Volunteering at Grace House Community Centre has been one special experience. I am not even being humble when I say that the children and the teachers taught me more than what I taught them. I don’t mean only in terms of the language (I can count to 39 now, thanks to my persistent students), but also in terms of life lessons and appreciation. Some may not have much, but they were all very, very generous in their kindness and smiles.
Teacher La (the local Cambodian I partnered with for a month) made a big effort to make me feel comfortable, and whenever we had time, he would tell me stories about his life and about Cambodia. I would not have had the same experience if everyone had not been so welcoming. I will miss the way the students would call me to get my attention– “Teacha! Teacha! TEACHA! CHA! CHA! CHA!”. And the giant grin I would get from a tiny boy (with adorable ears that stuck out) whenever he called me over pretending to be done his assignment. He would hold up his workbook only to show me an almost empty page, and then run off giggling, satisfied with his own mischief. The children became my daily rays of sunshine and looking back at my photos with them really pulls at my heartstrings.
Walking along the backstreets of Grace House one day, I came across a place that made me stop and do a double-take. I was suddenly standing in the exact spot of one of the screenshots I had taken from Google streetview, a while before I started this trip. I was very taken aback, and dazed. The screenshot image had finally became my reality.
On the last day, we had a Khmer New Year party for the kids, and then later, for the staff. It was a brilliant way to end off the experience. The day was filled with laughter, music, dancing, and best of all, traditional Khmer games. We finished with a picnic at Angkor Wat, with the full moon as our backdrop. I am so happy I got to have a feel of the liveliness that goes on for Khmer New Year. I mean, they get two whole weeks off to celebrate! It really is something.
Speaking of really something, Cambodian men grooving to music is really something. A friend took me to a club locals go to and my mind was blown. They really, really love dancing here. Never in my life have I seen men dance at a club like they do here. They were very fluid with their body movements and there were heaps of them on the dancefloor! They were not weirded out dancing with other men, and I even saw two buddies, both dressed in red, hands on each other’s shoulders, just rockin’ it out. I was so amazed I spent more time on the side, sipping my drink, with my eyes wide, than I did on the dancefloor. I suddenly became that one creepy man that just watches the girls dance at a club. And the music– never in my life would I think I would dance to Cambodian EDM. Check that off my bucket list.
The food, I got really comfortable with. I found that the simple meals were quite similar to chinese cooking, so the rice, veggies, and meat really hit the spot everytime. My lunches during school break had such a homey feel to them. I was surprised that Siem Reap also did international cuisine fantastically, thanks to the booming tourism influence. My special mentions are Sister Srey cafe, with amazing smoothies and brunch food, and Oasi Italiana, cooking up some of the best pasta I’ve ever had. Nomnomnom.
At first, everything was very overwhelming, but it wasn’t long before I caught up to the steady rhythm of the city. It was very sad to leave a place I called my home for one month. On my last tuktuk ride home from school, I nearly cried. I stopped myself when I realized how silly it was to cry about it. Like Dr. Seuss once said: “Do not cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”.
I’m still smiling =).