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Delightful Phnom Penh – The Teaching Job Offer

  • Written by Anonymous
  • April 12th, 2006
  • 5 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Hans Meier

Finally! There it is!

For years I tried to land a decent job in SE Asia. And now an international tour operator asks me to teach my language to their local staff. They actually want me!

I am on another three-month-stint to the region, currently staying with my lover Norah in Phnom Penh. The ad appears in a local English newspaper. A contract for five months they offer, repeatable in future years, also in other interesting countries.

I've not written a CV in 20 years, and never in English, what are the standards? I am so un-globalized and inexperienced. Fortunately I brought the laptop, and it contains some pictures of mine. I compose a CV in Word, paste a picture and play with font styles. I stress my knowledge of the local psyche and grammar and that I would be a good candidate to teach this language especially to SE Asians. I also know all the tourism issues. I pump the layout into a PDF file and e-mail it, as requested, to the company.

One funny detail: my CV does not contains my street address. This is Phnom Penh, and most Phnom Penhois don't even know their street names or house numbers. They say, "I live two blocks up from Boeng Keng Kang market, on the road towards Chuen Min clinic." I actually do know the street name of our temporary apartment, I even know the house number – but as no private person in Phnom Penh has a mail box for paper letters, it makes no sense to include my local street address in the CV. Yes, I write a CV without my local street address, just with e-mail and mobile number.

For two weeks I hear nothing from them. They haven't given their phone number in the ad, not even a website, so I Google up their Phnom Penh branch office. On the phone, I talk to an Asian secretary, then to a western manager. "Oh, Mister Meier, I have your CV printed here on my table. Can I call you back tomorrow?" He calls the other day, and thirty minutes later a motorcycle taxi has taken me to the street of his office.

One more funny detail: I can't find the house number 227. This is Phnom Penh, but somehow I forgot. The motorcycle taxi cruises along the house numbers 19, 27, 37, 51 – and then the road ends, long before house 227 could show up. It is awkward: I am definitely in the right road, but can't find the office. I call the company on my mobile and ask the secretary to instruct the motorcycle taxi driver (maybe not a good thing in itself). We have to go back a bit. Yes, of course house number 227 is between houses 13 and 17, and the entrance is very small.

I am greeted by two elated, super cute Khmer secretaries, and we flirt about Phnom Penh house numbers. They beam and check me most interestedly. Heck, girls, I take the job!

Then I am led to the regional top manager, a middle-aged, tough white-collar-guy. A younger western aide joins. I never ever did a job interview in English. I know nothing about etiquette. Do I call him "Jack" or "Mr. Miller"? (I didn't understand his mumbled self-introduction.) I am so un-globalized, but here goes.

I learn I'd have to teach six hours per day from Monday to Friday; three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening; then four more hours on Saturdays. They also want me to update some of their home-made schooling materials.

They say they want to pay 900 USD a month – and no more extras. I say I thought of 1500 USD. They say 1200 is the maximum. And yes, for that money they would take me.

They offer to find a guesthouse for me, but I prefer an apartment. A halfway decent apartment would be no less than 250 USD – plus substantial money for electricity, water, cleaning, laundry.

The pros: I would see a new side of the country, get lots of new contacts with locals as well as with western tourism managers – across SE Asia, quite likely across the world. My Khmer lady Norah would stay with me, she actually asks to partake in classes and to learn my language! With the students, we would go out to museums and markets and practice my lingo in the field – surely with lots of new insights for me. I always wanted to take a break from my current job in Farangland, which I have done way too long.

The cons: The pay is a joke. It is a fraction of what I make at home, even after tax. At home I work very long hours; but my original job, dull as it can be, gives me free timing. It even allows me to stay in Asia for long periods, including teaching phases. Teaching from Monday morning to Saturday noon for five months on end – with two shifts most days – sounds strenuous to me.

The contract months are in the hot and in the rainy season; the commutes to the teaching site as well as our field trips might be either soaked or roasted. It is a temporary contract, so I wouldn't give up my delightful housing in Europe. I couldn't sub rent it.

"We had a very good teacher last year", says the top manager. "He didn't ask for much money, he saw it as volunteer work." I had already expected a job that has to be considered as volunteer work. I would be glad to help Khmers into decent tourism jobs. Each of them could feed an extended family. But then for volunteer work I wouldn't want a six-days-week for five months with two shifts on most days.

There is one more thing. I always looked for a job like this to get deeper into SE Asia, to meet interesting locals, probably including a great lady. Just in the last few years I ran into some wonderful people anyway, people like Norah, with fantastic integration into families and lifestyles. So a job as a vehicle into local circles is no longer a burning issue.

One day after the job interview I e-mail the manager: "Thanks for the job interview, for your time and consideration. For years I tried to land a decent job in SE Asia. And now you ask me to teach my language to your local staff. You actually want me!"

"Sorry, I will not take the job."

Stickman's thoughts:

Very wise, Pothole. Very wise indeed! That teaching schedule would have been a nightmare!