Nothing is as life-changing as having a baby. When Gabriel Serif was born in 2009 to college sweethearts Camille, a marketing professional in a publishing company, and Gabriel Mark, or Borky, an art director, the couple had to rethink their future.
“We lived in Malolos, Bulacan and were both working in Manila. Every day, we had to travel for about 2-3 hours to get to the office. We had no time for our son because he would still be sleeping when we leave in the morning, and already asleep when we get home. Renting a house near our workplace was not an option because we did not want our son to grow up in a polluted and congested place,” says Camille. And while she and Borky didn’t actually plan on leaving the country, somehow fate played a hand in it. “Borky got a job offer with higher pay in Cambodia, so we thought of giving it a try,” she adds.
Maintaining a long-distance relationship became too challenging for the couple, so Camille considered the option of moving. "It was quite hard because it was our first time to go out of the country. The only thing I was leaning on was that we will finally be together," she says. After discussing their options and getting feedback from fellow Filipinos based in Cambodia about work opportunities, she and their son, one year old at the time, joined Borky in Phnom Penh in January 2011.
Moving to Phnom Penh
Since he had been living there for six months, it was Borky who made arrangements for an apartment, secured Camille's and Serif's visas, and everything else they would need to settle in. They lived in Phnom Penh, the Kingdom's capital, where Camille found a job as the head of marketing of a non-governmental organization.
As with all things new, their first year in Cambodia proved to be challenging. "Language was a barrier and working with the locals required patience. I had difficulty understanding what they're saying, and I also had to adjust the way I speak and use “barok” English so they could understand me. They have a different work culture, and it took a lot of time to adjust and adapt to my new work environment," Camille relates.
Getting from one place to another was also a concern because Cambodia's public transportation isn't very commuter friendly. "They only have the Tuktuk (a motorized vehicle resembling Pinoy tricycles) and motorcycles, and being expats who do not know their language, we would usually be charged a very high price, even if it was just a short trip." She adds that they now have a motorcycle, or a moto, so it's easier to be mobile.
But the biggest hurdle Camille and Borky had to face was finding a nanny who could look after their son while they were both at work. "We hired a Cambodian nanny based on an officemate's recommendation. She was not a stay-in nanny, so my husband and I had to make sure at least one of us was back home on time.
"After two years, we decided to bring my nanny from the Philippines to Phnom Penh," says Camille, adding that Filipino nannies give the best kind of care over all other nationalities.
The Peridas do not regret their decision to move the family to Cambodia, despite the challenges. "We both have better pay compared to our jobs in the Philippines. We enjoy benefits like health care, annual leaves, 90 days of maternity leave, and paternity benefits. Being with an international company also gave me the opportunity to travel abroad to countries like Kenya, Madagascar, South Africa, and Vietnam, among others. Filipinos working in Cambodia are highly regarded," Camille adds.
Camille and Borky also have more time now for family, with Cambodia observing up to 30 days of public holidays in a year. Among these are the Khmer New Year in April, the Water Festival Ceremony in November, and the Visak Bochea, or the birth of Buddha, which is widely celebrated by the locals, the majority of whom practice Buddhism.
Camille also loves the fact that public parks are accessible from where they live, allowing them to bring their son outdoors for a few hours of unstructured play.
If you're one to watch your diet, there's plenty of choices, too. Khmer food is not only delicious, but it's also healthy. "Most of the food here is served with vegetables--even street food. When you order a 1-piece chicken meal at KFC, it comes with pickled vegetables and egg."
"It's more expensive here than in the Philippines, but the international curriculum they offer uses the same standards as in other developed countries," says Camille. Serif is in Grade 4 at The Giving Tree, an international school in Phnom Penh that follows a play-based curriculum.
"They don't give the kids homework; they want them to relax and play after school instead, and to spend time with family," she adds. The children are also evaluated not on academics alone--in fact, the school does not give recognition to the top students. "The international primary curriculum (IPC) recognizes the child’s multiple intelligence development, and they are taught to be creative, to understand and experience the concepts. There's no pressure to be on top. That's why my son loves his school. He’s always excited to go to school."
The Peridas' daily grind starts at 6:00 a.m. on weekdays. Camille prepares their meals for the day, then brings Serif to school, a mere five-minute drive from their place.
Office work is from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. only, which gives her time to do groceries, cook dinner, and even attend Crossfit class before dinner time at 8:00 p.m. When they're feeling competitive, they take the battle to the gaming console, or play other online games (they enjoy up to 8GB of data for a measly US$5 a month or about Php 250).
On weekends, Camille and Borky attend a Crossfit class together, then spend the rest of the day leisurely with Serif. "Sometimes we watch a movie and eat out. Our favorite dishes are kuy teav (rice noodles with beef) and koh kor numpang (stewed beef curry with baguette)," says Camille. "The best thing about living here is really being able to live in a simple, relaxed, and stress-free environment."
Signed, sealed, delivered
Camille and Borky tied the knot (how fitting was #CamBoWedding?) at the Philippine Embassy in Cambodia in November, sealing the deal after 14 years. "We decided to have our wedding here because it’s easy and convenient, especially when securing permits. We didn’t hire a wedding planner; we just did all the preparations ourselves, which made it a bit cheaper in a way," says Camille.
Their guests included not only family and members of the Filipino community, but also locals who are co-workers-turned-family. "Khmers are very friendly and approachable, especially with Filipinos. They are also kind and religious," says Camille. They're part of the reason the Peridas have learned to love the country they now call home.