Honestly, left to my own devices I’d ignore Christmas. I find it a pretty grim time of year, and if I wanted to do traditional Christmas things I’d not have come to Cambodia over the whole Winterval period. I hate all the enforced joy and mandatory present exchanges and the tyranny of Christmas card etiquette and work dos. It’s a social nightmare. I had though Phnom Penh for Christmas might offer some respite from these pressures, but it seems no.
It was suggested that we CWF teachers should (oh joy) have a secret santa! $5 max for a gift. This idea was later amended to two $2.50 gifts with a ‘fun game’ using dice involving exchange, unwrap or select a gift (no I don’t really get it either). I was feeling VERY curmudgeonly about the whole thing, but I do/did accept from a team building perspective it wouldn’t do to be the one that boycotted the whole affair. Plus (oh joy on joy) the Secret Santa exchange is to take place as the start of a teachers’ meeting (which is basically mandatory) so you might as well wear a neon sign proclaiming yourself to be the Grinch alongside a Bah Humbug T-shirt. If you can’t beat ’em you are going to have to join them!
However, I can report that this has turned into quite a fun project. Against my better instincts, I am now looking forward to this Secret Santa malarkey, as I am equipped with fine tat from the Russian Market, which turned out to be a great hunting ground for Christmas purchases.
So I am sort of settling to a routine now. Up 6.00 ish, to the gym for a run on the treadmill followed by a swim. Normally it’s a bit of a rush to get breakfast and then get to school for a teacher workshop or meeting, but today there was no meeting, so I went with a friend for a leisurely breakfast at a great coffee bar where I had eggs and potatoes for $3.50 which bizarrely also came with sausages which I did not eat but gave to my traveling companion.
Then we both headed to the Russian Market in search of our Secret Santa offerings. It turned into a really fun mini adventure. When you have a focus for what you want, it is much easier to negotiate the market. It wasn’t too busy, and once our eye was caught by a particular stall other stall holders left us alone. The products available are amazing, and really good value, it seems miserly to bargain really, though we did a bit.
At the first stall I was taken by a wooden tuk tuk which was a craft masterpiece but way too expensive. The stall holder had fantastic English, being university educated and having done English lessons privately too. Her sister ran an adjacent stall. We were able to explain about our maximum budget, and she came up with some suggestions. Coconut bowls with enamel and shell inlay at $2 a piece, pretty little lacquered pots with lids for $2.50. At the adjacent stall her sister had lovely handmade toys and rucksacks, scarves and purses. I ended up getting a little elephant purse for $1 and a fan for $1.50 made of palm leaves I think. I also bought an exquisite mobile of ponies, each hand sewn for $3. I didn’t really haggle, the woman sort of haggled herself, saying normally it is such and such, but because you are buying lots it is so and so. It is all such good value I was happy with that. Plus she was super helpful. My CWF friend (who isn’t my husband actually, but we said it was OK they thought so because I was his mother) was after T-shirts and backpacks. They were so cheap and gorgeous too. I was tempted to buy stuff for myself, but to what purpose. I refrained, settling for my pony mobile and a single coconut bowl. It was really fun. Afterwards the stall holder overheard me saying I needed money ‘ATM?’ she queried, I explained about the fake money, and she duly escorted me to somewhere I could get a wad of 100 notes for just a dollar. Bargain!
The morning had raced away, we took one final detour through the market to get sellotape and I also bought some posters of fruit and veg for a dollar a piece as I have no idea what most of the fruit and veg here is actually called and that is the topic for next week. We then went to get cold drinks from a stall where we were welcomed as regulars since my companion has been before. for $2 each we got an avocado and a dragon fruit smoothie each. Absolutely delicious. They had run out of dragon fruit, but no problem, the woman who owns the stall just went to source some from a neighbour. Sorted.
I went home laden, no wonder the tuk tuk drivers were particularly persistent in their offers of rides!
So, turns out Secret Santa is a fabulous idea, because it made me really explore the Russian Market area and it was so much better. Before it’s seemed dark, un-navigable and hard work because of the constant heckles for business. This time it was fun, full of treasures, and if you want to buy stuff then interaction is fine and fun rather than irksome. I can’t to have an excuse to go back, and I am delighted with what loot I found. I was also tempted by huge costume jewelry, amazed by the lines of tailors bent over their machines or jewelry makers eyes focused on minute details of silverwork. It is an Aladdin’s cave indeed!
So here are my purchases, minus the money, which I may or may not photograph later if I remember. Wads of fake money are everywhere, they are not only used to incentivize students in class, but also to make offerings, so quite a market for them. Why would anyone buy $50 notes when they can have $100 bills I have no idea though…
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in fact. Who’d have though it?