Last month when I was reading Gary Shteyngart’s entertaining Super Sad True Love Story, he made a reference to an Anton Chekhov short story that I was unfamiliar with, “Three Lives.” So I sought out the collection it was in, Ward No.6 and Other Stories and read it. However, since I’ve read only a couple of his stories in anthologies over the years I decided to read the rest of the stories in the collection. Overall, I think he has a great ability to describe people and their shortcomings and contradictions as well as capture the way they talk about their hopes and dreams. Thus many of the stories are timeless in how they chronicle the things that makes us all human-love, hate, envy, hope, dreams, and fears. However, Chekov is also adept at drawing a picture of life in a family run factory (in “A Woman’s Kingdom”) or the workings of a late 19th century insane asylum (in “Ward No.6”). Mental health is another theme in another short story, “The Black Monk.” But I tend to be drawn to the stories of love or failed love like “The Grasshopper” about a capricious doctor’s wife and her shallow affair with an artist, mediations on pure love in “Arindna,” the story of mismatched love in “Three Lives,” and the story of a cuckold’s wife's minor obsession with an aunt (a fallen woman) who becomes a nun in “The Two Volodyas.” This collection has what has been said to be Chekov’s favorite story, “The Student,” which is a sort of religious story where a student has an epiphany where he feels a strong feeling of goodwill and hope among the peasants through is brief contact with them on a cold night. It is easy to see why Chekhov is considered one of the great Russian writers, in the same league as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Then again this would be true if he had only been a playwright as well as one of the masters of the short story. The Penguin edition has an enlightening and informative introduction and competent notes throughout the stories.
One of the films I saw on the plane on the way to Bangkok was Charles Ferguson's fascinating documentary about the 2008 global financial crisis, Inside Job. I felt it was a great companion piece to Michale Lewis's equally excellent analysis of the same events in his book, The Big Short. I liked how Ferguson mixed background footage, music, interviews, and explanatory charts and graphs to maintain viewer attention to the overall narrative. It could have come across turgid like Oliver Stone's latest Wall Street film or over reliant on talking head interviews. Overall, it was illuminating and a thought provoking response to the volatile financial crisis. That being said, it led me to listen to the Slate Audio Book Club podcast on Lewis' book, which was also equally engaging. One interesting observation from that discussion pointed out that the housing bubble of the early 2000s (largely 2001-2005) took place when many jobs were being outsourced overseas and all the jobs that related ot the housing bubble were US jobs by definition. One commenter was making a stretch in trying to give a defense of the sub prime debacle. Another commenter points out that these financial engineers create nothing useful to society and compared them to the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century and can access that they left rail systems and other improvement to society in their wake. Furthermore, many of them were philanthrophists and had legacies of building institutions for public good. This cannot be said for the investment bankers of our current age.
The Bopha Angkor hotel and restaurant on the Siem Reap River has a beautiful garden with old artifacts all over even if the rooms are a bit run down-I imagine it was something 25 years ago. It was nice to take a dip in the hotel pool to cool off from the constant humidity.
I tried the Angkor Palm Platter at the Angkor Palm. It contains fresh spring rolls, mango salad (with spicy fish), spare ribs (roasted with honey and spicy sauce), fish amok (fish from Tonge Sap), green curry, and cha ta kuong (stir fried water spinach with oyster sauce). It was a variety of flavors and textures, and very good indeed.
I was hoping to visit Battambang since previously I've already been to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh already. But I decided that I had enough domestic road travels after the 15 hours of mini buses in Laos.
It has been 11 years since I first visited Siem Reap and as I recall the airport was more of a shack then. It is no longer a sleepy little town it has become a major tourist destination which is one reason I wanted to avoid visiting Ankor Wat again (besides for the obvious reason that I had already seen it). I heard there are major tourist groups crowding the site from 8 to close, so it is better to go early before the crowds. I dedated about going to Tonle Sap Lake or visiting temples that were further away in the jungle, but decided to have some relaxation and rest before the Cam TESOL conference in Phnom Penh.
A temple in the city near the Siem Reap River.
There are many more restaurants and bars than before.
A statue at an intersection.
One of the several bridges near the river.
This is the Angeline Jolie inspired "Tomb Raider" cocktail (Cointreau, lime juice, and soda) at The Red Piano.
I was recommended Vayakorn Inn as a good place to stay in Vientiane. It is an excellent value, only $35 a night for a tastefully decorated boutique hotel centrally located downtown with free wifi and satellite TV.
Nonesaath Secondary School's principal is a forward looking person and has nurtured the relationship between his school and Teachers Helping Teachers (THT). I think five other people will be visiting in March. I did a dual seminar on Teaching Large Multilevel Groups and introduced a number of warm-up activities via a workshop approach. The teachers here face enormous challenges. There are up to 60 students in a class, and during my observation class I noticed that many did not have textbooks, those sitting by the windows were distracted by the sunlight, and many were not on task. The school rooms are not completely separated by walls, there is a gap at the ceiling that makes the noise from other class drift in. They mentioned that some students refuse to come to school as well.
The school has a lower and upper elementary school system with 1500 students aged 10-18, there is one administrative building and no computer for school administration, which the principal said is his next concern.
There were about 18 English teachers from Nonesaath and a neighboring school for my seminar. I was told that there were 63 total at Nonesaath teaching 11 subjects.
There's no school cafeteria, but there are two noodle stands that sell food, snacks, and drinks.
My noodles, a type of Pho? It's been adopted in Laos from Vietnam.
On Monday students line up outside and sing the national anthem.
The principal invited me to Lao BBQ with some of the male teachers.
This restaurant specializes in BBQ pork which is wrapped into leafy parcels with rice noodles, cucumbers, and coriander then dipped into a savory sauce. It was my first time to try it and it was quite good.
When the principal learned that I hadn't tried BBQ'd goat, he sent a teacher out to get us some. There was also some black goat sausage in the order. The goat was a bit tough, but tasty and seasoned with BBQ'd basil leaves and served with a different lighter sauce.
In famous Lao hospitality style my taxi driver was invited to sit down and join us. He assured me he would only drink "a little" since he was driving.