When my dad opened his guest room door two Tuesdays ago to my smiling and dirt covered face I wish I had started his visit with this: Welcome to Cambodia! Where Coke-Cola is a special treat, motos are more popular than televisions, food is cheap, dogs run free, and the people are wonderful. Or something of that sort, instead all I did was stand in the doorway smiling from ear to ear, with my hair sticking out in all directions from my moto helmet. It is ok though, I think he learned all of these things and more during the time he spent with me in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh- all of these things and much more.
What I did say that first night, as we walked to dinner, was how I realized with his arrival that I could never go back to seeing Cambodia as it looked during my first days here. My view has changed too much. The roads, homes, and stores have become where I bike, visit, and shop. I have a pharmacy lady, a fruit lady, and a t-shirt girl in the Night Market. I had forgotten that the trash could look dirty, the buildings could look modest, and the people were different than myself. It has become familiar, and I can not go back to seeing it through the lens of a first impression again. However, the experience of watching my father watch all that surrounded him that first evening made me realize how comfortable I had become here.
Our days in Siem Reap were filled with classes and temples. I had driven by the temples every time I taught at the Junior High School, but I had never stopped. Each time Ratanak tells a security guard where we are going and why, and then the security guard tells me, “Do not look at the temples,” although I will say they are impossible to miss! Walking through them was an entirely different experience. Each was incredibly different. Bayon is filled with Buddha faces that all look down on you as you wander from entry to entry throughout the temple. Preah Khan will always make me smile as I think of the young Khmer man who led us through the different areas, giving an explanation of each carving and statue he memorized from a book on the history of the Angkor temples. We were both amused to see his lunch stashed near a statue of a Khmer Queen, and how quickly he set it aside to earn $2.00. Ta Prohm is haunting as the trees overtake the stone and in many places nature has caused a once strong and sturdy structure to crumble. Angkor Wat is incredible in its size and splendor. The view from the highest level of Angkor Wat across the stone entry way was one of the most spectacular I have ever seen and one I will not soon forget. It was very special to look out from the most famous place in Cambodia with my dad next to me. It made me wonder if I will ever share that view with anyone else, or even if I will ever have the chance to see it again.
I took my dad to see the most touristic part of Cambodia in Angkor National Park, and then I took him to meet the twenty-six students I teach in the evenings in Siem Reap. As usual they were nothing short of entertaining, but shy to meet a tall, white man they didn’t know. We played Hangman that night and a game called the Hot Seat where students had to describe words to one another all in English, like the board game Taboo. Sna, our student with a lot of personality, was acting out each answer even when it wasn’t her turn, and Ratanak spent most of the class yelling out random things in English either related or unrelated to the correct word. I think my dad saw that I spend most of the class laughing with the students as they make mistakes, joke, and succeed. That night we ate dinner at Viva with all twenty-six of them!
After a 7:00 AM morning, visiting Angkor Wat until mid-afternoon, and a quick lunch at Sala Bai Hospitality School, I then had the audacity to drag my dad one hour down a very bumpy and uneven dirt road to visit my class at Angkor Thom Junior High. Ratanak tried to avoid the potholes (or maybe ditch is a more appropriate word to describe a hole of this size in the road) but inveitably my dad and I spent the ride bouncing around, holding on for dear life, and slightly concerned that at any minute the tuk-tuk would completely turn over and dump us onto the red dirt. I was glad when we reached the school, without an accident or busted tire, although Ratanak did not seem rattled by the drive. My students at Angkor Thom were very excited to have my dad visit and before and after class a group of the boys bombarded him with questions about his trip, about our upcoming trip to Vietnam, and what it is like in Canada. I was very proud of them for their willingness to practice their English around a stranger, and was even more proud that my dad seemed to finally be picking up the accent and understanding their English (the missing s’s, th’s and ch’s can get you every time here).
That evening was our last night in Siem Reap, and it was off to Vietnam for three nights to visit Ha Long Bay and Hanoi, but I will save those adventures for another post because… as an exercise in my Night Class, Molly and I had the students write thank you letters to my dad, Ben, and a woman in Siem Reap who gave us free tickets to a show here. I want to share some of the ones to my dad because they are so great, in more ways than one:
Dear Mr. Ted,
I would like to say thank you very much for taking us to have dinner at Viva, and we are very happy and ate full of dinner. We hope one day we will enjoy dinner with you again. We wish you have life full of health, happiness, and properity. We love you very much and miss you. We trust you coming back soon.
Dearest Mr. Ted,
Thank you so much for dinner and coming with us. You are so kind and handsome man. I hope we will meet each other once day. We all are love you daughter Katie like our family. She is a very good teacher. She always teach us new things.
I like computer class and English class. I hope you will come and visit us again in the future.
I would like to say thank you so much for your dinner at Viva. It was so delicious. I was very happy to go with you, and all the students here. You are so kind. I always remember everything that you did with me, and the day that we played game wiht us. Especially on the day that you went to Sala Bai school. I was very surprised when you were there and I hope one day I can see you again. You are very helpful to us. We love you so much. At the end I wish you have a wonderful time with your family, good health, and especially successful with everything.
All the best of love,
Dear Mr. Ted,
Hello! How are you and your job? I’m very happy when I had dinner at Viva with you. It’s very delicious and I can know a lot about that kind of restaurant. And I want to say thank you for Viva dinner. You are a very good person.
My favorite thing is food was very delicious and waiter and waitress were very friendly. So I hope, I will get to meet you when you com here again and I wish you have a good luck for your health and have successful for your job.
All the best Sambath
Dear Ted Bross,
Hello! I am Vichny. I would like to say thank you so much. It is the best time. Thank you so much for your dinner. I am very interested with them. It is a yummy dinner. Thanks for your generosity. I am so happy that you thoughtful to us also. I would like to wishes you to have good health for ever, good luck every time.
And at the end, I have to share that one of Ben’s thank you letters informed him he was handsome man, but also that when he rides his moto he looks like a baby. I confiscated the handwritten letter and I am going to frame just that sentence.