On water… take nothing for granted

So, some people say the water in the pipes of Phnom Penh is fine and dandy.  That is it is safe, but it tastes disgusting because of the high concentration of chlorine within.  Others say that it is unwise at best, and catastrophic at worse to drink the water, because even if the water itself is ‘safe’ albeit from chemical overload, the pipes through which it reaches you leave much to be desired.

I don’t know, I do know, I’m not chancing it.  I really don’t want any water-bourne infections to accompany me on my stay in Cambodia. So, I have been buying bottled water.  If you are traveling about, you can sometimes top up for free at hotels, but honestly, I’ve seen this very rarely. The alternative is you buy frequent bottles of water and I have paid everything from 50 cents to $2 for a 1.5 litre bottle.  I balk at the waste of constantly throwing away these water bottles. I keep them for as long as I can, but if you aren’t able to refill them, you end up buying new ones with alarming frequency.  Is it really true that every bit of plastic we use will one day end up as microbeads in the oceans.  I hope not, but I fear so.

Now I’m temporarily settled, there is a better option. For $1.50 (plus a $5 deposit) you can buy a 20 litre bottle of water, which the security guy carries up to my apartment for me.  I find this exchange somewhat excruciating, because I still have no idea whether or not I should tip. The first time I bought water from the woman downstairs, she asked for $1.50 and gave change.  The second time she didn’t have change, but said she would hold the payment over towards the next bottle, as indeed she did.  All well and good. I was satisfied with this transaction.  It worked.  I pay her, she calls out, a guy is despatched to follow me up the stairs and dump the bottle on my kitchen side.  It was fine.

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The complication was when I discovered one of my neighbours, a fellow volunteer, has been paying $2 a time. But why?   Turns out he has never been to get water when the woman is on hand.  Consequently he always gets it from the security guard.  He thought the cost was $2 so that is what he paid. Effectively tipping every time.  I have not.  What does this mean.  Is he the smiling, jolly favoured tenant, whilst I’m the tight un-tipping one?  Is it OK because I’m short, old and female whilst he is tall, youthful and male?  That is, more of the sort who might reasonably be expected to carry his own water. Once you have the bottle in situ, you have to find a way to remove the little plastic plug at the top without it snapping off.  If you fail in this task, the water is held tight in a vacuum and will not exit via the tap. It is a fascinating, if inconvenient example of some sort of physics in action I’m sure.  I have to use my nail scissors to jab away at it sometimes.  They have been unexpectedly useful on this trip. I use them for cutting up handouts as well.  Manicures and pedicures are way down the list of useful things that they can do!

I find tipping a minefield here.  It is really unclear when you should and when you should not.  I also wonder what is a reasonable amount. If amounts are so small and insignificant it seems rude and insulting to offer them… on the other hand, if amounts are (to me) so trivial, but might make a difference to the recipient, why not?  A friend of mine in the UK who worked as a taxi driver said he didn’t mind at all if someone tipped him just 20 pence from a ‘keep the change’ transaction in the UK as it all adds up.  I don’t know.  I feel mean now.  I think I am resolving on balance I’ll give a tip of a few dollars on my last day, when I come to leave.  If I can find a suitably fair way to do so – there are several security guys, some more smiling than others.   Is this a British thing, or a Lucy thing, that I find it so fraught?

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I have no idea about the logo by the way.  Is it water that is flown in from the Thames specially?  Is every bottle personally filtered by dolphins in some way?  Or is it just that no dolphins were harmed in the making and filtering of this particular bottle’s contents.  It is a mystery….

Oh well, the point is water. Don’t take it for granted.  I find the constant need for vigilance re my water supply tiresome and the interactions to replenish them socially fraught. I prefer doing things for myself, I hate watching some poor guy carry the bottle for me, but I know it is inappropriate (and frankly knackering) to carry it myself.  I was thinking about what do I miss whilst I’m here in Cambodia.  I miss the BBC news, I miss the Guardian, I miss my running buddies and the trails of Sheffield and I miss water on tap.  Literally.  Some things you expect to miss, some things you do not.  If you are lucky enough to be able to turn on a tap where you are, and drink the liquid nectar that comes straight from its pipes, then relish that moment for me today.  Sheffield water I think tastes great.  If you are in the south of England you might not enjoy your H2O experience to the same degree, but it is still a little miracle.  Celebrate it.

Here are some gratuitous shots of fish swimming in rather good water.  There is (I think a little bizarrely) a rather upmarket tropical fish shop just a few yards along the road from where I live. The same place offers skin counseling.  Best not to enquire.  The fish look in really good condition to be fair, though I have no idea where they end up, and I don’t know enough about fish to know if this is appropriate and/or ethical trade, but they are things of beauty and it sort of relates to a post on water purity, so why not. Here you go, enjoy.  Also, a random unattended roadside stall.  They are ubiquitous, but I am shy about photographing them when staffed, as it seems intrusive, I feel this untended one was fair game….  street views eh, street views.

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