Anna Velas-Suarin

10 Things I Can Do/Have in Phnom Penh (But Couldn’t in Manila)

1. Go to cozy and (even upscale!) bars and restaurants wearing the most ordinary white T-shirts and rubber slippers. In Manila, I can’t really do this because most establishments in the same range/scale have specific dress code – i.e., no rubber slippers even if they’re Havaianas! Here, everything and everyone is so laid-back, it is always easy to just decide to go to a bar even if your original plan was just only to go to the grocery wearing an attire that Fashionistas in Manila would definitely raise their eyebrows on!

2. Wake up, eat a decent breakfast (c/o a great housemate), get dressed for work and be there before 8:00 AM. Yes, you are reading this correctly. I am actually eating a decent breakfast here everyday and don’t arrive at work looking like a tornado has just wiped off my face. Living here is such a breeze because there is no traffic! I don’t have to wake up at 5:00 AM just so I can be at work by 8:00 AM. Yes, dahlengs, I can wake up at 6:30 AM, do my girl things and eat breakfast in an hour, and voila, leave home at 7:30 and reach work in just 15 minutes!

3. Be home early enough to watch TV Patrol, Kokey and Lastikman. Yup, yup, here in Phnom Penh, I have what people call “life-work balance” (wink, wink). In Manila, I would usually still be in a horrible traffic by 8:00 PM. Here, I am home by 6:30 PM, early enough to watch news from TFC (The Filipino Channel) and yup, even the fantasy soaps Kokey and Lastikman! My friends know that I don’t watch TV but yes, I am transformed here. I guess when you are out of the country, you somehow miss anything Filipino so much that even soaps that won’t even have 5 minutes of your time in Manila suddenly becomes a novelty, like a favorite dish that you can’t just have enough of. I fell in love with Kokey that I swear I’m gonna buy a Kokey stuffed toy (if there is such) when I am home for a visit.

4. Go to work in a tuktuk and feel like I own the world. In Manila, I either ride in my driver-driven car or in a taxicab. Here, I live a simple existence, happily enjoying the short trips to and from work even if it’s just in a tuktuk. It’s not air-conditioned, very sensitive to bumps and potholes on the road, and doesn’t have the “cushiony-feel” of leather-covered seats but hey, it gives me such a beautiful view of Phnom Penh’s street-life and allows the soft morning breezes to kiss my cheeks (ohh la la…)

By the riverbank

5. Be home on Sundays and watch The Buzz. Because I have less commitments and involvements here, I have 1.5 days of weekends all to myself! I don’t have to go out to catch meetings, dancing lessons or meet-ups with my ever-growing social circle in Manila. Sundays here are so lazy and free that I can still be in my sleepwear writing my blogs while watching The Buzz. Yup, yup, I am more or less updated now in the latest showbiz tsismis back home. Very unlike the Mei that my friends knew, the Mei who didn’t even know about the Kris Aquino-Joey Marquez break-up until it was about 2 months’ old news already.

6. Live without internet access at home. In Manila, I have unlimited internet account subscription at home. It’s like I couldn’t live without it. My whole life depended on it, from the time I wake up to the time that I’d call it a day. I couldn’t sleep if I didn’t open my Yahoo. But here, I’ve learned to live a “normal” life again, minus the pressure of surfing or opening my emails everyday. Besides, home subscription here is still expensive so I just check my Yahoo in the neighborhood internet café where speed is as slow as dial-up in Manila (hehe). But I can’t complain, they charge 1,500 Riel only for an hour of use (that’s about 16.00 pesos); still expensive if compared with rates in Manila but remember that Cambodia is still considered behind in terms of technology vis-à-vis other bigger cities in Asia.

7. Travel overseas just riding a bus! Since this part of the world is land-locked with Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos, I can go to these countries just by bus! Imagine the amount of money I can save on transportation even if they are considered overseas trips. In fact, I went to Vietnam last June and spent less than $100 only on a 3-day stay including my hotel expense!

8. Have a hair-cut using sign language and an old photo. Now, this should be in No. 1 but I didn’t remember it earlier. Here in Phnom Penh, most hair salons are manned by Khmer and sometimes, Chinese/Korean hair stylists. So having a haircut using English language is definitely a luxury. While there may be salons run by English-speaking stylists, they would normally charge such ridiculous fees that one would think they are giving you a new piece of head or face. One time, I badly needed a new hairstyle (my curls are getting ugly already) and after being shocked to discover that the English-speaking salon I first went to will charge me $90.00 for a hair straightening procedure, I decided to try a salon across the street, whose signage tells me it is run by a Korean. I looked at the male stylist focused on doing a man’s hair and decided this is the place. The Stylist’s hair was so perfect and chic-looking that I told myself, I won’t hesitate trusting him with my hair even if he comes from Mars. I was right; he didn’t speak any English nor understands it so I ended up showing him my old photo (I had the foresight to bring one) and gesturing through sign language how I wanted my new look to be. It was like an adventure; I felt I was about to go to the guillotine, not knowing if I’d still want to look at myself in the mirror after this lunatic decision. But yes, since you are reading this blog now, I didn’t commit suicide after this adventurous stint with an unfamiliar hair stylist. He actually copied exactly how my hair looked like in my old photo and later, I happily I told him (in my combination of sign language and English) that I loved what he did and I’m going back again.

9. Get a discount without even asking for it. One time, JR, my housemate, and I went to the market to buy fruits. Since fruits are very cheap here, we decided to buy lanzones, mangoes, mangosteen, and rambutan from an old woman in the market near our flat. We paid in US dollars but were given change in Riels. Because we were not yet very familiar with converting USD to Riels and vice-versa, it was a bit confusing for us. We were repeatedly counting the bills handed down to us; the old woman was repeatedly talking to us in Khmer, perhaps trying her best to explain to us why we are getting those bills. She was gesturing a lot, getting back our bills, counting them one by one again, giving them to us again; and then later, another woman who was passing by was also gesturing already. JR and I still looked totally confused. Finally, when I realized that our change was indeed correct and in fact, we even got more, I dragged JR out of the vendor’s stall or I’m afraid she’s going to throw us out already. Later, I explained to him that what we got was even more, realizing that the poor old woman must have gotten so frustrated with explaining the conversion to us that she actually gave us additional Riels more so we will already leave her in peace! JR and I were laughing all the way back home and can’t stop imagining how ridiculous we looked and how exasperated we must have made the old woman feel! Driving away stupid customers by giving them extra change is probably a trick that vendors normally resort to if things get really tough. 😉

10. Spend less than $20 in personal phone bills a month. In Manila, I maintained two subscriptions in Globe and this means paying about $80-90 a month! Here in Phnom Penh, sending SMS and making calls are much cheaper and because I have a smaller social circle here, I don’t spend much on personal phone bills. It’s cool to realize that I live a much quieter and simpler life here. Besides, my only real close friend here is also my housemate and that means spending less on SMS and phone calls because I can always tell him how my day went, face-to-face, minus the fear of ever-growing cellphone bills. 🙂 Ahhh…life in Phnom Penh really rocks!

[Re-post of a blog dated November 9, 2007 (from my previous site).]


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