Notes From Observations & Incidents in Cambodia

“Hello Ambushes,” a phrase coined by foreigners describing the frequent and sudden exclamation of “HELLO,” occur whenever a barang, or foreigner is seen.

White skin is taken seriously here. I feel like “the white man” coming to an ancient civilization via extensive exploration of the world on the Mayflower. Okay, an exaggeration, but really, white skin is coveted. It’s nearly impossible to find a lotion or body soap that doesn’t include whitening ingredients. Also, children will caress my arm and say, “same same monkey!

It’s low season for tourism. That means a very limited number of foreigners. Phnom Penh does have a huge ex-pat population though. I’d say that actually about 2-3 neighborhoods here are dominated by ex-pats. However, we live about 15-20min away from any of the fun or exciting restaurants, stores, etc. that are in any of those neighborhoods. Apparently our neighborhood is straight K’mai.

Foreigners are honored here, whether they’re invited into a home, to a meal, or to a wedding! I got Emily, Brain, and myself invited to a wedding reception of one of my co-workers whom I hadn’t even met yet!

K’mai delicacies are not exactly what Westerners would consider to be delicacies. Spiders, grasshoppers, liver, frogs, snake, insects of all kinds, and my favorite, unborn or fetus duck egg. As gross as it is, a few of these delicacies actually portray some of Cambodia’s recent tragedy. Food telling history. During the Khmer Rogue, most of the population who survived were forced into the countryside and jungles of Cambodia. There, they had to fend for themselves in terms of food; that meant literally anything edible.

The city/province deal of Cambodia is unlike any other country I’ve visited. So the “province” basically means the countryside, or anywhere except Phnom Penh. Cambodia is made up of many provinces, much like states, that are all pretty rural and situated entirely in nature. Essentially, the entire population is from these provinces and some have moved to Phnom Penh, making up the population of the city. Of course, some have been born and raised here, but for the most part everyone was born and has family outside the city. During the most recent holiday, PP was empty because everyone had gone home

Rice. Everyday, every meal, rice.

Karaoke is everyone’s favorite pass time or nighttime entertainment here. Especially the men.

The average Cambodian’s day is broken at 11AM when nap/lunchtime occurs and then commences again around 1PM or 2PM. I will say that they do wake up very early, beginning their day around 5AM or 6AM.

The current ruling party of Cambodia, and the ruling party for about 30 years now, is the Cambodian People’s Party. CPP signs are posted everywhere – on every corner of the city, and every few kilometers in the provinces.  You’d think with all that money allotted to posting huge signs everywhere that the government would have enough money to bring their people over the poverty line. Also, every government worker or official and their family members own Lexuses or other expensive, imported cars. As if that isn’t enough, many put the logo of the vehicle in huge print on the side of the car. So as you’re watching a tough, high-level government official driving around in the most soccer-mom transportation on this planet, you wonder if he really thinks he’s cool with a big “RANGE ROVER” on the side of his car….lame.

The rich/poor gap is out of control. I could go into further details but I’ll save it for another post.

For young adult men and boys alike, the metro style is favored amongst them. They have a lot of influence from Korean pop culture, but still, it’s not exactly the most attractive look for any young man. Flamboyant haircuts, colorful and very tight clothing, and they’re always topped off with a unique cap.

Finally, being harassed by tuk tuk drivers everywhere. The ones on our street have stopped bothering me once they realized that I just walk to and from work everyday. But I swear if I hear, “TUK TUK. LADY TUK TUK. TUK TUK LADY,” one more time….

Bridget T., Cambodia


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