Siem Reap Tales: War, what is it good for?

15/12/2015

Fourth post from Siem Reap and hardly any Temples, what’s going on P1140685man? Get some Temples in there.(Ed) No, shalln’t.

Half way on the way to the airport from the city, turn off under the arch saying you are entering the military control of the region and pass the military barracks and you come to the War Museum Cambodia.

War Museum, that sounds a barrel of laughs, see what I did there? No, but conflict has been a central part of this country’s history for a large part of the last half of last century so maybe there is something to be learnt?

After paying my entry fee of $5 I was met by Tom:

“Mean Sokhom (also known as Tom) is a landmine survivor; he had P1140658lost his left arm when he was 14 years old.

Mean Sokhom is an eyewitness of the Cambodian civil war. He witnessed people being shot by the Khmer Rouge and saw soldiers fishing with hand grenades.

He learned a lot about the history of the civil war from history books before he became a tour guide at the War Museum. He has heard also a lot about the history of this war from people who experienced it: he has not only interviewed Cambodians who had lived through those times, but he has also met soldiers from all sides of this war and he has met many Cambodians who were P1140656injured by land-mines. In addition, he has met many U.S. soldiers who came to visit the war museum and they told him a lot about the history of the war, their experiences during the U.S. bombing attacks on Cambodia and their lives since then.”

He then proceeded to talk about the weapon above which is an anti-aircraft gun, also of use against helicopters but there were no flying things really so the Khmer Rouge (KR) used it against people, imagine a bullet or

 

shell meant to bring down a plane being fired at a person.

Tom talked about seeing members of his family shot and not knowing what happened to the others, still hoping they might meet up some day. Also, he talked about having his arm amputated with two pieces of wire, with no anaesthetic or pain killer, after an explosion, and having to have a further operation because of the rudimentary nature of the first as the bone grew to stick out of the skin.  And, Tom talked about seeing people P1140663he was friends with killed or maimed even worse, some so they had to be put out of their pain as there were no medical resources nearby, you got a first-hand graphic account of what war and conflict means that to a lucky, a word he used to me to describe my situation, a person who has not had to be in the armed forces and fight especially for someone like me as someone not conscripted, as happened between 1975 and 1989 in Cambodia.

People ask, what is the point of a museum such as this as surely it just glorifies war. People can just get their rocks off looking at Russian T-54 tanks, artillery pieces, armoured cars or a helicopter or Mig jet. If you just go and walk around then that is all it is. But go and listen to the testimony of Tom and the other guides who were there, to what they saw and experienced. My history teacher told me that we need to be aware of the importance of sources of information. How connected were they to what
happened? Did they experience it? Or are they some playwright writing 50 years after events making generalised points to appease the new boss?  Be critical. Coming here you can talk to, and, more importantly, listen to, people who were there and experienced it

Well go there. See also the history of what happened under the KR, but also the deaths in the war after they were driven out into the periphery following the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, the widespread use of land-mines (Pictured above and Tom took us through the different ones and their affects upon people) and the injuries they are still causing today to people in the places they live and work which have still not been de-mined. The praise he had for Princess Diana and the work she did against

land-mines and work continued by Princes William and Harry. (Parenthetically. As someone who is  not a royalist it still gave me a bit of national pride  that someone connected with my country was thought of as someone playing a positive role in the country as opposed to the role of the Americans, French, Chinese and Russians who fought their wars in the country or dropped tonnes of bombs on the country and run away when things got difficult, or just ran away.)

Finally, in answer to the question, war what is it good for? Go here and hear how an intervention by a foreign power, without the support of the United Nations, saved a people from Genocide. Intervention does work and there is a duty for it to be done when Genocide is happening. Big up Vietnam for doing so in 1979. In the face of opposition from China, the US and the UN – who allowed the Genocidal KR, let us not forget, to remain the representatives of Cambodia at the UN until 1989, shame upon you UN. But also shame upon us for standing by in Cambodia then and Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990’s and for standing by in Syria now.

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Siem Reap Tales: The Creature from the Tonle Sap

14/12/2015

Up early and across the road to get money and supplies for breakfast and
P1140466water for the day before heading south out of Siem Reap on roads that are sometimes paved and sometimes not. The unpaved ones are interesting as you bounce around inside the tuk-tuk and the paved ones are fine until they stop when there is a lip to them worse than anything you experience on the unpaved ones. A couple of pagodas are passed but in this town you can hardly throw a stone without hitting a pagoda so one is P1140467pretty much good as another. Buddha is not what I am searching for today but the Tonle Sap.

For the uninformed, the Tonle Sap is a river and a massive lake. It is a lake that grows in the wet season and decreases in the dry. Even more astonishing, the river changes direction. GET YOUR HEAD AROUND THAT – A RIVER THAT CHANGES DIRECTION! Why was I never taught about that before? How can it happen? So, one moment it is flowing one way and then all of a sudden it changes direction? Learning this blew my mind. The Tonle Sap is part of a precious eco-system. This website wrote more about it so I didn’t have to:

The Tonle Sap Lake is the most prominent feature on the map of Cambodia – a huge dumbbell-shaped body of water stretching across the northwest of the country. In the wet season, the lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, swelling to an expansive 12,000 km2. During the dry half of the year it shrinks to as small as 2500 km2, draining into the Tonle Sap River, which meanders southeast, eventually merging with the Mekong River at the ‘chaktomuk’ confluence at Phnom Penh. During the wet season a unique hydrologic phenomenon causes the Tonle Sap River to reverse direction, filling the lake.

The engine of this phenomenon is the Mekong River, which becomes bloated with snow melt and runoff from the monsoon rains. The swollen Mekong backs up into the Tonle Sap at the point where the rivers meet at Chaktomuk, forcing the waters of the Tonle Sap River back into the lake. The inflow expands the area of lake more than five-fold, inundating the surrounding forested floodplain and supporting an extraordinarily rich and diverse eco-system.

More than 100 varieties of waterbirds including several threatened and endangered species, over 200 species of fish, as well as crocodiles, turtles, macaques, otter and other wildlife inhabit the inundated mangrove forests. The Lake is also an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia. In harmony with the specialized ecosystems, the human occupations at the edges of the lake is similarly distinctive – floating villages, towering stilted houses, huge fish traps, and an economy and way of life deeply intertwined with the lake, the fish, the wildlife and the cycles of rising and falling waters.

So, after about 30 minutes we arrived at Chung Khneas Ferry Terminal where I paid my $30 and got my boat and guide and headed off out onto what I was told was the Chung Khneas River. We passed the fish market and the poor people living by the river were pointed out to me as well as the graves of the people who had died as a result of a typhoon on the lake, including young children who were poor and had died, or had died because their parents were killed and never came back. There was also a boat which seemed marooned which was a restaurant and I saw people fishing and a ‘shop boat’ as well as getting the chance to steer the boat and being praised for my good ‘driving’.

As we came out onto the lake we passed a school, which was pointed out but not much was made of it and a Roman Catholic church. The latter interested me as in the boat on the way out I had been told there were three nationalities here, Khmer, Vietnamese and Muslim, I had to ask him to repeat the last as I had not been sure I had heard what he said.

We then went out onto the lake and weaved between some floating structures before stopping at a crocodile and fish farm. Well there were so few of either I would be surprised if they made much of a living from either. More I expect would come from selling tat to the visitors.

I didn’t buy any tat but did enjoy the chance to go up three stories and get a look out across the lake which gave some idea of the size of the thing we were looking at but I did not capture in photographs. It just looks like a brown expanse to the horizon, which is what it was. But it doesn’t make a photo.

So, then came the reason for the visit. Like many people before (read down to the reviews) I was taken to another shop where I would be able to buy a sack of rice or some noodles for the orphans who had been pointed out to me before. The sacks of rice came at $50 or $30 and I could get the noodles for $20. The price was clearly over what it cost in Siem Reap but they said that was because of the cost of transport to get it there and for some of the remainder to go into the poor community. I thought I know exactly what community the money goes into. Having already spent more than I intended on the boat I didn’t have lots to give in to this guilt tripping the tourist. They said I could make a donation so I did of $10 and left. I was told I could take food over to the school but had no desire to do that at all. So then I was told I could see the fishermen amongst the mangrove trees and the people harvesting mangroves but I would need to transfer to a smaller boat in order to get amongst the trees and that would cost more money. I declined this kind offer and said I wanted to go back.

On the way back We passed more people going about their life on the lake and, naturally a pagoda boat.

On the way back the driver took a different route and passed a Madrassa (Big picture) which was opposite a Mosque and I was able to get some pictures of the Cambodian countryside as we travelled through it, as well as an international primary school we passed.

  • The heading comes from a team name at the quiz I go to every Wednesday. It is, to me, a nice juxtaposition of the Tonle Sap River and Lake with the 1950’s cult horror classic ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon‘. I have stolen it for a drinks event whilst I visit Strasbourg later this month.

Siem Reap Tales: Cooking

13/12/2015

Thursday and term over, school’s out for winter doesn’t have the same ring
to it. Anyway, never having left Phnom Penh, I decided to use the few days, between finishing work and returning to France for a family Christmas and visiting other family in the UK, visiting the tourist spot of Cambodia, Siem Reap.

Arrival at the airport to find the lift into town is organised and booked centrally, much better and cheaper for a similar distance than that at Phnom Penh. I arrived at the hotel, the Koh KerKoh Ker (pictured above with my room on the top floor, extreme right.) It P1140616takes the first day and the visit of four people to the room, as no doubt I am stupid and just do not understand how to work it, to get the sir conditioned room I booked and the second day to convince them I might want it serviced!

I walk into town and my first impression is how much greener and lower density the place is compared to Phnom Penh. In a short distance I cross the river (see above) and pass a park, later understood to be the Royal Gardens. P1140617(Pictured from the corner, having just crossed the bridge.) Apart from the Tonle Sap and Mekong most other waterways in Phnom Penh seem to have been canalised and industrialised. Students regularly complain to me about the absence of parks from the city and their plans for making the city less environmentally bad invariably include plans for new parks.

A walk along the riverside took me past the Royal Palace, though I read in the same piece above about the Royal Gardens that it is:

“simply a royal residence — an understated affair, more pied-a-terre than palace, which is not open to visitors. It does, however, hold a significant place in Cambodian history as the temporary home of King Sihanouk while he and General Lon Nol were planning The Royal Crusade for Independence from France”

Then came a large complex with a sign saying it was the Cambodian People’s Party. When I first walked past there was a banner across the P1140621street in front of it with the message “Say No to Corruption”. I could not decide if it was a campaign launched by the CPP they were proudly highlighting or had been put there by some prankster. Anyway it had gone within 48 Hours.

Nearby there were carvings of two elephants and a god, Lord Lokesvara, (Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara underneath the tree behind the elephants) who goes by the cool nickname of ‘the Saviour of the World’. A sign explaining said;

P1140619“Devotees of The Way understand the Lord to be the 2nd coming of Christ, who came to earth in 75 CE.

King Jayavarman VII, adopted the Wayism taught by Lord Lokesvara, as Khmer culture. A beauty that still resides in the hearts of the people.

The 8 armed form of the Lord shown here is the symbol of the Lord’s many skills (upaya) to bring souls into the enlightenment. The Lord and spiritual workers labour on our behalf to help us achieve enlightenment, and rebirth in Sukhavat’s heaven – to break the cycle of karma and reincarnation.

King Jayavarman VII placed 108 of these statues in hospitals built all across the Angkor Empire.

Next came Preah Prom Rath Pagoda and here is much more about its history and many more pictures. I will just give a flavour.

Then it was on to the Old Market. The area facing the river featured the materials for tourists and it was only as you got further back you found the food market then restaurants:

And then there’s pub street, which as the name suggests is a street full of pubs. Or, more accurately a couple of blocks full of pubs and restaurants with the occasional ice-cream parlour or more interesting place and then, for some reason there is the Yellow Sub, a Beatles themed bar.

I got lunch at a’genuine’ Khmer kitchen or dining room or something then got an ice-cream for dessert before heading to the Temple for a Khmer cooking class at $15. You get to chose from three starters, main courses and desserts. I went for fried Spring Rolls, Amok and Pumpkin Dessert. You cut your own veg and mix the spices for the sauces then cook the food yourself. You are probably ahead of me here. Why eat lunch then go and cook something which will need to be eaten? Ah. I did eat a bit of each but got a doggy bag to take the rest home.

As night draws on Pub Street is shut to traffic, the bars start having live music and it becomes busier with people. I searched out somewhere to watch live football for the following night without much success but stumbled across Mad Murphy’s Irish Bar where I had a chat with the host who has been in Siem Reap for thirteen years about the changes he has seen. He things the bars are wrong to target the backpacker crowd with increasingly loud music when so many backpackers now have pools and bars and people never need leave them, but should be targeting the more discerning client with a bit more money. I finished my drink and went home to my cooking and I tell you what, it was bloody good. The Amok had got even better.

 

 

 

 

The last days

10/12/2015

Yesterday saw the majority of the students given their results. I arrived in the morning with some work still to do on the students I gave the results to that morning but that didn’t take long and all the students I saw in the morning passed apart from one and she came into the lesson and collected her result and left without looking at it or saying anything. There was quite a lot of work to do on the afternoons results so they could be given and then the marking and work for today’s one remaining lesson was finished off so I do not have to get in to work until closer to the 17:30 start.

The penultimate class had asked to bring in pizza and played music and then the final class finished at 19:30 and it was a tuk-tuk race to the Willow Boutique Hotel for the weekly quiz. I have been attending most weeks with a group of colleagues from work, winning it one evening recently. Tonight was the 200  quiz set by the self-styled ‘quiz bitch’, also a colleague who, despite living in Phnom Penh some years and setting the quiz, only started at the same school as me at the same time as me so there is something of a bond as fellow newbies at the same time! As it was her 200th quiz the prize was $200 for the winning team, Unfortunately it was not to be our night.

Another tuk-tuk ride to a bar north of the centre of the city where a band I had been interested in seeing, The Cambodian Space Project. I did catch three songs and afterwards stayed on for a dance in the garden to some gems of Cambodian pop from the mid to late 60’s. I hope to see more of the band in the coming year.

Tonight the last class of the term then I have been assured there will be a drink or two to celebrate the end of term, but not too many, as I have to be up early to fly to Seam Riep to see the jewels of the ancient Khmer kingdom.

Deal made at the crossroads

08/12/2015

I am just back from the “House of the Rising Meta” at the ‘Meta House‘, cultural wing of 20151208_221945.jpgthe Goethe Centre here in Phnom Penh. A night of blues which promised several short sets from “Phnom Skor” as well as ‘classic blues standards to songs from the outer fringes of the genre.’

It being German the set menu of the cafe includes schnitzel and chips, which after ‘with rice’ pretty much since getting here, made a nice change.

We had been promised “several short sets of live music throughout the 20151208_235034.jpgevening whenever the spirits happen to inspire them” though it seems the spirits did not do their job well as there was one set of about seven songs after which they packed up. It was a long time since I had been to a gig in a small space in which the smoke made my eyes sting and I know my clothes will still be smelling of stale smoke in the morning. I liked that though, it was nostalgic. I must also say ‘Tonle Tim’, what kind of a name is that? Not very bluesman. Thankfully the playing was better than the moniker.(Ha!)

Carping and nit-picking to one side, it was a good evening of good music including a good set of live music.A lead singer with a jacket I was jealous of and a good head of curly 20151208_222110.jpgblack hair to complete the Robert Plant impersonation he did as a performer whilst his voice was more deep south growl. The guitarist, Mr Tim(?), was solid and unshowy, which is how I like it – no long solos with grimaced face – and the bass and drums were a solid rhythm section with something a bit extra from the drums. A good feed followed by a good “toast to our misery”.

I’m just sorry I’ll be out of town for the Phnom Penh Burlesque on Friday and the Electric Ladyland Wonder Women Festival on Saturday. If you’re around in the Penh head on down.

Sunday walk II Part II

07/12/2015

This time there are going to be pictures with a brief explanation, or just bollocks I feel like saying, so be warned,  rather than a lot of text with a few pictures.

From the junction of Monivong Boulevard , a major North-South route in the city,with Confederation de la Russie looking towards the Central Market.

P1140360

I then saw this monastery and so walked off the main road to look as it a bit more. Seeing the men in the orange shrouds begging from people every morning on my way to work I cannot but help think that maybe the Khmer Rouge were onto something when they outlawed Buddhism as a scourge on the poor, to whom they were always begging for money and food.

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This was the street, next along from Monivong, full of life on Sunday afternoon rather than the traffic that blights the former:

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And then between the two streets is the alley where real life takes place.

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A view of the market from Kampuchea Krom, the road further west my workplace is on.

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Oh dear what has happened to Liberty in Cambodia?

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I just saw this truck of chaps in yellow costume passing, they seemed to have had a good time, or be on the way to one.

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I fell in love with big things in Australia so here is a big guitar on a building just because that’s what it is.

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I saw this building and loved it, feeling sure it must be a survivor of the French period, something tells me. In case you can’t see it because the light is behind the building, there are cocks on the corners, you can almost see the left one, who wouldn’t want a building with cocks on the corners eh? Sorry, had to say it, would have been left hanging otherwise;

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And then the reason for walking down from the station, Wat Ko, about which a website says, “One of the city’s five original wats, established in the early 15th century. The main building was destroyed in the 1970s and rebuilt in the 90s. This pagoda has become a refuge for stray and abandoned house pets. If you want to adopt a cat, this is the place to come. Located in the heart of the city, on Monivong and Street 174.”

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Then I took a wrong direction but was captivated by the deliveries being made to and from these matress shops. The left and right are receiving a delivery – you can see the left and the right has a rope dangling down to the orange felt on the right – and the middle one is taking them out of store and loading up a truck you can see in front of the tree. I could not get a picture of them all doing it at the same time, unfortunately.

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Heading back my intended way I saw this which just grabbed my attention, people who know me will understand why, including pointing the Reading way…….

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This one is just here for the over-the-topness of the metalwork. Oh for the drugs they consumed…….

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Buddha anyone? Bit of room in your garden, fancy something a bit different? (Isn’t it just fabulous that the kid in the shop on the left is mirroring the Buddhas?)

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This is Wat Sarawan, which is, according to a blogsite, “Said to be one of the five original pagodas in Phnom Penh,(Only the best ones are ed!) in common with the other ones there are few original buildings in the compound. The nearby Wat Ounalom was supposedly inaugurated in 1443, but there appear to be few if any buildings that are more than a century old, and most are far more modern. Wat Sarawan is remarkable in that it contains what are arguably the most ancient Buddhist scrolls in the country. Written on parchment, these religious texts tend to decay in the tropical climate and a great many were destroyed or lost during the tumultuous years of the past few decades.
One striking structure that remains on the site is a red brick tower that appears to be particularly ancient. The Serge Corrieras photograph of children playing in front of it in 1991 shows it looking on the verge of collapse. What is even more surprising is that in 2012 this building which was obviously refurbished in the subsequent years looks even older now. The colonial-style slatted windows are falling apart. As far as I know it is only about one hundred years old but one would be easily fooled into thinking it is much more ancient.” They seemed to have the builders in when I passed and, no madam, that is not a euphemism;

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Then the National Museum which I really am looking forward to visiting when visitors start coming next year.

 

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The back view of Wat Ounalom which I have written about before, when I didn’t know what it was, and then again, when I realised it was the headquarters of Buddhism in Cambodia. Anyway this is the view from the servants entrance. There were a lot of orange robes on drying rails.

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Then it was what seemed an old market, Phsar Kandal and lots of chaps with these cycle tuk-tuks but it seems to be one of the few places to find them;

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After which the exertions of the day, both mental writing the predecessor to this post, and the physical of walking around took their toll and I had to quit and was forced to find succour and a sundowner. Here ends a photo-tour of Phnom Penh.

Sunday Walk Part II (Part 1)

06/12/2015

A month and a half ago I went for a walk, on a Sunday, and wrote about it here. Today after writing my last piece I went somewhere local for lunch, got a tuk-tuk and headed to the station.

After my last walk I had determined I would do another one and this time P1140335would start from Phnom Penh Station.  The few things I had found about it were that it was the starting point for Phnom Penh Hash House Harriers on their outings around  the city and its outer reaches, which I had not summoned the courage or foolhardiness to join them on. The other thing I have discovered of the railway was that it is a joint project by the Asia Development Bank and Australian Government to rehabilitate the railway.(Here is a recent report of their activities) Although most attention has focused upon the plight of the families moved to redevelop the railway. I have to admit to being a sad bastard about rail travel and would jump at the chance of seeing this country by rail but I am not holding my breath.

Opposite the station was a Buddhist shrine which, according to a US P1140329website, “In April 1989 Radio Phnom Penh reported that Hun Sen, Heng Samrin, and other officials attended a ceremony at which a relic of the Buddha was enshrined at a temple in front of the Phnom Penh railway station.” I have seen it referred to as faces of Buddha and google maps refers to it as former Buddha stupa.

Anyway I walked up to the station and there was a guard there in uniform. I said hello to him in Khmer and asked through figurative language if I could walk around and look around. He said no. He had a gun and a table drawn across the entrance. I was not going to argue. It was clear this was not a railway which had a great deal of passengers and a P1140331great deal of passenger interaction.

So, I took what picture i could through the gap and walked on around the square in front of the station and imagined it with a regular schedule across the country, full of people being dropped off by tuk-tuks, Lexis’ and other SUV’s as well as people who came here under their own steam and then headed off across P1140338the country. What a shame. As a sad bastard who had travelled around the Balkans, part of the Baltics, France, Australia, Spain, Italy. Russia, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic Slovakia and Hungary amongst others and had dreamed of travelling others by rail it is sad not to be able to. Like many other former communist countries there is the stream train monument at the front of the station.

Having been refused entrance to the station by the functionary, whose job P1140340it was to do so, I walked around to see if there were ways I could get a picture of the other side and any trains they might have. I assure you now I am not a trainspotter but someone interested in transport. I walked around the corner and there was a cafe with a car park which seemed shared with something official to do with the railways. There was a car leaving and someone there I asked if I could take a picture of the station from there and was told I could not.

By now I was walking down Russian Boulevard. The main route out of town P1140346to the airport. There was the massive building above, which, as architects of massive architecture could tell you was only the central part of a building which had east and west wings only partially seen in this picture. I don’t know what the buildings are for as there were no signs and google maps is silent. I cannot imagine what buildings might be next to the Ministry of Defence, which was next along the road, but cannot be mentioned. They are certainly large and impressive.

Anyway, walking back from the large buildings I saw that the chap was missing from the car park so I walked in and took the following pictures of the reverse of the station and the trains on it, hardly national security it seemed to me:

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Could you imagine leaving from there to head off into the interior of Cambodia, how romantic? What a beautiful place to leave from and what a P1140354shame trains do not run from it. I understand rebuilding the economy has meant deciding priorities and working on them first but I would pay to be on a passenger train leaving from this station and would love to be doing so as part of a bustling service heading all over the country.

So, anyway I left the pictures of the trains and crossed the Russian P1140356Boulevard and, in doing so discovered that I was doing so at the time they were watering the area in the middle of the road and I had to make my way between the upraised spouts watering the grass (you can just see in the picture right.) and, in places the areas where the water had gathered. I did not succeed in avoiding them and got wet feet. I took a picture of people trying to sell pleasant smelling flowers by the roadside and their male boss got upset with me but it is not interesting enough to post up here. I crossed the road and there was the a statue of Ganesha.

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Apparently this area is a park and was dedicated to Ganesha because, “The special and uniqueness of Sen Monorom Park is containing a statue of Ganesha, a Hindu God symbolizes intellect, wisdom, and good fortune. The statue is 7.2 m high (including the pedestal), facing west, and was erected in the middle of Sen Monorom Park. The statue is made of pure grey-stone delivered from Preah Vihear province. Ganesha is sculpted in standing with four hands, in the style of Angkorian architecture. Two hands raise up to his ears hold a conch shell and a discus, the other two front hands hold a lotus bud and a bowl of sweet meat, his favorite food. It’s a surprise to the citizen of Phnom Penh to see the statue of Ganesha. There has no any release of the reason why Ganesha was choosen to be in the park. However, it’s believed that God Ganesha will bring good fortune, happiness, and prosperity to Cambodians, especially bring peace for the country. Here I end part one of the story of my walk on Sunday, not having left the Russian Boulevard area.

Every person knows best where their own shoe pinches.

06/12/2015

As I wrote in my last piece exam season is upon us. Last week was the writing/and grammar exam and yesterday was the start of the listening exam-articleand reading exam. The final element, speaking is judged by the teacher based upon performance in class over the term, and, in some lower groups, a separate test where the teacher takes the student out of the class in turn and asks a set of questions. Saturday was the last class for these students so they sat the test and got the results on the same day. In the coming week there will be the test on Monday or Tuesday and then a full lesson, of up to two and a half hours, before the student gets to find out if they have passed, and move on to the next level, or have failed and have to take the class again.

So yesterday the students wanted to do the listening first but it can only be played once and some people who wanted to take the exam had not arrived by 8:30 for an 8:00 start for the class, so I started the 45 minute reading exam to finish at 9:15 but with three staggered late arrivals it went on to 9:35 with the majority sitting in quiet for the extra twenty minutes. Apart from at20151205_171227.jpg 9:15 when the time ran out and I started to collect papers two people had become confused between the listening and reading exam, In the listening you get time at the end to transfer answers to the answer sheet from the separate piece of paper you jot them down on. In the reading you do not. So, they had not put most or all their answers on the answer sheet and would get nothing, or next to it. I was collecting papers and two students started remonstrating, one started crying to get extra time to transfer their answers. At first I refused, it was the end of the test, 45 minutes was 45 minutes. When the rest of the class, obviously apart from the three who arrived late and were 20151205_171648.jpgstill getting on with their test, started supporting their call, after five or so minutes of pleading, I relented and let them quickly transpose the answers. The reading test finished I played the listening test, collected the papers and went off to my workplace to mark them, enter them into the computer and then take them back to the students at 12:30.

I got to my workplace only to find I didn’t have the answer sheet for the exams. I turned my desk and everything upside down to try and find it but it was not being found. I tried to find the people responsible for the exams but they were not there. After searching for someone else teaching the 20151205_172236.jpgsame level who might have the answer, but to no avail, I spoke to the Manager of the school and it was decided to tell the students there was a problem and they would be able to collect their grades on Friday and I could do the marking on Monday. So, I was filling in the time until it was time to tell the students they wouldn’t be getting their results when someone said they had seen the Senior Teacher responsible. As 12:00 I found them and we found someone else teaching the same level and the answers. I started marking. At 12:30 I hadn’t finished and went up and told the students there had been a problem and it would be closer to 13:00 before they got their results. I finished marking, checked them and then entered the results into the school’s database and printed off the sheets for each individual student, stamped it with the school stamp and took it to the students.

Out of 18 students in the class three had not taken the exams. I took seven out with their bags to tell them they had failed so they could leave if they wished without having to see their happy colleagues. They didn’t want to 20151206_103443.jpgdo that. They wanted me to change their results so they had passed. Their sponsors expected a better result.They wanted to resit. I said, they were the results of the exams I could not change them. Previous experience dealing with unhappy people in a previous job came in very useful here and I pointed them to the school admin staff who could best answer their questions about resits etc. I then had the happier job of telling the five remaining, of the eight that had passed, that they had done so. Their emotions were a bit mixed, distraught at having seem their former colleagues learn of their disappointment, but, mostly, happiness at passing and moving on to the next level. For me it was now time to go home, do my shopping and other chores, get my end of the working week massage and then shower and get dressed for the school’s Christmas party.

I live close to a crossroads where some tuk-tuk drivers congregate waiting for trade. There is one I have a contract with for daytime use but he had already told me he was out of Phnom Penh this weekend so I found another I use sometimes at night. He often wears a Manchester United shirt, so it is despite that he gets my business. I found him and told him20151205_170352.jpg the destination and he checked whether it would include returning later which I confirmed it would.  Phnom Penh is mainly on the western bank of the Tonle Sap river at it’s confluence with the Mekong. There is therefore part of the city on the eastern bank of the river, between the Tonle Sap and the Mekong down to the point of their confluence, called Chroy Changvar. It was the hotel at the point of this confluence, Sokha Hotel, I was headed to, something of a landmark in the city, though, in my opinion, not one of its architectural gems and something of a waste of such a prominent city landmark. I had never been over the river before and the picture of me crossing the Chroy Changvar II bridge, also known as the Cambodia – Japanese Friendship Bridge, is the first one in this piece. The second picture was taken driving along the bank of the river to the hotel and shows the speed of the sunset, when compared with the light in the picture taken crossing the river. The third picture shows the sight that met my arrival at the hotel, banner not for me. On arrival at the 20th floor I was greeted with a free organic pepper mill in a blue bag from people who took the lucky draw portion of my ticket.(pictured above right.) On getting in I first took a picture looking out over Chroy Changvar showing the rivers Tonle Sap (left) and Mekong (just, right):20151205_173651.jpg

and from the other side of the room, the confluence of the rivers:

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I got a drink and mingled with colleagues before finding a table to sit at. There was a stage at the front on which music was being played by a quartet whilst we collected food 20151205_181814.jpgfrom tables laden with it around the side of the room. Having got there in the sun and despite the air conditioning, it seemed strange hearing Christmas songs and carols. There were a lot of different starters and salads and then main dishes of Khmer specialities like beef and noodles and a wonderful fish in garlic and chilli sauce, a Thai chicken and coconut soup,a French Lamb Provencal, a spinach and cheese dish for vegetarians and many other delights. The food was so very good I went back for more before getting my share of the desserts. During the food I accompanied colleagues who smoked outside for this view of the city at dusk:

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We then had a catwalk featuring various members of staff who had dressed up including one teacher from our school who had been an athlete and did a backflip on his way back to the stage to woops from the crowd. Members of staff then entertained us and I circulated including talking with my manager, in far better circumstances than earlier in the day, about holiday plans for once the term finishes on Thursday. He told me that last years do had cost $40 a head and this was much better in terms of value at $60 a head, we were getting more than the extra $20. It backed up something he had said, when we went out for dinner as a school a month  earlier, about how well the business is doing.

Now came the part of the event people had been waiting for. I am kicking myself that I did not take a photo of the sheer number of white goods that were to be given away. There were two tables which won spot prizes, every20151205_204341.jpg member of the table near us got a large floor fan each. (In view of the climate a popular prize.)  People won irons, water heaters, 1TB of memory and there was not one but three or four of each of them. There were so many prizes it was by far the largest portion of the evening. The penultimate prize was a massive Sony Bravia TV but everyone was interested in the main prize, the latest iPhone 6. Once that had been announced I ducked out and left, disappointed to miss the dancing but I had an appointment at a bar nearer my home to join my friend and fellow ‘blue’for the second half of the early football match of the day featuring Manchester City. So I met the tuk-tuk driver and he charged back over the bridge (pictured above) but he needn’t have as the result was the usual disappointment against Stoke City.

*The title is part of a quote from Abigail Adams “I hate to complain…No one is without difficulties, whether in high or low life, and every person knows best where their own shoe pinches.”

“N.B. – Do not on any account attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.”

03/12/2015

It’s now getting close to three months since I started working here in 20151202_105404.jpgPhnom Penh and my first term is drawing to a close. The school I work for works a four term year, ten week term, though the number of public holidays here means the ten week term often takes more than ten weeks to deliver. There is only one term with no public holidays, which is important when I only get paid the time I work.

The end of term means exams and we are right in the middle of them. 20151202_103932.jpgSaturday started the writing and, for some grammar, exams. Now these are being marked before we start the listening and reading again on Saturday so we can get the whole thing wrapped up by the end of term, and, more importantly, payday.

Students you haven’t seen before, or only infrequently suddenly appear 20151202_111947.jpgagain. Some ask if they will get a mark for their speaking, which is mostly up to the teacher, when you haven’t heard them say boo to a goose all term. All the new arrivals puts a strain on the moto parking, as you see from the first picture above and left.

Students know the score and quickly have the classroom organised with 20151202_105425.jpgthe desks, unlike the usual TEFL horseshoe shape, now in nice rows with one behind the other. Some, even when there are only five students, as in the photo above and right, get so carried away they organise almost all the other seats in the classroom into rows even though they all have to be put back at the end into the horseshoe shape again!

Saturday is the day I’m not looking forward to as all the other classes have a lesson after the last test giving time to get the marking done. It’s pretty 20151202_155840.jpgmechanistic as the reading and listening are either right or wrong and there is an answer sheet so it is just a matter of going through, marking the correct or incorrect ones and then adding them up and giving the students a mark. However, the Saturday class has no subsequent one. It is the last one so the test is set in the first part of the lesson. Thern the students get a break whilst I mark the tests. All the other information about attendance, speaking etc. has to be entered before hand, then once the marks are entered in results sheets have to be printed off for each candidate, checked for correctness. and then given to the students. I have been advised to ask the students who have failed to come out with their bags so they can fade away if they wish. For the rest of the classes, they do the test Monday or Tuesday and I mark it and have until Wednesday or Thursday, respectively, to get the result to the students, at the end of a normal lesson when I have to teach them for up to two and a half hours, a normal lesson where both they and I know it is really filling in time until I give them the results, before giving them their results. p1140213_22920844930_oThe nice thing is that in the evening, after the Saturday classes lunchtime finish, is the company Christmas Party where we get to eat and drink at their expense in a plush hotel in Phnom Penh, at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers (pictured) followed by dancing which some of my Khmer colleagues have been assuring me is value even though it only has half an hour slot in the agenda for the party. Here’s looking forward to Saturday!

Room at the top

22/11/2015

I arrived in Phnom Penh on 17th September and was booked into the hotel, I wrote about earlier, (pictured below) for two weeks. First I had to get a working phone,  which took longer than it should, then I talked with people at 20150927_111908_21559712779_owork and got contact details for a couple of estate agents they had dealt with when finding where they lived. I phoned them and only one replied and I arranged to meet him in the lobby of my hotel at 14:00 on Saturday 26th September, little more than a week after arriving,

I had been warned by people I had talked to about finding somewhere to live. Be careful if somewhere there is building going on as there could be building work with concomitant noise all day, not too good on days not working, or where you don’t start until later in the day and want to sleep in. I was also advised to check the place out at night as there might be a club or some other source of noise which you would not recognise as such in the daytime. All sensible advice. However, I was not to get to have to put it into practice that day as my Mr Big of the Phnom Penh based realtor community texted me “Can we meet tomorrow instead? Coz i have to finish my housework first. Sorry” Not being a man to keep a man from his housework I arranged to meet the next day and included details of some properties I fancied seeing from the website in the text.

My requirements were somewhere between where I had been staying in the hotel and my workplace to the north of it. Anyway, his housework must have been finished the next morning, so we met, he hired a moto* from the hotel and we headed off south. I expected the old estate agent trick of the ones he wanted to rent me bookmarked by two totally wrong places. I was not wrong about the first place we went. First floor on a main through road in a place which had not been modernised since the 1970’s. I was also shown a studio flat in the same block that was not facing the road but, whilst around the amount I want to pay, I did not want a studio in a flashback to the seventies. Back onto the moto and it seemed quite a long journey to the next flat. (Although I now know it was just around the corner, did we follow a straightforward route between them?)

We parked the moto on the front of the property and the landlord was wpid-20151001_102414.jpgthere (an extra episode of calling a few times before getting through to check he was there from the first place, but is not worth retelling in any detail.) and he went through his place to open a door at the side we accessed by going down an alley. Up 10 flights of stairs of varying sizes, including some challengingly large ones. There seems to be a competition to see who can be more artistic with the variation in size of steps. At work it is more subtle with the odd larger or smaller on thrown in just to trip you up. A colleague tripped up in her flat because of the size of the steps in her apartment.

We went in and there was a quite sparely furnished room (pictured above) with a white desksheeted bed, an empty brown table, a grey fridge and dark brown wardrobe in a space with a light cream tiled floor, white walls and ceiling with silver blue curtains. It might be my version of the room pictured on the reverse of Leonard Cohen’s second album.(A more recent picture of which is left) I was sold. My room at the top~, a roof top garret. The artistry which would follow was guaranteed by the room.

But even better, out through the white metal and glass door, was a seating wpid-20151001_110820.jpgand cooking area without walls under the roof. (pictured right) I would go from living in a dark long corridor with rooms off in Strasbourg to a tiled floored outdoor room in the sunshine. That was me sold. Obviously I did not let on that I had fallen in love with the place to the chap showing me round and we went onto the next place.

This was even further south and a journey to get to work every day, it was also on the ground floor so the doors and windows were barred. They could be opened but it was a very dark studio room. After the symphony in light this seemed like a funeral dirge. I think he was getting worried about not getting any commission from me as he worked much harder at selling this one to me. We left and were heading to another closer to where I worked but I just told him to go back to the hotel. He was distraught at first thinking he had lost the possibility of his commission. But then was really made up when I told him that I would take the middle one. We went back to the hotel and I paid a deposit and arranged to sign the contract on Thursday, 1st October, and move most of my things in then.

I’ve been in almost two months and have no regrets. I heard once more from the chap, “Hi value customer, how are you? How about your transportation? Have bike/bicycle yet? Mr BXXX”

*Moto – a generic reference to any tow wheeled vehicle whether a scooter, moped or motor-bike.

~Room at the Top. A book then film from the 1950’s. The new WordPress seems to not let me put it up as I did but here is a link to it.

 


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