Near the end of my second semester of teaching English, we were studying a unit on travel. Whenever a new topic is taught, I have to consider the framework that the students have to understand the topic, and concordantly, what experiences they can draw from to practice the new language that the topic incorporates.
Every one of my 60 students has traveled to some degree. Even if they had never traveled to Kep, Kampong Som or Siem Reap (all popular destinations in Cambodia), all the students are from the countryside, and had traveled between their homeland and Phnom Penh any number of times since beginning school at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. However, there were a number of students that had not had many opportunities to go on a trip for fun. Being as I had been with these students all year, I thought that we should take a field trip.
After telling my supervisors and fellow SALT program participants my plan (so that I would be accountable and not be able to back out), one of my exchange coordinators, Denise, suggested that I use a crowdfunding site to raise some money to help make the trip more affordable. I chose a location, Kirirom (literally, pleasant mountain), a national park about 100 km west of Phnom Penh. The same day as I posted the funding site, I told my students the plan, and they seemed to be happy about the idea. Even though we weren’t going to one of the more popular destinations, we would be going together, which counted for something.
A few weeks later, about $275 had been raised from members of my Church, family, and MCC – enough to pay for the bus there and back, and enough to buy soda (or pop, whatever) for all the students. Several days before we left, I asked each student for 10000 riel (about $2.50) for food. I asked for some help with planning lunch, and several students volunteered to take the money and buy food for the 55 people who were going.
Finally, the day of the trip arrived. I took a motorcycle taxi to school, and when I got there, my students were all dressed up in their tourist clothes. The bus driver had gotten confused and wasn’t there yet, so one of my students spoke to him on the phone and guided him to where we were. We stowed the food and water in the storage under the bus, everybody got on, I read through the attendance list, and we were off.
The bus ride there was fairly quiet. We didn’t have enough seats on the bus, so I and a number of boys sat at the front next to the driver and talked in a mixture of Khmer and English about what we saw on the road. Words like brick, cement, plant, replant, and harvest were learned. After about three hours of driving and a bathroom break, we arrived at the national park and the bus started to climb the mountain. Unfortunately, the bus was only so strong, so while we were climbing the mountain, the air conditioner had to be shut off, which resulted in the bus becoming a sort of sticky toaster oven. Even the Cambodians were sweating.
However, when we reached the top and got off the bus, we were greeted by some very nice, cool weather, and our spirits were lifted. We found a path going back into the forest, and everybody helped to carry the food and water. After about a kilometer or two, we arrived at a place that rented big tables for ~$5 each. I got three of them and we put our stuff down and spread out. We were in sort of a river valley, which was mostly dry because Cambodia had not entered the rainy season, and besides that it’s been a dry year. Some of us walked down the river bed until we found some shallow pools of water, and there we took maybe 500 pictures.
Back at the tables, we got out the food and everybody started eating. We had prahok k’ti (a type of fermented fish paste mixed with coconut milk, and before you form your opinions about it, it’s quite good), deep-fried fish, pan-fried chicken (not really sure how to translate that) and something with pork. It was a veritable feast, and everybody was full and we had food to spare, which we ended up taking back home.
After lunch, we sort of meandered around (taking pictures all the while, mind you) until it started to rain a little. When the rain had stopped, we assembled a group of about 20 students to climb the remaining distance up to the very top of the mountain. On we went, and shortly, we arrived. It was so wonderful, I didn’t want to leave, and my students seemed to feel the same way. Naturally, we did the only thing we could do, and took more pictures.
Finally, it was time to go back to bus, so we went down the mountain and met up with the rest of the students to take some more pictures all together. Back on the bus, we picked up two French teachers and took them down the mountain. I didn’t ask, but they paid $5, which was very considerate of them as they didn’t have actual seats. As soon as we were back on the main highway, someone broke out a microphone, we plugged it into the sound system, and students took turns singing different Khmer songs a capella. I sang ‘You Are My Sunshine”, which my students enjoyed.
After a longer trip back (understandably, on Sunday evenings, the road into Phnom Penh is quite crowded) we arrived back at the university. I thanked everybody for coming and reminded them to bring their World English and Essential Reading books to class the next day. Everybody was happy and quite tired, and we had good memories and thousands of pictures to show for it.