Culture shock within culture shock

That was a bit weird, going to see Star Wars Rogue One in 3D at the glitziest shopping mall I’ve ever experienced, but doing so in the middle of Phnom Penh!

One of our volunteers who has done well in getting himself some local Cambodian friends, suggested a group outing to the Major Cineplex Complex at the AEON Mall in Phnom Penh.  People have been talking about this places as ‘really amazing’ and ‘great’ but somehow I forgot to filter these comments through the criteria ‘but Lucy, you hate shopping Malls’, so found myself really taken aback and slightly horrified by where we ended up today.

The plan was to see the new Star Wars film.  Well, I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I did see them all when they first came out, and the new release coinciding with the end of our first week of teaching seemed a great excuse to head down and see it.  Some of us rendezvoused at the Volunteers’ House to share tuk tuks ($3 between us, and easy to organise as all the drivers knows the mall, plus I suppose it’s an ‘expected’ destination for westerners  – getting home is a lot more problematic).  I was wearing a capacious white shirt that is really comfortable, but has the unfortunate side-effect of making me look like a weather balloon. Oh well, people don’t know me here, maybe they didn’t particularly notice?

The Mall is an extraordinary and amazing place indeed.  It is HUGE, with all sorts of western outlets (adidas, costa coffee) plus other luxury brand companies from elsewhere.  It knocks Meadowhell in Sheffield into the shade.  Massive, shiny, there was a train on the ground floor offering train rides (for no apparent purpose) at $1.50 a pop.  Towering Christmas Trees bedecked with lights.  Neon everywhere.  It is spectacular, and for me un-nerving.  It is like culture shock within culture shock, so bizzare after what lies outside.

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Big shopping multiplex places like this are not my natural habitat. The effect is even more jarring if you have been out and about in Phnom Penh for a while. This is air-conditioned, glittering luxury. It is where the great and the good hang out. There was even a car sales area with the most enormous four by four toyata hilux type vehicles and even an open-topped sports car for scrutiny.  Not exactly practical for negotiating the streets of Phnom Penh, or indeed anywhere in Cambodia, but I’ll take a wild guess that that isn’t really the point!

So, we met up with other cinema goers – and paid over out $6 a ticket.  It was an extra $1 for the 3D glasses, but I’d managed to borrow a pair using my cunning contacts.  We had a bit of time to spare, so I went with others and was introduced to the concept of a ‘blizzard’ a sort of chemically manufactured ice-cream, that is presented to you upside down for some reason. Well, I know the reason, to show you it is that solid, but why?  The ice-cream offering was very sweet and very cold, it made my tongue numb, gave me brain freeze and probably counteracted all the benefits of my week of workouts at the gym. Still, I have said before that the only way to grow is to do something every day that takes you out of your comfort zone. For today this was perhaps part of that package.  The outlet had also imaginatively decorated their christmas tree with empty ice-cream cartons, which looked about as lovely as you imagine it would have looked!


I had a precautionary pee before going into the cinema.  I know this may come across as weird, because I took some photos in the cubicle.  The thing is, I honestly didn’t have the intelligence to work out how to use the loo.  I mean, squat toilets are one thing, but they have a logic to them, what are you supposed to do with all these options?  I did consider having a go, but was too scared of causing a flood, or otherwise during attention to myself and needing to be rescued.  I therefore went for the couple of snapshots options so I could confer with others later.  Turns out they are for front and back bottom for ladies shall we say.  (Why family though?  How is that intuitive) though I imagine the drip dry would take a while as you are discouraged from using toilet paper partly by its usual absence, and partly by the implication that every time you use a sheet a tree tumbles in the forest.  There was a poster with instructions, but my Khmer isn’t good enough for that to be any help at all.

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We were quite a party gathering for the film.  This cinema is seriously plush. The number of seats was small, but the seats huge, comfy with massive amounts of leg room and they reclined back.  I could comfortably cross my legs to sit on mine, which was great, apart from the fact it may have contributed to me ever so slightly nodding off at various points during the film.  The comfort experience was way superior to any cinema I’ve ever been to in the UK, although I’m not a regular mainstream cinema goer, so for all I know this may now be the industry standard.  In any even I had no idea I was quite so tired.  The 3D worked well by the way, but Khmer subtitles sort of levitated at the forefront of the film throughout which was a bit weird.

As for the film well, it was certainly visually impressive, very violent, the Star Wars officiandos amongst us, of who there were a number, all gave it the thumbs up.  I suppose I thought it well done, but completely unmoving.  I got tired of all the explosions, killings, wanton destruction, it’s not my bag. Maybe it was because I was tired of the violence that I nodded off and not post teaching fatigue?   The experience of the cinema was good, and I was impressed by (if a bit mystified by) the CGI appearances of Peter Cushing and the original Princess Leia, which was odd.

A hit though.  The marority opted to stay on, but I hate shopping malls, so me and a couple of others got a tuk tuk to the Russian Market.  It was still daylight, we figured if we got there we could walk it if necessary. As it happened, we went down the street where one volunteer lived, so she bailed.  Me and the other went on in search of our apartment, it would be an extra $1 to do so, that was fine. Some sign language and confusion got us within sight of it, but the way was blocked by a substantial bottle neck caused by a particularly inconveniently sited wedding tent. We got out.   I paid the $4 I thought we’d agreed. The tuk tuk driver was overcome.  I was confused.   We had a job getting past the tent as the road was entirely blocked by trucks brushing the canvas side on one side, and unwary pedestrians the other.  I took refuge behind a cement mixer, one of many on display in the conveniently situation cement mixer shop. They are all red.  I really want to take a photo of this shop sometime, it’s splendid. All along my road are construction shops and motorbike part shops. Handy if I was building or riding a moto.  Not handy for toilet paper purchases or food. When I got back I facebook messaged (get me and my hi-tech social media engagement) the other passenger to see if she had paid for the tuk tuk as well.  No she hadn’t.  I’m mystified, did I hand over a bigger bill than intended?  Or did I misunderstand the demand for the extra $1 (it was originally a $3 ride) and so he considered himself generously tipped?  I have no idea.  As I am pretty sure I didn’t hand over too much, if I did so by accident and he is happy and I havent noticed the loss that’s fine.  Maybe it’s his good kharma, hopefully not my bad…

I’ve had a day of paying too much for things though.  I went to get my phone topped up today from the woman downstairs who manages the apartments. She did something on her phone, but the credit never came through.  She had mis-keyed the phone number so $10 credit whizzed onto some other lucky person’s mobile.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  It was her mistake, but I suspect she can ill afford to lose $10, far less than me. In the end I suggested we each paid $5, so I gave her $15.  I hope that was the right way to handle it.  In the UK I’d think it was the traders fault so tough, but here it is different.  On the other hand, I didn’t see why I should pay out the whole $10.  She seemed grateful for the compromise, doing a solemn thank you with her hands placed in front of her humbly.  I felt bad, it sort of suggested that even the $5 would be a great loss to her, because she was clearly relieved to get that much back.  Oh well.  I’ll mull it over.  Maybe I should tip her when I leave or something.  It was her error, but for her to carry the loss is disproportionate.  I hate these calls, I feel so ignorant about what money means in Cambodia. What do local people actually earn?  When and how much should you tip?  I don’t feel wealthy, I am running down my savings and panicking hugely about how I will live back in the UK, but everything is comparative.  There is no question that I live well here compared to many, most even.  It is strange but true.  So as ever, even a jaunt to the cinema raises questions.

Early night.  Tomorrow, more lesson planning.  I’d like to finally get ahead of myself, I wonder if that is possible!


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