All Of The Things!
Today’s light and fluffy observations begin with the Cambodian cuisine. It’s really good. And I am decidedly not a foodie. Though, I am a huge restaurantie – constantly obsessed with the interiors and ambiance that cool restaurants provide. When I’m at those Chicago mixology bars and they’re mixing gin with a chili sugar lotus flower thing I’m all about it, but serve me food and I kinda check out. I eat everything and think about none of it. My tastes buds aren’t that developed and I have a horrible sense of smell so I can only imagine those two are related. Regardless, my last week of meals has been really great. The Cambodian dishes aren’t too spicy and I haven’t gotten ill no matter how many ice cubes and raw veggies I chug. The flavor profiles (Top Chef woot woot) are nice and interesting. I’m not exactly hanging out with street vendors, which is obviously the real food culture here, but I’m working on it. This is all very Lord Of The Flies and my Western ways will slowly slip into oblivion as I learn to hack open a coconut with a machete or perform soup surgery with a chopstick. It’ll come in time.
Additionally, culture shock has worn off and my previous fear that I would die just because I left the States has been replaced by a real fondness for the city. It’s still all those things I mentioned before, but once you look past the obvious differences in aesthetics there is a really beautiful culture here to greet you. I mean, don’t get me wrong – some locals will only ever see me as an outsider or as a tourist dollar. They think I’m here to take in their poverty and report back to my American friends how brave I am to see such things in person for four days. And I get it. I am that girl. But this bunch is, fortunately for me, only about 10-20% of the people. Eighty to ninety percent of the individuals I meet are so thrilled to converse and exchange niceties. This culture smiles A LOT. And it is indeed more focused on the group and the collective good than the West. It’s both hard for me to remember I’m now part of a group and lovely for me to experience. When I needed an ATM card and mentioned it to my colleague, the entire department went with me to the bank to organize a checking account. No matter how much I insisted that they couldn’t possibly want to be there, they insisted that it was no problem. We’re all in this together I guess – checking or no checking. And what this society really excels at is customer service. Because it’s inherent. Truly the most apparent observation is that everyone takes care of everything for you from the moment you ask for it and in the most pleasant way. From a business perspective, that’s what this place has in spades. If it does become a tourist destination, it will surely score well on the guest exit survey. Everyone works hard for little. Restaurants and hotels are always overstaffed. I’m told it’s because wages are so cheap places can afford to put a ton of people in place to cater to your every request. The employees don’t seem to mind. They’re very good at what they do. Additionally, since kids here grow up playing in the street with their neighbors everyone turns out insanely proficient at interpersonal exchanges. The relationships here are much closer and friendlier than in other countries. People laugh or discuss politics or tease each other all day long. They throw out their thoughts and someone catches them. I love that. You’re not at work as much as you’re at a social club occasionally performing tasks. God bless it. Now that I’ve been included into this network, people from every area of my new life want to make sure I’m okay. They’re throwing a party for me just because I showed up. I met a waitress who explained to me that she had studied Accounting even though her heart was in Marketing. I assured her that I could give her a copy of my Marketing notes and her appreciation shifted Earth’s axis. My landlord is another example of a very industrious and hardworking man. He has obviously realized that NGOs aren’t going away anytime soon and that all those Western employees need somewhere to stay. So in this quiet (besides the dogs, kids and rooster) neighborhood of locals, he has stripped and demolished and rebuilt an impressive five story apartment building. This country is finally beginning to set people free, in terms of entrepreneurship.
And my goodness if I don’t start championing the hands-in-prayer-position-slight-bow greeting I have failed you. It is beautiful. I’m sure, to Cambodians, forcing your hand into another person’s palm is pretty brave and respectful, but a handshake could never look as wonderful as a head tilt and smile.
I have a lot to say about teaching in a Khmer/English school I just don’t know how to say it quite yet. My joy comes from teaching students that are actually interested in learning. There are some challenges, of course, but things are progressing in a decent direction. I think unlocking human potential, which is what educational institutions like mine are doing, typically ends well. I’ll report back after the first quiz.