Capital Senses

Using five senses when experiencing something new: the best way to dive into Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.

See:
It’s hard to miss the stark contrast, PP is 3rd world with obvious touches of development gone wrong. Malls and coffee shops stand empty, no customers to keep them from going bankrupt. Markets, on the other hand, thrive. 1.5 million people, more than half of whom are under the age of 21; young people dominate the streets with their motos. Traffic insanity, colorful houses with shabby paint, decline and new construction projects are neighbors wherever you look.

Smell:
Driving through the grid of streets, savory scents of countless food stands hit you as you zoom past. Turn a corner and you get the unpleasant stench of a black river of sewer water for blocks. Market stands of pungent dried fish, grilled squid, durian fruit and exotic spices simultaneously compete for olfactory attention.

Taste:
Khmer cuisine uses fresh, tasty ingredients that combine into easy meals. Green mango salads, caramel-mango sticky rice, taro root spring rolls, “lake of fire fish”…every single taste bud activated and craving more…

Touch:
Sticky, humid skin, a small burn from the hot moto pipe, refreshing blasts of aircon, the pressure of a blind woman’s shiatsu massage. Folding palm leaves to hold amok, hands pressed together in prayer position to thank someone. Dust from a minor sandstorm irritating your eyes. Rain.

Hear:
Friendly voices: You need moto, madam? Tuktuk? A woman collecting plastic bottles incessantly squeezing  a squeaky rubber horn. Water pounding on roofs, trickling down to spatter pavement. Prerecorded sounds played by food vendors to entice your patronage. A chorus of Hello! Hello!…Small children practicing the only word they know with the blonde barang walking by. Market chatter and moto horns, more rain.

Phnom Penh: first impressions

Within the first 24 hours I’ve learned the “rules of the road” (see below), felt the awkwardness of being a “have” amongst so many have-nots, wound my way through the “Russian market”, haggled for new clothing and enjoyed the combined excellence of Cambodian cuisine (think amok and lok lac) and the company of my good friend Ramon.

Fresh off the plane from Bangkok, Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

This ride was considerably less hectic than ones I didn’t record. Figures.

The expat bubble in Phnom Penh is a tangible sphere made more obvious by the perspective I get from behind secure gates of Ramon’s movie house, The Flicks. I look through windows and over balconies into another layer of society, we interact with the Khmer locals whenever we leave the house, but the society doesn’t afford the opportunity of penetrating the bubble as a visitor. Perhaps not even as a child born in Cambodia to expat parents. It makes me slightly uncomfortable, but I haven’t completely wrapped my head around it yet…my thoughts need more time to develop.

For now, I’m looking forward to more $5 yoga classes, $5 45-minute foot massages, $1 meal options that blow your taste buds away, etc. Life inside the bubble is really nice…

The next adventure.

Eurojob

Swanky, affordable apt in Frankfurt ✔
(I’m flat-sharing with a flight attendant, whom I met through the Yahoo! Group Frankfurt-n-Motion, a fabulous resource for expats in Frankfurt).

Life packed up neatly into three-piece suitcase set ✔

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Next up? Fly FRA — BKK, spend the cliché “One Night in Bangkok”, fly BKK — PNH the next day. Make it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in one piece. Relax.

Or not.

I’m nervous to have to rely solely on English, as my knowledge of Khmer is limited to “Hello”, “My name is Ginger”, yes/no, and the numbers 1-5. Between today and when I touch down in Bangkok I’ll get my Thai to be at a similar level or better…please/thank you are high-priority to learn.

The shortlist of things I expect or want to encounter/experience/suffer through/survive/enjoy:

^^ probably my new best friend ^^

-pick exotic fruits from the source
-sweat. a lot.
-ride an elephant, no matter how bumpy the ride
-learn to meditate
-drive a moto
-get cheated
-smile at random people and get smiled back at!

 

 

The long list is, well, a lot longer, but I’ll be using Ginger in Germany (Again) briefly as Ginger in Cambodia/Thailand. Check back for updates, and while you’re at it, keep tabs on my new personal website, www.gingerkern.com, coming soon!

Revisiting the City of Lights

Paris. There really is nothing like it…something new every time you experience it…

and with that, I’ll leave you with a lazy Friday evening picture post. If you like them and want to see the rest, all you have to do is click here. Enjoy!

Sacre Coeur close-up
You-know-what
Ossuary in the catacombs
Catacombs city carving
Garden near Notre Dame
Louvre by sunset
Tree wisdom at Jim Morrison's grave

Baby steps.

Let’s just get one thing clear: kids are crazy.

After five weeks of taking care of a 15-month-old, the idea of ever having children has taken a harsh beating. There are just too many ways those small human beings willingly, if unknowingly, try to hurt themselves. I’m glad I missed the first year of Anabella’s life…though the sleep/eat/change diaper/play routine hasn’t really changed much since then.

The good times

“Hallo attacks” — These happen to Anabella without warning. Most likely to occur on a subway or train. The word “hello” is said loudly, in rapid succession, with the presumed intent of attracting as much attention from her stoic fellow passengers of the Deutsche Bahn and/or SBahn. Attacks can last up to five minutes, until said passengers have managed to ignore her and she tires of attempting to make social contact with such asocial human beings, or until she has won over a feeble-hearted German. Hallo is also commonly said when departing the aforementioned train, as the attacks seem to disregard the changing social context of travel.

Animal abuse — A constant struggle between feline and child, the family cat is often subjected to the grabby hands of his younger ‘sister’. The usual order of things:

1. Anabella is bored. She spots her target, Sir Henry, typically deep in cat-dream-state.
2. Chuckling menacingly, she approaches her target. Sir Henry is unfazed and twitches his tail teasingly.
3. Hands outstretched, she bays a warning “Aiiii”, unfortunately missing the fact that it’s supposed to mean “gently”. (All attempts to teach her the proper way to pet a cat have been futile). Sir Henry remains asleep, though an ear might rotate slightly at the sound of his predator’s voice.
4. She grabs full-force, latching onto fur, and pulls out two tufts of black hair. Sir Henry is roused, twists around quickly and bites or scratches his attacker.
5. Crying ensues, the cat is scolded for defending himself, the concept of “Ai machen” (being gentle) is reiterated.

Repeat.

(Note: with luck, I’m able to intervene before the poor cat loses another chunk of hair…Anabella is damn quick, though, but it’s amusing to watch how she acts around him).

Toddler terrors — Over the past week, she’s learned to walk. I have to admit that it was sort of amazing, seeing this little girl that’s been crawling the whole time I’ve known her push herself up to stand on two feet and go for it. Rather wobbly at first, I think that by the time their next au pair arrives she’ll be a regular Godzilla around the house.

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A piece of advice for anyone considering being an au pair — you’ll probably get along with the kid, but before you move to another country, make absolutely sure that you get along with the parents.

They should essentially let you have your own life, i.e. not impose rules on your social comings and goings outside of your work hours (regardless of if you’re a live-in au pair), and should definitely not treat you like a servant when it comes to chores/cooking unless previously agreed on. My luck held out and my host parents have been extremely respectful and accommodating, letting me have guests whenever I want and generally keeping out of my personal life. I had the advantage of actually being able to meet the family before I decided to work for them, but if you can’t visit them personally, at least make sure to skype two or three times to make sure there’s some “family chemistry” you feel positive about being a part of.

In any case, it’s been a good experience and I’ve learned enough from it to feel ready to move on to the next thing…namely, vacation!

Shortest game ever.

I waited a grand total of two days before I got the phone call. Starting in mid-October, you can find me designing and producing all sorts of publications (similar to the one below) at the American Chamber of Commerce in Frankfurt, Germany.

This means, of course, that more blog material is to come, as Ginger will still be in Germany…if all goes well, for a solid two years.

But wait! you say, Isn’t Ginger supposed to be in Cambodia/Thailand until the end of October?

True. I have no time-turner, nor can I teleport (yet), so I’ll be adjusting my travel plans and flying back to Europe three weeks earlier than originally planned, cutting my Asian adventure from 8 weeks to 5. Still, not too shabby.

Back to the present…though I know you’re still ogling Bill Gates on that beautiful magazine cover…

I’m a big fan of side projects. Work is work, but when work is fun, work isn’t work. Right? Well, this next opportunity seems especially well-suited to me: I’ll be translating a transcript for a humorous audiobook aimed specifically at getting Americans to learn German and I’ll likely also be doing the voice-over for one of the characters in the book. Freelancing is fun, what can I say?

Now if I could just find a snazzy, inexpensive, conveniently located place to live in Frankfurt…

The Waiting Game.

Au pair work is going well, really, it’s a breeze.  The important thing is to find a family who is accommodating and flexible, and one who doesn’t view you as a servant. I’ve been lucky to find a bilingual family using GreatAuPair.com and I would recommend the website to anyone looking for au pair work anywhere in the world.

The pros outweigh the cons: I have 20 hours of “work” per week for this seven-week period, for which I am paid Germany’s standard 260 Euro per month, plus insurance, all food and travel expenses and I naturally don’t pay anything for rent either. It’s a perfect arrangement that has allowed me to dedicate plenty of time to my real priority — the Great European Job Search.

This journey is a sort of one I hope leads me to … well … Germany. Frankfurt would be ideal. I’ve been grateful for my contacts who have helped me already to polish up a German CV and revise my American resumé to fit a more European CV style. I’m currently playing the waiting game, as I’ve already had one interview for a position that fits me very well. Press your thumbs and/or cross your fingers for me, please?

The spare time has also been enough to fill with more private English conversation lessons, which I’ve been enjoying as it means I get paid generously, tax-free, for doing something I do anyway: speak my native language. Otherwise, I have few updates (and I’m sorry that this post is more housekeeping than anything culturally interesting). My prep work for Cambodia and Thailand is still going on, having already had two of three rabies shots and a typhoid vaccination as well (all great fun, I assure you).

I’m going to Paris in a few weeks for one last European hurrah before the expected chaos of Cam/Thai takes over for a while, but other than that my travels have been slowing down. Instead, I’ve taken the time to discover and rediscover a few excellent dance clubs in Frankfurt (Cocoon and Living XXL), done a bit more travel writing that is in the process towards publication, and read four wonderful books — The Kite Runner and the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

Right now Sir Henry — that’s the family cat — is nuzzling me very intensely, so I think I’ll let him have a bit of affection for the time being…stay well!