My desk is multi-tasking, fabulous and hopelessly international. An old, heavy laptop takes up a good chunk of space, and the digital picture frame I was so excited about sits lifeless among a chaotic mix of the things that stake claim to the precious space. I had high hopes for that frame. I've got a bazillion pictures from Thailand and Austria that I foresaw blinking on my desk day and night, regaling the fond memories of time abroad. Instead, I have had great difficulty getting it to play what I want, and it mostly sits unused, a $170 paperweight. My basket of knick-knacks, or crap, as I prefer, has a wide array of pens, markers, cat stickers, an envelope with a hiragana/katakana chart, an old (probably incriminating) jump drive, some loose change, and an emergency bottle of Tylenol.
My stainless steel water bottle (ever dropped one of those? The noise is incredible), a used Kleenex, stapler, pens, calculator and a bottle of lemongrass essential oil sit atop my desk, exactly where I last left them. My student ID, taken long enough ago that I had short brown hair and six-pack abs, is wrapped with headphones, my motivation to run to the university gym on occasion. A half-burnt incense stick from the weekend, a bottle of perfume, and a necklace that I bought in Bangkok have also made their way onto my desk.
On the slide-out drawer on which most people put a key board, I find a quagmire of papers. Some are from my HIV project: old , useless drafts mostly. I also have a smattering on Khmer lessons, the free kind, printed from the internet. I can already tell that Khmer is going to be hard to learn. The script is, well, it descends from Sanskrit, if that provides any clues. The point is, it's not letters, but symbols, and the sounds associated with said symbols are not similar to the sounds I am accustomed to making. As a by-product of these lessons, I have written some of the Khmer symbols on orange sticky notes, with a pseudo-phonetical transcription that is probably more detrimental than helpful. I look at a character that resembles a 2, except more like a ornate backwards S. Underneath, I see the transcription "Kha"—which is somehow different from the other symbol that says "Ka." For the life of me I can't hear the difference in the internet pronunciation guide. This mystical H, what is it, and how do I say it?