A Travellerspoint blog

Just another average week in The Reap...

...school and Pub Street

sunny 27 °C

So I was very excited about the prospect of writing this week’s blog and starting off with something like “well finally I have completed a full week of school”. Alas, on Thursday afternoon I hit a wall and was sick, so had to miss the last two periods of school…so I will aim for next week!

It’s weird, this week I have been in Siem Reap the whole time and not done anything out of the usual, which is going to school followed by going to Pub Street, but I honestly don’t know where the time’s gone! Last Sunday night we decided to go out for a quiet last dinner with Fran seeing she was leaving Siem Reap the next day. It did start off quiet to be fair, due to a rather late night the night before, but then we decided to go to Ankgor What? Bar for “one last bucket”. Liam, the bartender there who used to work with Fran said seeing it was our “last bucket” he’s make it “extra strong for us”. Amelia, Courtnay and I all tried it, and were like “yeah, that’s pretty strong” but were still happy to go along with it, until Fran tried it and was like “guys, there’s only vodka in that, no red bull!” We would have been more than happy to just drink it straight apparently! Oh and it actually turned out to be our second last bucket, but who’s counting anyway…

Monday was school, the first day in the Monkey Class without Teacher Fran as well! Then Monday night was Julie’s birthday, who is one of the older volunteers staying here, so we all went out for dinner at Soria Moria’s, a hotel down the road from us, where we had to splurge as prices were $2 for a cocktail and $4 for a main meal! We were so close to heading into Pub Street after that as well, but we decided to be civilized and not…which is funny as it turns out it was the only night we haven’t been in there all week!

Tuesday, was school again, then Pub Street.

Wednesday was school and then Pub Street. However, in between that was $1 tapas for dinner at Soria Moria, our Wednesday night ritual. At this boutique hotel down the road from us every Wednesday night they have trainee wait and kitchen staff, so they have a tapas menu where everything, including all cocktails is $1 – it’s unbelievable! We basically have a standing booking there. It’s also really cool, as because last time I was here working at Anjali House I taught the oldest class, some of those kids work there on $1 night, so I still get to see them. It’s funny, because the first time I went there they recognized my face but couldn’t remember my name, so they just exclaimed “Teacher!”

I can’t remember why now, but school was awesome on Wednesday, the night after we’d gone out, so we had the epiphany that if we can feel that good at school after going out, why not go out every night right?!

Thursday was school, where admittedly I felt pretty sick all day, but did manage to go the whole time except for the last two hours. Besides from breakfast really, it is basically cheaper to eat out here than to cook for yourself at home, so we headed to this place called Under Construction close to where we live for dinner. However we met a couple of English guys we know down there, one of them who is the music teacher at our school, so all out good intentions headed out the door, and once again we were on Pub Street. Luckily I actually did feel well enough for school the next day…

Friday, we have discovered, is pretty much always going to be dance party day at school. So it looks like that’s our exercise day, when we go to school and dance for six hours straight! The first lesson usually starts off with good intentions, where we review what we have learnt during the week, but then I think it’s because Courtnay’s class has music in the afternoon, and her Khmer teacher Chansip is obsessed with Western music (he is always downloading songs onto his phone and getting her to translate them…which is quite awkward when it’s like an Akon song and every second lyric is a swear word). So he just hooks up his phone to this speaker, and eventually the whole school migrates towards her classroom and has a rave. We were showing some of the other volunteers a video of it the other day, and they were like “wow, it actually is a day rave at your school”…hilarious. There are of course the staple songs, being The Lazy Song, Party Rock Anthem, On The Floor (by Jennifer Lopez) and the Khmer song I think I was talking about last week (which I have discovered is called Yoyo Yaya – so now I know most of the lyrics – yay!) but then sometimes Chansip branches out and puts on other songs that are on his phone. I say to him “Chansip, there are some very bad words in these songs”, and his reply was “Yes, but they don’t know English so that’s ok”. So, um, what are we doing there?!

During music classes on Thursday and Friday, Teacher Jack, this English guy who’s been volunteering in Siem Reap for about a year, (and who coincidently we saw out on Thursday night) comes in and plays the guitar with the kids, teaches some of the older kids how to actually play the guitar, and sings very PG songs compared to what is played at the weekly dance party, such as Hello, Goodbye by The Beatles (which is pretty much the ABCs and Rice anthem now…I can’t say hello to anyone now without wanting to sing “hello, hello!”), Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog, and Let’s Twist Again. However, Friday was his last day which is awesome because whenever someone leaves it means we get to spend an hour making them goodbye cards, which consists of the Khmer teachers writing Cambodian-English phrases on the board and the kids copying them down and drawing pictures. They write stuff like ‘good luck for you’ and ‘I love you teacher’, and it’s the only time I don’t have the heart to correct the poor English. Anyway, for some reason Jack was late on Friday (he swore it had nothing to do with being out the night before!) so to improvise before he got there, Headmaster Purim said we should start off the dance party! Then when Jack got there, all the kids literally ran out of the classroom and swarmed to him with their card and crowns and necklaces and whatever else it was they had made for him, it was so cute. They by the time he actually got to sitting down and playing the guitar, he was like “ok, what songs do we want to sing?” and one of the little boys from my class yelled out “on the floor, Jennifer Lopez!”

Friday night was the ABCs and Rice quiz night, which with all of the NGOs in town are a dime a dozen and apparently quite a competitive market. ABCs hold their quiz at the restaurant Chilli’s, which is part owned by Matt, Tammy’s partner and I guess he’s like the 2IC of the school. We were the only group of younger people there, and out of the five teams, we finished a respectable 5th…is it a worry that we’re the one’s who are supposedly teaching the kids English? I hope Tammy doesn’t fire us! However, there was a raffle as well and of all things I won a pottery class for two people, so at some stage Courtnay and I are going to go and get our pot on!

Then, surprise surprise, after that we went to Pub Street, and for some reason we all went our different ways that night, and it is quite hard to locate people once you lose them see both Courtnay and I don’t have phones (Courtnay got hers ‘stolen’ Sihanoukville – although, I would say she lost it…) However, we are a well oiled machine, and as arranged everyone rendezvoused the next day at 1200 hours at what we call ‘all day happy hour, non-food poisoning place’. There are these little restaurants in the Old Market around the corner from Pub Street, that we don’t know the name of and who claim to have happy hour from 8am until 10pm…why don’t they just say it as it is and call it all day happy hour?! They are so good and cheap, plus they have the best fruit shakes in all of Siem Reap and they are only 50 cents! But when Amelia and Courtnay were sick they reckon they got it from one of those places, so now we just stick to the non-food poisoning place. We go there everyday for lunch, I’d say we have fruit shakes there on average twice and day, and I reckon we also spent a good four hours there yesterday!

This other girl from Melbourne (Mairead – pronounced like parade with an M as she says) got to Globalteer the day we left for Sihanoukville last week. She’s 18 like Amelia but volunteering at another school here (and goes to Monash Caulfield of all places), and apparently the whole week we were away, all of the other older volunteers at the house were like “watch out for those three girls, they’re crazy you know, they go out all the time, they never sleep…blah blah blah”…to which she pretty much replied AWESOME! So it’s a bit weird, but Amelia, Courtnay and I like to set each other random challenges, so we set Mairead an ‘initiation challenge’ at all day happy hour, non-food poisoning yesterday, which was to ask for the bill without making any sound and not moving anything but your face. Seriously it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. She’d always be like “I’ve got it, I’ve got it” and they’d come over and bring it to the table next to us or behind us, only to have a very loud reaction from us which made everyone else there think we were nuts. Some people asked us what we were doing, but apparently they didn’t find it as funny as we did. Anyway, I’m happy to report that in the end she did get it: challenge successful! Seriously, you should try it some time…

Then last night was Amelia and Ian’s, this other older volunteer from our house’s goodbye dinner, seeing it’s both of their last weekends in Siem Reap. We branched out and went to this place called Red Piano, which I think Angelina Jolie had something to do with when she was here in 2000 filming Tomb Raider. They have a Tomb Raider cocktail, naturally Ms Jolie’s favourite, and for every 10th one they sell they ring this huge bell and you get one for free! Amelia wanted her last weekend out to be a glitter theme, but it turns out that Siem Reap is not huge on glitter, so we changed it too buying party Ray Bans, and you had to buy the same colour Ray Bans as the clothes you were wearing out that night. We also bought water spray bottles just for fun, and so then when we walked along Pub Street, every person that says “tuk tuk lady” or “fish massage lad” we just squirted with the water bottle…best was to not get hassled and they all thought it was hilarious! However, some of the Westerners don’t have quite the same sense of humour as the Khmers…this one huge girl in Ankgor What? Bar last night ripped my water bottle off me, emptied it over Amelia’s head and tackled me against the wall…seriously she needs to lighten up…literally and figuratively!

So yes…that was my week pretty much! Amelia’s boyfriend from home, Henry, got here on Friday night so tomorrow is her last day at school and then she’s leaving Siem Reap on Wednesday ☹ Courtnay and I have decided to go and meet her somewhere next weekend though so it won’t be as bad saying goodbye on Wednesday. And the one good thing is that it means two hours of card making tomorrow! We are going to get the kids to write on her cards “Teacher Amelia is crazy!”

Posted by ljmac2 04:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged people children night cambodia siem_reap teacher school bars angelina_jolie pub_street old_market red_piano tomb_raider Comments (0)

Sihanoukville!

affectionately known as shnooks...

sunny 30 °C

So for this week’s blog, unfortunately I’m not going to sound like an altruistic volunteer, but rather more like your image of the typical backpacker that comes to South-East Asia (try not to cringe!) This week we only had school on Monday, due to the Water Festival holiday. Actually, the Water Festival was cancelled nation-wide this year, as due to the floods a) everyone is a bit over water, and b) the government decided that the money normally spent on the Water Festival, could be better spent on things such as rice. Plus, I think after the goings on at that bridge in Phnom Penh at last years Festival is still a bit raw in everyone’s minds, and there’s only so much such a small country can handle. However, that’s no reason not to have a holiday! So this year’s Water Festival holiday was just sans Water Festival.

Amelia, Courtnay and I, who are all conveniently working at the same school so we all have the same holidays (some other schools were still open Tuesday and Wednesday as they are trying to catch up after being closed for so long during the floods), decided to make the most of this super-long weekend, by going to Sihanoukville, a town down on the coast. We’d heard mixed reviews so were not sure what to expect – oh my Buddha it was so much fun!

If you’re after a relaxing seaside holiday then it’s not really the place to be – it’s definitely not the most beautiful beach in the world, however the Khmer’s know no different and they love it! On the map of the beach it lists ‘bars for tourists’ and ‘bars for Khmers’, and literally as you walk down the beach you get to a point and there are no white people around. They love it though – down the Khmer end of the boat there are jet skis, banana boat rides, this massive jumping castle thing that you climb and then jump off into the water…it looked too good not to investigate, so I must admit we did wander down there amongst many stares, even though we decided to go swimming in our clothes as we thought that might be more PC. All of the kids there splash around in the shallows wearing life jackets, as I guess compulsory swimming lessons are not a part of the education system over here, and many of them were fascinated but us white beasts walking by! However from what I saw there compared to what I see at school, I’d say those who flock to the beach must be in a much higher income bracket by Cambodian standards.

There are different parts to the town, but the main drag where we stayed is Serendipity Beach. Pretty much it consists of a paved road at the top of the hill, lined with backpackers and shops, which then leads on to the aptly named ‘Dirt Road’ which leads down to the beach and the bars down there. Man we thought Siem Reap was a small town, but it’s got nothing on Sihanoukville! We were there four days and three nights, and by the end of our time there we pretty much knew every Westerner that worked in Serendipity Beach! It’s very easy to get a job at one of the bars there if you’re a backpacker – you just get free accommodation, food and drinks and work nights, which is pretty much just going out anyway so it looks like lots fun. Some of the people who work there are permanent and have been there for years; some are just backpackers passing through and work anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It’s also a regular port for the Australian Navy and the US Marines, so they are always keen for a big night out when they’re off the boat, so kind of like at Koh Phangan, it’s all lazy days and big nights every in Sihanoukville!

The hostel we stayed at we ended up meeting a group of British guys who apparently we’d met in Siem Reap (it was a little awkward when we didn’t remember them but they got over it!) so one day we went with them and a couple of British girls who were staying at the next hostel down, to these waterfalls about 10ks out of town. We hired motos to get there, which is an experience in itself, in that the people that hire them to you pretty much don’t care if you don’t have an international license, they just warn you that if you get pulled over you’ll have to pay the police. Well, boy are the police in Sihanoukville sitting on a goldmine! The minute they see a white person on a bike they pull you over. Being a group of about 7 bikes we stuck out like a sore thumb, so I think we got pulled over about four times on the same stretch of road! Then you pretty much have to barter with them how much you’re going to pay them. They all start at $20, but the locals luckily told us that it should only be $2, so most of us could get them down to that, except Amelia, who felt bad and paid them $10! Luckily, after being pulled over once, they generally let you go the next time if you tell they you’ve already paid the fine. We called it getting ‘pulled’ and it’s definitely an art – when they let you go they all walk off and compare how much they got from each bike…they were all very disappointed that they didn’t all pull Amelia’s bike!

So we did eventually reach the waterfalls, although not without further incident, when the British girls skidded their bike and landed square in the mud. Luckily they were alright, so we could laugh at their hilarious orange facials, that didn’t even come off after standing under the pounding waterfalls! Unfortunately I couldn’t tell you the name of the waterfalls to save my life, but it was cool that it was kind of like a local Khmer hang out, and they hadn’t gone out of their way to set it up for tourists. You literally had to go rock climbing to get to where you could swim, during which I stacked it, and dropped one of my thongs down the waterfall. Luckily it wasn’t anything more valuable…and luckily those kids there are good at rock climbing, as one of them climbed down to the bottom of the waterfall and got it for me! I don’t like to support child labour, but I bought some cashews from her just for her efforts…

The next day the same crew, plus pretty much everyone staying at the two big hostels in Serendipity Beach, went on a booze cruise run by one of the bars down on the beach. Let me tell you, booze cruises in Sihanoukville put the one’s unis have back home to shame! I wouldn’t exactly say the boat was designed to host a booze cruise, but that made it all the more fun. The ‘bar’ downstairs was a little Khmer lady with an esky and a lifejacket and next to her was an ipod and a massive speaker and that was the dance floor. So we just went out to sea where the water was beautiful and clear and the beaches were empty, and then everyone took turns at jumping off the boat after a beer can, etc, etc. Luckily we were rowdy enough that there were no fish in that part of the sea! Then the boat sailed back at sunset, then just before the pier it put the anchor down and there was a massive dance party on the boat. The face paint had come out by this stage, so I don’t think the clothes I wore that day will ever be the same again! Amelia set herself the challenge of not showering and only swimming the whole time we were away, so pretty much, she was a ranger for four days!

So yes, pretty much, the rest of the time was just spent hanging out at the beach or in the bars…it’s pretty hard to get anywhere fast in Sihanoukville, as you always see someone you know!

Oh yes, how could I forget…Courtnay got a tattoo whilst we were in Sihanoukville! You are probably all thinking stupid idiot getting one in Asia (that’s what she got blasted from her mum anyway!) but she’d wanted it for a while and they make you inspect the needle before they use it to show you that it is new. It was actually a very interesting experience – but don’t worry Mum, I’m not tempted to get one! Apparently getting a tattoo is meant to be the second most painful experience after childbirth, and from looking at the photos, she very well could be having a baby! She got it on her foot, which from the yells and screams the people ten shops away could hear, it is actually very painful. Amelia and my hands were both purple from being squeezed so much. The tattoo guy thought it was hilarious, as did these two other guys we met who came with us for the entertainment, and pretty much every other shopkeeper on the street who stuck their head in to see what the commotion was all about. They play all this heavy metal, hard core music in tattoo places to make them even more super rad and fully sick, but we ended up just singing the songs we sing at school all the time, as apparently that helps with the pain. Our singing was so spectacular that the guy even turned off his super-cool tattoo music!

When it came to leaving, it was about half an hour before our bus was meant to come and we were all seriously deliberating whether we should get on it because Sihanoukville was so much fun! However Fran, the German girl who was volunteering with us at ABCs, is leaving this weekend, so we decided to be good friends and come back to our old haunt and see her before she leaves. When we got off the bus back in Siem Reap it was like 6am (because we got the sleeper bus) and there was this random tuk tuk driver standing there with a sign with our names on it…that was just too much for our state of delirium to handle – he couldn’t even tell us who sent him! Everyone already seems to know us here, it’s a worry…

Anyway, back to school tomorrow, for what may actually be a full five days of school in a row with no holidays!

Posted by ljmac2 02:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged waterfalls people parties boats beach cambodia bars sihanoukville motos booze_cruise serendipity_beach Comments (0)

Week 2 in The Reap

...almost a full week of school!

semi-overcast 27 °C

So it has been the definition of a lazy Sunday today! Spent the past three nights on Pub Street and it seems to have taken it’s toll on some of my cohorts as we have spent pretty much all day in bed today watching Gossip Girl as I think they have food poisoning! But not iron stomach Laura – this is when it pays to not eat meat in a foreign country!

Anyway, this past week was almost a full week of real life in Siem Reap, with only one day off school due to the public holiday last Monday. My routine everyday seems to be set my alarm for 7, struggle out of bed at 7.15, only to go downstairs to be greeted with phrases like “did you go out last night?” or “did you sleep in that t-shirt?” from some of the older volunteers. No, I explain to them, I’m just not a morning person. Luckily it is absolutely pointless having a shower before school as by the time we ride there were are covered in sweat and dust, so that gives me an extra 15 minutes of sleep time! It’s not that tiring riding to school, but even that early in the morning it is so hot! Then when we get to school the Khmer teachers are wearing socks and thongs, long pants and a jacket, as apparently it is the ‘cold season’.

After the kids have their assembly, morning exercises, singing of the national anthem and what not, the minute we walk into class we have the same conversation with them every day. They all stand up, hold their hands in front of them like they’re praying, and all in unison and in the same tune we have a conversation, which goes:

“Good morning teacher, how are you today?”
“I’m fine thankyou, and you?”
“I’m fine thankyou. Teacher did you sleep well last night?”
“I did thankyou, and you?”
“Yes I did. Teacher did you have breakfast already?”
“Yes I did thankyou, and you?”
“Yes I did. Teacher may I sit down please?”
“Yes you may. “
“Thankyou teacher.”

So funny! It’s the same in the afternoon class, they just substitute morning for afternoon and breakfast for lunch. The morning and afternoon classes swap over each month, so this week it took some of them awhile to remember that it was in fact afternoon not morning!

Whenever the bell rings for break time they all stand up with their praying hands and say “Teacher may I go and play?” and when they come back in they say “Teacher please help me to learn!” Then at the end of their school day it’s “Thankyou teacher, for teaching me today. Goodbye teacher, see you tomorrow!”

The lessons the kids in my class have is English, theme, art, library and music. I worked out that the reason my class is so huge compared to the other ones is because the beginner and level 1 English kids are combined, as there isn’t enough classrooms to separate them. Therefore, in lessons like English and theme, the Khmer teacher Hunly writes whatever they need to copy down on the board, and then goes around with a whiteboard marker and puts a dot on half the kids’ heads. The kids with a dot on their head don’t have to write down what’s on the board, instead there is a different letter of the alphabet everyday that they have to write. If they do a whole page in their book, they get a sticker, which trust me is a massive deal! When everyone’s finished writing down what’s on the board, they either take turns at coming up and reading what is says or they have to write it on the board themselves. They all put up their hands and yell out either “teacher, I can read!” or “teacher, I can write!” even though barely any of them can, particularly the kids who are like four and not even old enough to go to Khmer school yet! They all love having a turn at coming up to the board, holding the big pointing stick, and pointing it at the words whilst the volunteers say them. Luckily there are two volunteers in my class, me and this girl Fran, who’s German. That way when one of us gets tired saying the same word over and over again, we swap so the other one can go up the back and stand under the fan! Fran’s an independent volunteer, so she’s not staying at Globalteer with us, but she works at Ankgor What? bar in pub street (which we also frequent quite a bit might I add), so when she works at the bar she doesn’t come to school in the morning, and it’s so hard! Plus tomorrow is her last day – argh!

Anyway, our theme this week was clothes, which was pretty much just getting them to practice writing and saying simple items of clothing all week. It was so funny because s’s seems to be quite hard for them to pronounce, so words like shoes, socks, t-shirt, skirt, dress are all virtually impossible. However, they all know the word underwear! When they pointed to the words on the board with the stick for clothes, they looked at us every time for each one as they have absolutely no idea, except for when they come to underwear! They find it absolutely hilarious.

Library pretty much consists of the kids picking out books and pointing to the pictures and me telling them what it is. Music this week consisted of the kids learning the “teddy bear song”, which their version of it is:

Teddy bear, teddy bear go upstairs
Teddy bear, teddy bear say your prayers
Teddy bear, teddy bear turn out the light
Teddy bear, teddy bear say goodnight!

They have also learnt how to spell goodnight recently, so at the end of the song they all yell “G-double O-D-N-I-G-H-T spells goodnight!” Since they learnt this song, when they see a bear in any of the books they read in library they all say ‘teddy bear’, even if it’s like Goldilocks and the three bears or a polar bear or anything that remotely resembles one!

Fridays at ABCs are normally games day, and oh my buddah they are so much more tiring than all of the other days put together! It started off with a bit of a review of all the stuff they’ve learnt that week, and that included a toothbrush check, as dental hygiene is a really big problem here and so the staff at ABCs have given all the kids toothbrushes and are really trying to remind them to use them. This one little girl in my morning class must be about four, and she forgot to bring hers to school and she was inconsolable. It broke my heart as you barely see any tears from these kids here; they are so tough compared to Western kids! They play so rough and fall over and never complain, but this little girl was absolutely devastated that she forgot to bring her toothbrush for toothbrush check!

The second lesson on Friday was school clean up. We were all commenting how funny it was, as the kids absolutely love cleaning! I remember at school we’d complain about having to put the chairs up for the cleaners to come, but here any opportunity to sweep the classroom floor is practically an honour! However Friday cleanup is an even bigger deal than that – the kids all get rags, soak them in the well and literally scrub the classroom from top to bottom. And I mean they hang from the rafters and scrub them, climb on the bookshelves, every imaginable part of the room is cleaned! And talking about my class being called the Monkey Class – during cleaning time sometimes I would hear a kid call out “teacher!” and they would just jump at me from the roof and I would have to catch them – lucky they are all so small!

After that, it was just meant to be playtime, but for some of the older kids, they had music, which consist of a volunteer coming in who plays the guitar and they sing songs together. Old songs like ‘Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog’, ‘Let’s Twist Again’ and especially ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by The Beatles are songs that even the youngest kids know all the words in English too! However, the oldest two classes, along with all of the Khmer teachers are absolutely obsessed with ‘The Lazy Song’ by Bruno Mars, so much so that one of the teachers downloaded it on his phone, brought speakers to school, and printed out the words for all of the kids to learn. However we had to explain to them that some of the words were not appropriate for all the kids to know, so we had to edit them. My favourite change was the phrase “met a really nice girl, had some really nice CHATS, and she’s gonna scream out this is great, OH MY BUDDAH this is great”! Lol.

So yes literally, on Friday between Pub Street and school we spent about 10 hours dancing – those kids have so much energy! The older kids music lesson turned into whole school play time which turned into a nightclub in a classroom! The only songs they had to dance to besides the Lazy Song was this one Khmer song and Party Rock Anthem, but that didn’t phase them. And let me tell you, some of those little five and six year olds would not be out of place in a nightclub by the way they dance – I don’t know where they get it from seeing barely any of them have TV!

Anyway, it’s a school night so I better hit the hay. It’s games day again tomorrow seeing as there is only one day of school this week because of the water festival so I will probably be suitably tired for the overnight bus trip that Amelia, Courtnay and I are taking to Sihanoukville tomorrow night!

Oh yes, sorry I probably should have introduced Amelia and Courtnay earlier – they are both at ABCs with me as well, which is good as we have formed a bit of a crew seeing we all enjoy Pub Street immensely. A few new volunteers have come to the house this week and we have tried to initiate them into the crew but apparently they don’t enjoy going to the same two bars night after night as much as we do! They were quite hurt that they hadn’t been introduced to the blog as of yet. Originally they wanted to be known on here by the aliases of Millie and Molly, but I feel that due to the late introduction they are worthy of having their real names of here – besides I won’t say anything too incriminating :P

Anyway, stay turned for our Sihanoukville adventurers when at least we will go to a different bar for three nights!

Posted by ljmac2 07:37 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children cambodia siem_reap teacher school pub_street Comments (2)

An eventful first week in Siem Reap...

ABCs and Rice School

semi-overcast 26 °C

I can’t believe I’ve been in Siem Reap for less than a week – I already feel like I live here! It so relaxing being here compared to last time as well as now that I’ve done all of the touristy stuff, I can pretty much just spend my time when I’m not at school chilling out or on Pub Street. Which actually I have done more than teach so far as Cambodians sure love their pubic holidays! I’ve only taught for one and a half day, as Friday was a pubic holiday because on Saturday it was the 7th anniversary of the King’s coronation and Monday was a public holiday due to the King’s Father’s Birthday. So really Cambodians don’t need to look far to find a reason for a public holiday. I guess I really shouldn’t complain about having to go to school on Melbourne Cup Day!

I’m working at a different school this time to when I was here in January. This time I’m at ABCs and Rice, which makes Anjali House, where I was last time, look like a palace! Not that it’s in bad nick or anything, but it isn’t even two years old and is in a poorer area of town. The reason it’s called ABCs and Rice is because a lot of families in the area had previously either had to sell some of their children to be able to afford to feed the rest, or their children couldn’t go to school, as they were needed to work selling postcards and what not to tourists. So now all the families that send their kids to ABCs get a monthly rice ration.

The school escaped the floods pretty well, just the roads where all the kids live are still flooded, which poses a big problem seeing that apparently one in seven Cambodian kids don’t live until the age of five, mainly due to water born diseases. So at ABCs there are five classrooms with no walls or doors, but they do have fans. There’s a communal library area, a squat toilet and that’s about it. A Canadian girl called Tammy runs the place, and she has the most amazing life story, which includes the fact that she originally came here on an intrepid tour on holidays. She said she’s been on the tour for about four days when they came to Siem Reap to see the temples and all that jazz. She ended visiting an orphanage in the morning, but planned to meet up with the others and go out to the temples in the afternoon, but that didn’t happen for any of the three days they were in Siem Reap. In the end she signed a lease when she had about $100 in her bank account, quit her job back home, and the place has just continued to grow and grow. The before and after photos are amazing, how quickly the place has transformed in less than two years. She’s also just leased the adjacent block and is going to build on that a fish farm and chicken coop to (a) feed the kids and (b) sell at the market for get money for the school, a vegie garden, a toilet block with Western-style composting toilets, a house for the caretaker and an extra play area for the kids. However the plans for that have been put massively back because of the flooding, so now they have to wait about another five months before they can start.

Tammy’s whole life is devoted to these kids. She’s still never been to the temples, as she can’t justifying spending $20 when that money could go to the school. She’s going back to Canada in April for a month to organize some fundraisers, and so far she’s going to be there for 28 days, and only has 3 free days. And on Christmas last year she hired a jumping castle for the kids on the day (as it’s not a holiday for them here which might come as a shock to some of you!) and apparently they were just in awe – they’d never seen anything like it and they didn’t even know you were meant to jump on it at first!

So school starts at 8am (which means leaving home at 7.30, even 7.15 if we have to print out stuff for class on the way, as we cycle to school – who would have thought I would (a) get up that early and (b) do so much exercise!) for the morning class. When the bell rings (which is a teacher shaking a hand held bell) they all line up and sing the national anthem facing the flag and then they do this army at ease and attention stuff, and then they do their morning exercises which is so cute! It mainly consists of star jumps and circling their hands and their heads…oh and there’s squats too. Then there are three lessons with a five minute play in between each one, and they finish at 11. Then the afternoon class runs from 2 until 5, which is pretty much the same format except they line up and sing the national anthem at the end. However, Fridays are fun days and they just get to play games and sing songs and they love it, because being the all the volunteers they’re still learning English, just not everything is learnt by rote as it is in Khmer school. However, this week we had that day on Thursday because there was no school on Friday and one of the volunteers ‘Teacher Ash’ was leaving.

It’s the same idea as when I was at Anjali as in the kids that come to ABCs in the morning go to public school in the afternoon and vice versa, however being a much poorer community not all the kids can afford to go to school. Some are sponsored by ABC or the school itself and I think some might be sponsored by private donors but that’s about it. This time I’m in with the youngest class, appropriately named the ‘Monkey Room’. There are 28 kids in the morning class, which makes the afternoon seem like a breeze! They’re aged between 5 and 10 (as the class level they are in at ABCs is determined by their English aptitude, not their age) and of course they are all super cute! Obviously a lot more Khmer is spoken in the Monkey class than in the others, however the kids are very good at phrases including “hello teacher, what is your name?”, “teacher, where are you from”, “teacher, how are you today” and “teacher, how did you sleep well last night”. Also when the bell rings they have the phrase down pat “teacher, may I please go out and play?!”

So with all of this free time it seems quite unbelievable that I have to set my alarm for school tomorrow, as so much else has been going on! But I’m quite lucky really, as about two weeks before I got here volunteers couldn’t go to school because either the school was flooded or the roads to get there were. Apparently even just to go into town for something to do the place we’re staying at had to hire a truck as the roads were so washed out, but this only happened once a day as it is much more expensive than bikes or tuk tuks! The road to our guesthouse is now so washed out and bumpy that just by riding your bike to the end of the street you get a numb bum, let alone the half hour it takes to ride to school!

Anyway, it seems already like I’ve told you so much about school even though I’ve barely been there! So stay tuned for some of the adventures we’ve been having out of the classroom as next week there are four public holidays in a row not including the weekend!

Posted by ljmac2 09:29 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children siem_reap school pub_street Comments (1)

Phnom Penh

you may find this a depressing entry, but I am just trying to be insightful...don't worry I'm having a blast, just needed to get this off my chest!

sunny 30 °C
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I always said that I wanted to go back to Cambodia, but never dreamed that I would return so soon. Yet, less than 12 months later since I kissed the $2 cocktail goodbye, I found myself back on Cambodian soil (…or should I say sludge with all of the rain there has been?) Even though for the queen of planning things this trip was a pretty last minute decision, when I booked the ticket the 21st of October still seemed ages away…at that stage Geelong didn’t look like they had a hope of winning the flag! Yet they did (and thank god I decided to hang around for that), but like all good things that come to an end, at the end starts something new.

When I landed in Phnom Penh I hit the ground running. Having never been there before I wanted to make the most of my three days before I start volunteering, which sounds like not very long, but it’s actually the perfect amount of time to see everything there is to see if you don’t want to cram everything in. Killing fields, tick, S21, tick, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, tick, Russian Market, tick, Central Market, tick, Wat Phnom, tick. I didn’t really know what to expect; I’ve heard good and bad reports about the city, but what surprised me the most was that Westerners are fairly hard to come by. Sure they are the reason tuk tuks line the streets outside the tourist hot spots, but in their defense, I think it would be much harder to get work here than in Siem Reap. I mean in Siem Reap the World Heritage Listed Temples of Ankgor are the main drawcard, a symbol of prosperity that the Khmers are incredibly proud off. However, besides being the capital of Cambodia, which brings with it being the country’s largest and wealthiest city, Phnom Penh is most well known for it’s museums of genocide, being the Tuol Sleng Prison, better known as S21, and the Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek.

It sounds horrible but these are two of the main reasons I wanted to come to Phnom Penh. Not that I would splurge a grand on a return ticket purely for this reason, but I read “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, when I was coming to Cambodia last year, and for those of you who don’t know, I’m a war-survivor-book junkie. Once I pop I can’t stop. Since then I’ve read Ung’s sequal “Lucky Child” and countless other books about the Khmer Rouge’s reign and it just fascinates me. Yes, there are countless cases of genocide in world history, even cases when people have persecuted those who have previously seemed to be their ‘own’, but in a way I think the atrocities performed by the Khmer Rouge have helped make the Cambodian people the humble and kind race they are today. Which is amazing seeing (a) it was their ‘own’ that brought this upon them, and (b) Westerners didn’t step in and help until the very last moment - the four head honchos of the Khmer Rouge who are still alive only began to be tried in 2010. When I was volunteering in January, one of the teachers said to me “did you know we had a war in Cambodia?” I wanted to say, “Of course, how can you not know?!”, but when I said yes he simply replied “that is why we are so poor”. He didn’t say that it was unfair that a quarter of the country’s population was murdered, nor that no one rushed to their aid – he said it so matter of factly he may as well have been telling me the sky was blue.

I did the ‘museums’ of the Khmer Rouge in non-chronological order. Walking into the killing fields is a bit surreal, as besides the beggars at the front gate, it looks just like a park with a big monument in the middle and a museum off to the side. Yet you know there’s more to it than that. As you walk closer to said monument, you notice it is piled high with 8000 skulls of those who met their untimely deaths at the Killing Fields. There are also remnants of their clothes. However, what is most disturbing, is that due to the rain, remnants that weren’t able to be excavated from the graves (of which there are over 100 but only half have been discovered) are starting to rise through the earth, and now litter the surface that the tourist walk on. The park curators collect them and keep the area in immaculate condition, but I guess there’s only so much you can do with such a large amount of rain in such a short amount of time. Walking through the fields is quite a haunting experience – you can hear the squeals of laughter of the children playing at the school next door and the flora is so lush and green that the area really would be quite beautiful, if it weren’t for the signs indicating a location of a mass grave, or certain trees that the Khmer Rouge preferred for performing certain atrocities.

Most people I’ve met since I’ve been here have said that they found S21 harder to go to than the Killing Fields, but that the Killing Fields was the more important one to see. To me the most disturbing thing about S21 is the fact that it was a former high school, which the Khmer Rouge saw as an opportunity to get rid of the intellectuals and torture them, all in one fowl swoop. It’s pretty much just four buildings with three levels each that have been shoddily divided into miniscule cells, slapped together with bricks and mortar so that if you wanted to lie down and take a nap, you’d have to bend your knees. The thing that really gets you though is the thousands upon thousands of mugshots they have there as ‘exhibits’. They were taken as everyone went into the prison, but they may as well be a way of recording the dead, as only seven of the 17,000 people imprisoned in S21 survived.

So I realize this has been a rather depressing first blog, but as I often do, I just feel like I needed to throw my opinion around a bit. I’ve met a few people who have said they reckon S21 should be knocked down, and particularly at the Killing Fields, heard many people loudly whispering (and self-righteously might I add) “I’m not going to be disrespectful and take photos here”. No, I don’t agree with getting your wide angle lens as close as you possibly can to the sign next to the mass grave just so you can make sure you can read how many bodies were found there. But seeing truly is believing. You can appreciate it as much as you want from afar, but you can’t really grasp the gravity of the event unless you’re there. Realistically however, not everyone is going to be able to visit Phnom Penh, so then the photos of people who have been there are the next best thing. They don’t need to be posted on Facebook and splashed around in slide shoes, but I believe they are important. Besides, the tuk tuk drivers want to take you there, the people selling the tickets (which are $2 by the way – the Palace is $6.25 and I would argue it is no where near as important) want you to take your cameras in. All except one of the masterminds behind the operation still deny it ever happened. With proof like this, this should warrant the throwing away of their key.

Oh and in case you didn’t get the memo, I am having a good time…happy hour; tick, tick, tick!

Posted by ljmac2 05:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh s21 killing_fields khmer_rouge Comments (0)

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