Unlike the layer of sweat ever present upon my forehead, the shine and glitz of Phnom Penh has begun to wane. What Crikey readers might view as an interesting odd spot most likely serves as a mundane daily annoyance to me.
Take shower heads for example. I concede I’m slightly tall, six foot or if I’m feeling really confident 6’1″ but I’m yet to find a nozzle that sits higher than my chest. This poses a problem as I thoroughly enjoy imagining I’m under a waterfall while I shower. I enjoy arching my back and thrashing my head as I run my hands through my thick wavy hair . The Decore shampoo commercial of the late 80s not only make a mockery of one of my favourite songs, Duke of Earl, it also parodies my showering experiences.
Squatting in the bath, (most baths double as showers) is awkwardly dangerous for someone of my height. I constantly worry that my feet will give way in the soapy water sending my legs into the air and my head towards any sharp edges below. One day I imagine being discovering tangled in a bloodied shower curtain, as the Duke of Earl plays loudly in the background. I take comfort in knowing my thighs will appear athletic after hours of squatting.
Speaking of squatting I’d like to turn your attention to bidets. Every bathroom worth its salt in Phnom Penh has a bidet. I’m all for using the bidet to wash floors but what really irks me is the user profiling my mind processes every time I reach for the trigger. Note to my mind: I don’t need to visualise the thousands of people who may have used this device, in close proximity to their privates no less, before my own personal use. Thank you.
I’m usually in the bathroom after an interrupted sleep in. Everyone enjoys a sleep-in don’t they? Well, almost everyone. At 5am in Phnom Penh street vendors will push their cleverly designed carts along the streets advertising their goods via low quality bull horns, cracked bells or worn voices. Chicken foetuses, fruit, bread, noodles, aluminium and cardboard collection are all on offer. All very endearing, just not at this hour of the morning.
And with the streets so crowded with manic merchants how do we efficiently commute around Phnom Penh? Let me tell you. Melbourne could only dream of the public transport reliability and quality Phnom Penh provides. Where else in the world would you expect to be asked for a lift only seconds after exiting a vehicle? The training and skill of operators is of such high quality that I have often not even removed my helmet before being propositioned.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Occasionally I find myself resembling Larry David desperately trying to explain the ridiculousness of the request with hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. Metro take note — it’s not often customers actually want services reduced.
The mention of Melbourne has reminded me of something: coffee. I love coffee and will usually consume four or five cups of the precious dark liquid before 11am. Street stalls sell coffee with fantastically creamy sweet milk that has the unfortunate name My Boy. What is even more unfortunate is the picture on the label — a young, blonde, blue eyed Aryan lad. Each time the thick milk oozes from its small tin I shudder with uneasiness.
With the abundance of My Boy you’d expect the demand for street coffee to be higher than that of a Pink concert ticket in Australia. I am here reporting that it is sadly not the case. Expats in Phnom Penh seem to enjoy their coffee experiences as bland as the latest musical musings from the pop princess. A coffee chain outlandishly named ‘Browns’ has a vice like grip on the expat market. These airport cafes come complete with free WIFI, tower computers, hunting cabin decor and overzealous staff. Clientele include the ‘who’s who’ of the expat community. Most likely the same people who own at least one Pink record.
But to find me, you’ll have to scour the street stalls of Phnom Penh. Just look out for the tall, half-washed guy, throwing back a coffee to help him cope with that 5am wakeup call.
Al Soutaris worked as a digital producer for Crikey before he abandoned us for his Cambodian adventures. He is spending a year working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as part of the AYAD program. Al runs the Tuk-Tuk Sessions project and writes at his own blog Little Kingdoms in Your Chest.