1st Place winner in the Cash for Christmas competition
Last week my mother told me she has cancer. She lives 10,000 kilometres away. On Tuesday my mother was poked, prodded, scanned and operated on. She lives 10,000 kilometres away. Yesterday my mother told me they don’t think they got it all. She lives 10,000 kilometres away.
I’m new to this expat lifestyle. I’m only six months on the job. And I was finally getting good at it. From initial months of homesickness, house-hunting, job searching, friend making, acclimatising - then acclimatising again once the rain went away – I had finally found my stride. “Check me out, I live in Cambodia. Those 10k km? They ain’t got nothing on me.”
2nd Place winner in the Cash for Christmas competition
Dear Canadian Friend,
I understand you’re moving to Phnom Penh – excellent choice! The grilled bananas are to die for. You’ll no doubt be dying to visit Vietnam too, and you’ll likely make plans to travel there not long into your stay.
On your way to the travel agent to apply for the visa, two men will pull up beside you on a moto and try to grab your bag from your bicycle basket. Being a street-smart and travel-savvy woman of the world, you will have tied it down pretty well (nice work!) in anticipation of just such an event.
3rd Place winner in the Cash for Christmas competition
We were awakened in the early morning hours by our camp crew banging on cooking pots, yelping “WHOOAH” and whistling. Sticking my head out of the tent, I squinted through the darkness and the smoky vapour trails of the three large campfires that had died out in the night, trying to figure out what fresh hell was happening, when our lead worker Mr Kan appeared through the gloaming to excitedly yell at me, “Damrei!!!”
Oh, right. Elephants.
Zen - A mind at peace. A place of clarity and reason found amidst the chaos of reality.
Cambodian roadways - Total lack of rhyme or reason. Sheer madness.
My first trip to Cambodia in 2001 was a lesson in freeform transportation. There were no reference points for how things worked on the roads here but it felt at times like a live version of the old video game Paperboy. “How aren’t there stacks of twisted vehicles along every roadside?” I thought. Upon arriving in Kampot I decided I could venture out on a rented Honda Cub. Things moved so slowly there that it was easy to steer around the pigs, carts and occasional moto, I began to think I was getting the hang of it. Until I got back to Phnom Penh.
When my husband informed me he had been offered a job based in Singapore I was taken aback. We had never planned for a move abroad and I did not know what to think. As it sunk in I started to wonder how I would cope, if I would make friends, would I be able to get around, would I get a job and many other, at the time, frightening thoughts about the whole thing. In due course I arrived and, of course, settled and I’ve realised that with, over a year here now under my belt, how I’ve developed and what a blessing for me personally the expat experience has actually been.
I recently moved to Phnom Penh to manage a large finance team of talented Khmer accountants. I always knew there were going to be cultural differences and I haven’t been let down on this front. They particularly enjoy bringing in weird and wonderful local cakes and delicacies, which often turn out to be vomit inducingly horrible and I now dread the sight of when they approach with proud faces and a plate of something nasty. Of course their intentions are extremely kind and I do my best to swallow and smile.
The girl stepped out of the building, her arms heavy with the weight of the bags in her fatigued hands. She looked up into the gray sky and saw water drip down from the dark clouds. It was a soft rain at first, and then harder. In fact, it was so hard she nearly gasped; she had never seen rain like this before. The airport seemed feeble under the storm, and the little plane that plopped the girl into Phnom Penh, Cambodia from Taipei, Taiwan was already long forgotten in her mind. Her luggage was everywhere—it seemed to have tripled in volume between Los Angeles and Phnom Penh.
Two weeks is what it took. Two months later, I don’t know why it took that long.
Before I elaborate on the above abstract sentence, I shall give a very brief description of myself. I am male and I am Irish. Those two words should already evoke a general enough idea of my appearance; freckled, grey eyed and dark haired. Or in short, white. Yes, I am a whitey. A cracker. (I can say those words because I am white, but if anyone else says it they are a “racist”). And in this part of the world, apparently, I am somewhat an exotic looking cracker.
I parked my cruiser just beside a few single-story monk’s houses, which were huddled under the lonesome, low hill Phnom Bok. The monks in their saffron garbs crowded all around me, because they have never seen such a bike and they began to wonder about it: how much was it; how much gas does it take; what is the engine capacity and how fast does it go; where am I from; how old am I; and do I have a wife and how many children…
All sorts of questions and from all directions were falling down on my head in a Pidgin English so much so that I could barely return the answers.
For the Western mind, it's fair to say that things work strangely in Cambodia, some would say in reverse. As the cliché goes, Cambodia is a country of stark contradictions and there is no better symbol of this than the traffic of Cambodia's chaotic capital, Phnom Penh.
The stuff of legends, traffic in Phnom Penh can best be described as liberal, at worst, all out anarchy - where vehicular laissez-faire mixes with rigid SUV authoritarianism depending on what side of might you find yourself on in the event of an accident.