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Saturday, July 15, 2006


Not bor bor again Mum

Teachers here often come to me to ask both pronunciation and meaning of English words before they teach them to their classes. Before I came, they guessed, and apparently spoke with an authoritative voice as if they really knew. 'My teacher told me,' a student will say as if that made it right.

'Well, sometimes I make mistakes—even with English. And sometimes your teacher makes mistakes too. But I have never heard anyone in any English speaking country pronounce this word like that.'

I'm pleased to say the situation has improved since the teachers have been coming to me for advice. When I leave let's hope they have learned some better skills for finding correct meaning and pronunciation. And let's hope they present their interpretations a little less arrogantly to their students.

La came to me recently with a long list of words he needed to understand, one of which was 'cereal'.

I explained that cereal was a grain that is eaten for its carbohydrate and protein. I gave examples that he was familiar with, rice, corn, wheat and added that there were other grains like oats that people grow and eat for this nutritional purpose.

But this did not fully explain the meanings he was finding in his reading.

I went on to explain that the word is used for products manufactured from these grains. This was outside his experience. Here in Cambodia many kids are given rice porridge (bor bor) as a cereal for breakfast every day. The rice probably came from their parents' field. Whether they like it or not is not a consideration for them. They are hungry. That is all there is. Of course they like it. To ensure that it doesn't become boring various different ingredients might be added from day to day.

Compared to this, kids in Western countries are spoiled. They have so much to eat that if they don't like something they won't eat it. Parents have to cater to their tastes if they want them to get their essential carbohydrate and protein to give them energy and build their bodies. Cereal manufacturers come to the rescue with a myriad of products to appeal to reluctant young taste buds. All sorts of additives are included with the basic cereal to make it appealing. There are so many different products. Most bear little resemblance to the original grain. Supermarkets are huge. I gestured to the school block. A supermarket might be as long as the school. And one whole aisle might be filled with all the different varieties of cereal.

Each kid might have different tastes. If there are four kids in the family, perhaps the parents put four different boxes of cereal on the table so there is something for everyone.

Yes, my friend, develop your country and you too can enjoy such wonders as this.


The kids who get to eat bor bor each day might be better off than some in this country. In my grandchildren's blog this week I have put a picture of a kid who is collecting recyclable materials from the streets of Phnom Penh. He could be a street kid but I doubt it. He looks too clean. Many kids have to do such work to get the money to pay for school each day. Teachers' salaries are so low that the students are levied by the teacher on a daily basis. Corruption? Let's say they are making their job pay enough to live on. This is the way people live here. You pay a little to an underpaid government official to get the service that we in the west take for granted. We pay in our taxes. They pay directly for the services they need.

Phnom Penh is home to many street kids. I've seen them sleeping on the footpath in a group when I've stayed overnight in a guesthouse and left by the back entrance.

Recently I noticed three kids behind a service station sniffing glue. At least, that's what I assume they were doing. It is not something I have any previous experience of. They each had a plastic bag with some liquid in it. They would blow into the bag and then put it to their noses and take a deep breath. One had already passed out. The other two seemed to be having a good time of it. I would estimate the youngest was about eight. I had never noticed this before but perhaps I'd just not been aware. The next morning I saw another group of young kids doing the same thing in one of the main streets. Perhaps it's more common than I had realized. Later the same day when I was at the bus station I saw the youngest of those kids from the previous day. He was going from person to person politely begging. I wonder if his contributors knew what he would spend their donations on.

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