We spent about 8 days and nights in Cambodia, most of which were spent with our Couchsurfing host Rady in his family’s decidedly upper-middle class home in the suburbs of Siem Reap. Rady, 25, manages four English schools for Cambodian children and has international sponsors to support the schools and pay him a stipend to help support his large family. Our stay with Rady was a wonderful way to experience real Cambodian culture and served as an excellent home base from which to see Siem Reap as well as take a two day trip north to the border temple Preah Vihear. Rady’s family is close-knit and happy and there are tons of children that live in his house and the houses behind it.

The first thing we did when Rady picked us up from downtown was to visit the school closest to his home where he surprised us by giving Kristof and I our own classes to teach English for two hours. “Start with the alphabet and see where it goes from there,” was all he said about what material to teach.

After the alphabet, which they all knew well, I wrote down body parts on the board and said them out loud and pointed to them on my body and then walked around to see if they were getting it. Most were but the youngest ones had some trouble.

I have to admit that Kristof seemed to be a more effective teacher. His kids were more attentive and enthusiastic than mine and he seemed active the whole time whereas I often was unsure of what to teach next. I’m sure if I practiced more I could do better but a room of 40 foreign children isn’t exactly the easiest way for me to teach with no training or experience. I’d rather do 1-on-1 teaching. Despite this I had a fun and eye-opening time doing this so I am grateful for the experience.

The next day we sat under the dais as the English speaking/teaching guests of the English schools during graduation, a week before the Khmer New Year and the end of the school year as well. It was over two hours of high heat and speeches we couldn’t understand. We had to watch out for each other falling asleep but I like to think our attendence was appreciated.

Afterward we posed for a picture with Rady, an American sponsor for the schools and the education minister for the whole state, whose hour long speech apparently was all about how he was very poor as a child, taught himself English and now he is very rich. And you can too! His point, we were told by Rady, was that poverty does not have to be an obstacle to education.

Here is a better picture of our host. We sat on the front patio for a picture surrounded by some of the rambunctious children that live there.

Their home is spacious and comfortable, especially for Cambodian standards. It looks like a classic if upscale version of most of the homes we saw.

Two of his nieces are ten years old and 45 days old as of this picture. The ten year old was super friendly and smart and loved to interact with us. The baby girl was crying in this hammock so I used my expert uncle skills and picked her up and quieted her down. She got so comfortable in my arms that she pooped all over me and into my pocket. I don’t think I would have picked her up if I had realized they don’t use diapers.

Quick tour of inside. Here’s the living room.

This one year supply of rice is stacked up next to dinner table.

Our room was next to the living room. The bugs weren’t terrible (having gotten used to them by now) but the experience is basically that you are lying down with no sheets or clothes because it is too hot, there is no way to hang a mosquito net around you because the ceiling is too high, and there is no way to close the window. All kinds of beetles and flies come into the room and fly around until they land on you or get hit by the fan and then die on you. Most are less than a centimeter long but some are more than an inch long; luckily very few bite and there are almost no mosquitos. After four nights the floor of our room was a bug graveyard. Cockroaches and geckos are all over the walls and floor of the home as well and it seems that no one notices any of it.

The bathroom consists of a toilet with no seat and no toilet paper, just a spray nozzle to spray yourself clean. One foot from the toilet are two large buckets of water to use for cooking, cleaning and showering (by dipping a bucket into the barrel and splashing yourself). They run a hose from the well outside and fill up two buckets for the water to bathe with and wash up after using the toilet (you use a smaller bucket in both cases). Somehow Kristof dropped his toothbrush into one bucket right after they had filled them and he had to splash around to get it.

For Khmer New Year one tradition is that friendly gambling becomes extremely popular. Even the kids get into it. They play with 100 to 1,000 riel notes, ranging from $.025 to $.25. The clever ten year old insisted on being the house in this game, so she kept winning. She would still get tilted whenever the house had to pay. Kristof took a great video of it and posted it on youtube.

The kids were very excited when I gifted them my ear-splitting instrument. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had it confiscated within a few days of killing cats with it.

One evening we ate barbeque chicken outside with the men. Socially, men are definitely at the top in terms of power, influence and family matters. Women don’t drink alcohol, socialize with the men or eat with them. Here’s a classic men’s dinner, along with three other Couchsurfers staying with his family.

The kids eat by the home or with the women. This kid was getting corn and rice all over his body, but that’s no big deal for a boss.

Kris and I spent an hour playing with some of the kids in the area, chasing them down and spinning them around in fast circles when we would catch one. They also showed us some of their games, like this rough tug-of-war type game. It was a lot of fun but a very hot work out; it was still over 90 degrees at night there.

Staying with our hosts really made Cambodia a special trip for us and we’d love to come back and stay with them again!