Tuesday, March 01, 2005


The other night I dropped by the university where I used to teach. It's just down the road from where I live, near the Independence Monument, in the 'heart of Phnom Penh', as the tourist brochures would say.

I'd always vowed that I'd never be a teacher, and yet it's the first real thing that I did after graduating from university, teach, for four years in Japan, one year here in Cambodia. (Okay, I did do a summer stint at the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology in Toronto, and a stint washing dishes at Caddyshack's Bar and Grill in Manotick, Ontario, but I'm not counting those. And you shouldn't, either. Please.)

I think it's always good to do the things that you said you would never do, because it points out aspects of your character that you wouldn't have unearthed otherwise. It's also pretty wild to do these things in foreign countries. Through the students you learn about the culture and the language, the customs and the history. You see what young people are like, people who have never heard of Brad Pitt or Johnny Carson or even John F.Kennedy. (Although most young Cambodians do know David Beckham.) You enter into a world where it's possible, even probable, to have twenty-one year old students ask you what the blue part on the map means.

So I stood there, outside of the school, letting the warm Cambodian night do its familiar dance across my skin. The students were pleasant, and kind, and smiling, as Cambodian students always are. They talked about their future, unsure of what to do next. (As I once did; as I do now. I didn't have the heart to tell them that it doesn't get any easier, although I wish somebody had told me that.) They asked about my new job, and how it was going, and why I left the university. They told me they missed me and liked my teaching, which made feel good, made feel as I'd created something lasting and resonant. I said good-bye as they drove off into the dark and busy streets on their motos, eager to escape academia, if only for a night.

It was just one of those nice moments, that's all. A series of them, actually.

Watching the news on a daily basis, it's so easy to get the impression that the world is a cesspool of danger and despair, of heartache and agony.

So it is; I'm not denying that.

But there's everything's else, too, the stuff that doesn't make the news -- students carrying books, chatting with old instructors, wishing them good luck. The stuff that fills up life and makes it tolerable, if only for a night. The everyday, trivial, real and lasting human stuff that bobs and weaves between the darkness, unwittingly giving off light, and texture, and meaning.

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