Ratspotting

Originally sent: 12 May 2005.

About this series.

I spotted my first rat on the way to work this morning which was the size of a small pony. It was headed in the direction of my house. Things bode ill.

I’ve just finished my first few weeks of work and it has been incredibly hard and exhausting. I’m the only native English speaker and despite the excellent language skills of my compatriots, I’m still not sure if people understand me or are just agreeing with me to save face. In the process, I swear that my ability to speak Khmer and English is rapidly declining. My position description is ill-defined and so I’ve spent most of the time meeting with people in the vain hope that they can tell me what I was hired for.

I seem to have been hired in lieu of getting cash from AusAid to pay for the projects that I should be working on (marketing income generating activities and the organisation generally). So at this stage I’ve got no funding to immediately implement anything at all. I’ve still got to meet with the chief accountant to see what I can squeeze out of the existing budget until the next round of funding in July. On the up side, everybody seems overwhelmingly pleased to have a Westerner to display at meetings and I do get the standard Cambodian two hour lunch break.

SCC, the organisation that I’m advising, is doing some fascinating work using Buddhist monks to implement HIV/AIDS prevention and care activities in Phnom Penh, Siem Riep (near Angkor Wat) and Battambang – so there will be monk stories aplenty in the coming months. I saw a monk smoking a cigar while talking on a mobile phone but didn’t think that it was prudent to take a photo because it was during a staff meeting with him.

To keep myself busy outside of work, I’ve bought myself a mountain bike for the regal sum of $35 so that I can immerse myself in the sheer lunacy of peak hour in Phnom Penh at speed. Rumour has it that you drive on the right hand side of the road but I can neither confirm nor deny this. Right of way is granted to whomever has the heaviest vehicle travelling at the greatest speed, regardless of signage, red lights or any other man-made barricades. Despite driving like the possessed, everyone acts courteously when you cut them off or run them down.

Speaking of barricades, if you have a wedding, you can erect the marquee for your hundred guests across the entire street in front of your house to further mar the flow of traffic. One was built on my way to work complete with separate catering tent, golden stupa, styrofoam Angkorian ruins and traditional Cambodian gamelan band; all scenically located within vomiting distance of the miasmal open sewer. Short of building the marquee directly over the top of the roiling sewer, there wouldn’t be a worse place in Phnom Penh to spend a few days in a tuxedo or wedding dress in the 40 degree heat.

Apart from the catering tent.

180 degrees of housing

M and I moved into our house about two weeks ago. Our landlord lives next door and he is the nicest man in Phnom Penh, possibly because we pay him ten times the monthly Cambodian minimum wage for our house. When we arrived, he had already done about four of the tasks that we thought would be a real hassle with our substandard Khmer, like refilling the gas bottle and getting some spare keys cut. Another expat lives upstairs. The bathroom is a vision in lurid maroon. The whole house is tiled, so we can just hose the place out when the dust gets unbearable.

My two favourite beers at the moment are Love Beer (because let’s face it, who doesn’t? It even tastes like love) and Black Panther Stout (because The Man can’t keep the black beer down!). I’m also a bit partial to ABC Stout because their advertisements feature a Cambodian guy who looks like James Bond pimped out like Snoop Dogg. Confusingly the two top-selling beers here are Anchor and Angkor. Thanks to the infinite wisdom of Khmer pronunciation, “Anchor” rhymes with “ranch or”; and “Angkor” rhymes with “Anchor”. Angkor also means about five different things depending on how you pronounce “or” and thankfully none of them are mortally offensive when you slur drunkenly. You really can’t go too wrong either way, when it costs $9 for a whole slab.

In corruption news, the Cambodian Government just signed a 30 year agreement leasing Choung Ek – the Killing Fields Memorial and grimly popular genocide tourist attraction – to a Japanese company for $15,000 a year. The site is currently clearing a $20,000 per annum profit, not to mention that for better or worse, it is a vital piece of the Khmer peoples’ public heritage. My only guess here is that the Government knows that some sort of tourism apocalypse is headed for Cambodia (like a bird flu outbreak or a Commonwealth Games) because the tourism market has been growing at 100% per annum for the last 4 years. I smell a rat larger than a small pony.

Previous post in this series | Next: “They can’t drink the alcohol or woo the ladies”

I like your old stuff better than your new stuff.

I get this, often.

Writing was more of a priority when I was virtually unemployed in Cambodia with no responsibility whatsoever rather than holding down a full time job that I enjoy and being a somewhat responsible parent. Circumstances have changed a little.

Like anyone who writes, I’ve got a whole lot more unpublished old stuff.

Group emails are what convinced me to publish. It took me almost a year in Cambodia before I was convinced that anyone would care about anything that I wrote on the back of about half my friends saying “you should publish this”. So I’m going to publish the original pre-Phnomenon group emails in weekly increments. The first one, out this afternoon, is from almost exactly eight years ago. It’s where I got the title for my blog from. Most of the early ones make me feel like I was much younger then and worse at stringing words together in a coherent fashion.

If you like my old stuff better than my new stuff, it will be like communing with the dead. Reading back through it makes me realise I’m a completely different person now. Some of that is better, some is much worse. You get to decide which.

Footscray Market – Opening Hours, Christmas 2012

In what is fast becoming a tradition, my local market, , has failed to post opening hours anywhere online. Opening hours for the market over the Christmas/New Year’s period 2012 are:

Monday 24 December (Christmas Eve): 7:00am-4:00pm
25-26 December: Closed
Thursday 27 December: 7:00am – 6:00pm
Friday 28 December: 7:00am – 7:00pm
Saturday 29 December: 7:00am – 5:00pm
30 December – 1 January 2013: Closed
Wednesday 2 January: 7:00am – 4:00pm

The regular opening hours for Footscray Market continue to be:

Tuesday and Wednesday – 7:00am-4:00pm
Thursday – 7:00am-6:00pm
Friday – 7:00am-8:00pm
Saturday – 7:00am-4:00pm

Christmas opening hours in 2013

Australian food blogging list updated; no longer tracking freebies

I’ve updated my Australian Food Blog list: it will forever be incomplete but the best that I can do. I’ve decided to stop tracking bloggers who receive free meals, cash or other incentives in exchange for writing posts because I can’t keep up with them and for the most part don’t ever read them.

It’s safer to assume that all do or will unless they categorically state otherwise.

Bloggers that aren’t open to free things are incredibly rare; probably numbering less than a dozen amongst the entirety of Australia’s hundreds of food blogs. Australia doesn’t have an independent food writing community, we have one that is increasingly bonded to the restaurant industry, corporate PR and advertisers. Some of this is positive: more insider views from the food industry; fascinating feedback loops between diners and chefs; blogger-led events; deeper criticism of marketing tactics.

[pullquote position=”right”]Just as an aside on the probiotic juice: I can’t imagine the scale of the legal risk when a company is not correcting false health claims made by bloggers that it has sponsored to post about it. Probiotics probably don’t do anything. [/pullquote]

Most just adds to the Internet’s neverending pile of detritus like another few hundred gushing reviews of probiotic juice and dim paragraphs for Urbanspoon.

Recompiling the list made me realise is that how little diversity there is amongst the Australian food blogs. Almost all either contain unfocused restaurant reviews or random recipes but it makes the ones that don’t stand out gloriously: local blogs like Fitzroyalty or Footscray Food Blog, the callous wit of cooksuck, or the short-lived noodle illustration blog.

When most people are inspired to write a food blog, they’re more inspired to clone a food blog that already exists. Part of this is natural. It is much easier to sate the urge to start a personal online food diary rather than it is to plan for the future of a blog or pick a particular, sustainable niche that won’t bore you to death. Part of it is slavishly following convention. I own the same f1.4 lens that everyone else does and that influences the terrible short depth of field cliché shots that I take.

A good deal of the blogs on the list are no longer updated, but I don’t want to remove them. I’m trying to work on a solution to auto-update the list by frequency of posts.

How to introduce your two year old to Malaysian street food.

Wonton Mee, Malaysia

1. Buy a street food.

Street food for kids

2. Hand over the chopsticks.

So, I had a kid and thought that I should mention it for when she’s old enough to ask about why she’s not in any of the blog posts, which will be soon now that she can negotiate devices with screens and understands conceptually that the Internet exists, and it’s where Bananas in Pyjamas live. I’d been avoiding it until now so that I could hold back the unrelenting tide of parent blogger PR spam. If you think that I don’t care about your new seasons menu, imagine how little I care that your pram comes in a new shade of Viktor&Rolf.

There’s probably a few intervening steps in introducing you child to street food, such as trying to explain how she can use chopsticks or eat chilli, but frankly, I have no idea how any of that happened. It’s not like I’ve been recording every moment of this.

As much as I’d like to say this is why I’ve slowed down my writing, it’s really not. Food blogging is of as little importance as it ever was. It’s worth reading Jess Ho’s piece about breaking up with her other blog. I feel the same, although they’re also the perverse reasons that I push on with it.

#WEFO T-Shirt

A while back there was a discussion amongst West Footscray locals about the etymology of the suburb’s abbreviation “wefo”, a discussion started by its commodification by this $65 cushion from design gallery Post Industrial Design. I’d first seen the suburb referred to as WeFo in an email from November 2008 so the abbreviation’s history predates its growing popularity as a hashtag on Twitter and at a guess, probably started when people began to feel uncomfortable about gentrification and needed an ironic response.

And what’s more ironic and discomfiting than buying it, and wearing it on a tshirt.

Click through on the below images to buy in your choice of colour and style. Prices start at $17.