Wednesday, May 30, 2007

second chance at a first impression

now that i've been here almost a week, i've got an impression of phnom pehn that extends beyond what little i had gathered by my initial blog entry. just as i first deemed, there are still heaps of people, cars and trash. but with my newfound acclimation to my surroundings, i'm better able to discern the fine subtleties that are starting to endear phnom pehn to me.

first, the people:
true there are a good amount of people everywhere, some scuttling to and fro, others just languishing in the heat. but the cambodians i've encountered thus far have all been gracious and helpful, despite my sometimes painful inability to communicate my needs. take for example my arduous attempt at acquiring a pack of matches the other day. i approached the streetside vendor on the corner of my block in need of a case of water and some matches. the water was easy enough: i pointed to a stack of bottles and smiled. the matches weren't quite as visible, so i spent the better part of the next few minutes doing my best impression of lighting a match. i kept miming a little box, stricking the side of it with my other hand and making a "ffsshhh"sound to indicate my imaginary match had been lit. in a game of cranium, i would have easily won the charades round. but in the streets of phnom pehn, i just looked like an idiot. thankfully some nearby kid eventually recognized my gestures and, laughing, pointed to a bag of matches that were (embarrassingly enough) hanging right in front of my face. the vendor couldnt help chuckling too, but when he saw my cheeks flush pink he quickly righted himself and offered to carry the crate of water all the way up to my apartment. most others i've come across have been just as friendly (and forgiving) and have made my transition smoother than expected.

now for "cars":
the city of phonm pehn is overrun by a gaggle of "vehicles" ranging from your standard western-style SUV to bicycle-driven carriages and everything in between. the most common mode of transport, though, is the moto - a smaller version of a motorcylce that can (somehow) fit up to 5 passengers (trust me, i've seen and counted). to say that crossing a street full of lil bikes zipping around is challenging would be like saying the choking heat and humidity is just a minor bother. every pedestrian trip from point A to point B is like a high-stakes game of frogger. except instead of a lil frog crossing a few lanes of traffic that all moves in the same direction, you've got a lil ghazaleh jerking back and forth across an indeterminate number of lanes (no discernable dividing lines that i can see) full of vehicles that move in whatever direction best suits the driver. i would need at least three heads to properly gauge the safest crossing maneuver, but having only the one, i just clench my purse close to me, take a deep breath and hope for the best. so far so good (and actually some fun), but i should stay alert, as a splat in this game of frogger would take more than just a few more quarters to restart.

and finally, the trash:
i would be remiss in my full description of first impressions if i failed to mention the trash in this city. if there's a system for its collection, i've yet to determine it and and the prevailing method is that of tossing it on the side of the road. sure, it's usually bundled up in trash bags (before the stray dogs get to it), but it can accumulate to heaping proportions by the time the guys with a small truck and woven baskets come around to scoop it up. and there's no limit to where you can drop your garbage off. in front of your house, in front of someone else's house, a random street's all fair game. of course, there must be some perspective in this matter: a corrupt government with a weak/nonexistent tax base can hardly be relied upon to efficiently deliver essential services. and as a "resident," it's pretty convenient to just walk out and drop my trash wherever. but as in the middle of the day, when the sun bears down on the pile of trash outside my apartment and send it's sickly aromas wafting my way, the last thing i can think about is the convenience.

so there you have it, my friends. my second first impression of phnom pehn. and for those of you who know my gastronomic tendencies don't despair at the lack of food descriptions. that one merits it's own forth-coming entry!

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