Old Assembly Building, Phnom Penh

Hello from hot and sweaty Phnom Penh! A lot can happen in ten days and indeed since I arrived I’ve been busy gettin’ busy with taking in this wonderful new city, establishing a place for myself, starting an internship with International Bridges to Justice, grasping my first 15 words of Khmer, and a whole lotta learning about Cambodia by meeting and talking with people and making new friends.

Pork & Noodles

Like landing in any new place there are so many new things to take in, it’s hard to know where to begin. I mean…  how does one describe a city, let alone a country or a people?

I would start with the smells. Mmmmm! Delicious warm foods like soups, fried pork and rice and noodles followed by fumes and interspersed with sewage finished by the scent of incense dancing through the air.

It’s just not really all that blog-able.

Lunch Counter at the Market

The good news is that I landed in Phnom Penh and climbed right into Mr. Phea’s tuktuk taking in my first views of the city and signing a lease to a great two-bedroom apartment thanks to the gracious hosting of Jui and Nick and the blitz and determination of my fab new roommate and fellow Fletcher ’11 Marianne.  Wow it’s so much easier to get to the fun parts when you don’t have to reinvent the expat wheel all over again.

View riding in a tuktuk

Not that I haven’t had my share of fun on the oft unintentional city tour navigating the streets of Phnom Penh with moto drivers who say they know where you want to go but really just want to go. Fortunately, between a misguided moto driver, a lost newbie, her map, and the help of another 10 or 12 Cambodian friends along the way, you will always arrive, it just might take a little longer than you were expecting to get 8 blocks from your original destination.

"Moto? Moto-bike lady? Moto-bike?"

Speaking of which, the driving  in this city is remarkable! People said the traffic might be worse in Phonm Penh than the deadlock and congestion I remember in Bangkok but I can’t imagine that’s true. Phnom Penh is really quite a small, manageable city, and the traffic is filled predominantly with motobikes, some tuktuks, a good number of bicycles, and very few cars compared to the United States. It’s refreshing, save for the epic pollution produced by the thousands of tiny unregulated motorized bikes.

And where some might see total mayhem and anarchy, I find the method to the madness of motos shifting  in and out, coming and going in both directions on both sides of the streets and the clusters that pause at stop lights and gas stations before flowing like herds to the front of the traffic packs to be an impressive and interesting form of organized chaos to watch.

Not to mention the incredible numbers of things you might see on a moto on any given day. The first day I arrived I saw an entire family of five on one moto and on another a person carrying a 14-ft ladder upright on a moto through rush hour.

This is not to romanticize the risk of traffic accidents and health hazards in this system, especially as I set sail into the pack on a three-speed bicycle and $3 helmet myself. There are plenty of downfalls as well. Lack of mirror and helmet usage, pollution, traffic violation enforcement, and no form of public transportation in the city could all be improved.

With all this transport talk you might ask, where am I going and what I have I been up to!?  Here are some highlights from my first ten days in Phnom Penh…

  • Going to the Russian and Orusey markets to bargain for sheets and towels, soap and shampoo
  • Joining crews of expats at bars on the Riverside and relaxing by the pools off of Norodom
  • Attending the “theater” to see the Phnom Penh Players perform a cabaret
  • Sitting in the shade or AC of coffee shops sipping Khmer coffee – strong coffee on ice with sweetened condensed milk –  to evade the 100 degree weather
  • Sweating at the AC-free office while learning about the Cambodian legal system and way of life from my colleagues
  • Dancing (and sweating) like mad at the Pontoon club floating on the River and a glimpse of the popular TinyTunes breakdancing crew

Breakdancing w/ a few from TinyTunes

  • Taking a tuktuk from the office to evade the daily downpours and street floodings of the rainy season
  • Bicycling to the stadium for a weekly game of patanque – a game similar to Bocce ball, played typically by Cambodian men
  • Haggling with moto drivers and turning down a marriage proposal from one of my regulars
  • Eating dinner at any of the delicious Khmer, Indonesian, Thai, or Euro-American influenced restaurants and off the street vendors while catching-up on interesting and funny foreigner stories of the day
  • Strolling through the Royal Palace and posing in photos per the request of people I do not even know
  • Blowing kisses to the kids I pass on my alley each afternoon while their grandmother laughs hysterically

Monk with Umbrella down the alley