I am currently at Java Café, overlooking Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument, an impeccably manicured lawn, and a giant tooth. The coffee is tasty and the internet is free, and deciphering whether the password to get online is “world cup” or “welcome” makes for an entertaining tête-à-tête with the waiter.
Our volunteer program directors organized an orientation yesterday, lasting from 8 in the morning to roughly 10 pm (with an hour gap in between for us to stand in front of a fan).
The directors came up with a series of activities for us to learn more about Khmer culture and language, and become acclimated with the city. Among other things, we were taken to the Russian Market, one of the largest in Phnom Penh, selling products ranging from cooked dogs to silk scarves, which Chloe and I plan on purchasing and bequeathing to each person who leaves a comment on the blog (the scarves. Not the dogs).
But the market visit didn’t come for free. No, no. The directors planned a rather amusing game for us volunteers, where we were given a list of questions about the market, and it was up to us to explore and ask the local merchants for the answers. What’s a kroma? How much does a pirated DVD cost? What’s the difference between a mangosteen and a dragonfruit?
Chloe and I created our own game. It was called, if we leave now and get a coffee, chances are the people who follow suit will be our friends.
And sure enough, after our own tour (where we actually passed the DVD, mangosteen, and kroma stands), we left the 180 degree market climate, and made our way toward a local café, where four fellow volunteers ended up finding us, and establishing a longstanding friendship with us forever.
Later that night, we had a volunteer dinner, where everyone in our group, about 15 of us, gathered for a great venue, great food, and great company.
I used the time as an opportunity to simply eat. everything in sight.
When you’re seated in front of a mid-twenties extremely hunky aspiring actor from London who happens to be spending special quality time with the tall blonde statuesque volunteer on his downtime and talking sixty-seven miles a minute on his dinner time, you’re allotted little time to speak, and much time to stuff face. Hello, fried everything.
British: And you are?
MJ: I’m M–
British: It’s rather strange, really, many people think I’m a Kiwi or even a Yankee because I can imitate their accents really, really well. I just have a knack for it. And I act professionally. So I just have a really good ear. But truly I’m from London—I’m actually quite…well…I’m actually quite posh. The other day I was asked if I was David Beckham! (I’m not David Beckham). I went to boarding school. My father went to Oxford University, for crying out loud! But after spending so much time in Tanzania and Darfur and Iran and Myanmar and Malaysia and Thailand and Australia and Buffalo and diving off the coast of the Galapagos and working alongside Mother Theresa, I suppose your accent naturally changes, doesn’t it? Will you pass the rice?
Meanwhile, there is no more rice, as I have wiped the plate clean.
On a different note, we’ve upgraded! No more tiny room with unopenable window, lumpy small bed, and no baggage room! With a little sweet talk and a couple of favors here and there, we moved into a master suite, with two full beds, a large table, a closet, balcony, glass doors, and, I dare say it, a ceiling above the bathroom.
Ladies and gentlemen, say hello, to the Taj Mahal: