By: Karen Edegan Pagulayan


Before you start reading this, I would like you to open your left palm. Using your right pointing finger, start drawing a big circle. Inside that big circle, draw two small circles on the upper part and one curve line on the lower part of the circle. I hope you like what you see.

As you continue reading this, I have a question for you, “When was the last time you wished for the ground to swallow you whole because of an embarrassing situation?”

It happened on my first day at Aii. I remembered back then when my aunt would nag me about some reminders as an expat in Cambodia. The first thing my aunt did was to train me. She taught me Khmer culture and stuff; but I have a secret, I paid little attention. If my aunt happens to read this, I might get a sound scolding. Her only reminder that stuck to me was, “Usually when you see someone who has a body built like us, he or she might be a Filipino.” If you know me, you may be probably smirking now; but if you don’t, let me give you a clue, stout lady.

Some of the people I’m working with now probably haven’t seen me in heels but you know that feeling when you are a newbie and you want to dress to impress?

One unforgettable Tuesday morning, I came in the office confidently sporting a black blouse (because I love black) with slacks, a pair of heels, and my bloody lipstick signature. At break time I went to the academic office of Chak Angre (the first campus I was assigned to) to borrow a speaker for my next class. I darted around the room looking for someone to approach, hopefully seeking for a fellow Filipino teacher. Luckily, I spotted a lady who had a similar body built like me sitting near the table. I went straight to her and hugged her from the back. Probably, you find it weird reading this but yes, I did that. Looking back, I am also wondering why I did that.

As I put my arms around her, I whispered in Filipino, “Hi te pwedeng pahiram ng speaker mo?” (Hi sister, can I borrow your speaker?) She slowly turned towards me with confusion on her face and said that she was Khmer. I stood frozen with embarrassment! I could not believe my first ever encounter with a Khmer would this be embarrassing!

It was truly unforgettable. Funny and embarrassing. That’s how I met my teaching partner and now a dear friend of mine, Kimnget Koy.