CommentaryExpat Life

Postcard from Rainy Kampot

I returned from the states a while back in the thick of rainy season. Whereas in Phnom Penh the rain usually comes, often in great torrents, and moves on not long after, in Kampot, not far from the sea, it comes and then more or less hangs around for a while. It does come crashing down at times, but more often reminds me of Oregon where it keeps up a steady light rain or just feels cloudy and socked in for hours or days at a time.

I like rainy season, it’s cool, breezy, changeable, electric. It’s also downright quiet, especially in the little burg, especially at night. It ‘d be excruciatingly so if I lived there exclusively, which might eventually be a problem since I expect to be spending more time there.

I’ve long held the view that people need both city and country – I certainly do. However, this poses some questions and presents oneself with a logistics drawback. On the former, should one live in each a year at a time? Seasonally? A week? Whichever way, you still need, or would want, two domiciles. Even at a year at a time, think of the hassle of looking for a new apartment every year, not to mention moving all your shit. I can live out of a backpack, but not for extended periods.

The shorter the time – I currently make about 3 round trips a month – the more of your life, and money, you spend traveling in between. And for sure, you need two places: hotels can’t possibly do for the long run; not for me, I need my own space. As a consequence, I’m supporting two places and a car and the cost of getting back and forth, though I sometimes have riders to share the gas.

Overall, Kampot is much wetter than the capital, though partly it may just feel so because, being a small town, it’s so much greener. Those who know me – I have about 80 plants in my standard 60 square meter flat in Phnom Penh – can understand the importance I might attach to the green thing.

I generally spend four nights at a time in Kampot, for two reasons. If I stay longer, I need to find someone to water the plants, which isn’t all that difficult, except they wouldn’t necessarily know how much to give each one – it’s easier to water too much than too little – I’ve had some offed as a consequence.

Equally, if not more important, if I’m not fortunate to be able to import some company, I get cabin fever. With only two bars open after 11PM, it gets old fast. Additional night life is on the way, we’re told, but I doubt if it will be enough for me. Besides, many of my Phnom Penh activities and friends are durable and not easily interchanged or replaced.

Then I spend around 7 days in Phnom Penh. Regardless of its irresistible draw, by the seventh day I’m really, really ready to come back to my 3rd world Eden by the bay – we call it a river, it’s technically an estuary but officially referred to as a bay.

I’m totally psyched about getting the land together. The height of rainy season has good chunks of the spread under water so I’ll need to do some drainage and move some dirt around to keep more of it dry. Before I left for the states I planted four banana trees, which are kinda indestructible, and a dozen other fruit trees, most of which made it. July and August are wet, but not consistently, so occasional dry spells kept most in a holding action- staying alive but not growing. Meanwhile I put another twelve in the ground expecting I’ll have a well and water system in place before everything dries up in March and April.

Part of the problem with the first group of trees is that I bought ones in very small pots. Outside of Takmao lining both sides of National Highway #2 is a hundred or so plant stores. I always take route 2 to the Takeo junction and then cross over to 3 for the final leg of the trip. Going via two has the disadvantage of adding about 6 kilometers to the trip, but well worth it because it’s wider, smoother and has less traffic- and has all those plant stores to indulge my fantasies. I generally wait till I have a Khmer on board to translate but that time just couldn’t resist and bought four trees with only a bare idea of what I was getting. Anyway, it’s a mistake to buy trees in small pots: for another dollar or two you get an older tree that will fruit a year or two earlier and easily make up for the extra cost.

I’m going to hire a local to start working on the land, to prepare areas for ornamental plants and a vegetable garden, work on drainage and start digging a pond. There needs to be somebody there quite often if not every day to foil thievery. Might even need a little caretaker house if I’m not going to be there for a week at a time. I’ll definitely need to be there more when construction starts or they’ll screw things up for sure.
I won’t be able to begin work on a house until the land dries up and I can build a driveway to get to the building site – the rice paddy at the front of the place is pretty wet. Meanwhile, I’ve come up with a house plan far superior to the original one – an octagon, but irregular, possibly with a wood second floor and wood deck. I’m afraid it’ll be too complicated to do without an architect, so that’s probably my next challenge.

Stan Kahn

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