Who’s got power?

This is a nice quick article that shows something of challenges of daily life and who has the power (in every sense) and the privilege.

Blackouts tell a tale of two cities–Phnom Penh Post article

Incidentally, we live in the section of the city near Tuol Sleng.  Yes, we’ve experienced crazy power outages lately.  But we live in a nice enough place that the landlord decided to rent a generator which has been keeping the power sort of on when the city turns it off.  Today, though, no water for more than eight hours! yii! យី!

Travel to the Provinces: the fit-as-many-people-and-as-much-stuff-as possible-into-a-15-passenger van

The motoscooter-taxi driver waited with me at the place where the “bus” for Road 4 was supposed to stop as he could tell I was anxious.  Various areas along the road function as makeshift bus stops.  The drivers look for people waiting for a “taxi” and the people also look for the “taxi.”  Apparently, I had the appropriate look and a van drove up, slowing to a crawl but never stopping and the back passenger door opened.  I asked the women sporting pink fingerless gloves and a round hat where the van/bus/taxi was going.  She asked where I was headed.  I told her and she said it was the right bus.  As the van was still moving slowly, I got in and sat next to her and next to a woman and her little (maybe 3 year old?) girl.


View from the inside of the van with a view of other fit-as-many-people-and-as-much-stuff-as possible-into-a-15-passenger vans

So far, it wasn’t bad at all.  The three of us and a middle aged woman in the front seat were the only ones on the bus other than the driver and the woman who sat at the door with her hand out the window showing four fingers, communicating to people on the side of the road we were going to route 4.  At eight in the morning, it was still cool and the bus was nice, not run down at all.  In fact there was a video player that the driver eventually turned on and showed karaoke, typically khmer tv viewing.

We kept going slowly down the street and picked up more and more passengers, just waiting at the side of the road.  A well dressed woman came in. (number 7)  Then there was a young man with two big bags of rice and another similarly-sized package. (number 8)  I was in the front middle seat so I couldn’t see what was going on behind me.  The little girl was very wiggly and very cute.  An old woman asked where it was going and then how much.  The girl said six thousand (equivalent of $1.50).  The women said no, five ($1.25) and was ready to let the bus pass by.  Okay, okay, she let her come for five thousand. (number 9)  People kept coming in, filling the back seat. (numbers 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15)  Finally, the bus slowed for a wiry woman who was adamant about her price.  After a bunch of negotiating, with her head turned away she boarded the van, sitting next to me and making the woman who minded the door stand with the door opened, holding onto the roof of the vehicle. (number 16)

After we got a bit further out of town two young girls boarded. (numbers 17, 18)  A more well-to-do couple also got on. (numbers 19, 20)  The wiry woman shifted up to the front and the two girls sat on two little plastic stools between the two front passenger seats.  The woman who sat next to me was taken by the little girl next to me.  The girl was fair with brown rather than black hair.  She asked the mother if it was hers and what nationality she was.  She told the mother the child was beautiful, so fair, and she couldn’t believe she was hers.  (This happened several times.)  By the time we were a ways outside of Phnom Penh, we had 23 people and some big bags of stuff.  People were sitting in between the front seats, two in the front passenger seat, and some were sitting on the floor of the vehicle in the way back.  Despite this craziness, I felt comfortable.

I realized that the fact I could understand all of the conversation made the experience much less intimidating than similar firsts I’ve experiences in other trips to Cambodia.  It was a welcomed change.

The way home was a bit different.  Although now I was already seasoned (well, with one trip under my belt), I wasn’t quite ready for the very different experience of the ride home.  The woman I had visited asked the folks inside a van which was stopped if they were going to Phnom Penh (but with the roads the way they are in Cambodia, there’s no other likely destination).  They said yes and so she opened the door and I climbed in next to a woman in the middle-back seat.  Early afternoon was not a pleasant time to be stuck in the van with a bunch of people.  It was very hot and very sweaty.  We sat there and I realized there was no driver.  I also realized that we couldn’t open the back sliding door from the inside.  When the driver returned he started the vehicle and zipped in and out of traffic passing on the right when it suited him and at the next small town had us all file out and climb into another van.  In this short ride, the van felt a bit like a death trap–no way to escape and no control over the decisions about when and where to pass.  This second shady experience helped convince me to find an alternative method of transportation.  And so the search for a car was born…

Freedom to Find Food

Freedom to Find​ Food: A Quest for Breakfast

It’s difficult to convey how invigorating and freeing it is to get a bike here in Phnom Penh.  Freedom of movement.  No negotiations with a tuk tuk driver.  No more nervous riding as a modtodop (motor scooter “taxi”) weaves through traffic, but finally sitting in the driver’s seat.  The first thing I do with this freedom?  Eat.  I ride around my neighborhood and check out lots of food stands, stalls, alleys, and outdoor restaurants.  My favorite is breakfast food.

Yes, there are plenty of fancy foreigner joints, but the ones I’m talking about here are the Khmer-style food stops.


DAY 2 – View from inside the “restaurant”

DAY 1: After I finally got a bike and could ride to work, I decided to seek out a breakfast spot.  The first day I stopped at a very small operation in which most people seemed to be getting food to go.  I saw a little table with just one woman and one chair free.  I asked what they had មានអីខ្លះ? (mien ey klas?) and was told it was បបរត្រី​ bah bah drey (fish-based rice porridge).  Sounded good to me so I wiped the chair and my spot at the table with the tissues available (as you do) and sat down.  I asked if they had coffee and the answer was (sadly) no.  Having sat down, I noticed that there were a whole line of people (4 or 5) sitting at a long table inside this tiny alley behind the “kitchen” (pots sitting on charcoal burning stoves).  The woman sitting next to me asked the owner (and cook) if she had seem me before.  No, never.  I interjected in Khmer that I only just moved nearby.  When I received the bowl of porridge, I took a spoon from the container in which spoons were kept.  The container is usually full of water as boiling water is used to sanitize the utensils.  You take the spoon and wipe it dry with one of the tissues on the table.  The tissues either go directly on the ground to be swept away later or if it’s a fancy place they provide a tiny trash can for each table.  I asked for advice on how to spice up the concoction, pointing to two different kinds of pepper sauces in jars on the table and asking which one is better.  It was a yummy cheap meal (I forget now, 50 cents maybe) but I had to stop for a coffee at another shop on the way to work.

DAY 2: I rode a bit further down the street and saw a “restaurant” well hidden but the sight of women grilling of pork on the charcoal stove right at the street caught my eye.  I asked if they had coffee and what else they had and sure enough they had had both coffee and my favorite បាយសេាចជ្រូ pork on rice.  I probably wrote about this meal during my other visits to Cambodia because it’s quite tasty.  What you get: a plate of rice with grilled sweet slices of pork, sometimes a little spicy sauce and green onion on it.  It comes with a soup that I never eat and the best part is a pickled garnish that you put on the rice.  This sweet and sour yumminess reminds me of pickled ginger at sushi restaurants.  It’s called ជ្រក់​and it’s amazing.  There’s usually pickled (or at least vinegary) carrot, cucumber and maybe ginger.  I usually need two little side dishes of it to make it through a plate of rice with pork.  This meal with the glass of iced coffee (what I always called vietnamese iced coffee in the States) is perfect.  It was pricier than usual – $2.15 for everything.  The place wasn’t packed but there were four distinct tables with young professionals I’d guess (office workers?), sitting eating their morning meals.


DAY 3 – Sidewalk breakfast spot

DAY 3: I couldn’t find that hidden, fancy spot so I rode some more.  I stopped at a place that sold baotze (chinese-style buns).  The cook told me these had duck egg inside.  She was also making sandwiches (very similar to vietnamese-style sandwiches) which wouldn’t work for me this morning.  I kept riding, looking for breakfast stands and saw a street side operation–a pretty big one.  They had three big tables or sets of tables.  The food preparation occurred at the middle set of tables and was likely a family working in a production line.  One man made the drinks.  A woman next to him was cooking.  Another woman prepared plates and another added the extras (like the soup and pickled veggies), and finally the youngest woman, the one closest to me, was running around taking orders and shouting them out to the others.  They had a display case with various dishes so I had to ask if they had my favorite.  Yes, they did.  And coffee?  Yes.  I asked where I should sit and she pointed to the spot right in front of her.  It was a bad spot for conversation.  No one else was at seated at the middle section, but a perfect place from which to view the operation.  I got the plate of rice with pork pretty quick, turned down the soup, and had to ask for ​ជ្រក់ .  The coffee required the woman second from the end, who was wearing a wide brimmed hat to shout out the order over and over កាហ្វទឹកដោះគោទឹកកក cafvway (dek) dah go de gak, cafvway (dek) dah go de gak.  “Hold on a minute!,” the man finally retorted.  I got it eventually.  The other tables were mostly full of men.  Older men in buttoned-down shirts sat at the group of tables to my left.  To my right looked like university-aged students in their white shirts and black pants.  There was a mother and child at the furthest table away but I couldn’t really see them.  A young woman came and sat a seat away.  She finished her food in a few minutes and left.

After enjoying my meal and the people-watching, I paid my money $2.15 and rode away on my little freedom-giving bicycle.