Saturday, April 5, 2008

One-week anniversary!

It's my week-plus-one-day anniversary of living here in Kampong Cham, and it's high time for an update...

So far, I've been settling in nicely. My first two nights, I stayed with Kurt, who I find is actually a volunteer and ex-advisor at my NGO, and not the director as I somehow got into my mind. He has a beautiful big house a little ways outside the main town on the new national route 7 (or big road to Phnom Penh).

Now, I've taken care of most of the basic necessities: shelter, water, food and even have a few other goodies like transportation, a mosquito net and a toilet brush!

I'm living on the top story of a 3-floor house "behind the old prison" (basically a small ruin of a wall) on an unpaved, unmarked road which also serves as home to a few other foreigners (mostly NGO workers, a few hospital volunteers, and a couple of Bible-thumpers across the way). Brigitte, the Dutch woman whose role I'll be taking over, currently lives next door, and the new volunteer Elaine will be taking over her place. My landlord is awesome -- he's a nice grandpa with 4 daughters and 5 grandchildren and he speaks some English. The house is a ruckus, with "servants" and family coming and going all the time. I also just found out there's a Korean girl (a nurse) who lives in a small room downstairs.

The apartment is 3x bigger than my place in San Francisco and quite nice. Outside, there's a big iron gate, standard for most houses, that gets locked at night. The front driveway is tiled with lots of potted plants. To get in, I walk back to their patio (where they're often cooking in big pots outside) and enter through their house to the staircase and then up the two flights to my pad. My kitchen has a refrigerator and running water and an ancient rice cooker that may work. Brigitte's been donating some house supplies to my cause, so I have some basic utensils and plates, and I picked up a couple of knives and other sundries at the market. I also had a water filter brought from Phnom Penh which makes my water taste like rocks, but hopefully does away with the girardia, etc. Obviously, the kitchen's most important, but as for the rest of my house: I have two bedrooms (so please, don't hesitate to visit!), two bathrooms, a living room, and an awesome balcony with a porch swing and a view of the small lake. I do have the option of air-conditioning, but so far, I've made-do with the ceiling fans and frequent showers as I hear a night with the AC can run $8.

Across the street from my house is a food stall with delicious breakfast -- these small noodley things and vegetables with an egg on top -- a Khmer specialty, or so I'm told. I've eaten there a couple of times, and sometimes make do with a cup of tea and some Hob Nobs. The food here has been awesome so far. My first meal in the country on the way from Phnom Penh to Kampong Cham was tiny whole deep-fried eels with picked veg and rice, and a spicy pineapple & fish soup. I've also had the famous Khmer noodles twice: my third night, my coworkers got together at Brigitte's house and taught us how to prepare the dish which consists of a stock with ground fish, tumeric, lemongrass, salt, garlic, shallots, basil and much more, on top of noodles, on top of banana flower and tow gay. You top the whole shebang off with some lime (kroich ch'ma) basil and other fresh green stuff. Yummy!

My office was lovely enough to lend me a moto, and I bought a sassy helmet made in Taiwan. It's certainly a treat to ride around with the wind in your face, especially in the humidity and heat. The moto's an automatic, so I guess I can't qualify as "hard-core" just yet, but I think it's certainly a good way to get around and part of the Khmer cultural experience. Before I got the moto, I was bumming rides from office-mates on the backs of their motos, or paying $0.25 for a ride around town. Since very very few folks speak any English, my geographically challenged self had to quickly learn a few Khmer words, (Knyom roogh nugh kang krawee gook -- "I live behind the prison") and my way around town.

We had one day of relief from the heat when a big storm rolled in earlier this week. It was crazy to see the entire sky go dark, and then the deluge begin. There was lightening and thunder and everything cooled off for a brief while, then back to the sweat.

There are lots of things that are different, but on the whole, I've been pleasantly surprised with how easily I've been able to meet people, get what I need, and get used to squat toilets, roadside stands with sun-dried clams, and skin-and-bones cows wandering the road.

Tune in for more about the office, Khmer lessons, new friends, my first trip to the market (including my experience with Cambodian chickens), and KHMER NEW YEAR.


  1. Love it. Keep the updates coming. I miss you and love you and am sooooo happy to hear how well everything is going! -Becky

  2. So very relieved to hear that everything is working out. I can't believe you have two bedrooms and two bathrooms! Planning my visit soon.
    - Jen

  3. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! Have really enjoyed your observations about the culture and food... and your experiences settling in. One request (if possible)... pictures! Love you~ Grandma Sharon and Kong-Kong

  4. Loved the first installments of "Jessica in Cambodia-land". Will look forward to hearing more. Glad you're settling in so well. Lots of love -- Grandma E and Granddad