for the first time, rather than with someone (a local) who has lived it their whole lives. Now I can share some of the insights I’ve learned, in a place where a lot of the time others have shared valuable cultural insights with me. It’s a nice change.


Mid year musings #2: Oblivious to errors


In person, our tuktuk driver has a wonderful smile. For a photo, I’m not sure whether this smile is of happiness or awkwardness (or both).

Is he happy about this picture or not? I read somewhere (or have heard it) that a smile in Cambodia can mean many things–happiness, embarrassment, hurt or anger. Which one is this? I’m not sure. I’m potentially oblivious to doing the wrong thing.

Every now and then I become aware of, or I’m made aware of, my ignorance regarding my misdemeanours. It dawns on me that I’m making mistakes without being aware of most of them. In your home culture you have more of a sense of what is right and wrong and how to behave appropriately. In a new culture you don’t have that same awareness. You can easily fool yourself that you’re fitting in, when in reality you completely stand out by the errors you unwittingly make. Added to this is that in some places people won’t always pull you up when you’re doing the ‘wrong’ thing. The result is that you can end up doing many wrong things without being aware of it. Some of these wrong things are harmless and are just laughed off as ‘stupid foreigner’. Some wrongs can be more harmful, yet are still hidden from you (often through smiles that say more than you know).

This brings me to a second point. In moving to Cambodia we’ve moved to a culture that his high context (as opposed to Australia which is more a ‘low context’ culture). In a high context culture, like Cambodia, communication occurs as much through non-verbal communication as it does through verbal communication. In other words, its not just what you say or how you say it, but also what is not said that is just as important. You are looking for communication clues that come from body language or from the context of the communication (location, occasion, etc). In contrast, low context cultures like Australia communicate predominately through verbal communication and so less is communicated through body language or context (though that is still important).

What all this means is that not only are we navigating a new language system, we are also trying to learn how to pick up cues from what is not said. Picking up these non-verbal cues may help give us insight into the times when we do something wrong, particularly while our language abilities are still in infancy.

In the end my lack of awareness concerning the mistakes I make is just another aspect of ambiguity tolerance. But our hosts also need to be gracious and use ambiguity tolerance with us as well, until we realise or are shown our foibles. My hope is that this is creating in me more of a sense of humility, that many of my ‘sins’1 are being covered over.


  1. I actually think this aspect of culture learning is a great analogy for the Christian life. That is, in the early days we sin in tonnes of different ways that we are completely ignorant about. As we grow as Christians, it is through being confronted with God’s Word are shown just how sinful we are–the true extent of our mistakes and failures. As we see our sin more clearly we come to see God’s grace to us in Jesus death more and more deeply. My sins are not just those that I see or know. I’m am sinning constantly and much more deeply than I can know, yet Jesus death has paid for all these unintentional sins as well. 

Mid year musings #1: Mid-year reset

Bus without number

One way the year has started again for us mid-year: starting a new school year in August

One of the weird things about our year this year is that in August (now) we’re starting the new year. The year has reset halfway through. We’ve been here for six months and yet school is starting again after the summer break. We’ve had a big long break to help us make it through this next year. If we were in Australia we’d be in the dark of winter longing for the summer sun and the end of the year break.

So in my head we’re kind of in that mid-year ‘you’ve just gotta make it to the end of the year’ mindset. But actually we’re six months in and we’re starting again. We’ve had our summer break and we’ve got twelve months ahead of us. I need to change my mindset as I prepare for the year ahead and think ‘new year starting now’.

This realisation came home to me as we went on holidays to Thailand. It was suggested in our training to take a good break from language and the country, if you can, around the six to nine month mark. This can be the time of culture shock and homesickness. And even if you’re not in culture shock or homesick, you’ve still spent the last six months settling in. So we did. We took a break. And the break was much needed and very helpful in that regard; our newness tiredness had taken its toll.

But the holiday (unintentionally) served another purpose. It helped to get us ready for the new year in the middle of the year. So although this is the ‘mid year musings’ blog series, it’s actually in another way a ‘new year’ series.

Settling in: Still settling in


Feed the birds, mboan a bag. Mboan, mboan, mboan a bag. A family day out playing in the park in front of the palace

Hopefully this series has given you some sense of what our time has been like in Cambodia so far. It hasn’t been Cambodia-details rich, but hopefully sense rich. That is, hopefully it’s given you a sense of the ups and downs of settling in here–the joys and challenges. The joys have come from the new and also the not so new. The joys have even come from and through the challenges, amidst our indecision, our comparisons and our confusion. Some of these challenges recede in importance as our language improves, though the journey is slow.

We don’t feel new anymore. If you think about it on a scale, there are tourists, expats and locals. We’ve definitely moved on from tourist and we’re in the heart of expat land as we seek to improve our language through the ups and downs of language learning. We’re not out of the “honeymoon phase”, just yet. But we may be soon.

Following the great advice we were given during our missionary training in Melbourne, we are taking a break from language learning and Cambodia and heading to a nearby country for some much needed R&R. Stay tuned in August for a new blog series on our time in Cambodia.

For a heads up on when that series starts, sign up to receive an email alert by clicking the ‘Follow’ button on the right side of our blog home page.