First Days in Phnom Penh

I’ve made it to Cambodia for the second part of my sabbatical. I feel like I am in some kind of Club Med experience or something: there are sidewalks, street lamps, covered sewers, convenience stores, plentiful English speakers at every turn,….where am I??? This feels so luxurious. I am really getting some extra perspective on the life I will return to in NYC…

Work wise, I’ve come at an interesting time for garment factories in the region. Nothing as dramatic as what I experienced in Bangladesh, but I feel very lucky to be here now to observe when the rubber is really hitting the road in terms of public disclosure: what does the ILO want to see and share, what are the factories willing to give up to the public, and how will the garment workers’ voice be adequately reflected?

I’ve been able to get out and see some of Phnom Penh when I’m not in the office. My increasingly freckled olfactories and I will give you a tour: from my seat in the back of Seng (my driver)’s tuk tuk wafts: first fish sauce and other stuff over a fire from the restaurant downstairs (it smells so good); then cigarette smoke from the guys who sit on the red plastic chairs and look at me skeptically at first then give me a big smile when I smile at them (this is the pattern all the time and I wonder if tourists know that if you smile at people anywhere in the world they normally smile back and you stop being afraid of one another and it’s instantly waaaay better), ok, as I was saying; then gasoline from the impromptu gas station carts filled with glass Pepsi bottles filled with fuel that can be easily upturned and poured into the gas tank of a thirsty moto for a few dollars; then perspiration; then moto exhaust; then the powdery, smoky, sweet smell of incense smoke billowing out of the doorways of the pagodas by the Royal Palace, then a kind of aquarium store smell (specifically, the one over by Green Apple Books in San Francisco where I am pretty sure many illicit things are going on related to salt water); then hot hot hot humidity….it doesn’t really have a smell, but it hangs in the air like smells do, so I am going to include it; then I get a whiff of myself which is still a mixture of Skin So Soft Suncreen/Insect Repellent, Coleman’s 40% Deet Bug Spray, and most recently this soap called Propolis which smells chemically clean like when you sit near people on the subway who really go for it with laundry products, but this particular soap claims to have honey mixed in…at least that’s the picture on the front of the box is leading me to smell and believe (I really don’t want to know the number of complex chemical compounds with which I am accessorizing on this trip); then there’s this wonderful smell of something lush and clean and green…I tempted to compare it to eucalyptus, but that feels wrong…just know it’s wonderful, it’s a favorite moment every day for me, and I breathe deep and often on this one particular block, and then I am at work.

Submit a Comment