Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Benefits of Unemployment

I recently started working again, after just over 3 months of unemployment. Over the last 3 months I have run the gamut of emotions over the situation from elation to despondency to dreaming to excitement to fear to insecurity to security to worry to hope to peace and so on.  I have also had a lot of time to think about what kind of work I would like to do and how I would like to do it.  Considering that we spend the majority of our waking hours at work, we’d best believe that what we’re doing is important and derive some satisfaction from it.

In the interim, I decided to come up with some benefits of being unemployed, to remind myself to be content and make the most of my situation.

This is my list so far..
  • you can enjoy early mornings without having to rush off, clutching bag, keys, half eaten breakfast and hairbrush..
  • early morning bike rides where it doesn’t matter if you get lost and have to dodge piles of fruit and vegetables while keeping an eye out for big trucks
  • you discover new interests such as short animated films e.g.  "Invention of Love" 
  • there is more time to explore in a meandering, unhurried way
  • there is more time to dream, ponder, take photos and write
  • there is plenty of time to connect with people and arrange spontaneous visits
  • being the only unemployed person you know means spending great deals of time alone which leads to many fascinating conversations with strangers and fortunately, a few new friends along the way!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

 I discovered some new artists last week who I really wanted to share and have also included some long standing favourites. This week's playlist is a mix of indie, acoustic, ambient, folksy songs although I'm never quite sure how to classify genres.  In any case they're a good soundtrack for daydreaming, writing and feeling happy:)

I love discovering new music so if you have any recommendations for me I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Besides owning your own car or scooter, there are a number of ways to get around in Phnom Penh, all with inherent pros and cons.

You can walk: you'll arrive looking like a hot mess (literally) but it's a great way to take in the varied smells, sounds and sights of the city as well as become better acquainted with the layout.

You can ride a bicycle: again, you'll arrive looking like a hot mess with helmet plastered hair but the landscape is very flat so it's not a very strenuous ride.  At least, unless you land up on a bustling street during morning rush hour and have to dodge piles of fruit and vegetables, fresh produce sellers, dogs and rumbling trucks.

You can take a tuk tuk, which can get expensive if used frequently but is an enjoyable way to get around, especially when the owner has kitted it out with flashing lights and tinny music.

You can take a cyclo which is similar to a rickshaw but is a chair attached to the front of an elevated bicycle.  A number of guidebooks and people will suggest it as a slower means to get around, allowing for picture taking.  i however haven't ridden in one yet, mostly 'cos I feel I little uncomfortable about someone having to exert so much energy to get me around.

You can take a motodop, i.e. a scooter, which is what I use quite a bit.  It's cheaper than a tuk tuk and I thoroughly enjoy the experience of whizzing around (actually not whizzing, they go quite slowly) town. In my experience, the drivers are great and most of the time know the place I'm asking them to take me to.
A problem I have encountered on a few occassions is a driver saying yes to my request and en route realising he has no idea where the place is, which has resulted in a few comical situations involving an exhange of apologies( "Sorry!!! Somtooh!" on repeat), stopping frequently to ask strangers for help and much broken Khmer from my side and broken English from his.

There are always a number of drivers wanting to transport you from the moment you step out your front door.  I don't really mind who I go with, as I said they're mostly great.  There is one driver who I now try to avoid though, with limited success.  He has one eye, which makes me a little doubtful of his depth perception, a key skill in busy traffic.  After getting horribly lost with him and learning of his poor track record in finding places, I vowed to avoid him.

Last Sunday I stepped outside, planning on visiting a church quite far away.  I was already running a bit late and waved over the first driver I saw.  With a sinking heart I realised it was the one eyed man who'd tricked me with his eager wave and cap partially obscuring his face.  As there were no other drivers in sight I resignedly asked him if he knew where a school called called Northbridge was, as the church was near there.  He confidently repeated my question and nodded vigorously.  So off we went.  When he took a left turn I thought, "I'm pretty sure it's straight but maybe he knows a shortcut." When he took another turn in the opposite direction thought, I started laughing and thought, a little desperately,  "I think we're lost but he seems really confident, maybe it's a different route."  He drove up to Hope School (nowhere near Northbridge) and the conversation that followed went like this:

One Eyed Moto Man (with a flourish of his arm and great pride in his voice): Northbridge!

Me: No, no, not Northbridge, Hope.

OEMM: (another flourish): Northbridge!

Me: No, I want to go to Northbridge.. uh.. Knom (I) uh.... tiw (go) uh... Northbridge.

OEMM: Northbridge!!

Needless to say I never made it to church and arrived back where I started a few minutes later, to the great amusement of the security guard!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Phnom Penh Timelapse

A few weeks before I moved to Phnom Penh I was floating around on You Tube, as one does and came across this Phnom Penh City timelapse.  Watching it made me even more excited for my impending move.  I rewatched it this afternoon and it's great recognising a few places but also reminded me of things I still want to do here, like aerobics in the park and a visit to Dreamland amusement park.  The video gives a pretty good overview of the city and was made to "represent the pace at which the city is changing."  If you follow the link to YouTube it'll tell you a bit more about the video.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On My Mind: A List

I love when you find a shirt that has a list of cool things..

I love lists.  I love the simplicity and brevity of points on a list and I love the way each point can represent so much.  (Might I add, I am not talking about grocery lists or to do lists, although they’re also fun to make).  I mean lists of favourite books or best spoonerisms or travel destinations.  Imagine my delight at finding sites like or where you can read or create lists for any topic you can dream of!

Whether informative or serious or funny (personal best), lists make me happy.

And so, this is a list of my current preoccupations:
  • drinking cappuccinos in air conditioned coffee shops
  • delicious fried rice from the Russian Market
  • learning Khmer
  • Engrish eg. "The place where a fresh smell always lives" (on my notebook)
  • culinary delights (post of their own)
  • cute stationary
  • sustainable development and social justice
  • missing friends and family in South Africa
  • taking photos on the “toy camera”setting
  • making friends
  • writing
  • wondering (and hoping) if I’ll ever earn money from writing, photographing, travelling and spending time with people
  • finding a job
  • taking off on a bicycle without wobbling
  • mentally editing other people’s websites/blogs
  • daydreaming
  • Pinterest
  • breakfast wraps
  • checking for comments on my blog

Culinary Delights Part 1

One of the benefits of being unemployed is that no meal is ever rushed.  Consequently eating is even more more enjoyable than it usually is.  At a restaurant you can take your time slowly reading over the menu, imagining each item before making a choice, at the market you can choose the freshest looking fruit and vegetables, at the shops you can enjoy the air con while drifting up and down the aisles and at home you can relish the process of deciding what to cook and then chopping, stirring, experimenting.  Flavours, smells and textures are savoured and appreciated to the full.  

In my time here in Phnom Penh so far I have discovered some culinary delights which must be shared:

Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit is actually a type of cactus and is full of nutrients.  It is sweet and crunchy and delicious.  It's flavour reminds me a little bit of a kiwi fruit. To my surprised relief, all those tiny little seeds don't get lodged in your teeth, always a bonus.

Iced Coffee 

This picture does absolutely no justice to the awesomeness of iced coffee 'cos I gulped it down before taking a picture.  Here's a picture of a full cup:

It's basically just black coffee with lots of ice and condensed milk and it's addictive properties go beyond the obvious abundance of sugar and caffeine. At 2000 riel (about R3,75), it's a great find!  I have never really like iced coffee until my friend Dan introduced me to the simple pleasure of a hot waffle and cold coffee on a Saturday morning.

Spring Roll Ingredients

My attempt at making a Spring Roll

While the picture above looks disturbingly like a larvae, it is in fact a spring roll, and a a delicious one at that.  The process of creating such a masterpiece goes something like this:

1. Look at all the delicious fillings (Picture 1)
2. Feel excited
3. Take 1 disc rice paper and dip in bowl of water
4. Attempt to lay soft, sticky rice paper on plate
5. Peel sticky rice paper off fingers and lay somewhat smoothly on plate
6. Put every filling available in centre of rice paper disc
7. Roll up, folding edges roughly towards the middle (Picture 2)
8. Dip in sauce while trying to catch escaping sprouts
9. Eat in one swift gulp OR
10. Try to bite and enjoy sensation of dipping sauce trickling down your arm while chicken makes one last bid for freedom.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The One About The Language Lesson

My history of learning languages is rather checkered. In Grade 8, I spent French lessons delightedly saying "Comme Ci, Comme Ca" in answer to almost any question and hoping Mrs. Stubbings wouldn't ask me to read aloud or say anything in French (other than Comme Ci Comme Ca).  Afrikaans was spent gossiping in semi hushed tones or reading my English book inside my Afrikaans one.  As for Zulu and Xhosa, my skill is questionable at best.

Now I have started Khmer.  I meet one on one with a tutor, Mr. Socheat and this time around I am determined to become proficient in another language. 

I've had a few lessons so far and Mr. Socheat very graciously refrains from laughing at  my pronunciation and prompts me when I stare blankly in response to his question.  Realising that the key to language acquisition is practice, I set off a few days ago determined to try out my newly acquired Khmer on the first moto driver I saw.

Except I completely chickened out.  After he dropped me off, I paid him, mumbled "Arkuun"(thank you) and set off to explore Street 178.  Since then I've overcome a bit of my shyness, thanks in large part to the appreciation Cambodians show when I attempt Khmer, as halting as it is. I can now say hello, goodbye, tell my name, order fried rice, fried noodles and iced coffee, and a few other useful things.  I can't wait for the day when I no longer need maps and handgestures.  Mr. Socheat includes historical and cultural tit bits, like the fact that the societal structure is all about status and hierarchy and different classes of people as well as different genders get spoken to with different words.  A point of amusement for me is that an upset stomach is referred to as Vietnam stomach but a healthy stomach is referred to as Japan stomach.  Good to know!

Speaking of lessons, I have one in a few minutes.

Cum lieheay!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Jaunts around town and the verandah

self explanatory

At one of the temples, which I thought was a palace!

A somewhat blurry night shot from the verandah

National Museum

Today's sunrise
Todays'sunrise 2

Today's sunrise 3

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

On April 17, 1975, a former school in Phnom Penh was reopened by Pol Pot as a centre for the "detention, interrogation, torture and killing after confession" of enemies (real or perceived) of the Khmer Rouge.  Pol Pot ruled the country until 1979 and after he was deposed Toul Sleng was turned into a museum to document the incredible suffering the Cambodia people underwent during his rule.
As the brochure I picked up there said, the point of the museum is to "[keep} the memory of the atrocities committed on Cambodian soil alive"as it is "the key to build a new strong and just state.

As you can imagine, being there was a very sobering experience and getting a glimpse of such oppression is quite heart rending.  A few pictures will hopefully convey the the experience better than my words could.  A good first person account of life under the Khmer Rouge is a book called "The Killing Fields" by Haing Ngor.