mosaic692048a6f788904cb185edacb51f0f2d784f0c63Chronicles in Cambodia: Dispatch 3

Bar review Phnom Penh style

One of the great things about having hundreds, maybe even thousands, of NGO workers living and working in Phnom Penh is the fact that a whole host of restaurants and bars have sprung up to give them something to do when they’re not doing something NGO-ey. I didn’t know it at the time I booked my hotel, but the street I’m staying on, Street 278, is one of the more popular streets for these restaurants and bars.

4648957882_da270547b1So, after doing more shopping at the Central Market on Wednesday and visiting The Killing Fields at Choueng-Ek on Thursday (click on photo on right for Flickr photostream), I decided on Thursday night to check out the Equinox Bar, Restaurant and Gallery, which is just a stone’s throw from my hotel. The scene was pretty quiet when I first arrived, with handfuls of foreigners congregating around small tables, and nursing imported and domestic beers while catching up on the goings-on of the day. The bar did pick up a bit when swing music started blasting over the sound system, and several men and women stood up to dance. Apparently, a group of expats get together after a swing dancing class to practice their moves at Equinox.

Earlier in the day, I had gotten a hold of a local cell phone number with the help of a super-nice photo shop owner, and found out that one of the California students I met at the airport, we’ll call him Econ Dude, knew the exact bar that I was at. So Econ Dude grabbed a tuktuk driver and met me on the second floor of the bar, where I had been doing some people watching.

Since Econ Dude had done a lot of traveling before and was more familiar with the streets of Phnom Penh, I asked him to confirm many of the suspicions that I had about certain things that I had come across during my brief travels. Yes, your tuktuk driver is metaphorically taking you for a ride if you pay any more than $5 for just one trip. Yes, the business owners only want fairly new, untorn and unmarked American money and will refuse to take blemished bills. Yes, there is a separate price for locals and foreigners on goods and food in the market. Yes, you have to negotiate the price for everything or risk being overcharged. And, yes, the beers of Phnom Penh, Angkor and Anchor, both taste like light beers and go easy on the alcohol.

Of motos and meetings

The day after the Equinox bar review (Friday) was the first day that I had to report to the Open Society Justice Initiative office, which is located in one of several large office buildings in Phnom Penh. Once again, I hired Mr. Black, my unofficial tuktuk driver, to take me where I needed to go.

When I arrived at the office at 7:45 a.m. for an 8 a.m. call time, I had to hang out in the hot and humid hallway of the building for a bit until about 8:15 when a small, bespectacled girl gripping a motocycle helmet came in and asked if I was the OSJI intern. I said “yes” and she ushered me into the small office that housed OSJI’s Cambodia operations. After making several calls, she told me that she would now take me to a meeting, and grabbed her keys and helmet off the table. Yup, I would be taken to the meeting on the back of her moto.

This wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t received a lengthy email from my law school professor, who had been to Phnom Penh many times before, about some of the dangers one might encounter in the city. One of these things was getting on the back of a moto, as there is a possibility that a bag snatcher will attempt to grab your bag and drag you off the bike into Phnom Penh traffic. With this in mind, it was a little daunting getting onto the back of the bike whilst gripping the messenger bag that carried my Macbook, but, after I got over the initial fear, the ride was quite thrilling.

After a 10 minute ride through the streets of Phnom Penh, I was deposited at a place that upon first glance looked like a private home, but turned out to be the office of another of Cambodia’s many NGO groups. I sat in on a meeting with some important people, met my project coordinators, went to lunch, sat in on another meeting with some very important people, and was told to get ready to work on Monday (more on that later). For some reason, those meetings in the comfort of air conditioning were so much more tiring than wandering about Phnom Penh for an entire day, but it sounds like the project I will be working on should be fun.

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