It’s nice to have a place to call home after 14 weeks of literally living out of suitcases with two little ones. We moved out of our house in Vientiane on 30 September and moved into our house here in Phnom Penh on 4 January. It’s nice to unpack, find long-term homes for things, and start cooking again in a real kitchen — even if we’re still waiting on most of our kitchenware.
Our freight continues to elude us. We know it’s in Cambodia. In fact, it’s been in Cambodia since 10 December of last year at a customs facility near the international airport. A broker was hired upon arrival to process the customs paperwork and expedite the process. If anything, they seem to be slowing the process down with their incompetence.
So we wait, knowing that the boys are quickly growing out of the next set of clothes that we lugged all the way from the U.S. 12 months ago. Oh well. While we prefer the expat lifestyle, it’s far from all rainbows and unicorns. We take the good with the bad, and in the end there’s a lot more of the former than the latter.
Staying in Touch
Sunday morning Skype with the grandparents. We’re currently 15 hours ahead of Oregon time, which gives us a pretty small window to chat when the boys and grandparents are all awake in their respective time zones.
My parents slot in at 8:30 am (5:30 pm their time on Saturday), and Lori’s parents follow right behind them somewhere between 9:00 and 9:15.
We used to do an hour each but found the boys’ attention spans (and willingness to cooperate) rarely made it to the two hour mark. So, we reduced the visits to 30 minutes each and started doing an additional call for just the grown-ups when the boys are sleeping during the week.
We have good Skypes and not so good Skypes, which is totally dependent on the boys’ moods.
Months ago, we started using an app called Marco Polo as well, which has been a lifesaver.
Instead of relying solely on Skype for the boys to interact with family and friends in various locations and timezones around the world, we can shoot off a quick video which the recipient can watch at their leisure and reply to with their own if they choose. That way, we can pick a time of day when Noe (and Riley) are focused and attentive to show them the videos they received (and make one of their own).
Family and friends send videos ranging from quick greetings to clips of cool things they’re doing at the moment, and the grandparents even read stories. In addition to greeting messages and thank-yous, we send quick videos of something unique or noteworthy the boys are up to, like snippets of a school program, a trip out of town, or a fun restaurant.
And, of course, we have this blog to hopefully fill in the rest until we can get back to see everyone.
This month, Riley’s discovered sitting — as in sitting down on something (like a big boy). There’s a low ledge in his room that he’ll go over to, plop himself down on, and giggle incessantly about. He’ll get up, take a walk around the room and do it again. He thinks it’s even more hilarious when someone comes and sits down next to him. It’s almost too much for him.
Boats, Buildings & Bars
Off on an outing to get the wiggles out and enjoy the nice day.
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If we want to walk along an uninterrupted route, there’s no better path than the one along the river. We take a tuk tuk to the southern end of the river-walk near the ferry terminal, and often find ourselves waylaid by the boys wanting to stay and watch the big boats for a while.
Lori and I were especially taken by the middle ferry. Even after I snapped this pic the cement mixers kept coming. Wondering how much weight these ferries can carry without sinking? I can tell you it’s at least as much as a full deck of cement mixers.
A short walk along the path, and a scene from another era.
Switching gears a bit — walk a few minutes in any direction through the BKK1 neighborhood and you’re bound to see one of two things — a villa coming down or a high-rise going up.
It’s really a shame, as there are so many identical-looking neighborhoods across the city, but very few with the charm, established tree cover, and livable residential feel as BKK1 (or as BKK1 was just a few years ago).
But Phnom Penh is a bonafide boomtown right now, and the BKK1 postal code is perhaps the most sought after in the city. So, property here is suddenly very valuable. And developers can make a hell of a lot more off a 20-story high-rise apartment than a 4-bedroom villa.
That is, until the market reaches the point where supply drastically exceeds demand, which is about where the neighborhood is at now. Yet, the demolitions and projects continue, as plans for high-rises are set in motion years in advance. In another year or two, this stately neighborhood will be nothing but identical, half-vacant concrete high-rises.
Just weeks ago, this was one of our favorite coffee shops in town and one we even visited in 2012. Now, it’s another hot pot place. Because you just can’t have enough Chinese food in Cambodia, I guess.
Exploring the New Neighborhood
Even before we moved into the neighborhood, I spent a considerable amount of time around these parts. Noe’s school is here, along with some of the best coffee shops in town like Feel Good Cafe II and Java Cafe. Lori and I also spent a bit of time exploring Bassac Lane and Street 308 on a date night or two.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more to explore in Tonle Bassac, and we’re looking forward to it.
The Bus opened a couple of weeks before we moved to Phnom Penh and was one of the first happy hour joints we visited. It was impossible not to. Noe and I would pass the big red British double decker bus to and from school each day, and what three-year-old wouldn’t want to go to “that” coffee shop?
So, Noe was quite excited to return. Riley didn’t care much the first time around, but it’s pretty amazing what a difference a couple of months make in the life of a one-year-old.
That, above, is popular Bassac Lane. It doesn’t look like much by day, but by night it transforms into one of the cooler bar alleys we’ve seen. They really did a nice job with it. And the bars tend to be a bit more upscale and character-infused than the cookie-cutter dives in the tourist rows of Riverside. Many of them serve bourbon-based cocktails and local craft beer on tap. We’re definitely not in Vientiane, anymore.
Nothing says “cool bar” like a motorcycle hanging by chains from the ceiling.
Riley still likes to randomly lie down, tuck his arm behind his back, and rock back and forth. If he’s got the binky in, he may even go into a trance.
Lori, playing paparazzi while waiting for the boys and me to arrive at Botanico beer garden. Noe loves this place. If we can get Riley settled into an activity, it’s pretty enjoyable for all of us. Otherwise, we spend most of our time chasing him around as he tries to swim in the fish pond, climb into the garden, or walk out the front door.
One thing he never does is try to touch the Buddhas. He he’ll still give them a good old fashioned Lao nop and sabaidi, but his caregivers in Laos must have instilled the fear of Buddha in him or something, because he never touches them. Ever.
Noe loves his new room. All last year, I wanted Noe to have his own table and chair to work on projects, but we knew we were probably going to move out of Vientiane and didn’t want to buy anything new.
So…when we finally moved into this house, I told Lori is was non-negotiable. The boy needs a table and chairs! In no time, she was able to find a perfect little wooden set from another expat family moving away.
Sometimes, his table becomes part of his castle, which is fine too.
Other times, he opts to do his crafts using alternative seating arrangements.
More Out & About
Brunchtime with my boys. These days, Noe generally sits in regular seats with us. But they had an extra high chair and Noe wanted to have the tray to put his magazine on.
One of his favorite things these days when we eat out is grabbing a magazine, brochure, or map from the rack and slowly going through it (or in the case of the map, carefully studying it). Cafes in Laos rarely had reading material like this available (sometimes newspapers, but rarely magazines, and definitely not maps). Nearly everywhere we go here in Phnom Penh has a stack of City Guides, tourist maps and visitor guides. Noe loves it.
On one of the maps (that he snuck into his bag and took home with him) he found a waterpark. He told me it was near our house (it’s not). I looked into it anyways and discovered it wasn’t quite functional yet. Every day for a week he would say to me, “Dad, I think the waterpark is open now.” And every day, I tell him the same thing, “Noe, it’s going to be a long, long time until it opens, but I’ll let you know when it does.” Repeat.
That’s another thing — he’s suddenly started calling me “Dad” instead of “Daddy.” No clue where that came from, but I don’t like it. Not one bit. Thought I had another decade on that one. At least I still have Riley.
Riley’s been into stickers lately. Little tiny made-for-baby-fingers stickers. As long as they’ve still got stick-em, they’ll keep him pretty busy for 5-10 minutes. Even five minutes of the boys each being focused on an activity feels so luxurious to Lori and me these days.
…and that’s why God created date nights.
This Saturday night, we’re down in Toul Tompoung again, trying out Kinin (which may or may not also go by the name of Kumbhaka or The Sleeping Giant). Whatever it’s called, it’s definitely a must-visit.
The garden setting is awesome, the food is amazing (and a really good deal), and the drinks are spot on.
Dinner on the weekends probably requires a reservation. We got lucky and snagged the last table, but the place is very popular, it seems. Lori and I are still getting used to this whole reservation business. In Vientiane, we never had to make reservations. Ever.
Lori caught us getting in a quick wash of the dishes before she got home.
In addition to a number of good second-hand finds, Lori was able to snag a used off-brand Vitamix for a great price. Hence, the return of morning smoothies!
Riley, waiting for daddy to slather him up with mosquito repellant lotion before heading off to school. He loves it.
Another Saturday, another run-about near the river to burn off some energy before things heat up.
Yep. That’s exactly what you think it is.
Back in the Hood
A nice Saturday afternoon stroll through the narrow alleyways of Tonle Bassac. This is our neighborhood temple.
We’ll often use a secret short cut through the alleyway that skirts the temple to get to and from the boys’ school.
Beating the crowds at Bassac Lane for happy hour. It’s rare that we get to have a drink before the sun goes down these days.
I was excited to try out a new coffee place a block away from our house. It’s cheap, it’s good coffee, and they give out these reusable cups.
A week later, it was also…demolished. The whole block’s been leveled, in fact. Oh well.
On January 20th, the Monday of the holiday week, I was sitting at a coffee shop looking out at the park across the street. It isn’t uncommon to see tour guides bring groups here to see the King Norodom statue, so at first I didn’t think much of the large tour bus pulling up. Then, another tour bus pulled. And another. Most with Chinese characters emblazoned across the large coach buses.
Then, it dawned on me. Chinese New Year. Tourists from China.
As I was watching the throngs of visitors stream out onto the curb, I received a BBC news alert. First confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus confirmed outside China.
A sobering moment followed.
That evening, we suddenly discovered a dozen hornets swarming around our front porch. I planned to grab some take away but opted to stay inside. They were pretty aggressive and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.
The next night, just after sunset, they arrived again, and stayed until we went off to sleep.
The following night, again. We contacted the landlord and he said he’d send someone to try and figure out where they were coming from. But they were gone by the fourth night before anyone showed up, and haven’t returned since.
Our theory is that it had something to do with our porch light. This past week was the start of Lunar (Chinese) New Year. There’s an energy company dormitory across the alleyway from us and the windows of the lights in the individual dorms (and fitness center) are usually on in the evening. A lot of businesses are closed for the holiday and our alley is completely dark, except for our porch. The evening the workers returned and the alley was once again lit up, the hornets were nowhere to be found.
Chinese New Year came and went, and along with it, our little plague of hornets. But it seems we had ourselves a new issue to contend with.
On January 27, the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Cambodia in Sihanoukville on the coast. “Should we be concerned?” I asked Lori. Nah. One case, a Chinese national who flew direct from Wuhan to Sihanoukville.
The next day, Lori was sitting at her desk, when a colleague was going around descretely handing unmarked envelopes to all of the staff without explanation.
Lori opened the envelope to find…
…an envelope full of surgical masks.