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Entries about children

Catch Cambodia...

...until next time "you say goodbye, and I say hello"

semi-overcast 26 °C

First of all, apologies on my slackness on writing my blog the past week. I have had a few queries about when my next blog entry is going to be, but with last week being my last week at school, in Siem Reap and even in Cambodia, it was very busy with ‘lasts’. Literally we had a schedule for where we were going to eat every night so we had time to say goodbye to everyone…or more to the point say ‘catch’ until next year - hopefully ☺

Secondly, it is with extremely mixed feelings that I tell you I am writing the first blog entry of this trip not from Cambodia. Currently I am in my comparatively luxurious and cleanly hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, formally known as Saigon. It’s funny because when I left home I was so excited about this part of my trip having never been to Vietnam before, but now having to leave school and all the amazing friends I have made, not to mention just the awesome lifestyle that there is in Siem Reap, it’s devastating. I feel bad for Mum (she is here now as well in case you missed that memo) – I think she feels a bit like bad cop, as if she’s coming and dragging me away from it all. But I guess the best thing about feeling like this about leaving everything behind is that I have had more fun over the past two months than I ever thought was possible, particularly with where I was at when I left home, so that’s pretty awesome ☺ And besides, it’s just catch until next time right?!

Anyway, let me think, what has been happening since last time I wrote my blog…there’s been so much I don’t even know where to start or where to end so things are going to be a bit all over the place…

Well last weekend Courtnay and I went to Battambang for the weekend as there was a music festival called the Friendship Festival on there, which is half Khmer acts and half Western DJs, one of whom was a guy we know from when we went to Sihanoukville. It was a pretty interesting weekend to say the least! It started off with Courtnay walking into our room at home from being out, just as the 6am alarm was going off to remind us that for some reason we booked the 7am bus! That turned out to be a joyous ride filled with ice-cold air conditioning and blaring Khmer karaoke music that I could still hear when I had my iPod up full blast. Seriously, the Khmer people were not singing along and I definitely didn’t know the words – was it completely necessary?!

So I went to Battambang the last time I was here and did the whole boat trip and everything so I knew what to expect, but Battambang is definitely no Siem Reap. We literally could not find a bucket in sight all weekend, not even at the festival! It’s definitely not your party town kind of place, it’s like walking in a ghost town at night, there isn’t even that many restaurants to choose from and they all close at 10 or 11! However, the ‘sightseeing’ as you would call it around Battambang is really cool. There’s the Bamboo Train, which I’m still not entirely sure if it is called that because it is made from bamboo or because they used to use it to transport bamboo, but anyway it’s on this single railway line that you ride along through the rice fields, and then when you meet a train coming in the opposite direction, one of the trains gets dismantled so the other can continue on it’s way. Anyway, they take you up to the first ‘stop’, which is where there’s an old lady selling drinks and a bunch of kids very eager to show you around the brick making factory, for want of a better word, which was actually really cool.

After the Bamboo Train we went to a Cambodian winery, which compared to what we know as a winery, was hilarious, seeing there are four rows of grapes in someone’s backyard. There was actually only one kind of wine to taste though, but there was a horrifically strong brandy. Neither of us could drink ours so we gave it to the tuk tuk driver and even he struggled! He did finish it though – not one to turn down a free drink I suspect! Luckily for him we had to cut through this back road to get to our next destination, which was actually one of the coolest parts of the day. In Battambang especially, they are not shy on commenting on how much they love your white skin, and along this road I don’t think they’ve seen some barangs for a while, as the kids were running out of their houses and people were taking a break from their work at the rice fields just to get a look of us!

Our next destination was the Killing Cave, which as it’s name suggests, was used by the Khmer Rouge for many of the atrocities that occurred during that time. Similar to the Khmer Rouge stuff you see in Phnom Penh, there are monuments filled with the victims’ skulls and bones and whatever else they have found at the sight. Again, unfortunately I am not sure whether this came about before or after the war, but it is also a holy site up there so there is lots of blessings and Buddahs going on up there as well.

Anyway as for the festival, the main reason why we went to Battambang, it was pretty funny. The Khmer part in particular was packed. There was this guy there who must have been Cambodia’s answer to Michael Buble, as whenever his name was mentioned the crowd just went nuts. It was a pity they didn’t speak a bit more English though, as the MCs kept pointing to the moon and stuff all night and we were just like “why are they so obsessed with this moon?” But it turns out it was because there was a lunar eclipse that night we found out the next day – a tad awkward that we didn’t spot that one…

So once we got back to Siem Reap we were thrilled to hear that on the Saturday night we were away, pretty much none of our friends were out – that’s right, we are the high season! However, it did leave some pretty big expectations for our last week, which means that between the emotions of leaving school and everyone in Siem Reap, and going out, and packing and doing whatever jobs you have to do when you’re leaving somewhere after being there for two months, right now my eyes are practically hanging out of my head I am so tired! Totally worth it though, every single minute of it ☺

So my last week at school was thrown out of whack a little bit, as a group of ten new volunteers rocked up on Tuesday morning. They are on a 10-day tour kind of thing of Siem Reap, which includes going to school at ABCs and Rice because Jenny and Gary who organized the trip, have volunteered at ABCs before. Because it went from there being one volunteer at school (me!) to 10, we had a different schedule all week where each of the new volunteers ran different activities. It culminated on Friday, which was kind of cool seeing it was my last day, when they brought all this fruit to school as well as bottled water and even fairy bread (the kids had never had fairy bread before, it was so funny to watch them eat it and not be able to deal with the sprinkles!). Courtnay came into school as well on Friday to surprise her kids, which was so cool, and also good for me because I had someone to help me initiate our regular Friday dance party!

It was a fantastic, yet very hard day. I got bombarded with the usual mass of cards that all the classes make for volunteers when they leave, and some of the kids even bought me presents, which I feel so bad about, but it’s also so special. One of the teachers had asked me the day before what my favourite number was, and I said seven, so she gave me a jar of these tiny little stars they fold out of paper here and call ‘lucky stars’, and she said she made 70 for me because I said seven was my lucky number – so cute! At the end of the day for each class they all lined up and we sang ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by the Beatles, basically ABCs theme song, and they were also incredibly keen to sing three little monkeys, which I taught my class in music about two weeks ago and they just can’t get enough of it! Literally we sing it about 15 times a day – very fitting though seeing I was in the monkey class!

Luckily having the youngest class, only a couple of the kids understood what was going on and cried, which made it easier for me – at least I could hold on until they left! One of my kids kept saying “goodbye Teacher, see you on Monday!” (the really cool one I think I mentioned once before, who likes to play Uno and was hit on her foot by her mum) so I hope she doesn’t get too much of a shock next week. Also there’s a kid we’ve had to take to the doctor everyday, as she had to have an operation last week but she still needed to get her wound cleaned everyday, and when we went on Friday they said she didn’t have to go back anymore, that it could be cleaned at school as it was much better, which made me feel very happy that I know she will be looked after ok ☺ Everyday when we ride home from school we go the same was as a few of the older kids and they like to ride with us, but on Friday we had an entourage, as half the kids wanted to ride up to the main road to us. One of the girls kept saying “ride slow Teacher, you leave at the end of the road and I am sad.”

Anyway, I have so many more stories about school and Pub Street and just life and how great it has been that I want to write about, but one blog can only be so long before losing one’s interest. Besides, I need to save up some cool stories for when I come home, otherwise I’ll just be boring! But from the bottom of my heart I just want to thank everyone I met during my time in Cambodia for making it pretty much the best two months of my life. Whether you were mentioned in the blog or not, you know who you are, and my time there wouldn’t have been the same without you. I know I’ll be back, as I can’t possibly say goodbye to ABCs and the kids and the town forever, so I hope that we will all meet again one day and continue the party, whether at home, back in the Reap, or somewhere else out there in the world. And to everyone who’s reading this and doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, sorry for the after school special, but I hope that I at least had a story or two to entertain you…if not look me up when I get home, there are plenty more where that came from ;)

Posted by ljmac2 06:52 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children parties bus cambodia phnom_penh siem_reap teacher bars winery sihanoukville volunteers pub_street battambang khmer_rouge bamboo_train killing_cave Comments (0)

A heart breaker of a week at school...

...starting to see the true side of everything here...but Pub Street is still awesome!

sunny 27 °C

So last week was a bit of a heart breaker at school. On Monday it was Teacher Amelia’s last day, and yes I was successful in making all my kids write on her cards “Teacher Amelia is crazy!” Also, Henry, her boyfriend who got to Siem Reap last Friday, came to school on Amelia’s last day, and a picture of him made it onto almost everyone of Amelia’s goodbye cards, which pissed Amelia off after having been there for six weeks compared to Henry’s one day!

Also on Monday this little girl in my morning class who I love (I know you shouldn’t play favourites, but I think it has something to do with the fact that this girl loves to play Uno – she’s like my long lost sister! I think before I came along the kids just played by putting down random cards but now most of them have the hang of it, so pretty much every break time we play Uno – awesome!) …anyway, Uno girl came to school with a massive cut on her foot and it was really swollen and she was limping. I got her to tell the Khmer teacher what happened (as these kids can barely say the day of the week in English, let alone explain that to me) and she said that her Mum hit her. The stat you hear is that 80% of Cambodian children are abused at home, but basically until that happened, none of us really believed that that could happen to any of our kids at school because they are always so happy. But the fact that this kid and the teacher just told me so matter of factly and weren’t particularly upset about it means it must happen a lot more than we know.

So pretty much since then, I have been a resident doctor (as well as Uno player) every break time. We asked Tammy about it, and she said it does happen a bit but there’s not much you can do, as she’s heard similar stories of abuse, and then when white people interfere the families might pull the kids out of the school or abuse them even more. So all you can really do it treat it with Western techniques (rather than these weird green tea leaf-looking things she had on it) so at least when she goes home with a bandage on it, the parents are aware that we know what’s going on. This kid’s foot has healed up pretty well seeing we have re-dressed it every day for the past week as whenever she gets home from public school the parents must take the bandage off it. But it’s better than nothing. Needless to say, we go through betadine and bandaids at school like they’re going out of style!

Then on Friday last week, this one little girl in my class was absolutely inconsolable (which is rare, these kids are very tough, plus as the kids say themselves “Friday is Funday!”) and again via translation I found out that it was because her Mum and Dad have moved to Bangkok for work. At first all the Khmer teachers were like “it’s ok, her Mum is coming back in April for Khmer New Year”, but she is only coming back for a month and then she is leaving again. She has a little sister at the school too (who by the way couldn’t be more different from her in looks and personality…they have got to have different Daddy’s!), so pretty much they have both been abandoned and are living with their grandparents. I asked (via translation) if they liked living with the grandparents, and they said yes which is good, but all the same, this same girl came to school the day before dressed in a massive winter coat and was practically begging me for new clothes as she was about to pass out from the heat (we have a box of clothes at school that we can give to the kids if they either have something majorly wrong with their clothes, or if they’ve worn the same grotty thing for a few days straight…but it’s hard because really they all need new clothes a thousand times over. Seriously the supposedly poor beggar kids in town are so immaculately presented compared to our kids at school it makes me sick). Anyway, on Friday this girl was inconsolable and it’s so hard as there is literally nothing you can do to make it better. It’s not like her parents have just gone on holidays or anything, plus she can’t understand me, even if I did have good advice for her. Anyway, she was so upset that she fell asleep in my arms, and she stayed there for two hours until we had to wake her up to go home. It was so sad as she became attached to me and didn’t want to leave, so now I have to keep my distance from her, as I’m leaving in two and a half weeks anyway, so I don’t want to make her go through that all over again…it’s so sad ☹

Anyway, aside from all that school is still awesome, I guess that’s all just part of the experience, and it makes you want to be able to help in an ongoing way so much more. Even though my kids can barely speak a full sentence to me, I feel like I already know their personalities and what not. Plus they are hilarious! All of them love the library, or ‘banalai’ in Khmer. Every time the bell rings they all fight to have the honour of carrying my bag and my water bottle to the library. However the problem is that the library is pretty much the central room to our school, so as well as books being kept there, there is also games and the first aid. Stuff. You should see the line we get to treat freckles and moles for the younger kids at break time, all so they can get a coloured bandaid! But seriously, library time is tough, as some of the kids do like to have books read to them and would even choose to do that during break time, but most of them would rather play. Today I spent a lot of time during library yelling out “you are meant to read the books, not build houses with them” but due to their limited English skills, this was to no avail!

Library time is also hilarious due to some of the books the kids choose to read. There is this one book called the Jumbo Fruit Book, and it has very detailed descriptions of every fruit under the sun, but massive colourful pictures of them, so it’s a big winner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it, but if I had a dollar for each time I would be a very rich woman. They all know the names to basic fruits such as banana and apple and strawberry, but then they get to this page with all these random fruits on it that I have never heard of, and they don’t know how to say them in English, but they all go nuts trying to pretend to eat these crazy looking fruits off the page! Then there are some other books in the library, which are Khmer stories printed in Khmer and English, and not only, is the English translation appalling, but the stories are so messed up! We tell the teachers that they are bad for children, but they just say “it is ok, they are ghost stories”. This one I read last week was about this girl who was an evil spirit who possessed people when they crossed a river, so that they got constipated and died (no joke this is what it said), until this one man who was drunk, didn’t let the evil spirit get off his back, so it turned into a log and then he cut it up and blood came out of the log when he cut it up and then he soaked it in alcohol…seriously, I have not exaggerated it is so messed up! Plus you should see the illustrations; they literally scare the younger kids!

So yes, I guess that’s been school for the past week. In our other Pub Street life, it has just been the usual craziness, especially seeing we had going aways for both Amelia and Mairead. So much fun, but it is so weird now that they are gone, especially Amelia, seeing she was at the same school as us!

Our Khmer teachers also take us out a fair bit on their motos, which is really cool as we get to go to places where there are no ‘barangs’ (foreigners) and we just pay for their meals and petrol or whatever. On Monday, Amelia’s last night they took us to dinner and then Khmer karaoke, which was hilarious as some of them are so shy at school, but not when they are singing in Khmer! Plus the Khmer video clips are so entertaining and dramatic, I could watch them for hours! Amelia and I rocked the few English songs that were on offer, plus there were some Khmer songs that were written phonetically in English letters, so we sang them, which was apparently hilarious! Then on Sunday they took Courtnay and I to West Baray Lake, where we have been before with them actually, where you just chill out in hammocks and eat and swim. Although to be fair, very few Khmers can swim or have ever swum (so hard to imagine in such a hot country!) so we do the swimming and they do the eating. I’ve had a go at some of the real Khmer food that Khmer’s eat, so be proud, but chicken blood is going a bit too far for me! Chansip, Courtnay’s Khmer teacher said the other day “I save the children in Africa, I eat everything!” Hilarious, especially seeing Cambodia is such a first world country and all…

Anyway, Courtnay and I were in bed at 8pm last night watching Gossip Girl (I know, I don’t believe it either, neither does anyone in the house mind you) so we feel we have earned ourselves a night out tonight so better hit the showers. It is unbelievable how fast time flies – this is Court’s last week of school, and after that I only have two more weeks as well ☹

Posted by ljmac2 04:12 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children cambodia siem_reap teacher school pub_street west_baray Comments (0)

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)

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)

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