Saturday, April 3, 2010

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and Teaching

Well, I left the good energy of Phnom Penh to head to the temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  The four hour mini van ride was uneventful which is usually a good thing while traveling.  No accidents = good trip!  Upon reaching the town of Siem Reap, I made my way to Journeys Within Our Community (JWOC) Guest House.  I heard about JWOC from my friend and former client Leroy Morishita who, upon hearing about my Asia plans, strongly suggested I go check out JWOC.

JWOC is a not-for-profit NGO run by a charming couple from (where else?) California that helps the community of and around Siem Reap.  Some of their projects include a water cleanliness program to help the less than fortunate Cambodian locals by bringing cleanliness and sanitation to the many groundwater wells used for drinking, farming and bathing.  JWOC’s signature project is their Community Education Center.  In the Ed Center, JWOC staff teach everything from basic English to children and adults, computer skills.  They even teach less technical skills like sewing.  All these classes are amied at improving the chances of the Cambodian people,children, man, women, being successful.

The proprieters, Andrea and Brandon, are very helpful and arranged for me to have a driver and a guide at sunrise to go see the temples of Angkor Wat.  During ouor conversation, I asked if JWOC ever needed volunteer teachers.  Andrea sais “How about after your tour tomorrow?” with a laugh.  I agreed that I would help teach the next day at 3 pm.  

The next morning I awoke at 5 am, rewadied myself quickly and walked to the inn lobby.  The driver was waiting with the guide, Sen.  

Sen was a happy, smiling man who was also working at a resort and studying English (which he had nailed) and also French.  He wanted to be able to make himself more marketable to a larger group of clients and he thought learning French would help meet that goal.  After a 30 minute drive through roads populated by small family-owned restaurants, we arrived at the tourist center where I bought a three-day pass for $40 USD.  In Cambodia, the US Dollar is the currency of choice.  Unlike Vietnam and Thailand, the ATM machines spit forth USD.  On the short drive from the tourist center to Angkor Wat, we sped past the King’s Lake, a ginormous manmade body of water built exclusively for use by the Cambodian King. 

Surrounded by a moat 190 meters wide, Angkor Wat has been safely protected for centuries.  As Sen and I approached the temples before sunrise, we walked among hundreds of other “early-rising” tourists. 

As the sun peeked out from behind the spires, the beauty of the location came quickly into view.  The sun behind the stone monoliths, the reflection bouncing off the moat in front, the distinct stillness that the place exudes (despite the throngs of tourists), all of these things have been seen by so many different people since they were constructed by slave labor in the 10th century.  

After a morning exploring, climbing and enjoying Ankgkor Wat, Sen and I travelled to Angkor Thom (khmer = Great City), built in the 12th century and lies on the Siem Reap River. Thoough not as old or as famous as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is equally beautiful.  Hundreds of faces carved into sheets of sandstone guard the various gates to the place. 

That afternoon, I headed back to the JWOC for an afternoon volunteering in the classroom.  Fifteen children and one 30 year old monk were my first class. 

How ironic that there would be a couple of folks from the East Bay also volunteering at the same time.  The students were so appreciative to hear actual english-speaking people teach their class.  Their full-time instructor is a charminng young man but definitely has a thick khmer accent.  It was so much fun for me that I chose to extend my stay another day to teach and change my plans and plane ticket to Bangkok.
Children in Cambodia go to school either in the morning or in the afternoon, six days a week.  Most ride bicycles to school wearing their blue and white uniforms.  The children all seem to have happy, smiling faces while their parents and older peoples’ faces seem creased with the hardships that this country suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.  Cambodia, even a tourist spot like Siem Reap, is very affordable in Western standards.  $60 USD a month for a one bedroom apartment.  $5 dollars a month for cell phone service.  $10,000 USD for a large, seemingly well-constructed house. 
The next morning, it was off again to see some more temples.  This time, Banteay Srei, “Citadel of Women” and Ta Phrom, of Lara Croft “Tombraider” fame, I was told.  Bantay Srei was beautiful, with its red limestone and small scale when compared to the larger site of Angkor Wat. 

That being said, it was so overcrowded with touorists that I had to get out of there pretty quickly.  I was starting to feel a bit “templed out”.  

Ta Phrom was absolutely stunning to see.  The 10th century structures have been taken over by the force of nature for centuries.  Mammoth trees have imbedded themselves in the structures with roots growing up through and around the stones.  

This is the site that was used for the filming TombRaiders.  Sen and I decided to call it a day and finished off with an delicious khmer meal by the roadside.  Fried rice with Khmer sausage, a Siem Reap product, and undoubtedly the most tasty sausage ever made.

Another day of teaching, then a morning bus to Phnom Penh to catch a plane back to Bangkok.  TEFL course starts in about ten days, so time to start getting focused.

Focused...on what exactly?????

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