more notes from Cambodia

cows chased out into traffic – Those same three cows that I wrote about before…


…apparently just hang out in this neighborhood.  They were hanging out on the other side of the road, and wandered up into one of the open stalls, like the ones you can see in the background, where vendors sell cigarettes and such.  As one of them started to nose its way into the store, a nine-year-old grabbed a stick and, waving it uncoordinatedly over her head to give herself courage, ran at the offending cow.

The cow, seeing something larger than a cat moving rapidly toward it, ran out into the road, sparking the others to do the same.  Herd animals.  A guy on a beat-up motorbike blew his horn and veered around them; he was followed by a girl on a bicycle and another motorbike.  They slowed down, but barely.  The nine-year-old and her teenage brother looked on with, “Oh, yeah,” expressions.  The little girl seemed worried she might get in trouble; the teenager clearly didn’t give a crap. 

innocent Cambodians – When I had a beer with Cody, the other American teacher at my school, who’s ex-military, he said something I didn’t mention in the longer blog post, which I think is important.

He said that he finds Cambodians to be very innocent and child-like.  I think he’s falling for the flattery they give people who they figure have more money than judgement.  And I think it’s a stupid and dangerous misconception.

I didn’t say that to him — we were having beers — but I said that I disagreed; and who knew who was right, but time would tell.  But, I told him, I think Cambodians are more socially intelligent than your average American.  And the reason is that they grow up interacting with one another.  There are no play-stations, and when most grownups were kids, there was very little TV.  So, I said, I think they have better intuitions about how people work than we do.

He said it was an interesting idea, mulled it over, and shrugged it off.

hooker teacher? – Pay attention to the question-mark there.  I do my best to write in a way that conceals other people’s identities — you’d have to do quite a bit of research even to figure out what school I teach at — but this note is very much guesswork.  And I emphasize especially because I’m talking about a woman whose reputation I don’t want to hurt.  And I may be wrong about this.

But I don’t think so.

I get to school well before my classes start, to get prepared and because I don’t have the travel times entirely down.  Since the teacher’s lounge is not air-conditioned, I hang out in the library, as do most of the teachers.  Unless they’re eating or talking on a cell phone or something.

I was chatting with the cute librarian, who isn’t always interested in talking with me and whose English is a bit broken.  When I see her — when I see anyone, really, especially the first few times — I say, “Hi!” and give them a big smile.  I find myself doing that because I don’t speak the language, and I want to communicate, like a 70’s-era time travel adventurer, “Friend, friiieeend.”

This librarian was really rude to me the first few days, but eventually seems to have decided I was cool.  When I smile at her, she gives me this one-sided half-grin back, that’s 50% “Oh, hi,” and 50% “Is this guy serious?”  If Harrison Ford had a little sister, who was Asian, slender, and had good posture, and who sometimes surprised you by giving a Han Solo grin, that would be her.

I was telling her I was trying to learn Khmer, and the grammer isn’t difficult, but the sounds are very difficult.  She told me there were teachers here who could teach me.  It hadn’t occurred to me to take classes there.

Later, while I was at the photocopier, a Khmer lady teacher walked in, and the librarian brought her over to me.  She explained that this was the teacher who she was telling me about, who could teach me Khmer.

A very odd interaction came out of this, where the teacher explained that she did tutoring.  She was free in the mornings, and she could come to my house.  While she spoke, she stood a remarkable distance away from me; if we both extended our arms, our fingertips wouldn’t have touched.  I had to step forward to shake her hand.  She seemed very embarrassed and strangely terrified; she kept looking at my height.  I’m 6’4″; she’s a bit short for a Khmer, perhaps 4’10 or 5′.

And her end of the conversation was very awkward.  She wanted to sign me up, but she was clearly strangely afraid and embarrassed.  And I had the idea that she was offering herself to me.  Just something about her showed up on my radar.  I told her — first thing, before this situation became apparent — that hiring a teacher was a new idea for me, and so I wasn’t sure about it; but certainly I was interested.  And I stuck to that, taking her phone number. 

The librarian watched the whole interaction, to observing her write her number in my notebook.  People here are remarkably unabashed about being spectators.

So it seemed that she hires on as a language coach, and puts out to keep her clients interested. 

She mentioned that she was tutoring Teacher Carl, a middle-aged Australian teacher, who has seniority among the foreigners there.  Later, I mentioned it to him.

“She said that you hire her to teach you.”

“Well not at the moment, but I have in the past.  And I will again, when my wife’s away.”

Now, I really do try not to jump to conclusions.  And I’m waiting for him to wink at me — or something; I don’t really know how people behave in such circumstances.  I asked, “How is that?  What does she charge?”

“Well, it’s good.  You pay her $20 a month and she comes over to your house in the mornings on the weekends.”  He didn’t sigh, but he looked like he could have.  “It’s a good deal.”

There was something where his manner was somehow blunted that made me think I was right in my suspicions.

This lady is quite nice — but there’s something housewifeish and groveling in her manner that turns me away.  Needs the money, I guess.

Anyway, I like the librarian more, as perhaps you can tell from my description.

Published in: on September 5, 2009 at 9:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You never fail to compel my interest and to make me laugh. Keep up the great work and the great sharing of it. I feel as if I’m right there watching you.


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