The final gathering. Probably.
Alas, this is not quite the full complement of CWF volunteers, but it’s a reasonable stab at it. We gathered last night at the roof-top bar of the Mekong Bank, the Eclipse Sky Bar. Credit where credit is due. The views from this vantage point are absolutely amazing. It’s a great way to see the city, even if you are more than ever aware of the deep smog layer that hangs above it. On the plus side, it gives you a great sunset, so every cloud eh?
You can just about make out the Olympic Stadium in this shot. Pleasingly, we could even see our actual dance buddies, in action, for their evening class. As I am still without a camera, I couldn’t get a better shot, but this skyline photo is pretty good.
So we are in our final week at CWF. One or two volunteers will leave slightly early and so miss the official ‘staff party’, which apparently is happening on Friday. I’m a little dubious about whether this will actually happen, as although it was much mentioned early on, there has been no obvious attempt to revive the notion just a few day ahead of our departure. No worries, it was suggested that we check out this sky bar anyway, and those who were willing and able to join the happy hour did so.
I got a tuk tuk from my apartment with the three others who live in the same block. Awkward, because incredibly there were no tuk tuks in sight when we stepped out. An enterprising passer on a moto, asked if we wanted a tuk tuk and we said yes, he shot off, but we gave up waiting and were just getting into another when he reappeared looking pissed off. I found the whole thing excruciating. I won’t miss these endless interactions over transport. Then our driver didn’t seem to know where we were going, but stopped off to ask his mates. Finally we passed the tower on the other side of the road, and he did one of those adrenalin inducing u-turns across 8 lanes of traffic to deposit us outside the building. Phew. $4, a dollar each.
The tower is weird. I mean, it’s just a tower, but an office building for the Mekong Bank or something. You go into a glass and shiny metal interior, past a reception desk and round to lifts that silently take you up to the 22nd floor. We liked the signs in the lift explaining to tenants that they had ‘totally got broadband now’, so that’s good, obviously.
You exit at the 22nd floor, where there is a bar/ restaurant area, but you have to ascend more stairs to get to the penthouse and then the roof. From here you get absolutely amazing panoramic views across the whole city. It does make you gasp out loud. I love seeing the city from on high. It seems manageable, you can see the grid system, it appears almost orderly, and you become aware that there are a few trees dotted about, you don’t experience that from the ground at all in the crush of noise, dirt and traffic. You can see the river and diamond island. You can see the Olympic Stadium, you can see the Royal Palace. You can also see thick smog.
The ambience is lovely. The staff are attentive, the prices eye-watering. However, if you factor in the entertainment value of the bar staff hurling around their cocktail shakers in smiling competitive throws, and the fact that you can eek out your cocktails it was worth it as a last week splurge. I got two cocktails at $6 each and shared a portion of chips for $5. The food did look amazing, if you had the money for it you could really have a good time. The views cost nothing though, and you are not pressurised to spend.
We’d booked a table so had a good view. There were other groups around. Periodically some rendition of happy birthday would come out. I had the bizarre experience of seeing a waiter deliver a basket of bread rolls to an adjacent table whilst singing happy birthday and so presuming that this meant the recipient of the bread was the celebrant. Not so, it was another table entirely. A candle inserted in plate of fruit seemed to be the standard fare. I’d have preferred cake personally, but not my event.
In terms of our own socialising, it was low-key. Chit chats, shared stories, some light-hearted downing of shots, in which I did not participate because I am too much of a light-weight, but I did document on their behalf. We admired the views, reflected on our experiences and watched the sun go down. I love the city from up on high, it gives perspective. I’ll never be a city bunny, though I’m glad I’ll leave Phnom Penh with a growing affection for the place. My lungs can’t cope with many more weeks though.
A normal teaching day for most of us tomorrow, so I didn’t stay late. We scattered around 8.30 ish – though it felt to me like two o-clock in the morning. Those of us heading home decided to walk back, as it wasn’t too far, 5 km maybe. We went into Brooklyn Pizza near the Russian Market as the only place open so late. I’d not been before. Expensive but very good pizza. I had a doggy bag to take what I couldn’t eat home. Not a very Cambodian experience, but very welcome post-alcohol dining. I really don’t want to start my last week with a hangover as well as the aftermath of a cold.
So that was that. It feels very strange. Could be the last time I see some of these people as our teaching timetables means we are often but ships that pass. I wonder too how the new lot of volunteers are thinking, probably even now busy with last-minute packing and full of excitement and apprehension in equal measure. I wish them well.