Schooling on the Road

My boys and now a bike

My boys and now a bike

 

We decided to embark on this adventure  as it would peel back the kids’ eyelids. The nitty gritty of schooling was glossed over after a web search popped up a few options.

First port of call when we arrived was checking out the French Montessori School. This was right up our alternative yet still structured alley, and in French only added another feather to its cap.

As all well laid plans or should I say imaginings often pale into a gooey stickiness of reality,  we discovered that for our older son at 7, it was not Montessori method but French Classical System. At this point, a small bell rang in my head, especially upon reading the material list required a slate (!) but I pushed it aside. Our son was not showing any linguistic leanings, if anything the opposite and that’s in his mother tongue. We ploughed forward, in the face of parental schoolyard gossip about other schools ranged from:

(1) a breeding ground for colonial superiority whereby foreign cherubs get carried up the stairs

(2) equally frightening, touts sell energy drinks to kids on their way to the toilet

After week 3, Quinn was showing the strain, dark circles under his eyes even after a full night’s sleep. Each day I would probe him getting a blank expression which I imagine he’s had since morning when he began retreating into his world of go cart design and fortification building easier to understand than the banter around him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Coming from ‘Stralia’, a second language isn’t necessary (no direct neighbours) and maybe we’re all lazy, the Board of Studies has scrapped it from the primary school curriculum altogether. Obviously there is an adjustment phase to second language acquisition and it takes some good ol’ digging deep until you can start making daisy chains out on the frontier.

In the face of Quinn requiring up to 5 afternoons of private tuition just to make some headway, I did some quiet soul poking and saw that this was my dream not his.  He prefers to be drawing in his ‘creative book’ that lives under his pillow or stalking muddy puddles on his bike. It was something that the Director of the School said to us

We need to set children up to succeed

Playing to kids’ strengths to build confidence can have spin off effects in areas that niggle them. I also realised that my zeal for him to achieve may actually overshadow his happiness. And even if being well meaning and passionate about education, especially my own kids is not a bad thing,  my interest now gets interpreted as pressure. I’m like a single woman’s biological clock ticking and Quinn, a confirmed bachelor.

Me (add white wine) at a friend's wedding- My captive's face says it all

My captive’s face says it all

 

Not one to let myself off easily, I probed the onion skin to see a mouldy fear still there from my school days. How the carrot and stick system is geared for little over achievers to get self gratification in every tick on the page or a teacher’s sweet smile. How I became like Pavlov’s dog hooked on praise. Look I could have got into some harder shit than teacher pleasing and studying hard, and yes I got an education, a good one and doors opened, but emotionally, all that striving only reinforced that I needed to be a try-hard.

To feel worthy.

Who knows why I felt this, lack of nurturing in childhood ? genetic makeup? sensitivity ? Maybe there is no singular reason, but recognising this as an adult, is liberating. And now as a parent, I want to take out my own trash and hopefully the stench won’t waft up Quinn’s nostrils.

Where to now? Tim and I will share the roll out of Quinn’s education. And he can go to a local school for socialisation in the afternoons. The literacy book seems to send our potential perfectionist into groans. So the other day, we decided to ditch it and head outside.

In our garden

In our garden

I took a deep breath and allowed Quinn to lead me. Soon he was digging and we planted tomato, basil, rocket and parsley sent by his beloved Godmother. Soon we were on our haunches making clay men and  elephants out of mud.

'Mum and Me'

‘Mum and Me’

 

'Elephant Man' -  not a piece of poo

Elephant Man

It was a wonderful morning listening to the birds, making up stories to go with our creations. Quinn showed his bravery for worm wielding (they’re huge here!) and told me how that meant we have fertile soil. I feel we do sweet Quinn. And that if I learn to trust that your future will be bright, I will hold your hand and be led along into the unknown. Know that with a full heart and an open ears, I have your back as you tread your own path in life’s learning journey.

Greener Pastures

So for those who’ve been here since the beginning, you may remember my post about our landlords and their attitude to children, in particular noisy children.https://bangonaboutbattambang.com/2014/08/20/peace-in-paradise/

After Beau managed to put a dart through a fly screen; pull a wicker cupboard on top of him smashing the mirror on his head, beautify the wall with crayon, get trigger happy on the bum gun one too many times, we’ve parted ways. The landlords eager to find us a new place and us eager to feel like we weren’t living with our parents.

 

Our New Digs

Our New Digs

According to our previous landlords, this place was just waiting for us. The owner is a judge who moved to Phnom Penh a while ago, not desperate to rent the place remained elusive. That was until our previous landlord desperate to find us a new domicile accosted her calling up to ten times a day and a deal struck.

We now live further out of town amidst paddy field green and buffalo tracks. The kids can play rough and tumble in the garden lined with 4 dragon fruit trees (large succulent sculptures), mangos, limes and passionfruit. We have an extra bedroom that’s swiftly been utilised as a kid free zone as it has a lockable door. This is where I’m shacked up to write this piece.

These beauties in our garden

These beauties in our garden

The local neighbours are Khmer and have already inquisitively scoped out our joint. Quinn and Beau can be found out the front with any number of sticks or swords in action.

Goat Curry ?

Goat Curry ?

These four legged friends were seen on our first bike ride to the market. The market being a cross between an abbattoir, a farmer’s market, hardware store and a bargain shop. All live or not so lucky critters (eels,crabs, insects, chicken, goose, duck, pork, beef, snails, snake) and fresh vegies/fruit are rolled out on grass mats for your perusal. Best to get there early because after the sun is higher in the sky, so are the number of flies.

Quinn turned 7 this weekend. It feels like quite the milestone for all of us. He’s growing into a thoughtful, sensitive and artistic young man. He was full of home made pinata and commando course building ideas for the party. None of which actually happened…but water pistols fights and pass the parcel sufficed.

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

We had quite a turn out. Tim being the social broadcaster he is- invited everyone we’ve met since arriving 3 months ago. It turned into a beautiful motley crew of Khmer and Expat- from the hotel owner and porter from the Royal Hotel where we stayed when we first arrived, to our old landlords, to work colleagues, new French friends from Beau’s preschool to the entire staff from our local, backpacker bar Here Be Dragons. 8 kg of barbecued meat later and eons of coconuts, beer and sweet cakes, everyone was suitably porky. Even a souped up ice cream van Cambodia-style came who must have got the call up.

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

So we are adjusting to our new digs peacefully. It feels like a new chapter has begun for our time here.  Whenever, I leave our walled garden and ride my bike along the country lane, I feel like I’m in a movie- the seated fishermen by the irrigation ditch with their home made fishing stick; the local jetty made out of a few pieces of bamboo easy to replace after heavy rains, smells waffing from outdoor ‘kitchens’ of the neighbouring corrugated huts.

What year is it? What century are we in?

Boys will be….boys

A wise friend doing the Battambang life with kids recommended we get outta town regularly. With school holidays limping into their third month, it was definitely time.

We packed ourselves into the back of a taxi for the 3 hour drive to Siem Reap with 2 hyper boys practicing head stands on the back seat. This city is a cultural mecca being the home of the Mighty Angkor Wat and many lesser known cousins.  A must see on anyone’s bucket’s list. Its ancient architecture whispers of a forgotten kingdom, patriotically kept alive in the minds of the Khmer as a time of strength and power. Even today a pulipal energy radiates as Buddhist monks still visit shrines daily keeping the spiritual fires lit.

The Bayon- Tim's favourite pick

We left the boys poolside in an innocent housekeeper’s care. All went surprisingly well, except for receiving 6 missed calls to say the kids were ravenous and needed to order pizza. Ce La Vie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We so enjoyed the quiet togetherness. Moving away from family, you rarely get time to relax with one another, rather we tag team our breaks. And try not to bicker over who gets more sanity savers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 We are still adjusting to our new life. From other expats I’ve heard it takes up to three months to acclimatise, but from Battambang locals, who have lived the high and lows that occur on a daily basis, it is more like six months. So whatever the magical figure may be, it is where we are at right now.

The boys still in the throws of missing their friends keenly, and without school or routine AND living in a strange new world, they are emotional. Their sibling relationship showing the strain of being only friend, brother, sparking partner and side kick. Beau has regressed in his toilet training big time which may be influenced by the size of the cockroaches in our bathroom or never knowing what kind of squat, pit, hole or seatless throne may be on offer. Quinn has retreated into this fantasy world of fighting and weapons…whereby he is slaying ninjas in our street every night, and by day hitting plastic swords on a pole, or punching clothes hanging on the line.

Having two boys I’ve witnessed some aggression but it is definitely magnified at the moment. A coping mechanism?

So when Quinn got wind of the War Museum, he came alive so I acquiesced. The word was that it was a government rip off who bullied the more informative Land Mine Museum into moving premises out of town.  We arrived to an open field of rusty tanks ready to attack if only they had wheels.

Friendly Staff members play with the boys

Friendly Staff members play with the boys

With no conservation signage, safety measures dependent on how adventurous you are, the boys clambered over the tanks like monkeys. That was until they spotted the gun exhibit- a bungalow with rows of rifles that you could freely touch.

OMG!

OMG!

Quinn yells with characteristic Elvis thrusts as he strokes an AK-47, affectionately known from then as ”Gun-ji”.

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth

I was reminded of the gun racks in my Uncle’s bedroom at my Grandma’s farm. And how I never wanted to sleep in that room, let alone touch them.

Tim and I had the whole gun conversation early on, our consensus being no toy guns in the house. But like water wears away at stone, a wooden handcrafted (that makes a difference, right?) toy rifle slipped into Quinn’s clutches at aged 4.  I can only describe the whole process as seeing an avalanche coming towards you, and deciding to calmly step out of the way.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said things about war, and what it means, and how hurting people is bad. They kinda listened the first time but now it is like trying to get your kids attention when they are glued to a screen.

So the boys were in army heaven fondling all the paraphernalia, one of the guides wanders by, I smile and say:

‘My boys love guns. I tell them war is bad’, looking defeated.

As the sky changes to yellow, the same guide returns beer in hand. We are still in the hut, hours gone. I’m scrawling in my notebook, snatching precious time, the boys still enthralled.

He gestures to the boys and tells me I’m a good mother for letting my sons go.

‘Your boys ok, they come from you, they will be good, you must believe that. ‘

Maybe I’m easily flattered, or enjoy validation whenever I can get it, but I was touched by his words. With linguistic limitations and a traditionally patrilocal culture, you don’t get too many conversations with blokes on any deep level.

He continues:

‘I loved guns as a boy. I play with his father’s gun and make him worry. Then at 13, I join the Khmer Rouge, for 14 years’

As a boy soldier for a notoriously brutal regime, he saw what no person, let alone child should ever have to witness.

I lose everything. All my family dead. I see war. Not good. You tell your children that.’

Do you have kids I ask?

’After war, I want for nothing. I become drunk guy’.

With that he’s gone, raising his bottle in a quick salute. And I’m left in that space where someone’s shared a part of themselves that leaves a mark.

As the sky turns to pink, I touch the sleek cold metal of a M-16, feel its secrets and know its been used for real, not just in boys’ war games.  And I promise to keep sowing the seeds for love and peace in my little soldiers’ hearts.  Teaching compassion for all things, and dropping those crumbs hoping that my boys will always know that it is wrong to hurt others. Maybe it was unwise to let them covet these weapons. But watching Quinn I get a sense of his own dad as a child, who wanted to join the army but has never been in a fight.

I can’t change where their present passions lie, only trust that by allowing them to explore them, they will tire of them and move on, hopefully with equal zeal but less violence. I’ve seen those kids deprived of television, who once they see one, have no self control or discretion, they watch shopping channels verbatim.

I don’t vouch to know what I’m doing most of the time, but raising boys is like a biology lesson. Neither Tim nor I encourage violence. I teach yoga and enjoy Buddhist philosophy. What I’ve been working on is acceptance of my self, no matter what to stay soft and listening. And I’m realising this extends to my kids.

Trapped in an Elevator

The whole overseas experience is an interesting one.

It is a bit like getting trapped in an elevator, long enough to have moments of claustrophobic fears and sensory deprivation, that you bond firmly with all involved from shared experience.

I had a good laugh at myself, when I rounded a corner this week on my bicycle, out of the corner of my eye, the upstairs computer scanned ‘ALERT, possible English speaking boys’.

I literally shouted ‘Are you travellers?’ while making a beeline for them. Whereby their mum responded ‘No, we live here’. I leapt off the bike mid sentence. Me too. We should be friends.

Commandos in action

Commandos in action

Later that very day, the newly formed commando gang were testing out their survival skills on the security gate, and a kindly security guard!

Annie, their mother and I have much in common:

  • simply by sharing the same language (they are from the U.K.);
  • the fact that we both have boys (I don’t like being stereotypical but there is a mutual bonding between little ninja mothers, they get the insurmountable amount of energy, the weapon obsession, and the feisty ‘I’m going to bite your head off’ talk)
  • to top it off our eldest boys share a birthday. So let our forces unite, planned festivities have begun. Phew, Annie knows where to buy an ice cream cake. We better buy a few in this heat.

I wanted to mention a bit more about sensory deprivation. The pace is really much slower.

Getting OCD and liking it

As I said, we took away the telly as an experiment. It is all going well- they still have access to limited DVD use – and the negotiated minefield that presents, but at least the box isn’t in their faces as a constant reminder. So we play cards! We line them up and see the pretty patterns they make. To be honest, boys lost interest and left me to it.

Quinn got crafty with his own self directed project.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Where’s the Bull?’ – Recycled polystyrene 2014

We’ve been thinking about recycling. All the stuff we have on tap at home. Not always stuff you have to buy, but stuff we can rustle up in the useful box (craft box of tit bits) without too much work. Well, here, I am noticing how resourceful people are. Their access to materials (for buildings, furniture, mechanics, tools) is of such a limited supply and quality. So the kids and I are collecting what we can find, a pretty ribbon in the street, cardboard box turns into a lego container. Milk carton, a home for pot plants.

We are also making stuff for the house. Everything you buy is often plastic crap that doesn’t last under the Wilson-Hall wear and tear. Nor, do we like spending pennies on it.

Now, handymen are sexy, look at what Tim rustled up in a flash:

IMG_2410

Guitar installation

And then, thanks to my darling pixie friend Peita, I got this idea whilst exercising the boys in local park at sun up. I spent an enjoyable afternoon doing this:

IMG_2409

‘Peas in a pod’ : Seed pods, fishing twine 2014

Let’s have a craft in, any pictures of your homemade creations welcome.

Here’s to slowing down and getting brain quiet through working with your hands. Isn’t that what we’ve all been doing for millennia?

 

Work It

I sit here barely propped up by a pillow, with ouchy legs as I’ve just completed my second day of yoga teaching: a grand total of 10 classes.  For an ok fitness kinda gal, who tries to squeeze in one, at a pinch two classes a week at home, and runs around after the kids, I’m feeling it and grateful that I have 5 days to recover before the next lesson.

photo (21)

Beau had a few words with this meditator

The kids are very receptive to the meditation bit. I’ve brought over a Tibetan brass bowl, that I clonk the beginning of each class, we all sing a few outta tune ‘Oms’ then I try and squeeze as many minutes of meditation as possible. It saves my legs, and they like replicating all the Buddhist statutes that are dotted around town, not to mention part of their religion.

Call me totally naive (It’s been said before), but I never thought about how sexual yoga looks…until I am teaching it in a very conservative culture where shoulders and legs aren’t flaunted, nor organised female sports part of the programme. So every time I demonstrate downward dog, there is an avalanche of giggles, look at her bum IN THE AIR!  And then I proceed to cobra pose, which is followed up snorting and pointing.

Ok this might be considered sexy

I get my own back, when I turn to them panting ‘your turn’.  And they all freeze up, but admirably give it a go, and are loosening up (had to done) every time I see them.

So that’s the work update. I’m teaching my first class to adults this afternoon. I better go and don the fake tan and the bikini, Christy you’ve inspired me.

Hari Om dear friends xx

Our Patch

So Dad has made a speedy recovery over the past week.  We owe some big cookies, yesterday’s rice and some scented flowers to the heavens! It works for the locals.

IMG_2362

He no longer looks like this!

Thank you Life, our journey continues…

IMG_2364

Our Local Coffee Hang- Tim, the entertainer is back

On a sultry morning, six abreast in a tuk tuk, wind in our hair and persistent sweat on our tummies, we saw a bunch of houses. But ended up back at the first one, you know how that happens. It may not be a French Colonial villa (architectural preferences aside), it has its on palatial charm. It is more than one hotel room!

It has established bougainvillaea which reminds me of home, maybe i’m missing bogans.

Home Sweet Sleep

We are renting the ground floor apartment, with two bedrooms where the boys can jump on the beds without risk of decapitation so we are content.

The landlords live within earshot, getting an insight into the ‘loco’ foreigners’ lives. We declined the use of the cable television and removed the unit from the house. They were so flabbergasted, they had to ask us six times, in case something had been lost in translation. For the lack of privacy, the win is the security bonus, as foreigners’ houses can be targeted for the bounty they offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our Courtyard- Landlord lives on RHS

The walls are clinical white so I’ve commissioned the two little artistes to remedy that.

Harvest time

School holidays on at the moment, so only a few kids around. One being the landlord’s nephew, who doesn’t speak a word of English. But has the sweetest grin, and Quinn has formed a bond with him via The Universal Language of Sport. So they play, until the Two Star General’s Wife over the wall complains of the noise of the bouncing ball. Hahaha, she’s in for a whole lot more annoyance living next down to our kids, throw in Dad’s monster growls, and Mum’s peppered yells.

Welcome to a brave new world, madame.

Quinn and Yu

Battambang is the second largest city (140,000 pop.) but honestly feels like the size of Ballarat.  It has this small town charm and is easy to navigate by bicycle. Quinn has a reconditioned ‘Peugeot’ mountain bike, circa 1990s that he rides in traffic fearlessly. We’ve built a seat on the back of my bike for Beau.

Our ‘Get Around Town’ mobiles

 I’ve grabbed snippets of wifi around town all week to write this post. Soon we shall have internet on at the palace. More posts to follow that event. It is ‘humbling’ when what you create gets snatched away by crashing internet, and what we’ve learnt is EVERYTHING takes three times as long as you think. So adjusting to that.  Most of the time, it looks like this…

Maybe if I do this..

Maybe if I do this..

Best wishes to you all xx

Battambang Poos

Tim got cleared to make the trip, albeit gingerly with no moto action allowed, and a few more days of bed rest (for a hyperactive, this is some feat!).

Importantly, he will remain a fully fledged male.

Our first impressions of Battambang have been positive: the town is circled by palmeries and the local mosque’s Call to Pray this morning, reminiscent of a Northern African town.  The streets actually have planted trees, an array of frangipangi, wisteria and native grapes.  A definable beauty here, that many of the other popup, factory cities lack.

Trees dimple the landscape

Trees dimple the landscape

For anyone out there who may be a little bit envious of our exotic experience, I want to honour the guts of the issue. Beau, the little trooper, had a 39+ fever last night as his tummy fought a war of its own. The fact little guy seldom complains amidst copious trips to the loo and even thinks about me (‘Mum, make sure you’ve got a blanket!’) is extra-ordinary.

Quinn has already staked out the hotel, made friends with the cool 20 something hotel manager and invited him to his room to play darts.

photo (15)

Living it up

He tried to cut me loose in the local market this morning, I think his Ma cramps his style. The overpowering fishy smell flushed hot with humidity slowed him down though, and I managed to make him walk home with me and carry a washing bucket.

Central Market, Battambang

So we are acclimatising slowly: to the heat, the bacteria, and the mild deprivations- the shower that is over the loo, so you get a wet kiss when you you sit down, and the sink that leaks its contents all over the floor. Life out of a suitcase, in another hotel, for an unknown amount of time, whilst Tim recovers, Beau gets his pallor back, I some sleep, Quinn’s TV addiction grows, and we wait.

The Waiting Place… for people just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite;

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

According to the Dr. Seuss, it’s a place that’s not for you! Instead there are many more (Oh) Places You Will Go. And yes, we’ve travelled to those Places, and yet paradoxically it took, these places to show us patience. So we wait it out.

There is much involved in sniffing out a house- every moto driver in town wants to show you their friends’ place, as the norm is that the introducer gets one month’s rent as a fee.  We have dreams of a romantic, French colonial house with a garden, cobra free (their numbers are quite plentiful throughout the dry season), rustic shutters with many different fingerprints, high ceilings for the geckos to play…  but this is all yet to be told.

Sending Oz some warmth, and mucho gracias for all the literary encouragement.

Rubbish That

So we spent much of the day inside a mini van with our year’s worth of luggage lugged into it, only to go a few miles down the road to return once more to the comfortable innards of our Phnom Penh hotel.

Why? Well, a bit of an abcess on Timmy’s balls (since he’s told Facebook, I’m sure he doesn’t mind me sharing the knowledge).  So one full week of bed rest and some aggressive antibiotics  should see him kickboxing his way again. But until then, we are housed up in our hotel. Dad being given a separate room to avoid any affectionate pounding by his loving sons, or me for that matter.

Cambodia has its own plans for us. With this extra time in the capital, we’ve been working on a photo essay about the rubbish situation.

Quinn saw a dude carrying a bamboo pole with a sharp spike attached and said ‘What’s he hunting?’. Well, rubbish my lad.  And it seems to be a full time occupation. Similar to the untouchables in India, it looks like an undesirable job for the poorer people on the scale, but the only kind of recycling that goes on, better than letting the whole lot putrify on the streets.

You can’t help but question the government’s lack of infrastructure- sure bins exist and I have seen a handful of overflowing garbage trucks. But that whole education thing (‘Keep Australia Beautiful’) and providing adequate choices (limit plastic options) is totally overlooked. The rate at which this place, whole of Asia for that matter is expanding, population-wise and materially, the Earth is gonna have to absorb a whole lot more rubbish.

Who are we to tell others not to develop… but geez plastic could be the end of us all.

Tuk Tak Toe

So here is a visual taste of some of the sights around Phnom Penh from a tuk tuk, courtesy of Tim.

Beau commented on how old the buildings were the other day. And Quinn thinks every building site is left over from the war. We’ve versed him in toning down his weapon obsession whilst we are here. People who’ve actually seen war, don’t want to talk about it.

Anyhoo, without any fixed address yet, we travel to Battambang tomorrow to scout out a place to lay our hat.

Touch down in Phnom penh

So we’ve finally arrived!

Tim did a short video of the trip dedicated to our beloved doggie, Patrick Swayze Wilson Hall. Leaving him was heart squeezing and he has been checking the door regularly hoping for our return.

We survived with teabag eyes and dodgey backs from carting our 140KG of luggage, and fell heavily into the comfort of hotel sheets and aircon. Quinn being absolutely amazed that Cambodia comes with Cartoon Network on tap, a pool and crepes for breakfast.  Nothing like easing them into a false sense of security!

Hope this finds our friends from home, rugged up and winter lurgy free.