07 February 2011

Month One

As it is with new places, at times you can feel you've just arrived, and in other ways you feel you've been there for years already. My feelings have been somewhat mixed, but on the whole, the month that I've been here in Cambodia has gone by with unreal speed.

My first two weeks consisted of course work, conducted at Pannasastra [pahn-yah-SAHT] University (PUC), main campus on the east side of town, near the river's west bank. My second two weeks consisted of practice-teaching, mostly 3 & 4 yr.olds at International University's new elementary school (somewhere on the northwest side, I think). Because IU closed several days for Lunar (Chinese) New Year festival, I also had two days assisting a fellow student-teacher at one of the nearby orphanages. Our class was composed of several 20+ yr.old orphan-alums who continued to live and work part-time at the orphanage.

For those 4 weeks I was living a ten-minute walk south of PUC with 2 classmates; Russ, 10 yrs.younger, originally from east London, and Mark, maybe almost 10 yrs.older, originally from Georgia. Both these guys are well traveled, and have many-a tale to tell. Mark is headed back to SaudiArabia; Russ and I moved into a new house with some other teachers about a twenty-minute walk north of PUC, just beyond the Palace across from the Royal University of Fine Arts.

The things I find peculiar about Cambodia are legion. But I fear an attempt to descriptively catalog them all may be tedious. I'll try to throw in cultural observations now and then. Here's one:

As a largely undeveloped country in the tropics, one of the main forms of entertainment seems to be gathering in various city 'parks' or squares around town, every evening (approx. 5pm to 9pm). Folk will play net-less badminton, kick a sort of be-tailed hackysack (oddly like a shuttlecock), or wicker mini-soccer ball around. There's some eating (rice from home or street vended fruit and corn-on-the-cob), surprisingly not much drinking or smoking. There are public lip-sync'd musical melodramas, light & music shows in the larger fountains. Some will power-walk or jog around before sunset. The most conspicuous activity are the often large groups dancercising. Imagine scattered groups of 50+ people in columns line dancing to Korean Pop music.

Just for reference: The Cambodian word for 'Cambodia' is Kampuchea [kahm-poo-CHEE-uh]. The Cambodian word for the native ethnicity and language of Cambodia is Khmer [kuh-MY]; I've been pronouncing this wrongly as 'keh-MEER' for ages, but the last part sounds like “my” (as in a singular, first person, possessive).

Future entries: weekend trips to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and Sihanoukville.