I’m in Cambodia, yet again, with some stories for you. I need to be outside China for just over a week (due to Visa Issues) so I’m here til Monday. I arrived on Friday just in time for a combined youth event which brought together nearly 100 teens from around Phnom Penh. It was a great time – I love these kids! And I’m treated as if it’s totally normal for me to randomly show up here, which is lovely. Someone commented on Sunday that I’m here so often I might as well move here ;)
On Saturday Christina had meetings at a small resort outside town so I went along to sit poolside in the sun, and even took a quick dip. On the way back we had several run-ins with fowl in black plastic. It’s not uncommon here to see chickens or ducks tied to motorbikes or carried by their passengers. But what we saw was a chicken wrapped in black plastic – with head sticking out one end of the plastic roll and tail sticking out the other – perched on top of a water bottle at the back of a motorbike. The whole thing seemed odd, especially since surely this would result in a half-dead chook by the time they got where they were going…? The next fowl incident was a woman carrying a live duck upside-down in a black plastic bag while riding on the back of the motorbike. So far, not particularly unusual. Except that this duck was clearly lifting its head and looking around. Christina dubbed it the “self-aware” duck, and we cheered for it as it flapped and nearly popped out of its bag going around a corner and out of our sight.
You may (or may not) have heard about the flooding in Cambodia over the past month as the Mekong river overflows its banks. Over 100 people have died, and 60,000 have been displaced. Many more are living in waterlogged homes. More than a million people have been affected by flooding. My facebook stream lit up with photos (or stories) of people I know wading through knee-deep water or travelling the streets in boats. One of the key venues for the conference in January (a small international school) was knee-deep and classes had to be moved elsewhere. I read a news item about a village 100 metres from the riverbanks that is three metres underwater. Agriculture is obviously affected, with 220,000 hectares of rice paddies underwater.
While Phnom Penh has been spared the worst of it, there has still been flooding, especially in lower lying areas. Phnom Penh is prone to flooding in the rainy season anyway, when tropical rainstorms dump more water on the streets than the drains can handle (I posted some pics of storm flooding on my last visit). The Friday night youth event was nearly cancelled as a day earlier the entire compund was knee-deep in water. As it was we drove through some deep water on the way home – especially impressive given it had been at least a day since the last rain.
On Saturday night, three of us walked along the riverside – a popular spot, for both locals and tourists. The Mekong was obviously swollen, even setting aside that I’d seen it at lower and more sedate levels. The water was flowing fast and a LOT of vegetation was caught up in the middle of the river. Tourist ferries were still making their way up and down the river, but some were markedly chugging their way upstream. Christina says it was higher still in 2011 – floods that year killed 250 people. We made our way to a rooftop bar overlooking the river and looked back along the riverside at what seemed to be a flashmob of dancers next to a normal group of exercise dancers (in matching shirts). After nibbles and conversation we gave up competing with drunk guys wanting to listen to techno, and girls shining phone-light in our eyes while trying to read their menus, and went off to eat fish and chips.
As I’ve said before, I love the mix of foreign and familiar I get here in Phnom Penh. The familiar is part the similarities of expat life in two different Asian countries, and part the sheer number of times I’ve been here – this is my 9th visit. I worked out that in 2013 I’ve spent 6 weeks in Cambodia this year, as opposed to 3 weeks in Australia, and more than 3 times as much time in Phnom Penh as any Australian city (in 2013). I did the numbers after referring to Phnom Penh as my second home without thinking about it. Sorry Australia, you just got downgraded to third home. Nothing personal, I still love you, I promise!