I’ve heard people here refer to Phnom Penh as a “concrete jungle” but I find it refreshing. Something draining about life in Beijing is the greyness. A big part of that is living under a blanket of smog (which I’ve written about before), but there’s also a lot of grey concrete. So one thing I enjoy about Phnom Penh is the variety – colour, texture, flora.
While there are a LOT of concrete phteah lvang terrace style buildings here they are painted different colours, often with contrasting trim. The metal gates outside buildings are often beige or black, but I’ve seen red, orange, blue, green, gold, pink and more – even pastel colours. The rooves of buildings are often covered in tiles or sheet metal and these come in a variety of colours – lots of red and blue, but other colours as well. From the air it’s all red and blue, with some green and brown and beige in the mix, and that combination of colours always tells me where I’m landing!
All that, however, pales in comparison to the sky. I love looking at the sky here! It’s usually a lovely blue colour, with some fluffy white clouds. The sunsets are often amazing – with vivid pinks and oranges, or subtle lilacs. I’ve seen sunsets so colourful they bathe the whole street in reflected colour. I’ve seen sunset cloudscapes like paintings, where every layer of cloud is a different colour.
Then there’s the trees. While there are lots of parks in Beijing, and certainly more trees in general than in Phnom Penh, the trees here feel more natural. Nature tends to be more manipulated and cultivated in Beijing. Everything is planned, pruned, transplanted. The trees are in clean rows, trunks perfectly straight and painted white. Grass, when it’s there, is for looking – not touching. Here, however, I constantly see big-ish trees, refreshingling unmanicured, leaning over walls or fences. Not far from my house a big mango trees extends out over a wall, big green mangos dangling above a tiny alley. It’s one of hundreds of similar mango trees around the city.
Then there are the potted plants. While the streets are all concrete, many places have a few (or a lot!) of plants in pots outside their gate. Sometimes there is a small space cleared between the tiles to plant some trees, or even a larger tree poking up through them, but mostly it’s pots. Every day I see pots of bamboo, papayas, pomegranates, hibiscus, frangipani (plumeria), all sorts of palms, and so much more. Thick green foliage, tall cactus-like plants, bright flowers, and even herbs like mint and basil.
I also love the open-air quality of travel by tuktuk. It makes everything feel closer, more real, more alive. Maybe that makes me notice the colours more. Sure, you get to breathe car and truck fumes kinda directly, but it’s still better than the air in Beijing!
I know these are small things, but they’re the things I notice. They are small things that I enjoy, things I like about living here. As I look ahead, and wonder about what life will be like in Australia, I think about the small things I will enjoy there – like blue skies, green grass, and big trees for sure. Jacarandas and other plants from my childhood in Sydney. But what else?