Hmm, I think I like jetlag! On the way home from Asia it’s a justification for my laziness, and on the way over, it’s the only time in my entire life that I wake up early!
I got up at 6:30; I had woken up earlier but stayed in bed biding my time until breakfast was open. The hotel provided rice, fried green vegetables, a dish with sprouts, egg pancake, fried eggs, bread, butter, pineapple, and OJ. Not bad! It was a lot like Chinese food but all-around less flavorful, like they don’t know about salt or something.
I spent the morning reading Harry Potter in my bed. I bought my Chinese copy of the first book, reasoning that it’s the smallest book that I could read for an entire week and not finish. I read about 10 pages (out of 200) on the plane over and another 10 this morning. It’s going pretty well – I’ve learned a lot of new words by context (magical words like wand, robe, owl, etc.). The hardest things are adverbs – “She said, tempestuously/viciously/amusedly/etc.” – but the story is easily understood without them.
We met downstairs at 10 and set out for our first real look at Cambodia. Our hotel is right off a main road (Monivong) so we started there. Our first task was to get a cellphone for Michelle. The guy behind the counter knew some English, certainly enough to understand “SIM card” and tell us a price, but Michelle’s other questions proved too difficult. On a whim, I went up and asked “你会说中文?” and he responded “会” – he spoke Chinese! I was so excited to be useful.
Questions answered, we bought a SIM card and continued on. After a short walk, we came to the Central Market. We walked through the food section first. They had a lot of fruit that I missed from China – I was so excited to buy tiny oranges again! The hygiene in the meat section was particularly disturbing, with feet on the cutting counters, for instance, but whatevs.
From there, we walked across the street to the mall, where we continued our shopping and people-watching. We went up to the top floor (of 6?) which offered both a panoramic view of the city and the opportunity to watch some teenage guys learning to rollerskate.
We had lunch at a pizza place in the mall. David said that it was legitimately good pizza, but I think that outside of an Asian country it would be the rough equivalent of Mazzio’s. Just not far enough removed from good Western food to lower my standards that much . . .
During lunch, I looked at the Khmer (Cambodian language) phrase book that I had bought at the market. I was reminded of how difficult it can be to start a language, at that early point when even the Anglicized pronunciation is impossible. Um, does anyone else know how to say “flour” in a sound London accent, or what “o” as in “corn” or “dawn” sounds like?
We stopped by the supermarket afterwards to buy provisions for the days in Svay Rieng when the food will [allegedly] be horrible. I was way impressed with their selection, especially when compared to similar places in China. They had so many spices!! I would have killed for that last year . . . I also appreciated the surprisingly good selection of sparkling grape juice for our New Years celebration.
We tuk-tuk-ed back to the hotel to drop off our stuff, then took a tuk tuk tour around town. Phnom Penh is beatiful! There are ornate temple-shaped buildings everywhere, and the main thoroughfare is a beautiful green boulevard centered around the Independence Monument.
(This was taken from a moving tuk tuk. Can we take a moment to appreciate my new camera?!)
My favorite part was the riverfront, which was lined with flags from countries all over the world.
Our tour ended at Wat Phnom, the main temple in Phnom Penh. (By the way, Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious structure in the world, is not in Phnom Penh and thus we will not be seeing it.)
The temple was really beautiful and it was the Golden Hour (as the sun was setting) so we posed for a group photo.
John and Rick took the opportunity to ride an elephant for $20.
This turned out to mean a ride around the entire temple . . . in the street. The elephant just merged into traffic with the cars and tuk tuks, no big deal.
Back at the hotel, Kim and Rick and I got massages – one hour, $6. It was not the best massage I’ve ever gotten, as it was slightly awkward, but I enjoyed watching the Asian music videos anyway.
For dinner, we walked to a Japanese restaurant on Monivong. I had sushi and tempura – good, but really expensive ($13). Michelle and Garret went to bed but the rest of us played Loaded Questions for a while. Then David and John went to bed, leaving just us young’uns to greet the new year.
We retired to our room and played a game of Catan, which I won about 20 minutes before midnight.
With the game over, we decided to turn on the TV and try to find a countdown of some sort. We found a recording of fireworks from the hour before in Taipei and Hong Kong, but right before midnight they cut to commercial! We frantically scanned through the available channels looking for something remotely festive, but ended up on a Danish news station as the clock struck 12:00. It was moderately ridiculous . . .
Happy New Year?