Two weeks in Siem Reap (2)

Although I’m getting used to Phnom Penh and all its crazy ways, I really fell in love with the Siem Reap in the ten days I spent in the city.  (Okay, yes I lied in the post title. But it rhymes*, and we all know the auditory aesthetics of the words are more important than the truth.) First, Siem Reap is a lot calmer than Phnom Penh: the traffic is more relaxed; it’s less crowded; the public places are a lot more open. Also, as I explored it, I felt I go to know it reasonably well. Just like there’s a divide between cat and dog people, there seems to be a divide between Phnom Pehn and Siem Reap people. Although I wouldn’t really say I have a preference of feline versus canine, I definitely felt a bit more at home in Siem Reap. That’s good, because I’m spending the majority of my time up there. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Phnom Penh and I’ll probably miss it after the ten or so weeks I’m here.

First, I discovered that I really love tuk tuk rides. Which is good, because we had quite a few of them, including to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, as well as various venues in Pub Street and the local area (which somewhat lacks the insobriety the name would suggest).

Near our hotel and conference venue, there was a Vietnamese restaurant. I’m useless so I can’t remember the name, but I can tell you it’s on National Route 6 and it has what seemed to be a picture of the smiling cow from Dairylee on the doors. It was pretty good, and there was a reasonable amount of variety. On the first day of the conference, many of the team ended up there quite independently of each other. It was nice being able to be introduced to one another before the meetings had started. The start of the meeting was slightly delayed because there was a torrential downpour and we had to wait for a minibus to pick us up to do what would have been a five-minute walk. We also went there later in the week as it was so close and the food was nice.

We also tried various places in and around Pub Street. One of the two of note are La Boulangerie. Here the food is good and there’s a make your own pizza option. You get a little sheet and you tick what options you want (like ordering school dinners when you were little). I had to resist ticking all the options (except the anchovies, they can keep them). I was ridiculously excited given as it was just pizza, but it seems especially exciting when you’ve been consuming a lot of rice.

Then there’s Blue Pumpkin. More people advised going to Blue Pumpkin than Angkor Wat when I mentioned I was in Siem Reap on Facebook. It’s an ice cream and cake shop, with a ‘cool lounge’ on top. Often when things promote itself as cool, you think it probably isn’t. It’s like the embarrassing uncle that dances at weddings, and says things like “hey kids, I’m cool, I’m hip.” (Fortunately, I’ve never had an uncle like that. Unfortunately, my cousins have.) However, Blue Pumpkin have got the meaning of cool spot-on. First, their air conditioning does work very well up there, which, to the sweaty Brit, is a relief. (“How many times are you going to mention your sweat on this blog?” you may well ask. I don’t know, is the answer to that.) The design of the upstairs lounge is brilliant. It has great seating areas and colourful pieces of print design on the wall. However, the pièce de resistance is the long bench along the wall. It’s about the width of a single bed, and high enough that you pretty much have to climb onto them. I wonder how many people have fallen asleep there.

We also went to the Angkor Mondial restaurant. It’s a buffet restaurant, selling Cambodian and South-East Asian cuisine (very much like a Global Buffet in the UK). Some people will say that the food is not as high a quality as you would get elsewhere, which is true, but it’s really good for people who are just starting out on trying local dishes. Rather than ordering a whole dish you don’t like, you can try little bits of a variety of dishes. You can experiment with the various sweet desserts and there’s an urn of tea so you have a constant supply.

It’s not just the food, however, which makes the place worth visiting. There is a stage, and while you are eating or choosing your food you are also treated to traditional apsara dancing. Some of it is slow and stately, where each turn of the hand has a particular meaning (that I don’t know). However, these were interspersed with folk dances, which put our Morris dancing to shame. They essentially tell a story (usually of love) with different characters. My favourite was the fisherman’s dance. It was just a sweet love story between a fisherman and a fisher girl, using baskets as props. I can tell you, these Cambodian dancing girls know how to toy with a boy’s heart (the character’s, not mine). All this for $6 (£4.60).

Here are some tips that I learnt or have picked up off others along the way:

  • don’t order the beef- it’s probably not going to make you ill, it’s just quite tough. When you see the cows out in the countryside it might give you an idea to why. If there are fish, chicken or vegetable options, go for those instead (and it’ll also help your cholesterol)
  • check your ice. Some people avoid ice completely, but that’s not always necessary in Cambodia. If it’s round with a hole, it’s been ordered in and it’s clean. If it’s crushed up or oddly shaped, it’s probably not. You can see people making the crushed ice at the back of the Russian markets
  • clean your cutlery and your cans. In most Cambodian restaurants, there is a box of tissues on each table, and a bin at one end. Give your cutlery and cans a quick wipe with a tissue and chuck the tissue away. You can also put any bones or bits you don’t want in the bin too rather than have them hang around your plate.
  • Spoon not fork. You only get provided a fork and spoon in most places (or chopsticks if you’re eating noodles). It’s the spoon that goes to your mouth not the fork- that’s just used to manoeuvre food into the spoon.

I also had the chance to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, but I’ll upload that later (when I’m on a Wifi network and not using my mobile data- there may be a video).

(*More technically, it is the assonance of the “ee” sound in weeks and Siem Reap that makes is interesting. Note how it’s pronounced See-em (as in “look, I can see ’em over there!”) not Sigh-em. You could go completely local and just call it Sim Rip- much like how we render Southampton “soufam’un”.)

Two weeks in Siem Reap

I would love to tell you that the lack of substantial updates was because I have had an NGO-superhero lifestyle for the last two weeks. I would love tell you how I saved a pod of river dolphins from nets in the Mekong, or how I built and started up an orphanage from scratch, or how I saved a whole city from debt to evil foreign corporations. First, however, I am no superhero. (If I were a superhero, I would be Sweatman. I would sweat so profusely that the villain would feel repulsed and be compelled to stop whatever villainous activity they were undertaking.) Second, I don’t think NGO work is ever that glamorous. I do want to write a post on voluntourism and why what I’m doing hopefully isn’t that but that’s for later. In this post, I will concentrate on the “work” that I was doing while is Siem Reap; I will save the fun and adventures for another time.

I wrote in my previous post that I had taken a coach to Siem Reap (on which I had my encounter with the cricket). Like I said, it was great to meet other members of my organisation. Some of them I met on the coach; some of them I would meet later. There are people working all over Cambodia in the organisation, some are based in Phnom Penh, some in Siem Reap and others in Takeo province. But it was great to have most people in one place at once. Later in the week, we even had some of the Thai team join us as well as visitors from Singapore and Brazil. That exemplifies one thing I love about the organisation: how international and diverse it is. There was at least one representative (if not two) from every continent (barring Antarctica, of course). The other thing that I love about this organisation is the unity. There is a vast spectrum of people within the group, different nationalities and different temperaments. I’m a British introvert, who shared a room with a Brazilian extrovert; you’d be hard to find two people that were such polar opposites. And yet, there was a sense of cohesion and care that everyone had for one another. Everyone was welcoming and kind, you quickly fell into the team and you felt like you had known the group for years. It was a real blessing to have spent those ten days with such great people.

However, as well as welcoming you into the team, they also wanted you to play a part. Despite being a newbie, I still had jobs to do. I was on the minute-taking team (as I’m a native English writer); I also ended up looking after the children of families that were there. Both of these were valuable but humbling experiences.

Being a minute-taker meant that you had to quickly learn the processes, acronyms and key terms of the organisation and this particular team. You had to listen carefully as to what was being said and, although I felt thrown in at the deep end at times, this helped to feel a part of the team. Also, it meant that, as I had to keep track of what was being said, I often had a good grasp of the direction the discussions had taken. This meant that I could play a part in shaping the meetings and decisions (I would often be saying things like, “The question about the thingy has not been addressed yet” or “we probably need to clarify such and such a bit”), and, despite being the newest person on the team, it felt like they valued my contributions and my thoughts. So, that’s the valuable part of the minute taking.

The humbling part is when it came to reviewing the minutes. The whole team checks the minutes just to confirm that they make sense, especially as people not at the meetings will be reading it and it will have to be understandable for them. However, the emphasis was on brevity. This meant a lot of my work (and that of the other minute-takers) was brutally axed. I heard “that can go,” or “that needs to be reworded” a lot. Probably less than a quarter of the original material was left as it was.

Working with the children was also rewarding, and also humbling. There were only a few children, and they were all so brilliant. They all had different characters and it was great to get to know them. They were also open to interacting with you, even if they didn’t really understand what you were saying (most of the children did not have English as a first language). It was just nice to be silly, play games and do various craft activities. (I learnt how far the basic principles of cutting and sticking could go- very far as it turns out.) Take a look at some of the fantastic artwork produced.

But there were a few experiences that were pretty humbling. I had to cut strips of coloured paper for one of the craft activities. One of the children, who is around six years old, looked up to me and said, “You know, it would be easier if you folded the paper and cut along the folds.” Yes, little six-year-old boy, yes it would. This wasn’t helped by the fact that English is his second or third language, and he was still able to advise me in it. This boy is already winning at life more than I am at 28.

Later that week, I discovered that this boy spoke French at home. Trying to regain some credibility as a functioning adult, I thought I would use some of the few French phrases that I know. After I uttered some French sounding words, he looked up at me baffled. Then he sweetly smiled and said, “I do not understand what you are saying,” and then continued with his colouring. “Okay,” I thought, “I’ll just crawl back into the monolingual hole from whence I came.”

Cambodia afternoons are either hot or wet and rainy because it has been hot. This meant that the parents thought letting the children have a time of wet-play would be a great way to help them cool down. The parents all knew about this, so they came prepared with changes of clothes for the children. I, however, was not prepared. So the children all got changed, while the parents set up a paddling pool and a wet-play table, filling them up with a hose. As the children came out, the parents uttered something like, “we’ll be inside if you need us,” which can be translated to “good luck.” I hoped that as the children didn’t know me that well I might stay reasonably dry. I was wrong. (Did I mention that there was a hose?) When one of the parents came out, she didn’t actually realise I was soaking. I was so uniformly wet, she thought my clothes were that colour, whereas they should have been a number of shades lighter. When I pointed this out to her, she just said, “oh” and looked a little guilty, carrying her child off to get changed into nice, dry clothes.

This experience reminded me of a time earlier this year. I was at a training session, run by the UK branch of the organisation, for people going to various parts of the world. One of those on the session told me, “You know, you’re one of those people who are really easy to mock.” I thought at the time that perhaps he meant that I quickly put people at ease and they feel like they’ve known me for years; people feel comfortable enough to have a joke with me. No, he meant that I’m really easy to mock. If there is anyone that is going to be teased, soaked with water or otherwise humiliated, it’s going to be me. Even despite the language barrier, the children were able to sense it. Fortunately, teaching has ripped any sense of ego out of me, so it was like water off a duck’s back (pun intended).

After the first week, we had four days of training. Although, perhaps, not immediately applicable in what I will be doing for the ten months I am in Siem Reap, a lot of the principles I will be able to return home. I’ve already started thinking and planning about how I’m going to apply the ideas.

As I hinted at earlier, it wasn’t all work for ten days. There were opportunities to explore Siem Reap and the surrounding area (including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom). I will write about these in my next post, so watch this space.

Thomas tries… fried cricket

I maintain that I will try any food or beverage once (unless it is illegal or highly toxic). This will probably be a regular feature of my blog, where I taste something for the first time. Now, I will need to be sensitive about the comments I make. Just because I like something, it doesn’t make it inheritently good and if I don’t like it, it’s not necessarily bad. It’s just a case of personal preference. There will also be a large cultural element to this as well. Just because the average British person may not be used to a certain taste palate, does not mean it should be dismissed. A part of this is about me adapting to my surrounding culture, and attempting to integrate myself with elements of Cambodian life. It will never be a straightforward process, and some of it may involve me gritting my teeth and getting on with it. I’m sure the saying “beggars can’t be choosers” will soon become a personal motto.

About two weeks ago now, I caught a coach from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap in order to go to a conference for my job as English teacher. I went with various people from my organisation, so it was quite a fun trip and it was a nice time to get to know different people. We had two stops and at one place they sold fried insects (crickets and I think maggots).

I decided that it probably wouldn’t be wise to try it while on a coach, and I’d have to buy a big bag anyway just to try one, so it’d be a waste. However, a boy on our coach, who is rather partial to edible invertebrates, bought a bag and offered me one. So, here’s the evidence of me trying it.

I’m quite glad the video cut short. I managed not to gag until I reached my seat at the back of the bus. The mixture of the dried spices on it plus a realisation of what I just put in my mouth nearly made me heave. As you can see, it was surprisingly difficult to get through, and in my eagerness to end the experience I perhaps swallowed somewhat prematurely. This resulted in something (perhaps a leg, perhaps a part of the outer shell) getting lodged in the back of my throat. I have quite an active gag reflex as it is, which I was doing my best to suppress. Fortunately, I had the can of coke on hand. I’ve never got through a can so quickly.

I’m currently compiling a list of things that I might have to try:

  • dried crocodile,
  • frogs,
  • salad with red tree ants, 
  • banana blossom salad, 
  • white choco cheese filled cakes.

So there’s no worries about me running out of things to film!

Thomas tries… ‘British Milk Tea’

I maintain that I will try any food or beverage once (unless it is illegal or highly toxic). This will probably be a regular feature of my blog, where I taste something for the first time. Now, I will need to be sensitive about the comments I make. Just because I like something, it doesn’t make it inheritently good and if I don’t like it, it’s not necessarily bad. It’s just a case of personal preference. There will also be a large cultural element to this as well. Just because the average British person may not be used to a certain taste palate, does not mean it should be dismissed. A part of this is about me adapting to my surrounding culture, and attempting to integrate myself with elements of Cambodian life. It will never be a straightforward process, and some of it may involve me gritting my teeth and getting on with it. I’m sure the saying “beggars can’t be choosers” will soon become a personal motto.

About 39 hours into my journey to Cambodia and with my mother’s voice ringing in my ears, I decided I was in need of hydration. I found a vending machine near my departure gate and then I saw this.

I knew I had to try it. Of course I was dubious about it. First, it was cold and from a vending machine. Furthermore, the Lipton ice tea we get back in the UK can often taste a bit artificial and overly sweet. Having just freshly departed from home, I was perhaps drawn to something familiar, so the word ‘British’ was appealing. However, the thing that both intrigued and concerned me the most was the word ‘milk’ in the title. Iced coffee with milk, that’s fine. Iced tea with milk, that would normally be a no. But why not? So this is me trying to descretely try it. The video is really short because I was only on about 9% battery life at this point and its at a strange low angle shot (I had to balance my phone on my passport to take this). But it’s perhaps worth it for facial expressions.

It was similtaneously exactly as I expected it to be and surprisingly disappointing. The main surprise was how sweet it was. The other surprise is that it tasted just like tea. Only, this is that cup of tea that you put down on the window sill and forget about. A few hours later, when you finally spot it and wonder what could be the harm in trying it, only to be crushed by the realisation that cold tea is never nice. So that is what it tastes like: disappointed hope of a decent cup of tea and sweet, sweet regret at your life choices. You are left with the bitter taste of milk on the turn in your mouth and the sense that all that is good in the world has been lost.

The journey the movie

I’ve been experimenting with an app I have on my phone called Splice. While I was waiting in the airport I made this video (and finished it off later). I was going to upload it earlier, but WiFi problems and busyness got in the way. Feel free not to watch it, it’s just a lot of airport shots. 

However, I’m making a few more as we speak, including me trying food and my adventures around Angkor Wat.

Arrival in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, and it is where I will be staying for the first two months of my travels. The first impression was hot and dry, which is strange as it was probably meant to be hot and wet. The folks that picked me up explained that there had been unseasonable weather over the last few days and that they were due some rain, which came in a brief downpour later that afternoon.

The main thing that struck me was how passive you are when you move to a foreign country. You suddenly become a helpless idiot who is told what to do (queue here, fill out this paper, wait there, fill out this paper, queue here, fill out this paper).  This continued for the first few days as my new housemate for my time in Phnom Penh guided me around the city. Due to my somewhat stubborn and independent streak, I found this a little frustrating. However, I got a chance to explore the city a little on my own, which was good.

Phnom Penh is busy, noisy and somewhat chaotic. Vehicles travel in all directions at once. Red lights, road markings and even one-way streets are just advisory. This makes crossing the road quite interesting (especially as I have to cross a four-lane dual carriageway to get to my language school); it’s a case of waiting until there’s a chance only two vehicles could run you down, instead of eight. Just make sure you look in all directions before you step out (even behind you, in case someone is using the pavement as an extra lane).

I’ve not had a chance to explore the city properly, so my impression is somewhat limited. I did go to the Russian Market (named due to the number of Russian expats that shopped here in the 80s). I also found a KFC (opposite the Russian Market). This was used when I needed WiFi and a place with air conditioning. I discovered they sell jelly and ice cream (which is amazing) for about 35p (which is even more amazing).

I also discovered that I’m rubbish at remembering to take photographs. However, I have taken some photos from the apartment I’m staying in. It’s in quite a quiet area, and it looks onto a beautiful Wat.

Oh, and here’s a bit of Cambodian health and safety.

The journey goes on…

First, thanks to everyone who has been having a look at my blog! I had around 300 views on Friday, which was surprising. A special shout out to those who commented. Seeing as only 1-2% of views generate comments, it’s just good to get a bit of feedback. It’s also helpful to know who is actually reading it. So let me know who you are, out there. I know I have a few school colleagues. There are even some students (including my “top G”) So, keep commenting and letting me know you’re out there.

We’ll go back to where I left you last. Back in Taipei Airport. Where I was left for 16 hours. Now, 16 hours in an airport would not be my first choice in how I would spend a sizeable portion of my life, especially over night when everything shuts down. I must have walked the arrival and departure halls about eight times. I found quite a pleasant place to rest and I was really impressed by the number of places available to charge your phones. The minutes ticked by, but eventually the 16 hours came to a close and I had to check in.

In the security queue there was another sniffing man. This is perhaps where culture shock started. In South East Asia, bodily emissions are considered rude, therefore it is more polite to sniff than it is to blow your nose. This is something I encountered in Japan  and Indonesia, but here I only encountered discrete sniffing. I’m not sure loud sniffing is culturally acceptable, but is probably considered the same way that someone loudly and constantly blowing their nose is in the UK. However, it seems, if I have to queue, someone has to sniff (maybe I’m an allergen).

But I managed to board my final flight successfully. We had barely taken off and it time for another airplane meal. We were given two options, which as far as I could make out (due to altitude deafness and the thick accent of the air stewardess) were: “Sauce and legs or blah blah and noodles.” I asked her to repeat the options; the reply was no more discernible. So I hesitantly asked for the first one. Apparently “legs” are apparently more appealing than “blah blah” (better the devil you know, eh?). It turned out to be sausage and eggs, which seemed quite obvious in hindsight. I think the other option was chicken and noodles.

After a rather tasty breakfast, I thought I would try to settle down to try to get some sleep. This wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, because the couple on the other side of the aisle began to argue. They were very unhappy with one another, and the woman seemed particularly vehement in her attack. However, they soon settled into a steely silence. At least I could get some sleep, even if they were now irreconcilable. This, unfortunately, was wishful thinking. It must have been the stress of the situation because the man started burping (I would had put it down to chicken and noodles, but he hadn’t eaten anything). These weren’t burps, these were belches that would even put some of my disreputable family members to shame. Everytime I would nod off, he would belch and I would awake annoyed.

Apparently, slumber did finally take hold, and it refused to release its grasp. Even as we touched down I was still in that fitful state of trying to wake up but not quite managing. Eventually, I roused myself and managed to grab my stuff and walk out into Cambodia. I had finally arrived! And so the real adventure begins.​​

The journey thus far…

It started with my alarm going off at 4am in the morning. 4am. And this was meant to be my school holidays. Although, I anticipate that Cambodians have a culture of early awakenings, so I might have to get use to it.

I said goodbye to my mum, in the normal British fashion (i.e. protracted). My mother questioned why I was taking a photo of the house.
“I’m not going to see this house for a whole year!” I told her.
“Neither am I at this rate,” she retorted.

Then my dad drove me to Birmingham International. This part of the journey was unexceptional except for an ill-adviced Burger King brunch (BK was the quietest part of the airport and I felt I needed to buy something to be there). And there was a man with one of the best moustaches I have ever seen.

Then, at 09:40 my first flight to Amsterdam departed. My stop at Schipholl was even more unexceptional (no men with moustaches, just a lot of tall people).

Then onward to Bangkok.

The flight was about 12 hours long, in which time I watched The Jungle Book; Hail, Caesar!; and The Theory of Everything. The food was reasonably good, too.

Although it was night time and we were meant to have the shutter down I did keep having a sneak peak out the window. I looked out over night-time Afghanastan. Then there was a spectacular lightening storm between Lahore and Dehli. I tried taking photos and videos but it didn’t do it justice. Columns of the cloud below us, hardly discernible and formless in the dark of the night, would momentarily be illuminated a dazzling white, veined and iridescent like marble. I wish my phone picked it up better, because if you didn’t capture it, it didn’t happen.

We arrived at Bangkok to get off the plane, knowing I would be returning to the exact same seat in the same plane about an hour later. The first thing about the outside world I noticed was the humidity and the smell. It just smelled of Asia. I can’t really describe it, but Asia seem to have a particular smell. I expect the UK does but I’m so used to it I don’t notice it. (I wonder if I’ll notice it on my return.) Bangkok airport was a slightly frustrating exercise as they led us on a half-mile circular route through various floors and security checks only to end up in the first departure lounge we passed on our arrival.

So I returned to the same seat on the same plane, hoping that the man next to me on the first leg of this split journey finished his journey at Bangkok. I arrived at my seat and for a while it seemed that I would get my wish. The plane was also ridiculously empty so no one else would have been joining me. But, alas, he returned to his seat. Blind obedience obviously transcends cultural differences, because he sat where his ticket told him to despite there being swathes of empty rows on this plane. So, I was one of two people within an 11 km radius that was within accidental-touching distance of a complete stranger. The other person being the complete stranger I was at risk of grazing my elbow against. I was also the only person on this flight whose exit to the toilet was impeded by having to inconvenience an aforementioned stranger. But on the plus side, the loos were just across the gangway.

After waiting for a suitable moment, I made good my escape. I went to the toilet, then sat a few rows back never to return to my actual seat. The sense of mischievous liberation I got out of this simple act suggests I’ve had a very dull existence until now, but, in my defence, when you’ve been traveling for 24 hours (with the bloodshot eyes to prove it), it’s the small things that count. However, I would pay for this moment of joy as I was departing the plane.

The meal on this flight was slightly more exotic. You know those hot lemon-scented towels you get given in Indian restaurants at the end of your meal? Well, I’m now pretty sure I now know what it would taste like if you were to put one in your mouth instead of using it to wipe your hands. There was an innocuous looking noodle salad with a surprising astringency to it. It would perhaps be generous if I were to call the flavour “refreshing”, but we’ll go with that for now. There was a nice coconut rice dessert and fruit salad, both of which actually were rather refreshing.

After this, I fell asleep. My slumber was peaceful and comfortable. Little did I know, as I dozed, that I was soon in for a nasty shock. I awoke just as we landed with a shuddering bump as we hit the tarmac of Taipei Airport. As I got I up I noticed a strange sensation: my trousers were wet. I will let you know this: when one awakes in a foreign country with a dampness in the seat of one’s trousers, one is inclined to feel a moment of sheer panic. Questions burst through my head, trying to account for such a discovery. Had I wet myself? (No, the dampness is isolated to the posterior not anterior of my pelvis.) Had I had a castastrophic bowel movement? Was it the Burger King brunch? (No, there was no other accompanying evidence for this, as one would expect; furthermore, the dampness was only around my left cheek.) Was I bleeding? Is this what dying feels like? (Look, I had only just woken up, people. I was dazed and confused- don’t judge me.)

I tried to exit the plane calmy and efficiently, shielding my rear with my bag and hoody as much as I could (I had little idea how evident my problem was to the rest of the world). I considered what I would do. I would find the nearest toilet and I would inspect the damage. I would try to discover the source of the substance and then I would decide what to do next. I reminded myself that I had bought a change of clothes and wet-wipes in my hand luggage.

After a short walk and one travelator later, I found myself in a clean and spacious toilet cubicle. At least I could investigate in comfort. Through thorough imperical experiments (poking and sniffing) I ascertained it was probably a beverage, most likely apple juice or Chinese tea that had been spilt on my chair and I had gradually absorbed it as I slept. That will teach me for moving seats.

Braced by this news, and cheered by the cleanliness and sophistication of the toilets, I felt ready to tackle Taipei Aiport, which was to be my home for the next 18 hours. If worst comes to worst, I’ll just find a spcaious cubicle and sleep there. I thought I would find somewhere to sit, hopefully with Wifi, and then perhaps get a drink or something to eat. However, I found myself in hell, a circuitous, airy, beautifully designed, orchid-filled hell. Every orchid-lined corridor just led to another orchid-lined corridor. Then after a while I would find myself at a wide, brightly lit atrium with arrows pointing you towards immigration, which was a queue of hot and harrassed looking people. Every corridor I tried I would eventually find myself back there. I probably walked a mile and a half of corridors, each with those endless orchids. I did consider for a brief moment the possibility that I had died in an airplane disaster and I was simply waiting to move on into the afterlife.

I decided that I would dare it. There was nothing for me left on this side; I had no choice but pass on through. I joined the queue. A border control employee directed me into a queue that stood motionless for around twenty minutes. I was hot and sweaty, I had bloodshot eyes and I’m not sure how fresh I smell at the moment. I probably looked like a drug addict. Someone else must have thought so too, because two customs guards came, one with a sniffer dog. However, the dog was not concerned by me and they moved on. The queue, however, did not.

It did not help that the man in front was emitting some very irritating sounds. He seemed to be suffering from sleep apnea, only he was awake (or a very talented somnabulist). The noises that came from his nose had the same sonorous quality of an accordion falling down a flight of stairs. I was not sure how much longer I could take it.

Fortunately, the queue suddenly picked up the pace. The Republic of China became the proud owners of what can only be a rather unflattering photo of me and a record of my fingerprints and I was swiftly ejected out into the arrivals hall. I wandered to departures and I’ve positioned myself in a reasonably uninspiring food court. However, there is not an orchid sight, so I’m happy here for now.

School’s out

Everybody keeps asking me how I’m feeling usually followed by some suggestions. Excited? Nervous? Ready? Sometimes I nod in agreement but most of the time these words don’t seem to deal with the complexity of how I feel. So I thought I’d try to write into words some of those feelings. So at the moment, I’m feeling a little bit heartbroken.

This is something that I’ve not heard people talk about. Maybe it’s because I’m the only one to feel it, or because it just is difficult to articulate. There’s a slight fear that these words may be misconstrued and that if you give something words then it has power and significance. These feelings don’t have more importance than the joy and anticipation I have about my trip, so this is not to get anyone worried. But I’m wanting to be as honest as possible here, so I thought I would write about these thoughts as well.

Time for some context. When I was applying for this trip I was really ready to leave my job. It would probably be an exaggeration to say I hated it, but it was not something I was prepared to do for much longer. My classes were hard, my increase in timetable seemed impossible and I was exhausted and pretty miserable most of the time. I wanted to escape and applying to live in Cambodia seemed a good way to do it. Again, to simplify my reason for applying to just that would be inaccurate, but the timing felt right and that was one of the factors. This was the case up until October half-term.

Then something terrible happened. Something that I still have to come to terms with.

I fell in love with my job.

I fell utterly, devastatingly, irreversibly in love with with being a teacher at a rather difficult school. Yes, it has been a complex love-hate relationship at times, but, for the most part, I’ve loved it. I work with some of most brilliant teachers I know, as well as some fantastically amazing support staff. There are many colleagues that will have my undying respect for what they do and the manner in which they do it.

And then there are the students. I’m not quite sure how they do it but they really get under your skin. The school I work at I full of the loveable rogue types; diamonds in the rough. Yes, they can be a bit sweary, unpredictable and challenging. But they’re also fiercely loyal, joyously lively, and hilariously perceptive. They make you tear your hair out, but give you a laugh or two while you’re doing it.

So saying goodbye to the school has been really hard. A lot of the students and staff I will see again. But there are some I won’t. It was saying goodbye to my year 10s that was particularly hard. I feel like I’m missing out on a really important year of their lives.

But, to sound ridiculous twee, difficult goodbyes remind you that you have something worth missing. And those students and that school is definitely worth that.

Three days

It’s three days until I depart (you what?!). I’m wildly swinging through a crazy range of emotions. At the moment, I’m feeling actually quite settled and somewhat prepared. This is what clinical psychologists call denial- but, hey, who is it hurting? There have been a few sad goodbyes this weekend, mainly with family members. This mixed with exhaustion makes for a heady cocktail of feelings. (I did nearly cry in Sainsbury’s. And I love Sainsbury’s.)

It was a lovely weekend, doing quintessentially British things (cream teas, garden “tennis”, walks by the sea). I even got to catch up briefly with an old friend. It has been good. But like I said, emotions were strained in places.
I’ve begun the packing process. By this, I mean I have a suitcase that I’ve been throwing things in. It’s a bit strange putting your life into what is essentially a small fabric box. In a way, though, it’s somewhat liberating.
I’ve bought a new laptop. It’s cheap, cheerful and I won’t be too bereft if I leave it on a bus traveling through rural Asia. It’s only to do admin work at the school, to type blog posts and to Skype, really.
The weather here has been preparing me somewhat for Cambodia. It’s been quite hot and muggy (although nowhere near the heights that Cambodia sees). I went to bed to a chorus of mosquitoes, so that’s another thing to get used to, I suppose. Only these mosquitoes just give you annoying itchy bites, not dengue fever.
I just need to sort out my school classroom, the remainder of my clothes and my car. Not much for 72 hours!