Today was the last day of our settling in in Phnom Penh before we start working at our respective offices on Monday so we were determined to make the most of our last week of lazy, langorous afternoons. Next week is meant to be a “training week” but we’ve been told by our program director to expect a full week of work as our NGOs are keen to have us on board.
These past four weeks have been amazing — both in discovering ourselves as well as in exploring all the nuances of living in a new country where nothing has been familiar or comfortable.
But this past week has been a wonderful mixture of experiences as we grow more comfortable in this land.
For starters, we moved into our apartment on Tuesday and are now settling into our penthouse (3rd floor) space complete with airconditioning (thank goodness), TV with several English-language stations, new fridge, tiny gas stove with an oven which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t (and the large propane gas tank sitting next to it) , king size bed (courtesy of our landlords), and wonderful wraparound balcony which is resplendent with huge leafy plants and flowers and provides shelter from the monsoon rains which blast through most afternoons.
We also wrapped up our three week intensive Khmer language classes where we struggled to wrap our minds around such words as pochaneetan (restaurant), t’nyaynee (today), bantubtik (bathroom) and ptea somnak (guesthouse) and moulded our lips into extraordinary shapes in an attempt to pronounce alien sounds.
One of our instructors, a delightful 3-year-old named Sina, took us all on a field trip to the market on Wednesday so we could practise saying “thlay ponman?” (how much is that?) then stare blankly when the vendors replied with a stream of Khmer.
We’ve managed to get by and have stocked the apartment with groceries, bedding, kitchenware and a selection of cheap furniture from a place we nicknamed “Wicker World” since all the vendors in the strip of stores sell tables, chairs, desks, screens, dressers and much more made from the cheap-and-cheerful material. We picked up several pieces yesterday (bedside tables, kitchen buffet, screen, basket and bedroom dresser) for a total (bargained) price of $150 and paid an additional $4 for a motorbike delivery vehicle to bring it to our place.
Poor chap got a bit more than he bargained for, though, as we needed his help to lug the stuff up the 48 steps to our abode! (a nice tip and a Diet Coke from Skip soon got him back on his feet again).
I have to say, as experiences go, yesterday had to be one of the most colorful as we started with morning in class, popped over to “Wicker World” then met with Matthew Robinson, a British producer who’d recently shown his short documentary film about the local reaction to the Duch (Khmer Rouge torturer) trial which is presently going on.
We didn’t realize till we stepped into his plush air-conditioned office and were given a tour of his state-of-the-art studios that Robinson is not just a Brit with a camera. Turns out he worked at the BBC in London for more than 30 years as a director, has won several awards for his work and was the lead director of “The Eastenders” when it began in the 1980s (this will only mean something to my British mates, but it’s pretty impressive to those of us who enjoy their Brit soaps).
He was charming and engaging and told us about his 7 years living in Phnom Penh and how he planned on staying in a country which has so much potential and where he has been carefully documenting hundreds of hours of footage of the eagerly-viewed Khmer Rouge trial.
Ironically, the day ended when we went to Meta House (our favourite movie theatre on the roof of the German Goethe gallery) to see “Enemies of the People”, a film made by the Cambodian journalist, Thet Sambath, whose family was killed by the Khmer Rouge the 1970s. The film documents Sambath’s 10-year investigation of some of the chief instigators of the torture as he captured their commentary and confessions on camera.
It was a fascinating and gruelling production and the place was completely packed since the verdict of Duch is being held on Monday and interest is at a peak level throughout the country as this historic moment draws near.
So, as I reflect on our past 24 hours and 30 days, there’s one thing I have to say about living in Phnom Penh…
We are never bored.