Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas in a strange land

It’s not been at all like Christmas, but I’m hoping that my first New Year of 2012 is going to feel like a real New Year for a change.  I’ll have 3 New Years, Chinese New Year in a couple of weeks and Khmer New Year in a few months, so if I cock this one up there will be other chances. 
The end of term meant test time, and thankfully most of my students passed.  Their success was a real reward for me.  I’m a fun teacher, and my lessons can be a little off the wall and pretty creative, but I often wondered if anyone actually learnt anything.  I’m happy to say that it seems they do.  There was a lovely Christmas party on the roof of a hotel and then everyone basically left town.  It seemed sometimes that I was the only ex-pat in town.  I went from spending nine hours a day with other teachers and students to spending all day on my own.  I also went from spending nine hours a day in an air-conditioned room to spending all day in the sunshine.  I finally have a tan.
Anh came back from her travels, bringing with her a friend from England.  We went out for dinner and I had seafood noodles.  It wasn’t the best food I’ve ever had, and sure enough 2 hours later, whilst sat in Memphis, it began to take effect.  In all of my wild youth I never threw up outside a night club, but sure enough the squid took its revenge next to a tuk tuk.  You would think that the prospect of a customer doing a Linda Blair from The Exorcist in the back of his vehicle would scare him off; but no the guy dropped me at my flat and cheerfully wished me a happy Christmas.  It wasn’t happy at all for most of that night, and I will not be recommending Boat Noodle to anyone.  I spent Christmas Eve in bed with dreadful Khmer karaoke blaring from the shopping precinct next door, which wasn’t helping my recovery at all.
The karaoke was in aid of a clothing sale, and began at 9am and finished at 9pm.  It started on the 21st December and went on until the 26th.  Merry f***ing Christmas!!!! 
I recovered enough for Christmas Day, hitting the Russian Market with Andy and his Mum, and then visiting the blind people for another massage.  I think the massage worked wonders!  We went to FCC for a drink, because you haven’t really been to Phnom Penh if you haven’t been to FCC.  Watching the river from the breezy balcony in this beautiful old colonial building I realised something: I’ve acclimatised and it’s bloody cold!  We had dinner there in the evening and it was even colder.  Warmed up at The Cambodiana, but that was full of locals and the atmosphere was weird.  I don’t know who decided that 11pm in a local hotspot is the place for an 8 year old’s birthday party, but someone did.  The band sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the kid, and they lit some sparklers before letting off silly string.  Not a sensible combination, but somehow the family survived.  I think the place was full of gangsters and their molls, and some pouty rich young things that couldn’t be seen to be enjoying themselves.  The band was wonderful as usual.
All in all it was a strange Christmas, maybe next year I’ll join the ex-pat exodus and head for a beach somewhere.  Maybe Australia……… 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eastward Ho!

It's been a very busy week!  Not only is it end of year tests for the students, but I am also house-hunting.  I am never one for addressing one problem when I can take on two.  Now that I have been here a few months I realise I was paying far too much for my apartment.  However, I have a little time to write, as I sit here in Java having a leisurely Sunday breakfast.  The Java cafe near the Independence Monument has the loveliest balcony over-looking the park and the Prime Minister's house.  This morning there's a cool breeze and I feel positively chilly - I've definitely acclimatised.  The weather is perfect at the moment, and the breezy, slightly chilly mornings remind me of summers beside the sea as a child.  The sun is shining but I still have goosebumps.  Westward Ho!  and all that, except here it is Eastward Ho!

There was a total lunar eclipse last night, which was very beautiful.  On my walk to the bar the Khmer I passed just grinned at me and pointed to the sky, to which I beamed back and nodded.  The moon was salmon pink for about an hour in Phnom Penh.  It might have been bright red but for the light pollution.  The pagan in me was very excited.  I think it may have been an auspicious sign, as my day was pretty good.

One of my colleagues has left for a couple of months, so she had a leaving party.  It was a good mixture of Khmer and Westerners, and we ordered a beer tower to get the party started.  I wasn't that drunk, but pleasantly tiddly which is not good on a school night!.  We persuaded the Khmer to join us at Memphis to watch a band.  Our admin manager is a big flirt and is a lovely fella, but like all Khmer a little traditional.  It probably wasn't the best idea to jump up and down singing along to a cover of Rage Against the Machine's 'Killing in the Name of'.  Singing 'F*** you I won't do what you tell me' in front of the boss is never a good career move!  I think it might have been something to do with the full moon, but every man in the place appeared to be attractive.  Amber said I was wearing beer goggles, but I think that they were all just incredibly tall, and it was a combination of foreshortening and the dim lighting.

Last weekend it was the Phnom Penh bike hash again.  We cycled through some gorgeous countryside out in the sticks.  The trail was a little tricky to follow as the locals thought that the hares were marking the properties that would lose land due to the construction of a major road, they obliterated all of the paint.  But most of us made it back to the start, though we did lose Armpit on the way home.  He is the one who usually leads the singing but Leaking Duck made a fine replacement.  The food was very good and this time we didn't get caught in the rain.  The next day I went further into the Cambodian countryside on a day out to Kirirom National Park.  Inevitably the bus broke down and we were stuck on a road in the middle of nowhere for two hours.  Fortunately someone found a little place that sold coldish beer and we sat there waiting for the replacement bus.  We didn't get long in Kirirom, which is a shame as it looks like a beautiful place.  The bus journey back was played out to a soundtrack of 60's rock music and we all sang 'American Pie' as we crawled down Kampuchea Krom in the Sunday night traffic.  

I often watch the tourists wizzing through Phnom Penh traffic on motorbikes, or on the back of motorbikes, who aren't wearing helmets and wonder where they think they are.  I used to think it was confident, relaxed ex-pats that do it, but now I know better.  We know the dangers and we wear a helmet.  Do the tourists on their gap year assume that their skull transforms into granite the minute they hit South East Asia?  Two of the guys I work with have had accidents in the past two weeks, and I have witnessed 2 more.  The second of my colleagues has broken his collar-bone and has had to fly to Bangkok to get fixed up.  There are a lot of charming things about Cambodia, and it is a wonderful place to live.  It's not a good place to be if you get injured though.  There are no decent hospitals here, and if you end up in accident and emergency with anything other than a broken bone, you've pretty much had it.  If you come to Cambodia, get good medical insurance and wear a helmet.  You don't look cool without one, you just look like a potential corpse.