Home Alone

The chef finished her contract and the school holidays have begun.  The new chef is not on board yet because the management thinks it’s better to wait until the school year commences when there are more students.  That makes sense.  The only full-time staff and some students left for Phnom Penh or Siem Reap over the past few days. I was alone with a couple of students.  The staff said to me before he left for Siem Reap, ‘only you will stay here with 4 students.’ He then smirked. In fact, I was very happy that I would be ‘home alone’. I have online courses to attend and when I eat dinner, I don’t want to see him.  😛

The students cooked the meals. But when I saw them cook for the first time, I thought to myself, ‘do they really know how to cook?’  Actually, their food tastes much better than the chef’s.  That chef doesn’t know how to cook – she cooked burnt fish, salty soups but she thought it was very delicious, salty vegetables… I think she doesn’t have any taste buds at all :P.  So I was glad the students cooked ‘nice’ meals. 

The first time I saw the students cook.
The first time I saw the students cook. The dish that they were cooking was canned sardines with fresh onions, sugar, salt and guess what else? 😛 You can see the finished ‘product’ in the photo.

Sometimes, the meals were not that nice and the students were busy attending extra classes so I proposed to help them. But they didn’t like my food. Mind you, I have a good reputation.  When my friends tasted my food, they all liked it. Al dente spaghetti, deliciously marinated meat, hot chili Chinese tofu… etc. and I have got really picky taste buds.   

I figured out one reason in the end.  These kids put fish sauce in every dish they cooked, like fried rice, soup (yes, fish sauce in soup), meat, whatever you can think of.  When they saw me putting soya sauce in fried rice, they said, ‘NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’  They said, ‘you should put fish sauce!’ (Jaw-dropping)  Honestly, I had never heard of people putting fish sauce in fried rice until a few days ago.  Have you heard of it before? 

Also, before they cooked the meat, they didn’t marinate it.  When I marinated the meat, one of the kids shouted, ‘NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’  This time, I ignored him. I continued to marinate it. Then he followed ‘my recipe’ (without the soya sauce) before he cooked another plate of meat. It’s actually not ‘my recipe’.  Everybody who knows how to cook Chinese / Asian food does it in a similar way.

This kid who stopped me from using soya sauce previously told me in our English lesson, ‘I like Japan. I want to study in Japan.’  I want to tell him that Japanese use soya sauce in their food.  How will it taste if I dip my sushi in fish sauce that mixes with wasabi? Hm… I think the Japanese will kill me for ruining their food.  😀

I pointed out one important thing to the two students who were cooking with me, ‘You don’t trust me.’ 

There was dead silence. 

Their faces betrayed them. 

These kids attended my lessons previously but not anymore because they are ‘too busy’ and my English class is just an ‘extra class’ for them (to have fun) so they never took it seriously. In fact, in Cambodia, oral English is not important at all.  It is not tested in public exams.  Only written English is. That is why most of the students (and even adults) cannot speak English. But it doesn’t mean that they can write good English either (note, I am not using the word ‘perfect’. I am just using the word ‘good’).  The management when they first talked to me was very happy that I could teach phonetics which is a ‘gap’ in their official curriculum. 

One of my students showed me a photo that he took at his private English tutorial the other day. The photo shows a white board with many English words written on it.  At first, I thought it was written by the students who attended the class because it was full of grammar mistakes. Almost every line contained at least one grammar mistake.  For instance, I saw one sentence that went like this, ‘I sympathize you.’  So don’t call me a ‘Grammar Nazi’! 😛  

But the student said to me, ‘that’s from my private tutorial.  The tutor wrote them.’ As he said that, he had a satisfying smile on his face.

Jaw-dropping for me though. 

I asked him, ‘do you need to pay for these private lessons?’ 

He said, ‘yes.’  

Look, these village kids are not rich.  They can’t even afford to pay USD5 for a bus ticket to Phnom Penh from their village and that’s why I have this Learn x Travel scholarship for them. And then I asked him to consider not to continue the class with that tutor. 

He was puzzled.

I said, ‘it’s full of grammar mistakes.’ 

This time, it was his turn to give me that jaw-dropping look.

Sorry for being so cruel. But he needs to know. 

In fact, many villagers attend her private tutorials.  The kid who likes Japan but doesn’t like soya sauce (yeah, I know, I am so obsessed with it) also attends her classes. I told him her English was full of mistakes.  He said, ‘but she teaches “general conversations”‘.  Actually, I don’t know what it means.  My response was, ‘are you having a “general conversation” with me in English now?’  He was speechless.  As far as I know, this poor kid is still wasting his money and time on this private tutor.

It’s a matter of choice. 

They can choose. And nobody forces them. However, most of the time, we make poor decisions and those decisions take us to a different path in life.

As a foreigner, teaching something that is considered as ‘unimportant’ doesn’t give me any credit at all. Also, as you may have read in my previous blogs, we had a very good ‘vibe’ in our lessons (https://learnxtravel.com/2019/06/15/my-reward/ and https://learnxtravel.com/2019/06/29/if-they-can-do-it-you-can-do-it-too-you-can-even-be-better/). I have observed a class at the kindergarten nearby. The teacher hit the students with a ruler if the students were naughty. But I never do that. And so, some students don’t really ‘trust’ me in a way cos I don’t have the kind of ‘authority’ that they are familiar with. Don’t get me wrong. I am not despondent (well, not yet :P). But I think this episode really tells me something.

The students who are still studying with me take things more seriously than those who are not.  A few of them went to Vietnam with our group and so they know it’s important to be able to pronounce English words correctly.  They were forced to communicate with others in English cos nobody in the places we visited in Vietnam could speak Khmer.  

Well, I learnt something over the past few days which I am glad. 🙂

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