July 28

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From the Pearl of Asia – Cambodia on my mind #1

My first three weeks in Cambodia and I have decided that I am going to make a list of the things which are going to surprise me, excite me and of course confuse me. I am open and flexible, but I am sure there would be some remote really far events which will impact me negatively… What an optimistic human being! So let’s start this list with the aim to get over 200 points in 6 months!

  1. No shoes. The freedom of getting into the office and leave your shoes under the desk. Yes, I can see at least two of my UK colleagues smiling at this exact moment. Since I was a little girl, I remember playing in front of my house without shoes and I have always being allergic to wear them – yes, with exception of really high heels. I also move with probably 5 pairs of shoes, being sure I would have not needed them.
  2. Cambodians are not loud, they just speak loudly. Let me give you some examples. At one end, I have always thought Italians meeting can be really loud, people jumping on others to talk, at the other end, regardless from which country you are coming from, the typical almost 50 years old insecure man who laughs really loudly or talks at a really high tone to make sure everybody knows what he is doing. Well, walk close to a room when they have just a Cambodian speaking meeting: you would hear a symphony. Different voices, strange sounds most of which I can’t replicate, all in harmony. It’s fascinating!!!! All of this brings me to number 3
  3. Learning some Khmer words – Stay tuned for my first Khmer class but for now! Gender is quite important in this language. Don’t assume you can say yes in just one way! If you are male the word for ‘yes’ is pronounced ‘baht’ as in the sound of a sheep followed by a hard T. If you are female the word for ‘yes’ is pronounced ‘jah’ as in the first part of ‘jar’.
  4. Wifi are not reliable, but your iphone signal works on LTE! Phonm Penh is well connected, no issues to find free wifi. However the new frontier is the LTE signal. What is LTE? Don’t worry I had to google it too! LTE stands for Long Term Evolution, and isn’t as much a technology as it is the path followed to achieve 4G speeds. Bear with me on that…. But I promise that my iphone has never been so fast!
  5. Pick pocketers! A really sensitive matter for most of the expats I have been talking to and they made me nervous too. The number of expats in Phonm Penh has risen lately and the effect of this wealthy immigration didn’t just touch rents in specific luxury areas, but also the number of pickpocketers. People know, I have been travelling everywhere in the world and I have never been busted… Well, maybe just once… In Switzerland! UFF! Ok, I’ll shut up then. All I wanted to say, up front, before the next six months. Please stay away!! Otherwise I will ask all my Italian friends, family and the entire country to come and pick you up!!! I love my 100% being Italian when comes out!
  1. The traffic in Phnom Penh: it is unbearable, not because chaotic, but because you have to be part of it, otherwise it’s like a videogame:  you are going to be trashed by motorcycles, bicycles, tuk-tuk. Try to walk on a pavement that doesn’t exist or at the edge of the street. It doesn’t matter; you will always feel like a lost Pokemon in the wrong level of the game. I am still questioning myself if I should buy a bicycle or a scooter. I don’t have the answer yet, but in any case, I know that I have to learn how to play videogames.
  2. Contraception. During my first visit in the field, I participated to one of the women training on pregnancy and contraception. It’s usually held in a community or small village, with the aim to help women to understand how to take care of their health and her body. It was striking to see how women, regardless of where they come from or what they do, they are always worried about the same side effect or the same potential discomfort. “ I have heard that the pill can make you gain weight. Is it true?” I start smiling when the translator told me that, I thought how many times western women have the same conversations with doctors or girlfriend. Women are women wherever we live or come from!
  3. Chicken Castration. Yes, you read right. After my lovely afternoon talking about family planning, we moved to the livehood program where not only women are educated on how to farm crops or have a successful harvest, but also how to vaccinate animals and castrate chickens and pigs. And for the first time in my life, I had the joy to assist to a live chicken castration. The experience itself, I believe it had been more epic for me than for the chicken. He was really  loud when the lovely girl was trapping his wings and legs up and then silence… yes, silence! You won’t believe it, but apparently it’s painless for them. Now, I am not an expert and I am just reporting what I have been told – I would like to avoid any kind of discussion on animal rights.  I will save you from watching the video of the entire surgery, but I will keep it as a proof of evidences. Write me in private if you want to have a special movie night!
  4. House hunting. For people who moved many times, like me,  there is nothing new. You call agents.  You check blogs, FB pages, ads. But the new add to all of this, it’s house hunting riding a scooter or tuk tuk. One afternoon and two agents after, I viewed 20 flats, learned a lot about the estate agents world in Cambodia and how expats flats look exactly the same!  After two weeks of doubts and questions about sharing or getting a flat by my own,  I have my new Cambodian shelter! Happy Simo!
  5. Rainy season. I was expecting storms and thunders everyday. No, the rainy season is not that rainy anymore. At least in Phnom Penh, where rain falls every couple of days and it’s bringing a lot of worry in people’s lives.  As in the best movie, I can see 4 old Cambodian men sitting on a bench looking at the sky, shaking their head: “Uff, it’s not the old rainy season we are used of anymore.”

This is all from the Ratanakiri province where I am now!!!  Get ready for my adventure with old women smoking special leaves and chewing tobacco!

To be continued