Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Students

First let me say that I have a bias when it comes to the students in my class, I have always thought that they either were pretty smart (or have the potential to be) and that they were good looking as well.  What does Garrison Keeler say about people in Lake Wobegon?   "all the women are good looking and the men above average".  I remember many times standing outside of my classroom watching other classes being dismissed and thinking where did they come from?  I say this all because my description of my students this year at EWIS might sound a bit over the top, but that would be true, to a certain extent, about any class I have had.
Por making up a quiz at my desk
The boys, not enough room to say who is who
      Fair to say that my default setting is that like my students but getting to know them  has not been all peaches and cream.  The hardest part has been their names.  Just a sample:  Tithpich Panhehapor, Kheny Keomony, Sann Puthdeborah, Mok Mengsrent.  How about easier ones: Ye Shin, Youbin, Ye Jin, Subin, Yun Jin and Jin Hee, oh, I forgot Hyang Yu and Ju Eun.  Back to the hard ones: Dolin Phennyreach, Thun Molika, Chea Sapanharith, Chum Magiret, Brun Rizponhakol, hardest of all Kwanhanok Suwandey (who thankfully calls herself May).  Some, like Eang Muyly, I am afraid to call on again in class because the first time I did I butchered her (yes she is a girl) name so badly that all the students laughed.  The other thing about their names is that it is hard to know what is their first name and their last name.  You would think that Lee In Kyu was related to Choung Min Kyu, but not so, In Kyu is his first name(s) and so is Min Kyu.  In Kyu's brother is in a different grade and his name is Lee Song Kyu.  My favorite, I kid you not, is Yes Bright Winner, and he is all three.  Ok Mom and Dad (I am sure you are reading this Dad) in the next life name me Rich Handsome Guy.  One more name, Ly Kimny, she is Vietmanese and a 9th grader (goes by Ny).  I bring her up because she has one of the most powerful personalities in a student that I have ever met.  She is very nice, funny, smart, speaks Vietnamese, Khmer, English, Mandarin and is a natural born leader.  I mention her because when she takes over the world I like you remember that you heard it here first.
Por, Por's older sister, and Muyly
     My classes are not all peaches and cream either, I would like you to know that I work hard and earn my 480,000 riel a month.  I get into school every morning at 7am, check my email (how come you never write, I wonder), make coffee and then try to find something to eat. The school starts at 7:40 but my classes never start until 8:30 or, on Thursdays and Fridays, 9:20.  I am trying to follow the established curriculum but really don't like it and have talked with Sandra about it and she has given me free reign to change and develop whatever I want providing that I join in on these curriculum meetings on Wednesday morning at 7am (rats).  Ok, I said but only if there is coffee.  I digress.  The classes have become more and more fun for me.  The kids like their teachers and listen, well, most of the time.  Let's just establish some base lines, no one has told me to f'off but there are times that my almost poetic description of filtration of the blood at the nephron's capsule is not greeted with the enthusiasm I expected.  My students are nice kids but kids are kids.  Brilliant, good looking, distracted and knuckle-headed too.  Language and culture and ethnicity are barriers. Some of my standard jokes have actually fallen flat "What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?" (punch line below).   Of course the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a mountain range in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and no you can't see it; let's turn our attention now to the continental shelf (for Eddie and Danielle).  What is sunburn?  Oh, I guess you wouldn't know, that's what happens when ill adapted northern Europeans-Americans turn red because they are not this beautiful copper color.  Ok class, what happens in genetics when you cross a blond straight haired male with a red curly haired female, or a blue eyed female with a green eyed male?  I look around and everyone except me has black straight hair and brown eyes.  Yes class, baldness exists and is inherited and, by the way, I think I look like Sean Connery.     
     Teachers put a lot of time and energy into there class because they want to share what they love, its not about he money.  They want to change the world one student at a time.  I have this opportunity this year and I want to  bring all these things that I know and love to them.  Our school's mission is pretty incredible and I want to be part of it, to say I influenced the future of  Cambodia is worth more then my 5,760,000 yearly salary.
A Grandmaster in the making
     Lastly we are required to run an activity after school two out of four quarters.  I have a group of 14 chess players this quarter.  Most of the kids who signed up are from the lower school and it has given me a chance to get to know them. First of all they love playing chess.  I don't know if this applies across Cambodia, but these kids really play.  I used to play and have enjoyed getting back to it but I am really not very good and some of these kids are and surprisingly they are trash-talkers.  No apologizing for winning, little respect for elders. Its kind of ha-ha in your face chess. I try to set a good example when I lose but on more than one occasion I found myself saying to a 8 year old "I don't like you anymore".   Next quarter I am doing volley ball.
    I don't know and I don't care

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In Transition

No more yellow walls
My Kitchen
I am starting to get my bearings after almost three months, so let me describe where I am or where I think I am.  First my apartment is a nice, the building is brand new has everything that you could want or need.  I'm on the second floor so I have a little bit of a view from my balcony and it is my good fortune to have the Hatha Khmer Massage by Men across the street because they have a dense stand of trees and bamboo preventing a view of what really goes on in there.  This all means that I have nice green tree tops to look out on and these are attractive to birds as well.  So far only sparrows, mynas and something called a minivet, but I am hoping that as the winter comes up north more birds will perch above the men.  Just a half a block away is my school.  It is a nice place to work, very kid friendly and a good group of teachers.  Being close means I can go back late in the afternoon to swim, I've given up jogging and have replaced it with laps.  I've also taken on two tutoring jobs and do about six hours a week which is good spending money.  I live in an upper middle class neighborhood that is safe and relatively quiet.  I like it here, my neighbors are nice and friendly, there is an Australian guy who fixes motorcycles up the block but aside from him everyone is Khmer.  The women next store sells cold drinks and I stop sometimes and she tries to teach me a little bit but I am a total failure. After a rather long and painful lesson on counting, I forgot how to ask for two and can't even remember one, she laughs and laughs.  There is a man who is always out washing his car in the afternoon and I have commented in my own stupid sign language way how nice and clean it is.  Penny Lane.  There are two small restaurants on my block and I've tried eating at both but I really didn't like the food and never went back.  I walk by now kind of sheepishly but they always give me a nice smile.  Most of these little Khmer restaurants are kind of dirty, plastic chairs, lots of napkins on the ground and the certificate of health in the cooking area not clearly displayed.  I did find one about four blocks away and it is really nice, it is clean with a charcoal grill and bird cages.  It is off the beaten tourist path and its get few westerners.  My arrival, I've been there three times, always seems to quite an occasion, like they never seen a pasty bald guy before.  They are really very gracious and because the menu is only in Khmer, they act somewhere between apologetic and overly helpful in trying to tell me what to order  Then they tend to hover. The food is good, cooked over the grill (very little chance of cockroaches or worst  falling in) and they have a really spicy chili sauce to put on it, that, a beer, tea and dessert for under $4.  Also with in walking distance is the church I go to on Sunday morning (a lot of singing, good people and really good AC), the Boddhi Tree, the AK and a really funky move theater call The Flicks.  The first row is air mattresses, the second, blow up chairs and then wicker couches: seating and lounging=54.  They just use a computer and a projector. 
The ktichen of the Khmer restaruant I like
           Phnom Penh is a funny little city, more Brooklyn than Manhattan. I am so glad I am not here as a tourist because I know I would be disappointed by the city's major draw which is the river side.  Lots of bars and restaurants.  People just wandering around looking for something.  I went down there for three Sundays in a row to watch the Rugby World Cup and really had fun in this open air place called Patty Rice crowded by crazy fans from New Zealand, Ireland, France, England and Wales (you wouldn't think there were many Welsh in Phnom Penh) all cheering for their teams.  I  haven't done any real sightseeing in the city.  Over the Christmas break my lifelong (I'm advoiding the word old)  friend Chris Walsh is coming and we will spend a couple of days here and see the Royal Palace and tour a silk farm (did you ever wonder how silk is made?).  I have really enjoyed and appreciated the other teachers, mostly youngsters, inviting me to places they know about.  When we all first got paid we had to walk to the bank to set up a pin for the ATM.  After that we went to the Beer Garden, a real Khmer outdoor place where we ordered a tower of beer= 5 pitchers with a big frozen tube of ice floating it it.  I also went with them one night to a karaoke bar and we all had a great time.  And thanks to Gayla and the crowd at the AK I have been to a lot of nice places to eat that I would never have known about if I was here for a week.  I actually love telling people, "No, I live here."  What I don't like about Phnom Penh is that is not a good city for walking (or jogging) and that it really smells bad.  All the street drains empty into these open canals and the whole system literally stinks.  I especially dislike walking along the canal which is called the Black River and I am sure worse. 
Route 1 just outside of Phnom Penh
           I've only been outside Phnom Penh twice and it really feels like a third world country.  Although I've heard that the roads are much improved, they still are a mess and dangerous.  The garbage thing is really a shame.  Only when you get pretty far away from "civilization" do you see the beautifile tropical forest and mountains.  I wonder what the fate of this country is?  An ancient culture that maybe peaked with Angkor Wat a thousand years ago and then was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and now it is changing quickly.  Cambodia is incredibly young and it feels busy and on the move.  The west with all its money and conviences has a strong pull.  Lucky's supper market is like any in the US (except Skippy peanut butter costs $8) but its shoppers are mostly westerners.  The open air markets, with crawling crabs, and squirming fish and live chickens waiting to be separated from their heads are jammed with Cambodians.  I think of farmer's markets in the US replacing the preservative infused and hormone injected foods of the supermarkets at home. So I guess I don't see the bigger picture very clearly.  I would like to comment more on Cambodia's direction, the role of women here, my students and their role in the future, corruption, the environment, but it will just have to be for another time.