a blog about the cultural experiences my husband and I have because of our work abroad...what's delightful and beautiful about different countries and cultures...what we have learned from living and working in countries other than our home country...and how those experiences have changed us

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Saturday shopping in Phnom Penh

On Saturday I decided I needed to make a trip to the Russian market to get Stephen a couple more of his favorite shirts. I asked our friend Mouychean to meet us there.
Our first purchase was breakfast: ansam chake (a banana wrapped with sweetened rice toasted over coals in a banana leaf). 25 cents a piece. Mouychean took us to the vendor from whom she bought hers and chose ours for us, making sure they were some of hottest ones on the cart.
After the ansam chake cart, we quickly found a stall owner who had the style of shirt we were looking for. As a happy surprise, she also had it in cream and black in addition to the white we normally buy. "I have long sleeve and short sleeve," she said. Stephen and I both said, "short sleeve!" I'm sure! Long sleeves in this heat?!
Three work shirts for Stephen: $8 each but I bargained for 3 for $23. I really liked the woman who sold us these shirts. She was an effective saleswoman. She detailed her merchandise and responded to everything I said, all in rapid-fire speech. Of course after I negotiated the shirts for Stephen she wanted me to get something. "You need white shirt madam?" I remembered that I wanted some t-shirts for working out. I often think out loud about purchases so when I picked up a grey one and noticed it was nice and thick, I said so. "You want thin madam? I have thin."
I bought two, one thick, one thin for $5. After that she said, "Next time you need shirt, you come to me." I said, "ok". She was beautiful, as so many Cambodian women are, and I wanted to take her picture but I had left my camera at home.

We had the shirts, the purpose of the shopping trip, but decided to browse a bit before leaving. We hadn't walked very far from the shirt stall when a woman carrying a basket of books, cards, and prints asked me if I wanted to buy something. I turned and smiled to tell her "no thank you" when one look at her face with its many scars (Stephen thought maybe from an acid burn) and I decided that yes, I did need some prints today.
Three prints for $5. She was very sweet, talking constantly in Khmer to Mouychean and English to me, all the while holding the prints up for me to make my choices. She thanked me and said, "Bless you." I did feel blessed. I desperately want to improve people's lives, relieve their suffering, especially women. So I was her customer that day. It's a small thing. But that she was carrying a basket probably means she cannot afford the rent for a stall in the market. Which means she is poorer than those selling from a stall. I didn't ignore her. I didn't brush her aside and walk on by. And I felt that in my soul. And that's something good that I get from living in Cambodia.
As we continued to meander, Stephen pointed out some embroidered dragonflies to me. They happened to be on a coin purse and of course I need another one, for my Singapore money. I've filled all my other coin purses with Japanese yen, Thai baht, Burmese (Myanmar) kyat. This gorgeous little silk purse will be perfect for our upcoming trip.

We had spent less than an hour in the market but that felt like quite enough, my shirt was soaked through and I didn't have any more tissues to mop my face. In a few months, we will have lived in this climate for 2 years and yet the only signs I have that I've acclimated at all is that my face no longer gets red from the heat and I'm not quite as exhausted when we get back home from an outing!
As we left the market we passed a pineapple cart on the street. I asked Mouychean if they were good. She searched the cart and found the best ones for us. Two pineapples for $1. Super sweet and delicious. The young guy pushing the cart would have been happy to cut it for me and I would have appreciated his skill, but because I cannot trust he uses safe food practices, I cut the pineapple at home and tried to copy the Cambodian method.
From the Russian market we drove to the air conditioned Sovanna mall to look for shoes and buy groceries. The tile in our apartment is hard on my feet. We take off our shoes at the door, a common Khmer practice but we do it to lower the germs and dirt we track in. I needed some strictly indoor shoes.
My new $14 shoes. Inexpensive, soft, easy on and off... just right. Mouychean bargained for me to get this price.

We ate lunch at the mall, bought our groceries and drove home. As we were waiting for the guard to open our gate, I noticed our mango guy across the street. When he saw me he waved and drove his moto over to our apartment building.
I bought our usual $3 worth of mangoes. There are nine there altogether.
I regularly make mango smoothies just like this one using only mango puree and ice. Stephen loves them.

In general, I do not think of shopping as fun and entertaining. I shop because I have to. But living in Cambodia makes shopping a unique experience and this Saturday's shopping trip was full of small delights.

Friday, March 15, 2013

to Singapore for medical care

Where do expats living in Cambodia go when they need 1st world medicine? Singapore. This is the crazy life we are living: instead of a trip to Singapore being an exotic exciting holiday, it's what we have to do to get decent medical care! Though I fully intended to document our trip, I didn't take a lot of tourist photos. I was just too tired. There are a few though so scroll down for those.

The last several months have been quite challenging for us. It's beginning to feel like once a person gets sick in Cambodia their immune system just never fully recovers. Since about mid-September Stephen has suffered from one illness after the next. Living in Cambodia can seem just fine until you get sick. It's when you become ill and need treatment that the limitations of a third world setting become glaringly apparent. And the reality is there are just a lot more bugs (both diseases and insects carrying them) running around here. And they are stronger because treatment is often absent or inadequate which creates conditions for resistant bugs to develop. Unfortunately for Stephen he was infected by one of these drug resistant strains of staph infection. But we only just learned this a few days ago. The poor guy has been suffering from this infection and treating it the best he could since the middle of January. He went to a generally well regarded international clinic to seek treatment only to be diagnosed with scabies despite lack of its symptoms. Scabies is highly contagious so logically I should have been afflicted too but I had not the slightest signs. So Stephen turned to the internet to self-treat. Such is the state of medical care in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Stephen is here to improve health and provide much needed healthcare and now he's suffering from poor health and lack of access to quality healthcare! So finally we were able to take the 2-hour flight to Singapore and Stephen went to the Raffles Hospital. (I have a nice graphic picture of Stephen's leg with it's oozing abscess, but I'll spare you the gore.)

We were hoping to also enjoy some of the other benefits of the first world too but Stephen's condition proved to be too severe for much and we spent the majority of our time at the hospital or in our hotel room. After months of treating Stephen at home it was a relief for me to know he was being treated by capable professionals. The time I spent waiting in the hospital was actually some of the most relaxing I've had in months. Even the cappuccino that I bought at the kiosk in the hotel lobby was one of the best coffees I've tasted in a long while.
We stayed in The Daulat boutique hotel in "Little India" that, but for the massive construction projects between our hotel and the hospital, would have made for a lovely stay. However, we fully enjoyed the rain showerhead, posturepedic mattress, soft linens, Nespresso machine, and very effective air conditioning.
And during our brief outings to shop for some treats we can't get in Cambodia (coffee, chocolate, Aveda hair products) I discovered a little shop called Awfully Chocolate. When I approached the counter the girl behind it started right in with tantalizing descriptions of several items in the case. "This cake is our most popular it has six layers of chocolate, it's sold by weight. Or what about our flourless cake, it's like a dense brownie." I looked at the items she suggested and then I noticed the salted butterscotch brownies, "How are the butterscotch brownies?" I asked. Without missing a beat she replied cheerfully, "Oh, I like really like them. It's a nice mix of sweet and salty." Perfect! I went back two days later and bought a hazelnut crumble. The spoon they included was too awesome.
So this time our trip to Singapore was not exactly what we would have preferred. But another trip may be coming up shortly and then maybe we'll get to explore and enjoy the city/state more extensively and hopefully get a lot more photos to show for it!