Being a foreigner in local markets can be daunting

This is not my local market, but it is typical of markets found everywhere in Cambodia.

This is not my local market, but, other than its spaciousness, it’s typical of indoor markets found everywhere in Cambodia.  I recall that I took this photo on an important Buddhist holiday.

Closing in on two years in this country, I relish more than ever my daily encounters with Cambodians and the chance to practice my atrocious grasp of the language.

It is one thing to try to speak and understand Khmer with waiters and gym trainers who are bilingual to greater or lesser degrees. They seem to enjoy my struggles with pronunciation — you try to articulate as one sound the diphthong “ng” and the triphthong “pdt.”

It is quite another thing to climb the Mount Everest of fathoming a normal rush of words that I know yet fail miserably to hear when they are strung together in speech.

I long ago gave up trying to read or, horrors, write the language.  But words and some grammar are beginning to sink in and I now can engage in the most rudimentary of short conversations such as ordering food in a restaurant.

The big problem with learning Khmer where I usually range is that almost everyone seems to speak enough English that I am not called upon to use the local language.  Moreover, they usually don’t expect me to speak Khmer and I don’t always expect them to speak English, inevitably causing confusion.  Still, I persist stubbornly.

In the last several weeks, I finally have become emboldened to Continue reading

A way of life in Cambodia, makes expressions obscure

Even in a university classroom, there are those who choose to wear a mask as this Facebook photo demonstrates.

Even in a university classroom, some students  wear a mask, as this Facebook photo demonstrates.

Given the way so many Cambodians lead their lives, you might be forgiven for thinking you are in a nation with an enduring epidemic of contagious diseases. Continue reading

In Cambodia, too, death is certain in life–but not taxes

money_5When you know someone well enough here in Cambodia, sometimes even not so well, it is acceptable to ask financial questions thought elsewhere to be too personal.

To query all but the elite about how much they spend on housing or even how much money they earn every month may not be considered to be the least bit impolite.  Asking about the cost of household help is fine.

And you may inquire without hesitation about the taxes that someone pays. However, you can count on a response that will in most cases be surprisingly short: an unabashed chortle.

I sometimes have had occasion to  Continue reading

WSJ lists 7 things you may not know about expat life

Teaching is a job to which expats tend to gravitate. Source:

Teaching is a job to which expats tend to gravitate, but pay in Cambodia is low. Source:

The life of an expat may contain many surprises, the Wall Street Journal noted in an article not so long ago.

It turns out, according to a survey on which the article is based, that Ecuador provides the most happiness to expats and that Europe, unsurprisingly, offers the best education.

But would you imagine that Ireland falls behind Russia, Oman and Continue reading

Good news arrives about accident victim, mother of 3

Poul during better days.

Poul during better days.

If you happened to read my post last week, then perhaps you noticed that a woman who is a trainer at my gym was hurt in an accident only a few blocks from the facility on a major boulevard.  Her condition has improved somewhat, but that is hardly the end of her troubles.

Details are kind of sparse.  It seems she was riding her moto home from a night out early Sunday morning a week and a half ago.  Apparently, Poul pulled over and stopped when she noticed a car driving dangerously close to her.

I gather that the vehicle clipped her bike and tossed her onto the pavement.  Poul was not wearing a helmet, an oversight that technically is against a law and more often honored in the breach (especially passengers) and less often enforced with anything approaching determination.

The car Continue reading

When Cambodians sneeze, listen to sound of silence

5036593719_6dd776fc28_bAmong the countless cultural differences between Cambodians and Westerners is what happens when someone sneezes.

After 20 months living in Phnom Penh, I find it hard to drop certain reactions and expectations. One that comes readily to mind and that I cannot seem to accept concerns cars turning into a street; I still think they will give way to a pedestrian automatically — me.  They usually don’t.

Another has to do with sneezing.  Probably like you, my automatic reaction is to utter a “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone, even a stranger, sneezes.  Where I come from, I know that I can count on hearing wishes for good health when I sneeze or anyone else does in virtually any situation but a performance.

Not so in Cambodia.  It is as if nothing ever happened or that no one cares about another person’s health.

What surprises me is Continue reading

Trying to book short flights with Garuda is nightmare

5-Star?  Not in my book.  Not by a very long shot given appalling customer service.

5-Star? Not in my book. Not by a very long shot given appalling customer service.

The sluggish saga of my attempt to book a roundtrip flight between Bali and a small island began last Saturday.  As I start to draft this post on Wednesday morning, I still have been unable to get my tickets from Garuda, the small Indonesian airline with which I am condemned to deal.

Moreover, responses to my e-mail have gone unanswered or delayed intolerably.  When they arrive, the e-mails contain unreasonable requests.  The only time I seem to get anywhere is when I complain on Twitter and Facebook, proving that social media can have a use beyond seeing what “friends” enjoy for dinner.

You may wonder why I haven’t tried the services of a travel agency, as my wise friend Amanda advised me, or a travel site such as Orbitz.  Continue reading