Through the back door...
Through the back door…

I wake up to the sound of our local handyman sawing ice. It’s a slow sounding push, the rhythm, soft, the ice surrendering to Jahb’s saw. His saw appears rusty, prehistoric, with fine-long-sharp teeth. Sometimes he runs the ice through a “shaved ice” machine that was once red, it sounds old and temperamental, but he never crushes ice in the early morning.

So, mornings are generally quiet.

These days I get up early, and once a week I’m fumbling in the dark before the sun rises. I ride my bicycle to work. It’s not far, but I’m still waiting for my legs to adjust to bicycling on Siem Reap’s hard-packed gravel roads.  Even at 5.45, the streets have woken up with dogs doing their business and shopkeepers sweeping.

My legs, specifically my quads, are wondering why I am doing this, wishing for a paved, smooth surface to glide over effortlessly. There is no comfort in knowing what fantastic legs I’ll get from all this work either as I already have fabulous legs. I have learned, however, which of my teacher dresses ride up my thighs and which ones behave. Sometimes it’s a battle of bicycling and forcing my hemline down.

Generally though, riding down the streets of Siem Reap is an exercise in paying attention, exclamation point. What appears to be a two lane road is essentially a four or five lane road because there is always a line of traffic that runs the opposite direction. The fifth lane is for the cars and motorbikes and cyclists that cut through. I used to get angry at the line of traffic that drove at me, forcing me out onto the traffic flow that was behind me, but now I accept that this is the way things are.

Tuk tuk near the Old Market and Pub Street.
Tuk tuk near the Old Market and Pub Street.

It’s a delicate balance of keeping straight and learning that all types of vehicles zip by uncomfortably close to you. It’s also about driving around dogs, construction projects and vehicles horizontal to the road. Its dump trucks, buses, tuk tuks, motos, school kids on bicycles, trash, puddles, mud, ice trucks, oversized vehicles teetering with plants, recyclables and coconuts. It’s purely blind-faith, becoming patient, and keeping focused.

And as a result, many of us move lethargically, cautiously, deliberately.

At work I get to enjoy the fresh cool A/C. I’m greeted by a set of steep stairs, students, staff and a desk I can call my own. I’m sure it is the least coveted one, situated in the middle of the teachers’ room, with my back turned next to the row of computers, but I rather like it. I can enjoy the window views without being mesmerized by it. I can see the front door. I can ignore everyone or I can engage with my coworkers.

The reputable language school has modern facilities, a backup generator for when the power goes out (which is regularly) and a lot of expat and Cambodian teachers. It is several floors high, with a restaurant at the top that I frequent. The European owner has had a fascinating life at sea and offers breakfast, lunch, drinks and dessert. He jokingly claimed I was his best customer. I like to eat. I can eat a lot. I like his food and it’s really nice to have a good place to eat where I work.

I’m one of the few Americans that work there. And since the books we use are British and the recordings we play are British, and the teachers around my desk are British, I feel like it won’t be long before I don my horrible English accent in every day conversations.  Living abroad as already expanded my British vocabulary, scope of friends, so mastery of the English accent is in my future. Ha!

Although, it has taken me longer than I expected to get my teaching legs underneath me, to establish connections with the students and understand the paradigm of the school. It’s a lot of little tasks, protocol and coordinating with Cambodian teachers who I share my classes with. It’s catch-up because I started in the middle of the term. Some (all?) of my classes had 3 teachers before me, so discipline felt like herding fussy kittens under the weight of exhaustion.

I’ve eaten everything on the menu. The cheese and chutney sandwich is quite nice.

Pay no attention to the student behind the curtain...
Pay no attention to the student behind the curtain…

The thing about teaching is it involves a lot of work. There are moments when you can glide, when it doesn’t feel like you are hitting the breaks or pushing the pedal to the floor, but often, it seems, you’re learning, tweaking, leaning, and fine-tuning your lesson plans and your interactions with the students.

I once wrote that becoming a teacher is like becoming a new person. Teaching forces you to be better for your students, not unlike being a parent. You can’t be lazy, even when you desperately want to be lazy, because laziness is contagious and defeats the purpose of learning. And you’re a role model whether you acknowledge it or not. So, if you’re really into self-development, have I got the perfect job for you!

Thankfully, my previous teaching experience and built-in tenacity has gotten me through the worst of it. At least, I hope the worst of it is behind me. I can feel the connections with my students growing. I know there are more hurdles in this race, but I know I have the endurance. Did you know one teacher quit in the middle of the day! Can you imagine? Of course you can. We’ve all wanted to do that before!

I ride my bike back home for a break. Often, I take a 15-30 minute nap. I’ve become a fan of naps. I’m told naps are good for you.

Jahb is usually at the apartment, making his crushed ice, sawing his ice, delivering his ice across the street or preparing his ice for a waiting customer. His name means “bird,” and we buy our water from him. We say hello whenever we come and go from the apartment. The b/f speaks enough Khmer to have short pleasant exchanges with him. And Jahb loves it.

He’s of the older generation, the ones who were affected by the Khmer Rouge.

This is my new life, at the moment.

Siem Reap, and my life, under construction.
Siem Reap, and my life, under construction.

38 replies on “At home in Siem Reap (part 2)

  1. It sounds like you are settling in very nicely in your new town. How nice is it to meet nice locals and are happy to see you when you walk out the door. Becoming a teacher becoming a new person? I suppose you have to remind yourself that first and foremost that you are there to teach, and make sure you know the curriculum down pat 😀 Eaten everything on the menu? Maybe you’re getting bored with the food at the school already 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not bored with the menu yet 😛 But I suppose I better be careful! Sometimes I think I should venture out, but it’s sooo damn hot and I can’t be bothered to go and search for food.

      Teaching the curriculum, improving it, making it accessable, speaking clearly, answering questions, slowing down, clarity of thought – all of this and more help teachers to be “new” or if that word is too strong then, how about flexible?

      It’s a lot of work and with students hiding behind curtains, well, it’s an adventure, almost everyday 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Best of luck to you in Cambodia. A beautiful country to visit, with living another story. Don’t turn too British!

    One could say life is always under construction, but sometimes moreso than other times…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so nice to catch up on your new life in Siem Reap! I’m glad to know you have great legs. Around here it’s the hills that challenge cyclists and walkers alike. But riding a bike on gravel does sound extremely difficult. I like your observation: “Teaching forces you to be better for your students.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I try. Sometimes teachers are also hard on themselves, too. It’s a balancing act.

      Yeah, I think the regular exercise is changing me. I’m developing a new habit that I feel is spilling over to other areas of my life – hence, the “under construction” reference.


  4. ooh. i really enjoyed this post. like how you started and closed it with ‘jahb’ and i find it funny that his nick name is ‘bird.’ (surely, it’s a nick name…)

    also, i enjoy insight into the teaching profession, and how you can’t ever let your guard down. since i teach piano and dance, i feel the same way… i try to use every opportunity to be a good role model, and i can’t slack off or miss practices or lessons because i don’t want my students to think they can slack off (or that i can slack off). actually, i read your book and i don’t know if i ever told you how much i enjoyed it.. so please, do write more about your teaching experiences. =) you write well and i love the lightharded and sometimes sarcastic humor. =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m honored that you liked my book. Thank you very much.

      Piano and dance take a great deal of discipline so it’s pretty wonderful that you are giving your students the gift of that. Self-control, motivating yourself and creating positive habits are all essentials in life.

      And yes, I’m sure that is his nickname. Cambodians have such difficult names to say!


  5. Okay, I loved this so much:
    “I have learned, however, which of my teacher dresses ride up my thighs and which ones behave. Sometimes it’s a battle of bicycling and forcing my hemline down.”
    While I don’t bicycle to school in Taiwan, I DO ride my scooter. I learned the hard way that some of my skirts and dresses refuse to stay down as I twist on the accelerator. It only takes a few flashing incidents to learn that some items of clothes are only appropriate to wear on days when I walk to school, or am wearing my poncho because it’s raining!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment reminded me of these pants that a friend gave me. Very flowly, overlapping fabric, ethinic print, but when I got on the motorbike – whoooweeee – I was flashing everyone with my legs! The overlapping style just opened up in the wind. It was hard to keep my modesty 😛

      Yes, scooters create their own challenges…Thanks!


  6. Glad to hear you are finding your feet in Siem Reap. Of course, your feet are attached to your ankles. Lol.

    I note your mindfulness. It’s what it is. It helps one to navigate through the obscuring haze or murky waters; it’s a sign of inner strength and aids in the personal development. Is the journey more important than the destination?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I meant mindfulness aids with the personal development. Talk about being in the present and not get bog down with life challenges.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. It helps that I’m heading to work or home, on the bicycle. Just stay focused, don’t worry too much about everyone else on on the road, but be aware of all of it at the same time. 🙂


  7. Watch out with the British accent :p
    It is nice to have a workplace nearby so you can walk or use the bicycle. Much more relaxing then being required to use a car or public transportation.
    Lately I have read several articles about Cambodia, I wonder when I ever make it there

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, if you and the family ever make it out here, and we’re still here, we’d love to have you! I feel like I know so much about you already – gotta love the blogging community.

      Right, British accent…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. The blogging community is great as you get to know so many people from around the world. I learned so much about other cultures and how life is in other countries 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I really enjoyed this post- the story you told and the way you told it.

    This is my take away: I used to get angry …, but now I accept that this is the way things are.

    Moving is not unlike some seasons in our lives. I agree sometimes, “It’s purely blind-faith, becoming patient, and keeping focused.” Lani I’m encouraged on my own journey, reading about your adjustment.

    It seems that whether we are parents or teachers, for some of the people in our lives, we’re always in season… they are watching our move.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. What a lovely response. I’m glad you liked it. And I feel like I’m changing through this process. I don’t know how, yet, but there is something in the complete overhaul of my lifestyle and work that has made me feel different.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. How many students do you teach each day?

    Yes, those local roads and the nature of traffic sounds abit challenging. Stay safe. I suppose you and others don’t wear a helmet?


    1. My schedule is rather hectic and changes, but on MWF I teach 4 different classes with an average of 20 students in each class. Tues/Thurs are my tamer days where I teach only one 2.5hr class with about the same amount of students.

      My b/f and I both have bicycle helmets, but we don’t wear them.


      1. It is – and I’d rather not think about the prep time. It helps immensely though that I have repeat classes or doubles, so a lesson plan can usually be used twice.


      2. Then enjoy and drink in all the learning experiences outside of work…. 🙂 Your blog reflects that and that’s great.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh, a bike in a dress! Eek! Do you have to wear dresses? Or are they just more comfortable in the hot climate?

    Will we see before and after pictures of leg muscles? That would be kind of cool. 🙂

    I like hearing how you are settling in, but not settling with your teaching. Yes, a lazy teacher is contagious. Your students are lucky!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Autumn. I prefer dresses when I teach. It’s a habit from my private school teaching days. Plus, it’s just easy to grab a dress, rather than try to coordinate tops and bottoms.

      No, I don’t think I have any “before” pics of my thighs. Hahahaha. I don’t pay attention to how they look, just how they feel after a day of biking. Stretches!

      One of the lead teachers observed my class on Friday, and gave me the thumbs up, so that was a huge relief that I was recognized for my experience and hard work 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, fantastic to be appreciated! Well done!

        If all your tops and bottoms are black, grey, blue, and white, you’ll be all set. (I don’t know anyone who does this, BTW.)

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m back! I’m alive! And so are you! I’m so fascinated by your life. In some ways it seems like mine, but there are differences of course. I have similar problems with the traffic here, although I’m walking so it’s a little easier. But cars cut in line and and drive far too close and don’t really watch for pedestrians at all.

    Being a teacher is like being a new person. I was never a hard or stern person of authority, but here I’ve learned to be strict when necessary. My students are wonderful but I do have to keep them in line, and I was worried I wouldn’t know how to discipline and they’d walk all over me. Luckily that hasn’t happened.

    It’s so cool that you have a restaurant in your building! The owner sounds incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeaaa! I was getting ready to write to you. I’m glad you are doing well and surviving! Maybe I’ll write to you anyway. I’m assuming you have internet now at home?

      Okay, I’ll write soon ^^

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not yet…I have maybe 3 weeks. 😥 It takes that long to get a registration card here. But I can go to some cafes when I have a spare few hours.


  12. First off, naps are the best. I take them often. Apparently, they are suppose to keep you young and alert.

    Second, I commend you for having the ability to drive down a gravel road on a bike while wearing a dress. I am sure you will have smoking quads in no time.

    Liked by 1 person

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