Phnom Penh with a View
Yesterday was a full day of shopping, sightseeing and learning a bit about the culture and history of Cambodia. Our first stop was for a little retail therapy at my favourite dress shop – Ambre. My father decided against sitting and watching 10 women try on clothes for a couple of hours to instead drive around the city taking in the sites from the back of a tuk tuk. He really made it around everywhere and even enjoyed a couple of cold beers while doing so. He visited the water front, the Central Market, National Monument, National Museum, Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace. All by himself (only getting lost for a short while when he got dropped off at the Central Market to look around and came out the wrong side of the building). I was very impressed with his ability to navigate everything solo. Well done, Dad!
While my father checked out the sites, my mother and I really shopped our butts off. We both managed to find some really great stuff and a lot of it is getting tailor made just for us. We go in for our next fitting on Friday. Only in Asia can you get a beautifully custom designer piece of clothing made just for you in 3 days.
From there, we went for some lunch at Daughters of Cambodia. Daughters is a wonderful organization that works to help women exit the sex trafficking trade and supports them through many different initiatives so that they can make money and hopefully never return. They have a 98% success rate of keeping women out of the sex trade. Most of the women join Daughters and stay in the shelter when they are between 15-20 years of age. There was a short video to watch at the shop to explain what the organization does to support women. There is a shop where handicrafts that the women learn to make items for sale, a spa where girls are taught skills in aesthetics and a wonderful bistro serving up delicious food. It was yummy-scrumptious (as my friend Lisa would say).
We then headed up to the Tabitha office for our orientation briefing for our build. We got to meet Janne, the founder of Tabitha, who spoke to the group. She gave a history of the Khmer Rouge, painted a picture of what life was like for people in Cambodia of that time, and also gave some hard facts about the house build and interacting with rural Cambodian people. She scared the daylights out of my mother. However, Janne has to explain all of the extreme situations so that people have a sense of what it is we are doing and how important it is to remain culturally aware while out in these communities. She put it best when she said “we aren’t out there for you – we are out there for them. So we need to check our attitudes, comforts and ways of life at the door and be there only for them” (Roughly what she said – I’m paraphrasing). My mom is mostly worried about offending someone out in the community and (like all of us) the lack of a running water and a bathroom. But the reality is that if you are aware of your own actions and act with kindness and you smile (the other universal language other than Gangnam Style) then they will do the same in return. It’s really that simple. The toilet situation – well we really can’t do anything to help that. Just do your best in that situation. I guess we will have to just make due for one day. After our briefing, we did some shopping around the Tabitha shop. Tabitha is known for its hand crafted silk and there are lots of things to buy.
From there, we departed to catch a boat to take us on a sunset river cruise. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of a sunset due to the cloud cover, but it was a beautiful evening and the breeze from the river felt wonderful. It was amazing to take in the sights of Phnom Penh from the river and offers a different perspective to view the city. Our friends, Wan and Savi and their cousin, Nim and Brother-in-law, See (who are also our tuk tuk drivers) came with us on the boat. It was fantastic to share a couple of beers and chat while floating down the river. Savi leaned over at one point to let me know that he had never been on the boat and cruised down the Mekong in Phnom Penh before so it was great to share the experience together.
And, as it somehow usually does with me, our conversation turned to boxing. I learned that See was # 3 boxer in Cambodia in 2009 and Savi drove me to a boxing gym a couple of years ago – so he was sure to introduce us. We talked quite awhile about our favourite boxers and some of the recent fights that were shown on TV and he is going to try to arrange for me to do a training session with his old coach too on Friday. That would be pretty cool. 🙂
We ended our day with a dinner at a delicious Mediterranean restaurant – Ocean. Really lovely food and since there were 14 of us dining together, when we entered the restaurant, my friend Celeste mentioned to a man dining alone that we apologized in advance if we were a bit noisy. Through that conversation, we found out that the man was actually from Owen Sound, Ontario (Canada) which is only about 3 hours from where my parents are. What a small world we live in. I absolutely love it when things like this happen.
So – it has been a wonderful first day in Phnom Penh and our views of the city will always shift and change the more we learn, experience and immerse ourselves in this wonderful city.