Monday, August 15, 2011

Language Learning and a money BBQ

One of the first things that I have been eager to get started with is learning the language on a more intentional basis. Through one of the teachers in Svay Pak who runs his own language learning institute, he arranged for one of his staff to come and tutor me privately. So today began my first day of language lessons with a young man called Chheut (pronounced like Chout). He is only 26 years old and I told him he could be my son! It turns out that he is also a believer so before we got started, I asked if it was okay if we prayed as I figured I will desperately need the Lord's help if this language is going to stick in my brain! So we prayed what I like to call 'Korean style prayer' although over here its known as 'Cambodian style prayer'---we prayed out loud together...he in Khmer and me in English....I often find this kind of prayer confusing but oh well, one has to go with the flow. God can hear us all at the same time and He is not confused so that's all that matters.

Chheut my 'loak kreu (male teacher) in the office section of the Ratanak apartment

So my daily lessons will start from 7:30am to 9:30am in the morning, 5 days a week. Chheut traveled an hour to my place as he lives near Pochentong which is close to the airport. Because of the traffic, he wasn't sure how long it would take and so he ended up at my apartment at 7am. Cambodians are so polite and so he waited downstairs with the security guards until it was 7:30am. I mention to him that if he gets here earlier just to call me as its not a problem since I am usually up by 5am anyway. I'm thankful that God has wired me to be a morning person as everyone here is up early but they also go to bed early, something that I may get used to at some point!

The one advantage of having a private tutor come to my house is that it saves time and I don't have to commute. The cost is slightly cheaper too at $5.00 per hour compared to $6.00 per hour if I went to a language school (more on that later). It has been recommended by a few of my international worker friends here to spend the first 3 months just learning the verbal language---they like to call it 'survival Khmer' so you can least begin to feel functional and then after the 3 months, switch over to reading and writing so I'm planning on following the same program. My tutor Chheut was impressed by the array of language material I had...unfortunately since I haven't been practising while I was in Canada, I lost a lot of words but today he was quite encouraging and suggested that I have a good accent! Perhaps God is answering my prayers or maybe they all say that to build us up at these early stages!

After two hours my head was spinning but we managed to cover a lot of topics---from pronouns, to numbers (I can recite my phone number in two different ways in Khmer), to asking a series questions about what is your name, where are you from, what do you do, how old are you, where do you live, are you married----this latter question is one I often get asked especially by the students in Svay Pak. Thankfully they know my 'standard answer' ---'yes I'm married to Jesus!!! :-). One of the interesting things about learning a new language is that there are different ways you address people especially if they are part of the upper echelons of Cambodian society. You just have to figure out if they are of the 'upper class' or if they are just 'average' folk.  Even the type of 'bow' you do is different as it reflects a more respectful tone. My Japanese and Korean friends can probably relate more to this since those cultures often demonstrate respect to a person by giving a much lower bow. Those of us of Chinese descent, don't bow but I guess I'll be learning about that. From a spiritual perspective, perhaps the Lord will use this to teach me more about humility!  All this to say it was quite a productive two hours. Now I just have to try and retain all that I was learning---that is where the real challenge will be!

Later this afternoon, I got a text message from another language school called LEC. This is one that several of my friends go to and its about 15 or 20 minutes by Tuk Tuk from my home. Last week when I went to register their classes were so full that I was put on a waiting list and was told I wouldn't be able to start till August 22nd. Today, they are now offering me 5 free language lessons next week in the afternoon so I think I will double up on the lessons and try them out and compare to see what their teaching style is versus the one that I have at the moment. The neat thing about both the language lessons I am receiving is that I am learning Cambodian 'slang'----its how the average Cambodian who lives and works in the markets would speak so this is extremely helpful as I have noticed when I was speaking my Khmer in Svay Pak this weekend some of the kids did not understand what I was saying because it was the more 'formal' way of speaking. So do pray that the Lord will give me the gift of this language. Thankfully it is not like Mandarin or Cantonese where there are all sorts of tones cause I think I'm tone deaf! However, there is a few nasal sounds that I have to figure out how to make.

Anyway, since I didn't get a chance to blog yesterday, I thought I would share with you another cultural experience called a 'money BBQ'. Over here the word 'BBQ' is not associated with eating meat. In fact, it has a very different meaning. It actually refers to cremating a body. I recall one of my friends here telling me that they got invited to a Cambodian BBQ and being that she was a meat lover, she was looking forward to going. Can you imagine the shock on her face when she discovered she was going to witness the cremation of a body!

A barbecue in Svay Pak?

Well in Svay Pak yesterday, I almost had the shock of my life when I saw in the the main street a bunch of people dressed in white wearing white head pieces. In the middle of the street they were burning something and as I went closer to see with one of Pastor Chantha's students I was told they were burning a body as well as everything else associated with that person.  This community never ceases to amaze me with the 'shock value' it provides. It was only later that I was told by Bunthan that 'no it was not a regular BBQ' it was a 'money BBQ' meaning that the relatives of the deceased were just burning paper money to appease the ancestral spirits.

A 'Money BBQ' 

As I look at these pictures, there is much to ponder about the belief systems on this side of the world and how that translates in terms of the value and dignity of life and what people believe they need to do in order to ensure their deceased relatives live a 'peaceful' life in the 'hereafter.' As followers of Christ, we are well aware that Jesus died one of the most barbaric deaths on a cross where his dignity was stripped for all to see. Yet it is this Christ, who by His death and life, confers dignity on us, who gives us value and more than that, offers us the gift of eternal life where we do not have to appease any spirits to ensure rest,  for He is the Prince of Peace, who enables us to rest in peace both now and in the life to come.

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