When you arrive in Phnom Penh it feels quite provincial, the airport is small for a capital city, and the little row of people filling in your visa seems incredibly sweet. They each have a job to do in the visa line, it's all very Fordian I suppose, but it seems to give the maximum number of people employment. At the end of the line someone shows your passport photo to everyone in the queue, and says your name wrong. That's okay, I say most of their names wrong too!
The traffic takes a bit of getting used to. The only solid rule in the Cambodian Highway Code is 'don't flatten a monk'. Otherwise anything goes. Driving the wrong way up the street is not just fine, but practically compulsory at least once a day. Cars do seem to obey red lights at junctions, but tuk tuks and moto's just go when they think they might not cause a pile up. The drivers are incredibly patient, they just slow down politely when someone cuts them up, and this makes it work.
When I arrived I decided that I would never be able to cross the street, especially the one in front of my apartment which has four lanes of traffic (though if you count the traffic driving in the wrong direction then there are six lanes!) However I now cross the road without worrying too much that I am going to die, and I only have to have a sharp intake of breath every now and then. The secret is to walk slowly into the traffic, and hope it drives around you. So far it has worked fine. Breaking into a trot is a complete mistake, as you don't give them time to miss you. Using a monk as a shield works well if you can find one.
I travel to school by motobike taxi now. It's a really good way to wake up in the morning, just wait for the adrenalin to hit! I have a regular driver, and he is quite old. He looks about fifty, which probably means he's my age. The first couple of trips he went quite slowly; I was clinging on for dear life, and I think he could smell my fear. Now I'm much more relaxed, so he goes quite a bit faster. He's a nice chap, and I pay him a little over the odds for the journey. Hopefully he can save up enough to get his teeth fixed, possibly at the 'Shine up for Charming Smile' dentist. We pass it everyday.
I've settled into my flat pretty well. I can see the traffic bombing up and down Norodom Blvd from my room, and the Independence Monument, which looks stunning and very alien when it's lit up at night. Phnom Penh is an incredibly beautiful city. There are ugly bits, as there are in every city, but most of the time when I travel around by tuk tuk it just takes my breath away. The city is full of wide boulevards, green lawns and trees. The colonial architecture is beautiful, and all around me there are pagodas and palaces. It is just so romantic! Especially after dark and in the rain.
Teaching here is wonderful so far. My students are very respectful, which is a marked contrast to most of the European kids I taught in the summer. No Belgian or French attitude here. I have learnt most of their names, though I have rather a lot of Roths (pronounced Rot), Riths, Boths, Meys and Teys! One girl asked me to call her Whore, which made me pause for a second, but whatever! I did my crazy questions lesson (thank you to Aga for that one!) as the ice-breaker, and I think most of the students now think that I am rather eccentric. Heaven knows where they got that idea! We have all struggled with the future tenses this week, especially the teacher. I wish I'd learned to speak English properly!
It was a long week and I finished it off with the great pleasure of watching the bloody French stuff us at rugby! Thank you very much the England team for being utterly atrocious! It was just fab sitting in the sports bar listening to the Marseillaise being sung fifty times, supping Angkor beer, and recovering from a tough first week. On the plus side calling the bar Score was inspired. It lets me use the line 'I'm just off to Score'! Oh well, I'll be supporting Wales for the rest of the tournament. Dad was born in Wales and we spent every holiday there for the first twelve years of my life!
Well I'm going to spend the rest of Sunday as lazily as possible before returning to the madness next week. That's if I can get across Norodom Blvd in one piece of course!