Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Four Months, Four Continents–Asia (at last!)

We finally made it!  It only took ten flights and sleeping in ten different beds over the course of ten weeks to get us into our own house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Admittedly, we’ve actually been in-country for about 6 weeks now.  But I wanted to wait and write until we actually were in our new home which only happened one three weeks ago.  And extra bonus, our shipment from Arusha arrived just the other day over a week ago.  Say it with me now, ‘EXHAAALLLLLE!!’

Even with boxes and bags still unpacked, it feels great to be in our own home again.  We can’t express enough gratitude to the people who have extended us warm hospitality over the past few months, especially our friends here in Phnom Penh who let us crash with them for 3 weeks!  Not only did they give us beds, 24-hr a/c and good company, but they also helped us get oriented and settled and made our transition all the more smooth. 

After about one week in-country, Millie started the summer program at her pre-school.  She didn’t like getting dropped off, but by the time I came back for her three hours later she was all “Mama, who?”  Those precious three hours allowed me to check things out around town and start preparing for the move into our new house (which we had settled on by week 1, but was not available until Aug 1).   The availability of *things* here is much better than Arusha, and even moreso than Nairobi, so you can imagine how well our savings account is going to fare here.  The restaurant options seem endless, as do the croissants, pastries, ice cream and coffees (now you know my priorities).   According to some long-term expat residents, Phnom Penh has developed at the speed of light (i.e. five years ago, there was only one ATM in town) and there doesn’t appear to be a slowdown.

Contrary to my over-prepared tendencies, I knew very little about Cambodia before coming here.  The only things that I knew about the place, for sure, were Khmer Rouge, its hot and coconut milk.   Honestly, I had no idea what lay ahead.  While hoarding and gorging back in America, Roger kept saying “I’m sure you’ll be able to get this in Phnom Penh, don’t buy 10 of them!”  He was a little more right than I’d like to admit (throws off the relationship equilibrium, right?) but not totally.  To be sure, it’s comforting to see so many familiar brands, like Pepperidge Farm, Pantene and Honey Nut Cheerios.  But also to see so many exotic and appealing things on the shelves and in the windows as well keeps my brain buzzing and anxious to get out and taste/see/touch!

So far the main exploration we’ve done is the commercial kind – supermarkets, restaurants, furniture stores, cafes, markets, restaurants, indoor play areas, pools and I think we hit up a restaurant or two.   We did manage a brief promenade around Wat Phnom where we saw Sambo the Elephant, but our interest was quickly diverted at the site of a colorful playground across the street.  But mostly we’ve been busy unpacking and setting up house while simultaneously keeping and active toddler occupied and content.

Pathetically, we haven’t even opened the camera bag since we’ve been here! Thus, no pictures in this post.  Hopefully, we can correct that wrong in the coming weeks as we settle into a more predictable routine.  But here are some tidbits about our life here:

- We bought a car from an outgoing German diplomat .  It’s a Hyundai Santa Fe.  But its in the shop now (part of the buying arrangement).  Driving here would be considered crazy by US standards, but having lived in Arusha, it’s probably just one notch worse than there.  At least in Arusha the road was sort of narrow so there was a limit to how many minibuses, motorcycles and non-motorized things could pass you going the wrong direction.  But here there are so many moto’s and tuktuks who don’t even hesitate to drive up the opposing lane of traffic to reach their destination that it can be intimidating.  Nevertheless, we’re braving the wild roads and driving ourselves (versus hiring a driver).  Everything we could possibly need or stuff our faces with is essentially within a 4 mile radius and I’m pretty comfortable driving that radius, but should we venture out beyond, we might want to pop a Xanax beforehand.

- We moved into a house that can only be described as an Asian Zen McMansion.  It’s humbling how big it is (5BR all en suite!) but we’re grateful for the space and unique design.  It stood out amongst all the houses we saw which boasted “Western-style” but were laden with heavy wood, dysfunctional layouts and general hideousness.  Plus, the house is designed to rely on ceiling fans and air flow to control the temperature, although every bedroom has an a/c unit, which appealed to us because electricity is expensive here.  This house not only has a one-of-a-kind design but also is located close to everything, including the shuttle stop for Roger’s bus to work!  We live directly behind the Phnom Penh-equivalent of Target.  But we also live next door to the Passport Office, so it keeps the street kinda busy and loud during the day (supposedly its relocating next month  tho, according to the goss on the street!).  We can walk to so many things – supermarkets, ice cream shops, cafes, art galleries, boutiques, the dr’s office, toy store and the trendy artsy street.  And so much more if it weren’t for the pesky heat/humidity.

- The Heat. [enter drama queen].  Holy beads of sweat, it’s hot here!  Granted, its no worse outside than sticky summer on the East Coast, but I basically function in a constant glowing state and have never taken a warm shower here (I take like 3 cold showers a day).  In the house, if you’re not moving a great deal and the fans are on, its comfy.  But climb one flight of stairs and you need to reapply your deodorant.

- Croissants, baguettes and coffee are on every single corner and every single one is delicious and seductive.

- Roger likes his job.  He has a 1 hr commute each way, but luckily its on an aircon’d bus so I haven’t heard much complainin’.  The court here is much smaller than the one in Arusha which I think he appreciates.  Nice co-workers, nice boss, nice office, depressing work topic – what more could a guy ask for? Oh, and his office has a/c which basically makes it paradise.

- The currency here is the Riel but most everything is priced in US dollars.  I have had a few things quoted to me in riel, but usually its in dollars, esp if its over $2.  When something costs $4.50 and you pay with a $5 bill, you will get 2,000 riel in change (bills, no coins here).  Or when you want to pay the exact amount, you pay with $4 USD and 2,000 riel. 

- The national language is Khmer (pronounced kuh-mai) and we only know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank-you'.  I am quite intimidated to learn the language…. I have never ventured into the non-phonetic pronunciation realm of languages (except for French, but I basically just speak Spanish with a French accent to get my point across).  English is more widely spoken here, as far as I can tell, than it was in Tanzania, but then again we’re in a capital city so that probably has something to do with it.  With so much English around, let’s just say it’ll likely be hard to motivate.

As I wrote all this and re-read it, it was just the kick in the rear I needed to have me climb the stairs (sweat), unearth the camera (while sweating), check the battery (sweat bead down my back), descend steps to office in search of battery charger (sweat abating as I enter breeze from fan) and plug in the battery (start running cold water for my 2nd shower of the day).  Hopefully, next time you come 'round we'll have pictures to inaugurate a new home for the blog (which, btw, I need serious help setting up.... volunteers??)! 

From the month of April until the very first day of July, Millie and I will have had our feet on four different continents in as many months.  We start in Europe, return to Africa, pop over to North America and then eventually land in Asia.


  1. YIPPEEEE You are posting again
    Cannot wait to travel vicariously through you again!

  2. Wow, this is incredible. I would love to meet you in person some day to see if you are as level-headed and fearless as I imagine you to be. :)

    I can't wait to continue following along as your family's adventures land you on yet another continent. (And, of course, I'd like lavish descriptions of all the French-style pastries you have ahead of you!)