First week in Phnom Penh: school, cops and submachine guns

Friday 6 August 2010

I arrived in Phnom Penh. The airport has a fixed tuktuk fare from the airport to the city of $7, so that saves the hassle of negotiating (haggling) with a driver when you don’t know the right fare. I had forgotten this since my last trip in April.

Because of the greater traffic congestion here, many main roads have concrete barriers down the centre of the road to stop people swapping and driving on the driving on the wrong side of the road as they do in Siem Reap. The hotel is quite comfortable. I went for a walk round to familiarise myself with the main streets nearby, bought some soap and shampoo, but didn’t find a place that sold shaving cream or dental floss.

 The hotel serves breakfast for two dollars. It includes toast, cereal, watermelon, banana and juice tea or coffee. 

I had an interesting conversation with a western film-maker. He is making a documentary about the destruction of the forests in Asia and how it’s affecting orang-utans. He said sometimes animal rescue organisations will find orang-utans which are being held as domestic pets, and the animal has copied human habits to the point where the animal has learned to smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and use the remote on the TV to change channels. I had heard of the destruction of forest causing these creatures to become endangered but I didn’t realise people kept them as pets and let them learn human habits like this. I was actually quite shocked.

On Sunday (8th)

 I went out with the Hash House Harriers for a walk in the country side outside Phnom Penh. They were a nice group of people. Apparently there is one of these groups in Seam Reap, but I was never aware of it when I was there. Afterwards we had a multiple course dinner in a restaurant for $4 each.

 Monday 9th.

I went to my new school. The tuk tuk driver got lost going to the school.  I met Lisa, a volunteer who is an Australian Goodwill Ambassador, Sokouhn, one of the teachers, Sokien, the guard, and Boray, the school administrator. Everyone seemed very nice and friendly.

Tuesday 10th

I went out this morning and met three of my pupils. We were up on the second floor balcony studying some newspaper articles. Their English is good: they could read and discuss newspaper articles about election violence in the Philippines and deportation of asylum seekers. There was a lot of noise outside our building.   The girls went over to the edge of the balcony and I followed them just in time to see a couple of police motor bikes speed past (which is not easy on a dirt road with potholes filled by broken bricks and masonry). One of the cops had a sub machinegun on his back. The girls could hear the locals in the street saying the police were chasing two thieves on a motor bike. The cops had fired three shots into the air. Then there was silence for a few minutes. Then the sound of motor bikes again. The cops came back, and on one motor bike they had a cop at the front, a guy in hand cuffs behind him and a cop sitting behind him, i.e., three guys on one bike. (This is quite common here to have three or four people (which usually include a kid or two) on one bike. The kids could hear the locals saying the cops got one guy but the one with the bike got away.  So that provided an instant essay in which they could practice past tense verbs + ing (were studying, were riding, and were shooting. But next time I’ll stay away from the edge of the balcony if I hear banging noises: as someone reminded me today, “what goes up (bullets) must come down.”

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