a blog from the balcony

We arrived back in Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon and have retired back to room 31 (13 is seen as unlucky here too) after another tough day of relaxing, people watching and eating. On our arrival back at Bluelime we were placed back in the same room as our previous stint here a few days ago – on our return from the massage parlour this afternoon (an official one, thankyou) the staff informed us they had moved all our stuff to a different room. I had that moment of panic where all thoughts went back to the safe and my passport that I had left for ‘safekeeping’. For a while it wasn’t clear what had happened to our belongings but all worked out fine and the passport is back safe in my possesion. The reason I tell this tale is due to the title of this blog.

After being moved from a perfectly adequate room slightly lower down, we now find ourselves on the top floor of the guesthouse in a much smarter, airy reside that has a small balcony overlooking part of Phnom Penh city. As I write this a spectacular rainstorm is drawing to a conclusion, with the odd clap of thunder and flash of lightning lighting up the sky of this cool city. These little twists of fortune are just adding to my growing affection for Cambodia.

This afternoon was spent getting a traditional Khmer massage. Now, I have only ever had one type of massage before and that was in the hands of a lovely, middle aged chiropractor that took great pleasure in cracking my lower back into place after something went playing cricket a few years back. This was a slightly more relaxing affair – even if I did spend the majority of the ninety minute rub down trying not to giggle at her tickling my feet and lower legs. As anyone that knows me in a ‘certain way’ will profess, I am stupidly ticklish when it comes to the lower parts of my body. (Sorry mum)

We left Siem Reap yesterday morning for the return leg back to Phnom Penh. This is just a little stop over before we set off an a bargain $4 bus ride south to Kep and Kampot. They are small, coastal resorts that should be much quieter in terms of tourists. Our last night in Siem Reap was spent getting native. I wrote an earlier blog about Chinese people and their love for outlandish seafood. Now, here in Cambodia they enjoy a little bit of seafood too. Kep is infamous for its love for crab and fresh prawns. Down in Siem Reap we took our seats at another street food stall. We had gazed down from a bar the previous night and agreed that a traditional Khmer BBQ was a must.

It’s quite a smart set up – they bring out a tiny gas BBQ and place a large bowl on top, with a towered section for you to cook the meat on yourself. Cooking the selection of meats ourselves, we feasted upon chicken, beef and pork along with the seafood options of prawns and squid. Peer pressure was on and I was forced to try squid – I lie a bit…..they were such small portions, I didn’t mind trying. I reckon I would never try a whole brand new dish alone for fear of going hungry! I’d imagine that the embarrasment of leaving a whole dish untouched would be terrible. Besides, being on a strict budget on this trip, throwing away a whole meal would be sacrilege.

Eating this dish on the street gave a perfect chance for more young Cambodian entrepreneurs to practice their English and selling skills on us. One lad who claimed to be sixteen managed to hang around long enough to talk me into a best of three game of noughts and crosses. He said that he won then I would have to hand over a dollar. When I asked what’s in it for me to win, he paused, before grinning and replying ‘You get peace and quiet when I leave you alone!” Great answer – safe to say I was a dollar short a few moments later as he ran off to buy powdered milk for his baby sister.

Now reading this back home you are probably thinking what I would be thinking – there is no baby sister and he just wanted money. Before this he even asked me to go to the shop for him to get the said product, naturally being in the middle of an Angkor beer and a mouthful of chicken and noodles I wasn’t going to be moving any time soon. I even offered some food – he rejected, saying he was fine but was just out for his mum to get powdered milk. Again, he may of been fibbing, but the story and the fact he wanted me to buy it for him struck a bit of a chord. He was a funny lad, with great bantering skills and actually provided some entertainment for us over dinner in what was just another street stall. Once he beat me at noughts and crosses, we shook hands and he ran off a dollar up.

In other countries I have visted I have been very anti-hand outs. I feel they breed a society of acceptance to give up and beg full time, which is no way to encourage people to stand on their own two feet. However, these kids are out on the street trying to sell bits and bobs of general rubbish and do it in such an impressive, entrepreneurial manner that it is hard not to give a little when they give up many minutes of their evening. Another thing I have found myself doing here is giving away the last of a bread roll or a mouthful of drink from a water bottle. I’ve never done that before in other places full of beggars such as Marrakech or Chennai or wherever, but for some reason I am mellowing in Cambodia. I’d never give a free handout of money, but if someone is so desperate of a mouthful of clean water or food then I feel fine about handing a little over that I don’t need. When we were at the bus stop in Phnom Penh waiting for our bus to Siem Reap I gave a little girl and her baby the last bit of my cheese sandwich – her face was a picture as she skipped off down the street, happy at a bit of food.

And that’s the thing about this part of the world. There are beggars, there is poverty. Yet everyone seems so happy just getting by – they don’t want riches, just enough to survive another day.

And perhaps that is why Khmer people come across as very content people.


4 Responses to “a blog from the balcony”

  1. 1 michelle
    October 19, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Nice work Rich!

  2. 2 Harvey
    October 19, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    The baby milk scam is the oldest trick in the book. You buy them the milk, they go off with it, and when you’ve gone, they take it back to the shop, where the shopkeeper buys it back off them for a percentage of the original purchase price. Both shopkeeper and tout are happy, and so is the tourist, who thinks he’s done someone a good turn. I got done like that in Sri Lanka a few years ago.

  3. October 19, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Haha! Trust you to know the tricks of the trade, Harv 🙂 At least I didn’t buy the milk, a mere dollar lost on a game of nought and crosses (which incidentally he knew he would win once i’d placed my first nought down!)

  4. 4 Donna
    October 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Who cares if it was a ‘scam’…so is western capitalist advertising… children begging to survive…!! I am glad you are giving what you can when you can..where you feel you can…its no easy thing to witness injustice and inequality up close and personal…on the rant! Great blog Richard..love the photos… and delighted Cambodia is looking after you and your ticklish bits (sorry Rich!!!). XXXXX

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