Today I bought an unfeasably large hat. It seemed like a very good idea at the time, but I don’t really think it was, even though it only cost me a dollar.
So after last night’s NYE shenanigans, I didn’t have a particularly late night, but I did have a particularly bad night’s sleep. This was partly because I was too excited to drop off quickly, and then when I did I was woken up at four in the morning by 6 consecutive identical ‘Happy New Year’ texts from the guy who founded and runs the CWF project. I don’t know why so many or why at that time, but there was no sleeping through that sequence of bleeps and bips. I appreciated the sentiment, but was less than enamoured with its execution. I learned that other people got their texts bang on midnight. Don’t know why mine formed such a bottle neck that then burst through… Then at 6.00 a.m. I woke up anyway, because that’s when I always wake up, and then I woke up again at 8.30 because that is when I’d set my alarm for. Oh well.
The day dawned HOT. Much hotter than yesterday, honestly, I’d have happily just slept all day, but it seems a waste, what with being in such a great location. I texted my travelling friend, and we agreed to head out for breakfast just after nine. This gave me time to catch the headlines on CNN. All bad of course. I’m really missing BBC news coverage, CNN gives headlines, but frankly the analysis is not to be exacting standards. I got that there has been a terrorist incident in Istanbul and a suicide bombing in Baghdad too I think – or was that the day before. All bad.
We left and walked past the mini shanty town and I felt sad and inadequate. We went to a nearby cafe La Croissette I think, that looked like it would do good coffee. We sat outside so we could watch life by the river, but it also meant we were sitting targets for hawkers of sunglasses, friendship bracelets, guided tours, postcards, beggars, tuk tuk drivers. It all made for uncomfortable dining. I feel guilty, but helpless. There is so much need you can’t meet it. Children selling tug your heartstrings but the message is just don’t buy from them as it reinforces this as a legitimate way to live and then the poverty cycle won’t ever be broken. I struggle more with the older people with disabilities, how are they supposed to live. They are selling stuff for trivial amounts, but I don’t want it, and I especially don’t want it when I’m having breakfast – and then you feel like a privileged, out of touch, ignorant vile person for being affronted by being faced with the reality of poverty, because that’s what it is really. Who is honestly more uncomfortable, someone at the fringes of society such that they have to bet, or me, an over-fed tourist who can remove myself from this situation and ultimately may well have forgotten all about it a week from now. The need just seems bottomless, so you end up doing nothing. There is a post card seller in the Russian Market who approaches me every single time I go through. Other beggers on sort of wheeled trollies propel themselves around, I think they deliberately prostrate themselves to make themselves look even more pitiful. It is demeaning, but again, nobody really chooses that lifestyle. It may generate a few more donations but none of them will get rich from this. It is an inadequate response, but I’ve decided that day-to-day there isn’t much I can do beyond choosing to support e.g. ethical projects and eating at social enterprise type ventures. HOwever, when I leave I’ll take all my unspent reil and dollars and I will buy postcards and give donations. It won’t be much, and maybe it will just be a sap to my conscience rather than meaningful help, but it would still be a gesture.
So we had breakfast. Good English was spoken to the extent we were able to modify our orders and even get some brown bread. Well more accurately, my breakfast companion asked for brown bread in his bread basked, it was illustrated with one slice of brown and the rest white. His came brown, may came lacking its brown slice which had presumably been swapped with his. Oh well. I had an expensive and fatty omelette with a side order of very fatty sauteed potatoes. It was not a particularly good breakfast, other than the coffee which was over-priced but good quality.
Back to Sary’s I decided to head to the National Museum. I was a bit ho hum about it, it was just so hot, and I’d come without my hat. However, it seemed a waste not to go. In the end we both went. It was a short walk to get there, and we had to run the gauntlet of a lot of tuk tuks – this is definitely tourist central. Anyway, we arrived, passing a market en route full of interesting fruits and a multitude of roadside barber shops for some reason. Despite my travelling companion having no hair at all, optimistic hairdressers tried their best to get him to bless their stalls with his presence. Oh well. I wished he had though, would have been a great photo op and I’d have loved to see how they recreated the promised quiff and sleek oiled back looks given his distinct lack of raw materials with which to work!
The Royal Museum is the most gorgeous building, though I have no idea about its history. You can see its spectacular silhouette from some distance away. The actual premises aren’t all that huge, but it was busy. Outside, were people selling hats made of palm leaves. Hence my acquisition. They seemed only to have small, which sat on top of my head, or large which swamped me. I went for the latter. It was possibly more trouble than its worth. I think I’m allergic to some of the fibres as it made me sneeze and I got a sort of allergic contact dermatitis when I was carrying it. Plus, you aren’t actually allowed to wear hats in the museum so I ended up carrying it most of the time. Oh well, I probably got a dollar’s worth of entertainment out of it, and i did need something to protect me from that fierce sun even for the short distance we walked. Maybe I should do as the monks do, and get a parasol. They would be very practical here, though I’ve only ever seen monks and one of my intrepid companions carrying them here.
Hat purchased, it then cost $5 admission to the National Museum of Cambodia, or $10 if you took an audio guide. This is worth it in that without it you have zero idea of what you are looking at, however, as is often the case here alas, the display of items and commentary is disappointing. The artefacts are amazing, but curation skills are lacking, or possibly the money to present things. So you type a number on this hand-held phone thing and it tells you about an individual object. However, often this is just a physical description of what you are looking at ‘this bell is 15 cm tall and 10 cm wide, it is made of bronze. Khmer experts have determined it ages from.. whenever)’ but nothing really about how it fitted in the broader historical context. Maybe I was too tired, too hot, or too stupid, but I lost interest in these rather brief commentaries pretty fast, and just wandered around looking at things instead. You aren’t allowed to take photos of most objects, though you could of the impressive statue on entry. So clearly we didn’t want that opportunity to pass us by! I was obviously very mature and well-behaved whilst not posing at all.
There were many rooms of artefacts around a central courtyard. People roamed through listening to their headsets. One impressive object was an enormous head and partial torso of a bronze reclining vishnu (I think) on a snake. It is supposedly the largest bronze in Asia, I can believe it, or it would be if it was all still in tact. It was remarkable.
You can see the background exhibits in some of these shots, and also snigger at my inappropriate behaviour if you must. I guess it’s New Year making me giddy, that and sleep deprivation.
Honestly, I got a bit bored, and my stamina failed me, so I took to the courtyard which was lovely. A series of four square pools surrounded a central statue. Each pond had fish in it that I quickly worked out moved towards you if you approached. For 500 reil (12 cents) you could get some fish food. This was fun, feeding the fish I felt like, well, someone who is irresistable to fish, which is way more entertaining and rewarding than you probably realise.
We also messed about with perspective shots, who doesn’t benefit from having a hobbit photo bomb their selfies? and some of the courtyard architecture too.
We had an overpriced ‘iced tea’ drink, which was basically sugar. My diet here is shocking, everything liquid has sugar in it, and everything solid is fat laden. Blurgh.
We walked around outside for a bit. There was some nice elephant sculptures with topiary bodies, not sure that was absolutely a good idea. Round the back there seemed to be a sort of maintenance area where staff were snoozing on hammocks. I don’t know if it was actually out of bounds, but we felt we shouldn’t linger. Shame as there were nicely planted areas I’d have liked to have explored.
and that was that. I picked up a leaflet about the nightly dance shows. 7.00 p.m. each night you can come and watch a traditional dance display. Be there at 6.30. it lasts 65 minutes apparently, which seems very specific. I’d like to do that at some point, though I suspect it is underwhelming but necessary to go once as otherwise you will always experience that unsettling fear of missing out. I can’t remember how much it is, but you can pre-book on-line I think. Maybe I’ll go next weekend. I feel I ought to do something towards seeing the sights each weekend, otherwise I may as well not be in Phnom Penh
Four dollars for an uneventful tuk tuk ride home. The streets seemed quieter than usual. I took to my apartment, showered, napped, made a phone call and generally pottered about. I’m really good at that.
So here we all are in 2017. I wonder what on earth the next twelve months will bring. Hopefully a travelling companion that understands more about how to take flattering photographs, or a physical transformation in how I look (to my benefit, not further deterioration with the onset of age). Otherwise, world peace would be good (but unlikely) and an opportunity to get running on the Sheffield trails again most welcome. One at least of those should be achievable..
Bye for now, thanks for sharing the ride to date! 🙂