Battambang to find a school, check out some bamboo train and see where it all takes me.
25.06.2010 - 30.06.2010 83 °F
It’s June 26th, 2010 and I am in Battambang, Cambodia. It is actually the second biggest town in all of Cambodia but to me had a very local feel as it is less of a tourist place. The name means “disappearing stick” so I was told. As I mentioned, I headed here in hopes to find an orphanage or school to donate my superb English skills for a few days. However, my first agenda was taking in a run around the river. To much of my surprise, and excitement, as I finished and headed back through the market to what did I find you may ask….THE BBQ BANANA cart!!! I bought a stick of 4 and headed back happy to take a shower and find my tuk tuk for a noon pick up. I wanted to be a good traveler and take in a few more famous sites. The tuk tuk driver brought me to the killing caves (Phnom Sampeou) outside of town. There I ventured up the endless staircase before I ran into a fellow traveler that informed me of the easy route up the street and ending down on the stairs. Guess I wanted the challenge and I did take her little boy of a guide with me to tell me about the caves and temples. He came at a dollar expense. I was told that would help pay for his school books so I felt it was a good deed as well.
My little tour guide, we will call him LB (little boy), brought me to a few temples and into some caves where I donated another dollar to get a bracelet that would mean good luck (it was a piece of red string but I didn’t want to mess with luck so I took part). Then we headed over to the killing caves in which people were blindfolded and either had their throats slit then thrown down the cave or just pushed down to their death. Another stupa was inside that recovered some of the skulls of the victims. This was again all part of the Khmer Regime and headed by vicious Pol Pot, that bastard!
Afterwards, LB and I took the winding path down and he was teaching me numbers in Khmer and trying to teach me the basics. I also had the pleasure of hearing him repeat the refrain “1.2.3...I know you want me!” I found out later that this was a very popular song to the little lads. He also knew it in his native Khmer language. It was funny to hear him break out in that tune and I even sang along with him.
Next up, my tuk tuk driver and I were off to the famous Bamboo train. This was used to haul things back and forth in the countryside and very useful, and fast, might I add. There was only one track so if you had an oncoming train (no you didn’t play chicken) the one with the lighter load stopped, disassembled the train and let the other pass. I went for the joy ride with a Switzerland guy and we were surprised by the speed. The weather was blazing hot and the wind from the train was very nice. We even had pillows to sit on as we embarked on a 45 minute ride to the rest stop in which we both had an Angkor beer (on him of course). I met a couple from the states and we chatted a bit before heading back to the start. Take me home Mr. Tuk Tuk!! I was hoping to find the banana guy in route back to the hotel but no luck.
I decided to venture out and grab some grub at a restaurant with wifi. I bought some wine on the way back and then saw a sign by the computers to help at an orphanage school. Basically, it was a few kms out of the town and was a place for poor children with no parents or with one parent to get a free education and learn English. The children lived outside the school with sponsors that could feed and cloth them. I really wanted in and would stay to help out at least a day. I had the reception guy call for me but being a Saturday and all, the school would be closed until Monday. I figured why not stay and see what it is all about. Looks like tomorrow I will just relax, relax and take a river jog, find my bananas perhaps and watch some cable TV.
It’s hard to sleep in until 10am with no air con. Good thing I switched rooms today as it is my lazy Sunday. I ventured out to find the daily BBQ banana cart and to much of my surprise he was not there. I tried to explain him to non-English speaking market people but no luck. What am I to do with this addiction of mine that I can not get a fix for?? I mentioned to the guys in the hotel if they see him to please buy and I will repay them. To help with my lounge day it was raining so cable TV and computer time for me before I managed to do 3 struggling river laps and some cardio and weights with some bricks that I found on the street. Sure, I had a crowd watching and laughing but I am used to it by now. Did I mention that I was staring at the corn on the cob cart every time I past it? Yes, I brought some back to the room later.
The agenda for the evening was a shower and TV and I caught an episode of Oprah in which Ryan Seacrest was the guest and boy was that a great segment. First of all, that boy is busy and I would sure like to be him (well, not exactly him but you get it). He talked about a show he was doing with the talented chef, Jamie Oliver. It was not a diet show rather one on healthy living and I wanted to get on the phone or send him and email ASAP saying I loved the idea and wanted to be part of it. I wanted to go to our nation’s schools and view the lunch programs and see what they are feeling our growing youth. Not to criticize but to help them find a balance in everyday living. I didn’t turn on the TV with the intention of something powerful trying to change my mind on what I want to do or to make my mind up rather, but I find a great interest in this which could mean I must do something on the lines of nutrition, kids, physical activity perhaps. Who knows but it did touch me. Yes, I was pondering my future for a bit.
After all that TV, I headed back to the usual restaurant for the same veggies and the waiter commented on my sweet, slow voice. Yes, he said I spoke very slowly. I know, a shocker right? Back to the hotel for sleep as I will be picked up by Sophon at 11:30am for a day with the children and back around 6pm. They have classes from 8-10am then noon-2pm, 4-5pm and 5-6pm. I am opted to pass on the first one and do the rest. You can just do one class if you want but I figured 1 day for me is like a week for some as they just do 2 hours.
I woke up feeling good about my English skills. It’s June 28th, 2010 and I am headed to a school to help out the Cambodian kids. I have always wanted to do something like this and guess now I can mark another thing off in my list of things to do.
As I arrived I noticed there were no children but 2 that had sponsors at the school so they lived there pretty much. The two girls were sisters (no parents) and 8 and 5 years old. The names of these children were very unique yet hard to remember so I just call them my friends. I was given the learning schedule but as in many things in these countries, they don’t always go as planned. In the down time, I read many sad stories that were said to be written by children in need and as much as I would like to donate $25 a month, well, this girl has no job and figured I would donate time and take it from there. I do have the information for later and I will tell you that as the day progressed I just wanted to take a bunch of them home with me. I even asked on the adoption process in Cambodia and it is very difficult (unless maybe you are Angelina Jolie) and frowned upon. They would rather people give money donations and allow the children to stay in their familiar environment. I honestly considered it and if it takes years to do then I thought maybe if I started looking that by the time I was 35-37 then I could bring a child back with me. I thought about adopting an older one perhaps as usually people want the young ones. They all need homes, right? Again, the answers given weren’t a definite “no” but not what I wanted to hear either. Never know what the future will bring my way.
Back to the school. The time was now 12:30pm and still no kids. They teachers were having lunch and invited me but I didn’t want to take the kids food. They insisted the children waiting for class already ate and that I must eat with them. I took a look over at the kids that were snacking on plain rice papers and one girl on crickets. YES CRICKETS! I had to ask again “are you sure they aren’t hungry?” Sophon told me she liked them very much. I didn’t try those but did eat fish that was not gutted, scaled or anything. This girl is branching out and it wasn’t all bad, tons of bones, but not too bad.
After lunch the kids started to arrive and almost immediately they handed me a book and said “teach!” This was my very first time EVER and I just did what I could. I picked up the lesson book and taught colors, the alphabet, played hang man (they loved that word guessing game) and sang jingle bells and twinkle twinkle. The kids ranged from age 5-13 and loved my solo singing and later joined in. During the school break one of the teachers brought out of wireless laptop (I know, right?) and we all danced and they taught me some moves. They laughed at me but I wasn’t offended in the least. I couldn’t help but be so happy to be taking part of everything and being part of 1 day in these remarkable and inspiring children’s lives. They have so little and couldn’t smile any bigger, laugh any louder and love one another anymore. It really gives you perspective on life and how you do not need all the material things to be happy. I looked at these children as innocent to all of the bad stuff in the world and although they have a constant struggle to get food and shelter, they are the happiest people that I have ever met and love to have visitors from other countries and just talk in English.
After the dance session, I walked into town a bit with one of the teachers and 4 of the children. I bought them all a sticky rice & banana in a banana leaf then back to school. The later sessions weren’t as easy as I was teaching some older students on conversation and grammar. They didn’t have enough work books to go around so I had to write everything on the board and then discuss it. Very time consuming and difficult at times with the language barrier but the children understood the major points and we ended with some hang man again.
I had a great day today. I was very touched and the children left a lasting impression on me. I was honored to take part in a day of their lives. Sophon took me back and the rain began. I had a dinner of street food, a newly discovered Amok fish in a banana leaf, a traditional Cambodian style fish cooked in lemongrass, coconut milk and other herbs and spices and steamed in a banana leaf. Of course I had to pick up a few cobs of corn to complete my dinner, a wine and some TV time. Instead of leaving in the morning, I will stay one more day and emailed Sophon to pick me up again at 11:30am so I can run the river first and then back to the kids. I see why people do this for 6 months to a year as it is very rewarding and a great experience.
Day 2 with the kids was just as enjoyable as the first. The kids are so smart and remembered my name, my age and were excited to see me back again. I brought a bucket of lollies for each one to have as they came to class and the kids loved the sugar rush. I forgot to mention that in route to school I made Sophon stop as I saw the banana guy and bought some BBQ bananas for the ride. Before classes began I watched the kids play with little plastic pieces on the floor and make up games. It was so cute. They even had this jump rope game they created and made me participate with laughter from them of course. Side note, these kids are all so polite and respectful to me. My heart just melts for this kids.
Today, I taught them the “days of the week” and created a song out of it. I had then all up individually reading the days of the week and they all participated with no problems. During the break, two of the teachers and myself all went on one motor scooter (it was a trish motor scooter sandwhich) and visited local killing fields and another stupa. One of the teacher’s father- in-law was killed there and reading the signs were just bone chilling and made me sick. My heart truly ached knowing the pain these people faced and for no reason but maybe they appeared to be intelligent and Pol Pot and his people did not want them around.
Back to school for some afternoon lessons with the older kids. Okay, not the hard grammar today but more of a fun game. It was similar to musical chairs but was called the “I love you” game. I can’t recall a time in my live when someone looked me in the eyes and repeatedly told me they loved me. I couldn’t get enough of the game and we did play for the full hour of class. I totally dug the game and yes, I lost a bit and they all laughed and made me do the monkey dance and sing a song.
The last class of the day was here already and more grammar and conversation for the older students. I felt a bit like I was in an acting class as I kept reading the part of one character as I had all 20 students read the other character’s lines to me one at a time. I would use different accents to make it interesting. It was so much fun. I also taught them about when to use “any” and when to use “some” in conversation and it made me realize our language is hard. What another great day in Battambang for Trish!
Time to say good bye for real as I will head to Siem Reap tomorrow. Lisa will be gone to Bangkok by then as I stayed here longer but I am sure to meet some interesting people on the next leg of my Cambodian journey. A different teacher brought me home and we stopped by to see some monks and I became a mosquitoes feast. Once back at the Royal Hotel, I decided to do 1 river lap and get the street food again with my usual crowd watching me to cardio moves. I can’t forget my corn on the cob and new fish treat. Throw in some wine and some TV and call it a night. Wait! I knock at my door, who could it be? Why it was the hotel guy that remembered how I was addicted to BBQ bananas and he bought me 2 sticks of them. Dessert!! I feel like a monkey as I keep eating so many bananas. I thought that was very nice of him and loved that he remembered. Forget flowers, buy my bananas and I will remember you always. I will treasure this time in Battambang that is for sure.
The day is June 30, 2010 and it is time for 1 last river run then the markets to search for the BBQ banana guy. What! I lost my banana money on my running route. Have no fear, I found him and went back to shower and pack up and back to get some for the road. I even found a fresh spring roll lady for a few of those too. It would be a 6 hour bus ride. Aren’t you jealous?
Good Bye Battambang, Cambodia and let a new adventure in Siem Reap begin.
The Dish is out…