Sent: 10 April 2005
It’s day seven of CNN becoming Pope Channel, and M and I are rapidly settling in the expat Cambodian lifestyle. Fairly unsurprisingly, Phnom Penh is absolutely different to what I thought – I was expecting everything that we need to do to be much harder. Quite embarrassingly, practically everyone that you need to deal with in a meaningful way speaks English, and being able to pay for whatever you need smooths things over a great deal. I also didn’t expect the supermarkets to be so well provisioned with things like ice cream, cheese and fresh milk – I’d steeled myself for going two years without.
The only thing that proved my expectations true is that whole place is filthy with monks. There is a pagoda within spitting distance of wherever you are in Phnom Penh. You can’t go around a corner without seeing one doing something incredibly photogenic. They could be playing soccer with a dead puppy and they’d still look like they could make the cover of National Geographic.
M and I have started learning Khmer (the national language) to little ill effect. There’s about 20 consonants and 40 vowel sounds, most of which are either nasal or sound like “auoue”. I haven’t managed to embarrass myself completely yet, but most khmer people tend to tolerate me speaking to them because most of my interactions involve me paying money for something.
After about four trips to a real estate agent, we’ve secured ourselves a house. This involved a few afternoons cruising Phnom Penh in the agent’s Camry and a 3-phase bargaining period to achieve our aim of the landlord buying us a washing machine and connecting 64-channel cable tv. Phnom Penh is about the size of central Melbourne with Richmond tacked on to it, and we’ll living the bit where Richmond would be (just south of Mao Tse Toung Blvd, if you’ve been to Cambodia). We move into the house after Khmer New Year (which is practically all of next week) on the 20th – I’ll send photos and further description of its manifold foibles then.
We’ve rapidly inveigled ourselves into the expat scene, insofar as we’ve ditched our plush hotel to house-sit for a pair of Australians who are so generously funded by the UN that they have a guarded compound built of solid rainforest teak and a cat that has a higher protein intake than 80% of the Cambodian population. Their cat (“Gimlet”) was desexed last week by a vet that charged 3 months of an average Cambodian’s income for the procedure, so the impetus is now on us to not let it die. They’ve gone home for the Khmer New Year period – apparently everything is going to be closed next week, so I’ll be pretty happy staying in their airconditioned comfort abusing their gigantic pirate DVD collection. In a very odd coincidence, the house that we’re renting is about four doors down from theirs.
Must not let the cat die.