Expat in Asia – Cambodian Tales – Part 6

Written by Richard during our days living in Siem Reap – Cambodia


Hello darling viewers!  Hope you are all fabulous and looking forward to another action packed blog.

Well let me tell you, this week it’s a tale of two cities, in more ways than one.

I thought the following pictures may be a good introduction to my blog as it really shows the reality of the vast differences between the haves and have nots.  What it doesn’t show though is the answer to how we judge the quality of our lives.

I’m being rather ambiguous I know pet’s but all will be revealed – Buddha knows I’ve never had to have much pressure to reveal all before.

To remind you darlings, last time I left you I had two upcoming parties to attend.  Both on consecutive evenings.

The first was our friend’s 40th Birthday party.  We arrived around 7pm to find the place packed to overflowing.  Our friends were all sitting at one table which luckily seemed to have two empty chairs….we greeted our friends, handed the
drinks to our host and then went to sit down.

Suddenly one of the ex-pats comes pushing through and saying the seats were taken.  Fair enough.  So pets, after trying to hold a decent conversation with our friends, whilst standing and getting pushed around by other guests wending their way back to their crowded tables, we eventually managed to get a seat with a group of Khmer, upper crust guests.

Nothing more than polite smiles, apparently none could or would demean themselves to speak English. but we helped ourselves to the buffet and sat down to eat.  After half an hour I’m desperately wanting a drink and can’t find anyone to serve me.  I also notice that our friend’s table has one empty seat which meant that with a bit of squeezing we could both have sat there.  Anyhoo, I eventually ask the hostess if I can have a drink, whilst trying to make small talk with all the free-loaders which wasn’t particularly successful.

20 minutes later and we are both sitting there like shags on a rock, still drinkless and no-one even bothering to come over and talk.  We got up and walked out.

The following evening was as different as chalk and cheese pets!  Our ex-managers wedding and our first Khmer wedding.  Okay so we only went to the ‘reception’ part – there are days of religious rites leading up to the official marriage and the reception is the final event (I think).

Anyhoo, we arrive and from the moment we step of the moto we are treated like royalty.  Greeted by the bride and groom, escorted to the best seats in the marquee (which coincidentally possums was in colours matching my outfit) and are given the royal treatment from start to finish.

The food was delicious and kept being served platter after platter until you couldn’t eat anymore.  All the while the Khmer guests sitting with us were filling our plates, giving us warm beer after warm beer (ice is available to add) and talking in broken English.  We felt absolutely included and welcome and enjoyed ourselves to the max.

Khmer music is a strange mix of traditional mixed with elements of 1960's and 1970's rock and ever Khmer loves to dance.

Then after the food was served the dancing started.  Oh my gosh pets.  I was the diva of the dance floor.  Khmer music is a strange mix of traditional mixed with elements of 1960’s and 1970’s rock and ever Khmer loves to dance.

My partner and I were literally dragged up for every dance, and let me tell you pets, the boys not only outnumbered the girls two to one, but had absolutely no inhibitions about dancing with either of us.  We had an absolute ball and I had the time of my life dirty dancing with nearly a dozen gorgeous boys, all eager to take a spin with moi!

Anyhoo the point I’m trying to make that prosperity doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness.  It seems that we westerners have lost the ability to simply enjoy ourselves.  We are reserved, often rude unintentionally and are too afraid to let our hair down and try and make even total strangers feel welcome.

On the other hand pets, the Khmers who literally have nothing, are warm, generous and welcoming.  As long as there is food, alcohol and music then they want to enjoy themselves and make sure that everyone around them is enjoying themselves.

The other side to my original photo was to show the reality that 60% of Khmers live with, while on the other side most of us live in total luxury with every convenience available.  The poverty here has to be seen to be believed.  What you see as a tourist visiting Cambodia may seem shocking enough, but you are still seeing the better side of the real Cambodia.

The poverty exists not only because of Cambodia’s past, it’s present corruption and lack of education but also because of the arrogance and disrespect shown by many Western visitors.

Half the people who come here believe it is a bargain hunter’s paradise and that nothing should cost over $2.  They truly believe that because the average worker here is lucky to earn around $75 per month then everything should be cheap as chips.

They fail to see that what we Westerners see as basic rights, electricity, health care and education are even more costly than is many western countries.  Electricity costs the same per kilowat as in Australia – but the monthly wage is easily 10 times lower.  Petrol is the same and anything imported is outrageously priced.  Therefore most Khmers go about using minimal electricity, eat cheap and fly ridden market food or catch fish in polluted rivers and health care, when affordable is cheap and often fake generic anti-biotics or sugar drips which do little more than give the sufferer a sugar high and keeps them working for another day.

Darlings I’m rambling I’m sure but this leads me into another moan about cheap tourists which happened just a day or two ago.

Returning from our morning coffee our manager tells us a ‘walk in’ has been in, viewed the rooms and is coming back shortly to book in.  Fabulous me thinks pets.  So the walk in arrives, explains that he has seen the rooms and wants to take the one for ’23’.

He then says he will pay for the first night.  So I write an invoice for $23 and he bluntly tells me that he doesn’t work in US dollars.  That’s no problem, says moi, we accept Riel. So I reach for the calculator to work out the conversion and he hands me over 23 000 riel ($5.75).  Thinking that he is not aware of the conversion rate I explain to him that $23 is 92 000 riel.

He looks at me and says ‘that’s a joke’!  I’ve already had two mojitos by this stage and am in no mood for time wasters.  So I said pet, I said love, I said pet, ‘a double room with queen size bed, en-suite, free breakfast and wi-fi, air conditioning and rooftop jacuzzies and you expect to pay $5.75 per night?  That doesn’t even cover the cost of our staff’s wages for one day.  As for our prices being a joke you’re the joke and not only that but you are rude as well!  I said pet, I said love, I said pet, the doors there and if you turn left you will find the backpackers dives just around the corner.

Surprisingly he left loudly slamming the door and gate while both dogs (who are normally placid) chased him barking and snapping.

Serves the cheapskate right.  I mean honestly pets, I understand that people travel on a budget.  In fact we often have walk ins who politely say the price is higher than they were looking for. In most cases we size them up, offer a discount if we think they just want a few dollars off, or realize that they are looking for budget accommodation and politely tell them where to find more reasonably priced accommodation.

In his case I was downright infuriated.  Not only was his whole manner arrogant, but his assumption that even guesthouse accommodation with 5 star service and amenities should cost so little.  And coming  from one of the top 10 richest countries where I’m sure even their unemployment benefits per week are more than the average monthly wage here just makes me see red.  Not only that but judging from his 1980’s ponytail and receding hairline that he runs around at home supporting an end to world poverty.  Sometimes you don’t have a gun when you need it possums!

It really gets my goat up when people from developed countries think that it is perfectly acceptable to have a cheap holiday and enjoy themselves as long as they can do it at the expense of others desperately in need.


Anyhoo, what’s happening around town pets?  Well Michelle Obama is visiting and roads and temples have been closed off just to ensure her security.  She is of course doing the obligatory visits to the right places and promising and end to poverty and equality for girls education.  After that she returns to her 5 star hotel and lols around in the Presidential suite, probably bathing in rose water to rid herself of the smell of the peasants.

Our end of town is seeing major development.  We are just months away from having our first cinema complex and just opposite the old market site is being bulldozed and a 5 star Ibis Hotel is being erected.  We walk past everyday – I love watching erections pets.  Hopefully when finished it will mean a cleaner environment as directly opposite the river side park is not only a dumping ground but also a lurking place for the juvenile glue sniffers.  Anyhoo I will make sure that once operating they get involved in Clean up Temple Town and do their bit for the community.

Talking of doing things for the community I have two meetings this week.  The first is with the Rehash Trash Group.  This is a fabulous organization who are teaching totally illiterate and unskilled women both Khmer and English skills but also training them in making products using recyclable materials which they can then sell.  The second is just with a new ex-pat who is interested in working with me.  I don’t know what her involvement will be but as they say pets you never, never know if you never, never go!  At the very least I should get a free coffee out of it and be seen in the right places doing the right thing.

We had a really pleasant evening last Monday.  The power went off all over town around 4pm.  Apparently a truck had hit one of the power poles along the highway which goes to Thailand.  One pole down and half the countryside is without electricity!  Thankfully most of our guests were out and aside from the annoyance of sitting in the dark and getting bitten alive by mosquitoes we weren’t much put out by it.  The power came back on at 11.30 pm only to go out again the next day for 8 hours while they fixed the problem.  36 degrees and all day with out electricity is not fun pet’s.  I started getting frantic around the time the last of the ice melted.  Luckily it came back on before my drink ran out.

I mean honestly pets, I understand that people travel on a budget. In fact we often have walk ins who politely say the price is higher than they were looking for. In most cases we size them up, offer a discount if we think they just want a few dollars off, or realize that they are looking for budget accommodation and politely tell them where to find more reasonably priced accommodation.

Times are quietening down at River Queen but we are lucky enough to have 5 long stay guests to tide us over until Khmer New Year.  That’s in the middle of April and already we have been invited to a party with our Khmer friends, special invite for moi from one of the hottest boys I have met in a long time….okay so he’s married and has two young boys but he seems keen and I’m always ready to do my bit for multicultural relations pets.


So that’s it for another blog.  Count your blessings possums and until next time stay fabulous and be glamorous.


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