Heading home warms my heart and lifts my spirits

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by a building in which almost everyone lives.

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by the Begich Building. (Photo by Jessica Spengler on Flickr)

When I moved from Manhattan to Phnom Penh toward the end of last year, most of my friends and family made clear their impression that I was heading to the least desirable outpost of the civilized world.

They were clearly wrong.

During my travels over the last month, I discovered Whittier, Alaska, which must rank on any list as one of mankind’s least hospitable municipalities.

The driver of the bus that dropped Lin and me at Anchorage Airport after a 90-minute drive from Whittier through a one-lane tunnel noted that the city began its life as Continue reading

Tuk-tuks, motos, taxis, feet not only ways to travel

IMG_4450Making one’s way around Phnom Penh is not particularly easy and rarely is very safe.

Although my preferred mean of travel is on my feet, literally walking in the gutter with eyes darting in every direction, sometimes it is necessary because of rain, distance or scheduling to resort to other modes.

Thus have I indulged myself in a tuk-tuk on occasion.  Infrequently, I have hailed a man on a motorcycle, the chief hazards with motos being the lack of a helmet and daredevil drivers.  (Actually, it is motodops who hail pedestrians, not the other way around, with boundless hope in the face of constant rejection.)

But one vehicle I cannot bring myself to take is Continue reading

My views about learning Khmer language have evolved

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My teacher with one of his lessons at Brown coffee house, where I often do my language homework.  On this day, however, Meng tutored me there prior to my upcoming travels.

It was seven or eight months ago that I started studying the Khmer language.  I wrote in this space that I felt it was wrong to live in Cambodia or any other foreign country without trying to learn the language.

My opinion has not changed, but circumstances have forced to me think hard about my goals. One such circumstance is a few weeks of travel starting Aug. 13.

(The travel means that you can expect only sporadic tweets should you be following me as well as irregular posts here or on Facebook, if any, for a while.)

Continue reading

Ladies who lunch not alone in admiring youthfulness

IMG_4443One might be forgiven, after reading this post, for thinking that most ordinary Cambodians do not have their priorities in order.

Certainly, they would rank foremost such issues as how to make enough money for food, afford decent shelter and finance an education.  There is a host of necessities for a quality of life that the populations of many other countries wouldn’t express a need to envy. Continue reading

Whither Cambodia after political deadlock is fractured?

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy perform for the cameras.  (Source: Khmer Times)

Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy perform for the cameras, but their agreement is wanting. (Source: Khmer Times)

It is hard to consider as anything but a sellout the opposition party’s agreement last week to take its seats in the National Assembly after a year-long deadlock.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) had boycotted the parliament following the July 2013 election, which the opposition had justifiably branded as rigged.

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s continuing strong-arm tactics over the past year (and many years before) persuaded CNRP President Sam Rainsy to declare victory and cave in, perhaps pointlessly.

Implicitly acknowledging that he had capitulated to a far greater power than the opposition ever could muster by taking to the streets, Rainsy publicly conceded that the deal he made with the devil was his only choice for ending the impasse.  At the same time, however, the globally gallivanting Rainsy turned his back on the large minority faction in his party.

Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy at Sunday's event.

Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainsy at Sunday’s event in a Phnom Penh park.  (Source: Cambodge Info)

That the leader of the CNRP faction, Kem Sokha, had been long silent about the pact is proof of the party’s vulnerability and thus its weakening as a collective force against the Cambodian People’s Party of Hun Sen, who has had an iron grip on the nation for nearly three decades.

Behind the scenes, Sokha did consent to be appointed a top parliamentary official, First Vice President of the National Assembly, so there obviously has been an effort to keep the CNRP from splintering.  Whether that initiative will work in the end is an open question: The evidence is mounting that Sokha’s supporters have been quietly demanding appeasement even as attempts to do so could result in the collapse of the agreement between the CPP and CNRP.

It was, after all, Sokha’s objection to an earlier informal agreement that Continue reading

Some food stores cater to expats, but prices are hefty

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There is a small chain of supermarkets aptly named “Lucky.”  It carries many groceries from the United States, but it is legend among expats here for its high prices.

Although Lucky carries items such Skippy peanut butter, Barilla pasta and Haagan-Dasz ice cream, we have to dig deep to pay for such things.

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Prices are in dollars per 100 grams.

For instance, a small jar of Skippy runs $4.90.  A small container of Hagaan-Dasz goes for as much as $18 — that’s not a typo — and 1.1 pounds of Barilla spaghetti is ours for $2.  I purchased a small jar of Hellman’s light mayonnaise for $4.30.  When I buy a five-ounce can of Bumble Bee solid white tuna fish with spring water, I pay $2.60, not bad, all things considered.

Much of the paltry selection of important cheese is sold by the hundred grams, or less than a quarter pound, for very high prices.

The last time I looked at a container of Driscoll strawberries, Continue reading

Many hotels, airlines won’t allow this fruit’s presence

durian photo: durian durian.jpgThe odor that durian (“turen” in Cambodia) is intense, inescapable.  You can smell the fruit down the street from anywhere it is being sold.

Most folks find it offensive, even nauseating.  Until recently, I was one of those individuals.

However, hearing so many Cambodians rhapsodize over its quality as the local turen season approached its peak a couple of weeks ago, I resolved to appreciate its appeal.
Now I do.

My first attempt at tasting the thing Continue reading