Being in Phnom Penh is like co-habiting with small children. Noisy, sticky and exhausting. Almost everyone wears brightly coloured pyjamas. It is baffling how little I’ve fallen down. I imagine this is how new parents feel. Running around in a frenzy and wishing they had a camera because ohmygod didthatjusthappen? As such, cameras need to be super-glued to hands in case of emergencies and sudden wonder. Otherwise you’ll end up crying like a working mother who misses her kitten’s first steps (the TV tells me this situation is most upsetting and to be avoided at all costs).
Let it be abundantly clear - in no way do I believe the people of Phnom Penh to be at all like infants. Except the children - they are quite a lot like infants (as are the monkeys). Nor do I doubt the maturity of the city as a whole. This is not some sort of colonial evolutionary development crap. I am just trying to apply a witty metaphor, which is something that writers sometimes do. I should also point out that while in Phnom Penh, I have been co-habiting with actual small children and this may have had some influence on my experience of the city. Yay for disclaimers!
There’s nothing like a public pool to remind you of the gravity of tiny children. They fucking well drop out of the sky onto your head. When I was younger and less refined, I used to enjoy this activity greatly. My mother would try to do laps and I would pretend to be a mermaid that was being locked in her room by the fascist mer-king who also happened to my father. This, apparently, involved lots of getting out and jumping back in while screaming. Public pools in Cambodia are no different. I tried to swim laps but karma slapped me in the face with a child wearing an inflatable ring.
Driving out to the country is like hiring a babysitter for the whole weekend. See how I picked up that parenting metaphor again? Fucking literary genius. You head off without the kids and you think, yep, I’m going to get so much done. All you do is sleep. I mean, you try and work on your novel or whatever, but it is impossible to remove your head from the lumpy pillow. Hours go by and you just lie there, staring at the ceiling and remembering the feeling of privacy. So this is what it’s like to have a door that locks.
I’m in Svey Reing, three hours and a ferry ride outside of Phnom Penh. Nestled in the rice fields, my dad has built a house, complete with pot plants and chickens. He comes here to work. This ‘getting away to work’ thing is a trait my parents share. Imagine a holiday in Disneyland. In between roller coasters, one parent is on the phone making a noise like a frustrated horse and the other is typing madly and muttering I just have to finish this report for the minister. These are the holidays we all dream of. Is it any wonder I have decided to spend a semester on the other side of the fucking world?
There were grand plans. I was going to take award-winning photographs. I was going to write the most hilarious blog any of you have ever read. I was going to soak in the culture and weather till I was fat with rice and sweat. Instead, I lay on some sheets decorated with puppies and chickens and watched season four of True Blood.