It’s been a fairytale of a first half year in Phnom Penh, almost as if everything good that could happen has, from a new job seemingly crafted for me, a dashing Scotsman in my life, reconnecting with long lost friends along with incredible new ones, and forging even stronger the bond that I have with my best friend also known as my mom. Recently, however, there have been a few things eating away at me, slowly but surely, and making me realize not everything can stay picture perfect forever.
Cambodia has been good to me, and I hope the feelings are mutual. There are things, however, that drive me absolutely bananas. Kids, the stories are true: it’s a land of wonder and charm, but also lives up to its nickname so cheekily given, Scambodia.
I would hate to seem like I’m complaining, but I am definitely complaining. I risk sounding like a pampered, spoiled house cat, and in comparison to millions in the world, I am. Regardless, my frustrations must be stated for my own peace of mind. I will cover five subjects that share a special place in my mind labeled “SHIT”: Power Outages, Theft, Cockroaches, Corruption, and Weirdos.
Here we go, ladies and germs!
After a 9 hour work day, there seems almost nothing better than catching a tuk tuk home, turning on the fan and/or air conditioner, cracking open an ice cold Diet Coke, and watching some Downton Abbey before ordering in a heaping plate of Barbacoa burritos from Taqueria Corona. But the crushing feeling that envelops me as soon as I turn the corner into my neighborhood near Kirirom and see that the block is a dooming, murky brown devoid of light is anything but delightful. In a land where generally reaches or goes above 34 Celsius, about 93 degrees Fahrenheit, things get hot and hold the heat for a good long time. By the end of the day, there is an unrelenting film of dust and perspiration that rests on my skin and a shower is always necessary before engaging in any relaxation. Still though, I really don’t enjoy rinsing off in a pitch black bathroom, only to know that after stepping out of the bathroom I’ll immediately start sweating again in a humid, hot room and an equally stifling terrace. Allison and I have resorted to sitting on the balcony in nothing but our skivvies, singing old music favorites and karaoke songs from my laptop, and shooting whiskey hoping to pass the time. After an hour, the fun has worn off, cabin fever has set in, we’re hotter than ever, and all I can think of doing is yelling profanities off the terrace and potentially smashing a window. Naps are futile, what you think was an hour and a half snooze in stifling heat turns out to have only passed twenty minutes or so and you’ll wake up in a tank top sopping with sweat, sexy right?
We didn’t experience these outages for the first two months of living in our new apartment and all of a sudden they’re occurring every single day for hours at a time, but with a minimal amount of digging, we found out that power cuts are chosen by the government because they simply do not have enough electricity to power the city. When calling the electric company to complain (we know it would be a waste of time, but we had to do SOMETHING), they laughed and just said “not enough power, no power, not enough.” What the what! So we asked around to friends and family who live in, ahem, “nicer” areas like BKK1 or Tonle Bassac (see: expat filled or near government officials homes) if they had experienced any power cuts and surprise, surprise: none. While gaudy high rises are being built and shops are popping up left and right, smaller communities with family run businesses and homes are getting their electric cut for 2, 3, and now more so 7-9 hours so the big businesses, expensive serviced apartments, and officials can get their microwaves and hairdryers going. There’s a whole political realm around the cuts that I won’t even get into, options for available alternative energy sources, like rubber plants and wind power, have been available but the government is corrupt and etc etc etc. I don’t quite understand it yet and will continue to try and find out more about what’s going on, why it is, and if it will ever change. I’ve been this close to booking a ticket back to cold, rainy, beautiful Washington to wear Merino wool leggings, drink hot apple cider, and cloak myself in fur blankets but I haven’t quite reached that point. You’d think someone with Asian blood could handle the heat, in more ways than one, but it’s becoming apparent that I’ve got a ways to go.
Boo to the petty, and increasingly violent, theft that runs rampant in Phnom Penh. Boo to the losers and fiends who snatch purses off sixty year old women making their way into their apartments in the middle of the night and not just leaving, but making sure to literally kick her while she’s down so she’s not quick to call for help. Boo to the brutes who eyeball young tourists and target them for snatching, I’m sure ruining a once in a lifetime experience for these newcomers. Boo to the men who shot the Japanese business man who was flashing cash down at the local night club after a big win at the casino. Boo to the thieves who stole my boyfriend’s moto, cell phones, and wallet. Boo to the robber who made off with the videographer for 7Days camera, right before we were supposed to film. Boo to the break-ins that occur daily, unavoidable and unnerving. Boo to the businesses who take advantage of their clients, undercutting them and thinking they’ll always get away with it. And a gigantic, hate-filled, acid-laced, cursed boo to the men, no…animals, who rape women and girls and steal something they will never, ever get back.
Demons of the drainpipes. Enough said.
The corruption that rules this country is, in a word, insane. It enrages its citizens and anyone with a good head on their shoulders but squashes any possibility of uprising with imprisonment, violence, and even death. Even in sixth months, I’ve witnessed jaw dropping corruption, even on a smaller scale from the twenty two year old medical student, stupidly and dangerously driving, killing three young children and one man after trying to escape not one, but two hit and runs and her knowing she would eventually get out of charges because of her parent’s money. It’s difficult to even touch down on the different facets of dishonesty and injustice in this country; I doubt I’ve even scratched the surface. In 2008, five years ago, “72 percent of Cambodians reported to paying a bribe to receive a public service in the last year; 61 percent did not expect corruption to decrease in the next three years, and 42 percent expected it to rise” according to a corruption barometer survey by Transparency International. It’s difficult from an outsider’s point of view to understand why a large anarchic uprising hasn’t occurred, why the residents just lay low and let it all happen. When discussing this problem with peers, we tried understanding the seeming complacency with the crooked government and came to think that because of the bloody, traumatic past the Cambodian culture and people has been subjected to, any movement back towards something similar to that would be so painful they live with the injustice they deal with so blatantly. Unfortunately, according to Pact Cambodia’s 2007 research regarding corruption, typically “it is stated that Khmers and foreigners don’t have the same rights, because in foreign countries the “rich and powerful” are subject to the law. And, crucially, most say the majority of Khmers (including themselves, they often admit) have only a fairly superficial knowledge of their own rights”.
I have a feeling things may change though, soon hopefully. According to the same Pact survey, 40 percent of Khmers polled said “yes” they should do something about corruption, 30 percent said “yes, but it isn’t easy” and only 13 percent said “no”. There is an entire generation with the skills it takes to move forward powerfully, the hope necessary to change their futures, the economy, and ruling, and the drive to do what it takes for them to receive their proper spot in society. Until then, the majority of nationals seem to be accepting of their current state, even if they are unhappy and know it is wrong, and subject to the rule they are being dictated to live under.
The Daily Beast ranked Cambodia in their 20 Most Corrupt Countries with the following model:
To find the most corrupt countries, we considered five factors for more than 150 countries.
The corruption perception score was derived from the 2011 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International. This measures the public perception of corruption within each nation. The degree of political rights, civil liberties and freedom of the press comes from the 2011 Freedom House Freedom of the Press Report. Lastly, the degree of transparency in business is according to the most recent data available from the World Bank. We normalized each of those five factors on a point scale out of 10, with 10 being the most corrupt.
Each category was equally weighted to compute our final corruption index score out of 100.
Cambodia ranked number 19, with 71.9 out of 100.
The five factors ranking (each out of 10):
Public Perception of Corruption: 7.9
Corruption of the Press: 6.3
Political Rights Corruption: 8.6
Civil Liberties Corruption: 7.2
Business Disclosure Opacity: 6.0
Freedom of speech? Nonsense. Entitlement to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal? Poppycock. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property? Silly.
This category covers a broad range of individuals including but not limited to “sexpats”, irritating couples, and snoops…sometimes all of the above in one neat package.
In Matthew 7:1, it says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Well, I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that I’m sure I’m already being judged. That’s not to say I should get all crazy judgy on people, but there are some people I’ve encountered here that by and large make me queasy.
I was first introduced to the term “sexpat” the first week I spent in Phnom Penh. As a young Asian woman in an Asian country, I was warned by acquaintances to keep an eye out for these leeches. Usually easy to spot, a sexpat is generally a man in his forties or older, but can definitely be anyone of any gender or age. They also generally wear a sleazy shirt with the top buttons undone and wear abundant gold chains and typically look quite pleased with themselves. Sexpats tend to hang out on the Riverside, alone or with a Khmer sex companion, or on Street 51 near Golden Sorya, flanked by girls who look no older than fifteen wearing what I suppose you’d call shorts and shoes that most would look at and tremble with nerves. I avoid contact at all costs: generally with a military stance, boyish clothing, and cold, hard eyes I’m able to deter these sordid pests. Either that or with a loud “Get the hell away from me.”
Another prime irritation are couples who either a) fight so pathetically and openly in public you wonder why they’re even together or b) can’t order a pastry without groping or covering each other in saliva.
I doubt that global location makes any difference for these pairs, but if these self proclaimed love birds are throwing plates at one another, can’t agree on basic life decisions, have public screaming matches, or trying to make their partner jealous by splaying themselves like limp octopi on any member of the opposite sex, it seems to me they probably shouldn’t be together.
Lovers, if you’re tonguing one another in a restaurant or cafe, especially around Cambodians who have an extremely conservative stance on PDA, you need to have a hot cup of coffee poured on your loins. I only assume you can afford a cheap hostel if you’re out purchasing $4 pain au chocolates, make use of it.
Snoops run rampant in a city as small as Phnom Penh, an ideal hub for nosy socialites. I urge them to mind their business, I’m so sorry their lives are so unfulfilling and boring that they feel they have to friend request people every 2 weeks, bother mutual friends for information, and try to infiltrate the lives of people who don’t have time to be stalker-y. It’s not difficult to gain access to my personal thoughts, photos, and work: it’s published publicly on this very site, unprotected, along with numerous other means of social media. I’ve posed in my underwear for photo shoots for crying out loud. I’m only private about what I want to keep private, and if that’s the case, don’t try to glean that from me: you’ll end up flailing and fruitless. I’ve seen friends deal with women and/or men who get it in their heads that they must know everything and will take drastic action to try and get it, whether it be revenge or a relationship. Snoops are a special brand of weirdo, usually right under your nose, and typically following your newsfeed with creepy tenacity.
Well, there you have it. I could add about a dozen more little things that push my buttons like watery bathrooms, lack of quality cosmetic brands, and street clams but this vent session is now over.