A Travellerspoint blog

Siem Reap and the Beautiful Cambodian Coast

Khmer New Year is April 14-16, but everybody is in holiday mood beginning April 1. At Kurata, some student's parents prepared lunch for the school staff as a thank you. My first clue that this was happening was when two grade 6 girls pulled up on a moto and delivered a case of beer. Fish, chicken, salad, rice and soda soon followed. It was a really nice gesture and much appreciated by the teachers and administrators and also by me as it meant a day with something other than PB & J for lunch.

We have 193 student volunteers coming from Singapore for a few days in May and we need lots of activities, so I asked Ratha, the Kurata English teacher to have the kids show me a few traditional games we could do during their visit. The first game he explained to me sounded like duck duck goose, but instead of tapping the "goose" on the head, the kid going around the outside of the circle sang a song and whoever they were behind when they stopped singing was 'it'. It sounded like the perfect game! We all squatted in a circle with our hands behind our back, the singing started, then I saw that the kid on the outside had a big korma scarf braided into what looked suspiciously like a thick whip. Hmmmmm, I didn't remember that being mentioned when the game was described…. Surely they are not going to…..and there we go, smack! The singing stops and the unlucky "goose" gets whacked with the scarf/whip. Hard! Needless to say I put the kibosh on that game ASAP. No hitting the volunteers!

Since I had 2 weeks off school, I decided to see some more of Cambodia. I was so happy Jim decided to join me, he’s become a great friend. The trip started with an 11 hour bus ride to Sihahoukville via Phnom Penh. The bus was decent, but the road was not. They are widening it, but instead of starting with a couple of miles, completing the construction, then moving on to the next 2 miles, they ripped up almost the entire thing (about 50 miles). Consequently, there are giant ditches on each side. Scary enough in the day, but the night buses are supposed to be downright suicidal. Phnom Penh, where we changed into a smaller van, was bigger than I remembered but just as dirty. The van ride was horrifying. The driver went at least 80, passed on blind curves, and barely missed the usual assortment of cows, kids, bicycles, dogs and motos on the road, all while blabbing on not one, but 2 cell phones. Scariest ride I ever experienced bar Viet Nam.

Our first stop was Sihanoukville, a beach town on the Gulf of Thailand. I’d heard that the both the beach and the town were quite seedy, but I was pleasantly surprised. We had seafood barbeque dinner on the beach for $5 and the tables were right in the sand. Kids were selling lumineries that floated off into the night sky, quite pretty. Got some beach time in the next morning and then caught a boat for Koh Rong Island. It was a beautiful 2+ hour boat ride, although the diesel fumes were a bit much. About a half hour from shore, the captain pulled up to a fishing boat and traded him a liter of orange Fanta for some fresh shrimp- how they found each other was a mystery to me.

We stayed in wooden bungalows just steps from the sea and spent the first night drinking with the slightly disgruntled staff at the resort (an Estonian named Beast, a guy from Amsterdam and lady marine conservationist from England). The Dutch guy kept complaining about the bad reviews they got on TripAdvisor and to be honest, I’m sure a few of them had some merit. The first night I could hardly sleep, my bed smelled absolutely HORRIBLE, and they shut off the electricity at 11 so there was no fan and it was really hot. The next morning when I complained, I found out that geckos had been shitting on my mosquito net and that was the cause of the stench. On the bright side, I was awake at 5AM to see the beautiful sunrise and I got a clean net for the second night.

The next day we hopped in some kayaks and set out across the Gulf of Thailand to find a floating village and visit the main village just beyond it. It was a beautiful sunny day and the water was warm and crystal clear. The floating village was easy to find, but we paddled for what seemed like hours looking for the main village. We kept thinking it would be around the next bend, then the next, the next…. Luckily we had a pack of Oreos for sustenance, but we were getting low on water. Finally we decided to give up the search and headed back. While we were passing the floating village, we saw the real village on the land just behind the stilt houses. We had misinterpreted "beyond" as past, not “beside”. Duh! Well at least we got some good exercise! Our next stop was Otres Beach back on mainland. One of the highlights here was the squid lady. She walked up and down the beach with small fresh squid and little barbecues grilling the tasty creatures on the spot. One of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. My only complaint was that she didn’t come by often enough- at 5 for $1.50 I could have munched on squid all day long.

After a couple of days at Otres, we were off to Kep. I loved this little town. There is an amazing crab market where the people wade out to the crab traps and bring in the catch to the market and restaurants on the shore. I had delicious crab amok and crab in green pepper sauce. Kep was a vacation spot for the French colonialists from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. (Cambodia was a French protectorate for 100 years due to threats from Thailand and Viet Nam). During their stay, they built beautiful Moderne villas that have now fallen into ruins as the French fled the country during the war. We were taking pictures at one beautiful old building near the hotel when we looked at each other and said “we need costumes!” The next day, after appropriating curtains and bed runners from our rooms, we dressed up and did an editorial photo shoot. (I knew watching 7 seasons of Project Runway would come in handy some day!) I even put in makeup for the first time in 6 months. It was nice to feel like a girl for a change, I’m usually a bedraggled sweaty mess. Fun!

Next stop was Kampot, a bit inland on a river. The hotel was nice but my room was in the rustic boathouse which was good (great river views, over- water balcony) and bad (scurrying squeaky creatures overhead, big ones. Aida, you would have hated it!!). We took a moto to Bokor Mountain National Park, home to endangered bears, tigers, monkeys and supposedly a herd of elephants. It rained a bit on the way up, followed by really thick fog which rolled in and out all day, so it was an interesting ride. Luckily the road is the best in Cambodia - there are even guard rails! Halfway up the mountain there is a building with a big model of a planned development. In Cambodia, if the Prime Minister owns a development company and wants to build 500 houses in the middle of a national park, no problem. Pretty horrifying. There actually is a precedent for development up there, however. During the French Colonial times, there was casino at the top, a church and some hotels, all now in ruins. The church was especially photogenic shrouded in the fog. Because it was Khmer New Year, lots of local families were on the mountain as well, having picnics and wandering the ruins, so that was nice.

It was a great little vacation and I was happy I got to see more of Cambodia. I found the beaches nicer than many in Bali and the towns were just developed enough, but not touristy at all.

One of the other highlights this month was attending Ratha’s (one of our English teachers) engagement party. At 7AM all the guests gathered outside the bride to be’s house and walked in carrying bowls of fruit, cakes and beer. All these goodies were placed on the floor before Ratha, and both families. After the “MC” pitched Ratha’s good qualities to the girl’s parents, Theiry came out looking like an exotic princess. There was a lot if bowing, rings were exchanged, and they toasted with beer. Then the guests had a really delicious lunch while the couple took photos complete with costume changes. Event photos are a big business here and quite elaborate. The whole thng was very interesting and it was an honor to attend.

Phnom Penh traffic

Phnom Penh traffic


Fruit seller Sihanoukville beach

Fruit seller Sihanoukville beach


Sunrise off Koh Rong Island

Sunrise off Koh Rong Island


Trading boat

Trading boat


View from my boathouse room

View from my boathouse room


Floating Village on Koh Rong

Floating Village on Koh Rong


Squid lady at Otres Beach

Squid lady at Otres Beach


Sunset at Otres Beach

Sunset at Otres Beach


Bringing in the crabs in Kep

Bringing in the crabs in Kep


Seafood seller at Kep Crab Market

Seafood seller at Kep Crab Market


Chinese gravemarker

Chinese gravemarker


This building doesn't look interesting but it is

This building doesn't look interesting but it is


Editiorial shot at abandoned villa

Editiorial shot at abandoned villa


I'm wearing a bed runner!

I'm wearing a bed runner!


Dressed in a curtain!

Dressed in a curtain!


Kep pagoda accomodation

Kep pagoda accomodation


Just a boy hanging out

Just a boy hanging out


Sadly, those chickens are still alive

Sadly, those chickens are still alive


Kep- abandoned French Villa

Kep- abandoned French Villa


Old Bokor Mountain Casino

Old Bokor Mountain Casino


Me inside old casino

Me inside old casino


Planned development in Bokor National Park

Planned development in Bokor National Park


Abandoned church in fog

Abandoned church in fog


Church entry- The hole is to accomodate a gun

Church entry- The hole is to accomodate a gun


Street market  near Phnom Penh

Street market near Phnom Penh


Engagement ceremony, ring exchange

Engagement ceremony, ring exchange

Posted by travelinglisa 17:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap March

Girl Scout cookies! Rosemary and Olive Oil Triscuits! Good moisturizer! Hair products! Just some of the items in my care package from America. Carol went shopping for me and Jim picked everything up when he was visiting South Florida. It was like Christmas! There are a pretty fair variety of things in the shops here, but not alot of quality (mostly Chinese counterfeits), so it was nice to get some decent stuff. All the lotion here, for instance, has some weird chemical in it to whiten the skin, no thanks. Light skin is considered very desirable here. Even in the hottest weather women wear long sleeves, long pants, sox and even gloves to protect their skin. It makes me sweat just to look at them all bundled up.

Had a visitor from the US this month, I love to get company! Bennett, who works with a colleague at HUD, was touring SEA and stopped here for a few days. We went out to some of the more remote temples and had a great time. There was a fixed itinerary that included Banteay Srey, the Rolous Group and another one I hadn't heard of called Kbal Spean. When we were tuk tukking there, our guide told us that not was not a temple at all , but some rock carvings on top of a mountain. So we hiked up. Luckily it was in the AM so not that hot, but if I would have known I’d be climbing a mountain I would have worn better shoes! The way down was little slippery because of the sand, but it was a nice hike and good to be out in the jungle a bit. The carvings were lovely and in incredible condition considering they are 1000 years old and in the middle of a river. As the water passes over the sacred carvings, it becomes holy and then flows down to Siem Reap eventually reaching the Mekong.

On our way, our driver mentioned that we were passing a local place famous for Cambodian noodles, so on our way back we stopped for a second lunch. First they brought us a huge basket of fresh herbs, then some limes, chiles, 2 sauces and finally a bowl of noodles floating in greenish liquid with some odd green filmy paste on top. A bit warily, I mixed everything up and took a bite ---it was freaking DELICIOUS!! Best bowl of noodles I’ve had in Asia. We ate and ate, slopping noodle juice everywhere, but sadly couldn’t finish it. When we got the bill, it was $2. Not $2 each, but for both. What a deal. It’ll probably cost me a $10 tuk tuk ride to go back and eat more noodles, but it will be worth it.

We were hot, sweaty (so what else is new) and exhausted after our day, but we rallied and met up later at the Night Market for drinks, shopping and much needed foot massages.

For my birthday, Jim invited me and another friend, Ron, to brunch at a really nice resort. The food delicious and waaaaay to much; I think we ate everything on the menu. My birthday cake was vanilla layered with mango, watermelon and dragonfruit – yum! After stuffing our bellies, we swam lounged around the pool. A really nice birthday!!!

I moved into a new guesthouse with a POOL!! The room is smaller, but nicer and it’s about $50/month less. It’s also much, much quieter. There was lots of construction at my old place and the jackhammering and metal sawing were getting out of control. I hated having to tell the staff I was leaving, they'd been so nice, but I stuck to my guns no matter how much they tried to get me to stay. I’m sure I would have let them convince me if it hadn’t been for the lure of my new pool. I really like my new place -especially after a long hot day at school.

Our computer lab is well under construction and should be finished by next month. We’re getting the software for our refurbished computers donated by Tech Soup. I am in charge of advising on the software purchase. Yes, me- stop laughing everyone. Luckily I get lots of advice from the customer service helpline. Their hours are a bit inconvenient due to the time change and their very short working days, but we get it done, even if it is at 1am my time. My technical challenge for this week was to find out if the laptops have free dos or linux already installed. I think I’ve talked to every MS employee in California and India and a few Khmer folks at computer shops here. I feel like I must be close to an answer, right???

We had our fundraising BINGO night at a local guesthouse this month. It was a fun evening, about 10 of our teachers and admin staff came for dinner and Bingo. I was a little worried about the language barrier and the numbers being called in English, but it worked out fine. I think if there was an Olympic competition on "demonstrated level of enthisiasm at winning Bingo" Cambodia would bring home the Gold for sure. Such excitement! Our table was very lucky and lots of prizes were won. Unfortunately, I’m still not sure if I have been successful in explaining the gift certificate concept. When they won a gift certificate to a store or restaurant, I think some were still under the impression that they could go there and get money. Regardless, they enjoyed winning and we all had a great time. I was hoping to raise about $400, but it was a slow night, so we made only $190. A lot of work for a small return, so I won’t be doing that again.

School is good, I'm still enjoying teaching, though I'm not sure who's learning more, me or the kids. I have four groups of 4th graders and I do the same basic lesson with each group, some classes will love it and some are tuned out after 10 minutes, so I have to pull plan B out of my back pocket- they always keep me on my toes!

Banteay Srey

Banteay Srey


It's not a toy!

It's not a toy!


Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy Birthday to Me!


Kurata and Spitler staff at Bingo

Kurata and Spitler staff at Bingo


Banteay Srey temple detail

Banteay Srey temple detail


Kbal Spean carvings

Kbal Spean carvings


Disabled muscians

Disabled muscians


Rolous side temple

Rolous side temple


Countryside

Countryside


Me at Banteay Srey

Me at Banteay Srey


Making palm sugar

Making palm sugar


Top of main Rolous temple

Top of main Rolous temple


Roadside touristy market

Roadside touristy market


Rolous lions

Rolous lions


Looks can be deceiving

Looks can be deceiving


Bennet and the famous noodles

Bennet and the famous noodles

Posted by travelinglisa 17:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap, February

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the resilience of these kids. Nothing is ever too hard for them to try, they are never too tired or too hot to play and they are tough as nails. This week there was a kid on the roof of a building sweeping off leaves, boys slingshotting rocks at a can, kids running with sticks, and riding bikes 8 sizes too big for them through sand pulling another kid in a makeshift wagon. When a little boy about 5 got a bloody nose, some tears leaked out of his eyes, but he tried so hard not to cry. When these kids fall or get hurt they mostly just brush it off and keep going.

Next door to the school is a family with an uncountable number of kids, dogs, fat puppies and chickens. One of the little girls that lives there (she's about 7) joins in on a lot of the afterschool activities at the pavilion and she brings her 10 month old baby brother. He gets manhandled like he's a doll, but hardly ever cries. One day, we were in the middle of a lesson and a big puddle of urine materialized. His sister immediately whipped off his pants (no diaper of course) used them to mop up and went back to the lesson. The little bottomless boy kept trying to crawl away and she kept pulling him back by the legs scraping his tender little bits on the rough wooden floor. He barely whimpered, but I couldn’t take it anymore, so I sent them both home to mom for some clean clothes. This month was the Giant Puppet Parade and it was awesome. The puppets are really intricate, lit up with lots of moving parts and they’re all made by kids. My camera takes horrible night photos, so here’s a link to some better ones. http://www.siemreappost.com/giant-puppet-parade-a-review/

As I mentioned last post, Rosy Guesthouse hosts a Bingo night to help raise money for local NGOs. The beneficiary of the March event will be Spitler School. My job is to go around town getting businesses to donate gift vouchers to be raffled off. In an effort to try my patience and totally fry my brain, the first three businesses I approached were Khmer owned places I frequent. It seems the concept of a gift certificate is completely foreign to this culture. I cannot even begin to explain how long and complicated these conversations are. Just as soon as I think they’re getting it, they’d ask a question that would take us back to the beginning. I finally got my guesthouse to agree to give 3 days’ worth of mountain bike rental and every day they ask me to explain again. The event isn’t until the end of March, so by then, they may actually understand.

One of the great things about living here is being able to get my laundry done for $1/kg. However, I find that every now and then, a piece of clothing goes missing. And it’s never a ratty t shirt, it’s always one of my favorite things :(.

The school dog, Yoman, has developed mange. I could not stand to see the poor thing suffering, so I found a vet and got him some medicine. I also got him some dog food to build up his resistance since I know he doesn’t eat well. When some teachers looked at the photo on the bag showing the ingredients, they all said that the dog will now eat better than they do. Ouch. Anyway, I hope he gets better. The dog is around kids all day long and while they don’t seem to touch him, I’m afraid one of them will get it too. Plus he’s pretty horrifying to look at and when the tour groups come through, I’d rather they not see him.

One of the teachers was very sick and when I came to school one day everyone was preparing food--the monks had been called and were coming for a visit to another teacher’s house so everyone could pray for her recovery. She was in the local hospital, but they sent her home, saying there’s nothing they can do and unfortunately she passed away a few days later. It’s very sad. She was actually Sarin’s teacher when he was a boy in the Thai refugee camp during the Khmer Rouge regime. He accidentally ran into her a year or so ago and brought her to Spitler School.

I went to Phare, the Khmer circus run by an NGO. They take underprivileged kids in Battambang and teach them music, theatre, acrobatics, etc. The circus shows are written by the performers and usually address some type of social issue ( drugs, domestic abuse, etc.). The show I saw started off a little slow, but by the end I was begging them to stop. They were throwing each other across the stage in these amazing acrobatic moves and I was 100% sure someone was going to die. Their strength and endurance was absolutely inhuman. Made me re-evaluate my wimpy complaining on my bike ride home after a long day at school.

I think I’ve been pretty lucky staying so healthy on this adventure, but Cambodia’s been kind of tough. I had a bad cold in the beginning of the month and later some Alien type creature took up residence in my stomach along with fever and muscle aches. Now if I was home, I would have just passed it off as the flu, but here, of course, here I go right to malaria, dengue fever or some other deadly tropical disease. So for a few days while I was lying on my death bed, I spent way too much time reading Huff Post, NYT, Salon... and ended up getting completely depressed about the state of the world-- poisonous air caused by fracking, children being tortured in Syria, animals dying because their heads get caught on the flange inside discarded Yoplait cups, people being denied health insurance because their states did not expand Medicare (lookin’ at you Floriduh), and about a million other horrible things. I just don’t get it. How hard is it to just do the right thing? Anyway, I ended up writing a bunch of emails to my congress people while I was resting. Only a drop in the bucket, but at least my opinion is out there.

I've attached some of the kids photos, art and essays from the photobook they did. It was such a great project and hopefully we can turn it into a real ebook and sell it on Amazon. I'll keep you posted.

Cleaning the roof

Cleaning the roof


Giant puppet- Year of the Horse

Giant puppet- Year of the Horse


Poor Yoman

Poor Yoman


Giant Puppet- cricket?

Giant Puppet- cricket?


Kids in the library checking out the photobook

Kids in the library checking out the photobook


Nang's mom essay

Nang's mom essay


Nang's mom

Nang's mom


Nang's drawing of her and her mother

Nang's drawing of her and her mother


Somnang's essay

Somnang's essay


Somnang's photo of his friend Bunthy

Somnang's photo of his friend Bunthy


Somnang's drawing of Bunthy

Somnang's drawing of Bunthy


Sombath's essay

Sombath's essay


Sombaths pic of her mom

Sombaths pic of her mom


Sombath's drawing

Sombath's drawing

Posted by travelinglisa 17:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap January

I am still loving my time in Siem Reap and the school and am settling into my life here. I'm less intimidated by the traffic, but it still took me 10 minutes to cross the street during rush hour a few weeks ago. I have been shopping at the local market and making some great salads with the fresh produce. I changed to new vendor this week when I saw another shopkeeper picking lice out of my usual veg lady’s hair. Not to say that my new vendor doesn’t have them too, but what I don’t know won’t hurt me, right? There are a couple of bigger grocery stores in town that have some western food, but it’s really expensive, especially cheese. I was so excited to see they had bumblebee albacore tuna and loved every bite of the tuna salad I made-unfortunately they’ve stopped carrying it already. The local facebook page was all a flutter when one of the stores got sour cream for the first time. It’s such a rarity here that it sells out in a day. It’s nice to eat some meals at home, but it’s actually cheaper to eat out. A huge plate of vegetable fried rice and a beer is $2.50 and a nearby crepe place has the best veggie crepes for $1.80.

Jim, the amazing volunteer coordinator has gone to the US for a month or so, so I’ve taken over doing the tours for visiting tourists. The school is very careful about not using the children as a tourist attraction, but because all of the funding comes from donations, we walk a fine line. Most of the tour groups are very respectful and don’t disrupt classes, and it’s really great to see their reactions as I explain everything that has been accomplished here in such a short time. And of course at recess time they are completely charmed by shouts of "hello!" and the smiling faces of the kids as they bounce around the school yard at breakneck speed. Most are happy to give us their email addresses so we can send out updates and hopefully get some donations. www.spitlerschool.org

We were very fortunate to have a group of six Australian teacher trainees here in January. They have been working hard and having a good time. I’m afraid I may have driven them a bit crazy with my obsessive need to schedule their time at school, but with 700 kids at 2 schools, organization is kind of important. I’ve also had quite the treat of riding in the bus with them to school every day and eating a real lunch instead of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches smushed from my backpack.

One of the teachers invented a great game - the kids were divided into two teams, the team that answered a question correctly got to roll the dice and move forward. When it got down to the end and they needed to roll a certain number to win, they were almost hysterical with anticipation and we were all laughing so hard we were crying. This one kid was so excited, he could hardly bring himself to actually roll his die and when his team finally won it was total bedlam!

The Aussies have been a lot of fun to hang out with as well, they’ve been teaching me Aussie slang; my favorite is “this avvy”, which means this afternoon. We’ve gone to Bingo at a nearby bar, visited Bayon Temple, saw the Land Mine Museum, went to a ladyboy show, did karaoke, failed a pub quiz, took a boat to the floating village, got tattoos and celebrated Australia Day. The karaoke was a trip. They were about 16 of us including the Khmer teachers and we had a private room complete with disco ball, pool table, a case of warm beer and our own karaoke lady to manage the songs. There were sappy Khmer love songs with accompanying overdramatic video, sappy English language love songs that never saw the light of day in the American market and positively filthy hip hop songs. When we asked if they knew what they were saying, they just giggled!

Jim got invited to a Kurata teacher’s sister’s wedding. Since he was going to be out of town, he gave me the invite and all of us went. What a great experience! The wedding had taken place earlier and the reception started at 11 am. We were the first ones there and sat as far away from the deafening music as possible. The tables were outside under a tent, and the bride and groom looked amazing their traditional gold outfits. We had about 6 courses including spring rolls, pickled salad, soup, a whole fish and beef with red ant sauce. I didn’t eat any of the beef of course, but I broke my “no more eating bugs” rule and had some of the ants. I would say, if you’re going to eat bugs, go with the ants- not exactly delicious but more edible than worms and crickets. There was plenty of warm beer on hand, just pour it into a glass with ice and you’re good to go. We had lots of “cheers” with the guests and felt very welcome.

One of the school projects the Aussies have been working on is a photobook. They donated 4 cameras to the school and a select group of kids took a photo, made a drawing and wrote a short essay in Khmer and English. The kids had an absolute blast taking the photos, so that was fun to watch and the essays were a real slice of life. They also took class photos of every grade and each kid got a copy. This is actually quite a big deal as many families have few, if any, photos of their children so we hope to continue this every year.

I wrote a short piece for the Spitler Foundation newsletter about Lida, the school’s first grade teacher who also teaches Apsara dance. A donor funded the construction of a dance room (which doubles as the kindergarten), and costumes. During our talk she mentioned what a hardship it was on the families to have their kids gone to school 6 days a week and then to dance practice in Sunday. We arranged a small recital as a thank you to the parents and to the Aussie volunteers and also to give the students a chance to show off their hard work. It was a really nice performance despite the music going silent a few times because the electricity went out.

Chinese New Year is a big celebration here, a drum and dragon band came down my street at 7am stopping to play at each shop for good luck. The day before was firecrackers at 5:30am. It’s also wedding season, and I’ve had a couple receptions next door, not to mention the constant construction noise . It’s VERY loud here!

I am starting to get a bit homesick. Not ready to go home for good yet, but it sure would be great to teleport back to the US for a couple of weeks to see everyone and take a real shower!

Monks at Angkor Wat

Monks at Angkor Wat


Boy with mask and stick taking a walk

Boy with mask and stick taking a walk


Wedding guests with bride & groom

Wedding guests with bride & groom


Grandma and kids

Grandma and kids


'Straya Day with Sonya and Tara

'Straya Day with Sonya and Tara


Boys in the libary

Boys in the libary


Karaoke

Karaoke


Apsara dance performance at Spitler

Apsara dance performance at Spitler


My apartment

My apartment


Floating village

Floating village


Headed home from school

Headed home from school


A photo from the land mine museum

A photo from the land mine museum


Going away party at Kurata

Going away party at Kurata


The star of the ladyboy show

The star of the ladyboy show


Wedding guests

Wedding guests


On my sunrise bike ride to school

On my sunrise bike ride to school


Dignitaries at Educational Conference

Dignitaries at Educational Conference


Bayon Temple

Bayon Temple


Grade 6 photobook kids having fun with the camera

Grade 6 photobook kids having fun with the camera


Floating village family

Floating village family


Beef with red ant sauce

Beef with red ant sauce


What a lovely haystack

What a lovely haystack


Drum and Dragon Band 7am

Drum and Dragon Band 7am

Posted by travelinglisa 17:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap December

I'm sure some of you have been wondering when I’d stop gallivanting and start volunteering- well the time has come!

Of all the cities in Cambodia, Siem Reap is one of the most civilized because of the tourism surrounding the Temples at Angkor. The temples are truly amazing -read about them here (or just look at the pictures)- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor . There's a lot going on in the town as well - NGO events and tons of good cheap places to eat, so it's a fun place to live.

When I was in Cambodia several years ago, I met Chea Sarin and visited Spitler School about a year after it opened. It was founded by Sarin and 2 generous American tourists, Danny and Pam Spitler. I was so struck by the poverty in Ang Chagn village (6 km outside town) and Sarin’s commitment to help educate these kids that I promised I’d be back someday to help. Sarin is still the school administer as well as a tour guide- an amazing and unbelievably busy guy who is devoted to improving and advancing education in his country. Please go to www.spitlerschool.org and read about Sarin, the school and the mission (and maybe make a donation?).

Another incredible person I’ve met here is Ponheary Ly. She owns the Seven Candles guest house where I stayed my first couple of weeks here. Her family also suffered at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and her foundation has a hand in several schools, some in truly remote and depressed areas of the country. Her website is www.theplf.org , please take a moment and read about her work as well (she was CNN Hero).

I spent my first week in Siem Reap Province touring the schools, learning how to navigate the dirt roads on a bike to get there, and meeting the teachers. The kids are so incredibly adorable (especially the squeaky voiced kindergarteners) I can hardly stand it- they are very friendly with "hello!" & “how are you?” but can get shy when asked to respond to a question. My TEFL training has come in handy, but these circumstance are a lot different than the classroom in Cadiz. In Spain we taught intermediate level adults with whom I had common cultural references, oh and we also had equipment and reliable electricity! Here, none of that exists.

Jim, the school's volunteer coordinator has been showing me the ropes and helping me get acclimated. He's a great guy, lots of fun and has boatloads of educational experience, I am so very grateful for his help and insight. He and other volunteer staff put together an English program with workbooks and resources. There are three dedicated native Khmer English teachers that deliver the bulk of the curriculum, but there are over 40 kids in each class. That’s just insane. Since there are so many kids in the class, their levels of ability vary a great deal-some of them understand and some just get lost in the crowd and don’t have a clue. My job is to help the teachers in the classroom and teach several supplemental classes a week, focusing on activities to get the kids speaking.

I am completely exhausted after my teaching days. The kids just suck the life out of me and my voice is as hoarse as it would be after a Dolphins playoff game. But it is so much fun, the kids crack me up daily and it’s very rewarding. They LOVE to come to school. The village is very poor so it’s not like they are missing out on video games or TV, most houses don’t have electricity, and certainly no indoor plumbing, so school is where the fun (and toilets) are.

“Wheels on the Bus” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” are constantly running through my brain. I love playing games with them (what a surprise), and BINGO was a big hit last week. At first the girls were shy about shouting BINGO, but they eventually came around. I had a great game of “guess which hand the blue bead is in” with a couple of first graders as well. The little boy was completely beside himself with happiness when he guessed right!

I bike everywhere and the traffic is truly terrifying. Even though they technically drive on the right side of the road, half the traffic is always on the left. Since there are very few traffic lights in the town (I think two) if you want to turn left, before the turn you drift over to the left side of the road (not the left lane, but all the way by the left sidewalk) stay there, make the turn still staying by the left sidewalk until you can find a way to drift over to the right lane. And yes, there are cars, trucks, motorcycles, push carts, bikes and pedestrians all coming at you head on at every minute. I almost died 3 times in my first 2 days here. Once I get out of the city and on to the dirt roads to school, there is less traffic, but more water buffalo, cows, chickens and dogs to contend with. Even though it’s not the official rainy season, it did rain hard a couple times. One day riding to school, my bike got stuck in a quagmire and I came perilously close to falling into a canal much to the amusement of the local ladies bathing in the river a few yards upstream. Glad I could brighten their day! The next day, the rickety wooden bridge I had to cross was blocked by a cow. Never a dull moment.

I decided to live long term at a guest house a few doors away from Seven Candles and next to what I am fairly certain is an upscale brothel. But really, I love my neighborhood, full of local businesses and baraang (foreigner) friendly restaurants with English menus. A place near my apartment makes the best crepes in the world (thanks to the former French occupation). I can count to 10 and say about 12 other words and phrases in Khmer, but there’s no way I’ll ever learn to read it. The alphabet is beautiful, but completely indecipherable.

Cambodia is an interesting and sometimes dangerous place. An expat English teacher who was getting ready to open a school in a different part of the country has gone missing since November and it’s likely no one will ever know what happened to him. Jim told me about a French guy, his Cambodian wife and their two kids who went missing as well. The wife and kids were found murdered in a field and the French guy was found in his car in a pond. His body was sitting in the passenger seat but his head was in a closed suitcase in the back seat. The police ruled it a suicide. Yep.

There is no juvenile justice system here, so if a hungry poor kid gets caught stealing food it’s 2 years in the adult prison. I don’t think I need to elaborate on what a horror that is. If you have money to bribe the cops you can go free, but if you’re poor it’s hopeless. There’s a great NGO here that is working on this issue www.thislifecambodia.org. The Executive Director is awesome and all the paid staff are Khmer.

The best part of the country for sure is the people. They are incredibly warm, welcoming and happy even though most are extremely poor. I'm so happy to be here!

Grade 3 student

Grade 3 student


Recess

Recess


My classroom

My classroom


Another grade 3 kid

Another grade 3 kid


Local soda

Local soda


A peaceful protest on my street

A peaceful protest on my street


Typical student's home

Typical student's home


The rickety bridge I bike across every day

The rickety bridge I bike across every day

Posted by travelinglisa 17:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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