Wow! I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve written because I’m four days behind. We’ll see how much I catch up on. If you’re reading this now, thanks for still being interested!! On Saturday, June 7th we had a super early morning to head out to Phum Tampoeung, a small village about 24 miles from Siem Reap. We first picked up seven students from Pouk, a technical college, to join us for the journey. When we arrived after about an hour of travelling, we first stopped at the primary school in the village. This village is where Mr. Sarith Ou grew up, and he opened the primary school on his land. His father is actually one of three men that started the village. After a brief introduction, we split into groups of two Cambodian students and two American students so the American students could have a more personal tour of the village while the Cambodian students explained. Page and I split off with two girls, but unfortunately because they spoke less English than we were hoping, our tour was mostly quiet. Around the village though there were several houses on stilts which is the common way to build them to prevent flood damage. Also there were several dogs, pigs and cows meandering through the dirt roads. The pigs there are what really took me by surprise! They were about the size of a small cow, just with a few more pounds packed on. The tour was pretty short because of the extreme heat and several miscommunications but it really gave me and others insight on what village life is really like. It was dirt roads, houses on stilts, and wells for drinking and washing. There were also a few small shops that sold soda and snacks. The people there were friendly although I felt like such a spectacle with different looks we received. I’m sure not many foreigners take the time to see a village.
After the tour of the village we visited Wat Kralaan where I saw the most beautiful vihiya I’ve ever seen in my life..and of course on the day I didn’t bring my camera! Luckily everyone else was as awestruck as I and took several. I think my favorite part of the vihiya was inside when Professor Hansen led us through the different stages of the Buddha’s life painted largely on the walls. The paintings were so bright and beautifully produced and they also had their prices marked on the corners, which I was extremely surprised because some of the most intricate ones were as cheap as $150 dollars. By painting though they make merit so it makes sense to keep the prices low. After the Wat we headed back home, and it was still early enough to sneak in a quick nap before all of us girls had a ladie’s night. We all got dressed up and went to a restaurant called The Sun and enjoyed each other’s company. It was an incredible evening! 🙂
Sunday was our first whole day off since the trip began! It was a much needed day off and I laid in bed all day and enjoyed a 90 minute massage for only $18! The strange part of the massage, though, was that it was through the hotel and they gave it in the room on my bed. I was extremely unprepared and, being the girl I am, had clothes sprawled everywhere and my bed unmade. The massage itself was enjoyable but different from American massages because it had a lot more to do with stretching out my body and cracking my back rather than kneading.
Later in the day I went back to the English conversation table with Kong Kia and although it was the only productive thing I did all day-wow was it an experience! I was greeted by the ten-ish people already there and Kong Kia was twirling a flower between her fingers (as I’d mentioned earlier Wat Damnak has several flowers everywhere). She noticed me looking at it and asked if I’d seen a flower before like that and I hadn’t, it was yellow and looked like a thick plastic. She smelled it and said it smelled great and out of habit I had asked to smell it too but she informed me it was bad luck to let someone smell a flower after you because the smell was gone. I just thought that was an interesting yet polite concept. The conversation that followed ours was extremely intriguing. The topic of today’s class was “Youth Activity in Society”. At first I was a little bit lost because I thought they meant activity as in sport because they kept mentioning after school activities, but they had a focus on the problems of society and how the youth is responsible for trying to rid Cambodia of it. Essentially, the man who led the group discussion explained that people in villages don’t really have time to care about society or participate in its activities because they are always too busy working, however teenagers of the city do have free time after school to volunteer and play a part in society. A boy was called out in the class and asked if he had ever volunteered and when he replied “no” he was asked if it was because he didn’t know he could or because he didn’t care about society. It was an awkward situation because you could tell he felt sort of bad for not participating. Within this class there is usually a lot of spotlight opinion or personal questions, something I’ve always felt uncomfortable with personally. Kong Kia chimed in that she and Tivorn earlier that day were painting a school in their free time and that there were several opportunities to become involved. A young monk, then, added that whenever he gets money from blessing houses he goes to the store and buys notebooks and pens for young children.
The man leading the discussion then raised the question of “What is an activity? How do we define it?” which led to more discussion on whether you could volunteer individually or only as a group. A girl in the back then chimed up to the boy who said he never participated, “You said you never volunteer but that’s not true. I see you picking up trash from the street often!” I think everyone’s face in the room lit up because he really was contributing to societies needs whether he realized it or not. Cambodia here has a large problem with trash on the street, and the girl in the back made a really good point that if everyone just picked up a little trash everyday it would contribute to the greater good overall. The girl explained that they shouldn’t need to wait for their government to ask for help, they see the need and they should help by themselves. It was a really interesting and inspiring conversation to be a part of, because I’m constantly learning about the societal problems here in Cambodia but it was nice to realize that Cambodians realize this as well and want to help their country. They are really proud of their country and culture and it really made me think about the active youth in America. I personally have not volunteered in America in over a year, unless you count donating blood, and it’s mostly because of time. Yet, I came all the way to Cambodia with my own money to volunteer over fifty hours of service at CKS. I became very conflicted during this conversation because I am proud of myself and my classmates that we took a month of our time to come and volunteer, but I also felt ashamed because I haven’t donated any of my free time to the needs of American society. I guess the problems don’t seem as large or necessary to me, since I’m donating time here to help teach English and promote creativity through art but in America we have that already handed to us.
Although the meat of the conversation was spent on volunteering and bettering society, another important point was brought up. Apparently some parents pay teachers to come to their homes instead of sending their children to school. I couldn’t understand why during our conversation but I guess this is common in some of Cambodia and Thailand. The question was raised whether that is better or worse for the child. I had the same opinion as others and agreed that the child should be send to school where they can interact and share knowledge with others. In a way, the discussion I was in was promoting that same idea of sharing knowledge because one girl who couldn’t speak English very well didn’t want to speak at all, yet everyone encouraged her to speak in Khmer and they would translate to English so she could still have a voice in the discussion. Honestly I’ve never seen a group of teens so passionate about volunteering or bettering their education and it was really amazing that I could witness the conversation.