Breakfast at Prekeng
For regular readers, I bring news of great change. I have not had a cup of coffee for weeks. Nor have my lips touched wine. Instead, I breakfast on jasmin tea, with fruit and small pastries bought from a stall in the market across the road (not just any road – the terrifying, and utterly anarchic, National Road 1). I sip my tea while a couple of fishermen lazily search the ponds below me. The sun rises, and the cool, fresh early morning disappears.
I lunch on rice and vegetables, supplemented by a handful of honey-coated cashew nuts from my secret stash; this particular vegetarian’s protein supplement of choice. I usually dine on more rice, more vegetables, but this time with a sprinkling of peanuts. Some things don’t change, however. I look forward to, and then enjoy, my one cold ‘Angkor’ beer in the evening even more perhaps than I used to enjoy a glass of wine.
You’ll have worked out that I am not in Oxford. The market is in Prekeng, about 10km south of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and the river is, of course, the Mekong. Keep going on National Road 1 and you’ll get to Vietnam. The climate here is hot and humid, although everyone here keeps assuring me it’s really very cool at the moment. Since when is 34 degrees ‘cool’?
My mornings are devoted to teaching English to small children. Through play. Those who know me well may now be smiling wryly. It’s no great secret that I am not the most tolerant or patient of individuals when it comes to small children. In fact, I am one of those strange parents who prefer teenagers to toddlers, and I am ecstatic that my daughters are now adults. In fact, I am rubbish at ‘play’. Even when I was a child, I wasn’t that good at it. I liked projects, and tests, and competitions. I devoured the classics of literature at a stupidly young age, hardly understanding a word, but loving that feeling of tackling a ‘grown-up book’. My imaginary worlds were telling: I played libraries, complete with complex filing systems but that was nothing on ‘swim to China’. Once in China, I would, with my friends Christopher and Clare, set up a shop. I still like deadlines, and spreadsheets, and exams. I like working on my own, in a corner of the library – or coffee shop. And I remain horribly competitive, although I like to think that I can also be a gracious loser.
But…everyone can change. And these past couple of weeks have seen me dancing around the classroom, making colourful posters, playing ridiculous (non-competitive) games, and singing at the top of my voice (or humming when I simply cannot remember the words to ‘One Finger, One Thumb’ and other classics of the pre-school repertoire). It’s been fun.
Maybe the children have learned a bit of English. Maybe I’m learning to play?