Wednesday 3 March 2010

Arrival in Cambodia

Travelling by bus over the border to Cambodia and staring through the window, I was mesmerised by its startling flatness. The sun reflected on water-submerged rice fields between tall, elegant palms, the road cut a dead straight line ahead and as far as I could see there was not a single mountain, hill or even a bump anywhere. It put me in a kind of trance. I was jolted out of my reverie when we changed buses and found myself surrounded by young kids all trying to sell us pineapple. They all had a very firm grasp of English and an even firmer grasp of US dollars.
“You want pineapple?”
“No, thanks.”
“Where you from?”
“The UK.”
“UK is four countries: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. Population: 60 million people. Capital city: London. Prime Minister: Gordon Brown. Lovely jubbly!”
“You want pineapple?”
“No, thanks.”
“Okay, but if you want pineapple you buy from me. I’m Spider Girl. You want hold spider?” She held out an enormous, black, tarantula kind of spider.
“Hell, no!”
“He no bite! He friendly spider.” He was furry and weirdly cute. I held out my hand and she let it crawl on and up my arm. We showed him to Alex.
“What the...!” He moved pretty quickly for a big guy.
“You married?” Spider Girl asked when she’d stopped laughing.
“Er... same same.”
“Ah, same same!” she laughed again. “Maybe tomorrow he marry you!”
“Probably not.”
“Ha ha!” It was time to get back on the bus and I decided I did want some pineapple after all. It seemed the polite way to end the conversation. She wanted a dollar. I gave her half a dollar for half the pineapple. I knew, as she knew, that I was going to haemorrhage cash like this. But knowing is one thing. She waved at us in the bus until we couldn’t see her anymore. I liked her.

When we arrived at Stung Treng, we made a show of exploring guesthouses further than the one our bus dropped us off at, but stayed there anyway. We’d been there an hour, minding our own business with a beer outside, when a Stung Treng local collared us for a meet and greet session at the school he taught at. We’d been travelling for hours, hadn’t had a shower and the beer was going down rather well, but experience has taught us that school sessions with kids are always worth the effort so half an hour later, both Alex and I were riding on the back of his scooter to the local college where the kids, aged between 8 and thirteen, were having a 6-7pm class (poor things).

Having no teaching experience, it’s a little terrifying standing in front of a class of kids and there’s a moment of silence at the beginning when my mind goes completely blank. We’ve found the best way to get everyone involved is to ask, “Who wants to sing a song?” Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes (Knees And Toes) is a good way to break the ice because everyone seems to know it. Then we taught them One Two Three Four Five Once I Caught A Fish Alive. And all of a sudden, an hour was gone, which was good because we'd run out of songs. On their way out of the classroom, the kids told us that Alex was handsome and, after a prodding from the teacher, that I was beautiful. Aw. So, after one day in Cambodia, we’d got to know the locals better than after a month in Laos. The fact that everyone, including the kids, spoke great English obviously helped.

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