Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Could it be the best pizza in Cambodia?

Wagon Wheel Restaurant
(click image to enlarge)

It's way the stink out there in Toul Kork, so call 012-873-341 and have Gerd deliver some pies to your house and see for yourself!

Full Wagon Wheel Menu

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


There are a lot of holidays in Cambodia. This year there's 24 public holidays! That's 24 WORK days of... no work! Knowing exactly when the holidays occur isn't as easy as it may seem, but the best source I've found to stay up-to-date on Cambodian holidays is http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/e-visa/info_holiday.aspx

Date in 2008  Holiday Name
1  Jan. 1    Tue  International New Year's Day
Jan. 7    Mon  Victory Day over the
                  Genocidal Regime
   Feb. 21   Thu  Meaka Bochea Day
                  (Unofficial holiday)
   Mar. 8    Sat  International Women's Rights Day
  Mar. 10   Mon  Women's Rights Day Holiday
   Apr. 13   Sun  Cambodian New Year
  Apr. 14   Mon  Cambodian New Year Holiday
  Apr. 15   Tue  Cambodian New Year Holiday
  Apr. 16   Wed  Cambodian New Year Holiday
  May 1     Thu  International Labour Day
  May 13    Tue  King Norodom Sihamoni's Birthday
  May 14    Wed  King's Birthday Holiday
 May 15    Thu  King's Birthday Holiday
 May 19    Mon  Visakh Bochea Day (Buddha Day)
 May 23    Fri  Royal Ploughing Ceremony
                  (Pithi Chrat Preah Neanng Korl)
 Jun. 18   Wed  King Mother's Birthday
                  (Norodom Monineath)
 Sep. 24   Wed  Constitution Day
   Sep. 28   Sun  Bonn Phchum Ben (Ancestors' Day)
 Sep. 29   Mon  Bonn Phchum Ben Holiday
 Sep. 30   Tue  Bonn Phchum Ben Holiday
 Oct. 1    Wed  Bonn Phchum Ben Holiday
 Oct. 29   Wed  King's Coronation Day
                  (Norodom Sihamoni)
 Oct. 31   Fri  King Father's Birthday
                  (Norodom Sihanouk)
   Nov. 9    Sun  Independence Day
 Nov. 10   Mon  Independence Day Holiday
 Nov. 11   Tue  Bonn Om Touk (Water Festival)
 Nov. 12   Wed  Bonn Om Touk (Water Festival)
 Nov. 13   Thu  Bonn Om Touk (Water Festival)
 Dec. 10   Wed  International Human Rights Day

Many of these holidays are Buddhist religious festivals, which are based on the lunar calendar and the dates change from year to year... so be careful to always check for the current year's holiday dates.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why Visit Phnom Penh?

1. We have a sweet guest room

2. There's lots of fun things to do! Check out this recent article from the New York Times:


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Once Bitten Twice Shy

So this past Monday (25 August) I had one of my scarier experiences in Cambodia. So much so, that I have actually postponed blogging about it until now, when I am fairly certain I’ll make a 100% recovery. I actually didn’t even tell my family until yesterday, just to save them from unnecessary panic… 

The story starts last Monday, as Naomi and I rode the Super Cub home from the Chinese Noodle Restaurant on Monivong. As had become my tradition with every return home, I stayed downstairs to play with my landlord’s dogs while Naomi went upstairs.

My landlord has two dogs, Bel and Jo-Jo. They are both un-neutered males, both about 4 years old, and both a little… well unpredictable. Bel is the “house dog”, who gets to sleep inside at night and generally seems cleaner and better loved. He’s also more of a punk – some days he’ll run right up and play with me for as long as I’d like, while other days he’ll just stay in the house (where I can’t chase him). 

Jo-Jo is about 45 lbs, and roughly the size of a Australian Shepherd. Jo-Jo on the other hand is always more eager to receive love, as he gets very little.  Jo-Jo, while affectionate, is also rather unaccustomed to human interaction, and rather wary of people. He’s growled and even snapped at me in the past when I’ve accidentally rubbed him the wrong way.

On Monday, as typical, Bel wouldn’t come near me, but Jo-Jo came right up and I started petting him. Bel, jealous at the attention being given his rival decided to start provoking Jo-Jo with some somewhat innocent pawing and yapping. However, Jo-Jo and Bel are at that touchy stage when there’s no clear “alpha”, and the dogs regularly get into scraps with each other.

 In response to Bel’s provocation, Jo-Jo started growling, and I attempted to prevent a fight by turning his head, a tactic successfully employed on several previous occasions. However, this action backfired, and Jo-Jo viciously snarled at me and bit my right wrist. 

When he bit me, I tried to subdue him by grabbing his collar, but this just further pissed him off, and he turned and REALLY bit my wrist. 

I remember looking down and seeing him with my wrist in his mouth, shaking it like a chew toy, and I immediately grabbed him by the neck. I started choking him, and he was getting more and more enraged. At this point I had the tiger by the tail, and I was afraid to let him loose, because he was more likely than not to lay into my leg or something.  My landlord, who was standing by for most of this incident, had no idea what to do to stop the attack, and was holding a pinky-thick bamboo stick (to fight him off?).

I tightened my grip and picked the dog off the ground, and he’s now choking and spasming. I see a pool of blood on the ground and my first thought is that he’s coughing up blood. Then I realize it’s not his blood but mine. At this point, I realize I got to get my arm cleaned up as soon as possible, and start looking for a way to neutralize the dog’s threat. I consider choking him out, but then realize it will be much quicker to just throw him out the gate and close it behind him, which I promptly did.

 At this point I run upstairs, and call out to Naomi “he bit me”. Her face turns white as she sees the blood pouring down my arm and off my elbow. I go straight to the bathroom and started washing out the wounds. My landlord and Naomi come to help and pretty soon we had my wrist cleaned and bandaged. I’m still panting and sweating like I just came through a fight for my life, and I tell Naomi it’s time to go to SOS, our local medical clinic.

 My wrist is throbbing, but not bleeding, and I tell Naomi to grab some money, as I remembered from another late night visit to SOS that it’s at least $100 to play ball after hours. I turned down an offer from my landlord for a ride, as I still wanted some time to cool down, and we walked 5 minutes down the street to the clinic.

 The staff at SOS was fairly competent and they had me on a bed and were getting me cleaned up again within 10 minutes. As I type this I can count about 17 major puncture wounds on my right wrist. The gnarliest was on the underside where a small piece of fat was hanging out – it was pretty gross. The doctor snipped it off, cleaned everything twice with Iodine, and wrapped me up with some gauze.

 Then we started looking around for other wounds, which I had on both feet (must have kicked something) and my left knee. Doc cleaned and bandaged these, and then started looking into vaccinations.

 Now like you, I had heard the rumors and seen the episode of Beavis & Butthead where they got 20 shots to the stomach for rabies then find out on TV at the end of the episode that you only need 5 shots in the arm now. Thankfully, B&B were right, and it’s only 5 shots to the arm now. I’ve got 3 down and 2 more to go in the coming weeks. Jo-Jo had been vaccinated previously (according to my landlord), and was not displaying any signs of rabies, but they recommend vaccination in case of any bites. Had he been suspected to be rabid, I would have required a $940 shot of rabies immune globulin.

It had been a while since my last tetanus vaccination, so he decided it was time for another.  Also, as with any wound in Cambodia, the risk of infection is very high, so the doc prescribed a 5-day course of amoxicillin.  He also gave me some Tylenol (I won’t need those, though I…) and told me to observe the dog for 10 days to ensure he’s behaving normally and remaining healthy. 

Thus began the road to recovery. Tuesday and Wednesday were some of the worst on record, as I moped through work, barely able to move my hand (but somehow able to drive my motorbike?), and very down. I changed the bandages twice per day, took the antibiotics, kept the wounds dry, and prayed for a speedy recovery.

Thankfully, God was gracious, and everything has been healing faster than ever. I will probably be bandage-free tomorrow, and my arm feels fine, save a little numbness on the side of my thumb remaining from a damaged nerve.

I’m still pretty angry at the dog, and my landlord has been careful to keep him away from me. I’d love to be friends with him again, but I’m sorry to say that I think the next time he comes within arm’s reach of me will be the last time he does anything.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

UPDATE - Auto-Run and Virus Protection

So, just about every Windows computer in Cambodia is infected with viruses, most (if not all) of them transmitted by memory sticks.

After some research, I've learned preventing memory sticks from auto-loading viruses onto your PC is REALLY SIMPLE!

YOU NEED TO DISABLE AUTO-RUN! To do it, simply download this file and double click it.

If you get a virus warning, you can download this file, change the file extension from .txt to .reg (you may need to change your Windows settings to view file extensions) and double-click.

This will make a change to your registry which will disable the auto-run feature for all removable media.

Next, if you're already being hit by viruses, I would recommend Avira Anti-Vir and Spybot Search and Destroy. Both of these are excellent freeware programs, and I personally believe putting up wit Avira's annoying daily pop-up ad is well worth the protection it's providing me. Finally, let me just put in a plug for the best freeware website ever. I've never felt tricked or misled by a single word on this site. 100% recommend!

And finally, let me just let out a rant: Please stop incessantly refreshing your desktops, Cambodian tech guys.

Some Photos of My Work

My boss asked me to take photos of all the Korean staff at my office for an upcoming dinner with their families in Seoul (the husbands won't be attending). I think it's kind of like those hostage movies where you take a photo with the newspaper from that day... proof of life.

Anyways, I think some of you may find it interesting to check out my Korean coworkers (roughly half of the saff are Khmer) in the album here

And, there's some photos around the site and the office here

And, as always, you can check all my photo albums at this link.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My First Super Magic Ultimate Toilet

The Day Has Finally Come...

As I stepped into our company restroom today, a newcomer greeted me within my stall:

[Dun…Dun…Dun… …. DUNT DUH!!!]

For years I’ve heard about them, and today was my day to get to experience it “firsthand”.

I remember my friend Ben Keane telling a joke in 5th or 6th grade about a guy who snuck into the girls room in Japan and the toilet seat with 3 buttons and it automatically washed and dried your backside.

Well this one’s got 15 buttons!!! Check this bad boy out:

  1. STOP. Very important
  2. WASH. Key feature. Going nowhere without this one.
  3. BIDET. The only button I didn’t have the courage to try.
  4. DRY. Delivers as promised.
  5. NOZZLE CLEAN. I guess the nozzle gets dirty from time to time. This extends the nozzle without turning any water on.
  6. ECONOMY. I think this turns off all heating functions. Only for cheapskates. If you can’t afford to have your magic toilet use warm air and water, what’s the point?
  7. WATER TEMP. Lets you adjust the temperature of the water.
  8. AIR. Lets you adjust the air temperature. I recommend “M”
  9. SEAT. This lets you pre-warm the toilet seat itself. These things are popular in Japan, and I’ve heard they have several cold-toilet-seat related deaths each year.
  10. MASSAGE ON/OFF. I’ll admit this was the first button I pressed. Maybe it shakes the seat to keep you comfortable while you sit? No such luck. It pulsates the water if you prefer. Just a gimmick if you ask me.
  11. MOVE ON/OFF. Didn’t figure this one out yet. Does it move the nozzle head to improve your massage? This may require further investigation.
  12. PRESSURE – HI. Adjusts water and air pressure. Honestly, highest water pressure was a little disappointing.
  13. PRESSURE – LOW. See above
  14. NOZZLE – FORWARD. Moves nozzle forward to help get that perfect trajectory.
  15. NOZZLE – BACKWARD. In case you overshot the perfect trajectory while pressing #14 lets you re-adjust backwards.

Nozzle extended in "Nozzle Clean" mode.

In all, I think we’re going to have a wonderful relationship, Mr. Super Toilet! But, please don’t electrocute me…

I don't think I've seen a single grounded plug in Cambodia.

The Best Smoothie In the World

The Pineapple Passion Smoothie from The Shop
(note: The glass has an orange colored band. The Smoothie itself does not have an orange layer)

This is a picture of what is without question, absolutely the best smoothie money can buy. The $2 Pineapple passion fruit smoothie from The Shop on Street 240, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

It’s made from fresh pineapples, fresh passion fruit, bananas, and voodoo! Your first sip will be forever remembered much like a first kiss or the first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. An unforgettable awakening of your senses and your spirit.

Naomi and I shared the smoothie above over 3 hours ago and thinking about it still quickens my pulse and makes my mouth water. The tart pineapple and passion fruit flavors wonderfully mix to make your breath stop short, and the fresh Cambodian bananas provide a wonderful sweetness and creaminess. Finally the crunchy passion seeds provide a wonderful texture and improve the presentation. SO GOOD!

Click image to enlarge

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Phone Numbers in Cambodia

The Cambodian phone system can be a little confusing, so here's a quick lesson. For the following, P will represent the prefix, and N the 6 or 7 digit phone number:
  1. The country code for Cambodia is 855.
  2. Phone numbers take the following form from INSIDE Cambodia: 0 PP NNN NNN(N). Ex: 012 999 999.
  3. Phone numbers take the form of +855 PP NNN NNN(N) when you dial from OUTSIDE of Cambodia. Ex: +855 12 999 999. Note that you REMOVE the "0" before the prefix.
  4. Now, regarding prefixes, there are a many of them. I have put together the following list for your information. This is helpful, because there are a lot of prefixes and sometimes you don't know where you are calling. The nice thing is, you always know if you are calling a landline or a mobile phone, depending on the prefix.
Mobile Phones
Mobitel (Cellcard) 012
Hello (Telekom Malaysia) 015
Hello (Telekom Malaysia) 016
Mobitel (Cellcard) 017
Mobitel (Cellcard) 083
Mobitel (Cellcard) 089
Mobitel (Cellcard) 092
Viettel 097
Star Cell 098

Phnom Penh 023
Takhmau 023
Kandal 024
Kampong Speu 025
Kampong Chhnang 026
Takeo 032
Kampot 033
Sihanoukville 034
Koh Kong 035
Kep 036
Kampong Cham 042
Prey Veng 043
Svay Rieng 044
Pursat 052
Battambang 053
Banteay Meanchey 054
Pailin 055
Kampong Thom 062
Siem Reap 063
Preah Vihear 064
Udar Meanchey 065
Kratie 072
Mondul Kiri 073
Stung Treng 074
Ratanakiri 075

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This may take the cake...

source: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2008081321168/National-news/Police-Blotter-13-August-2008.html

Oeng Ny, 25, gave birth to a baby girl on a moto taxi outside a hospital in Veal Vong commune, Prampi Makara district on August 11. Oeng Ny lived with her husband, 28, and their two children. Oeng Ny's husband said that he put Oeng Ny on a moto taxi to take her to the hospital after she told him that she had a stomach ache.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Quick Pronunciation Guide

Please, under no circumstances, should you refer to the Capital of Cambodia as "Nom Penh" or "Fnom Penh". Please. This drives me crazy. I would let it rest, but we went to watch a documentary the other night where the narrator Sam Waterston (who should know better) mispronounced the city's name about 15 times (You too, dictionary.com). Arrrgh!

Here's a little help for how it should be said:

  1. This is the first consonant - "Pho" - an aspirated "P" sound like "papa"
  2. This consonant "Naw" - makes a "N" sound, and the since it's written as a subscript you combine it with the preceding consonant. In this case it's "Puh-naw"
  3. The vowel "Om". Makes an "Om" sound. (Word 1 complete: Phnom)
  4. The vowel "Ae". It actually comes after #5 (right to left doesn't always apply for Khmer script). In this case, it makes an "ee" sound.
  5. The consonant "Po", it makes a sound like a b and a p put together
  6. The final consonant "ño", it sounds just like the spanish "enyay".

So ultimately, we have "Puh-nom-peñ" (or "pə-näm-peñ"), but if that final enyay is a problem, don't sweat it. Just don't get caught saying "Nom Penh" or I may have dump a bucket of prahoc in your bed!

If any of you have any further insight on this issue, please comment away. I'd love to be set straight. But no mater what crazy colonist decided that it was at one point OK to bastardize this city's name and amputate it's first syllable, it's time to start pronouncing it the way it's written.

Friday Breakfast

So there's this great little cafe on the northwest corner of Street 294 and Sotheros, right on my way to work. They have all kinds of traditional Khmer breakfasts, but this one has to be my favorite: Vietnamese (Khmer?) style coffee - extra strong with sweetened condensed milk, chaway (fried bread), and noodle soup (Khmer Pho') with beef and peppered meatballs. MMMM! Total cost? 5,000 Riel ($1.25). Notice the rain. It rains a lot!

Minor Accident Prone

So it started on Friday night, as Naomi, Sarah, and I were cruising the city looking for a place to eat. We went to the Gym Bar to watch the Olympics, but the place was packed out worse than Superbowl Monday-morning so we decided to head over to Cantina (O man, their tacos are definitely my favorite in PP). Of course, that drain on 178 STILL isn't finished, and the street is blocked off between Bright Lotus and FCC, but that's never stopped me from using the sidewalks to get there. This time, however, Naomi suggests the path is a little too rough for 3 people on a motorbike, but I assure her "everything's under control", and promptly jack my ankle all up on the curb about 3 seconds later. Ouch!

Ok, fast forward to Sunday, we're running the hash like we should be, I've got the bugle in hand and there's about 30 newbies with us. About 500 meters in I get caught looking too long at an extra-creative hare mark, and miss the rough spot in the path... and roll my ankle. It hurts, but not too bad and I was able to run the rest of the 10 K with few problems... it's a little swollen today, but I think Gary Hilliard is right - when you roll it and can run through, you'll be better off with less swelling.

Ok this leads us to this morning. The left turn to get into my project site is a notorious pain in the neck, and for some reason it was extra gnarly this morning. So I went ahead and was using the sidewalks (notice a theme here?) to get around the stopped traffic. This was no problem, but after I merged back into traffic, as I was making the left a motorbike came speeding the other way and I had to hit the brakes. Some dingus in a Lexus RX400 rear ended me, breaking my taillight. 4 Days, 3 minor accidents. Not a bad weekend!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Cambodian Coke Can

In case you wanted to know, this is what a Coke can looks like here. Cost: 2000 Riel ($.50). Sweetener: Cane Sugar (O so much better than HFCS!-ick!)

Bonus: "Thumbs-Up Sauce" (Brown vinegar, mmmm...)
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Please call of...

So text messaging plays a large role in the life of any Cambodian (who, by the way, text almost exclusively in English!).

I use predictive text input on my phone, it’s a great tool, it makes typing on a number pad much faster, but why oh why do the programmers make “of” come up before “me”!?!? What the hell? I’ve decided to put together a list of my biggest predictive text peeves. Given, I’m using a phone from 2005, so maybe the Nokia geniuses have this figured out… if so, how about a firmware upgrade, Nokia?

Top 10 predictive text peeves:

You Want

You Get































Cooler weather, family in town

It's been the rainy season since the beginning of July, but recently we've been getting this great new kind of rain – the all-day cool drizzle. We had been getting the super hot afternoon thundershowers for about a month and a half, but these past couple days it's been notably cooler. I think maybe even under 80 during the day!

To help us enjoy this cool weather, Naomi's sister Sanae and her mom Marcia came out to visit us. It's been really great getting to show them around town and around Cambodia. We're really growing to like it here - so it's really fun to get to show off our host country to some fellow Americans.

We took a trip to Kampot over the weekend and spent 3 lazy days by the river bicycling, hiking, and kayaking - just what the doctor ordered! And if any of you need a recommendation on a good PP-Kampot taxi driver, I have a great one.

Sanae took off this morning to fly back to the US, and Marcia took a flight up to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. We're looking forward to a couple more days with her before she flies back and we're back to rattling around in our empty house once again. Like I've said before, we have a great guest room, so if you're interested, just let me know!

Call me Ishmael

So i just finished reading the classic American novel, Herman Mellville's 1851 Moby Dick (or The Whale).

Like many of the books I'm reading these days, I read this one in electronic format on my Nokia N800. The nice thing about ebooks is that you can get most of the classics for free, which is great because anyone who's spent time overseas can tell you that books can be an expat's best friend*, and they're not always so easy to find - so it's great to have thousands available whenever you'd like from the web.

The story of Moby Dick is pretty simple. Captain Ahab, who has only one leg from a previous encounter with Moby Dick - a gigantic white sperm whale - is hell bent on killing this whale no matter the cost. After sailing the whole globe, the whaling ship encounters Moby Dick and attacks him for three days in a row. After successively worse casualties, the story concludes when Moby Dick attacks the ship and sinks it. Everybody but the author Ishmael dies. The end.

There are two things you need to know:
  1. Sperm whales are awesome (also they are the largest toothed animal in the world)
  2. This book is great.
The author spends more than half the novel discussing details that have very little to do with the story, such as the way the rope that attaches to the harpoon is made, or how it's controlled, or the anatomy of the whale, or the way you extract the oil from the killed whale. You could skip every word from these chapters and not miss anything from the story. And this is probably why the critics hated this book so much when it was first released.

According to Wikipedia:
By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby-Dick — largely considered a failure during his lifetime, and most responsible for Melville's fall from favor with the reading public — was recognized in the 20th century as one of the chief literary masterpieces of both American and world literature.
But, and I can't tell you why, it is these chapters that go on and on about the whale's head or the wonderful side stories - such as the cooking of Stubb's whale-steak - that make this such an incredible book. I'm not a literary critic, but if there ever was a book that made me want to join a book club... this would be it. Look at me, I'm incoherently blogging about it for heaven's sakes!

There's a couple really special passages in the book that I'll list here, and you can comment if you've got your own to share:
  1. Ishmael's "marriage" to Queequeg
  2. Chapter 26 - Knights and Squires
  3. Stubb making the cook preach to the sharks
  4. Tempering the harpoon in the pagan's blood
Ok that's enough. Get out there and read it.

(*As a side note, it seems like expats read more than your average American.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008


So, I've started working for GS Engineering & Construction, and so far it's going great. It's a major Korean construction firm, and they're pretty much all workaholics (no more 4-day workweeks), but our project is pretty stinking awesome - a $1Billion dollar set of 8 towers, up to 52 stories tall, representing a major sea change in the Cambodian economy.
My job so far is to work with the Planning & Procurement section - we prepare and review the bid documentation for all the subcontractors who will be doing the work. I'm not a jet pilot, but it's a little more exciting than designing catch basin screens.
So... thanks for all you're thoughts and prayers, I can hardly imagine a job I'd rather be a part of here. I'll try to give you guys more updates on my work soon. For now, you can read the news articles in my previous post.

GS E&C in the news

IFC Groundbreaking: Forbes; AP; Phnom Penh Post; Reuters; Xinhua; AFP; Asia Pulse

Business week on IFC and Gold Tower 42

Friday, February 29, 2008


So there are a lot of beggars in town. Not an overwhelming number, but definitely a lot. It's not usually a very difficult thing for me to encounter them, as I have no problem looking them in the eyes, smiling, shaking my head and saying "no". I tell myself that the best thing I can do is to not reinforce the idea that food and money come from white people, and I do what I can to humanize them by encountering them as people.

This isn’t always easy, as there are many hard cases. There’s the lady with the huge goiter on her neck, the many kids with malformed arms or legs (agent orange?), the THOUSANDS of land mine victims with missing eyes, legs, hands, etc, the young mothers with their naked babies… the list goes on.

Well, the other day, on the way back from a quick trip to Saigon (so I could re-enter the country on an NGO visa), while we were waiting for the ferry to take our bus back across the Mekong, a young boy (8?), wearing some baggy shorts looked at me through the glass into my air conditioned bus and pointed at his open mouth. I did my usual – I smiled, mouthed the word “no”, and shook my head. He was really cute though, and turned up the pitiful face. I kept watching as he came up to the bus door and stepped up on the entry.

I was in the third row, and had eaten a lunch from the restaurant near the border crossing. I had forgotten, but in my stew was a big piece of liver(?) or something gross, which I ate around and kept in the to-go box. When I was finished with my lunch I had re-placed the rubber band around the box, stuck it in it’s plastic bag, and tied the handles. I stuck this under the seat in front of me to be cleaned up by the steward guy.

Somehow, the Khmer guy in front of me knew this bag of trash was under his seat, and he reached down and gave it to the shirtless kid. The kid stepped off the bus, back into my sight, and proceeded to scavenge through my lunch trash – something he was used to by the look of it – ripped through the bag and found this chunk of liver. His face brightened when he saw it. I then watched as he took a bite out of the liver and smiled at the Khmer guy as he walked off.

I don’t know if I’m able to communicate why this encounter moved me so much, but it was only through sobs I was able to tell Naomi about it later the next day. It wasn’t that the kid was in such a bad condition, but I think it was the accidental way I was able to see my world and this kid’s world interact. The thought that came to mind was “This is real life for this kid”. This isn’t just a vacation or a trip or some temporary adventure – this is his world. This is all he knows.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

There's a Method to the Madness

(click to enlarge)

As I've been learning the rules of the road here, there began to emerge a beauty to the madness of Khmer driving. I put this little diagram together to give you an idea what it's like. You probably won't find this diagram in a Cambodian traffic school (yes, they have a couple around town), but you should.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Just a Groovy Little Motorbike

It's Not a Big Motorcycle...
...Just a groovy little motor bike

So now that we're getting settled in, Naomi and I decided to get our own motorbike, and here it is! It's a 50cc Honda SuperCub. I got it from an importer last week - it had a previous life in Japan, and now it's our new family car!

If you're familiar with the Beach Boys, you might know the song "Little Honda" (I've transcribed the lyrics below) in which they sing about shifting through the gears of his little Honda. I've always wondered why he stops at 3rd gear (first gear, it's alright/second gear, i lean right/third gear, out of sight), and now I know the answer: it only has three gears! My speedometer maxes out at 65 kph - or about 40 mph, gets about 100 mpg, and so far I've driven it about 300 miles just around town!

According to a show by the Discovery channel, the Honda SuperCub is the #1 motorcycle of all time. There have been like 50 million of them made, and it seems about 1 of 4 bikes on the road here is a SuperCub. (Daelim's make up another 25%, and then an assortment of Honda Chaly's and newer motorbikes and dirt bikes round out the pack).

Driving here is scary, but it got a lot easier after getting some advice from my Khmer friend Bora - he told me that when I was driving I looked so scared, and that I just needed to relax! RELAX!? I thought he was crazy, but then I realized what he meant: I was looking in my mirrors waaay too much. Cambodians, when they buy motorbikes, will take the mirrors OFF first thing. They get rid of them, because when you're driving, there's really only one rule that you can never break: KEEP YOUR EYES AHEAD OF YOU AT ALL TIMES!!!! If it's behind you, it doesn't matter. That's it!

All street signs, lights, stripes, etc are more or less like the yellow "suggested speed" signs in the States.
Seriously, all lane control, intersections, one-way streets, stop signs, everything else is treated more or less like a suggestion. But if you keep your eyes ahead, you'll be fine - just don't hit anything! It's pretty simple. Motorbikes are everywhere, and drivers are far more aware of mororbikes then in the States (given, motorcycles make up 80% of vehicles on the road), we Always wear helmets, and pray a lot as we ride.

So far, it's mostly just me on the bike, but Naomi and I ride together quite a bit as well. I've also started branching out and used the Cub to deliver some new chairs to our apartment... a very small load by Khmer standards, but I think I kept it in 2nd the whole way home!

Phnom Penh
24 February, 2008

Little Honda, by the Beach Boys

Go!! I'm gonna wake you up early cause I'm gonna take a ride with you We're going down to the Honda shop I'll tell you what we're gonna do Put on a ragged sweat shirt I'll take you anywhere you'd like me to

First gear [Honda Honda go], it's alright [faster, faster] Second gear [Honda Honda go], I'll lean right [faster, faster] Third gear [Honda Honda go], out of sight [faster, faster] Faster! It's all right!
It's not a big motorcycle, just a groovy little motor bike It's more fun than a barrel of monkeys that two wheeled bike we'll ride on out of the town to any place I'll know you'll like

It climbs the hills like a Matchless cause my Honda's built really light When I go into the turns lean with me and hang on tight I'd better turn on the light so we can ride my honda tonight

chorus 2x

The Dollar Top 10 (week 4 edition)

Top 10 ways to spend a dollar in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  1. 3 hours of internet access or a 20 minute call to the States at the internet cafe.
  2. Rice soup. Mmmmm... so good! It comes piping hot, with shrimp, fish pate', sprouts, ginger. Great stuff!
  3. A refil, delivered, for your 20-liter jug of drinking water.
  4. Getting your hair washed, complete with a facial wash and 5 minute shoulder rub. Very refreshing!
  5. Iced coffee (Only 3000 real) from Mr Bounarreth at the Russian Market. Best iced Coffee in Phnom Penh!
  6. A manicure of pedicure. I never knew my cuticles could look so nice!
  7. 1 KG of oranges
  8. A Moto-dop ride from one end of town to the other
  9. 2 Angkor beers from the ladies on the riverside.
  10. THE Phnom Penh Dollar!

The Phnom Penh Dollar

OK, one of things to remember about Cambodia is that people here eat just about anything. Anything! So, one of the common treats you can buy on the street or at markets is deep-fried insects! Which leads me to introduce: The Phnom Penh Dollar!

During our visit in September last year, we first encountered fried tarantulas at a bus stop between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. We saw these ladies with huge metal bowls on their heads. I asked them what they had, to which they enthusiastically replied "Spiders!".

Well, in Phnom Penh, on the Riverside near the royal palace, we then encountered these ladies selling just about every gross thing imaginable, deep fried! I asked to take a picture, and she said "No!" I then offered her a dollar and she said "OK". I took some photos, but while I was taking them, she began filling a bag with just about one of everything. I took the bag, and I now present to you:
(click to enlarge)

Legend has it that any man or woman (no way a child could handle this) who can consume the whole bag of goodies in 1 minute is destined to be the next king of Scotland. Or something like that..

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Temporary Apartment, in Pictures

Living room of our new (temporary) apartment.
Note the following: 1) Bars on the windows. Apparently, break-ins are common here, so just about every house has barred windows and doors. 2) The half-floor. The second floor of the apartment has 2 bedrooms with lower (8’?) ceilings. 3) The TV. TV’s are so common here that every house comes with one. And they are always made by “Sony”. Always. And when you turn them off, the sides close in like curtains on a musical… so you get a second or two to reconsider your decision. It doesn’t go “beeewwwwp” but you can almost hear it when you hit the button. 4) Wicker furniture – it’s everywhere. This came with the apartment. Very cheap but nice enough. 5) Every conceivable surface is tile. Nice.

Our current bedroom.
1) Bags everywhere. We just moved in today. 2)Bars on windows 3) The air-con unit on the wall. According to my dad, this is called a “Ductless split system”. In Asia, it’s called AC – this is the only kind there is.

Very typical for Cambodia. Note: 1) Showering is just done in the same place as everything else. Everything is tile here, so this works fine. 2) Toilet is a pour-to-flush type (note bucket, plastic pot, and lack of tank behind toilet). This really appeals to my engineering sensibilities – you just use as much or as little water as you need to flush the john!

Toilet, close-up.
Note bucket and pot as previously discussed. Also, note that nozzle thing next to toilet. Remember in Demolition Man that scene with the “Three Shells”? Well… in Southeast Asia, that nozzle is the 3 shells. And it’s awesome.

This is a really nice one, compared to the ones we’ve seen. Note: 1) small fridge – probably the biggest you’d ever have at a house here 2) bars on widows 3) Lock on door. I am in the house, but this is how they say I should keep it. This is funny, because we’ve NEVER felt threatened while walking on the street… and by all accounts intruders never mean harm to the residents… but petty theft seems to be a constant concern.

Close-up of lock.
It’s a “Solex” – as they all are, and huge. And it’s “Made in USA”.

Weird gate.
This is hard to explain, but there’s like 1 floor plan of houses in Cambodia that is very very common, and it’s like the one we’re in. There are several floors, in our case I believe it’s 5, and they are all connected by a stairwell. But, in our case, we’ve only rented 2 of the floors. So, the floors above and the floors below are separated from us by this funky gate – so theoretically the person upstairs could come down to the gate and still be in their house. It’s kinda weird, but that’s how it goes. There’s an outside stairwell for the folks above, and it’s really funky. Funky enough, that it deserves it’s own post.

Josh Svensson
Phnom Penh
January 31, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Last Day of Work... at the County

Well, it's been about 3 weeks, we're still doing great, making lots of friends, building our networks, and today (12 Feb) is my official last day of work. (Goodbye, paycheck ....*sniff*)
The process of stepping away has been SO GOOD. We reflect each day how thankful we are to be here, and are so glad and have been so blessed in the risks we've taken. (Faith can be fun?)
We still don't have internet access at home, but I will be uploading some photos in the future, thanks for your patience.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Week 1 Language Fun

Being a USA-native English speaker is both a blessing and a curse. Take the following (oft-repeated) joke as an illustration of this point:

“What do you call a person who speaks 3 languages?”
“And a person who speaks 2 languages?”
“And a person who only speaks 1 language?”
“I don’t know, Mono-Lingual?”
“Nope. You call them American

I tell this joke far too often, but that’s because to me this is my most lamented lacking skill. Sure, I took 4 years of German in high school (unfortunately EVERY German I’ve ever met speaks English twice as well as I speak German – not true for the French I meet by the way), sure I can get by in Mexico with my minimal Spanish and in China with my minimal Mandarin… but when it comes to anything beyond “how much does this cost” or “where’s the toilet”, It’s going to have to be my good old mother tongue.

Now compare this to your average Kenyan (let’s call him Mr. Matatu). Considering that Mr. Matatu is your average Kenyan, he speaks at least 3 if not 4 or 5 languages – his mother tongue (1) will typically be his tribal language, then the national language Swahili (2), then English (3), and more than likely he can get by in the languages of the tribes near his (4 & 5). Not only can he speak these, he can more than likely read in all of these languages.

I just don’t understand the American system of language teaching. Why do we wait until HIGH SCHOOL to start teaching another language??! This is craziness to me! It is widely known that children not only are able to rapidly learn languages, but that it by all accounts helps them in their other areas of study, and sadly, the brain begins to lose this magic ability to absorb new languages by the time children are 12 or 13. What the hell, America?!

OK, that off my back, let’s talk about Cambodia. Cambodian people and language are called “Khmer”, which when said by a Cambodian person sounds like “Kuh-my” (2 very quick syllables). People say that Khmer is a difficult language, but so far we are having a great time learning the basics. So far we’ve learned how to excuse ourselves, count to 10, ask for the bill, say hello, and to say that something is beautiful (sa-at). One of the funny things about Khmer is that unlike Chinese (and just about every other language I’ve studied) there’s no set system for writing out pronunciations of Khmer words with roman (i.e. English) letters.

For example, one dictionary will spell “thank you” as “Ak-kuhn” and another will have it “Og-goon”. This is because there are many consonant and vowel sounds in Khmer that are not in English. Of course this isn’t unusual for English-foreign language dictionaries, but in the Khmer case, the linguistic geniuses seem to still be duking it out. Oxford or Merriam Webster need to step in and put together a definitive system, and then Lonely Planet can get their English-Khmer phrasebook put together (I lived by my Mandarin-English Lonely Planet phrasebook during my year in China).

So why does it matter? Well, I stepped into a small café with Naomi on Monday and the waitress didn’t speak a word of English. We have had 2 or 3 cases like this before, but the person spoke French or Chinese and we had somewhere to start. In this case, we were stuck pointing at the menu (which thankfully was in English) and gesturing for what we wanted. In the midst of this we pulled out our pocket dictionary and started looking up how to say “Chicken” and “tea” and suddenly I had remembered my first Khmer word. There is something just so great about being stuck, learning a word, and getting unstuck.

When you think about it, language is an amazing thing – I would even argue that it is the most significant thing that makes us human. The ability to reason and the ability to create mean very little when our thoughts and creations cannot be expressed to another. And it was the fundamental element of language – the word “Word” – that the Bible uses to describe Jesus in John 1. God’s greatest act of love and compassion were summed up by John in the word “Word”. God’s communication to us.

In getting ready to leave, I’ve had several conversations where I’ve told people that selling all our stuff and moving to another country is for me a way to discover my humanity – that is, what it is at my core that makes me a person. So often I feel like I define myself by my occupation, my possessions, or my location. Here, these are still true, but as we’ve left most behind, we’re left with “just us”. To me, being whittled down to the real “me” – by God, myself, and others – is one of the most exciting parts of this upcoming year.

Josh Svensson
January 31, 2008
Phnom Penh

First Week Reflections

So it's been a week since we left LA, and as we settle in we're really looking forward to the year ahead. Today we moved out of our guesthouse (guesthouse = cheap hotel) and into a 3-bedroom 4-bathroom apartment near the Russian Market (by the way, rent here is $250/mo). Our arrangement here is only going to be for the next 3 weeks - we're staying with Sarah DeNooyer, another intern with IJM who arrived a few days before us. We moved in at the same time as Sarah, who will share this apartment with Lisa when she arrives around 2/22/08.

Even though it's temporary, we're glad (maybe even thrilled?) to get to move in to a "real house". The guest house was very small and dark, and it felt like we were living in a pantry or under some stairs or something. We also put a deposit down today on a place up on 184th street, which conveniently opens up about the same time Lisa comes into town.

Personally, the transition has been pretty smooth so far, but I think that this coming week will be one of the toughest for me. Now that we're in a more permanent place, and that Naomi will start working Monday, the sense of "O crap, what am I going to do?" will probably start to set in for me.

I have plans to do at least a couple full days of photography, and I think it might even be nice to do it for several weeks. I have also been checking the newspaper and online postings for jobs each day. I have applied for a couple positions, but it's early yet and I haven't heard back from anyone. I also think I will start going to a Khmer tutor - I'm enjoying learning Khmer much more than I thought I would.

Regarding Khmer people, we've really been enjoying getting to know the people at the IJM office and other folks around town. It feels like 90% of our interactions with Khmers consist of being hailed by "tuk-tuk mista?" or by beggars. But we did have a nice attempt at a conversation with the girls who gave us manicures ($1 at the market, this will definitely become a habit - my nails have NEVER looked nicer!), and we've started to make friends with Borat, a tuk-tuk driver.

This past week I also was reminded of the joy of ordering food in a place where they don't speak ANY English! This was so fun, I think it deserves it's own post.

Jan 31, 2008
Street 444
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Looking For a House

Looking For a House

Some random thoughts on looking for a house here in Phnom Penh:

So we began our hunt yesterday by visiting a place above a small bar. It was OK - it had 2 bedrooms and a spacious living room, but was missing a kitchen ("I can get you fixed up with a kitchen, no problem" said Alex, the bar owner.). It was a bit discouraging, especially since our friend Sarah, who had been visiting apartments all day Friday said it was one of the best she'd seen...

But like so many of these other details, we're both comfortable knowing that we are going to have to trust God to lead us to a good place to live. We've been thinking about the different aspects of our future apartment, and are trying to balance the following:

1. Cost: Places here in Phnom Penh range from $50/mo (as was the case for our Tuk-Tuk driver, Borat) to over $3,000/mo in one of the upscale buildings. We're hoping to find something around $300...

2. Location: we're hoping to find a place that's walking distance from Naomi's office, so that her daily commute exposes her to as little Khmer driving as possible.

3. Rooms: we'd really like to have at least 2 bedrooms so that we can always have a place to offer to visiting guests. BUT, this is not a non-negotiable at this time. Plus, our friends can always sleep on our couches... and guesthouses abound in the city.

4. Community: our apartment could either isolate us or immerse us into Khmer community. As I type this, I think this may be THE most important consideration. I have been hoping in the weeks and months leading up to this move that this time, we would really get involved in the local lifestyle. Hmmm... more on this later.

OK that's it for now. It's time to head over to church for our first Sunday in PP!