Punctuality vs Procrastination

Found out today that the date of our event has been moved pushed ahead a week. We now have an extra week to get things done, but at the same time so much will have to be rearranged.

The date was changed by MTV Exit to accommodate the upcoming commune elections. Well, that’s just great, MTV Exit, but why didn’t you tell us this until we asked? It may be because we are just very low-status yet, or it might be because randomly changing things, making decisions at the last minute is just normal in Cambodia.

I try to imagine certain members of my family or certain friends living here, or even visiting… I think it would bring on unbearable anxiety. “What do you mean, the bus is going to be an hour late?” “I’ve been waiting half an hour, you guys said you would be here at noon.” “What, you’re changing the day of our project on us which we’ve been planning for months and months, just a week before the event? Oh, okay.”

I think if I were a more normal American (i.e. not so lazy, more punctual, etc.), I would be having a freak-out right now. It does irritate me that we will have to disappoint some people who really wanted to attend, and now won’t be able to. But I feel surprisingly able to cope with this sudden change. One can be much happier here if one is flexible.

Procrastination is sort of an acceptable lifestyle in Cambodia, but it’s even annoying for me, at times. I was like the master of procrastination in high school and most of college. But in Cambodia, I do things on time (or even early) without making an effort. An American day late is often a Cambodian day early.

If you show up half an hour early to something here, like a big important meeting, you’re liable to wait an hour for the meeting to get started. I’m so used to lateness now that when I’m teaching, I literally don’t notice my students walking in twenty minutes late as I’m in the middle of a lesson. It gives me pause to consider what a return to American life will be like. People are probably going to find me annoyingly laid back about time.

Not being so concerned about time, though, has its perks. Like a serious reduction in stress. I can recall panicking when I’d leave for work with plenty of time, encounter an unexpected traffic jam or get stuck by a train, and be just barely on time for the shift change. In the Kingdom, though, if something unexpected happens, people just say, “Whatever. Things happen.” I was even at a wedding once where the groom showed up an hour late; it was definitely face-losing, but no one said a word! Teachers at my school regularly go to class five minutes late, and they’re not fired yet. I don’t think anyone even notices. Once in a while a student will give me an excuse for why they were late or absent, but generally no one seems to think it necessary to bother with an excuse.

And as for being early… No one gives kudos to the person who shows up ten minutes early to something. They might even complain that you got there “too early”. Yeah, definitely a lot of Americans I know would need a serious paradigm shift in their perception of time before they could cope with CST (Cambodian Standard Time).

Anyway, guess I better get going. I was going to do some chores before I have to run an errand at 3, but that’s 4 CST (or 4:30? Who knows), so maybe I’ll just take a nap, or do some laundry, or read a book… I’ve got all the time in the world.

This was appropriate when I was a PCV, but be it a gov’t non profit, an NGO, it’s always the same with the “wellness program”… ^_^

 

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Can’t you read?

The Indian embassy is interesting.

Never been before.

No one warned me about the crazy visa man.

I went to pick up the passport/visa of a friend of mine who will be visiting India soon. The two Khmer security guards were friendly, showed me in– or showed me the door, rather. They pointed straight. “Go that way,” they said, but they didn’t come in. Actually they slammed the door on me. Huh, that was strange, I thought as I meandered down an exterior corridor of a large, fancy house. Strange-looking embassy, if you ask me.

I was beginning to think I got it wrong when I noticed an open window and a counter under it. It said “visa services”, or something to that effect. I approached and saw a man on the other side, sitting facing away from me, staring intently at a computer.

“Excuse me,” I said. The pale, spectacled man turned and glared at me.

“What?”

I experienced a moment of doubt. Why was I here?  “Uh, I need to pick up a passport.”

The man’s frowned deepened. “No, that’s not right.” It wasn’t? Was this a Jedi mind trick?

“Well, I’m picking it up for a friend, actually.” I started fishing for the receipt. He moved to a desk drawer and started pawing through a stack of passports. He seemed to hesitate on one, but the put them away and looked at me sharply. I gave him the receipt. After glancing at it but a moment, he said,

“Can’t you read?” He told me in the Queen’s English (or that’s what they say) with a pronounced Indian accent. “It says the 23rd.”

“It does?” I was amazed. I hadn’t realized the cryptic scribbles were actually writing,  let alone in a language I could recognize.  I looked it over. “No, actually, I can’t read that.”

“Come back then.” He started to go back to his desk.

“So, it isn’t ready yet…?” I ventured.

“Of course it isn’t ready yet!” The pale man spat, “How can it be ready? It isn’t the twenty-third!” He eyeballed me like I was wearing a big fat dunce cap.

“Uh, hm. Okay. I’ll… be back then. Goodbye.”

“Yes.” He dismissed me.

I was completely steamed when I signed out with the guards. “That guy is really rude!” I exclaimed in Khmer.  They seemed to give me a look that said newb. I thanked them and left. I was still pissed until I called a friend, but as I told her what had happened, the crazy visa man sounded to start funnier and funnier.

Still,  I wish I didn’t have to go back in two days…

 

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The Avengers in Cambodia

This is going to sound like old news to most of you, since The Avengers opened a month ago, but this was opening weekend here in the Kingdom! This is about the third movie I’ve seen here on the big screen– and this time in 3D, no less!

The movie, itself, was pretty awesome– written and directed by Joss Whedon, so naturally funny. But an epic comic book movie experience is only fulfilling if it has the right crowd dynamics. And I have to say, the Phnom Penhers didn’t disappoint. It was a diverse crowd, mostly Khmer but lots of foreigners, too: Americans, Brits, Africans, Indians, Koreans… But evidently with a shared love of Marvel heroes. The banter and approving applause at various points was reminiscent of movie-going with my comic bookie friends back home. The Khmer women sitting next to me very much liked Captain America.

So what else did the Avengers do this week in Cambodia? They saw the sights, of course.

The Avengers at Angkor Wat.

 

The Avengers at the King’s Palace.

 

Black Widow at the beach in Kep.

 

(Do I have other things I should be doing besides photoshopping copyrighted pictures? But of course!)

I have no complaints about the film (well, one could always launch into an academic or feminist discourse about it, I suppose), except for one…

*Plot Spoiler!*

 

They killed Phil, wtf!

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Neglect! And news.

Dear Blog,

I have been terribly neglectful of you. I will try my best to take more responsibility for you in the future, including providing you with regular updates. So sorry!

Love,
Liz

There is a reason for my lack of blogginess lately, though, apart from midterms at my school. My crazy colleague (and friend!) Eileen and I have been keeping quite busy with our second Take Back the Night project, which is coming up fast at the beginning of June.

Take Back the Night, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is an event to promote awareness of gender-based violence held around the world. Generally there is a series of events of the course of one day which provide a safe place for survivors to speak about their experiences, educate the community about gendered violence, and create discussion about how to end it, culminating in a night-time march and candlelight vigil. My school, Michigan State, usually hosts this event in April (which is sexual assault awareness month). MSU’s TBTN always has a “clothespin line”, where clotheslines are strung across a large area near Beaumont Tower. Upon these lines are hung t-shirts which have been recreated as artwork by survivors, friends and family of survivors, and allies within the community; they draw, write, and decorate the shirts to share their experience of violence, how it has affected them or someone they know, and how to end it. I have always found it to be a very cathartic experience, and also a powerful message to the community, showing that violence is not an isolated occurrence, that it can happen to anyone, and that we all have a stake in stopping it. Last year in Eileen’s village, we recreated the clothesline project. Although it was small, with only 100+ participants, it had an impact on the people in the surrounding villages and we received a lot of positive feedback. This year’s event in Koh Kong will be much bigger, as we have partnered with MTV Exit (an anti-human trafficking campaign in Southeast Asia) who are hosting a rock concert in the evening, following TBTN. We are expecting over 1,000 people!

Between trying to find funding, arrange a venue, locate partners and sponsors, organize volunteers, collect art supplies, etc. etc…not much time to blog or do much else. This event has prompted me to finally dish out the $4 for Photoshop, though, so I’ve been designing logos and flyers and such lately. In fact, why don’t you guys vote for the one you prefer! (It’s okay to say ‘neither’ if you think they’re both blah, by the way.)

Fundraising has probably been the most time-consuming aspect. Between two tabling events (5 days during the past 6 months), we managed to raise over $300– thank you to all the PCVs who helped table, contributed money, and just stopped by to chat! Also thank you to all the Long Islanders from Eileen’s hometown who contributed over $500, from her community and her mom’s church! Because of the generosity of these donations, we will be able to provide accommodations for our 7 Khmer volunteers who would otherwise not be able to afford to travel with us. We have also been able to purchase many art supplies which will make the TBTN t-shirt art event even more successful!

I am nervous and excited for Koh Kong, but the day-long event there won’t technically be the end of our Take Back the Night endeavors. Metahouse, a German-run art gallery/cafe/cinema in Phnom Penh, has agreed to include our t-shirt art project in an upcoming exhibition themed “Freedom”. We will select a portion of the most creative, expressive shirts that suit the themes of anti-violence and freedom from the Koh Kong event, and use them for a participant-engaging exhibit. This Metahouse exhibit is set to run from mid-July to mid-August. I must say… I’M TOTALLY STOKED! I was joking that it’ll be my first art exhibit ever…Only it’s not my art. ;P

Anyway, there will definitely be updates and photos from these events, I promise I will try not to post them 3 months late.

Til’ next time, to quote Red-Green, keep your stick on the ice. ^_^

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random thoughts on Cambodia and such

Cambodia has a metallic blue bee the size of a golf ball that looks like a Gundam Fighter.

Phnom Penh could really use a Cupcake Station. So could East Lansing, for that matter.

Would it be disrespectful if I bought myself a monk bag and umbrella?

Poor Sambo...

Evidently Sambo the elephant was being abused! I can’t believe such a high-profile figure suffered such abuse…Or can I? Sambo has been retired and is now receiving appropriate medical treatment. Yay!

Potential opportunity to revisit Bayon and Taproum Temples with Eileen when her mom visits. Total awesomeness because Eileen’s camera is aces.

Lots of trees are blooming right now. The perfume of Phnom Penh.

Reading a book Eileen lent to me on reproductive rights and “the future of the world”. Sounds heavy. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “the future of the world as we know it”.

I read almost the entire TIME magazine last night that Ma sent me. That might be the first time that’s ever happened. Usually I don’t have the attention span to read all those tiny boxes of text located randomly throughout a page covered in neatly-photoshopped pix.

*Le sigh.* I guess I better do some laundry. After being sick for several days, I now have several loads of wash to do. I did find a pretty awesome new laundry soap, though– my clothes smell like frangipani now! 😀

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And in other news…

They are digging trenches all around Phnom Penh.

For sewers.

So exciting, I know. For kicks I asked some of the workers digging where they were from; they were from various provinces, like Prey Veng, and had been hired to dig trenches for new drainage piping for $1.50 per meter. Sounds like a good deal until you see the trench is waist-deep and they have to use pick-axes to break up the sidewalk first.

I was watching the people standing around watching the people digging when it struck me: all the watchers were lighter-skinned Phnom Penhers, many of Chinese decent, while all the diggers were darker-skinned (working in the sun, hello?) Khmer villagers. And then it struck me how Phnom Penh may be the capital of “srok Khmer”, the land of the Khmers, but it really belongs, literally and figuratively, to everyone but. Chinese and Vietnamese people own much of the land and homes; Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean people own, operate, and profit from many of the major businesses and industries (including communications and securities companies, import/exporters, and textiles and clothing factories).

It’s difficult to ignore how racialized class is in this country.

Anyway, the PM said something funny on TV this week: he asked restaurants not to publicly roast cows on spits in front of their establishments. (Evidently it’s still okay to spit-roast chickens and pigs.) His logic was partly that it’s not hygienic, which I can see where he’s coming from on that, I suppose. But also that it is “against Buddhist principle” to openly display “cruelty” to animals by spit roasting them.

Nevermind that the animals are long dead before they get on the spit. Or that it’s still “anti-Buddhist” to spit-roast behind close doors. Or to kill and eat animals at all…? Haha.

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Happy Chinese New Year

Here we are, second New Year of the New Year. Three days off from work plus dancing dragons.

I find it amusing that Khmer people act so resentfully towards Thailand for “stealing” their culture (architecture, religious ceremonies and practices, performing arts, sculpture, etc…), yet don’t seem to correlate their cultural borrowing from China as a similar sort of “theft”.

Of course, Thailand really did steal parts of Khmer culture: in 1431 the Thais finally defeated Angkor, taking most of Angkor’s royalty, artisans, performance artists, and religious officials back with them (a brief history can be found in Lonely Planet’s Cambodia release, but for a more detailed history try David Chandler’s The History of Cambodia).

Angkor didn’t literally steal Chinese culture, but rather as more Chinese migrated into the region over hundreds of years, aspects of Chinese culture integrated with the dominant Khmer culture, up to present day. Legacies of this include ancestor worship, a vague respect for the Chinese lunar calendar, and of course certain Chinese holidays, the New Year probably being the most pronounced.

I’m not very “up” on Cambodian ancient history or its relationship with China (sorry, I know I promised to read more… Those Chandler books are so expensive!), but I can see why China has the profound influence that it does on the Khmer imagination. One of the more difficult classes I took in school was a Chinese history class (holy cow Chinese history is LONG and complicated… I so took for granted my own countries short, nicely compacted history). It was taught by this American woman who you’d called a “sinophile” (lover of all things Chinese). Though she tried to make us understand the infinite glory of Chinese culture and its innate superiority to all other cultures, my biggest impression of ancient China was that it was a bully and a narcissist– a lot like the United States today, actually.

Anyhow, I suppose if you’re an upstart little empire growing up next to a supergiant neighbor, you’d be impressed, too. Maybe you’d pick up their habits. Eventually you might start bragging about the concepts which you originally gleaned from this neighbor, like being proud of an older sibling. This is sort of how modern Cambodia is about China.

Nevermind that Pol Pot, possibly the worst thing ever to happen to Cambodia, was powerfully influenced by Mao Tse Dong, a Chinese product. I might be a little bitter about that, personally. But Phnom Penh doesn’t seem bitter, at least; they have a street called Mao Tse Dong Blvd. here– go figure.

I have so much yet to learn about this Kingdom of Wonder… I constantly stumbling across new and unique things. Cambodians, as a “people”, and the varied aspects of “Cambodian culture” never cease to amaze me.

Happy Chinese New Year.

 

p.s. my mom said I had a lot of spelling/grammatical errors in my last post. I’m guessing this one prolly does too, because I’m not going to proofread it. Sorry for that. 😛

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Seasons

A lot people, including Cambodians, say that there are only two or three seasons here: hot season and rainy season, or hot season, rainy season, and cool season. As for me, I tend to think of many seasons: hot, dry season, hot rainy season, cool rainy season, windy season, and cool dry season. But however many season there “really” are, one can’t deny that this year has been a little strange.

Normally when it stops raining, I’m told, it STOPS. Rainy season usually peeters out at the beginning of December, wherein begins the windy season. But it’s the middle of January, and something strange has happened lately… It’s still raining. Actually, we’ve had some crazy storms at night lately. I am told that these are the effects of global warming. When the weather is “strange”, Cambodians speculate about this a lot. It can be seen as an omen of things to come. My friends tell me that this is a sign that the world “is not right”. Hm.

View from my apartment balcony.

Anyhow, I’m not looking forward to hot, dry season, which is right around the corner. The weather has been blissfully, unseasonably cool, and quite windy, and quite cloudy. It’s been great. The equatorial sun is so intense at times that you can really feel yourself getting skin cancer, but even midday these past few months it’s been cloudy– and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. The clouds also make for interesting skies and beautiful sunrises/sunsets.

I’ve decided that I don’t post nearly enough stuff about fruit on my blog, so I’m going to start a new “series”: ‘A Year in Fruits’. Now, there are way more than 12 kinds of fruits here, so I can’t really do a “fruit of the month”. I’ll probably post more like a bi-monthly fruit. My life doesn’t so much rotate around weather seasons here as it does fruit seasons, which are far more delicious, anyway. “Fruits of the Month” coming soon!

Holidays are also a seasonal thing around which my life is shaped. Right now is Chinese New Year. I think I’ve mentioned that Cambodia has three “new years”: Chinese, “International”, and Khmer. The year begins again three times annually. 🙂 Not really; instead of having the affect of making me feel like things are “beginning again” three times a year, it kind of diminishes the importance of “beginnings” altogether. Actually, for me, the “year” really begins around July– because that is the season I first arrived here. So technically I’m only in the August of “my” year… But let’s not make things complicated.

Okay, this post is really random and unfocused, so I’m going to go!

p.s. these are some beautiful birds that a lady at my market wanted to sell to me for twenty bucks last week. No, I did not give into temptation… 😉

sa'at! (beautiful!)

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On the Up and Up

Alas, this title doesn’t really refer to me…

Eileen noted a couple months ago that my neighborhood is “on the up and up”: they were building a BBQ Chicken (Korean fast food franchise) combined with a Swenson’s Ice Cream shop on the corner of Kampuchea Krom by Santormok High School a five minute walk from my house. At the time I was a little concerned that the traffic was gonna get even crazier than it already was. Turns out I was right, but that’s not the only problem…

So they finished that corner and it’s been open for a while,  and something strange has happened in the past couple of weeks. Everything around here has gotten more expensive. My coffee lady went up to 50 cents. Rice at the market is about 14 cents more than before. Even my rent got hiked! $10, but when you’re not expecting it and you just bought a new fridge which eats lots of electricity, it’s kind of an unpleasant surprise.

A small new coffeeshop (where I’m sitting right now, actually) also opened, which is owned by a Khmer family. I thought, oh how nice, they’re so reasonably priced and I practically have the whole place to myself. Wrong! Every time I’ve been here I’ve encountered at least 2 other foreigners, usually Australian, English or American. WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM?? Up to this point the only foreigners I’ve seen have been the missionaries that ride their bikes through this neighborhood and the German guy whose Khmer wife sells fruit at the market.

The problem is not so much the barangs, themselves. It’s that I have this strange feeling I’m about to get priced outta here…

But maybe I’m on the up and up a little, myself. I have a new fridge, after all! Thanks, Ma & Pa. 😉  

 

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Bummer, Batman.

No sooner do I think I’m making a friend who’s also a foreigner than my hopes and dreams are dashed– by that very person, no less.

The seemingly cool South African girl turned out to be awfully similar to many of the other foreigners with whom I’ve found myself in conversations. The only difference was that she didn’t try to veil her disdain for Cambodians. With her tongue out in a grimace, she told me today, “Oh my God, I would never date a Khmer guy!” Umm, yeah… Me, either? I didn’t burst her bubble. Actually, I was speechless. She started to go on about going out with some other teachers for a “fling” tomorrow evening, and invited me to go (first I’d heard of it, clearly I’m not popular with that crowd), and told me how there would be “lamb on a spit” at which point she again made that disgusted tongue-out face. (I didn’t realize South Africans were this sheltered…? Lamb-on-spit = barbaric?)

Maybe back in the States I would have been like, “As it happens, my boyfriend is Khmer. Twit.” But evidently Cambodia has brainwashed me too much in the ways of “face loss”; I didn’t say anything, because to have done so would have made her lose serious face. Instead I just laughed along with her jokes, even as she described how she planned to break up the long-distance relationship of one of our supervisors because “he’s got a hot face”. Said supervisor is Khmer, by the way. Either she was putting on a show for me because she assumes that’s what I expect because so many other foreigners implicitly or explicitly express as much (Khmer = Other = gross/bad/pitiful/whatever), or she is inherently repulsed by the idea of such a relationship because her culture tells her to be yet can’t help the fact that she might genuinely be attracted to this person, anyway.

Whatever the case, I think I made a hasty decision in exchanging numbers with her. >_< Maybe the easiest way to go about this is just to let her find out I’m a radical and she’ll run away screaming…?

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