Recent Curtin Journalism graduate Deborah Seccombe savours the flavours of Phnom Penh …
“Tuk tuk,” is the common cry I hear every morning when I step outside my apartment building onto a dusty, litter strewn street.
“Tuk tuk m’am? Moto?”
I shake my head and walk with purpose.
My destination is the Phnom Penh Post newspaper media company in the Cambodian capital.
It has been nearly two weeks since I touched down in the hot and humid city.
In Australia, crossing the road would be easy, but whenever I draw close to the verge of a bustling street I am reminded this is not Australia.
Cars, small motor bikes-cum-taxis called motordops and tuk tuks (examples pictured) whiz past on any space of tarmac they can find.
If there is method in the madness, it’s hard to spot.
Luckily for me, there are some tricks I’ve learned when it comes to crossing roads in Phnom Penh.
Don’t make eye contact with drivers – if you do that means you’ve seen them and will give them right of way, and of course, you have to walk like you know what you’re doing!
The office is on the eighth floor at the Phnom Penh Centre, in the heart of the city.
On a lucky day, if I look out the window, a lone elephant grazes on an overgrown field below.
I am working on the 7Days and Lifestyle desk.
7Days is a weekly lift out magazine of the newspaper. It offers all the latest goss on Penh arts, culture and entertainment.
The writing style leans more toward feature than news. In my first couple of weeks working for the Post, I have experienced a side of journalism that is foreign to what I have known from my time at university …
… like the stories themselves.
My sources have so far come in all shapes, sizes and dialects.
The challenges are exciting, dare I say, thrilling?
“Can you speak English?” I ask each of my potential interviewees.
More than once I have had to interrupt an interview, whip out the dictionary and translate difficult words.
The language in Cambodia is Khmer, but it doesn’t stop there. There is a large expat community living and working in the city. It is not only Khmer accents I must decipher but German, French and so many more.
As such, the write up is an adventure. Quote cleaning. We’ve all been advised against it. I have not written an article without it.
As long as the meaning remains accurate and true, there is freedom to clean quotes.
Sound excessive? It’s not.
Try to construct an article with quotes like “In start they being much open”, and see how many readers you are left with.
Work in the newsroom aside, I am pleased to report that all the advice I was given pre-departure was largely unnecessary.
The food is wonderful and works perfectly for my student-turned-intern budget. A mean chicken curry is US$2.50 and a Coke about $1. Let’s just say, I’ve had more than my fair share of sugar-laced sodas.
The people, both foreign and local, are friendly, welcoming and a pleasure to be around.
One moto driver found me a cheap apartment to rent – mind you if something in it is not broken, then boy does it leak.
The driver’s name is Mr. B and he joyfully boasts about his “PhD in motodop driving”.
So at the end of two busy weeks, my conscience asks, what have you learned, Deborah?
I have learned to take cold water showers gracefully.
To haggle for taxi prices with motodop drivers.
To say, “Hello, my name is Deborah. How are you?” in Khmer.
Sue sdey. Knyom tchmooah, Deborah. Soks s’baay dte?
And on a slightly more serious note, I have learned to enjoy diversity within our human race, and will no doubt continue to grow in this learning.
– Follow Deb’s adventures in Cambodia as she updates this blog during her travels.