A little taste of what it’s like riding on the roads in Phnom Penh.
Well, after many months, some delays, frustrations and the departure of our graphic designer, the new Friends-International website is now live. Phew!
A huge personal achievement – now for the next step in my adventures which is…? A big black hole of opportunity, uncertainty and excitement, that’s what.
We sat overlooking the Tonle Sap. Burns from the previous nights cooking, and the comical incident that followed, were throbbing.
“Was it hard adjusting to life back home?” I asked, pushing my fingers against the icy glass.
“You know a close friend died shortly after I left? That was really hard.” He softly stated, looking beyond the water. ”This is the first time I’ve been back, and yeah, it does feel weird.”
“Wow, I had no idea.”
“He was a returnee.”
“You mean a Khmerican?”
“Yeah. He jumped from a bridge not too far from here.”
I sat in silence, running my hand against the glass, praying for the pain to stop.
“He was a junkie,” he continued, scratching at a sodden coaster “he stole my moto.”
“I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and when he eventually turned up at work he couldn’t look me in the eye.”
He paused and began to smile. “And you know what he said to me?”
Burrowing his chin into his chest, he looked up at me from puppy dog eyes “Ahhhhhh…” he whimpered, mimicking his lost friend, “I sold it for a hundred bucks man…”
“You weren’t angry?”
“Well, that’s the thing. You couldn’t get angry at this guy” he explained, straightening himself in his chair.
A sly grin crept across his face. “I had to track down the family he sold it to and pay them a hundred and twenty bucks to get it back… and then an extra twenty to get it running again!” he chuckled.
A smirk edged across my face.
It was a long time before he spoke again.
“That was the thing, everyone loved him. Whenever he had a dollar in his pocket, he’d just give it to you.”
Vacancy returned to his eyes. “You know Pelican Pies?”
“I took him there when it first opened. You should’ve seen the look his face – it blew his fucking mind.” He held an imaginary pie to his mouth.
“He just couldn’t grasp the concept.”
The throbbing in my fingers had disappeared.
“He grew to love these pies, and by love, I mean he fucking loved meat pies. I worked out pretty quickly I could trick him into coming to work by bringing pies. He used to ask, are you bringing any pies tomorrow? and I’d answer, well I don’t know, you’ll just have to come and find out.”
His eyes glimmered, “I was thinking I’d like to eat a pie on the bridge and maybe… I don’t know… maybe push one into the water – you know, as a send off.”
“I think that’s a lovely idea.”
“He used to love those fucking pies.”
“Pigs, they tend to wiggle when they walk.
Count the instants that save tired nations so depraved. The infrastructure rots and the owners hate the jocks with their dates. From the cheap seats they see us wave to the camera that took a giant ramrod to raze the demon settlements.
The qualms you have, and if they stick, will drown you in a creek in the neck of a woods
that was populated by a tired nation. Everybody knows advice that was given out for free.
Lots of details to discern, lots of details. If the signatures are checked, you’ll just have to wait.
My baby gave me malaria, hysteria.”
Hello to the great darkened masses. It’s been a long time hasn’t it? It feels like forever.
Kamera sways in the back ground while the Australia Network projects muted images. My curly hair creates unusual shadows as the light washes and weaves around me.
Outside, through domestic openings I hear motos, gossiping salon women and the occasional rich fucktard tear down the crowded street in a misguided show of superiority.
There is a light breeze sneaking through the door against my belly, full from Vietnamese pancakes.
It’s amazing how much dust comes to rest on this desk. Filth grates against my wrists as they rest. This whole city is surrounded by a swirl of dust, garbage, exhaust and humidity. It rises and falls in the street lamp light.
My calves hurt from running and the fractured bone in my foot feels precariously close to breaking. Upon returning home I approach an old man I’ve seen many times. Tonight he sits topless, in front of the salon, bouncing a baby on his lap. Greeting him in my bastard Khmer, I introduce myself and ask his name. As I tickle the young lad on the chest he grasps at my hand with his tiny fingers.
Children no longer scare me. What is there to be scared of? Picket fences, modestly mass produced vehicles, unjustifiably expensive white goods?
Ebo Taylor. World music? Fuck, I’d never thought I’d like this trash. Hell, I hate reggae and any of that rasta shit well-to-do young white folk play at house parties. Another night of numbness before waking to polished floor boarded halls and vomit in bathroom sinks.
My home is comfortable with cool breezes and sturdy, comfortable, sensible furniture. Music plays constantly. A Wolf at the Door (It Girl. Rag Doll). It’s going to be hard to leave this. Not just this home, but the country. I often catch myself thinking about the fantastic opportunity I’ve been given and all I’ve been able to achieve, see and experience.
I’ve begun a bucket list:
- Street chicken
- Street restaurant near Stick’s old house
- Phu Quoc
- Koh Kong
- Laos motorbike ride
- Tonle Sap Lake
- Caradmom motorbike trip
- Monthly motorbike rides
- Sri Lanka
- Monthly outreach visits
Look, it is modest ok?
Khmer lessons are an item I wished I’d continued from day one. Learning languages comes difficult for me. I’m a visual person and can only remember words by connecting them to mental scenes. It’s the same for names. I remember moto dup Hong because his name reminds me of Hong Kong. Every time I see him I think of gazing across Hong Kong from the mid-levels. That is my connection. Hong = sparkling lights, distant horns, cigarettes, beers, Stu and Guy.
What would I have missed by not coming here? Mel, Mez, Ryan and a year in that wonderful house. Rory, Bek, Reesy, Troy, Gav, Jules, Aaron, Gracie, Murph, Stu, Guy, Ranga, Minga, Lauren, James, holy fuck…
So what happens comes February? Leave here? Begin my masters? Return to ‘western work’?
Constantly thinking about it prevents me from living now, in this place I dearly love. Lust for Life. As a vampire craves the blood of some poor chimney sweep fool, I too crave to get the most out of these last few months. I’m going to bite deep.
It’s a Big City After Dark.
This is Olesia Plokhii’s, journalist at The Cambodia Daily, account of the murder of Chut Wutty and the days preceding it – read the full story here.
“The two remaining officers dragged their dead friend’s body to a nearby dwelling and then began searching in and around the car, making cellphone calls, whispering and huddling. They checked the woods where we had darted for cover. When they returned, one asked Bopha: “Where’s the gun, where did you put the gun?” We knew nothing about any gun, and we feared a frame-up. Time passed, and two more soldiers arrived. “Just kill them both,” Bopha heard one of them say. They talked about whether to move the car into the forest, out of sight. “They are going to rape us and kill us,” Bopha said. “I am going to faint.” Fear crippled me too. “Tell me if you hear them say it again, and we’ll run,” I finally said. “They’ll shoot us in the back,” she argued. “We’ll die running,” I told her. She nodded.”
A culture that eats prahok - fermented fish, fish heads, fish eyes, innards (of any animal), spiders, cockroaches etc is no match for Vegemite.
Today Friends-International held a ‘global village’ day. While I had a fantastic time cooking an Australian BBQ as an Australian Football Player, I’m afraid I embarrassed my fellow countrymen and left the Khmer staff bemused and slightly queasy.
You can only imagine the pandemonium as the meat was served…
Caged PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) activists protest KFC on Norodom Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (before being carted off by police).
I’d like to remind everyone that Cambodia is a developing country where the majority of people living in the provinces struggle to eat.
It’s like being vegetarian in Cambodia (or any developing nation). “Oh sorry, I’ll have no meat in the beef stir-fry dish I’m choosing to order. Yes, yes, I know on the outskirts of your city there are families struggling but I’d just like to remind you that while many of your fellow country men do not have a choice about what or when they’ll eat, I do.”
“I’ll also have an espresso martini thanks. At these prices, I can’t afford not to.”
One of the real pleasures of living in Cambodia is the ability to hire a dirtbike and take off for the weekend.
Last weekend Jules, Troy and I shot down to Kep via remote farm land that was once a strong hold of the Khmer Rouge. The land we rode through was heavily mined and at times we strayed from the beaten paths into jungle, rivers and farm land. At one point it sunk in that we may have been in actual danger . That sobered us up a little and send the heart racing…
Crazy, huh? It’s definitely not the 86 tram in Melbourne.