After a week and a half I’m slowly but surely settling in to life in my new home. I’ve sort of nailed the stairs (although have yet to tackle them in the rain) and even managed to not implode on discovering a cockroach upturned on my bedroom floor (he was swiftly dispatched to the bin!)
My second floor (3rd if you don’t have a ‘ground floor’ in your language) idyll is on a little lane called 6Z which sits just before the intersection on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard and Street 63. Mao Tse Tung Boulevard is a main through road in the city and Street 63 is the centre of expat action in the district known as BKK1 and so, as you can imagine, it’s not exactly a peaceful area to be. However, turn down lane 6Z and all that changes. The noise of the traffic and the city dulls and you get a real sense of being immersed in the heart of Cambodian suburbia.
From my 2nd floor vantage point I’ve been observing the comings and goings of my suburban surroundings, some of which I’ll share with you now.
My landlord and landlady are old! I know this because they have a 30 year old daughter (who looks about 12) and a very whiney podgy grandson (he takes after his very podgy dad – the son-in-law). They also look slightly old – in a late 50s sort of way, which, judging by my total inability to correctly gauge the age of people here would put them at at least 75.
Mr Landlord (I have been introduced properly but fail to remember their names despite reciting them endlessly) is an early riser and a fanatical car washer and polisher. We have 2 cars in our household (plus a 4 wheel drive of dubious ownership that sometimes appears). Every morning, well before I venture out onto the terrace I can here Mr Landlord opening creaky gates, performing 27 point turns to manouever the family vehicles into their daytime positions (apart from the 4 wheel drive the cars have apparently not been used since my arrival) and then getting out the hose and beginning the, what appears to be daily, washing and polishing process.
Whilst he’s involved in this ritual, Mrs Landlord will either be inside trying to placate whiny Rotanok, or, if we’re lucky and he’s not yet woken, she’ll be doing the washing. From my limited observations of Cambodian life I am going to declare the Cambodians officially obsessed with washing and cleaning. Not only do Mr & Mrs Landlord engage in these pastimes, as I gaze down the lane from my heady heights I can see numerous neighbours out sweeping their front path, washing their car or both. And even if I’m not gazing out it’s impossible not to hear the sounds of these activities floating through the air.
Speaking of sounds, as day breaks devil cat shuts up thankfully and the demented duck gecko chatter slows. But that doesn’t signal the silencing of nature. No, as the sounds of the night fade the birds start to sing, a lovely sound if only it wasn’t accompanied by them seemingly stomping across my tin roof wearing hobnail boots.
And still in noise mode, I have yet to see (or hear) my neighbours to the left as I look out, but to my right I know that they are a family who favour noisy ablutions and I’ll leave it at that.
Below me is an Aussie called Paul who plays guitar and wanders around half naked (not as thrilling as it may seem). His Cambodian wife, Ay, engages in the national pastime of cleaning, the only times I’ve ever seen her she has a broom in her hand and is a little reticent about speaking to (or even looking at) me as everytime we meet she scuttles back inside.
Along the lane there are number of expats – most of them male and most of them married to (or living with) a Cambodian wife. In the week very little is seen of these families, but at the weekend all of this changes. Families come out into the lane – the men chatting to each other, women leaning against walls or squatting low on the pavement, idly watching as the children boisterously play together despite the intense heat.
No matter what the time of day or night, there’s a permanent fixture on 6Z – our own little gang of tuktuk and motodop drivers. A couple of days ago I realised I’d finally become a resident when, instead of the usual ‘hello, tuktuk/moto’ English chatter as I walked past, I was greeted with a cheery hello how are you? in Khmer. A small result but a result none the less!
I think I’m going to like living on Lane 6Z – just enough life to keep me interested but at the same time a welcome sanctuary from the craziness of city life.