Teaching in Cambodia

Quite a while back there, I thought that I would somehow broaden my horizons and venture out of the Land of Noodle Soup&Nam Prik and try a stint at teaching someplace else. Firstly, rather unsure on where to try my luck I asked around the ex-pat/teacher bars in Banglumphu before making-up my mind to go to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Being a teacher here in Thailand. I got quite used to having my own abode with all the essential everyday commodities but there in Cambodia, I soon found out that there wasn’t such a thing as an air-con condo at 4 and half thousand baht a month. Most teachers in the end, end-up spending their life there at a squalid guesthouse down by the lake or rent a ghekko-infested house all for themselves.

Next was the job hunt, sporting a shirt and tie I was ridiculed by the other teachers at the guesthouse for wearing such attire and that a scruff pair of trousers and a torn shirt was enough to find a job. I didn’t follow their words of wisdom and after a couple of hours soon had a part-time job at quite a posh school near the Central market. The money was pretty decent but the hours of work were beyond comprehension. My hours for the first couple of weeks were, as was the norm there, one hour in the morning 6-7, then a couple of hours from 12-2 and finally another hour from 7-8pm!

Well, I soon arrived at the job just in time for the 6 in the morning class expecting half the class to be still in bed but was flabbergasted to see that the whole class had arrived at 5:45! In no time, I realised that the standard of English in Phnom Penh was far higher than at any old pvt. school in Bangkok. I had got used to Thais, even with a proper enough education, still not being able to comprehend the difference between ‘I am going to’ and ‘I go’ but I was soon to be even more perplexed when a few of the Khmer students, asked me such mind-boggling questions as “Excuse Mr Steve could you pls explain the zero conditional tense” to which I replied “As a matter of fact I was going to delve into that tomorrow” before rushing out to buy a book on advanced grammar.

The class in the morning, weren’t too bad but the advanced class in the evening was made up of real boring serious stiffnecks. Even a couple of my buffalo and mother-in-law jokes didn’t get the slightest sign of a grin just a question as “What’s so funny about a buffalo?

As for the most of the other teachers in Cambodia, I have very little in the way of much value to say about them. Virtually everyone of them went to work like a scragg, dressed in flip-flops and fisherman pants, thinking this was appropriate working attire. As for their extra-curricular activities, these included just two pastimes: girls and a weekly visit to the pharmacy to stock up on as many ‘catchabuzz’ pharmaceuticals as they could cope with, before ‘conking out’.

As for teaching credentials, I don’t think the whole bunch had even a GCSE between them. I certainly wasn’t the most popular teacher at the school just because I preferred to look respectable, shower twice a day and did not have a fascination for chemicals. I really cheesed the quackwacks off when I landed one of the hottest teaching jobs in Phnom Penh at the country’s most prestigious company, CBL Cambodia Brewery Limited (Tiger Beer) paying a whopping $15 an hour, almost twice what they were getting, not bad at 24 hours a week.. When the scraggs asked me how I got the job, I replied “They were impressed by my tie and black shoes” and that I didn’t have a right greasy ponytail and blood-shot eyes.

I found the students at Tiger Beer a far friendlier lot to the boring stiffnecks at the pvt school. Especially fun to teach were the Sales guys in the morning, who had very little to chat about besides their naughty deeds with the Tiger promo girls in the back of their vans. Thailand has these promo girls now, I’m sure they got the idea from Cambodia as the first provinces of Thailand to have such girls were the provinces along the Cambodia border, now they are everywhere. Teaching in Cambodia was on the whole, trickier than in Thailand not just cause the students were of a higher standard but that some of the language from the book was difficult for them to understand and also for me to teach. For example ‘franchise’, now, not such a thing exists in Cambodia, or one time the book had us discuss the success of Mc Donalds or 7/11, of course most students didn’t have the foggiest to what they were, the closest they got was the song ‘Old Mc Donalds’.

The best thing about teaching at Tiger had to be the monthly party to which everyone had an endless supply of beer to top themselves up with before going home sloshed. One thing I did enjoy about Cambodia compared to Thailand was the working visa, which was of the simplest to get compared to the endless paperwork and time-wasting like you have to go through in Thailand. After 3 months in Phnom Penh and it was time to renew my visa. Arriving at the Immigration a little late I was informed by the guard that the office was closed, however, should I wish the ‘speedy service’ he pointed to a small office round the back.

Heeding his advice I was welcomed inside by an extremely friendly Pol. Cpt who advised me that the usual service at $30 was dreadfully slow, had to show a stack of paperwork and took up to a month to get. However, with his ‘special speedy service’, which cost $80, the service could be done within the hour. Of course his service sounded much more advisable and when I asked him to whether he needed a signature or at least a foto, he replied “Certainly not”. On leaving he handed me a stack of namecards to throw round to any other teachers that I happened to bump into. I returned the next morning and on seeing me, the Pol. Cpt called out “Mr Steve, sir” and simply picked out, from his shirt pocket, my passport and gave me it back. I was very impressed by the efficiency of his service.

Besides the pay and visa regularities, one other thing I liked about teaching there was the chance to really develop my knowledge of the technicalities of the English language as you seldom get the opportunity here, except for the odd TEFL class.

If you are interested in reading a little more about life in Phnom Penh, then do comment and I’ll write another part.


PS: I received a mail yesterday from a Thai student that read “Khru Steve, I enjoy reading your blogs very much but sometimes I don’t understand some your words and neither does my teacher”
So, for those wishing to learn some vocab:

Stint = some time
Abode = accomodation
Ghekko = cute little green four legged animal that enjoys running across your ceiling
Flabbergasted = amazed
The zero conditional tense = a scientific fact,V1+V1, such as ‘A man falls over when he drinks too much ’
Scragg = scruffy looking person: as the likes of that species that can be found along Khao San Road.
‘catchabuzz’ = prescription-only
conking out = falling asleep before you know it
to cheese off = to make angry
quackwack = not the brightest of persons

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