Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Tribute to the Masters - an unforgetable night

Before the concert
Last Saturday evening was one of those life long memories. 
We went to a concert in Bayon temple featuring a young 13 year old Cambodian girl. 
I will start at the beginning which was about 1 month ago.
I was looking at the internet and noticed an  ad for an evening concert to be held in the grounds of the Bayon Temples featuring the 13 year old Soprano singer BosbaPAHN and many other famous Cambodian artists.  It sounded great and just to be able to go to a concert with the Bayon Temple as a back
drop would be unforgettable.  Let alone all the other  things.

She is only 13 years old
Cost - OMG only $20.  I spoke to Ryllis and Amanda and we decided that we just had to go.  I noticed that the most expensive tickets were $20 going down to $5 for the back rows.  I decided that we would buy an extra ticket and take along one of the students.
We spoke to the students and of course they all wanted to go as even the $5 tickets were too expensive for some of them.
So, we introduced them to the concept of  a lottery.  Students paid 1000 reils (50c) to buy one of the 80 tickets and then we would draw out one ticket and they lucky winner would come with the three of us.  Well, to explain that the ticket I made for the lottery, was in fact not the ticket to the concert,  and that they all were not going was an achievement in language exchange, especially with our very basic English classes.  The interpreters were no good as they also did not understand the concept either.
Anyway, we sold the tickets and last Thursday made the draw and one of my students won the ticket and he was on of the two boys from my very basic English class who bought tickets and his level of English is just a bit above my Khmer.  Oh well, he as a lovely smile and I knew we would manage.  A couple of the students offered to buy his ticket for $10 and he said 'no way'.
By this time all the other teachers had decided that they would like to go to and had bought tickets, so  8 ladies and one student left by a convoy of TUK TUK's about 5pm Saturday night.  Seating in Cambodia is first come, first seated no matter what ticket number you have, so we went early and got second row seats and of course the concert started an hour late.  It didn't matter as it was a beautiful evening and an English girl (Amanda) was sitting near me, which meant any mosquitoes ate her first.
Lighting was fantastic

The concert was fantastic, the young girl was very professional, the whole show of course was in Khmer so we had no idea what was happening but the music was lovely and the backdrop of the temple was out of this world.  The lighting was spectacular and you had to remind yourself that it was real.  The concert went for over 2 hours without stopping and I think the hit of the night was a young lass who did a Rap in Khmer.
A couple of the boy monkeys

After the concert Ryllis and Amanda and I took Sokhorn the student out to dinner to a Khmer restaurant  and  I am sure that it was the first time he had been anywhere like that.  The waiters were very curious about him and I noticed they asked him in Khmer what he was doing with 3 women as he certainly didn't look like a toy boy.
Sok horn  had ridden to the school on his bicylce so just after midnight he had to get on his bicycle, (thank heavens he had a light on it) and ride 4 kms to his home, to start work a 6 that morning.
He was just about to leave and he turned to me and said "I am so happy, I am so lucky", and then gave me a big grin.  It was lovely

Friday, February 25, 2011

Our time at Sihanouk Ville Beach

I  went  with Ryllis to the beach last weekend as we had Friday 18th off (yet another Public Holiday).  We left 8 pm on Thursday evening, Leonie offered to take my last two classes so that we could catch that bus.  10 hours each way on a bus over road that have more holes than solid ground.  No busses in Asia have any suspension, not sure if they by them that way just to save time..  We took the sleeper bus which as I was boarding I was told that it did not have a toilet on board even though the brochure showed a picture of a toilet.  The bus  was packed but fortunately we had two bottom bunks, I think Ryllis and I were the only two who spoke English as a native language, the remaining passengers were from Europe.  The airconditioning didn't work at all and they opened the emergency exit which of course didn't help.  It was hot!  I was reminded of a couple of Jamboree trips which were certainly hotter that last weekend.

Anyway we arrived at the beach at 6am and luckily the hotel let us straight into our room and we dropped our bags and went straight across the road to the beach.  We each took possession of  a padded lounge chair under a tree, 3 paces from the water.  Fantastic.
We never left the beach on Friday until 6pm that night.  People walked past carrying trays of crabs, nothing like the muddies but still $4 for about 5, cooked and covered in great marinade.  Small lobster were also on offer and of course tropical fruit.  Gosh it was a hard day!!  Ladies and small children were also constantly offering massages, manicures and bracelets but that is just part of the life here.  There is just so much poverty amongst so much wealth.
Sometime during the 12 hours on the beach I managed to get burnt to a crisp, not sure if I have been that burnt for many years.  I was glowing from my forehead down to my ankles.  Thank God for cold tea.  I practically bathed in it for 2 days and although the colour didn't fade the pain did.  My students were absolutely stunned when they saw me on Monday as they never have more than their faced exposed when they go outside and they couldn't understand how it could happen.  They so much want to have light coloured skin like ours and we of course want to be their colour.  Go figger.. 
It is interesting watching the Cambodians in the water both young and old.  The young teenagers go into the water fully dressed, jeans and long sleeved shirt, both male and female,  It was great to watch them swimming as they mostly live inland and this is the first time they have seen the sea. 
I might also add that it is the first time a lot of them have seen Westerners in the undressed state.  Ryllis and I are certainly well padded and at one stage we were totally surrounded by laughing women who were pointing at our large white (red in my case) legs and chubby bottoms.  It was all in good fun and the whole group collapsed in laughter why one lady about our aged, patted her small breasts and pointed to Ryllis's indicating that she would like to be the same size as Ryllis who in turn indicated that she would like to be the same size as the lady. 
The Khmer scarf is a trade mark of most Cambodians, they wear it wrapped around their faces with only their eyes showing when working outside.  They wrap it around their head and balance their trays on them, they wear it around their neck as decoration, around their waist to hold up pants or for decoration when they dance.
At the beach I watched then use the scarf as bathers.  The ladies wrapped it around  under their arm, took off their blouses, left their skirts on and went in and then getting a friend to hold the scarf around them as they got dressed.  The men took of their shirts, wrapped the scarf around their waist and dropped their trousers and went into the water.
We did a bit of sight seeing, a lot of sunbaking and certainly a lot of eating and drinking and then back on the bus for another 10 hours, arriving in Siem Reap at 6am.   Ryllis teaching at 11am with not lesson plans done and I was OK because I didn't start until 4pm although I had 3 tests to mark..
We loved it and are going back in 3 weeks time with Amanda when we have yet another public holiday.
I was speaking to one of my students last night who is certainly very different from the rest of the class, he had also just come back from Sihanouk Ville because he said that he had to see the sea as a lot of people had told him about it.  He caught the night bus and spent a few days there, this is so unusual as most Cambodians only travel to their home lands and do where else.  He was telling me that he tasted the water and it was horrible and he opened his eyes and it felt like some one had put tiger balm in his eyes. 
As I said he is quite out of the ordinary, last night he wore bright green glasses (without glass) and sat in the class wearing them for the hour.  He spoke to me after lesson and asked if I had been to New Zealand.  I told him how beautiful it was and he said that he is thinking of going there as he read that all the people from New Zealand were going to Australia to work and therefore should be a lot of jobs going in New Zealand.  
Our hotel

It will be sad when Ryllis goes home as there will then be only Lis left from the original group and all the remaining 6 will be new to Cambodia and the school. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What we have seen in Term II

Ryllis, Leonie, Ernie, Lyn and I went by local bus to visit and overnight at a village at Anlong Veng which is close to the Thai border.  The trip took about 3 hours each way, the road was extremely good by Cambodian standards and the bus even reached 100 kms.  Lyn is setting up an English school there so we went with her to check it out.  We arrived early to the bus depot, made ourselves know and sat down to wait.  We waited and waited and eventually Kim who is Lyn’s Cambodian friend and advisor went to find out what is happening with the bus and was informed that the bus had left and they had forgotten that we were waiting.  Next thing, everyone was on the phone and about 5 minutes later the bus came back to pick us up.  Don’t think the locals were happy!
It’s going to be real village living for the volunteers in a beautiful setting that enjoys the cool of the mountains.  Everything is cheap as chips (dinner for 7 including 2 bottles of wine and many beers was $31) as it’s too far for tourists to have discovered which also meant that 5 tourists walking around town were quite a novelty.  Because it’s near where Pol Pot was born, we were very careful about presuming any political views about him as apparently a lot of older people from that area are still fans.
Guest house the volunteers would stay in
The local school is very large with over 9,000 students and the local Minister for Education has suggested to Lyn that she might like to start up a school there.  She was given access to a meeting hall on the school property and found a guest house nearby for the volunteers to live and also a local house for the Khmer staff to live in.  It looks like it has a lot of potential.  There is a great breeze  coming off the mountains across the manmade lake.  It is nice and not that far from Siem Reap and close to the Thai border if you wanted to travel that way.

On the way home, we inadvertently ended up at the Thai border because our ‘taxi’ driver (actually a friend of Lyn’s local ‘business partner’) took us to the wrong mountain, we wanted to go to the mountain which was on the way home.  Lines and lines of market stalls bordered the dust that was an excuse for a road and the people looked extremely poor.

Another  Saturday, all the teachers hired a bus and driver ($60 for the day) to go to Mount Kulen (2 hours away).  Amanda, Leonie and Ernie had not been there and the other teachers wanted to see it again as we hadn’t seen the ‘lingars’ when we went there last time. When driving out to the mountain it was very noticeable how much of the area had dried up, no rice paddies and very little water lying around at all.  The waterfall of course had reduced considerable but those who went in swimming said that it was very refreshing.

Lingas - usually under water

Reclining budda

I must admit I was disappointed when I eventually saw the lingas, I had read so much about them.  Oh well, I have put in a picture for you to see also the reclining Budda which is carved out of a huge on top of the mountain.  I didn’t walk up the stairs last time but guess I have got a lot fitter and used to climbing stairs.
I went back with the others when Leonie, Ernie, Amanda and Ryllis went to have a dose of K&K (kooth and culcher) when they headed to the Cambodian Cultural Village one Sunday afternoon.  I am so glad that I did so as I had only been in Cambodia a few weeks when Sandra, Lyn and I first went there and it was in the morning and we were very new to the country.   
There are various stages where shows are performed during the day depicting different aspects of Cambodian life and/or dance with lots of humour, static displays of different periods throughout history and the wax figures were so real I truly expected some of them to stand up and follow us around; replicas e.g. floating village, a millionaire’s house, mosque, Surin village (Surin live along Cambodian and Thai border and look and dress quite differently), waterfall into the beautiful lake, early Christian church and lots, lots more including Miniatures – of famous historical buildings and structures which I have now seen in person. 
I think it meant even more to all of us as we had the quiz afternoon the day before and we had included a large number of questions about Cambodia including the names of famous people, various Kings etc and for us to see wax figurines and recognise them made the trip even more interesting.
I was absolutely terrified at one stage.  The last time I went, I walked through the dark and scary caves which depicted the Hindu version of hell and it was horrible to see and at one stage someone jumped out and grabbed me.  Urk.  Not to be selfish, I insisted that everyone had to come into the caves with me this time and I must admit that I found myself standing very close to Ryliss who had pulled out her torch so she could see.  Well.  We seemed to have missed placed the rest of our group, so Ryllis and I were crawling through this dark and ghastly cave being stored by men in masks and having a nervous breakdown when we were grabbed and dragged into another cave.  In the cave was  a large number of natives dressed as devils and they had a number of people tied up and were throwing them into a fiery pit and it seemed that we were also destined for the same fate.  Man, was I terrified.  Both Ryllis and I shouted and refused to move so they gave up on us and left us standing there to watch the show.  Yes, that is what it was.  We had stumbled across a demonstration of how the natives worshipped their God.  Man was it ever real!
Saturday 12 February was another group excursion by bus (air-conditioned thankfully) and this time the 6 teachers from here were joined by the 2 from the village and by Mel and a number of the local staff.  We went to ABT (yeah, it can be if we’re not careful – another bloody temple) but this one –Beng Mealea was pretty amazing despite its being in a really dilapidated condition.  It was built by the same Hindu king who later built Angkor Wat back in the 12th century – and this one was in homage to his ancestors (Angkor Wat – to himself).  Beng Mealea is in a wonderful forested area so it was shady with a cool breeze – and there was something very light about the energy there too.  Leonie noticed the lack of bird song and the guide mentioned that as the people are so poor, they eat all of the birds that they can catch. Sling shots are the weapons of choice.  Because it’s about one and a half hours from Siem Reap, it doesn’t get the 2 million visitors a year of Angkor Wat and it was very quiet there and without the accompanying hawkers too.
As we walking around the grounds outside the building the lady who works around the area and who was walking with us showed us a hole in the ground, then tapped her wooden leg and told us that she had lost her leg from a landmine that was detonated making that hole we had just walked past.  Seeing this, certainly brought the past a bit closer to home.  She was fantastic, she was older than me and scrambled over the rock to help us up, needless to say she got a good tip when we left.
We’d taken a picnic lunch which was shared and while some napped, others played soccer or badmington, it was a lovely day.

Sunday after our usual meeting with Mel, we took to a tuk-tuk and headed out to the local silk farm.  That was amazing.  I’ve seem silk being woven by hand before  BUT I’ve never seem the whole process from the growing of the mulberry trees for the leaves, the baby worms - through maturity, to the cocoon stage and then how the silk is extracted from the cocoon and made into the raw and the fine silk.   The raw silk is quite yellow obviously because of the leaves’ being affected by something different in the soil; Thai and Vietnamese natural silk is more white.  The mostly women we saw working in the display area, are specialists who are able to choose which job they do after extensive training, and they are paid the princely sum of $150 per month compared to someone working in a restaurant who earns about $50 per month (+tips of course).  The great little guide at the silk farm said he earns $80 p/m plus some tips (hint, hint – he wasn’t stupid).  And as you know, every tour ends in a shop and the garments etc in the silk shop were exquisite.  I will return there before I fly home.

After our creative burst, the same five took to tuk-tuks and headed out 25km to the Cambodia Landmine Museum.   To add authenticity, the staff dress in Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese uniforms.  The experience was a further education in “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless millions mourn” and was really worth the visit.  As with life, there’s always another side.  We learned about Aki Ra who set up the museum as a way to finance assistance/rehab/education to child victims of landmines.  His story is amazing: watched the Khmer Rouge kill all of his family, was forced to be a soldier at 10 for the Khmer Rouge, skipped sides to fight with the Vietnamese and one day found himself in a gun battle with the Khmer Rouge, was just about to shoot one when he recognised his uncle.  He pulled the shot excusing that with “I’m feeling dizzy” and writes that he and his uncle often discuss that time and laugh about the close call for himself and his uncle. Aki Ra has personally cleared thousands of landmines and the later events were well photographed.  He was awarded the 2010 CNN Hero Award and from all accounts, it was well deserved.  Sensibly, there are donation boxes around the museum and it would take a heartless non-person not to come away with a light wallet.

Some other sights we passed on the way were:  villages with hand pumps for water near the front of the little houses with a sign showing a Cambodian flag and a foreign flag acknowledging the donation which made the well possible; stacks of wood near the fires where charcoal was being made (used by the street vendors for cooking); really heavily laden tray carts carrying the charcoal being pulled by very ancient motorbikes; fires near the road upon which sat the biggest woks I’ve ever seen.  At each wok was a woman busily stirring whatever was in the wok.  Curiosity got the better of us and we asked our drivers to stop so we could investigate.  It turned out that a sugary substance was boiled so much that it turned into a quite-nice fudge which was shaped into little rounds and stacked into cylindrical leaves for sale.  A young man with really good English explained the process to me.  The long thin ‘male’ fruit of the palm tree is squeezed between a piece of split bamboo for the juice which is boiled.  The round ‘female’ fruit is pulpy and makes rather pleasant eating, somewhat like a very immature coconut.

Some other sights we passed on the way were:  villages with hand pumps for water near the front of the little houses with a sign showing a Cambodian flag and a foreign flag acknowledging the donation which made the well possible; stacks of wood near the fires where charcoal was being made (used by the street vendors for cooking); really heavily laden tray carts carrying the charcoal being pulled by very ancient motorbikes; fires near the road upon which sat the biggest woks I’ve ever seen.  At each wok was a woman busily stirring whatever was in the wok.  Curiosity got the better of us and we asked our drivers to stop so we could investigate.  It turned out that a sugary substance was boiled so much that it turned into a quite-nice fudge which was shaped into little rounds and stacked into cylindrical leaves for sale.  A young man with really good English explained the process to me.  The long thin ‘male’ fruit of the palm tree is squeezed between a piece of split bamboo for the juice which is boiled.  The round ‘female’ fruit is pulpy and makes rather pleasant eating, somewhat like a very immature coconut.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Term Two

Life here continues flying along, I have been here over 5 months now and it seems as if it was only yesterday that I was trying to work out what I need to bring over.
We had about 4 days of cool weather and now back to the heat and we are about to go into the build up and that is going to be a challenge especially in the classrooms where it is hot already!

We are still going out and about on the weekends and have managed to see  quite a lot of sights, certainly more than the average Cambodian who never seem to leave the province they were born in unless they leave to find work and then they seem to travel home whenever they can.

The teachers who came over early January are now making plan for their return home. Let me introduce them to you.

 Amanda who is a lovely lady from London has been made an honorary Aussie and has certainly added a lot of fun to the group dynamics.  I think she will always be remember for the look on her face when she came out of the toilets in one of the remote places we visited after her first experience with an Asian toilet.  It was priceless.  The other great thing about Amanda is that as a Pommie, the mozzies just love her and so we are left alone.  The students took a few days to understand her but she is well and truly loved by her students now.

Leonie is from Queensland and she is just a bit older than me and has done a heap of travelling and always looks fantastic.  She has the early morning classes and handles the early mornings well.  Leonie has also settled in very well and is trying to cram in all the trips she can before she goes home.  Ernie and Leonie are flying to Hanoi this weekend to extend their visa (most people travel to the Thailand border).

Leonie also introduced themes into the classroom.

Ernie is Leonie’s brother and also Sandra’s partner of many years.  He certainly changed the dynamics in the school as he is the first male teacher.  Thank heavens Ernie has a very lay back personality becoming quite deaf when we forget he is there and make very un-PC jokes.  Ernie is a Scouter, what more can I say.  Oh yes, he enjoys having a wine with dinner and does a good ‘eye roll’,

Annette joined Lis out in the Steung Thmie Village this term and they have now moved to a school in the Pagoda complex (Svay Domgom) Pagoda which is about a 10 minute walk from where they live.  They both say that they love living out in the village which is certainly very rural and very lovely with the rice fields and the animals etc but showering with a bowl and using a squat toilet is not my scene.  OK for a weekend.  I would certainly live out there but would have my own house.

Judy and Ryllis are still here.  Judy was offered another term when Annette went out to the village and Ryllis was always staying here for 6 months.  I think they are both looking forward to going home.

Liz and I are the only originals staying for at least another term.  In fact it will be a complete changeover except for the two of us.

I am certainly enjoying the teaching more and more as the students get to know us and to start having fun in the classroom.  The students describe me as the ‘funny’ teacher.

Mel increased our numbers to 27 for each session and for the first few days it was absolutely packed but they slowly stop coming and we are now settled into a routine of regulars.  There are not many of the original students still coming.  We will have a heap on new students again next term.

One of my students made up a sentence “last night I had a pig  for dinner” I thought he meant pork and asked him.  “No, teacher I am making a joke”.   "Next time tell me you are joking!"

Unfortunately, my Khmer is not improving as fast as their English.  I can speak a number of words and can now ask ‘how much’ and get an answer back in Khmer which of course I can’t understand.  The students just love it when I try to speak and they all roll around the floor laughing.  It is all good fun.

Thanks to Leonie, we decorated the school for Australia Day with yellow and green ribbons and balloons. We had Aussie music and gave  away Koalas.  It was Leonie’s birthday the day before so everyone except the people on the late shift went out to dinner.


Being in Asia for Chinese New Year has been an eye opener.  While there are Chinese-Khmer of course, it seems like most took the opportunity to head back to the homelands for celebrations of some kind.  Attendances at classes were decimated.  On the Wednesday I had 2 and 3 in 2 classes so the lesson plans went out of the window and some pretty quick tap dancing happened.  It worked well for the few who turned up because they virtually had one-on-one tutoring.  Played havoc with the timetable though. For the students who attended class on the 2nd, I asked them if they were having a party or celebrating Chinese New Year.  Some said ‘Yes’ but a number were emphatic that they are Khmer so it doesn’t apply.   Leonie once again provided decorations for the classrooms which were turned into red and gold. 

Valentine’s Day gave us another chance to decorate the classroom with hearts and balloons and red roses.  In Cambodia they have extended the idea to include lovers and family. The younger students knew all about it and two of the young men brought me in a rose each and one of the ladies gave me a beautiful scarf.  It was a lot of fun and I gave each student a heart shaped chocolate.  It is great to see their faces when they come into the classroom as there are no decorations or fun allowed in a Cambodian classroom only total learning and one is allowed to make a mistake.

 Our little ‘family’ at the school has expanded a little.  We have an Australian teacher Kjirsten, from Melbourne volunteering for 1 month.  She lives in a little guest house just down the lane from the school and provides additional tutoring to students.  So far she’s concentrating on the ‘Beginner Zero’ students who come into the school with, yep – zero English.  She’s on 3 months leave from here job, has been travelling for 3 weeks in and around Cambodia and after her 4 weeks here, is taking off to do a 1,000km hike in Spain.  She obviously loves a challenge!!!!  She fitted in so easily, guess we are all pretty easy to get along with.
I planned a quiz afternoon for the students for one Saturday, gosh it is funny they really don't know how to do anything but work and study and the idea of getting together to have fun at the school is quite foreign to them.  The idea came from our teaching Beginner 3s about Pub Quizzes in England (yeah, most relevant to Cambodians, not, but that’s in the text book).  We shared the writing of the questions and promoting the event to the students.  We hired tables and chairs and had a pretty good turn up considering they’d not heard of a Quiz event or‘ nibbles’ until a few weeks ago.  It was brilliant and so much fun.  Between every couple of rounds, I had quick games like heads/tails and I’d took a picture all of our ears and the students had to guess whose ear was whose.  The teachers couldn’t even pick their own but it was hysterical looking at some of the guesses.  Each at the winning table was awarded a gold medal (laminated and on gold ribbon) and a real prize of a pictorial dictionary.  Now the question being asked is “What next.  I had a great time organising it, I had forgotten how good it felt to get things done.

We have only two more weeks of teaching and 1 of revision and then the final tests for the term.  I am very pleased with my students; they are achieving high scores in their progressive tests.  I am stunned as my knowledge of grammar is pretty poor and somehow they are getting it all right.  Must be doing something right!!