Saturday, December 2, 2000

Animal Planet

One of my most valuable mentors almost always began his letters with a comment on the weather and I feel slightly ashamed to confess that we didn’t follow his example in our last email update. We need to right that wrong especially since recent changes in climate have been so dramatic. Recently we have actually felt cold! We have resorted at times to two blankets on our bed at night and long sleeve shirts in the mornings. With the wind chill factor the temperature has nearly dropped to 20 degrees Celsius at nights. Another dramatic change is the rainy season seems to have finally stopped. The mud has dried up, most of the puddles have dried up and the geometry of our road has been left consistently peculiar for the last week.

As I write this I am on my way back from running in the Angkor Wat half-marathon. I ran in this race last year but I have enjoyed the sense of rhythm that comes from repeating the experience. At one level it symbolizes the fact that we are developing a greater sense of belonging to this life in Cambodia, a greater sense that this is what our life is about and as such we have committed to it, not just for a short period, but for a long haul – whatever that should mean. Obviously I also just enjoy the run itself and sense of achievement and camaraderie that comes from doing it. I also got a kick out of wiping 3 minutes off last year’s time – this year I managed 99 minutes. However, I must admit, it hurt a lot more!

Niam came with me to Siem Reap and we had a lovely time together. We discovered a Horse ranch about 1.5 km from our guesthouse and suddenly Niam doesn’t want to live anywhere else in the world! Another entertaining animal aspect of the weekend was watching the crocodile farm with about 65 crocs immediately below our room window. Animal Planet on the cable TV almost took a back seat to the real thing.

One of the things I enjoy most about language learning is picking up some of the local idioms and proverbs. They can be very culturally specific and therefore give useful and fun information about the culture. For instance, a Khmer proverb goes along the lines of “When the water rises the fish eat the ants. When the water goes down the ants eat the fish.” Basically it is just pointing out that the world turns, life goes on, or not. But it also communicates something about Cambodia, in particular that there is lots of water, lots of fish and lots of ants.

However, there are also lots of idioms that seem to be generic across cultures. Maybe these are hangovers from the colonial era. I don’t know but they are still very interesting. For instance, there is a Cambodian idiom that says, “Clear as day.” But they get a bit confused when I say, “Clear as mud.” An idiom used to describe a lazy person translates, “eat and sleep like a pig”, which seems rather generic across cultures also, at least in my experience. Poor pigs!

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