Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting more comfortable here

On the ferry with Anika, shes also doing some work for IDE but sadly had to go back to the US
On a ferry over the Mekong to Svey Reing
Lunch with Tammy who I met in at the hotel in Phnom Penh

Very Random Drag show I saw with a bunch of people saturday night-yup thats a dude- bet you didnt expect that to show up on this blog, more pictures later but Im running out the door to grab some dinner!!

I feel a lot more comfortable in my new city this week. I can’t believe another week has passed! This week I have made some new friends, looked at lots of apartments, done some work, traveled out to Svey Rieng, worn holes in my city map and scoped out some fun places to shop!

I can barely remember last Monday at this point- but I did see an apartment that was about as far from what I was looking for that day, so that was a bit of a let down. But I have enjoyed many luxurious dinners al fresco in big wicker chairs with cushions. I will have to take some pictures because when I have a house with outside space, I want it to look like that. This city is a fusion of rough edges and sprawling luxury. There are places that are best not frequented like the areas near the smelly canal and tight alleyways filled with motos and mechanical shops, but there are also so many delightful places that I can stay all day in, like the fantastic cafes here and grand avenues that you could stroll down if it isn’t too hot and sunny out.

As my second week here comes to a close, and the third one starts (because Im late posting this) I am so relieved to feel a noticeable difference in my comfort level with living in this city. I’ve done a lot this week. I have been doing a lot of reading for my literature review about Cambodian culture, and even traveled out to Svey Rieng, a town near the border of Vietnam, where my work has a lot of projects going. I did a lot more apartment searching and have even picked up on a few words of Khmer. I’ve enjoyed having a lot of great conversations with travelers and my new friends her alike! I didn’t really do anything touristy this week but I feel like I am getting to know this place a little better!

I’m home. I have finally moved in and am enjoying my first night in my new apartment. I didn’t spend too much time here tho because I am still getting used to having the place to myself. I sorely miss the company of other travelers at my previous home here, the mad monkey, but I like the fact that I can come back to a clean and quiet place that is all mine. I brought two stuffed animals with me on this trip, and I vowed I wouldn’t take them out of my bag until I had gotten an apartment. Well, I broke down and took Spike the porcupine out a few days ago and snuggled with him at the hotel, but I didn’t take out the other animal until today. It made me realize that home is where you lay your head. I made the Mad Monkey my home and have spent many more nights there than I have at my apartment thus far. Despite my yearning for a new place I do miss the familiarity and smiling faces that greeted me every time I walked into the hotel. The nice this is that I can go back anytime I want and grab a drink and lounge on the couches at the rooftop bar! Calling this apartment home is not to mean that my home isn’t still with my friends and family back in Boston. It is merely a way to create a bit of comfort here since I will be living here for six months. I like the feeling of living somewhere rather than the feeling of traveling through some place. I enjoy going to the same café week after week and seeing familiar faces around the neighborhood. Yet here in Cambodia I get to have both. I continue to get more and more familiar with the city and have been trying new places to eat, but also I have been going back to some of the same ones that I really like.

Tonight I tried a new place over by the riverside. It is called Le Moon, and is a rooftop café. I saw it advertised in one of the little travel guide books they have here. The atmosphere was really nice, you can easily people-watch, see all of the cars driving up and down the street and the boats floating down the Mekong. Unfortunatly the wasn’t that good and it was a bit overpriced, it also was the first place that I have found that doesn’t serve you a glass of water with your meal, as is customary here, for their largest bottle of water they were asking $6.00. To give you some perspective on how ludicrous that is, one could eat three local meals of noodles or rice for that price, take 6 moto rides across town or eat the equivalent of two large breakfasts at any other restaurant. I got a pineapple shake instead which wasn’t that overpriced and cost about $3.00. On my way home I stopped at the little market on my street and bough a 2 litre bottle of water and a 6pack of toilet paper and that cost me under two dollars, with the bottle of water costing just 50 cents.

Anyhow that place wasn’t even worth writing about. A much more worthy place is Blue Pumpkin. It is a café that serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner and some deserts that look to die for. The nice thing about Phnom Penh is that there is no shortage of great coffee shops to sit in and there is always a tasty treat and a cup of coffee near by. Blue Pumpkin takes the cake! It is situated right on the riverside and the upstairs part of the café provides the perfect vantage point to take in the riverside views but away from the glaring sun. Their café is lined with the comfiest bed-like sofas that come complete with pillows a plenty and your own tray- like the kind you would eat breakfast in bed with!. I spent hours there on Saturday eating some lunch and reading my book.

Some cultural observations if you will: In some places instead of napkins they will give you a box of very thin and scented tissues to wipe your hand with, this usually leads to me having a rather sizable pile of them stacked on my plate by the end of the meal! Even if you have just gotten off of a tuk tuk or moto bike some one will inevitably yell towards you “Tuk Tuk, Lady?” I hear it about 20xs a day and sometimes I scowl and sometimes ignore them and sometimes I say “no thanks.”

One must go against everything you have been told since a little child in regards to crossing the street. You see Asian traffic patterns are much MUCH different than American ones. People cut people off here all of the time, but it doesn’t bother them one bit, they just either wait or cut around someone else. Road rage doesn’t exist here. It was explained to me that in many Asian cultures they feel that they are part of a community and don’t have the same strong sense of indidivudalism that Americans are raised to have. They don’t have the concept of its my space or its my turn, they just get from place to place how ever they can. So when crossing the street one must just stroll out into traffic at a slow and steady pace and the traffic will just flow around you, unfettered by the obstacles- being you and other people, dogs, heaps of trash, etc… in their paths. The trouble comes, when you slow down or hesitate because then it will spook the oncoming drivers and then you might get into some trouble. Another fascinating thing is to observe the driving habits of the tuk tuk driver or moto drive you are with. If they are trying to take a left, and the traffic is heavy, they will most certainly turn left into oncoming traffic until they can make their way over to the right side of the road, and this works everytime because they cars just drive around as obstacles come at them. A word on rotaries, or roundabouts as some people call them: I always thought that traffic was supposed to flow in one direction, I know that people in Massachusetts sometime have a hard time grasping the concept of merging into to rotaries in a timely fashion, but mostly everyone drives the same direction around them. Well my friends that rule does not apply here. Since Cambodia is a former French colony, there are many wide and large rotaries similar to the ones that can be found in France. If you have not visited either Cambodia or France, Imagine one 3-4 x’s as wide as an American rotary. So, if a driver doesn’t feel like driving all the way around the rotary to get to the offshoot that he needs, he will just simply drive the other way and cut directly across the rotary, once again cars just all drive around one another weaving to a fro. This strategy is in part made possible by the very wide rotaries.

This coming week I plan to make it to and from work, on my very own. Hopefully with a little practice, some key khmer words and a map I can make it there and back! I will also continue to work on my research, hang out with new friends and settle into my new place!

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