Dispatches from Cell #227

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October 22nd 2010
Published: November 13th 2010
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We're both #227. Coincidence?
I live in a 6x8 cell at the OK Guesthouse in Phnom Penh. I have a mattress covered in a sheet and a length of cloth which is supposed to be my blanket. At the foot of the bedframe, there is just enough room to leave my suitcase. Next to that a TV has been wedged into the corner. I have never turned it on.

Luckily, I don't have to spend too much time in my cell, because the school gave me another six hours to teach--every day. This mean that now I am working from 7:30 in the morning till 7:30 in the evening, with maybe an hour for lunch. It's impossible to plan adequately for class without cutting into my physical needs, such as sleeping. Sleeping is something I haven't done adequately for days, since I was ejected from my apartment in Jining and was so distraught by my experience that I didn't sleep for more than 3 hours on any given night. I'm almost hoping to contract food poisoning from something, just so that I can take a day off!

Unfortunately, my six extra hours involve me teaching (or rather, trying to control) spoiled Khmer children.
What You Say To CHILDRENWhat You Say To CHILDRENWhat You Say To CHILDREN

...when you're an EFL teacher. *Credits to Gary Larson*
In these classes, too, I had no idea which page the students are on. The classes don't necessarily have a Khmer teaching assisstant, which can make the job very difficult when the children have decided that because they can't understand you, they don't have to obey you. It can also be difficult when they pretend they don't know the words "be quiet"; the boys have decided they want to fight; and the girls are content to color in their Barbie coloring books without paying you the slightest whit of attention. One of my 6th grade boys decided he wanted to pull out a gun and start talking about ganja...and these are the future leaders of Cambodia!

Although I am tempted to question why I left China, I actually feel as though I am dealing with real human beings again, rather than a wall. Even the children seem like real children--not stuck up, sullen, and mentally and physically drained. They are inclined to shout at me like a long lost friend and bearhug me in the hallways. My kindergarteners (which I have for twice, count 'em, TWO times out of the day) are absolutely a delight now that I don't have parents breathing down my back and judging every move I make. Of course, I have had to be so hard on kids this week, and I've had to confiscate so many toys, that parents just may be breathing down my back once more.

The school only takes about 10 minutes to get to by moto and or tuk-tuk, longer if there is a visiting official in town (which is what happened yesterday). I am living almost directly across from the royal palace, and the boulevard is shut down when another leader comes to town. This is one of the few ways in which Phnom Penh reminds me of Cincinnati--I can tell you all the stories about the days Bush was in town asking for campaign contributions. I've hired my own driver for now, who I am hoping can also give me lessons in Khmer. I got my Chinese to a semi-functional level without really trying; now that I am staying in Cambodia indefinitely, I feel that it behooves me to learn some of the local language.

Fare thee well good citizens, I am returning to cell #227 for now to plot and plan lessons for a million noisy, wiggly Khmer kids and maybe a few adults.


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