First week in Batam

Hey guys! I hope things are going well. I finally made it to Batam and this week has been incredible.

I landed safely in Batam just yesterday. It’s pretty neat here and also VERY DIFFERENT. I don’t know if it’s just me but everything is so fancy (and obviously much more expensive Frowning face)! I’ve got my own private room with air-con and a super nice bathroom, not to mention a proper work/study space. Well, I used to stay in a room full of rats and bugs in Cambodia for such a long time, sometimes with no water and electricity so I’m sort of having a ‘culture shock’. I’m not gonna lie but this was so unexpected! So, Elder Monson, I don’t mean to make you jealous again but just in case if I did, sorry, man 😉

The school is within 15-minute walk from where I live and it is located in the city centre so this is my first experience, as the past two centres I worked at were quite far away from the main cities (Kien Svay being 30 minutes from Phnom Penh and Boshknor being 40 minutes from Kampong Cham).

People here are pretty nice and no one, I repeat NO ONE makes fun of my accent (cough Lulla cough) haha. There is another Scottish guy (no, he didn’t give me Scottish handshake or headbutt) that just came 2 weeks ago. He’s like 56 or something so he’s quite an old man but he has been everywhere! We had a really nice discussion about a lot of things and he seems to be wise as well. The older the wiser, right? I miss you guys and I can’t hardly wait to read all your stories!

All the best,
Deny / Danny Boy / Frankenasian

Numpanc ning sach kow

That’s Khmer for ‘bread and beef’. and yep, we had Khmer sandwich for dinner this week.

Starting Monday, I didn’t teach at part-time centre anymore because the country director wants me to focus more on developing and improving all the 5 websites and get those websites done by the end of this month. I know it sounds ridiculously impossible because never in my life have I ever done a project involving the development of a single website for less than two months, let alone five of them so this is going to be super challenging!


Achievement unlocked: Climbing the school gate. Twice (Monday and Wednesday). They always lock the gate at 9 pm, which is fine because nobody has the desire to spend every night in this deserted, creepy little town, unless you voluntarily wish to get robbed. So, the meals the school provided for dinner this week always contained fish in there and also, Abdoulaye found a fly in the rice and it didn’t only happen once and that’s the reason why we never ate the meals and instead, we went to the market at 23:30 and put our lives in danger but we didn’t care anyway. We were desperately starving and asking them for the key took a century long. So we climbed and no, our wallets didn’t get stolen. HA.

A few weeks ago, Naoko, the Japanese woman who is in charge of international volunteers told me there would be a new volunteer coming and share a room with me. So the guy came on Wed and… drum roll please… He’s from INDONESIA. Wow. Just wow.

Friday– I met with the founder of the organisation. We call him Big Teacher. He is such an intelligent person and he has inspired me in so many ways. He has been recently nominated as one of the top 50 finalists of Global Teacher’s Award. He’s just amazing! And also very busy.

Last week I started my own community development project with Mr. Sarath, the guy who sells Khmer sandwich in Phsar Preakeng, and also happens to be an amazing friend of mine. The project itself aims to introduce the importance of English language to the children living in Preakeng and Chemampeu area. I teach English from 2-4 pm on the weekends at Mr Bunkim’s house and so far I’ve got 2 students. Just in case you were wondering, Mr Bunkim and Mr Sarath are buddies. Cool is, Mr Sarath will pick me up from the school to Mr Bunkim’s house every weekend, with a Camry. Got my private limo, yo! Not to mention free meals and, please don’t tell Dr Fernando, iced coffee 🙂 Life has never been this good.

Both Tong and Holy attend an English course in different schools and because of that, they both have different level of English and also different things that they find the most difficult. So I formulated an exclusive, tailor-based lessons to make them understand each other much easier.

Sunday after teaching, we went to KFC. Yes, the friggin’ finger licking good Kentucky Fried Chicken. On the tuktuk Abdoulaye talked about life and blablabla. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great philosopher, like really, really great, and his view towards life is beyond everyone. He’s a stud! Love ya man. We had chicken burgers and some fizzy drink. WHAT A DAY!

To close this week, if I only had a little humility, I would be perfect. ~ Ted Turner. If it wasn’t because of humility, I would never know Mr Sarath (and the three other people) from the market. I would never be able to learn and speak the Khmer language now. And I would never be the person who I am today. Mistaken is the man who thinks he can live without others; but the one who thinks others can’t live without him is even more deluded. I LOVE YOU GOOD PEOPLE!

Love and peace.

Week of gratitude

Such a long week. I don’t know where to start off.

New week, new class, but same students. The Education Board asked me to teach the newly structured conversation module to my old students. It was so exciting! The fact that I will be spending most of the time with those talented young people makes me even more eager to do it. All of them confirmed to continue studying at SOLS, which means they will still have about one more month before they completely leave this school.

This week’s unlocked achievement: trying phoutreey, a local fruit that kind of looks like tiny apples and has a very sour and, umm… interesting taste. The texture was quite solid and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a bunch of maggots squirming inside the fruit, probably wondering if you are stupid (and blind) enough not to notice them. All the Khmer teachers in part-time centre seemed to be enjoying dipping the fruits into salt and sugar. You might not like it but phoutreeys are pretty common in Cambodia, even I saw the dried ones sold at Pandamart.

November is supposed to be the month where all the guys show up clean-shaven and baby-faced on the 1st of November and look like Hollywood-film villains or grizzly bears by Thanksgiving. But not for Alele, one of the East Timorese exchange students. Inspired by Abdoulaye’s shiny smooth bald head, he decided to shave his head up. Weird.

Wednesday and Thursday– Busy, busy, and busy! Never been this busy before. Charlee (English, partner in crime) and I are working on the websites and everyone knows website is such a huge project. Here’s a picture of her grumbling and twisting her hair. She’s been working really hard.

In the evenings, my Cambodian friend invited me to have dinner at a minibar in Phsar Prekeng. He apparently noticed that most of us are getting tired of the school food. I went there together with Charlee, Alele and Abdoulaye. It ended with my wallet getting stolen. Stupid Deny!

Friday– Monthly meeting, which means all volunteers based in the provinces gather at SOLS Headquarter for a couple of days. It also means sharing a room with other volunteers because there aren’t enough rooms. I shared mine with Josh from England, who is based in Kampot and unsurprisingly, Abdoulaye. He needed to move out of his room because it would be where Flanna and Stacia bunk for the next 3 days. Glad to meet both of them again!

Saturday– GLOBAL VILLAGE! All international volunteers had the chance to showcase the countries where they come from to the students so they could understand more about the different countries that were on display. Country represented: England, France, Spain, Senegal, Denmark, The Netherlands, Macau, China, Japan, Austria, USA, Canada, East Timor, South America and of course Indonesia!

I made several brochures showing Indonesian map, pics of Indonesian cities and where they are located, and more. In addition, I played all Wonderful Indonesia videos that I borrowed from the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia and it worked! So many people came and asked questions until I couldn’t help but to close the booth for awhile. CRAZY! Well, I really wanted to do Germany as well, but it wasn’t possible. Oh, I saw the Dutch giving away treats at their booth.

Sunday– We called it Exception Day. My amigo español, Dr Fernando invited me and Flanna to have brunch at a coffee shop next to Prekeng Pagoda. We had a really nice sandwich & baguettes and guess what… iced coffee! Due to my chronic GERD thing, my doctor told me to quit coffee and I completely stopped coffee for almost 4 months. The doctor who said that was Dr Fernando and I had 2 glasses of iced coffee in front of him. Well, it was exception day.

A little story about him. Three months ago he had a terrible motorbike accident when he was riding down the national road with another middle-aged volunteer from Italy. The guy died but he survived. Now he has a post-accident problem that requires him to have a major surgery. No hospitals in Cambodia can do the operation so next week he will be leaving for Indonesia and having the surgery in Bandung. Also, he isn’t allowed to smoke cigarettes but he smoked anyway and again, using exception day as an excuse. Then I met with the Mormon elders! Haha they were playing the piano at the church. They asked me to play but I wasn’t in shape. So many meetings that day, and too many things to be done. I’m so glad I went to see them because I could finally escape from SOLS super exhausting activities and get to talk with positive young people.

My work is extremely tiring but I’m so happy to do that. I feel exhausted sometimes but nothing is nobler, kinder, and more better than helping other people, who are less fortunate than us make their dreams come true. And most importantly, be grateful for everything you’ve been given. A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility and a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being.

Millions of love.

Farewell party, the church and a one-day trip

This week has been quite a tiring, yet super amazing one. Yesterday was my last day of teaching English Motivation class in SOLS part-time centre, so instead of spending 3 hours studying, we agreed to make a farewell party!

Promptly at 2 o’clock we gathered in our beloved classroom and discussed about what we were going to eat and drink. I also invited my super cool friend Abdoulaye from Senegal, who is also a volunteer, to join the party. It would be great to have him join us as the students could practise their English (and French?) with him. He said YES! The party went incredibly well and we had tons of fun. FYI, two of my students are of Vietnamese descent so we had some Vietnamese veggie rolls with prawns and rice noodle inside called ‘koong’ / ‘kueng’ or whatever its name is, which was also tempting, and obviously lots of equally mouthwatering Cambodian treats. What a lovely day!

A couple of days ago when Abdoulaye and I were on our way to Phsar Prekeng, we were stopped by two Americans, who I reckoned were recruiting locals to join their free English classes. Turned out they are actually Mormon missionaries (otherwise known as Latter-Day Saints) and they invited us to come to their church, which is only a few minutes away from our school. Right after the party, we headed to the church. We’ve been there twice before so, this would be our third time. They gave me the German version of The Book of Mormon and the English one to Abdoulaye. I don’t really know their names. God only knows. But they are super nice! So glad we met these amazing people who are surprisingly fluent in Khmer!

The next day, I went to Phnom Penh with Dominic (England) and Si (Macau). Si just arrived in Cambodia 3 days ago and she will be based in the province. Our first stop is the Aeon Mall. Well, we went there only to restock my Japanese furikake supply because the school serves fish for lunch and dinner almost everyday and as I’m allergic to fish, furikake is the best option that I could come up with to still get ‘proper’ lunch and dinner at school. We continued our trip to Royal Palace by the riverside. Dominic and I have been there 2 million times but Si hasn’t. Then we had lunch at my favourite, if not the best, Indonesian restaurant ‘Warung Bali’ which is located exactly behind the Royal Palace. It was the first time for Dominic and Si to try Indonesian food.

After fulfilling the need of our starving stomachs, we walked all the way to Central Market. It was HOT! We stopped at the nearby pagoda because Si wanted to take some pictures. As we were walking through the market, I saw an ICE watch. Yes, it was definitely a counterfeit but looked pretty good though. I asked the woman how much it was… in Khmer. At first she asked for 12 dollars but after negotiating I got it only for half the price (6 bucks!). Oh, I love being able to speak Khmer even I’m not really that good compared to those missionaries.

Si wanted to go to the Genocide Museum. As for me and Dominic, we just went to get some drink in nearby café, whose name I couldn’t remember. The café was well-furnished and, most importantly, air-con’d. Darn, I forgot what air-con feels like! Funny story. We found a tuktuk to go back for 5 dollars (again, pretty much thanks to my haggling skills that I learned from the locals). 20 minutes went by but we had yet reached the independence monument. Something was wrong. I asked the driver again to make sure whether we were on the right direction. He said he knew but he most definitely didn’t. So, he stopped for awhile and rang his friend for directions. He kept calling his friend again and again until finally we decided to do it our way and it worked!

One thing I learned from this week: A foreigner (who’s only been around Phnom Penh for several months) knows Phnom Penh more than some tuktuk drivers do. I should probably consider this country as my second (or third?) home. Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful. I miss all of you so much!


Sophomore year

Today marks 2 years since I started this blog. I am officially finished my sophomore year with Frankenasian. Well, like I said a year ago on my freshman year post, blogging is not a new thing for me. I started blogging in 2008, which means I have actually been blogging for about 6 years, even though I did not produce so many writings. Yep, I am a complete bastard when it comes to procrastinating.

I don’t know what to say plus I’m not really in the mood to write a 600-word post. Thanks for being there for me for the past two years, when I did not have someone else to talk to. Thanks for helping me through Philip’s suicide, which until now I still can’t deal with. You have witnessed my extraordinarily bizarre adventure of volunteering in Cambodia – from getting my phone and wallet stolen to eating the oh-so-tasty, deep-fried frogs – and you’ll soon will witness that of Batam and East Timor in the next couple of months.

Happy birthday, Frankenasian! I look forward to the following subsequent years with you. Anyway, I kind of miss Dublin and its hustle and bustle.

With love,
Deny Setiyadi

Eating insects in Southeast Asia

Whilst most of us would consider eating these little critters as off-putting and something you wouldn’t catch up doing in a million years, in all over Southeast Asia, deep fried frogs, crickets, locusts and many more are considered being more than just a tasty treat. They are highly nutritious and not the sort of thing you eat every day. They are well and truly classed as special food and gobbled on for many a special occasion. In my time travelling in Southeast Asia I have indulged in scorpions on sticks, crispy fried frogs and curiously crunchy crickets. I have got to say they are delicious and I have been converted.

My first experience was when I was presented with a scorpion on the well-known Kao San Road in Bangkok. I didn’t think twice and devoured it immediately. I must say out of the few I have tried, this one is the hardest to keep down and larger than the others. Since then in Prek Eng, Cambodia on an evening walk around the local market with two fabulously friendly volunteers from Indonesia with whom I am volunteering with, we decided to have a fun fear factor session. I was slightly apprehensive this time around mainly due to sobriety but I went for it and before I knew it, the deep-fried frog was gone. It was truly Chengan Na (Delicious – in Khmer), tasting like crispy chicken skin and most definitely moreish.

Between then and now, I have unfortunately not had the opportunity to eat anymore until two nights ago. During our evening meal that we all happily spend together, one of the Cambodian students who lives with us proudly presented two bowls of crispy crickets. Another volunteer from Hong Kong who I must say has more than a slight fear of insects and creepy crawlies, did not seem too keen but after a little bit of persuasion there she was nibbling away. She too was surprised and it was a fantastic photo moment. I am not sure if she is going start eating them for breakfast but this was highly amusing for the locals and very quickly our dinner table was filled with joy and laughter.

No retreat, no surrender

Did you watch Glee’s The Quarterback episode last night? The episode featured the death of Finn Hudson, and a tribute to actor Cory Monteith who portrayed Finn starting with the show’s pilot, and who died on July 13, 2013. Monteith has influenced me in so many ways. He’s been my role model, the person I’ve looked up to for the past years. I’ve been watching Glee since the beginning, accidentally. There was something about the show when I first watched it that made me feel so closely related to the characters and this episode is in particular.

Watching the episode brings back thousands of memories. I lost two of my mates in the last 2 years. There was Ben. He was my roommate and my best friend back in summer 2012 until he died of leukemia. We met at the place we worked for a part-time job. He never told me anything about his cancer. Then 2 days before I went back home, his father rang me and told Ben was hospitalised. For once I thought he just worked too hard at work. I decided not to visit him because he lived about an hour away.

A few hours later his father rang me again, and told me he passed away. I was heartbroken and devastated. I didn’t know what to say. The night before we completed the job, we told each other what would happen to us in the future. I said I didn’t know, but I wanted to be a musician. Then he said he couldn’t wait to watch my first debut. That was a joke that used to be funny, but not anymore. Now it just brought me to tears knowing that he will never be. Ben, I promise someday, if I make it to the radio, TV or somewhere else, I will keep the first ticket for you.

The second one was Philip. Two months ago he committed suicide because of an unknown reason. When I found out he died, I felt exactly the same way Puck felt on the episode. I completely lost a part of my life. I was trapped in a very deep grief I didn’t know how to express my feeling and let it all out. I had this feeling that no one would understand, so I pretended I was cool with that. The way Puck said “If I start crying, I don’t think I’ll ever stop.” embodied what I was feeling for weeks long. I knew something was wrong with him, but he always refused to tell me what had been going on with him.

If it was his choice not to tell anyone what he was going through and to end his sorrow, well then there’s nothing I could do about it. I didn’t say that suicide is okay but really I couldn’t do anything, neither could his other friends and family. He always wanted to be a teacher, just like Finn. Now that he’s gone, that dream will never come true, just like Finn’s. Man, you should of told me. At least we could have sought for help or something that’d make you feel better and throw that suicidal feeling away. Rest in peace.

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