High time in Cambodia


The latest from Curtin graduate, turned Phnom Penh reporter, Deborah Seccombe …

The challenge here is deciding what to share.

More than a month in ‘the Penh’ has drawn out since my last scribble on life and work in this Southeast Asian metropolis.

I could start with sharing some of my experiences in a nutshell, after all everyone loves nuts and people who don’t, well lets be honest, they’re just strange.

So here we go …

I have had dinner with a Cambodian prince.

I have stood at the foot of a stage, under a booming speaker at an MTV concert while American power-pop band The Click Five performed for more than 40,000 screaming, not to mention crying, Khmer teenagers.

I have danced with a Rod Stewart impersonator, to my shock-horror, in front of a live audience.

I have talked through interpreters with marginalised children about their love of skateboarding – a foreign and infant sport in Cambodia.

I have trekked through the jungle in search of a remote, minority Cambodian tribe and slept in their village while taking mental notes of their way of life.

“Where is the toilet?” I asked the only one of them that could speak English.

“Sorry ma’am,” he said before firing up a generator to power a television set for the family to sing Khmer karaoke to.

“The toilet is the jungle.”

Journalists Justin Heifetz, Anne Renzenbrink ... and me.

I had a Khmer-style ‘Happy Merry Christmas’ with some other expats who on December 25 were ‘orphans’ like me.

We banded together, ditched the traditional stuffed turkey and gammon feast (who likes turkey anyway?) and opted for a shared meal of fried rice, loc lack, chicken curry, crab salad and corn bread (its real name escapes me) instead.

It was delicious.

My work decided the perfect Christmas gift was to test me at playing 7Days editor.

My boss shot off to Australia for two weeks, leaving the production of the magazine in my inexperienced though willing hands.

It was a great opportunity to broaden my skills and develop my abilities.

I got to re-acquaint myself with InDesign and – with the help of professionals – I got to layout pages and content.

If I may offer a word of advice, pay attention to InDesign classes. What you learn there will really come in handy when you’re in the bizz.

The boss is now back and I’ve had a chance to take a breather from the load I took on in his absence.

But only yesterday he treated me to another, special test to challenge my skills.

Together we set on a mission to critique a restaurant.

That’s right – we were doing a food review.

We enjoyed a meal and cocktails, courtesy of the Phnom Penh Post, to later write a story on it.

Sounds fun? It was.

Food always tastes better when it’s free. Plus I have to admit there was a thrill of eating at a restaurant with a secret, hidden agenda.

Fun and games aside, I must confess that writing a food review is challenging and different to any other article I have written.

I have grown a new-found respect for food critics. I enjoyed the experience and hope to practice it more.

And now, here my top five list of favourites / ‘can you believe it?’ moments / random musings.

1. I can now eat entire rice dishes without the help of a fork or spoon, thanks to my growing chopstick skills. In fact, I’m proud to say, that now, when wait staff shove a knife and fork under my nose, I kindly rebuke them and ask for chopsticks instead.

2. A friend and I were quoted US$30,000 for a boat ride up the Mekong River. We laughed in the quoter’s face before quickly bolting away.

3. Walking past motor drivers who think you must not have heard their kind offer for a ride when you keep walking. The echo of: “Lady? Lady? Laddddddyyyyyyyyyy???” drawls out behind you. (Though it’s been happening since day one, it still manages to put a smile on my face.)

4. Happy hour cocktails for $2 at a local restaurant/bar in our friendly neighbourhood. And on that note, the use of a FREE pool table at another local joint.

5. Stand-up comedy in Phnom Penh – that awkward moment when a world-famous comedian gets back up on stage after a painful performance to apologise for SERIOUSLY inappropriate Cambodian gags.

– Follow Deb’s Cambodian adventures exclusively on InkWire.

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