Farewell frolics? Loving the urban landscape of olympic dreams

There is a sense of urgency now. Just two weeks (less than) and so it’s important to cram in as much as I can in the time left in Cambodia. I don’t know if I’ll be back one day.  I’ve got a vile cough, so work up spluttering at 4.00 a.m. – normally this would be very annoying, but it actually helped me commit to the Olympic Stadium outing again this morning seeing as how I was up anyway.  I was ambivalent, but I had some sad news via Facebook on waking.  A former work colleague, who was an absolute joy to work with has died.  I was really shocked.  funny, feisty and principled.  She had a healthy cynicism, an anarchic spirit and we cried with shared laughter almost every time we got together.  She was also very dedicated to students and extremely good at her job.  Seriously funny though. Seriously.  Instant onset hysteria accompanied our playful schemings together.  This is a great thing. She (and her Elvis-loving sidekick)  was one of the best things about working at that particular nameless university. (Their duets less so).  She will be very much missed. It is she who introduced me to the delights of non-variagated spider plants, I still have some now, at home in Sheffield, descendents of her own office specimen.  So I think of her a lot.  Anyway, I was thinking about her, and how she appreciated life always on her own terms, and it made me think I should make the most of each day.  She wasn’t very old.  Life can be cut unexpectedly short.  Sore throat or not, better a morning at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh having adventures than staying in bed trying to cough up my own mucus all morning surely?  It’s funny how much you can apparently miss someone you’ve not actually seen in years.  I was shocked to hear she’d gone.  Really shocked.

Turns out, this was a good call.  Going out for the morning I mean.

Met up with my two stadium buddies at our corner 5.30 a.m. rendezvous, and we walked through what was a comparatively chilly and dark morning to our destination. When we first arrived, it looked like they were already stretching at the end of the aerobics class, so we wondered if we were a bit late.  We decided to skip the end of this first session and go for a bit of an explore.  Great move.   It was like discovering the Olympic Stadium for the first time all over again.  It began in  small ways.  I needed a pee, and found to my delight that there are actually very good, clean, western style toilets available.  There was a man sitting outside in a red ‘Cambodia’ emblazoned shirt.  I couldn’t work out if he was just randomly sitting there, or if there was indeed a payment system. There was a cardboard box outside containing some 500 reil notes. I rooted around in my money pouch to find one to put in the box on exit.  He had relocated to standing next to it and smile warmly and said ‘thank you’ in very well enunciated English.  So I passed that initiative test.

We decided to go a bit along from our regular dancers, toward an area where there is a troop of people all in white martial arts type outfits.  As we approached, we saw they were doing some ritualised moves with long swords with tassels on the end.  It was quite hypnotic to watch.  Further exploration took us to the top of a seating area overlooking the Olympic Pool.  My students had told me about this, they say it isn’t very clean.  It didn’t look too bad, but only one person was using it.  There were boards for high dives, and again, extraordinary views across to the new developments.

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I’ve got some pictures courtesy of my official designated photographer for the day.  Here also is one from a news item about the Olympic Stadium development. Lack of funding means the buildings are being cut back.  It would be extraordinary to come back adn stay in one of these places one day, and see all that happens in the stadium from a vantage point on high.


As we gawped at the pool, some surprises revealed themselves. Specifically, we saw three of our dancing regulars, lurking on the stairs by the olympic pool. One was the shy woman with the beaming smile who was a late addition to our dancing last week, the others were the woman with the white woollen hat and her friend.  It was nice to be recognised by them and felt good.  Like we have a place there.  We saw other dance classes in the distance, one looked really good and there was a huge group doing quite a punishing looking aerobic workout.  We had a brief wistful moment wondering ‘what might have been’ had we joined that class instead of ‘our’ one.  Even so, too late to change horses mid race.  There’s no way I’d desert our feisty woman and twerky man instructors now.  It was interesting to see the other workouts though… mind you, never saw our ‘regulars’ in the dance class later, maybe they do indeed hawk themselves around the other offers periodically, just to check out the competition. Who knows?

There was also a troupe who appeared to be following not a person, but a TV screen with some sort of dance workout video.  Very strange.  Or could it be a skype live-link up to some random westerners who, like us, after some months of participation were compelled to return home, and now participate remotely through the wonders of technology.  (Urm, no.)  Also unexpected, a mysterious row of blue seats has appeared for no particular reason.

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They must be new, I can’t believe we would not have spotted them before as they stick out a mile in the otherwise unchanging sea of grey concrete.   I sat on one to pose, but mainly so we could snap the women doing their sword dancing thing behind.  I now wonder if that is inappropriate.  Oh well


So, eventually, the dance music started up again, and we raced over to join our class.  It was great.  We were warmly greeted.  I think we are now seen as erratic regulars, albeit not committed enough to come every day.   There is an older woman in white who originally taught us formal greetings and who now seems to indicate we can ditch the formalities and just use soksabi!  Highlights today (of many) included:

  • remembering that in the middle of ‘stand, by me, ooooooh oooh oh, stand by me.’ there is a moment when the singer says ‘that’s class right there’
  • realising we did sort of know a couple of the dances now (almost, up until the oooops we are facing the wrong way moment)
  • a new attendee, who wore an enormous band-aid right across his nose without any degree of self-consciousness and did not allow this to impede his ongoing flirtations with the dance instructor with whom he exchanged a fist pump prior to departure
  • the  two rather over-dressed women who have been a few times looking really smartly turned out, with their hair up and ‘normal’ (as opposed to exercise) clothes.  They just do their own thing, dancing together joyfully. They were also keen to initiate couple dancing in the cool down twist section of proceedings
  • smart promenading man with the walking stick reappeared!  I was worried as I hadn’t seen him last week.  He paused to observe us, and smiled back at me when I did a sort of embarrassed respectful greeting.  I suppose we have been often enough now that people notice us, just as we notice them, and we are becoming increasingly curious about each others lives. This is definitely how you’d finally get to make local friends, coming here every day and seeing where it led
  • the man in the red hooded rain coat who went to great lengths to dance first with my dancing companion and then with me, and sort of choreographed the whole thing.  He used gestures to send us left and right, to lean forwards and back, and we even graduated to passing back to back and then leaning in to look at each other with a smile and a thumbs up.  I may have added in the smile and thumbs up to be fair, but it was SO MUCH FUN.  He wasn’t especially demonstrative, and barely twitched out a smile, but he must have been chuffed by his achievement as he initiated it

So there was most excellent finale dancing.  It really is like a full on disco at 7.00 a.m.  I was sad when it finished.  We headed back towards the cyclo cafe again.  On the way we passed a very fine hair salon, albeit one with confusing as well as ambitiously aspirational signage.  Also, a shop front that had colour co-ordinated foliage and painting.  Lovely.

We stopped a guy with a barrow for pastries.  It was a different guy from last time, we had three different ones to try.  He charged us 1000 reil for each – I think we were-overcharged to be honest.  He was a more wily trader.  We took them over the road to the cyclo cafe which for some reason was teaming with staff today, who seemed disproportionately pleased to see us.   They gestured for us to say, and a small child was bounced on knees and brought across to meet us. We smiled and made encouraging noises, but the small child looked fearful and on the brink of tears so was carried off to a safer distance.  The cyclo cafe bike has wooden pedal.  I wonder if it would actually work?  I think it might.  They spent some time pumping up the bicycle tyres when we were there in fact, so maybe.

Whilst we were there we noticed a page from a chinese calendar daubed in blood.  Presumably this was licked by a  man in a headdress at some point like the man we saw in the Chinese temple yesterday.  Something to do with Chinese New Year, though this doesn’t look like a chinese enterprise at all. Maybe Cambodian people just appropriate all festivals, Christmas trees were everywhere when we first arrived, but most people have not the faintest idea what Christmas is, it’s just festival appropriation, and why not!

I had hot-chocolate for a change, but it was rather sweet.  Oh well, have to try these things.  We then started to amble back and at the corner of my street there was another vendor pushing a barrow of coconuts.  I wanted one as that’s also been on my ‘to do’ list. I mean, I’ve had a lot of coconut drinks, but not actually bought one from a vendor in this way.  It was quite fun, he took it out of a cool box, hacked off the top and handed it over with a straw.  It was a dollar, which embarrassingly I didn’t have, so my dancing buddy paid.  Need to dig that out to reimburse later.  The coconut was physically pretty heavy.  There is a surprisingly high volume of liquid within, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the outside though, there must be quite a bit of meat on that too if I can work out how to get at it.  I think (hope) coconut water is supposed to be good for a sore throat.  I really hope so.  I have a slight reticence about these as I met a traveler who swears she got appalling food poisoning from a coconut – which seems unlikely, but then again the machete used for cutting and where it might have been and what it might have seen could well be pretty gross. I’m going to try not to think about it.

So I’m back in my flat now, wondering if I should sleep, lesson plan or cough a lot.  I also need to have a shower.  So many decisions.  It’s hard being me.  I might count my mosquito bites again today.  I’ve got lots of new ones.  That’s a souvenir I’ll take home with me for sure.  Pitted and scarred skin bearing witness to a thousand insect bites.  Nice.  Who needs a tattoo.

You can read about my other Olympic Stadium adventures here.  Best thing about living in Phnom Penh this, by a country mile!


5 responses to “Farewell frolics? Loving the urban landscape of olympic dreams

  1. Great read Lucy. Love your list of dancing highlights.
    Coconut water us supposed to be hood for you, I had loads in Ghana, same system, top cut off with machete .x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The only thing that would enhance the olympic dancing malarky, would be the arrival of a smiley paces flash mob. Sigh. One day perhaps… hope you are enjoying your travels – the pictures look great on facebook. Lx


  3. Pingback: Breakfast on the skyline in Phnom Penh, getting our Olympic Fixes in pre-departure. | Cambodia Calling·

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