30th Anniversary

January 7, 2009 at 10:08 pm 4 comments

Today is the 30th anniversary of the end of the Khmer Rouge occupation of Cambodia. My use of the word occupation is ironic because until 1993 the United Nations (and America in particular) recognized the Khmer Rouge as a valid representative of the Cambodian people. Politics over humanity, right? The few Cambodians I know (my students) label Pol Pot as a murderer. For them, Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge are synonyms. The government organized a mass rally today at Olympic Stadium and bribed students into attending. High schools and universities were closed and students given a stipend ($1.50) for attending the 6am rally.

I spent the day by sleeping until noon. I was late to meet my Khmer teacher for lunch. Oh – I’m taking Khmer language classes for fun. I’m not a good student so I’ve hardly learned anything and what I have learned is useless because my teacher thanks me instead of correcting my pronunciation. I attribute it to cultural differences. He doesn’t want to make me feel bad about my incoherent pronunciation so he thanks me for trying instead. This is kind of him but extremely exasperating for me.

We went to lunch at a Khmer vegetarian restaurant. At the restaurant I asked him to ask the waitress if the noodles in the noodle soup were Khmer and fresh or from a packet bought in a store. He haphazardly asked. I know it wasn’t his indifference to my comfort – on the contrary he’s too interested in pleasing me. It was something else, a certain discomfort on his part of asking direct questions and demanding answers. Maybe the question was too unusual (Cambodians never ask about the kind of noodles used) and he got nervous. In any case the waitress confirmed that the noodles were fresh and I ordered the soup. What arrived was the exact opposite of what I wanted: those stale ramen type store bought processed noodles I hate.

My Khmer friend wanted to show me around Phnom Penh so we drove to the other side of the Tonle Sap River. We visited a temple first. I didn’t bring my camera so I don’t have any pictures to show you. I thought the golden color of the temple was oxymoronic because Buddhist temples are suppose to be places of modesty and worship rather than ostentation. There was a man sitting at the steps of the temple when we arrived. He walked with us around the temple. “Who is he?” I asked my friend. “A guide” he answered. I wondered if we should tip him but my friend told me that the temple pays him and that Khmer people don’t tip guides in temples, the only exception to this being in Angkor Wat.

At 2 we went down to the waters where Cham families (Muslim minority who live in Cambodia) were picking through their nets for small fish. Each family had a separate boat and netting. Some families, if they were better off also had a small shack on land somewhere. At the market their fish goes for about 75 cents a kilo. Since there are middlemen (or women) involved, they probably make only 50 cents per kilo. There were many children around, some helping their parents others splashing around on the shore. My friend asked one mother why her youngsters weren’t in school. She told him they couldn’t afford the fees charged by the government schools.

Then we went to a breezy part of the river and sat there. A 20 year old Cambodian girl sat nearby and we spoke. Something she said about not knowing how to use a computer sparked an idea. What if I rent the internet café near the school and teach some students how to type properly? Typing and using the internet are skills essential to higher paying office jobs in Cambodia and most youths lack these skills. After we parted I sat in a café and searched for teaching resources online. After 10 minutes I finally found a good picture of a keyboard to show the students. My only qualification to teach them is that when I was 16 I took a typing class in high school because I needed an easy class to complete my concoction of challenging classes. I recall the annoying drills the teacher made us do. But they were so helpful and today I type with two hands without looking at the keys. I remember what my c++ teacher once told me. He said that the best thing he ever learned in high school was how to type. I might agree.


This is me with some university students who live in a dorm financed by a church. The church requires the students to attend 3 meetings a week, including the morning and afternoon of every Sunday, as well as Bible lessons everynight in order to recieve their financial support. This obligation interferes with their studies and they are looking for another sponsor, so i am trying to help them find funding from NGO’s…


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , .

new year’s eve table matters

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. GS  |  January 9, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for interesting story.

  • 2. Jeff  |  January 9, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Hey Yelena … keep up the great blog work … and don’t forget to come home someday as well!!! :-)

  • 3. dina  |  January 10, 2009 at 12:49 am

    better come home sooner :)

  • 4. teachingchris  |  January 12, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Ah, the conditional giving…drives me NUTS!


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