P’ChumBan turned out to be not so P’Chum for me. At the start of the week, my partner in the Dept had invited me to go out with his family for the festival to see ‘Khmer culture’. This was a very generous and special invitation so of course I said yes. However obviously there was a link I was then supposed to make that I didn’t. He was going to come back to the office on Wed afternoon, so I assumed we would make arrangements then, but he didn’t appear before I had to shoot of sharp to catch the VSO office. He didn’t phone me and I felt it might be rude to phone him. Anyway I kept myself open, as they say, turning down all kinds of attractive social offers (I wish!) but he never called. When I came in for work this morning (Monday) he apologised that his family commitments had just been too busy, so I guess maybe it was one of those invitations you do for politeness but you don’t really expect to fulfil.
Another work colleague told me that P’ChumBan has a particular significance these days because so many families are remembering ancestors that were killed during the Khmer Rouge times. It certainly has left the city feeling quite different. During the days the roads have been pretty empty.. although at night, the road by the river and round the park has been even crazier than usual. In fact in some ways it was safer. There were so many cars round the Independence Monument last night that the traffic had frozen – a complete jam. The absence of cars did not stop me having my first accident on my pushbike however. It was a slow speed collision. A motorbike had dashed across the road to ride along the wrong side towards me, as they do. He moved left to avoid me I moved right. I moved left to avoid him he moved right. He then stopped right in front of me and my brakes weren’t good enough. My tyre ended up somewhere behind the front mudguard of his bike, but no harm was done to either vehicle, or to either person, so we extracted my bike and moved on. I think we were the only two vehicles on the road! In future both brakes will be put on full any time I want to stop.. no high tension calliper breaks with instant touch response here I’m afraid.
So what have I been doing with all this time off. Well first of all I have been trying, with a limited degree of success, to get into the writing task I brought with me, and which I dismally failed to complete in August due to various other things like weddings and holidays and so on. It’s only 15,000 words or so, and I wrote about 7000 in August, but I had no enthusiasm for what I had written, although I knew there was something in there waiting to get out. I sat down with it on Thursday and found a number of reasons to procrastinate, make more cups of tea etc. I just couldn’t settle to it and pushed the pieces of text around the plate without doing much with them. I did have a great walk though, finishing off my .mp3 version of ‘A Simple Act of Violence’. Part of the trick with audiobooks is definitely to make sure you like the reader. Earlier this year, North and South was all about Julia Stevenson’s soft throaty seductive voice in my ear. This one was read by an American called Alan Nevillethaw(sp?). His voice has one of those deep insistent slightly twangy accents that brings fluency, authority and a little bit of American glamour. It was just right for this Washington-based murder mystery with CIA plots, crack cocaine and a good cop in among it all. My next book is Can You Forgive Her? by Thackeray. The book is not such an appealing prospect, though I’m sure it will be cleverly written, as the fact that it is read by Timothy West. There’s my next three weeks of evening walks right there, if it’s not so slow moving that even I have to call a halt!
Anyway, Thursday and Friday must have warmed me up, because I managed to do a lot of writing today (Saturday). The trouble is when you start writing like that and then you look at it again, you are inclined to lose confidence – it could just be the ravings of a deranged mind! The text is about ‘vision and values in schools’, something I probably know quite a lot about, but whether I can convey that in a way which is interesting and useful to the intended reader (people who want to get involved in school leadership), only another reader can tell, so I will have to ask some ‘critical friends’ to do a hatchet job before I submit it to the editorial team for further shredding.
On Saturday evening I made it to the Catholic Mass here in Phonm Penh. It was a very interesting affair, with around 200 people, and, I reckon from the various accents and appearances of those there, a fair representation from every continent on the planet. The biggest single group there were Philippino, who also made up just about all of the choir – Jed, a Phillipino volunteer here, invited me to join with him next Saturday lunchtime at choir practice, so maybe I’ll do that. They seem to be short of male voices… a familiar experience in choirs I think. Cycling back in the dark was OK- the road was very quiet!! I am still waiting for the flashing rear light I ordered from UK to arrive – it probably won’t make a bit of difference, but I will at least feel I might be seen. I’m not sure where the priest was from.. could be the Phillipines, but he might have been Chinese. The Catholic Church has many failings as an institution, most of which make me feel a bit ashamed to admit that I associate myself with it. A fair selection of these failings has been getting a good airing recently. However the message it claims to protect can be a strong force for good. At the level of individual people and church communities, the message of faith, hope and love is a very strong one that gives meaning and purpose to an awful lot of people’s lives. It’s a great thing to be part of – being part of a gathering of so many people, from so many different lands, praying together that they can be better people, in the small ways that matter in their lives, but taking inspiration from their contact through the Mass with something so much bigger– their eternal dignity as individual human beings.
You’ll be glad to know that I ‘cut and run’ from the blog at this point last night in order to get back to the writing. Five chapters were written, but they have a terrible ‘cut’n’paste’ feel to them. I’ll need to let them settle for a week then revisit and check out how they seem then, before anyone else is encouraged to critique some more.