Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Z/Zed discrepancy

(This post was written as we were in our 3rd week in Cambodia)

For the last few weeks, we have been in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and working with the Bridge Of Life School. We are teaching English to the students of this school, who speak Khmer (the language of Cambodia). There are two classes of students (each about 25 students), one working on conversational English, and the other on the basics, such as English letters. We have been working mostly with the students learning English letters, and it is proving a challenging environment for me.

Now, I became a certified (in the state of Minnesota) tutor my sophomore year of college, and I have a huge amount of experience in the area. But, I tutor mostly college level science (biology, chemistry, and physics), with some ACT prep and math thrown in there, but nothing like working with children this young. It seems like the average age of students learning English letters is ~7, and I haven’t tutored someone that young since I was that age myself. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that I haven’t tutored English before, much less English to speakers of other languages.

When I am teaching English to these students, I have to speak slowly and carefully, making sure to pronounce things as clearly as possible, so as to not teach them poor pronunciation. Not to mention all of the differences between their English and what I learned. Due to Cambodia’s history (originally a colony), they say Z as “zed”, not “zee” as I am used to…. And the first time a student looked at me with confusion when I said our 26th letter, I had no idea what I did wrong. I first thought that the student didn’t know the letter….

But then as I realized the problem, I had a minor freak-out….

I had already taught several children that that letter is Z(ee). I wondered how many children I had ruined…. Language is cumulative, and habits stick around. Could this incorrect information stick with this child? Could it spread? Would my volunteering, no matter how well intentioned, actually make the child’s education less effective?

Would this child be worse of because of me?

So…… Yea….

I am looking forward to teaching science instead….. Besides the fact that I know how science works, and I have experience in science education, it is something that doesn’t scare me.

Science education is already so strongly based on cultivation of concepts. The things you learn in elementary school are not correct. They are simply in the right direction. And every few years, you learn the things you though are not really the way things work…. And then a few years later you learn that again….. And again… And again….

And so it is not simply about learning facts, or concepts…. Science education is about learning to flow and understand, and to make sense of things that don’t make sense….

And I am good at that. I like that….

But not this “Zee/Zed” crap.

25 Minutes

A 5 liter bottle for the house,
A 1.5 liter bottle for me.
Another 1. 5 liter bottle for Conor.
And another for Wendy.
Wendy and Michelle have “reusable” water bottles, so 700ml each for those.

That is roughly the amount of water we, the Pathfinders Pack, drink a day. And so that is the amount of purified drinking water we need to produce per day.

A total of 10.9 liters….. Plus drips and spills and mis-measures, so closer to 12 liters….

12 liters per day must be purified.

We use a SteriPEN provided to us by Michelle. This remarkable gadget uses UV to purify water, dismembering the DNA of the would-be pathogens with its 254 nm shine. The SteriPEN has 2 settings, one for 500 milliliters, and one for 1 liter. Our processing time sped up after I made a 1 liter “beaker” using an old 1.5 liter bottle, a 300mL bottle, a pocket knife, and math reminiscent of 3rd grade.

The SteriPEN takes 90 seconds for a 1 liter batch, and so purification for our 12 liters takes 18 minutes of pure UV light-show. 18 minutes of 90 second batches separated by pouring out the purified water into a more suitable container, and pouring in water from a jerrycan.

It works out to about 25 minutes to purify all the drinking water for a day.

Michelle and I do the bulk of the water purification, and so we will spend that 25 minutes chatting…. Or arguing….

More than once, I have been unable to sleep and will spend that 25 minutes in the middle of the night, listening to Skeptically Speaking, or jamming out to music to the light of the SteriPEN.

I may spend those 25 minutes reading wikipedia articles, or pursuing through lab reports or microbiology textbooks on my ipad.

And sometimes I will just spend those 25 minutes in silence, reflecting on the day, or myself, or my path…. And thinking…. Contemplating….. Dreaming….

25 minutes to keep us drinking purified water. 25 minutes to prevent the local bacteria from colonizing our guts.

25 minutes to prevent hours over the squat toilet.

A necessary 25 minutes…

Confessions of a Fat Guy in Cambodia

(This post was written as we were leaving Cambodia)


If you read Conor’s recent post, you may have noticed something.

I dare say I played the omnivore better than Michelle and Wendy, who had trouble adjusting to how the number of bones seemed to increase with each passing meal.

Now, I am not in this list, because I have no trouble eating off bones (the meat is usually the most flavorful there). I am likely the most adventurous eater on this trip, which is a point of pride for me. I will try pretty much any type of food at least once and, even if it was disgusting, more than once if I think it merits another chance. I do this because I want to experience the new tastes and textures and methods and ideas that these cultures have on food. I want to understand the concept of these new cuisines.

I am definitely a foodie, and a love that. I have cooked through the good parts of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have eaten raw fish prepared in the style of several different cultures. I have Flambéed more times than I can remember. I have enjoyed bugs, and heart, and fruits that taste like onion. And I have tolerated liver (seriously, filter organs are gross).

And I have never really said no to a new type of food.

And I have enjoyed the vast majority of what I have tried.

And I like that. I love that part of my identity.


But I have also had an unhealthy relationship with food for a long time.

I have also been fat for the majority of my life.

I have had a terrible body image for longer than I understood what that meant.

And my body has definitely detrimental effect on my self-esteem.

And Cambodia is not made for people of my size…..

Now, I should mention that since I no longer spend 16 hours a day studying/working/in lab, I have had a much healthier lifestyle. I now move and hike and do lots of things that I didn’t in my sedimentary student/employee lifestyle. And so I have already lost a significant amount of weight, and I hypothesize that by the time I am back in the states, I may be fit.

But I’m still a big guy…

And so I have had to sit in chairs made for children and mostly squat to not break the chair. I squished into chairs and seats and took up more than my share of the Tuk Tuk. And I have been in hammocks with deteriorating wood that I was sure would break….

And sometimes they did… (Michelle has pictures if you want to see)

And it is just because the Cambodians are (mostly) a small people and so they don’t build things for western sized people. And especially for fat westerners (like me).

And so things like that take my already tenuous self-esteem and causes havoc.

The best way I can explain this is if I was on a rope bridge and the rope began to fray and break…. Because it can’t support me…. Because I’m fat…

So, yeah…. Hopefully our next location (Kasese, Uganda) will be easier on this….

In short, I hope Uganda has fat people…