Monday, 19 February 2018

Getting over 2011 and entering the New World

“If only there was an overhead foot bridge”, I said to my friend as we were talking about how busy the traffic is on street 2011 in the north west of Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. She and her young children live on one side, and the market is on the other. The market is so close but hard to get to, street 2011 cuts her off. Ten years ago it was a quiet dirt road. Five years ago it was sealed and had a lot more traffic.  Now it’s really busy. 

Trip to Phnom Penh, February  2018.

A recent trip back to the capital felt like I was travelling both back in time and yet forward into the future as well, even though it is only about 300 kilometres (198 miles) away from where we live now. I first came to Cambodia 12 years ago, one cycle of the Chinese animal zodiac.  Although we’ve been in Siem Reap for a few years now most of my Cambodia years to date we lived in Phnom Penh. Visiting the capital I had some reminders of those first weeks back in 2006. It was all still there, yet at the same time so many new unfamiliar things.

“Near the Grilled Chicken Market” isn’t one  of the usual survival phrases you would learn when first stepping off the plane into a new country, but for me it was.  I spent my first week in Cambodia staying in a mission centre, and that was the phrase I used to find my way back home each day. Hearing the phrase and using it again this month spookily transported me right back to January 2006.

It seemed incongruous that I was using the phrase to visit a friend who I had met only months before, she’s part of my new life in Siem Reap, but now living right “near the Grilled Chicken Market”.

Similarly the picture of the coffee plunger (French Press) on the Jars of Clay menu reminded me of the first time I went to Jars of Clay café after a hot sweaty day at the Russian Market. I got totally lost and couldn’t find anywhere cool to sit, so when I finally found Jars it was very memorable.  In those days the café was over 10km from our place in Phnom Penh Thmey (1 hour bike ride for me), so I found it so bizarre last month that I was sitting in a second branch of Jars up north right near my old house.

The whole trip was full of these incongruous long forgotten twelve year old memories mixed with strange new futuristic things such as PassApp (like Uber for tuktuks). I had been expecting a boring need-to-renew-a-passport trip but it turned out to be such a weird and wonderful experience.

Photo: Hanoi Road, somewhere between the Bible school turn off and street 1986, back in 2008

It seems to me that the biggest changes took place 2011-12, the central years of my time in Cambodia so far.  At the end of 2010, Logos International School moved to the area and other expats I knew started moving there for the first time.  Straight after that in January 2011 we went to Australia for two years and by the time we got back Phnom Penh Thmey was almost unrecognizable.

It felt like housing estates, mostly built by the New World Group, had devoured every small wooden house, rice paddy and even a good size pond in the north west of the city.  It went from mostly open skies and dusty tracks, to hundreds and hundreds of big fancy brick houses and cement roads.  The small lake had turned into a market. Back in Christmas 2010 one person from my expat Bible study group had moved to the area, but now there were so many members living in Phnom Penh Thmey the group had actually started meeting there.

Photo: Also Hanoi Road, also somewhere between Bible school turn off and street 1986, but this one is from 2018.

While these changes were taking place in Cambodia we were living inAustralia and the world of undiagnosed debilitating sickness. It took us by surprise; life was transformed when The Dizzy Monster began his attack.

Being out of the country while Phnom Penh Thmey  morphed from outskirts of town to the new ‘place to be’, combined with the our own huge changes we experienced while in Australia meant that we were entering a New World when we returned in 2013. It was like everything from our old life had unexpectedly and abruptly gone.

So no wonder all the changes in Phnom Penh have such a big impact on me. The year 2011 cuts my 12 years in half.  Just like street 2011 is hard to cross, getting over the year 2011 for me feels almost like leaving one world that ended in 2010, and entering a New World.

Up until 2010 I used to ride my bike out just past the Bible school to enjoy the sunset and palm trees. This vacant plot had a fence around it, I guess it used to be a school or something. Just before we went to Aus in 2011 they started sealing the road as you can see in this photo. By the time we arrived back in 2013 it had become a housing estate, and we lived there for two years! When I took this I was heading along the Bible school road  (Street 72P) almost to 2011. 

And here it is, the remote vacant lot that  I used to ride past in 2010 became one of the many New World Housing Estates that was built around 2011 in the north west of Phnom Penh, near street 2011.
Linking up with Velvet Ashes as last week was Travel.... and this week is change.

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