Phnom Penh: the omnibus edition

February 9, 2014

An odd week, here in the Pearl of Asia. Last weekend was great: an old and very dear friend from London came for the weekend. We had a profoundly cool time, caught up properly and insulted each others’ football teams in a mutually satisfying fashion.

On his last night, I dropped him at his hotel, chosen by me, which is new, and looks great, at about 0230hrs. At about 0730 he was banging on the door of our flat, having had all of his possessions stolen.

These things happen; of course they do. His wallet, watch, phone and iPad were all replaceable, and probably securely insured. The fact that someone made it past the rolls of barbed wire and over a second-floor balcony, without being detected by the hotel’s security staff might raise an eyebrow.

But what really pisses me off is the attitude of the hotel staff. The manager, some deeply pointless Frenchman, couldn’t care less, and actually excused himself from any discussion on the subject. The culpable security guard just laughed, even when accused. The hotel is called La Librarie, on Street 184, and I’d rather stab myself in the face with a radioactive knife than recommend that anyone stay there. Tripadvisor beckons.

The police, of course, were worse than useless, and are withholding issuing an insurance-helpful certificate, because my friend had to fly out to a range of meetings in KL and Singapore. Although they intimated that with the right payment, everything could be resolved happily.

So that was the bad.

The next day saw the launch of Phnom Penh’s new bus service, which runs the length of the city, for a mere 1,500 real, or 37 cents. The story has made the news worldwide, but that’s probably due to a huge crew of teenage freelance journalists here desperately trying to sell something, more than actual news value.

But, by god, this city could use a decent bus service. Traffic has got significantly worse in the couple of years I’ve been here: snarls and gridlock during rush hour are persistent and unpleasant. I got stuck at a major intersection a week or two ago when the traffic lights failed, and it looked like Rorke’s Drift.

So we wish the bus service all the best. One article I read suggested that there were 1.5 million mopeds here, in a city of 1.5 million, so that’s clearly wrong, as I don’t have one. And nor do too many children under the age of about, oh, seven. Everyone else does, though.

The next good thing was that the garbage collectors’ strike ended. These poor people work like Japanese beavers, for next to no money; finally they went on strike. A compromised was achieved, and everyone seems relatively happy, but for three or four days, the trash built up on street corners, and, in this heat, it can fester. Good god, but it can stink. I believe they now get $100 a month.

And finally, Blossom got a call this morning to tell us that a great friend of ours had died. He was one of the nicest guys I knew here. I last spoke to him just before he flew to Kota Kinabalu, where he had a massive heart attack: he had a great plan that involved us working together on a fun project. He was smart and serious, a gentle soul, and the world will miss him. RIP Chip.

So that was a week.

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