Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, 50 Cent and the Students Who Love Them

My days and weeks in Siem Reap have begun to take some routine.  And most of the routine is focused around class times.  The rest of the days are filled with computer work at Common Grounds Cafe, meetings with other NGO’s and organizations, errands, making copies, and as the days blend together I start to realize that routine is a loosely used definition in Cambodia as I mostly have no routine at all here.  Like most things in Cambodia, once I begin to apply a definition or word from home to my experience here I find that it doesn’t fit or even begin to describe what I am doing, feeling, or seeing.  Cambodia is always a bit unexpected.  Like the bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap – Srey Yim brought us each a baguette to eat for breakfast.  A nice recognizable food, with a name I know and recognize, and then I took a bite and found a BBQ dried meat inside – that is Cambodia.  And I have found that like the rest of my experience so far, my students are always a surprise as well.  To start their love for American music I expected, but the artists they are crazy about I did not.  Michael Jackson – maybe, but Justin Bieber, 50 Cent, and Jack Johnson are all getting some airtime in Cambodia.  And even more surprising than their taste in American music has been some of the funny conversations and situations that have come up talking about it.

The Angkor Thom Junior High School Students at the Angkor National Museum

I teach five days a week.  Three nights I teach a class at the EGBOK student house with Molly on computers and English, and two days a week I teach a hospitality curriculum at the Junior High School.  I could not have imagined two more different teaching environments.  The “Night Class” in Siem Reap with the PAGE girls and the students currently in hospitality school is informal, loud, and often filled with laughter (and often that laughter is my own).  At Angkor Thom Junior High, my “Normal Class,”  the students sit quietly at their desks until I begin class, then they sit quietly until I call on one of them to answer a question or give a definition, and as I end class and dismiss them most of the students wait for me to leave the classroom before doing so as well.  It is like a calm on Tuesday afternoons after the storm of Sunday and Monday “Night Class,”  but I have to admit I enjoy the storm as much as the calm.

As Molly and I introduced the idea of a Night Class in English and Computer Skills to a group of 23 students, they were all eager to get started, and so we started with a list.  A list of what the students wanted to learn while in the class, on the list were things such as better conversation skills, learn Excel, better at typing, learn how to use Powerpoint, and become better at listening to English.  There was also Michael Jackson, a lone celebrity on a list of things we could teach them.  So far there has not been a class on Michael Jackson, but I did show the pilot episode of Glee last week, and while cheerleaders and slushies were a bit outside of their knowledge of American pop culture they actually understood peer pressure, bullying, and stereotypes pretty well.  Maybe we will find a way to fit in Michael Jackson, there must be a lesson in there somewhere.

One more Michael Jackson bit before I forget, one of my students at the Juinor High School, Vichhay loves Michael Jackson.  Correction he loves Michael Jackson’s song We Are the World.  Today in class, he brought up this song for perhaps the 20th time to date, and this time it was to ask a very serious question, “could we all sing We Are the World as a class?”  What else could I say to that request but give him a “you are not serious” look before smiling and telling him I will bring in the lyrics.  Mom- he got the blank stare for a quick second, you know the one I wore for most of my time from ages 0 – 4.

50 Cent is a popular American rapper.  He has been shot nine times and survived, and now he probably owns nine homes none of which he actually sleeps in.  Well, let me introduce 50 Sent.  Ratanak is one of the kids in our Night Class, he does great is school and his English is very strong, but let me just say that his interest in hip-hop was no surprise.  During a typing activity I looked at his computer screen and found his answer to the question, “Who is your favorite singer?”   Response “50 Sent.”  I asked him what 50 Sent meant and he gave me a look that said, “If you don’t know then I am not going to bother telling you.”  50 Sent where, 50 of what was sent?  I asked him a bunch of questions, and finally explained to him that it was 50 Cent… as in money.  He did know every single word to his song Get Low so I give him partial credit for his answer.

Justin Bieber, I have met his number one fan.  Name: Vichhay Grade: 9 Location: Angkor Thom District, Cambodia Occupation: Talking about Justin Bieber oh and student.  When I say Vichhay loves Justin Bieber I mean it.  He not only brought up the Canadian pop star in our very first conversation, but he also breaches the subject after every single class.  And God help me if Canada happens to come up during a class because Justin Bieber will get at least five minutes of class time as he asks about his newest song, tour, or his background.  I have heard, “Oh Justin Bieber is from Canada. Do you know Justin Bieber?” More times in three weeks than I ever thought possible.  Vichhay is so dedicated he asked me to do him a huge favor.  No it was not to fly Justin Bieber into Siem Reap.  The favor was to bring him the lyrics to Jusin Bieber songs.  I brought him printouts for two songs, and as I handed them over – deeply proud inside that I even remembered to print them – he looked at me and said could you get a few more?  I asked him what other songs he would want, and he smiled, “All of them.  All Justin Bieber.  I want to sing all his song.”  I promised him two more songs.  I have seen the song list for that little pop star and it is longer than my bank account can afford to print, besides I have enjoyed Vichhay’s renditions of Never Say Never and Love Me enough to know that expanding his repertoire could be dangerous.

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