Travel Journal: Cambodia 12.31.13



Tonight was New Years Eve.  Enfant du Mekong invited me to the big party they were throwing for all the teenagers so of course I said yes.  I rode over and see a generator the size of one to power a small portion of the village just to handle the speaker set up.  Khmer don’t mess around when it comes to party sound.  And Khmer villages are hardly quiet and serene with the all night buzz of generators to power the dimly lit houses or the low frequency boom of wedding parties that seem to happen every night.  Many of the village sounds blend into my dreams and I’m confused what’s happening between the early morning monk chanting, music from roving speakers, packs of dogs, chickens and of course the waking of the village at 5am.


I walk into a hall of 70 teenagers sitting ready to feast on their special NYE meal and am instantly the center of attention as they shyly stare.  For the most part I’ve gotten used to this kind of reception, but with that many faces it is slightly overwhelming.  I feel as though I’m on stage and should give them some sort of performance or show.  I am sat with the rest of the teachers and it felt like Bulgaria again as it was clear this was the drinking corner for rowdy behavior, despite the presence of students.  It takes a while for the teachers to warm up to me and invite me in, but they do and I discover many of them speak English and with a bit more alcohol, are much more willing to do so.  I am immediately taken back to the days of Bulgaria where it didn’t matter who you made friends with as long as you did.  And how many awkward, strange situations I found myself in because beggars couldn’t be choosers as far as friends were concerned.


The students eat in 5 minutes as children everywhere do.  I’m curious at what point in one’s life eating becomes a slower affair?  The music starts and I think back to my middle and early high school days of dances and what an awkward thing they were and wonder if this same kind of social nightmare will take place here.  Wallflowers exist everywhere in the world and here is no exception.  But unlike America where packs of girls take to the floor and start shimmying, probably in some sexualized manner, here the boys own the floor.  I find in many SE Asian countries that men are more likely to be active and physically engaged at parties or anywhere there is music or dancing, and it’s actually less about the girls.  Male bonding I suppose – the true is certainly same for Korea in other activities.


The teachers get sucked into the dancing and while I’m totally game for it, I’m certainly aware of the fact I don’t know how it works.  Khmer dance in circles that seem horo-ish [Bulgarian folk dance] in general nature, but each song clearly has a different dance that they all know.  I can’t figure out the difference despite hours of observation.  I’m also mixing a variety of ethnic styles together trying to work out some sort of integration so it looked like I was doing the gypsy hula at a greek hip hop party in India.  The music has the same beat of gypsy music in Bulgaria so I am hoping kuchek [Roma dancing in Bulgaria] is an acceptable form of dance, since it was only thing I could really draw upon.  I quickly learn it most certainly is not as my siganchi [gyspy] hip shaking received points and gawks from teenagers giggling and covering their faces in astonishment.  Catherine and Xavier are hamming it up in awkward, embarrassing teacher vibe and I realize that was probably the way to go.  I am a teacher after all, though I’ve never been particularly good at being the silly animated kind, but go more for the cool older sister bit.  Perhaps that requires letting go of the fear of judgment and acceptance that I am, indeed, a teacher.


I have a good time but retreat from the sweaty, smelly clump of circling teenagers and take refuge on a bench for a moment to step above and absorb the situation – that I am in a dimly lit classroom turned dance hall with a bunch of Cambodian teenagers dancing around in a circle to Khmer pop music in a small, dusty village in remote, rural Cambodia.  I have to consciously take awareness to the fact this all seems so normal to me, but in actuality, it is not normal.  Although grateful such things come with no shock value and I can integrate and appreciate with such ease, I should remember their abnomalcy to truly appreciate the novelty and blessing of such situations.


It passes 9:00 and I start to feel anxious about returning home.  I don’t want to wake everyone up and there are all generally in bed by 8:30.  The village is so different at night, blanketed by the dark.  Only a few houses are lit by a single bulb hanging down from a cord.  The night ride home is at first a little stressful – I worry about my subpar bike riding while handling a torch, packs of angry dogs, falling off the bike or riding into a pool of muddy pig poo.  But I try to let go of the stress and enjoy the crisp night air, the campfireish village smells and a giant untouched sky full of more stars than I’ve seen in years.  I need to go on more nighttime walks to be still in the darkness.  Perhaps that would be more useful for me since I’m so visual and am distracted by what my eyes take in so much my heart and mind have difficulty being still.