As I draft this post, I am being assaulted by the demolition sounds on the floor above our apartment and by the extraordinary amount of construction in the surrounding blocks.
We live in the desirable neighborhood of Bueng Keng Kang 1, where many expats prefer to live and dine, though there are more expensive parts of Phnom Penh that also are popular. Even with rents rocketing up, the amount of new construction here astonishes me.
I count some 10 mostly small projects under way within a two-block radius of our building, and a paucity of tall buildings means that the noise really carries. Although we are 11 floors from the street, the clamor directly below makes clear thinking and good writing nearly impossible. Never mind a nap.
They are tearing down lovely old, if shabby, villas to maximize use of their footprints, erecting condominiums that could pass for skyscrapers such as a 32-story one nearing completion nearby, and enlarging or otherwise modifying a variety of structures.
Zoning regulations, which I guess exist, don’t seem to apply to most situations. Or developers find a pragmatic way to persuade the authorities that their plans are okay. Should a building obliterate the sun or a view, well, too bad for the residents next door. It happens a lot.
I attribute all that activity to cheap labor on the one hand and a surge of optimism by developers. They undoubtedly believe that primarily investors from Cambodia and elsewhere in Asia see opportunity in this real estate market. And they clearly seem to be unworried by the political situation.
Yet I can’t help but wonder whether a bubble is growing, at least in my neighborhood.
I recently heard that the 32-story building linked above is variously 40 percent and 70 percent sold with scheduled completion in April and that the market is wealthy Khmer investors. Units that go unsold or those purchased as investments will be rented out. It is not inconceivable that we will rent one of the smaller apartments.
With respect to my current situation, the noise from upstairs is not unlike a dentist’s drill on steroids along with a sledgehammer that seems to threaten the integrity of our ceilings. (I referred previously to the racket as like a jackhammer, and that characterization is not far from the reality since I believe it actually is a mini-jackhammer.) So bad is the auditory insult that I usually flee to Brown coffee shop, the roof or the streets to run errands.
The building’s assistant manager claims she “forgot” to tell us about the work when we rented the place and so we obtained a tiny reduction in the rent. (It seems we are perhaps the only ones to complain since nearly all other residents seem to be away at work all day.)
I encountered her boss, who lives in the building two relatively tranquil floors above the combination of three apartments, and he confessed about our situation, “I don’t know what to do, this is Cambodia.”
As for the work below our living room and bedroom, it starts at 7 a.m. and goes on seven days a week. I have the dubious pleasure of hearing a veritable unending symphony of pounding on metal, hammering of nails and use of a circular saw that screams inconsolably. The noise from there borders on unbearable, too.
When I contemplated moving to Phnom Penh, I was concerned about street noise, which, ironically, hasn’t been a problem. Now I know better and will act accordingly, but finding the right apartment that doesn’t face present or, worse, unpredictable future construction here in Bueng Keng Kang 1 is proving to be an immense challenge.