The Street I Call Home: Phnom Penh, Rue 444 (1)August 17, 2012
I am in no way a hardened traveller; my feet have not trotted this globe. There are so many places I may never see and some that I may, but there is no rush – this is my base, my street, my home.
After a month TEFL training and three months volunteering and living in a volunteer house with 14 others, I found solace here in my apartment on Rue 444, Tuol Tumpoung. I’ve shrugged off the inner twitch that always made me want to change my life, myself, go somewhere else, do something else. It seems here on St. 444, Tuol Tumpoung, Phnom Penh I’ve just slipped into place.
Mornings start here on my balcony with the hacking cough of a man below, the splutter of motos, the sweepings of pavements, the swaying of my orchids against my wind-chimes and the soft male voice of a tuk-tuk driver up the road singing an old Khmer song. Actually, the dogs start it all off- and yes they are annoying yapping little runts but I’m a morning person so it’s OK: another reason why I suit the life here.
I can count on two fingers the times I have seen 5am after a night out in Phnom Penh and it really didn’t feel right. I was a Barang zombie amongst the beauty of morning routine, gentle exercise sessions and sipping of noodle broth.
It was nothing like the rebellious feeling I used to have seeing that time of day back in the UK when everyone was grudging, heads down, on their way to the daily grind whilst we staggered home wide eyed and defiant.
It could be an age thing but I don’t think it is. I know there is a whole other side to Phnom Penh that I don’t see, past 1am. I am absolutely happy to leave that for those who want it and relish my mornings.
Opposite my apartment is a beautiful old building where many of the sellers in Psaa Tuol Tumpoung keep their stalls so there is a lot of coming and going from them and when it floods the ease at which they calmly push their stalls through the river street is amazing.
Some building work has just started on the adjoining house and we (I have friends who have lived in my apartment building for longer than I have) wait in trepidation hoping that this home for the market stall holders and their stalls won’t be gone-they are this street; this street is theirs.
However, right next to them is a CPP building, where the yapping dogs come out every morning and the occasional Lexus is ushered in through the tall white gates. This was really not a good place to live during the elections as you can imagine.
My street has a famous borbor restaurant on it and many locals know exactly where my street is because of this bobor shop. It does not open until lunchtime but is full to burst by around 5pm. It started as a small business and expanded through word of mouth. I think the rice soup there is delicious but Makara says it is definitely not as good as the ladies from outside the market, which is half the price.
A few houses up from the bobor restaurant is our street’s little convenience shop. There is sadness to this story on my street. Opposite the convenience shop where we reluctantly go now, is the house of the old convenience shop: the one we spent the last three years going to.
When I was back in the UK in April for my brother’s wedding the young woman who owned the shop and her son were victims of a fatal road accident. When I came back to my street they were gone. Of course, I assumed they would always be here, leaving me grinning after I’d bought my daily goods and enjoyed fun chats in Khmer with the Mother and English with her wonderful son – an extremely intelligent boy, wise beyond his five years.
We will always remember them and cannot start to imagine the tragic loss for their family.
Next door is the neighbour ‘with issues’, as many local middle aged men have here. Exactly what his issues are we are not entirely certain but he is constantly in a sarong splashing water and spitting at everyone in our apartment and more than once I have heard my landlord argue with him – once a fight involving broomsticks.
Crazy neighbours are common place around the world although here in Cambodia it is not difficult to guess where the craziness stems from.
Downstairs, outside the gate, sits the fat tuk-tuk driver we refuse to use because he is an annoying busybody that never seems to do anything apart from sit in his tuk-tuk making comments and asking questions about everything.
On days when I am back and forth to the market for a few things I do get a little exasperated when he requires the details of the contents of each and every bag I come back with.
It’s friendly, neighbour talk and I should understand it, but harsh as it sounds, his face just annoys me because he’s always there and never shuts up.
The second and concluding part of this article will be posted on Monday, 20th August