Thursday, December 04, 2008

Culture Shock Part 1


OK here we go.  Here’s your roving (raving?) foreign correspondent, julianyway, having left Canada due to the cold and the fact that there was no oil left to heat the house, now in Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA.  I’m hoping to get some work here teaching, but so far have been learning, more than anything else, and don’t really feel entitled to teach anybody anything. 

I’ll just mention a few random things and perhaps things will make more sense later, as time goes on. 

1)  Before I’d left Canada, a friend of mine utterly toasted my hard drive whilst trying to be helpful, thusly I lost every copy of every resume I’d ever put together.  No, people, I had not backed it up.  I’m sorry.  So sue me.  It’s bad enough that I am an accredited Computer Administrator, and should have been doing the work on my computer myself, but I had not backed up my hard drive.  So here I am in Cambodia hoping to get work, and what am I supposed to use for a resume?  WELL.  Luckily I had posted my resume here on Litmocracy prior to the great disaster.  So I have been able to grab my resume from here.  Thanks again, Dave!

2)  Just before leaving Canada, I ran out and bought a cheapo E-machine laptop computer (because computers are about the only things that are NOT cheaper in Cambodia); I also bought a separate voltage converter because I’d read on the internet that the voltages are different in Asia and Europe than they are in North America.  When I (finally, but that’s another story) got to Phnom Penh and into my hotel room (which is a small room above a bar called The Pickled Parrot, no view but there is wi-fi access), I plugged the computer’s adapter into the voltage converter and plugged the voltage converter into the wall.  The computer worked for about five minutes and then shut off.  I checked the voltage converter and it was dead.  I figured I’d fried the computer too, and was very sad.  It has taken me over a week to convince a friend who speaks Khmer (the Cambodian language) to accompany me to a computer store here to see whether anything could be done to fix the damage.  The nice Cambodian IT guy managed to convey to my friend and me,  with words and gestures, that I am an idiot; to wit, the adapter that came with the computer is already set up to deal with both Eastern and Western voltages, and I could have seen this if I’d read the fine print on the back of the adapter itself.  I guess the voltage converter died from trying to convert a voltage into something that it already was. 

The computer works fine now that I have simply returned to the Pickled Parrot and plugged it into the wall without the middleman voltage converter. 

Moral of story so far:  If anyone wants to hire me as a Computer Administrator, perhaps he or she should have his or her head examined. 

Part of the problem, of course, is that everything is so different from what one is used to that one doesn’t know what expectations to have.  Leaving aside any particular details about Cambodia specifically, the fact of the matter is that this is ASIA, and that makes a WORLD of difference in a bunch of ways that might be surprising and that one might not anticipate.  For example,

3) The main sources of news on TV are CNN and the BBC.  You’d think CNN would be comfortingly American, at least, but it’s the English-Australian version of CNN.  BBC likewise is all English or Australian accented.  They do MENTION the United States a fair bit, but not nearly as much as the American CNN does.  The upshot is that there is WAY too much news about parts of the world that are not the United States.  Turn on the TV and they tell you stuff about Africa and Thailand and Australia and England and Ireland and Korea and whatever, and it’s outrageous.  There is WAY too much news about places that are not the United States. 

Being from Canada, and having lived in the States, I was not really expecting to hear anything much about Canada outside of Canada (and haven’t), but it’s still weird to be somewhere where the people who run the news are not primarily American.  It’s weird to be homesick for the States when I’m not even FROM the States, but I am.  I guess I’m homesick for North America, you could say.  And see below:

4) The national language here is called Khmer.  It’s a unique language and not the native language anywhere else, descended from India I guess.  Luckily it’s not tonal like Chinese but it’s still pretty different from English.  A lot of the Khmer people here can’t read (not even Khmer from a phrasebook) and can only speak a bit of English if you are lucky, so it’s best to know how to say a few things in Khmer.  OK fine.  So one struggles to cope with learning Khmer.  You’d think that being surrounded by people speaking Khmer, which you don’t speak, would be your main culture shock experience, linguistically, right? 

NOT.  It’s the other ENGLISH SPEAKERS who are driving me crazy.  There are people with a huge variety of English accents here.  There are tons of Australians.  Some of these people are utterly indecipherable, and they are speaking ENGLISH.  Just tonight I’ve been attempting to figure out what two visiting Irish guys were talking about and it beats me.  They are nice as pie and they seem to be able to understand what *I* am saying, but I am only picking up every third word or so, and that’s with body language and clues as to context.  I finally ran into three women from Pennsylvania yesterday who had actual North American accents, but that’s after being here for around ten days.  At this point, I don’t really think I can understand ANYBODY.  I thought the women from Pennsylvania were kind of irritating, actually—they were obviously pretty wealthy and were going on about how to organize a bridge club committee or something. 

All in all it’s enough to make a head spin.  And that’s without really telling you anything about the actual Cambodian-ness of Cambodia.  That will have to wait for my next installment.  I’m going to go and watch Animal Planet (which is the Australian version, all with Australian accents).

Cheers, mates.
Your roving correspondent julianyway
Signing orf for now!