Friday, January 30, 2009

Happy New Year...?

I fully intended to have a wonderful post for you all this week that would be chock-full of Chinese New Year pictures. Unfortunately, the past few days have been much slower than I anticipated and fairly devoid of any photographic opportunities. Hopefully things will pick up again soon.

Now I know some of you are thinking that I live in Cambodia, not China. So why am I talking about Chinese New Year? Well, Cambodia actually has a surprising amount of Chinese immigrants. Couple that with the fact that Cambodia's neighbor Vietnam also celebrates its New Year at this time, and you have a pretty large portion of the country that's really excited for the "Year of the Ox" to arrive. This past Sunday was the official start of the New Year, and I did see quite a few people outside of their homes burning paper and incense and offering food to their ancestors as a way to appease their spirits. The one really incredible shot that I wish with all of my being I would have been able to get with my camera was of a huge display in front of a store. Complete with 2 whole roasted pigs, each with a large knife stuck in its back, this tower of food and flowers must have been 7 feet tall! But unfortunately I caught this on my walk to church. Since I'm not in the habit of bringing my camera to worship with me, I didn't have any way to document the massive offering. So you'll have to take my word for it.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were holidays for most people in Phnom Penh. None of my students wanted to study, so I took the days off. Monday I was actually quite busy as I had to (actually, was BLESSED to) move once again. After 3 months in Cambodia, I have made my very last transition- to the PIP House. Troy and Tabitha came back from their time in the states, relieving me of my kitty-sitting duties. So I said goodbye to Kenny and Jasmine and moved into my very own room in the housing for the PIP English teachers. So far it has been great staying here. I've been so blessed to have wonderful people like Dennis and Sharon and Troy and Tabitha open their homes to me. But I am glad to be close to my work and the other staff members at PIP.

Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty dull. I did attempt a brief excursion to the market on Wednesday. But most of the stalls were still closed from Sunday's festivities. Cambodians seem to operate on the philosophy of "Work Hard. Play Hard" and when they actually DO decide to celebrate something, it's an all-out affair.

Thursday and Friday were not much better. I had 4 students that said they would come those days. But at the last minute, all but 1 cancelled on Thursday. 2 came today, but I had to wait around until 3pm for that to even start. Another perk of living at the PIP House- my bedroom is always waiting for me if I find myself with unexpected down time!

So, that's my week. I told you there wasn't much that was photo-worthy. However, tomorrow I think I might have a few semi-adventures lined up, so I do envision some more exciting posts in the near future. Until then, Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My EYES, My EYES!

The other day, someone asked me if I liked it in Cambodia. When I responded rather enthusaistically, she asked me what I liked about it. After listing off some things like the simplicity of life here, the kindness of the Khmer people and the encouraging contribution to society that I feel my work is making, I added a few more superficial items: the balmy weather, the yummy food, and the FRESH FRUIT! While I will definitely miss all of my wonderful friends in Cambodia when I come back to the states, I think really, truly fresh pineapple, papya, mango, pomelo...comes in as a close second!
Usually I buy my pineapple already cut from the market. But the other day, I decided to be adventurous and buy a whole one just to see if I could duplicate the beautiful pattern that results after de-eyeing the fruit. While the results of my first attempt are not quite as lovely as those in the market, I was fairly proud of the results. For those of you that are curious about how such a thing is done, here is a quick tutorial:
Step 1: I didn't think of documenting my trial through photographs until AFTER I had cut the skin off. So here is my skinned pineapple, eyes still intact.


Step 2: Cutting along the diagonal to get all the eyes in one row.


Step 3: Making sure to cut at an angle to maximize on the amount of pineapple that's left in my final product.

Step 4: Tada! Okay so there are still some little bits left. My perfectionistic juices just weren't flowing that night. Still, I'm proud of my fruit.

But enough about fruit. As promised, here is the newest profile of one of my students:

Sary is 24 and going to school to be a kindergarten teacher. She's really sweet, and has taught me all kinds of traditional Khmer beliefs. Like, did you know that crabs bite women more than men? They especially like pregnant women because, "The crabs want to kill the baby." I had no idea crabs were so malicious! And Sary is also the student that taught me about "coining", which is a traditional Asian home remedy for sickness. If I understand her correctly, it involves heating coins and rubbing them on your body. She has come to class more than once with marks on her from a rather painful "coining" the night before.

Sary's ancestry is partly Khmer and partly Vietnamese. (that's significant, because Cambodians don't typically love the Vietnamese). When I asked her if she spoke any Vietnamese, she said, "Little, little." (a common Cambodian response). The province she is from is near the Vietnam border, so I think I actually went through it on my recent trip down the Mekong River to Vietnam.

Sary's family is Buddhist, and also strong in ancestor worship, but she has decided she thinks Christian beliefs make more sense to her. She told me this week that her parents are relatively supportive of her difference in faith. (As in, they haven't kicked her out of the home.) But her aunts and uncles do not like it at all. When the family performs ceremonies to pray and offer gifts to their ancestors, Sary has told them she will not participate, because she doens't believe her great grandparents can hear her. Sary's aunts and uncles are terrified that Sary's rebellion will anger their ancestors and bring misfortune on the whole family. I'm so proud of Sary and her strong conviction. She told me she wants to tell her mom and dad about Jesus and the God of the Bible, but she doesn't know how. I'm trying to help her have a solid foundation of the Bible so she will be able to explain things to them more effectively.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Looks Can Be Deceiving

I realized today that I still hadn't shown you all pictures of my other adopted baby, Jasmine!
Here she is on a dining room chair:
And here is a picture of her taking advantage of laundry day to slip into a tear in the mattress cover:This is her with Kenny. Aren't they cute? And so innocent...looking....
Mostly, Jasmine is the quieter, more docile of the two kitties. However, I did have a mild scare with her a few weeks ago when she snuck out without me seeing her.
I'm still not sure how she got out. One day I couldn't find her anywhere in the house and was starting to worry. Jasmine is an adept hider, though, and can cram herself behind the entertainment center better than one would think. But somehow, I had a feeling that this time she really WASN'T inside the house.
After spending a good deal of time searching all of her usual hide-outs, I happened to casually glance out the kitchen window as I walked by. Wouldn't you know it, there was Jasmine walking around in the backyard! Except, the only problem is that it's not MY backyard. Technically, it's the neighbors, and I don't have access to it from the house.
Frantic, I opened the window and called to Jasmine, hoping she'd decide to repent of her wanderings and come home. Unfortunately that did not happen. To make matters worse, the open window proved to be too much of a temptation for Kenny and before I could grab him, he'd jumped out as well!
Distraught, I began desperately weighing my options. The bars on the open window made my jumping out highly implausible, so I was really left with only one other option- go talk to the neighbors. No big deal, right? Well, not when your neighbors speak the same language as you, it's not. But mine don't speak English. Not at all. However, I was not about to lose these cats to a silly linguistic barrier.
So I marched myself over to the neighbor's gate and began using basically every word in my limited Khmer vocabulary. "Excuse me....I need...ummm...I don't have...ummm....Can I...." At this point I am thinking "Why oh why don't I know the word for cat?!" But I took theatre in junior high and I'm a very resourceful person. So, I channeled every ounce of creative energy that I have and delivered what I consider to be a fairly decent cat impersonation- complete with sound effects and using my fingers for little pointy ears!
While I'm SURE I was the topic of a rather comical dinner conversation that night, my miming worked well enough to get me access to the backyard so I could look for my lost felines.
I wish I could tell you that I found Kenny and Jasmine right away. But I didn't. Nope.I had to endure climbing through a dark and dank abandoned basement with bats flying at my face for at least another 15 minutes before I finally gave up and went home.
When I walked into the house, though, I was warmly greeted by Kenny, who had decided to jump back into the window sometime during my absence! Jasmine would follow several hours later, after I had spent a full day giving myself a stomach ulcer over her departure.
Needless to say, heightened security measures have been taken since this breach.
**I know I said I would profile a student in each post. But I need to get some more info before I'm ready to do that. Sorry for the delay!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

There's Nothing More American Than Processed Meat!

(The title of my post will make sense in a minute)
Working from 9 to 5 every week day means that I don’t have a lot to blog about in Cambodia that doesn’t involve my English students. While I’m sure giving you a run-down of each student’s linguistic abilities would not be very exciting, I thought you might enjoy hearing a little bit about my different pupils’ backgrounds and personalities. So, I’m going to try to devote a section in each post to highlighting something about one of my 7 students.
Today, I wanted to tell you about Mouyteang.

Mouyteang is 19 and studying Economics. She is incredibly bright and really witty. While I enjoyed studying with Mouyteang long before I knew about her background, finally hearing about where this remarkable girl has come from has made me appreciate her even more. A few weeks ago, she and I were discussing her family. Mouyteang told me that she is the oldest of 5 children, and from a province outside of Phnom Penh. Her parents work in the lumber industry, and must spend a great deal of time away from their home. Consequently, from the age of 7, Mouyteang was given the responsibility of raising her 4 younger siblings. She would wake up in the middle of the night to feed her infant brother, change her sister’s diaper and rock them to sleep. Though life was not easy for her, Mouyteang still managed to stay in school and even made good enough grades to earn special scholarships from the government to pay for her school supplies and books. She graduated at the top of her class, and has come to Phnom Penh to study on another scholarship. What amazed me most about Mouyteang, though is not the difficult life she has led. Rather, it is her attitude about it. She told me that, though she often felt sorry for herself as a child, now she sees how her additional responsibilities helped her to grow and mature. She is thankful for her experiences and knows she would not be the person she is today without them. Hearing this young lady speak with such strong conviction really touches my heart and inspires me to really view my own life in a new light.

And now, onto the processed meat!

While it is true that MOST of my time here has been spent teaching English one-on-one, that is not the only way PIP tries to give its Cambodian students exposure to the English language. This weekend is a perfect example.

This past Saturday, the PIP English Program hosted an “All-American Weiner Roast” for our students and their friends. Inspired by a fellow-Texan teacher, this party was designed to allow our different students to mix and mingle with one another, as well as interact with the teachers and practice their English in a less formal setting.

Complete with the biggest hotdogs I have ever seen, this party had everything you would expect at a similar function in the United States. We even rustled up some marshmallows, chocolate (a rare and expensive commodity in Cambodia) and “graham cracker-esque” cookies for s’mores.
Three of my students made it to the party. Here I am with Monorea:

And Kimsam:

I didn’t get a picture of Sary.
The afternoon ended with Gene, our resident cowboy, raffling off his entire Texas ensemble. His hat was the preferred item, though the belt and boots came in close second. I’m not sure that the girl who won his shirt was terribly excited about her prize, but it seems like everyone enjoyed their authentic western wear!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Sorry...I couldn't resist the clich├ęd post title.

Since my stay in Cambodia was originally meant to be only a one-month adventure, I have had to approach my visa situation here in a bit of a piece-meal fashion. I will spare you all the details of the logistics of extensions and renewals, but suffice it to say that after 2 months on my previous visa, I had to leave the country to get a new one.

Vietnam is the simplest border for me to cross. Originally I had planned to go alone and take a bus to Ho Chi Minh City and turn around and come back to Cambodia all in one day. But in His providence, God timed things so that one of the other teachers at PIP happened to have planned a trip to Vietnam with his grandson for the very weekend that I planned to make my visa run. Gene was kind enough to let me tag along with him, his grandson, and Julie- the director of the English school for a 4 day excursion.



Thursday morning, we took a boat and traveled down the Mekong to the Vietnam border. It took about 3 hours to get there. After guiding us through getting our visas for Vietnam, the boat company was kind enough to provide time for a bathroom and lunch break. Though I don’t intend to make a habit of posting toilets on my blog, this one was just too unique to pass up showing to all of you.

Yes, this is a toilet. The tiles actually slope down towards the left so that things can run down that little opening in the side of the building. There is a bucket of water to help you rinse the tiles. I’m actually really used to what we call “squat pots”, so the floor wasn’t much different for me. I was more bothered by the curtain that was supposed to be the door, but because of the strong wind, blew in continually and basically exposed the person in the bathroom to the entire group of people eating lunch outside. Privacy is overrated.


From here, we took another boat into Vietnam to the town of Can Tho. That took another 3 hours, but the scenery was so great that I didn’t mind in the least.

In Can Tho, we spent the evening exploring the city on our own. Gene, Greg, Julie and I ended up taking 4 motos up a mountain to watch the sunset over the rice paddies. It was gorgeous.





The next morning, we got back on a boat and toured a village and a fish farm. Then we hopped on a bus and spent the next 7 hours driving to Ho Chi Minh City. Needless to say, we were pretty exhausted when we finally arrived at our hotel that evening.
Saturday was spent visiting Reunification Palace and the War Crimes Museum (highly biased and anti-American, but I think that’s to be expected). We also shopped a little and just took time to soak up Vietnamese culture.




Sunday morning we headed back bright and early to make it to Phnom Penh in time for PIP’s evening worship. I crossed the border, got my new visa and am now all set to stay in Cambodia for another few months.

I feel like this post hardly does my trip justice. It never ceases to amaze me how diverse the cultures are around the world. Vietnam is so close to Cambodia, but there are so many differences between the two countries. I hope these pictures give you all at least a glimpse into the rich traditions and heritage I experienced on this trip.