Cambo Life May 2020: Re-Opening

Emerging from our self-quarantine and discovering which businesses have survived and how daily life has changed in the Cambodian capital.

NOTE FROM THE FUTURE – 30 JULY 2020:

Hard to believe in a mere two weeks we’ll be leaving Cambodia. More on that in future posts, but in the meantime, I’m scrambling to play catch up, which will likely show through in how quickly these monthly Cambo Life recap posts were thrown together. But if I don’t do them now, they ain’t gonna get done. Enjoy a look back at another weird month in the time of COVID. 

31 May 2020

Following six weeks of fairly intense self-isolation, only leaving the house once a week for a quick grocery run and every couple of days for a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood and some “fresh” air, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be closing in.

On 1 May, borders were locked tight and Cambodia hadn’t recorded a new cases in over two weeks. Schools, pools, gyms, playgrounds, karaoke bars, and casinos were to remain closed indefinitely. But restaurants and cafes were slowly beginning to reopen, albeit with strict COVID-related measures.

Actually, restaurants and shops never closed entirely here in Cambodia. Hunkered down in hot and tight quarters for six weeks and reading the news from around the world, it was easy to fool ourselves into thinking the whole of Cambodia was doing the same — holed up in tight quarters with immediate family and making do until the risks had decreased.

That was in fact, not the case, as we’d come to discover we were part of only a small minority doing our part.

It seems that for the moment, Cambodia dodged a bullet. Only three new cases were recorded in the entire country for the month of May.

However, Cambodia’s luck will only last as long as border restrictions and quarantine requirements remain in place. Given how much the economy here relies on foreign tourism and investment, that can’t last forever.

With a viable vaccine still months off, the country is going to have to make some tough decisions.

But here at the beginning of May, things are looking up. Many of the restaurants that did close at the beginning of the pandemic are dusting off the cobwebs and showing signs of life, with new physical distancing and hygiene procedures in place. These are mostly expat-geared establishments. Most street stalls and noodle joints never closed, and for some insane reason seem more packed than ever.

Seeing people packed like sardines into these places is extremely unsettling for us. But I can’t say I blame them. Until there is evidence of community transmission in Phnom Penh, local businesses are going to stay open and the locals are going to continue about their business. After all, most Cambodian business owners have no other choice than to stay open if they want to survive.

If things head south in the future, it’ll be a whole new ballgame.

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Walking down Street 308 a block away from our place, we’re finally seeing signs of life after six weeks of tumbleweeds and crickets.

There are even two new bars that opened up on the strip. Obviously, these places broke ground or began their renovations months ago.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for small-scale entrepreneurs with their life savings potentially tied up in a new venture slated to open in mid-2020.

One particularly hard hit sector here in Phnom Penh is the tuk tuk/ taxi sector. Before the pandemic, demand seemed to be outpacing supply. It wasn’t uncommon to wait around for 5-10 minutes for a tuk tuk to arrive in certain parts of the city and certain times of day, even ones we’d hail through the Grab app.

Now, tuk tuk and remorque drivers can be seen napping in long lines of empty vehicles across Phnom Penh. These days, if I need a tuk tuk, I wait until the very last minute to press “confirm” on my ride hailing app. Chances are good that a tuk tuk will beat me to my pickup point.

Saturday the 2nd of May was a momentous day. It was the first time since mid-March that Lori and I ate somewhere that wasn’t our dining room table. The honors go to Feel Good Cafe II, a couple blocks from the house.

Precautions seem to be fairly standardized for Western places in Phnom Penh — temperature reading on arrival, staff wearing masks (even shields at some places), disinfecting at regular intervals, physically distanced seating (and often placards).

On top of all that, Phnom Penh has the added advantage of outdoor seating (and the climate to go along with it year round).

Lori and I wanted to try it out first before taking the kids (they’re with our trusty sitter), just to make sure we were comfortable with things.

Maybe, just maybe, next weekend, we’ll try our first socially-distant brunch out together as a family since the start of the pandemic. Noe for one will be thrilled to be anywhere but the house.

Another quiet Saturday in our little alley in the time of COVID.

 

Time for a little outing. Walking around to watch the half dozen construction sites within a ten-minute walk of our place as become the default outdoor activity.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot else to do in Phnom Penh with kids these days. Fortunately, they both love it.

While most of the large-scale Chinese-financed projects are on pause, many others continue to move ahead, despite the pandemic.

A rare and welcome patch of shade along an otherwise very hot walk. We’re grateful we live so close to the city’s grand avenue of Norodom Blvd., which has, hands-down the city’s best sidewalks for kids. If only they didn’t tear up the sidewalks every month or two for utility work.

Ready for launch! Noe’s really been into rocketships lately, so we did our best with his boxy Duplos. Hopefully he’ll get to see the real thing launch without a hitch when Space-X launches later this month or early June.

Art time.

…and toddler exercise time. Home Edition.

At one point, I noticed Riley had disappeared. I assumed he was in his room, but instead, he had collected all of the stuffed animals in the house and set up shop in little alcove. Apparently, Lori had promised the boys a tea party later, but I wasn’t aware (or invited, apparently…).

Tea party! Um…you guys really need to enforce your physical distancing rules. Monkey, I’m looking at you!

Morning cereal with the buddy. Noe’s always insistent that I eat right next to him at his table. Because, you know, we never see each other these days.

As Billy Joel might say, we’re sharing a bowl they call loneliness, because it’s better than eating alone.

…or drinking alone, in your house… For that, there’s Beer Bar Tuk Tuk. After all these weeks, I’m still partial to their IPA, and Lori, the APA, though they are constantly trying to get us to branch out. Why mess with a good thing? Particularly in the time of COVID.

A week after Lori and I ventured out to our first brunch since the start of the pandemic, we take the kids. This time we head south to Java Cafe in Tuol Tom Poung.

We like this place because there’s more room to spread out with the boys, and it tends to get fewer people on the weekend — all important considerations in these times.

Today, we’re the only ones here.

After brunch, we planned a special outing to a little-known corner of the city that looked interesting enough to warrant a walkabout with the kids. You can look forward to more on our surreal visit to Euro Park in a future post.

It’s a hot one! That means, ice game!

Riley, trying to steal some screen time from the jumbotron on the building behind our place.

Phnom Penh is full of these places, built for the sole purpose of peddling the city’s dozens of enormous middle class house developments.

Here’s an aerial view of the one that features in the looping advert that is the object of Riley’s obsession.

All of those are 3 or 4-bedroom two-story villas (really townhouses, as they’re just inches apart). These mega developments are a dime a dozen here. Probably seemed like a good idea when the market was flying high pre-COVID. But it’s a different world now.

 

Fort building time.

No, Noe did not just step out of the bath. Yes, the AC is on full blast.

You may have gathered from these pictures that it gets quite hot these days in our humble abode.

…and noisy…

Just a little double-power-tool-on-concrete action outside of our bedroom window.

And when I say bedroom, I mean, home office, of course…

The best working environment is downstairs after the kids have gone to see the Sandman.

That doesn’t mean they don’t leave little reminders of their presence…everywhere…

My home office.

 

Happy hour at a brand new bar called LF Social Club on Street 308. Local craft beer, outdoor seating, funky vibe, what’s not to love. Noe was impressed. He especially liked the exposed brick and hipster nicknacks.

Riley just wanted to get his drink on. Our little party animal.

 

Play time. With empty shampoo bottles! Getting creative here, folks.

Another Saturday, another brunch outing with the kids. The boys look forward to these as they are the closest to exploring and being around other humans that we are able to do these days.

Noe loves remorques. Tuk Tuks are faster and more prevalent, but nothing beats the open-air feel of a remorque. I try to finagle one at least once on our weekend outings. It the little things…

This Saturday, we’re at The Shop 102, not cheap, but we like it for the comfortable European outdoor terrace (and high chair!!!), both of which are hard to find here.

Noe also likes that he can stare up at the big glass boot building behind him.

 

Venturing out on our first date night in two months. The honors go to Kinin in Tuol Tompong, followed by a low key drink in our neighborhood.

Pre-pandemic, Bassac Lane would be packed at this time on a Saturday night. These days, the vibe is a lot more chill. Not great for business, but we’re not complaining.

After watching virtually on Facebook Live for many, many weeks, Phnom Penh’s own Mimi and the Merrymakers gave their first real-life (socially distanced) performance at Farm to Table.

Due to the restrictions, only a very limited number of people were allowed to attend in person. Lori was one of the first to request tickets and so we made the cut. The boys were beside themselves.

However, the tractor and play area were still off limits for the time being, and the restaurant hadn’t yet reopened to the public.

 

 

Sucking on a mango seed, one of Noe’s favorite pastimes right now.

Sunscreen and mosquito repellant — gearing up to go outside.

 

View from my upstairs “office.” Rainy season is right around the corner!

Streetlife on Pasteur Road in Phnom Penh.

Jackfruit season!

A rare moment of solo quiet reading time for Riley.

He much prefers this…

 

Capping off the month of May with a walk along Sisowath Quay and the river, both eerily quiet these days.

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JAN FULLERTON
JAN FULLERTON

Love the family pictures!!

Gramps
Gramps

Thanks for the opportunity to observe your life with the boys in Cambodia. Your photographs are fantastic and so insightful to the boys life and development. Thanks David for taking the time to put this together.