After six demanding weeks in southern Africa – with passport stamps from South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe – it was time to head for the relative peace and tranquillity of South East Asia.
So I retrieved my suitcase in J’Burg and flew to Phnom Penh on 28 January 2013. Why Cambodia? The people are friendly; the food is fresh; the weather is hot and humid. Further, it is cheap and an easy place to live, as I had discovered my first trip here in 2006.
My $342 a month pension from Canada, for example, covers the rent, electricity and a bottle of single malt. And it is more than most people here make in a month. The street – and the poverty that goes with it – is very close and I’ve gotten to know the people who live at the garbage dump. Consequently, I never forget – not even a nanosecond – how fortunate I am. White, educated, and good passports translates as absolutely nothing to whine about.
More on the Kingdom
Cambodia is sandwiched between Vietnam to the east and Thailand to the west. The country continues to struggles to recover from the ravages waged by Pol Pot and his henchmen from 1976 to 1979. During this short time, they exterminated about 25 percent of the population. Educated people were on the hit list and the country has yet to develop an intelligencia. The Killing Fields and the torturous Toul Sueng Museum are now major tourist attractions. The skulls and long bones on disaply are a touch overwhelming.
Phnom Penh, the capital city, is a rather faded, dusty, run-down city with its own version of charm and contradictions. The French designed wide side-walks for elegant promenades; the rich Khmer – as the people here are called – park their 4X4s on them. What pedestrians? Tuk-tuks and scooter taxis are everywhere, and to walk to the end of the block screams “abject poverty.” So if I want to go to a restaurant down the street for lunch I have to walk the gauntlet of tuk-tuk and moto drivers who all vie for my attention.
The infrastructure is just sort of there. The electrical wiring – true to form in most of South East Asia – is an amazing maze of wires that seem to go everywhere and anywhere. But it works and that is all that counts. Cambodia is one of the few countries where you can waltz in on a business visa and buy an extension for a year. No need to go anywhere near an embassy as any travel agency can arrange it.
The Nurse – as we call her because she is one – and her partner Andrew –came to my 60th at Victoria Falls and arrived in Phnom Penh via Bangkok a few days after I did. It was wonderful to have company as I settled into my new home. We wandered around and acted like tourists for the month they were here.
Within a week I found a small apartment – think large hotel room – in a serviced building that would do. I gave the place a good scrubbing before I unpacked. The housekeepers now come in twice a week and my standards have taken a serious hit on the cleanliness scale. The lease ends on 4 May and I will move on.
I’ve been writing travel pieces and teaching a few English classes. As is my MO, I’m beginning to develop a network of contacts. Other plans in the works are to start writing Internet articles about local businesses and to crack into editing documents and websites written by the locals. When I lived in the Middle Kingdom in 1986-87 I swore the Chinese wrote the worst English in the world. Now that I live in Cambodia, however, I stand corrected.
Stay on the page as there are more episodes to follow now that I have a blog. More on that in the next post.