Disclaimer: These are my views and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Last Month in Battambang


There were two. For the Peace Corps Thanksgiving, Dave, Garrett and I cooked the mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, and pasta salad at my apartment while another group of volunteers tackled the turkey and other foods.

(Three men, one small apartment...)

(Dave slicing up a storm.)

The Peace Corps Thanksgiving was about a week before actual Thanksgiving, so naturally, on actual Thanksgiving those of us in town had another one with some of the other Americans living close by.

Other fun things I've been up to:

Exploring places around Battambang:

(Out at the abandoned airport.)

(A nearby ruin.)

Watching the lunar eclipse:

Staying out until it gets dark:

Taking artsy photos:

Also, I went to Siem Reap and ran a half marathon.

Peace peace.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Tiger Eating A Banana

Looking at the last date on here, I realize a month flew by. Also realized I've been really slacking on the blog, and on skype... I have been busy? Well, it's true, but really I shouldn't be making excuses...

Work is going good. I feel productive. Our textbook group created a second syllabus, which has gone to committee to be reviewed. I'm working on developing teacher training workshops, and working with the teacher trainees at the teacher trainer center.

I have a social life. There's people who speak English natively who I can interact with on a daily / near daily basis. I'm playing guitar a decent amount in my free time. Played a really fun show with my friend Dave last night! My friend Vanessa taped our duets with my camera, so I'll do my best to get some parts of it online.

(Dave and I with Anna, the owner of Cafe Eden.)

This last week has been a holiday since Wednesday, the water festival. So, a few of us took the opportunity to bike out to some caves on a mountain close to the city.

(Me on a mountain.)

(Kurt, Libby, Vanessa, and I inside a cave.)

(Vanessa and Libby climbing the treacherous stairs leading up to the Buddha head.)

(Contemplating the Buddha head.)

(A tiger eating a banana.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Curry and Lentil Soup

I had my first week at the teacher trainer center last week. Classes don't actually start until tomorrow, so I spent the week meeting the teachers and staff and trying to get a feel for the place. My primary job description right now is to set up teacher trainer workshops in Battambang, which means that I'll be working with the RTTC to set them up, but not really working at the center. I did however volunteer to take over one of the English clubs that the last PCV was running, which should be fun. We even have a TV and dvd player to work with.

The week before last, I was in Phnom Penh for a curriculum/syllabi/textbook development workshop run by a British consultant who has worked in something like 67 different countries helping them to improve their English teaching, writing textbooks, and all sorts of other stuff. I learned a lot from the conference and was happy that I was familiar with a lot of what he presented from my TESL studies at Cal Poly. We spent three days with the trainer and then the following two with our Cambodian counterparts helping to share with them what we'd learned which also helped reinforce the material for us, especially when we had to get it past some language barriers. Writing the syllabus and book is going to be a ton of work, but if we do it right the books should be in the classroom by next school year. So exciting! I really hope we can pull this off.

After running this morning, I spent the entire day working on the syllabus for grade 7 and my brain is fried.

One thing that's been a saving grace lately is that I've been able to cook for myself. I even started to gain back some of the weight I lost last year. It's weird, for guys rice just gets processed, but it does the opposite for the girls here. I think malnutrition probably plays a role too.

Another thing that's really nice is that I have some semblance of a social life now. There's two other new volunteers in the city, Vanessa and Arnoldo, and a close friend of mine, Dave, lives about twenty minutes away. He's the guy I've been playing shows with at the local cafe. Next month we're playing "Sheets" by Damien Jurado, "Clay Pigeons" by Blaze Foley, "To Be Alone With You" by Sufjan Stevens, "Such Great Heights" by Iron and Wine, and "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes together with vocal harmonies and solos. It's been so much fun! I feel like I'm learning a ton too because we have to really focus on drilling specific things and work together. We also play some solo pieces to supplement it a little bit.

(Vanessa showing off our eggplant curry!)

I just finished eating dinner which was a mix of lentil soup, brown rice, and eggs, all thrown together with curry seasoning, which was a little strange, but I can't stand to waste food, I was super hungry from my run, and I don't have a fridge. So it goes.

(The lentil soup I had for lunch.)

P.S. Here's a link to a fascinating video that Adrian (the British consultant) showed us:


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pictures From the Last Few Weeks

Lately, I've been working on getting my new place set up. I am still trying to move to another place, but in the meantime I'm making myself at home. As of now, I have a table, a mattress, a stove, and two chairs. When I went to buy the table, I had no idea about how I would transfer it back to my house which is over a mile from the market. After buying the table, I suggested that I'd hold onto it and bike one-handed. The guy at the market shook his head, laughed, took one look at my bike and said, "no problem, we'll put it on the back." He and his son got it all rigged up and then I asked if he knew a place I could get my tires pumped up because they were a bit low with the extra weight. Then he pulled out a pump and filled my tires. I was in awe. I don't remember ever getting service like this in the states. He really went out of his way to help me and the bike/table combo stayed together all the way home.

(Biking from the market with a table on the back of my bike.)

Earlier, when the town was flooded, we made pasta at my place after wading through the small lake outside in the street.

(From the right: Vanessa, Arnoldo, Sotierut, and Dave)

(A candid shot, emphasizing the lovely brown color of the water.)

Two Good Reasons for Children to Smoke

1) It's endorsed by your favorite cartoon character:

(Bugs bunny, how could you?)

2) It's a grown up version of the candies you ate as a child:

(Marlbovo smoke candy: "good flavor every day")

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Life's been pretty good. I was in the city for a meeting about the national English curriculum development last weekend. Things look like they're moving forward right now. Nothing's set in stone, but if all goes to plan the textbooks could have ministry approval and full funding in the near future. After the meeting a group of us got together to celebrate a couple of birthdays on a boat. Afterwards we went out to sing karaoke. It was a really fun night.

The next day, I caught a ride up with Peace Corps to Battambang to meet the new Battambang K5 volunteers. We hung out at Cafe Eden, had some delicious food, and went out for milkshakes. City life is a lot different. I think I'll be ok here... I'm excited about having people around next year too! Vanessa, one of the 5s, is my counterpart at the RTTC (Regional Teacher Training Center) and lives really close to my place. Arnoldo, another 5, is going to move into town and work at the school that works with the Cambodian circus which is based out of Battambang.

Vanessa, Carol, Sangkhim, and I went to meet the director of the RTTC on Monday. The meeting seemed to go very well. She was excited to have new volunteers and invited us back to meet the teachers the next day, as well as the graduation ceremony the following day (today). Later that day I went with Carol, our PTO or PTC (there's so many acronyms here, I can't even remember what these stand for...), and Sangkhim, the program manager for the northern provinces, to go and meet the higher-ups at the Provincial Office of Education (P.O.E.). Again, the meeting seemed like it went well. The director and his staff were cordial and even offered us a place to do teacher trainings at the P.O.E. center. (More on this and updates on my new job situation in a later blog).

On Tuesday, Vanessa and I went to meet our counterparts at the RTTC. Unfortunately, due to flooding, the teachers weren't able to be there. We did however meet a friendly British VSO (Volunteer Service Organization) volunteer? who will be working at the RTTC next year as well. The rest of Tuesday was spent biking around town, playing guitar (practicing for the show on Saturday!), and having a really nice dinner at my friend Kat (who I met on the boat)'s house with Vanessa (who cooks amazing Italian food!), Arnoldo, and Sotierut (one of my language teachers during training who happened to be in town). Dinner was tasty. I really enjoy being able to sit around and talk with people (who knew?) Another thing that made dinner that much better is the fact that Kat is a phenomenal artist! So we got to see some of her art as well.

Ok, so now it's Wednesday and here comes the reason for the title of the story. The city is flooded:

(Outside the Capital bus station in town.)

(View from inside the bus station with K5 Arnoldo)

(On my way to work today...)

I tried to bike to the RTTC today for the graduation ceremony and probably should have realized on this stretch of road adjacent to the center that it wasn't going to be happening. The water kept getting deeper and when I finally reached the gates it was well above my knees. One nice lady at the gate told me that the ceremony was cancelled, another told me that it was taking place at a watt, and another (maybe thinking I was stuck...) picked up the back end of my bike while I straddling it and nearly tipped me into the lake. I looked around for the supposed ceremony (and supposed watt), but couldn't figure out if it was happening so I went home, where I learned from Vanessa that our director was on the bus with her (therefore no ceremony). I spent the day catching up with TWG (Textbook Working Group *pronounced TWIG*) work. I think I've used my quota of () for the year, so I'll sign off.

Moment of zen:

(Picture from the back of the tuk-tuk a few weeks back when I was moving.)

Friday, August 26, 2011


Two days ago, I said goodbye to my host family and moved up to Battambang. I traveled for 12 hours and when I arrived, due to a misunderstanding with my new program manager, I came to a place that I won't be able to afford year round. Therefore, I will have to move all of my stuff again, hopefully before the school year starts. The new place isn't so bad, privacy is a bit of an issue. The landlord has a thirteen year old who does not share our American cultural value of privacy (...something about thirteen year old boys here, remember host family #1 in Srang?)

The move was a bit of a nightmare. The first van I was in kept swerving off onto questionable dirt roads as detours to avoid police checkpoints, and as a result we were stuck in the mud for about an hour, and the trip took twice as long. Thankfully, all of my stuff got to my new place (guitar, bike, trunk, 3 boxes, fan, etc) and I was helped by a really nice tuktuk driver named David once I got into the city.

I spent yesterday at the market, outfitting myself for living on my own. Also, I got to meet up with my friend Dave for lunch with his family, which was excellent. Getting myself equipped for living solo has helped me realize how much my host family helped me to get adjusted. Little things like buckets, extension chords, or clothes hangars... I have a mattress now, a stove, a pan, (I cooked pancakes this morning!) I'm starting to get settled here.

Before I left, I finished the well project (which you can help donate to if so inclined) and the ambassador came to see the work the community was doing as they finished up the cement base. Also, Peace Corps helped me to make a copy of "Where there is no doctor" a book that I gave to my friend Sameoun (who helped with the well project) who will be using it to set up satellite health stations in some of the surrounding communities.

I gave my host family a photo album and a big print out a photo we took together and it was hard to say goodbye to them. They were (and are) truly amazing. E.g. my host aunt on the far right called me my first day in Battambang to make sure I was alright. It's around ten hours to make a trip to see them, but I'll definitely be making the trip when I can in this next year.

(All the fam. minus Gorah who was out watching the cows.)

Here's another sunset that I captured from my room on my second to last night:

(This captures about 30% of the beauty.)

(Nothing but sweet sweet di-hydrogen monoxide.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Speaker Project and Other Updates

I think I can safely say I've been back in Cambodia for about two weeks. The weather has been the most difficult readjustment for me so far, although I do miss using the parents' espresso machine in the mornings...

After surviving the 20 odd hours in coach to get back, I ran into my friend Che at one of the hotels we frequent and so had a friend to hang out with less than an hour after getting off the plane. I stayed in Phnom Penh the next couple of days to recover from the jet lag and do some recordings for Emily and Lauren's Harry Potter audiobook project (I am proud to say that I was chosen for the role of Harry). We made friends with a somewhat-feral cat in an undisclosed location and played a little game of cat and mouse:

(Cat shown with mouse and Mira)

Although obnoxiously jetlagged, I was quite content, aided by the fact that Dave lets me use the guitar he keeps in the office, that I had a costco pack of nutella handy, and that I was about a three minute walk from a really good bread shop.

(I swear it's the little things...)

After Phnom Penh, I headed back to Srang in order to try and wrap up a speaker project and finish my well project. There's been lots of back and forth with the well company, but they've finally agreed to come check out the spot on Saturday.

I've had more luck with my speaker project. I mentioned it earlier, but just a quick recap: over the course of the school year I put together a lot of worksheets to go with various pop songs, took a bunch of other ones from past volunteers. printed them all out, put them in a notebook, and bought a speaker for one of my teachers to use in his private classes. I finally was able to meet up with Vanna (the teacher) and give him "the stuff". Also, a few days later, another teacher came by to get me to help him figure out the words to a song. The singer had a super accent and I was stumped so I had to look it up online. I heard "So please don't drink at love's bazaar" it ended up being "So please don't think my love's bizarre." I liked my version, so it goes. Oh, and the point: I gave him a memory card with all of the songs, documents, and videos on it too, so now he's got access to the same stuff that Vanna has and I know that he'll be using them in the classroom as well. Mission Accomplished!

(Special thanks to Uncle Dale and the Jones' for making this happen!)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Heading back...

It's one-thirty in the morning, or it's tomorrow, and, the sun is still out. It's a strange sensation. I made it to Korea! One more flight and it's back to Cambodia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Well Project

Here's a link to the well project I'm doing:

It's in Trapeang Thmor, which is about fifteen minutes from Srang in Kampong Speu.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I want to eat a burrito...

"Coming to America" is the name of an old movie.

I have hours to kill before my plane,
and miles to go before I sleep.

Flying from Phnom Penh to Seoul to San Francisco.

Already wearing my "traveler's belt" a fashionable travel accessory, worn recently by Tanen Brown, for those of us too embarrassed to wear a fanny pack.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Exciting News!

I don't have TB! I had a positive test a few months ago and just got back negative results.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Adventures with Tanen (Howie howie)

(Ankor Thom)

(Temple in the woods.)

(Woods in the temple.)

(Tanen and I somewhere.)

(Tanen dressed up like me, ready to teach!)

We did a loop of the country. Traveled to Mondulkiri, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Kampot, and my site. The lan touri we were riding in got a flat tire and we got a little ripped off in Sihanoukville, but mostly everything went really smoothly.

I played a Soccer game yesterday and am really sore with a stomachache to boot. Excited about heading back to the homeland in less than two weeks though. School’s out for the summer. Luckily I’ve got some other projects to keep me busy. I’m working on putting together a speaker and audio file project for my co-teacher (funded graciously by Uncle Dale and the Joneses) so that he can use music next year in the classroom and in his private classes as well. Speaking of wells, I submitted a well proposal to Appropriate Projects and I’m still waiting to hear back from them to see if it got approved. Additionally, I’m playing the role of Harry Potter in an audio project that another volunteer Emily is putting together and also working on national curriculum development for grade 7.

Besides that, I’m finding some time to play guitar and read. I read the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a very good book, recommended by Tanen Brown. It really captures some of the moral ambiguities that come up in Western medicine. Before that I read “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” a book about cross cultural medicine between a Hmong family and their little girl who has epilepsy, which translated from Hmong is the title of the book. I guess I’ve just been on a science phase lately, because I just finished “A Brief History of Time” as well. The pendulum is beginning to swing back though as I just got “Blades of Grass” from Tanen too, so I’ve started that, as well as another Murakami book.

Some people have been wondering what the exact dates are that I'll be home. I'm flying in on the 7th and out on the 27th of July. I'm hoping to make a trip down south at some point and I'll try and see as many of you as I can on the way.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Traveling with Tanen and Che!

Here's a few pictures from our travels. I'll update with some stories when I get the chance.

(Turn your head to the left and cough.)

(Tanen and I in front of Ankor)

(A temple.)

(Riding an elephant!)

(I really hope that water was clean...)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Post Prandial Prattling

(The subscript of my sister's wedding photo: "Romantic Moments: more loves, more happiness!)

I looked through the wedding pictures with my host family yesterday. It was then that I learned that I missed the "standing in line ceremony" which happened while I was trying to sleep the morning of the second wedding day. That was why the music started at 5am...

I just finished my pb&honey oatmeal, and I'm listening to Frightened Rabbit. They are very good and I recommend listening to the tracks "Fast Blood" "The Modern Leper" and "My Backwards Walk."

I have a family of mice living in my room. I used to have one, or maybe two, but yesterday there were confirmed sightings of at least four mice, two of them babies. They're really cute, but they make noise at night (mostly squeaking) and they drop little pellets all over my room, which is not cool.

(One of the babies playing with my P.C. badge).

The school year is just about wrapped up. Twelfth (what a bizarre spelly word!) graders have testing next week, and the other grades will be finishing up shortly after. My clubs may start back up again once the testing is over, but it depends on the students. Would you want to take foreign language classes in the summer?

I live on a farm. I've had my suspicions about this all along, but now I'm pretty sure. Besides the mice, we have pigs, cows, ducks, dogs, chickens, roosters (que je deteste!), and a rice field behind the house. I think the only one missing from the e.i.e.i.o. crew is a horse (but how are you really supposed to double a monosyllabic horse sound anyway, "neigh neigh," really?).

Tanen is coming to Cambodia!

(I imagine our adventures will be something like this.)

My nickname for Tanen is "Tinny" or "Rin tin tin" or "Tin tin" and I believe Nick Chase coined "Rin Tin Squin Tin" and it's possible that Kayla or Casey came up with "Tinny poo." Regardless of origin, it seems that Tanen Brown's sobriquet destined him for a trip to Cambodia.

Here it is, your moment of zen:

(My students were studying this and I felt compelled to take a picture of the lesson. She has a big ball.)

(He looks so sad. This is about teaching adjectives, and using 'my' and 'your' to indicate possession and nothing else.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Videos from Vietnam

I'm in the Peace Corps office and making the best of the fast internet while I can.

A video from Halong Bay.

A waterfall in northern Vietnam.

I played with the filter a little bit, but in reality the colors were very bright.

The ninja ceremony.

Musicians from the wedding.

Wedding Crashers!

(My host sister and her groom)

I went to my host-sisters wedding last weekend. Well, "went" isn't exactly the right term because it was at my house. Here's a description I wrote for one of my friends already:

(Our house, decked out for the wedding.)

(A close up of the door. The English signs are still up!)

My older host sister just got married. Wedding's last two days here, which is one day less than the traditional three days that they used to be so I suppose I should be glad. On Saturday, people and tents and movements all began happening around 6 am. I came downstairs in a towel, and was greeted many sets of eyes belonging to most of the groom's family. "Eee, barong!" or "A foreigner!" I nod my head yes and really just want to have a shower without being stared at. The bathroom's outside and I have to walk in plain view of the road and front yard to get to it. I showered and went back to my room to have my usual breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. The next time I came downstairs, fully dressed, I looked to my right and saw the groom's grandpa in the corner smoking something that didn't quite smell like tobacco. Old people can do whatever they want in this society without anyone giving them a second glance. I like this aspect to a degree. Anyone around 50 or older remembers and survived the Khmer Rouge. I have to try and keep this in mind as many of them have mental health problems and lots of them like groping me. One of the grandmas at the wedding really would not leave my arm alone. The rest of the first day consisted of me chatting with various new people, seeing someone get shocked after what was the beginnings of an electrical fire, sweating, taking pictures, playing some guitar for everyone, and chopping down a few trees out front to help make space for the tents.

(This is where the cooking was done.)

(The wedding bouquet?)

(Yes, those are cigarettes.)

The next morning the music started at 5am. It was blaring! Imagine 20 speakers set to full volume past the point of good sound quality, when the high pitches from the singer's voice become electronic static. I put in earplugs and could hear it clearly, but was so tired that I managed to toss and turn until 8. I endured another early morning exhibition as more and more people had come to the house ostensibly to watch me descend the stairs... There were many ceremonies on the second day, seemingly just for the sake of having ceremonies. Two people were hired to walk everyone through the ceremonies and no one seemed to know what to do

until they were told. We pretended to cut the hair of the bride and groom, we tied pieces of red string to their wrists, and sat through the chanting of monks again (as we'd done the day before). There was a break and I went to try and nap but the music, constant since 5am did not allow me any such convenience, so I read trying to regain some sense of sanity.

The reception was the last part. I walked around with a bucket of ice filling peoples glasses because it's always nice to have something to do. Later my host-dad held my hand and led me around as the "trophy foreigner" and introduced me to whoever he wanted. The hand holding I'm pretty used to at this point. I still have my boundaries though. I'm not proud of this, but as the people I sat with got more drunk and people began to get in my face and grab my arm, I took to saying slightly offensive things in English. I used a lot of slang. I said things with a smile. What a strange contradiction. My patience has increased exponentially after being here, but I still have my limits. Two nights of not enough sleep and solely interacting in another language for hours on end...I don't know, it's hard sometimes.

Eventually, came the dancing. I have never danced as strangely as I do here. I mix their style, with my own goofy style, and just let loose. It's not pretty, but I have a good time. The dancing lasted until around 11 when a fight broke out. I saw a kid get belted in the head. Everyone got upset, the music stopped, it was sad that this happened at a wedding where everyone was having fun. The police showed up with AKs and my host dad told me to go to bed. I didn't need to be told twice.

Extra pictures:

(Chocolate from Aunt Chelle, Uncle Joe, Josh, Luke, and Kayla, totally melted, but still delicious!)

(This is chicken drying in the sun. I live on the second floor. I have one neighbor up there. She didn't put the chicken there. It's kind of a mystery.)