Adventures in Cambodia
Part III: Phnom Penh

After a bit of a rough start in Phnom Penh, things quickly improved after a good night’s sleep and a packet of re-hydration salts. I wasn’t confident enough the next morning to join the pre-TESOL conference education tour though, and sent Jen in my stead. Tracy had returned to Korea the night before, so I slept most of the morning. By the time Jen and Annelie returned from the tour, I was feeling healthy and hungry.

On Saturday, while Jen was attending the first day of the conference, Annelie and I went to check out the Central Market. Built in the mid 1930’s, it’s a big yellow art-deco building housing an abundance of clothes, flowers, silver, electronics, etc. It was also HOT inside, so we didn’t stay long. Instead, we spent the afternoon reading by the pool until Jen got back and the three of us went in search of yet another gem of a restaurant.

On Sunday, all three of us headed to the National Institute of Education for the last day of the CamTESOL conference. I hadn’t realized that Sunday was only a 1/2 day, so I only had a chance to attend two sessions. The first one wasn’t helpful for me at all, which is unfortunate, since “Cartoons in the Classroom” had seemed promising. However, the presentation contained mostly things I’d already tried and hadn’t had much success with. I had been hoping for some new suggestions. The next session was much better though, and gave some good, solid, practical tips for teaching conversation in a large class. Some of the suggestions were techniques I already use, but there were also some ideas I’m going to try this semester.

After the conference, we discovered a nearby Indian restaurant that served quite possibly the 2nd best Indian meal I can remember. (The best was in Singapore). I was SO happy to be on vacation in a tropical country and have a healthy enough stomach that I could even enjoy some Paneer Korma and Aloo Pulao.

With the conference behind us, the next day was spent on the “must see” of all tourists to the capital. Often, as we were riding our bikes through the countryside, I couldn’t help but imagine the country at war 30 years ago. Even so, books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched didn’t prepare me for our tour of the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. When we arrived, we were taken through the area by a guide, but then, difficult as it was, we chose to go through again quietly on our own. [I’ve been sitting here staring at my screen now for a few minutes, unsure of how to continue.] The atrocities of the PolPot regime have always sickened me, but until that moment, it had always been somewhat remote. Now, I could picture the faces of people I’d met in Cambodia, and the horror of those years suddenly became much more real. It was a rough day, to say the least.

The next two days were basically spent finishing up our trip. We went the the National Museum, which, like most Asian museums I’ve been to, was more a cause of frustration than pleasure for me. You all know I adore museums; I can gaze at the artifacts and envision their parts in history before they were encased in glass. I can imagine what they were like before, and how they were a part of someone’s life. I have trouble doing that in Asian museums. In part, the objects are really foreign to me, and I have trouble putting them in context. This hurdle could be overcome with adequate signs and descriptions. However, museums in this part of the world seem to think that “This xxx is 12cm long and weighs 28grams. It was made during the reign of King xxx.” Fill in the xxx’s with a word you don’t know, and the name of a King you’ve never heard of. That’s about as helpful as it gets. By the time we left the museum and went to the Royal Palace, I was making up my own stories about what things were. I’m sure that the Ho Preah Khan or Samritvimean ( an ornate building on the palace grounds) has a noble purpose, but it will forever be etched in my mind as the “Building to store the royal lime-paste pot collection”, because that’s what happens when you leave me to my own devices. If I could go back in time and re-do my conversation with my high school guidance counsellor, I think I’d tell him I want to be a Curator-at-Large for Asian museums.

Oopsy-daisy. I seem to have taken a left turn at the corner of Irrelevant Lane and Rambling Road and wound up in the middle of Digression Gorge. My apologies.

Hm, it seems like I’m almost done anyway. We spent a bit more time at the markets, and the grocery store (I love visiting grocery stores in foreign countries!) and beside the pool. Before we knew it, we were zipping up our suitcases, Annelie and I were bidding adieu to Jen and boarding a plane bound for Korea.

Do not despair, dear readers. The adventure isn’t quite over yet. There’s a post-script yet to come. Stay tuned for Part IV: A Government Official Comes to Call.

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