#Internationaldayofhappiness

March 20th has been designated by the UN as the International Day of Happiness.

 

I’ve been floundering a bit of late: Struggling to keep my mood upbeat, fighting the Norman demons and generally spending a significant amount of time in a gloomy old pit of despair – yep you’re right, I’ve been a right old barrel of laughs – NOT!

 

However, I’m slowly clambering my way out of the pit and thought I’d use this wonderfully timed, UN sanctioned day to reflect on all the amazing stuff and people that make me happy on a daily basis, even when I refuse to acknowledge it.  So here goes….

 

  • There’s no shortage of nutty tuktuk drivers here in Kampot. One who continually makes me smile is the lovely Sa whom I met when mum was over in January.  Sa has a friend in the UK (Southampton I think) who has very kindly taught him lots of useless but quintessentially British English phrases.  Hardly a day goes by when I’m out and about that I’m greeted with a big grin and a cheer of “Sara! Tally ho old chap!” eliciting a grin, a wave and a “toodle pip” from me in response.

 

  • Being woken by unknown creatures having very noisy late night picnics on my roof. I’m not sure being woken to the sounds of animals gnawing fruit and scrapping over the spoils makes me happy in the moment, but thinking back on the conversations (onesided of course) that I have with said creatures through my ceiling in the depths of night (yes, expletives are regularly uttered) does induce the odd giggle or two.

 

  • Since building work started on the new bungalows at Flashpackers I have been neglected somewhat by MaMa as she’s turned her attention to her flock of builders (yes I know that’s not the correct collective noun but the best Google could throw up was a ‘crack’ or a ‘procrastination’ so go figure). Every morning I see (or hear if I’m still languishing in my pit) her scoot off to the market as normal and then between 45 minutes to an hour later she returns laden with approximately 20 cups of iced coffee and sugar cane juice for the gang,  a process that she repeats post three hour lunch break.  The rest of her day is spent shrieking random orders from her post sat in a plastic garden chair in the middle of the building site whilst at regular intervals tells me and anyone else who’ll listen how busy she is being in charge of the work.

 

  • Our resident nutter and creator of the Flashpacker concept (check out this blog for info) has finally pushed MaMa and PaPa to the end of their tether and been served an eviction notice. The crunch came amid a late night/early morning alcohol and prescription meds fuelled incidient which involved the Grinch throwing a flipflop at a fellow resident and the lunatic attacking himself (and MaMa in the process) with a blade.  Rest assured, MaMa getting injured (it was only superficial) is not a source of joy for me and neither is seeing the nutter self-implode (the man is actually seriously mentally unwell and needs proper supervised support) What has made me happy is watching the exploits that have led to this point.  These include but are not limited to:

Overheard conversations as Peter (the nutter) bemoans the fact that HunSen is in desperate need of his help to scope out a countryside retreat for him and his government officials in Kampot but he struggles to balance his important role in Cambodian politics with the demands of representing Denmark in Cambodia (he felt he couldn’t say no when the Danish government approached him for help is this respect) and worrying about whether he should continue to let his wife (the Grinch) work for five dollars a day in a job with cut fingers!?!?! A grand total of seven customers frequenting the restaurant over a period of 3 months and, to my knowledge, not one morsel of food being cooked during the same period.

The day I returned home to be introduced to “The next Claudia Schiffer” who Peter was trying to convince to do a modelling shoot swimming in the Salt Fields which he is convinced contain mud with amazing health benefits (he has apparently tried to sell health tours to the area before and was keen to produce skin products from said mud at one point too also)

Overhearing him describe the developments at “his resort”. Apparently, the new bungalows being built are going to house an art gallery, restaurant and entertainment venue.  I do hope the people who have put down deposits to live in them are aware they’ll be sharing their homes in this way!

Returning from Bali to discover the land in front of the property being cleared to make way for Peter’s “shopping precinct’ and watching it turn into a gravelled piece of land with plastic tables and chairs on it and, you guessed it, no customers.

The display of shite art and spelling mistakes on signs courtesy of Peter’s severe spray paint addiction.

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Tutktuk drivers looking like they’ve just seen a ghost when they rock up at my place and are greeted by Peter. Never have so many wheels squealed as the drivers hastily U-Turn to make their escape.

 

  • Kampot characters including three cheeky little monkeys in cafe’s I frequent and the wonderfully bonkers, toothless beggar on the river front – a constant source of joy.

 

 

  • Getting to work doing stuff I love. As well as my work supporting them with HR I got to play shopkeeper at Dorsu recently and had the time of my life.  Supporting Channy and the team at the spa is always great fun and I get to meet really interesting people in my leadership development and skills training work that I do in Phnom Penh.
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#shopgirl

My mate Gary’s collection of shrine tat.  I’m not sure what makes me giggle more, the tat itself or Gary’s pride when showing me his latest discoveries, all lovingly skip ratted from various places around town

 

  • All my lovely friends and family around the world who check in with me, listen to me moan, make me laugh, let me cry, come visit me and generally make my world a wonderful place.
  • Friends meeting friends.  Phirum excitedly shrieking”you look like Mr Bean!” to Kevin on first meeting him

 

  • And finally, my obsession with taking photos means that, even when things do feel bleak I only have to open up my phone or computer and I’m able to recapture millions of moments of fun and laughter – here’s just a few for you to check out now.

 

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A week spent watching

As a respite from the endless sitting around drinking coffee, eating cake, reading books and watching beautiful sunsets that became the rhythm of life during mum’s visit, the two of us packed our bags and at the crack of dawn (or more correctly, pre-crack of dawn 5.30am) one Tuesday morning, we hopped in a taxi to make the 3.5 hour trip (the last hour was getting through Phnom Penh to where we needed to be) from sleepy Kampot to the bright lights of Phnom Penh.

 

Our reason for the early start – a booking for a 9.45am departure by bus to the north-eastern province of Kratie to go see the Irrawaddy dolphins.

 

The journeys and the sightseeing they were the prequel to provided watching opportunities aplenty.  Here’s my observational highlights:

 

  • Watching night turn into day, the sleeping wake and the traffic build to the standstill that is rush hour (make that rush 7-12 hours) in Phonm Penh – even after two years I’m still blown away by just how many vehicles of vary types can fit into a road two lanes wide.

 

  • Observing the action at the overstuffed bus station where Cambodians and tourists mingled, flapped and flustered awaiting the obligatory late arrival and departures of the buses to their various destinations.  Wary tourists sought solace from the more worldly-wise amongst us, Cambodians purchased and ate every foodstuff available to them and backpacking stoners hung around looking stoned, oblivious to the small boy dragging the diesel hose along precariously close to their lit cigarettes on route to fill up an already loaded bus awaiting departure.

 

  • Spending 8 hours journeying by bus in which time we watched the scenery beyond the window change from urban sprawl to countryside with the vegetation becoming increasingly dense as the miles clocked slowly on, turning from low lying rice paddy into forest, commercial pepper farms, terraced fields and rubber plantations.
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The start of our bus journey

  • Meanwhile, inside the bus, to our right, obviously intent on saving money, a family of four squashed onto two seats, the kids switching between pulling on the chairs immediately in front and draping themselves over the backs of their own as they fought for space, whilst the foreigners afore and beyond feigned nonchalance (and bit back the desire to scream expletives judging by the looks passing between them when they thought no one was watching).

 

  • And, directly in front of us a guy developed travel sickness which he managed by going to sit on a stool at the front of the bus with his head pressed on the windscreen, before returning to his seat to vomit in a plastic bag and then rubbing one of the tiger balm like ointments all over his belly and head.  Fascinated by this, the little girl of the family of four ceased her seat pulling and demanded her father get her a plastic bag.  She then proceeded to fake vomit into it before prodding the sick man who was now lying prone on his seat, taking his ointment, lifting her t shirt and slathering the ointment all over her belly.

 

  • Our reward for a whole day (yep it was 12 hours end to end) of travelling.  An awesome Mekong sunset to watch and our backdrop for the walk to our guesthouse.
  • Gazing as urban turning to suburban as we ventured out of town to visit the amazing 100 column pagoda which, as well as being stunning from the outside, is also filled with rather gruesome but fascinating artwork on all four walls and the ceiling
  • Seeing the Irrawaddy Dolphins – the whole reason for the long-haul journey – playing in the river as tourists (us included) pointed, oohed and aahed whilst fruitlessly trying to capture a pic of them from the beach our trusty dolphin seekers had landed our boat at.
  • Being treated to an extra special bonus viewing just as we were about to dock and disembark as a pod of dolphins appeared and proceeded to play around our boat for a few minutes before swimming off.
  • Stopping to watch palm sugar being made and being caught in one of those bizarre multi language exchanges where our host (a 70 year old Cambodian) spoke fluent French to me, which I pigeon translated into English for mum (I knew I shouldn’t have dicked about so much in French classes) whilst responding to our host in pigeon Khmer (I understand more French than I speak (ditto Khmer, ditto Chinese, ditto lots of  other language thanks to my ability to listen and get the gist courtesy of the situation combined with one or two words I actually understand (or think I do)).
  • Watching mum manage to climb the 237 steps up to the top of Phnom Sambour and arriving just a few seconds too late to witness the most glorious part of the sunset.  Thanks to my (relatively) superior fitness I got up there in time and snapped a few shots for her to view once she’d recovered from the ordeal (it was touch and go for a while as to whether oxygen would be required but thankfully an extended sit sufficed).
  •  Again, observing mum but this time on her bike.  We got where we wanted to go – it just took slightly longer than expected thanks to mum refusing to turn left (we ride on the right here) thus requiring us to go around in a big square on more than one occasion.
  • Discovering a great coffee shop to sit and watch the world go by.  On one visited we were treated to a turf war as market traders who were nicely settled in their spot for the morning were unceremoniously shoved out by a man with a lot of tables and dried fish.  Undetered, the women simply picked up their baskets and resettled themselves and their wares in the middle of the road.
  • And finally, deciding to not only push the boat out by getting a shared 8 seater taxi rather than a bus back to Phnom Penh we also purchased an extra seat to give us the luxury of the whole back seat.  Imagine our surprise when, just after picking up the 7th passenger we again stopped, the driver shuffled along in his seat and opened the door to allow another passenger to squeeze in beside him (yep, despite having lived in Asia for nearly 7 years in total this one managed to make me do a double take).  We both, wisely I think, chose not to focus on how the hell the driver was reaching the pedals from his seating position with one ass cheek firmly planted on the handbrake.

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