Ahh, let’s skip on over to some of my favorite memories of Cambodia: Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is a small coastal city that I imagine has been built up quite a bit more in the last two years. At the time, Sihanoukville estimated over a million tourists hitting its beaches every summer and that number was growing exponentially every year. I posted a short blog about Sihanoukville back in 2016.
Sihanoukville was our last hurrah together as once the weekend was over our Thailand teachers would be departing for their teaching country and we who were going to China and Vietnam would be heading back to Phnom Penh for another week before we’d be on our way, too.
We stopped a couple of times for food breaks and at a small roadside stand we all got to experience squatty potties for the first time. We got some interesting snacks and listened to some caged birds sing before piling back in and heading down to Sihanoukville. The roads were paved so we didn’t get as wild of a ride, but it was still fun.
I don’t really remember the hostel we stayed at in Sihanoukville, I know we were only a two-minute walk from the beach and it was across the street from a tattoo parlor. But that is really all I remember.
The first full day we were there we went island hopping. Sihanoukville is a great launch point for the many tiny islands off the coast of Cambodia, each one more beautiful than the next. I always get seasick the first fifteen minutes I’m on a boat; so I zoned out staring at the ceiling for a bit waiting for my stomach to settle. But the sun was warm and the water mostly placid and it was a delight.
We had lunch on the beach, staring out at the water, watching the waves come in. After that I wandered away from the group and found a private stretch of beach and breathed alllllllll the stress away.
The next morning, I got up early, just about sunrise, and headed back down to the beach. I walked down the dock and found a nice view of the sun coming up over the trees and the fishing boats moored in deeper water. I did some writing and enjoyed the breeze before heading back into the heart of town to grab some breakfast. I ran into one of the other women and we sat at a small café open to the breeze and got our coffees and some crepes and talked a bit about the future before we caught up with more of the group heading down to the beach.
Our last day was a half day and we spent it lounging in the sun and enjoying the warm water.
It was a nice send off for everyone who was heading to Thailand. My next stop after a little paradise break: China.
So this post is about the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. I’m not posting any pictures because, honestly, I can’t stand to go through them again, but the one I did one back in 2016 has nothing but photos because at the time I couldn’t fathom trying to put into words everything I saw and felt there. This place still haunts me—as I think it does anyone who’s ever been—and I still maintain that there is no way to ever describe what the Killing Fields are. But, two years removed I know that Western-centered education leaves vast swaths of blankness about the rest of the world and there’s probably people who saw that first post and were horrified but didn’t delve any further into the Khmer Rouge or the Killing Fields.
The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the Communist Party of Kampuchea in Cambodia. They were in power for only four years; 1975-1979. I don’t think I ever mentioned how recent the Khmer Rouge was in any of my previous posts. This is something that happened well within living memory, to the point that if your parents had watched the BBC they might’ve seen something about it on the news. It’s that recent. The leader of the Khmer Rouge was a man named Pol Pot. Now, I knew about Pol Pot before I went to Cambodia, because at one point I read a lot about serial killers and crimes against humanity. But even the book I read only briefly mentioned Pol Pot. He didn’t kill as many people as Stalin or Hitler so he was more like a footnote.
Which is pretty messed up. How many millions of people does someone have to kill before they’re worthy of the same level of psychological dissection and obsession as Stalin and Hitler?
After the Khmer Rouge came into power in ’75, they forcibly evacuated all major cities in Cambodia. Why? Pol Pot wanted to create an agrarian socialist society. An agrarian socialist society is, essentially, a farm-based economy. There was no need for technological or educational revolutions or research because everyone was going to live life simply and happily on farms, living off the land, sharing what they grew. People were forced into Collective Farms, which is exactly what it sounds like. Communal farms where people were used as slave labor in fields.
Anyone who disagreed with this idea was promptly labeled an “elitist” and killed. Most of the people labeled as “enemies” of the Khmer Rouge were educated people. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, anyone with a college degree. Pol Pot himself was college educated and had spent time abroad in France which is where he’d been introduced to the idea of Marxist and Lenin communism. He was also paranoid, delusional, and narcissistic.
Between the mass killing of his “enemies” malnutrition and horrid living conditions on the Collective Farms, 1.5-3 million people died out of a population of 8 million. 25% of Cambodia’s population at the time. The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh are the most famous, but there are more all over the country and the set up is very similar to that of German concentration camps. People were rounded up and driven to the camps, bound and gagged. Once they arrived they were stripped of all personal belongings and clothes. Mass pits were dug, people—not always soldiers—killed the victims with things like scythes and saws, they used bayonets and axes and dumped the bodies into the pits before covering them with DDT so if anyone managed to survive being hacked at with an axe, the DDT would suffocate them. Infants and small children were swung against trees until their skulls cracked. Women and girls were raped repeatedly before being killed.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge finally fell out of power and had to flee when Pol Pot attacked neighboring Vietnam and started slaughtering people there as well. The Vietnamese army quickly overwhelmed the Khmer Rouge forces and they fled to the border of Thailand. Vietnam established a new government in Cambodia in opposition to Pol Pot. But Pol Pot and the remainder of the Khmer Rouge stayed at their base until the 90s, still internationally recognized as Cambodia’s rightful government. Which is an insult I cannot begin to fathom. Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998. No trial. Nothing but a slap on the wrist and a stern talking to for murdering 3 million people.
So that’s the history I couldn’t write about two years ago after visiting the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh. Writing about it even now brings back all those complicated feelings I didn’t know what to do with back then; horror, disgust, and the sharp edge of anger. Always anger. Because how many of us knew about Pol Pot? We spend weeks on WWII and Hitler but we never talk about how the Nuremburg Laws were modeled after American race laws. We overlook the fact that Hitler praised American genocide of Native Americans.
Pol Pot was an extreme xenophobe and nativist. He set out, much like Hitler, to “cleanse” Cambodia of minorities and religions he found undesirable or subversive. He tried to eliminate religion in its entirety like Mao Zedong in China. Mao is another one nobody every fucking talks about. But we’ll get to that in the China posts. Or, you can look him up now and fill in some of those blind spots our Western-centric education leaves us with.
Okay, let’s talk Siem Reap! I still cannot get over the bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, in 2016 it took about seven hours and maybe 10% of the way was paved. Now, according to my friend still living in Phnom Penh, the roads are all paved and it takes about four hours.
That bus was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. We hit bumps in the road that got us all airborne, we had to wait for cows, we barreled through construction zones, zipped by school kids walking home. The driver always laid on the horn any time we approached a small town, like a train announcing its arrival, and only used the brakes sporadically. Like, if there was a cow in the road. I did post about our weekend trip to Siem Reap back in 2016, here and here and here. Those posts give a more thorough play-by-play of our trip, this one is more for pictures.
Now that I’m a little more travel experienced, I can’t believe I thought the Sunrise Tour would be a quiet affair. I go back and read those posts sometimes and laugh at the expectations I had for things. I’ve learned to travel without expectations, or as close as I can get to none, so I don’t get boxed in with what I think should happen versus enjoying all the detours and side trips that make travel so much fun. I still enjoy things off the beaten path, but the tourist traps have their place as well. Not the over priced food, but the things they offer that can make your experience all the more interesting.
I will admit I’d like to shake past me for being above getting a picture with Bon May, he was such a sweet horse and that was the coolest thing ever. If you have a chance to get to Angkor Wat and ride a horse around a temple, pay the man and get a cool goddamn picture of yourself on a horse in front of said 1100 year old temple.
Gods, I had so much fun scurrying through these temples. The art and the sheer age of these places is still awe-inspiring. That little temple in the center courtyard of Angkor Wat where I took a nap I can now say reminds me a lot of the serenity the Shinto shrines instilled in me while I was in Japan. Something about that little place was special. Couldn’t put into words exactly what it was, but it was like that one courtyard was in a bubble, set apart from the tour groups and pictures and everything else happening in Angkor Wat.
And Bayon Wat, what a gorgeous place. I don’t think I mentioned the bats that lived in the entry way. I don’t know how they got any sleep with all the people passing under them. The stone work at Bayon, I think, was more ornate than even Angkor Wat. In hindsight, Bayon is my favorite of the temples. That was a place where it was easy to imagine busy streets and vendors and people going about their lives while the jungle rose up in the distance. Even crowded with people it didn’t feel rushed like Angkor Wat. We were only there for an hour or two, but it felt like we had all the time in the world to look around.
The walk to the jungle temple, Banety Kdei, is where I learned a fascinating bit of trivia. Do you know why Westerners shake hands? To show you’re not holding a weapon. Most people are right handed, that’s why we shake with the right. In most Asian countries, greetings are with a bow or clasped hands to show honor and respect. I don’t remember why Hour (pronounced Ohh-ray, he was our tour guide) told us that, but I still think about it a lot. Banety Kdei, aesthetically, was the most pleasing of the four we went to, but I really liked how the trees were growing through the stone. I did like that it wasn’t as crowded, but it didn’t seem to carry that same sort of peace as Bayon. Banety Kdei felt more…impatient. Like it was mad it could rip up its foundations and go see how the world has changed since they laid its stones. I did feel like Lara Croft ducking through the passages and skipping over roots and I’m pretty sure at some point I was humming the Indiana Jones song. The jungle temple is probably my second favorite, just for that weird adventurous spirit it seems to carry.
The second and last day of our adventure to Siem Reap we went to Beng Melea, a temple set half an hour to forty minutes off the main track and buried in the jungle. It’s in the most disrepair of all the temples we saw, even Banety Kdei had more standing walls, and that’s the one they let the trees grow in. Albeit, more tourists visit Banety Kdei, so it could be a safety thing. Beng Melea felt…maybe not haunted but, disquiet. There was something almost feral about this temple, I don’t know if its just not socialized enough with tourists or if it would rather the jungle take it, but there was an air of caution around this ancient place. I still ran all over, but took more care than I might’ve if it had been Banety Kdei. Ducking through doorways, hopping over stones, venturing too far off the groomed path, it all felt riskier and I can’t explain why. They place was for sure falling apart, but again, I climbed walls in Banety Kdei that had only saplings holding them up and thought nothing of it. Beng Melea was…it was something. I wish we’d had more time there, maybe I could’ve sorted out the why.
So, I’ve been saying since I started traveling that I’d get photos up for you all to see and I’ve not been great at keeping up with that. But I’m going to get that sorted this year. So going allllllll the way back to 2016, we’re going to start with Phnom Penh, Cambodia!
When I arrived in Phnom Penh, I was flabbergasted by how big this city is. My current hometown has a population of 50,000-ish people. Phnom Penh has 1.5 million. As we were coming in for a landing, seeing this city stretch for miles was breathtaking and really set in what kind of adventure I was in for. This was the first time I’d undertaken an adventure of this caliber. Sometimes I feel like I’ve always been traveling. Then I look back at these pictures and I remember I really only started traveling three years ago this month. I’ve had so much fun and I’ve grown so much, but this picture reminds me of that first stomach fluttering descent into the unknown.
Cambodia has some pretty currency, I took some pictures of it because I’d never seen money so colorful. And maybe you haven’t either, so here you go!
The view from my window was spectacular. The hotel we stayed in was right by the main artery of Phnom Penh so I got a front row seat to watching the chaotic traffic. Even sitting in a room watching the tuktuks and motorbikes and cars and pedestrians weave around each other was thrilling. US folks, you may think no one in your state can drive, but I promise you we are down right regimented drivers when it comes to the free-for-all that is Khmer roads. The chaos is amazing. There are no crosswalks, you just look both ways and step off the curb cars or not. It is…well, it’s something.
Monday morning we got a tour of the city! I woke up sick as a dog and completely jetlagged Sunday and spent the whole day guzzling water and sleeping hoping I’d recover enough to be up and ready on Monday. It…mostly worked. I bullied myself through that day because I didn’t want to miss a minute! The end result is that I don’t have a lot of clear memories of this day. I remember we rode in tuktuks and I know we went to a temple and through the area where the Night Market is set up before finishing at the Royal Palace. But I don’t remember most of what was said. I do remember walking around the Palace grounds in awe of the architecture and also hoping I didn’t puke on the immaculate lawn.
The temple we went to was Wat Phnom and it was beautiful. I was still feeling a little spry when we got there so I roamed the temple grounds looking at the lovely architecture and the murals. It was humid but cool under the trees and it kept me from wilting.
So that was the first couple of days in Phnom Penh. If you’ve been waiting for the pictures, they’re finally here! Check back on Mondays for more stories and pictures not only from Cambodia, but all the other places I’ve been over the years and places I’m heading to next.
The next day in Sihanoukville we went island hopping. As a group, we got on a tourist boat—$20 a person with breakfast and lunch included—at nine in the morning and set sail. I’ve never considered myself much of a beach person; I’ve always pictured my dream home either snuggled in a mountain or part of sunny meadow. But nine hours moving from tropical paradise to tropical paradise can change a girl’s mind. I could totally live in a treehouse on Kong Roh or Koh Rong Sanloem.
But I know you don’t give a damn about me hanging out on the beach, so here are some pictures. Live vicariously, my friends.
And after a really great day of sand, sunburns, and thorough relaxing, we went back to the hotel, changed, and headed back to the beach for dinner. I had a delicious fruity drink that was served in a an actual pineapple and spent a couple hours on the beach, digging our toes into the sand enjoying good food and company. We splintered off a bit after that. I gave “going out” about half an hour before deciding that the club scene is not and never will be my thing. So I walked around for a bit with a couple others looking at shops and postcards and talking. We were some of the first back to the hotel but after nine hours on a boat–I burned the top of my head!-I was out cold in less than fifteen minutes.
Sihanoukville, named after a Prince, is a really new city in Cambodia. It wasn’t established until the mid-1950s and during the Khmer Rouge it was kind of swallowed by the jungle again, but it is rapidly becoming a tourist hotspot.
To start our last weekend together we woke up to clouds instead of bright sunlight like we were used to. No matter, it was still warm and we were about to head to the beach. Now, when we went to Siem Reap we had a mini bus and it was juuuuuust big enough for us and one bag. This time, all the people going to Thailand have to bring all of their luggage, because Sunday morning they’re heading across the border to start their new adventure.
When I looked outside, expecting a bigger bus, I spied two ten passenger vans.
This is going to be a very long trip.
And as more people come down with their luggage we all eyed the vans with increasing incredulity. Half of the people going to Sihanoukville were taking all of their luggage, the rest of us had our backpacks. And these two vans are just sitting there. I have to wonder if this is how bands feel when they go on their first tristate tour with all their gear and luggage. It seems to defy physics that all of this stuff is going to fit in these vans. I’m not above holding my bag, I did it when we went to Siem Reap, but we’re still looking about 10+ full size suitcases plus carry-ons and backpacks.
But they start taking luggage out and telling people to load up. They Tetrised the everloving shit out of that luggage. I was half-surprised the bottom layer of suitcases and backpacks didn’t blink out in a shower of stars as they packed them in there. It was something to behold. And by the gods, they crammed all of us in those vans, too.
Annnd we were off! Still pretty tired and the sky was still grey, but we were on our way to the beach! Trees and sand and the sound of waves and no diesel fumes! We just had to get out of Phnom Penh first.
Newest gritty reboot: Escape from Phnom Penh—will you survive the roundabout?
Again, I loved looking out the window. There are so many different facets to this city. Going even half an hour in any direction will introduce you to a new side of this city and these people. Phnom Penh is one of those places you can spend years exploring and still be surprised. On one hand you have almost gridlocked traffic and a police officer risking life and limb standing in the middle of the mess directing traffic and then a little further up the street you have the road down to a lane and a half because the morning market crowd has spilled over the confines of the shoulder and people are just slowing down and pulling over wherever they can. It looks like a biker rally with motos and scooters instead of Harleys and Indians. And even a little further down the road and suddenly these green fields open up and cows are grazing. Then there’s another little city cluster with buildings staked almost on top of each other and people selling fruits from small stands on the sidewalk and motos zipping back and forth and TukTuks.
It was a really fun ride and when we stopped to for bathroom breaks and water I got even more of an adventure.
Fact: If anyone tells you they went to SE Asia and didn’t use a squat toilet they are lying through their lying face.
So, check that off my SE Asia experience.
Southern Cambodia is very hilly and so lush with greenery and thick foliage it’s not hard to imagine you could go traipsing through that jungle and find a new species of something. It’s so lovely and the farther south we went the more the sun started to peak out. That cast some really dramatic shadows on the hills, the crown would be hit with sunlight but the valley below would still be in shadow. It looked like a fantasy world painting. Maybe the next thing I write will have a griffon or something hiding in the green hills of Cambodia. Or a Naga, that would be more appropriate.
Then, through the trees, glimpses of blue. Palm trees lined the road, not indicative of the beach, there are coconut trees all over the place, but pair that with the water and you could feel how damn close we were.
Through a dust-sand covered section of town that looked like most of the other tiny towns scattered about Cambodia and then the van made a sharp turn down a—shit you not—dirt road that looked more like a wide cow path. But on the horizon was sparkling blue and we were heading right for it. I don’t care if I have to unload and take a donkey the rest of the way, anything to get me there.
And we make another turn and the road dropped out from under us. This tiny, narrow little paved road snaked down the hill at a near vertical angle. Apartments built into the wall of the hill where this road had been carved had a view of trees and when the breeze was bright the sapphire blue of water.
In true Cambodian style, we blew out of that narrow alley with only a cursory honk and straight into the thick of traffic. Bigger than I had assumed it would be, it still can’t match the hustle of Phnom Penh, well, as much hustle as Cambodia gets. This is a beach town in the middle of the jungle and you can feel that everywhere. I really had the feeling that the people there were only just holding the jungle at bay. Like if they let up for even a day the trees would buckle the roads and sidewalks, shrubs would pop up on street corners, the colorful flowers they had planted would overflow their pots and take up residence in the cracks of buildings.
Twisting and turning down the streets we pulled into small courtyard and parked. Set back off the quiet street, our hotel was five minutes from the beach. Ready for water and sun, we couldn’t dump our bags and run straight into the water. Not all of our rooms were ready yet.
But we’re innovative and we want to go to the damn beach. Those who had their rooms ready stored luggage for those who were still waiting and we all changed. After liberal application of sunscreen were off and down that hill like greased lightning. The hill down the beach is lined with tiny cafes that reminded me more of Western Europe like Greece and Italy, also towering hotels that probably cost forty bucks a night and travel centers and small grocery shops selling food and swimsuits in the same display.
Sand! Glorious sand and the sound of water!
The only beaches I’ve been to are the Carolinas and Florida and there the waves come roaring in like freight trains and they body slam the beach every time they come in. Sihanoukville waves are much gentler. There was no roar, it’s more like a harsh whisper. And the sand was warm and the sun peeked out a little to really make the water shine. I’ve never seen turquoise water. In Sihanoukville the water is literally the color of gems and precious stones; lapsis, turquoise, sapphire. I see why people flock to beaches like this.
And the water was warm! Like a warm salt bath. Again, in the Carolinas the water is cold and in Florida unless you catch a warm current, it’s pretty chilly too. Not here. It was so nice. This is why people retire to places like this. I’d love to spend the rest of my life in this crystal blue warm water.
One thing the Carolinas have on Sihanoukville; Waves. I like the massive six and ten foot waves that come rolling in. Those waves that will steam roll you if you’re not paying attention and pummel you into the sand. I love those waves. I like it when the storms out at sea churn up the ocean and those dark waves rise up like the specter of Death and hit the beach with everything they have.
The quiet waves at Sihanoukville were nice though. Easy to float on.
I got lunch with a couple other girls at one of the many, many small restaurants lining the backside of the beach. These little businesses were crammed in right on top of each other but they didn’t overwhelm the beach like you get in US beaches. They were like small huts that blended with the jungle beach scenery. I got swordfish for the first time in my life. It was amazing. Cambodian cuisine doesn’t use a lot of spices so the natural flavors of the food really shine. I got a Yellow Submarine drink and one of the girls got a goddamn incredible strawberry smoothie. No one does smoothies like Cambodia. No one.
Disclaimer: This is my post about the Killing Fields and it is not a happy one.
I went to the Phnom Penh Killing Fields a week ago Sunday and I’ve probably started this post a dozen different ways. I thought about doing a step-by-step of the experience, what it was like driving up and seeing it for the first time, listening to survivor stories. But that seems really clinical and detached. There is nothing cut and dry about the Killing Fields and what it takes for humans to do that to each other. It’s a messy experience full of chaotic emotions.
But I’m not going to write about the Killing Fields. There are some horrors in the world that are too great for words. There simply are not words that can convey the spirit crushing horror of The Killing Tree and the Magic Tree. There’s nothing I can say or write that will make you understand what it’s like to listen to a recording of what was most likely the last thing people—children, men, and women—heard before they were hacked to death with hoes, scythes, bayonets, and axes.
You can still see clothes coming up from the ground as erosion continues to bring more victims to the surface. Scraps of t-shirts and jackets and blouses tangled in roots.
One of my classmates found a skull.
I found a femur. Part of a femur at least.
There are teeth and bone fragments everywhere.
So no, I could flip through a dictionary for days and still not find the words to explain to you the terrible horror of the Killing Fields so I won’t try.
So I got super lucky on the one-to-one tutoring in that the guy who has lived here for six months did in fact manage to find not just one, but five other people at a hostel who want a free lesson. So Saturday morning myself and four others hopped in a Tuk Tuk and went absolutely nowhere fast.
Holy hells, Chinese New Year.
Year of the Monkey, FYI
Also, year of the goddamn traffic.
Jay said it would take about twenty to twenty-five minutes to get to the hostel. We were scheduled to meet at 10am. We left our hotel a little after 930. At 1045 we finally made it to the hostel.
But we got there and we split off with our pupils to do the assessment so we could come up with a lesson.
Now on the surface, this seems like a great idea. I get to practice tutoring and they get a lesson in English. And if that’s as far as you think about it, yeah, everyone wins. But as I and the other three ladies discussed if you actually think about this it is horribly exploitive and a terrible assignment. We’re supposed to go out into this city and find someone who wants or needs English bad enough they are willing to take a free lesson from someone on the street.
This is a poor city in a poor country and any sort of English skill can be the one thing that will allow someone to get a good job that will provide not only for their family but also secure an education for their children that will give them a better life.
So we do this joke of an assessment, for real, it’s a list of questions that takes about twenty minutes to fill out, and we’re supposed to come up with a useful lesson plan from that. The guy I tutored works in the kitchen at the hostel, which was a hella stroke of luck. I’ve worked in restaurant kitchens pretty much since I started working. And, thankfully, my student wanted better kitchen English so that he could move up the ranks.
After we finished our assessments, we walked down the road to a small coffee shop to begin our lesson planning. The strawberry smoothie I got was utterly divine and if it wasn’t so far I’d be there every day getting one.
But I digress.
My student finished his shift at 2, so at 230 we walked back down to the hostel and I did my lesson. I’d like to think I helped him at least a little. But while he had a pretty good understanding of English already, one lesson is not enough to bolster knowledge. It’s just not. The only useful thing I think I taught him was “I don’t understand, let me get someone who can help.”
So I hated this assignment. If I was staying in Cambodia, I’d be at that hostel once a week doing lessons for everyone. The owner even promised us one free meal per lesson if we’d stay and help.
This could be a really great thing. If every batch of teachers coming through went to this hostel and gave everyone one free hour then yes, I can see something coming from that. And we all who went to the hostel passed around the names of our students and the address for the hostel so anyone who didn’t have someone to tutor could go there. As it stands now though, this lesson was just a waste of everyone’s time.
Thursday’s class wasn’t great. My observer yesterday told me I needed to do more dialogue exercises in class. My kids are like four years old so any dialogue exercise I do with them has to be really, really simple. But I shrugged and did what he asked because this is the shit we get evaluated on.
I walked in today and thought, for our first exercise, the “Warmer” we’d do the Telephone game, or Whispers, whichever you prefer. You know the one, you line up single file and someone whispers “Apple” or whatever in the first person’s ear and it goes down the line and you see what comes out at the end.
I don’t know if I’m not explaining these things the right way or if I’m making it too complicated but it just didn’t work. The first boy refused to continue the whisper because he said it would break the telephone.
Fine, let’s do something else.
So we did a vocab review with spelling and then I tried to introduce some dialogue. “I fell and hurt my elbow.” So I drew some stick figures on the board and walked them through a scenario of running around the playground and tripping.
But, I got them to say the whole thing, I don’t think they knew what they were saying, but they said it. It was a really long grueling lesson. I was bored and I know they were bored. The only saving grace is that the lady that was supposed to be observing me today didn’t show up. The downside is, I have to do dialogue tomorrow so that it says in my teaching practice workbook that I used the technique.
We also found out today that before Thursday, we have to find a local and give them a one hour free tutoring lesson in English. So you know, little introverted me is super excited about that bullshit. But it’s only one hour and one of the guys who’s lived here for six months is already tutoring a girl and he said she probably knew a couple other people that would like a free lesson.
And if that doesn’t work two other girls and I have decided we’ll just go to the mall and put a sign up that says “Free English Lesson” and see what happens.
But after some looong lessons on grammar, I went out to eat with three other people to a little Korean BBQ place just down the street. It was great. We spent about two hours talking about classes and kids and the assignment and ribbing each other about our countries (one of the girls is from England). It was great food and great conversation. The meal itself came with some cabbage, onions, mango, some kind of melon, mixed greens, and carrots. Then we ordered seasoned beef, BBQ pork, bacon, rice, salted mango, mushrooms, and spring onions. And there was a little grill in the middle of the table so everything was made right there fresh.
Final bill: $7.50.
So, lousy day in class and an assignment I’m not looking forward to, but a great meal to end the day. I suppose, we’ll just try again tomorrow.
So Friday, we were told that those of us teaching at the school True Vision would have our room assignment by the end of the day. I was okay with that. That meant we’d have the weekend to brainstorm ideas for our very first class.
Friday night still no room assignment.
Saturday night, no room assignment.
Sunday one of my classmates sent an email asking if our room assignment had come in.
Monday morning, seven of us loaded up two Tuk Tuks and started the trek to True Vision without any idea of what age group we were teaching. True Vision has students that range from preschool to sixth grade.
We get to the office and we all started to relax a little. The kids playing in the courtyard are older, about seven and eight, and that was what we had planned for. Excellent.
Then the True Vision staff split us up.
On the other side of the office is another campus and that’s where myself and two others were led.
There in the courtyard, small children. Tiny children. Children significantly younger than the seven and eight year olds we had just left.
I have a class of four year olds. Preschool.
Tiny, tiny children.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, I had on my lesson plan and none of the stuff we had discussed in our teaching course was meant for children this young. I asked them to write their names on a sheet of paper and draw a picture from their favorite story. The TA had to help three of the six spell their names. I had thought it wouldn’t be that bad, six students, I can wing this. I’ll think of something.
8:20, eight more students come through the door. I have fourteen four year olds and nothing on my lesson plan will work.
I tried to modify one of the games I had. “Jungle Survival” What items do you take into the jungle? It didn’t work. Okay. What animals live in the jungle? Elephants, fish, dogs, and cats. Okay, maybe not.
They demanded we sing a song. I don’t know any. I don’t like to sing and I sure as fuck can’t make up some bullshit diddly at the drop of a hat. So I asked them what songs they knew while staring at the clock waiting for it to hit 8:50 when I could release them to the courtyard.
So Monday was a clusterfuck of a different color. The only saving grace being that I was not observed and critiqued when everything fell apart and anarchy ruled no one but the TA had to see it.
Sickness has taken hold of my classmates. Two of them were too sick to teach, three of them probably should have stayed at the hotel, and four more were also green around the gills. I’m still feeling fine. And this time I have a goddamn plan.
This time we’re going to have rules and the students will tell me their names when they walk in.
This time we’re going to write the alphabet on the board in a board race.
This time we’re going to learn new words like “Elbow,” “Ankle,” “Wrist,” “Thigh,” and “Neck.”
This time we’re going to play a game at the end with our new vocabulary.
This time, four students came in at 8am when class starts and when I asked them to write their names on the board they couldn’t make the letters or spell them.
This time, the alphabet board race fell apart before it began. The concept of “teams” and “racing” still too complex in a non-native language so they just wrote letters on the board.
This time, we learned the word “Elbow”. Sort of.
This time, there was an observer watching me watch the clock waiting for it to hit 8:50.
But it wasn’t all bad. The observer said I need to be louder and use the students’ names. She said I need more examples of the words I’m using and I need to do more repetition. I need to put the words in a sentence, something they can use context clues to really figure out the word.
This time I am ready to rock and fucking roll. I have nametags, I have stickers, I have a goddamn plan.
This time I track down an attendance sheet and ask the kids to spell and point to their names while I write down their nametags.
This time we’re reviewing “Elbow” and learning “Ankle”, with pictures. I have examples and I have questions to drill them on understanding.
This time I have a game where they have to point to their elbows and ankles to get the point.
This time they’re going to spell the words.
This time my observer told me I did an excellent job on drilling and class flow and class management. This time the plan fucking worked.