Phnom Penh and the tuk tuk wars

Hearing children’s laughter inside this school turned prison/torture chamber sounds perverse, as if though those laughing were ghosts of students past before they knew what awaited them.

The irony of the place it was gives it is morose charm. I feel like I can still see the blood, smell the sweat and human misery, hear the screams…After all this Khmer Rouge regime just happened. If I thought WWII was recent, then this is yesterday.

After seeing the beautiful national museum with all the magnificent Khmer sculptures and carvings taken from Angkor, an uplifting experience, I find myself in the midst of death. The sign above the doors to each classroom, where you can find all different types of torture machines, signals a cross over a laughing face. Please don’t be joyful in here. It’s a lack of respect.

In spite of the horrible recent history and it’s extreme poverty, I like Cambodia. It has an authentic feel that I was unable to connect to in Thailand. As all former French colonies, it has the juxtaposition of its architecture in a tropical climate. Feels a little like New Orleans –less beautiful, but more charming. It also has more NGOs than local businesses I’m sure, and I wonder how good that is for the actual development of the country.

Staying in a hotel with a river view is quite nice, and I love strolling up an down the street in spite of the crazy hollering tuk tuk drivers who are more overwhelming than anywhere I’ve been before. You walk by and you hear a chorus singing “tuk tuk lady?” the answer is no. But the one sitting right next to him will ask you again, and so will the next one, maybe hoping you’ll get exasperated and give in. I was having lunch at a restaurant and one of them crept in through the plants to offer me a ride! I was eating in a closed space and almost threw my coke in his face. But the heat is too much. I cannot afford go around throwing away precious drinks that way. If I ignore them they will make a hissing sound, like saying you rude mf. If I say no they ask again. If not tuk tuk it’s motorbike lady?Madam?

I met a man from Kenya who is running a beauty salon in the city. It was quite interesting to hear his tale of all his friends who marry Cambodian women. Apparently they press him to do the same, but he says the idea of having to maintain her and her family in exchange for her love seems too morally perverse. He also says he is sometimes not allowed in bars or restaurants, but he’s not angry about it. He says he knows it’s the owners instructions, not the employees prejudices, so it makes no sense to get enraged.

In spite of the heat, I could see myself living here. I’m assuming if I had my own motorbike the harassing would cease to exist. It’s small enough, cozy enough, and developing enough for my taste. And the Cambodian smiles are a breath of fresh air after the indifference of Thai faces and the glaring Indians…