Saturday, September 27, 2008

How Phnom Penh stole my heart (and camera...)

I find myself in the final few days of my extended stay in Phnom Penh - capital city of Cambodia. I have been here for over three weeks. Since my camera (amongst other things) has been stolen (more on that later) I'll have to attempt to use words to express how fabulous and filthy this city is.

I've been staying in Ellie's apartment on the fourth floor of a residential building near the river side and the old market (great for cheap rambutans, dragon fruit and bananas). Rambutans are my favourite, I am going to copy Gianna and put faces on them (this will be difficult, they are covered in hair) and post pictures as soon as I have a new camera.
The apartment itself is glorious and sparse, just how I like it, and has: 1 balcony which looks out over other people's balconies, this leads to much waving and laughing and great photos (which are now stolen) and 1 roof-top patio which is huge, and provides a 360 degree view of the city, from slums to apartment buildings, from low level markets, to the first (probably of many) high rise in this area, still under construction. Standing on that balcony, or that roof, is when I love Phnom Penh the most. Maybe because I'm not coverered in mud.

Mud. Phnom Penh is filthy filthy filthy. It rains all the time, and when it rains, all the rotting rubbish on the streets runs through them, and the mud and the blackest dirt I have ever seen. Unfortunately, in such rain, the only 'shoes' it seems prudent to wear are flipflops (given that they are plastic and don't mind getting wet), which has the significant downside of 'flipping' the dirt from the street, onto to the back of my pants, or legs if I'm wearing a skirt. Somehow the locals avoid this and arrive everywhere looking fresh, dry, clean and immaculate.

The locals. The people in Phnom Penh obviously range greatly - from the lady who stole all my things (a stupid bitch) to the children I've been working with at the shelter for ex-street children, who are the most fantastic, charming, tough, hilarious little people I have ever met and for whom I've extended my stay. They keep asking when I'm coming back and it almost makes me cry. There are also the ubiquitous tuk-tuk drivers, hassling me on every street corner "hey tuktuk lady!" "no thanks" "lady lady, where you go?" "no" and on and on, while I'm trying to hold a conversation with Ellie, with the tuk-tuk guy trailing and hassling along the way.

Along with the tuk-tuk drivers, I have never seen the difference between rich (myself, amongst others) and poor more obviously than in Phnom Penh. You can't eat a meal without a child staring at you and making hungry motions over their stomach. From an academic point of view (what else right) I find this interesting, as it means I have to face up to my own priviledge in a daily, habitual way, rather than just when I decide to go to the film fest documentaries. From an emotional point of view, well. It's really hard.

Phnom Penh is also filled with incredible beauty. Inbetween the dirt and the industrial slums, there are stunning temples, crumbling french colonial buildings, shady court yards, bright green trees with purple flowers, parks full of people flying kites and playing badminton, cafes cafes cafes, and the most physically attractive people I've seen in my life. There is also the sky which is extremely dramatic in these parts. None of that grey drizzle and lack of light you find in Dunedin. I've had showers with less pressure than the rain here. The chance of being hit, and killed, by lightning in Cambodia isn't actually as remote as you'd think - unsurprising, when lightning is striking literally every two seconds during a storm. And all this can blow into a perfectly sunny day within about fifteen minutes.


Finally, the undramatic tale of the theft of all my things:

I was sleeping on a mat, on the floor of the living area of Ellie's aforementioned apartment, in my underwear and a singlet top, stretched out in a ridiculous position below a rotating fan. My night, unusually, had provided a very sound sleep and it was only around 6am that I half-woke and in a blur, could see a woman standing at Ellie's work desk, looking over the contents.

She turned to me, and asked me something in an accusatory tone in Khmer. She was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, glasses and a ponytail and looked to be in her early 20s. It didn't cross my mind she was doing anything wrong - she must have walked in by mistake. This was, by the way, the first and only time we forgot to lock the door (we live on the fourth floor, through other peoples houses almost, so we weren't as concerned as we should have been).

I mumbled back something about "I live here with my friend Ellie" and pointed toward the door. She looked stunned (probably at my naivity, and my near nakedness) and promptly left. I was about to drift back to sleep, when I decided to tell the others. I went to the bedroom, stood there and said "um, guys, there was just a lady in the lounge" Ellie said ok and went back to sleep. Yami said "are you sure?" in a patronizing tone usually reserved for children, and I snappily replied "I know what I saw!"

On returning to the lounge, I wondered myself - am I sure what I saw? I have imagined things in the past, but really, this seems like a leap. Anyway, I'm tired. I lay back down and dozed for a while, rolled over and rested my eyes on the place I keep my camera. There was no camera there. Ok, stay calm, you probably put it somewhere else. No. I woke the others again "Guys, I could be wrong, but I don't think my camera's there" - this got them up, although they were still doubtful, and annoyed. We looked, no avail, and what did transpire was that my STA travel wallet (containing such items as my PASSPORT and TICKETS) and my actual wallet were also MIA. Shit. I freaked out. Cried. Got hysterical. Went to the pool and had a drink, complaining all the time about how middle class the lady looked and how she probably just needed some money to top up her phone.

Currently, I have a new emergency passport and can once again travel, thank god. The camera will take longer to replace, so I hope you can bear with me during the lack of images on my blog. Don't worry, most of my blogs will not be this long.

Much love xoxo


Lucinda said...

Holy crap. Phnom Penh sounds awesome with the noteworthy exemption of the asshole woman who pinched all your shit.


At least you'll have an Anthony-pants to hang out with soon! x x x

Anthony said...

Yeah! Me-pants! I'm a bit excited.

Leilana said...

Oh you-two-pants. What have I got myself into?!