Traditional New Year Rituals?

So I asked my students first day back after the long weekend how their New Year’s Celebrations went. Well, it was quite educational. I have taught them that I will not accept stock answers, but I have added in the nuance about only sharing what they feel is appropriate.  I am rewarded with absolute candour, is this because Cambodians are incredibly open, or is it because they feel obligated to speak only the truth?  In any event, it makes for some interesting conversations, albeit not ones that advance vocabulary on types of sticky rice, but good to know at least one of my students can now differentiate in English between haemorrhagic and ischemic strokes.  Even though I cannot spell either, probably.


So I am spending the early part of the New Year in a state of real discomfort.  I spent one evening typing away at my laptop with a door open to my balcony as sunset. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but basically there was the mosquito equivalent of an opportunistic shark feeding frenzy going on.  By morning I was covered with over one hundred raised welts where I have had a massive allergic reaction to every single bite.  I even have bites on the soles of my feet for goodness sake. What self-respecting mosquito tucks in there.  Joking apart it is excruciating.  I have been taken antihistamine, and applying such creams as I have but I feel like my whole body is burning.  I am usually so careful.  My feet have swollen up so my shoes feel tight and I’m really uncomfortable.  I just hope the worst of it diminishes in a couple of days because I really can’t stand this. It’s like Vietnam all over again.  I could cope with a lot of physical challenges, but when it comes to insect bites, get me out of here!

Anyway, that wasn’t the point of htis post, the point is New Year is traditionally not as wondrous as the hype would have you believe.  Just as I had damp squib fireworks and a relatively early night, followed by mosquito attack just hours in, my students too had had mixed experiences.  These included:

  • The student nurse, who spent new year’s eve succesfully administering CPR to a patient!  How amazing is that.  As an added bonus I was able to introduce him to the male volunteer teacher here who is also a nurse, so that was great for extending his (and mine) medical vocabulary
  • Then there was the student who fell off his bike after skidding in the rain and hurt his arm. I ended up getting the whole story so he could relate it in English, and others too on his behalf.  It took a while, but I like to think that this is ‘real’ conversation so the time spent is legitimate.  He claimed he did not cry as he is a ‘real man and strong’
  • One partied all night at a (not very nice according to other students) night club
  • One student was in bed for New Year, but watched it on his phone as far as I can tell
  • Another had a sad New Year.  He could not go back to join his family in the province as planned because he had to go to a 100 day marking of the funeral of a former workmate.  I haven’t looked at funerals here, but I have gathered that there is not one single ceremony, but many over an extended period of time. He went to his family a day later, and there was arguing and conflict. He looked so sad, I wished I hadn’t asked, or that he’d understood he didn’t have to disclose what he didn’t wish to. Afterwards he stayed behind asking about the language for fighting and arguments, so I suppose he wanted to communicate it, but it wasn’t exactly joyful.  I suppose it’s all part of the new year tradition isn’t it.  Family conflict alongside family reconciliations.

It is amazing what can be communicated.  It is also important to recognise the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding too.  In the same series of classes that students shared all this, they also failed to nail the vocab for words such as ‘trousers’ and ‘skirts / shorts/ socks’  – words they struggle to pronounce.  However, I had a lot of fun teaching them frequency words like ‘occassionally’ though in rather inaccurate black and white terms. I am worried that I am not giving them what they need.  I fluctuate between thinking as long as they and I are engaged and talking then it can’t be ‘wrong’ or ‘unhelpful’ and thinking I do them a disservice if I deviate too far from core language.  Then again, at the end of the day I am a volunteer, I am doing my best, perhaps that is, if not exactly sufficient, a reasonable point from which to start.

Later on today we are looking at illnesses and ailments.  Bring on half-baked medical advice! What could possibly go wrong…


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