A dusty jewel beckons

Written by on March 6, 2010 in Life and Family, Notes By The Way with 12 Comments

We’re moving to Cambodia!

Most people who personally know me have gotten the information, but I realized I’ve never posted the news here. You may have guessed; I think readers here won’t be surprised.


I find myself pausing, recently, and thinking about our journey these past eight years in Japan. Sometimes Hitomi and I just stop and say, Wow (or Sugoi). The twins were born in year one. We suffered a lot more than we’d anticipated during our first few years here, between pregnancy, culture shock, language learning, $10/pound hamburger, and more than doubling the size of our family. I began to change then, and I just kept changing.

We made a temporary move to the other side of Tokyo in 2003, and two years later we came to Hachioji. We were drawn by the mountains hills. Before deciding where to live, we connected with our kids’ future preschool/outdoors school while camping near the base of Mount Fuji. I saw some kids kayaking and having a great time, so I talked with one of the fathers. Later, I blew up a picture on the computer, to get the name of the school. We searched on Google and discovered it was within a triangle we’d already drawn on the map (two hours from where we’d met at the campground).  One thing led to another. Today I stopped by the preschool to drop off a couple things, and I felt like I was with my people. A mother gave me a card written by her daughter for the twins, another gave me a gift, and one of the teachers got all teary as I turned to leave. I know we’ll be back to visit, and I know we’ll be treated like long lost family.

It’s fitting that our experience here started with a human connection — a gift from God, I think.

We developed Global Adventure. Our first event was a trip to the USA, but the next summer nobody signed up. We thought about taking groups of Japanese to the mountains in Japan. I also thought about taking groups to India or some other place where they could see how the two thirds world lives. I had a connection in Cambodia, though, and he introduced me to the director of a Children’s Community there. Eventually, we focused all our efforts on the trips to Cambodia. That has led to rich relationships in Cambodia and a small but  growing community in Japan. I’ve been part of some wonderful communities in the past, and they all have their own internal momentum. This community is just starting to stir up. We’ve been in constant communication all week with volunteers who are patching together an accounting plan and discussing purpose statements and logos (designed by a woman I took to Cambodia two years ago). Hitomi met with two past participants today just to talk. She’ll meet another briefly tomorrow at a nearby train station, and another two or three are coming for dinner.

It’s funny, but our plan to leave stirred the water more than almost anything else we’ve done. It looks like we’ll miss the best part, but, of course, we won’t. We have a growing list of people who have promised to visit us in Phnom Penh. We’re looking forward to a community developing in Cambodia, and we trust the relationships here can endure (and thrive) despite the distance.

Anyway, we’re just following the road as it opens up before us. I have a wonderful image of this from a book called the Sacred Romance that changed (or crystallized) my view of following God. Our “plan” is to move to Cambodia for two years and establish Project Friends (the new name for Global Adventure). After two years, we hope we’ll have a good idea whether to return to Japan or stay longer. We really care about the Japanese participants and the community that will grow in Japan, and we’ll probably have a growing love for people (including Japanese) in Cambodia by then. We’ll see where this road leads as we travel further on it.

I’m pretty excited. Before coming to Japan, I spent time in Soweto, South Africa. I lived in East LA in a neighborhood full of wonderful and broken people. I spent time in Mexico learning Spanish. To put it simply, I may feel a better “fit” in Phnom Penh than amidst the wealth and rush of Tokyo. Then again, I’m learning that I can be at home anywhere. I could stay in Japan and be happy; and I can also take these two years as a gift.

Well, that’s my news. I don’t know how many of “readers” I have who will take notice, but for those who are paying attention, stick around and enjoy the show.

Finally, here’s a few details for those who want to know:

We’ll live in Phnom Penh. The city used to be called one of the jewels of the orient (though a quick search on Google reveals just about every prominent city in Asia all the way to Cairo claims that honor). Anyway, now it’s a dusty jewel, not exactly the kind of place you go on vacation (that would be a few hours away in Siem Reap). Every country has it’s “dust” though, except perfect places that exist only in dreams, or somewhere in New Zealand. (Respectful pause)

The kids will go to an international school. We actually wanted to switch them to international school, and we couldn’t have afforded any of the schools in Japan, so we’re grateful for this timing.

We’ll visit the USA first, and we’ll head for Cambodia in July. I’m getting to the age when time starts to move more quickly. Right now it seems like each time I blink I find myself getting ready to leave for a different country.

About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray is a writer and photographer living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working with Alongsiders International. You can find him puttering around the streets of Phnom Penh on his Suzuki Viva 125, running stoplights and driving on the wrong side of the road or on the sidewalks like a local. If you see him in a coffee shop, he'll be the one typing and deleting the same line over and over again. .


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed
  • Jason

    I hope the move goes smoothly.
    I’ve been following your blog for a long time now. I think close to 5 years.I started reading way back when I was in university and was taking Japanese classes. Now here I am living in China (3 years now) and working as a translator. Time certainly does fly.
    You write in a personal, yet insightful way that I find I can really follow. I’d buy your book if you wrote it. 🙂
    I may be visiting SE in the winter, but I’m not sure. If I ever make my way to Cambodia, I’ll look you up.
    Good luck. Looking forward to reading about it all.

  • Isabelle (^^)

    I’ve been “following” you for a while as well, though I did not post very often.
    Good luck to you all, thanks for all those beautiful pictures and for your comments.
    Take care,
    Isabelle (^^)

  • Thanks for the kind words.

    Jason – I dream of writing books. It’s nice to know that if I finally write something, at least two people will buy copies (you and me). If you’re ever in Phnom Penh, do look me up. At the very least I’ll be able to give you tips on where to eat.

  • Diane

    I’ve been following for a few years now…started because I was interested in Japanese culture and how people lived….I’ll miss the beautiful pictures of Japan and its people, but I know I will love the pictures of Cambodia. I don’t know much about Phmon Penh–only that it was on an episode of the show “The Amazing Race” do you know that reality show? 🙂 Give the kids and Hitomi my best, I’ll be praying for a good move and a mighty move of God in all of your lives 🙂
    In Him,

  • We watched the Amazing Race a few times and got a kick out of it. We were really into the season when the boho boyfriend and his super-winy girlfriend came from behind the beat the rude, bossy ex-marine and his wife on the last leg. Man… Anyway, we don’t have cable, so we’ve never seen it in Japan. Glad to have you around as we go to a new place!

  • Diane

    Yeah, it’s a great show!! (One of the very few I watch) you can go on hulu.com and watch old episdoes 🙂

    What’s an international school btw??

  • BTW, Hula.com is blocked for IP addresses outside the USA. There are ways to get around that, basically using proxy IP addresses, but it’s a pain (or you have to pay). In the long run, I’m better out without adding more potential time drains anyway.

  • Sona(Haha Cafe)

    Hey andy! It’s been my pleasure to finally meet u! Cambodia has been through a lot, and i as a patriotic Cambodian, feels absolutely lucky that my country is blessed to have someone like u! On behalf of my people, i would like to thank you and your family for all your time and effort, and most importantly the love you have for the less unfortunates. I can finally feel at ease that Cambodia is in good hands and that it’s on its way to a bright and happy future. I hope to see you and your wonderful family soon and your two years stay may turn to more than you planned to! Take care and good luck!

  • Sona – I’m glad you made it to the website. If you read this, please check out the short movie on the front page (Child’s Play). See you in July or August.

  • Carol Rose

    Hi, Andy, I have just discovered your website, am interested in your work and the great photos. You have a lovely family. God is using you in so many ways. I think of our time in ABQ with fond remembrances of our friendship with your family and others.
    Carol Rose

  • Hey Andy. This is pretty exciting news. I hope you have a smooth transition, and I’ll look forward to reading/seeing more of your world here on the blog.

  • Ryan

    Hey Andy,

    I’ve been also following your blog for a couple years now.. back when you had Japanwindow.com.. i’ve enjoyed the photos and started taking an interest because i was facinated by Japan and their culture. Good luck with everything going forward, this will be a big step for the whole family.
    Ryan ~buffalo, ny