Culture Shock

Phnom Penh Travel Blog

 › entry 5 of 13 › view all entries

In Singapore there is Little India; dirty and rough around the edges but lively and full of character. Next to modern day Singapore it is easy to appreciate and its juxtaposition to Singapore’s sterile reputation is a great relief in many ways
but you always have the choice to escape it. Here in Phnom Penh it is dirty and grimy and the character comes from
the resilience of its people not from the colour in the shops or the sound of the music or the smells of food wafting through the air.  The people of Phnom Penh walk around pushing carts of coconuts, pippies and other exotic food; they sell food by the road side and assortment of goods and dehydrated seafood in the markets; some lead cows by rope (saw that a little outside the city today); tuk tuk drivers laze around waiting for tourists to tire of walking; the women sweep and balance ridiculous loads on their heads; the men play games; the children try to sell you scarves, bracelets and books; the security guards are bored enough to stop you for a chat every now and then; trucks, overloaded with all sorts of wares move around with people sitting unrestrained atop their load; younger generations ride their scoopies (‘cool’ scooters with cartoon skulls and fluorescent colours on them) as they talk on their mobile phones; large modern shopping centres are located next  to run down old shacks, which you could only assume to be abandoned but are actually occupied homes; rich people drive Lexus SUV’s or the occassional Honda, Toyota or Hummer while everyone else rides a ‘moto’;  there is constant background noise throughout the day from the incessant stream of these vehicles broken only by the occassional set of traffic lights (ignored after dark) and the brave drivers and pedestrians who have little choice but to intersect without any official right of way; and two of the cities major attractions are the S-21 prison and the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek, which are two of the most depressing places you will ever choose to visit.  The fact is that I expected to see these things here so at first I assumed that I was simply not appreciating the city for what it is.  There were no surprises so it didn’t feel particularly exciting.  The difference though is that this is not simply one part of the City that makes you feel like you’ve really travelled into a new world for a few hours like Little India but which you can leave behind at the NE7 platform of a well coordinated subway, it is the the life of Phnom Penh all day every day.  You can only easily remove yourself from it by hanging out in the glitzy expat Riverside district or near the official monuments and Pagodas. That isn’t to say that you would want to remove yourself from it but I guess instead of temporarily sweeping you away in an exotic flurry of dancing and music and colour it actually leaves you feeling a little numb.  Truth be told, and I assure you it isn’t a truth I like to admit and it has taken me days right up to this very moment as I write this sentence to realise it, but I actually think I am experiencing the first true culture shock of my life.

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Phnom Penh
photo by: terminalfunk