Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Mobbed and Robbed

Before anyone panics... the average age of the suspects was about 5 years old and they got away with 3 cans of soft drink.

Anthea (flatmate) and I had a big afternoon of shopping, buying clothes, DVDs and lots of food - including a slab (24 cans) of tonic. My hands were very full with bags and my motorbike helmet and Anthea was carrying the tonic and speaking on the phone... So neither of us had any free hands and our gate is difficult to open and involves reaching through a hole and unlocking a padlock.

There are often lots of little kids hanging around and playing in front of our gate. We live next door to a Wat and a lot of people live in the Wat. There are also apparently street urchins who live in our area. All these kids are normally very cute - I will try to post some photos soon (except maybe not of the little nude kids, that might not be appropriate - but so many of them are nude all the time, if you are in the street taking photos there will be nude kids in your photos). Where was I? Yes - we say hello to these kids all the time and have never had any problems... until yesterday, when they surrounded us in a cute but scruffy and hyperactive mob. At first it was funny to be in a sea of dozens of tiny reaching hands but it quickly got out of control and by the time Jono opened the gate for us they had taken the cans of drink off Anthea. 5 cans got away. One little boy was hiding one behind his back so we got that one back, and one little good samaritan girl went into the Wat and came back with another one but 3 warm cans of tonic were stolen and probably quickly consumed.

They didn't try to reach into our bags or anything and were only after the drinks but it did get a bit out of control. This was one of the few occasions when our guard Narith (we finally have his name right - it's not Monirith or Sevirith) was not out the front, but he told off the kids after. I didn't realise that would need a guard to help us fend of 5 year olds! I guess now we are aware of what can happen and will be a bit more alert but not alarmed.

After that 'incident' we locked our huge gate (with barbed wire at the top) and retreated to our expat luxury of gin and tonics and pirated DVD watching.

Friday, May 27, 2005



Shopping for clothes and shoes is something I have never really been into in a big way - until now! There is a popular shoe shop in Phnom Penh called Beautiful Shoes where you select the style you want from the hundreds there, or bring in your own pair to copy, select the colour and they measure you up and custom make your shoes for $12. It's great and so far I have had 4 pairs made and plan to get more!

Clothes shopping here isn't that great as the Khmer style is very different but I've still bought a fair bit, mostly clothes I need for work. I went to the local big shopping centre called Sorya Mall - which is nothing like a Westfield, for example. It's more like a trendier, cleaner, more organised, air-conditioned version of the markets. Khmer people are generally quite small. Which is great because any pants I buy are the right length and not too long, as they commonly are at home. Buying tops is more difficult. I ended up going into each shop and just asking them what they have in large. Very good for confidence building! My body image confidence hit an all time high when browsing some pants to buy for work and the sales person handed me size XXXXL (I didn't even know such a size existed except maybe for those American people you read about who weigh 600kg and become too big to get out of bed or fit through their front door). The pants fit very well and I bought them partly because it made such a funny story! By the way, I haven't put on weight in the last month it's just the very strange, arbitrary sizing here.

The rainy season should be kicking in soon, so I bought a raincoat from the markets the other day. Size XXL! Jono was proud of me to have dropped 2 sizes!

It might have been the subconscious effect of fitting into an XXXXL, or maybe I'm just feeling more settled in, but this week Anthea, our flatmate and I started running! We have to go at 6am, otherwise it's just too hot. It's the only time anyone here exercises and some of the sights are very amusing. The group of people taking an open air aerobics class with portable stereo by the river looked at us when we ran past as if we were the ones who looked funny! There is also badminton, soccer, tai chi and a few old women just stretching by the side of the road, it's great!

I partly need to exercise here because the food is really good. There are a lot of good foreign restaurants and cafes. So far I've eaten Italian, Korean, Indian and Japanese. Some cafes could be in Paddington if you face your back to the street! due to the French influence here, you can also get really good bread, croissants and coffee. I haven't been a total insulated expat, I have also eaten from local places and tried a few Khmer dishes! One of the best local restaurant experiences we have had was when we took a moto ride for about 30mins across the Japanese Friendship Bridge over the Tonle sap river to eat at one of the restaurants that are on stilts over the Mekong river. There was no menu in English and none of the staff spoke English but with our group's (not mine) very limited Khmer, we managed to order. Someone knew the word for fish so we pointed to the river and ordered fish, leaving it up to them how to do it. Anthea is vegetarian and knew how to say no meat, which confused them after we'd already ordered some beef and chicken but it all worked out and the meal was a delicious banquet and only cost us about $2 each!

On the way to cross the bridge police stopped our motos from turning onto a road. We didn't know why until a convoy of police, military and other cars came by, including a big white 4WD with a man in the back wearing a shiny white shirt waving to the people lined along the road. Our moto driver said that was the King. So I've seen the King! He is back in Cambodia for the national ploughing festival which was yesterday. He is currently living in China where is father, Norodom Sihanouk, the old King, is very sick and being treated in a hospital there (says a lot about the medical system here).

The ploughing festival was another public holiday of course. The main part of the festival involves half a dozen buffalo being released into an area lined with baskets of grains, rice, corn, wheat etc etc as well as buckets of beer and wine. Last year the bulls went straight for the beer which caused this year's drought. But this year, we heard something unpalatable to bulls was put into the beer to ensure there would be no drought. Whichever grain they eat means a good year for that crop. Yesterday's hungry animals have guaranteed a year of plenty for the country by eating everything, including the lawn in front of the Royal Palace where the ceremony takes place.

Is there still a drought on in Australia? Hmmm beer drinking cows - could that be the problem?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Something new

I was feeling brave today and decided to take the plunge into some new (for me) technology and create a blog. This way it will be up to you to think of me and check out my blog rather than sitting back and waiting for my emails! So here goes - my first post!

Life is moving quickly for me here in Phnom Penh. In the last week I have got myself three jobs, started running again, done lots of shopping and seen the King!

Jobs first. I suppose I can call myself a teacher now - I taught my first English class the other night at a local language school. I'm trying to ignore the fact that the name of the school is spelt incorrectly (well for us Aussies anyway!) the American Academic Center. The class went well for the most part. It was a beginners class and the topic was cooking! To elicit vocab, I mooed like a cow, tried to explain popeye's spinach eating with some muscle flexing, drew a very bad prawn on the board and did various other ridiculous things. They laughed at me which was good. It was fun! At the end they were meant to write a recipe in English but unfortunately their English wasn't good enough for me to get a good Khmer recipe to try. I still need to figure out how to solve the problem of mobile phones ringing in class - and them answering and having a conversation...

I will also be teaching a couple of classes at another language school close to our house called the InterED Institute. It's on the top floor of almost the tallest building in town (5 floors) and has good views of the city from one side and from the other side you can see the convergence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Tonle Bassac rivers. Quite a perk! I will be teaching writing classes for more advanced students, like Khmers working in NGOs who need to write reports etc. I think that will be a good relief from the blank looks of the beginners.

My third job is volunteer work at the Cambodia Defenders Project or CDP www.cdpcambodia.org which is a legal aid/human rights law NGO. Have a look at the web site! I haven't done much yet - just given a bit of help with documents in English and I have been asked to do some research on a case but that involves getting a transcript of a judgement from a dossier in a court in the provinces somewhere, then having the transcript translated to English - each step will involve a lot of time.

Read about shoes and XXXXL pants in the next blog...

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Long weekend

Welcome to my second installment from Cambodia.

Last weekend was a long weekend. Friday AND Monday were both public holidays in honour of the King's birthday.There are a lot of public holidays here... but apparently not many between next week, when there are another 2, and September. I believe November is about half public holidays!

So last weekend we took the opportunity to head for the beach. Possibly our last chance until the dry season returns around November. We went to Sihanoukville, the country's main beach area. It's not that nice compared to other beaches in SE Asia but it started to grow on me after a few days.

The trip didn't start too well when we motoed over to the bus station, in a chaotic area of town near the central markets, and realised we should have booked the bus. All 4 morning buses were full. We could have left at 12.30 but a swim was calling loudly and we wanted to leave right away. The options were minibus or taxi. We hooked up with a similarly stranded scary American women called Marge who was berating her 'travel agent'/moto driver for lying to her by saying she had a seat booked on the bus when she didn't... Eventually her guy found a minibus for the 3 of us and Marge stopped being scary. We each paid $4 for the 4hour trip which entitled us to one seat each - a valuable commodity in a minibus where 11 Cambodians were squashed into the 2 rows in front of us.

The bus stopped several times for food, toilet and other unknown reasons. Jono and I tried a couple of new foods from the roadside stops. In hindsight a bus trip is probably not the best time to be adventurous in this way, but we survived. We tried barbecued bananas, which were delicious and a steamed bun which Jono asked in Khmer if it had no meat and was told yes, vegetables... well, it was very tasty and we picked around the bits of meat that looked a bit undercooked. I did however give away to a little Khmer girl the pineapple I bought that was dipped into a bucket of water before it was handed to me. See, I am being careful with food!

I learnt some new terms in Sihanoukville, 'threaded' and 'braceleted for fruit' and I got both! Threaded is how they wax (as in legs) here. It's fascinating. A simple thread of cotton is held between the 'technician''s'' teeth and 2 hands and is twisted and manipulated to pull out each individual hair. It's very effective and not too painful.

Anyone who got 'braceleted for fruit' was obvious on the beach because they were wearing a distinctive colourful cotton bracelet. I was one of those foreign suckers and Jono appeared to be but only because I succumbed twice and gave him one of the bracelets. The 'scam' is these cute charismatic little khmer kids with very good english ask you to buy a bag of cut fruit from them and offer to make you a 'friendship bracelet for free'. The fruit is quite good but the scam is you pay them $2 US which is a bit much in these parts.

Despite being constantly hassled by hawkers selling bracelets, lobsters, chips, massages, manicures, sarongs etc etc etc, it was a relaxing few days and the water was very lovely and warm and didn't always have rubbish floating around... We also ate some really good barbecued seafood meals from a beach side restaurant called 'same same but different' - a common _expression here (for example used by little boys to explain why you should by their bracelets and not one from one of their other 50 friends...). We met quite a few other expats there including 4 who work at the Cambodia Daily newspaper which was interesting.

On one day we did a tour of Ream National Park with 2 of our new friends Lee and Sam. At the breakfast they give you before the tour we met 2 other Aussies, Leah and Jono. To find this funny, you would need to know that our Jono's middle name is Lee... (maybe you had to be there)!

The tour was good but nothing spectacular. The sign at the NP said there 'may have been sightings of leopards and tigers and to keep your eyed peeled to be the first to see them'. Unsurprisingly we didn't see any... We did sort of get invited to a Cambodian wedding though! Our tour guide made us promise to come to his wedding in a couple of months and thanked us in advance for our presents... we clarified that he did mean presents and not presence! He was very sweet but hmmm.... we'll see!

Despite our bungalow being rustic - but not in a good way - it had a lovely view and overall we had a good 4 days - and ended up BOOKING the air con bus back to Phnom Penh!

In other news I have 2 jobs! One volunteer with the Cambodia Defenders Project (human rights law, criminal defence law) and one teaching English a couple of hours a day. I have to seriously brush up on my grammar. I will write more about work next time.

Each email I will try to write some funny snippets about Cambodia:

- the most people I've seen so far on one moto is 4 adults and 1 child.

- 'petrol stations'for motos consist of plastic soft drink bottles full of petrol on the side of the road.

-because of the above... fortunately and surprisingly, very few Cambodians seem to smoke.

Friday, May 06, 2005


First 48 hours

I am sitting at my local internet cafe. I've been here nearly an hour so the sweat on my shirt has dried and now I'm quite cool. It's very tempting to stay for another hour. Intenet use is US$0.50 per hour so maybe I will.

I have just calmed down from being really upset due to a bad miscommunication which lead to poor Jono travelling across the city in the heat to sit in a restaurant waiting for an hour for me then celebrating his first day at work by having lunch on his own. I didn't know that there is a Boat Noodle restaurant and a Boat Noodles restaurant.... I have to get my own mobile phone very soon. I had lunch with 3 AYAD girls after visiting the royal palace and shopping at the markets with them this morning - and I asked Jono to meet us for lunch - oops - I felt sooo bad.

I can't believe I've only been in Phnom Penh 48 hours. I am suffering some 'culture shock', particularly with the thought that I will be here for a year. The main shocks are just how completely 'different' everything is (for example seeing 'roadside dentists' - a dental chair on the side of the road), the heat of course and the crazy traffic - I know it's meant to be calm here compared to Vietnam etc but it's not!!! (for me anyway). I've had lots of moto taxi rides already which is the standard way to get around. The women ride 'side saddle' which I was originally too scared to do but rode that way after only about 30 hours of being here, my confidence buoyed by Jono giving me his motorbike helmet to wear. By the way, only about 1% moto drivers wear helmets but I've heard that it's good not to take a moto driver wearing a helmet because they think they are invincible.

I hope to get over my culture shock soon. I have already crossed a couple of roads by myself without too much hesitation, so maybe I'm starting to get used to it here already!

Our house is nice! The landlord, who lives next door and is always available for questions and odd jobs, speaks French which has been really useful! We have a really plesant front yard with flowers and very comfy outdoor seating which was bought yesterday at the rattan markets along with other furniture inluding 3 bookshelves, laundry baskets etc. The funny thing was transporting all this back to the house, which was on a moto trailer - piled very very high. We took photos which I am not technologicially adept yet to attach to an email but will soon. I just found out today I can get a CD burnt with a full memory card from the digital camera for US$2 so I will start taking more photos I think!

Back to the house, Jono and I have 2 flatmates, Stewart and Anthea who are both really lovely. There are 3 bedrooms each with a bathroom (plus a fourth bathroom, of course...). Actually all these bathrooms come in very handy when you have 4 people having at least 2-3 cold showers a day due to the heat. I know some people are very interested in toilets so would be happy to hear that we have a 'normal' flushing toilet which you can actually put the toilet paper into.

The other funny but kind of comforting thing about the house is that it comes with a 'guard'. Not an armed, uniformed kind of guard (fortunately) but a tiny little Khmer guy in oversized clothes with very few teeth who's name none of us has been able to remember yet. He's meant to 'work' (sleep) in our front yard from 6pm to 6am but he always around, I suspect he doesn't have anywhere else to go. He opens the gate for us and decides which moto driver will take us (every time the gate opens at least 2 but usually more rush to us). In fact it is very hard to walk anywhere because everyone asks if you want a moto or tuk tuk. I need to learn more khmer quickly! So far I can only remember how to say thank you, no and one dollar (which are quite useful at the markets).

I have been living in sensory overload for the last 2 days and there's plenty more I could write but I think you would have all had enough. I promise I won't write this much every 2 days but I will try to write regularly.

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