Logistics have a dictionary definition and freight forwarders are familiar with its business side, but in Cambodia, logistics could be any part of human existence that does apply here but isn’t applicable to, let’s say, Belgium. We’re focusing on the essentials at first. I’ll start with the most basic commodities; as you progress through this page you’ll gradually get acquainted with the mysterious labyrinths of the Khmer folklore.
Warning: don’t eat while reading this entry.
Circle 1 – WATER
Non-Cambodians take water for granted, end of story. Scream all you want, you have no idea how lucky you are to be able to count so nonchalantly on cheap, clean and easily accessible water. The H2O problem, or issue as the politically correct among us would say, isn’t limited to the lack of running water in restaurant washrooms. Erkhm, maybe that’s not the right term if we talk about places with no water. Lavatories, then. Ouch. Lat. lavare – to wash. Euh, let me try with WC. Oh, well, WC just stands for Water Closet. DAMMIT! All those words in Indo-European languages talk about water, whereas the Khmer way of doing loo things doesn’t necessarily involve this precious liquid. Draw the conclusion. Language as a means of communication between individuals occupying a similar time-space continuum is trying to tell you something!
I’m not gonna give any advice here, but I’ll mention that Cambodian restaurants expect their guests to use the same nasty plastic container carefully placed next to a water-filled basin to flush the contents of the toilet bowl and wash their hands afterwards – over a non-existent bathroom sink. If there is soap. There usually isn’t any soap and you’ll have to make a plan to obtain it. Since the field in which I grow these kinds of fucks had been barren for a long time, I simply annoy the staff until they give me some kind of dish detergent and a hose.
Circle 2 – (DON’T FORGET THE) TOILET PAPER
We’ll stick with the dirty business some more. If you’ve ever lived in Kuwait, you probably already have the eccentric habit of carrying toilet paper /napkins /tissues around – especially if you’re a lady. If this is the case, do maintain this useful trait of paranoia and keep your TP close to your person at all times like your life depends on it. You will need it, and for at least two reasons, number one being the food your stomach isn’t used to, catch my drift? The second one is that nobody puts TP in their toilets here. It’s very simple – when you enter the room, you’ll find the plastic container, the basin, maybe even handwash in fancy places, but you won’t find any paper. Napkins are carefully placed on tables, and used for wiping the mouth, not the opposite gate of our food processing system. Again, reasons for this bifurcate: 1) Authorities are too lazy or uninterested to solve the ever-weighing sewage problem in this country; 2) Restaurant owners are too lazy or uninterested to solve the ever-weighing sewage problem in their establishments.
A Tanqueray-powered loud mouth of a bar owner confessed once to a sober me that he doesn’t keep TP in his restaurant because it costs too much. His toilet gets clogged each time someone disposes of used TP, so he has to call special declogging agencies, and that costs wayyyyy more than he’s willing to pay, so it’s not worth the trouble. “We all use a spray gun” – the tipsy bar owner disclosed. “That way nobody has to worry about TP, clogging, settling the bill, and all that bullshit.”
Yes, and that way, nobody has to worry about bacteria of previous spray gun users and all that bullshit, either. Oh, the horror. Listen to the drunk man, it takes superhuman effort to make things up in that state. So, a vital piece of information that goes together with the idea about carrying TP with you around: after using it, throw it in the garbage bin.
Circle 3 – TRASH
“To live is to pollute” goes the old Khmer proverb. Traditional as they are, Cambodians live up to the sacred promises their forefathers gave this blue planet – that there will be no grocery item, no matter how light, left unpacked in heavy-duty plastic bags of all sizes; no piece of land devoid of industrial waste and used condoms; no pile of municipal rubbish unlit, no segregation between different kinds of litter. Oh, mighty forefathers of the Khmer nation, you can be proud today, for today is the day your youthlings stand tall among infinite mountains of their own shit.
Circle 4 – BASIC PERSONAL HYGIENE
It exists. It does. I mean, there is hand soap and beauty soap. Watch out for whitening products! I even found US-made Aquafresh toothpaste in a supermarket once. Now if Aquafresh would be so kind as to make a pecuniary arrangement with me about the placement of messages pertaining to the superiority of their product, I shall gladly continue repeating that Aquafresh is my favourite toothpaste throughout this blog. Partially also because I’d be doing that anyway.
You can get basics here, but not top of the range. There will be almost nothing worth sweating for at the green market and in small corner stores, so if you want to stay loyal to your habits, you’ll have to go to supermarkets. This is always easy: Lucky, 300+ or alternatively a local one, easy to notice as they’re the only airconditioned places. It will be even easier to recognise them by following rivers of Korean and French people cascading inside.
Circle 5 – TRANSPORTATION
No motobike no rife! Motobike is everything. Motobike have traver agency Cambodia. Come and see, no wait!
It’s true, though. If you no have motobike, you have no legs and no shame to be walking around like that. What’s more, you’ll go completely unnoticed on the street, since Cambodians are careless drivers who follow only two rules of the road: 1) drive on the right; and 2) yield to all vehicles bigger than your own. In reality this means that all pedestrians are invisible, since their vehicles’ cylinder capacity doesn’t exceed 125cc.
You can rent legs with added respect on the road for reasonable daily, weekly and monthly fees in just about any travel agency and nobody will try to screw you if you ask direct and honest questions. However, be wary when heading out of the agency onto the street with your newly gained confidence because sporting a non-Cambodian face on rented legs might make you visible to bribe-attracting radars in blue uniforms, otherwise known as Friendly Officers. We gave them this nickname because they’ll charge you a friendly sum as a compensation for not having the assurance corresponding to your vehicle’s number plate or give something equally wild as a reason for depriving you of your hard-earned dinar. Yes, I wrote dinar. Look it up.
Welcome to the First World Problems section. Disclaimer: If you’re from galaxies elsewhere in reality, please note that reading about tennis ball types in England in the first half of the XX century would be far more appropriate right now, as you will probably find further content on this page unrelatable.
Circle 6 – LAUNDRY
The year is 2017. Air temperatures are intense, the Sun ruthlessly burns the skin, sweat pours out of the body like insults in a drunken fight. Shabanella the Real is stranded in Ankgorland with piles of washing to do. There is no reliable laundry shop in town. Prices sit between 50 Trump cents and 1 Trump dollar per kg, but the service these prices cover is a kick below the belt. Washing ironically gets returned unwashed. True, it’s sometimes enriched with fabric softener to mask the funk at first, but as soon as the cotton touches the body, it becomes contaminated again. Malaria bearing mosquitoes are everywhere, looking for opportunities to bite, and they will bite any source of aforementioned funk. The situation is dire.
Fat man comes to the rescue.
Circle 7 – MY DAILY DAIRY
Apparently, there’s a genetic mutation that happened a long time ago somewhere in Europe which allowed the hipsters of that time to develop enzymes so that they could be the first in their group to start drinking fermented milk. It was a more innocent time and reverse peer pressure wasn’t quite as popular as now, so the hipsters spread their newly evolved digestive habits all across the continent. I too am their descendant and this is reflected in the fact that I would rather opt to die than to live without yoghurt, cheese, and kefir.
Regretfully, this genetic mutation was an occurrence that didn’t catch on in other parts of the world, probably due to the insurmountable geographical distance between my ancestors and the ancestors of the Friendly Officers.
Now thank the French, and thank them again for their colonial aspirations, thank them! They brought cheese, fruit yoghurt, baguette bread and the notion of chocolate. Merci mille fois, les gars! Of course, you won’t find cheese in any restaurant menu here unless you’re straight on Phnom Penh’s poshest ave, but it will be possible to get your fix in a supermarket. If I were you, and yes I am because I am here and you’re still thinking of being here, I’d alternatively stick with the Russians, they’ve proven themselves to be trustworthy informants on kefir whereabouts.
Circle 8 – HOT SHOWER
Certain things are understood in certain parts of the world. If your side onions on a plate of kebab in Turkey arrive without sumak on top, you’ll attribute the lack to a heart attack in the kitchen and automatically offer the waiter your condolences. The same goes for your egg on top of Sakartvelian khatchapuri, a smile with your bus ticket in Bangkok, astronomical wifi speed with your Romanian internet bill, Tomahawk democracy with your alleged cover-up of weapons of mass destruction… certain things go hand in hand.
In Cambodia, nothing goes hand in hand and everything is inconsistent. There is no correlation between various components of life, even though this could very well be a Pavlov thing in everyone else’s mind. Absolutely nothing has a constant value here. You’ll sit in a coffee shop one day and get amazing service; You’ll return there the following day and get the opposite of a great time with the same waiter. I have to say I’m very content with our decision to come to Sihanoukville, because this is the real Cambodia; Phnom Penh is for pussies. This is where the true insane ghetto shit happens. Of course I’ll elaborate on the ghetto aspect some more, but there’s a lot, so I’ll save it for another time.
This inconsistency is also visible when attempting to rent a house. Let’s not delve too much into why real estate agents don’t have an agency, why they operate from their motorbikes dressed like Wall Street brokers with only a meagre website as a source of clients, and all that crap. The hot shower, something you don’t even think about at home when renting, comes up as an extraordinary supplement to your already supercalafragelistically luxurious apartment, whose kitchen is even equipped with a real sink, and a real faucet! Running water! What a time to be alive! Think about the possibilities! You don’t have to run to the garden to wash your hands after mincing lamb any more! And now, also, thanks to this fantastic new invention called water heater, you can have hot showers! That’s 100$ more on the rental price, of course.
Circle 9 – INSECTS AND OTHER NOPES
Of course I’m not talking about common house flies, bees, wasps, or even pesky parasite-carrying mosquitoes. We’re in the tropics here. Maybe this isn’t a logistical problem per se, but think about all those times when you wanted to go to bed and there was a huge spider with some kind of white balloon which looks like a Pelikan eraser underneath it, and it moved faster than Lucky Luke. Ah yes, of course you can’t relate. Well, there you go, it is a logistical problem. Wait and see. Now, just thinking about my sorrowful encounter with the Pelikan spider makes me shiver, so I’ll not put my focus on that story. Instead, I’ll say that we found a scorpion strutting his stuff in our front yard and that we keep two XXL-size bottles of the bossiest “Instant Destroy Multikill Exterminating Ziegheil Rammstein Flammenwerfer” insect spray in our side pockets, one for each side. I’ll also tell you that we surgically remove all leftover particles of food from the table and the floor underneath after every meal, and that eating in bed is an activity we’re saving for our Scandinavian holidays.