In 2001, I left my native Australia and embarked on a career in International Development. My first country mission was in Cambodia, where I was to spend a year. Renting the upper level apartment from a Cambodian family, I did most of my food shopping in a little market in the Boeung Keng Kang district. On weekends, when I had more time, I would hop on a moto-dop and venture out to the Russian or “Psar Toul Tom Poung” market, which is a great place for souvenirs, silk, designer seconds as well as bootlegged CD’s and DVD’s. Saturday afternoons was often spent choosing a new outfit for the night ahead and recharging from the night before with either a freshly squeezed green orange juice or icy cold coffee with condensed milk.
Half way into my year in Cambodia, myself, my house mate Gunnar, Greta, a teacher I had recently be-friended, as well as an old neighbour from Australia, decided to make our way to Vietnam, with the plan of travelling up the Vietnamese coast, and hoping to spend New Years Eve in Halong Bay.
The journey up the coast is material for yet another type of blog, yet in brief, Gunnar left us half way up the coast, and by the end of the trip, three had become a quick crowd. On top of that, I had caught a cold, so the charms of the good-looking French Canadian guy on the fishing boat that I met on the trip back to the mainland were almost wasted on me. Needless to say, he was eager, and a week later he turned up on my doorstep in Phnom Penh when I had returned to Cambodia.
Philippe certainly was interesting, and there was no doubt that we got along, but I still wasn’t sure. When he offered to make lunch one day and asked where to get ingredients, I gave him directions to what is the crazy maze of the Boeung Keng Kang Market. I also told him to seek out my favourite vendor, Huyen a gentle Vietnamese woman, who usually set up shop in a small space in front of the sewing machinists and in between the rambunctious pineapple sellers. I then left for work, quite sure he would never find Huyen. When I returned for lunch, he served me succulent pork medallions, sautéed mustard greens and baby carrots bathed in honey and ginger. On my kitchen bench lay a bouquet of mixed oriental herbs, with Huyen’s signature red chilli tucked in the middle. After that, I asked him to stay, and well, ten years later, the rest is history.
A shorter, French version of this article appeared in Readers Digest Canada.