Monday, October 09, 2006

Birthday and Goodbye, Judge

I turned 35 a few days ago and I had 20 people over for a BBQ. It started out as an excuse to feed the staff but I also wanted to invite my new friends in Cambodia who have been so kind to me. It was great fun, with a full moon (it was the Mooncake Festival the day before, when Chinese eat mooncakes and drink tea while admiring the moon. The children carry lanterns and light candles anywhere they can). We played Khmer songs and drank beer (boy, can the local men put it away). The staff really enjoyed themselves and some came over early to help. (Bonthuen even wanted a test run the day before!) There was a lot of food for the staff to take home, so mission accomplished!

Sipha took me to Chhbar Ampov (pronounced “Chbar Ampou”) market because it’s a wholesale market. Vendors at Psar (“market”) Olympic and others in Phnom Penh city get their goods there. Now I see why it’s so crowded. We bought corn which just came off a truck from Kampot province in the south. It is the season for corn and everywhere now you can see corn vendors selling boiled or grilled corn for 1000 riels or USD0.25 for one. I paid USD3.50 for 50 raw cobs of corn and squatted together with Sipha to pull off the husks. I really felt like a local, although you can tell I’m not because my thigh muscles are nowhere as strong!

Expats here usually shop for food at supermarkets like Lucky, Pencil and Big A. I think it’s because it is what we are used to—nicely laid out aisles and meat, veg and cheese sections. Alan and I shop at Lucky on Sihanouk, mainly because it is convenient (10mins walk from our house) and you can get stuff like broccoli and frozen spinach. There is also a good selection of wine and cheap, compared with where I come from! (Alcohol in Singapore is very expensive, because of the duty. And so are cigarettes! A pack of Marlboros cost USD1 here and more than 6 times as much back home, if I remember correctly.)

The prices at Chhbar Ampov market were also much cheaper than what I was used to. Beef was USD4 a kilo for the good stuff; cuttlefish less than USD2 a kilo; tiger prawns USD6.50; while chicken was USD3.50. I had to go away because the sellers kill the chickens on the spot and boil them to remove the feathers. Sipha was handling the chickens with her bare hands, assessing their size and quality. And all I could think of was “Bird flu! Bird flu!” I made sure we washed out hands the first opportunity we had. I also bought an ice-box for USD24 (down from USD28), which had “Pepsi” splashed across it. I thought it was a lot of money, but my fridge is not big enough for all the food and drinks. I was thinking someone is making a lot of money out of these ice-boxes because they should be provided free by Pepsi to vendors who carry Pepsi products. I wonder if they are stolen, because I have heard of garment workers who steal thread to sell.

I didn’t have a cake but everyone sang me the birthday song anyway. But the day ended with sad news and me crying. I had called home and at first my father did not want to tell me about my dog. He kept saying “I will tell you another time, today you enjoy yourself.” But I wanted to know. Judge, my dog in Singapore, died the day before. He was old, more than 10 years old and Alan had been telling me, he’s done, worn out. He was having problems peeing and was disoriented. I did not know this, but Alan had offered to put him to sleep about a week ago when Alan was in Singapore awaiting the flight to Cambodia. My father said that Judge was unable to eat or drink for the last five days. I was so upset because he was my dog and I was not there for him. I had not seen him in 3 months and I was thinking I left him for a bunch of people I did not even know. I did not have a clue he was ill because he was the same dog when I left. I was even doing research on how to bring him over.

Judge was a beautiful American cocker spaniel. In fact he was called Judge because he looked like he was wearing a judge’s wig. My mom used to call him “angmoh chabor” (Hokkien for European woman) because of the long blond hair on his head. He was found in Eng Neo Avenue in the posh District 10 area by a lecturer at the university who had tried for a week to find its owner before I decided to take him in. Most likely some bloody idiot had thrown him away. There are Singaporeans who see dogs as fashion accessories, like a designer handbag. For a while Schnauzers were the in-thing. Some of these people get fed up of having a pet after a while, just as they would their handbag, and then dump them. I have never bought a dog and did not plan to start when I moved here. Many locals buy short, longhaired, white dogs that look like a cross between a Westie and a Pekinese for USD50. The locals also eat dogs—but only mongrels. The short fluffy white ones are pets. My father told me to take care of Austin (we changed Socks’ name in deference to Austin Powers), but said no more dogs for him and mom because they just cannot take it anymore. Alan says it can kill old people when the dog dies. I have to keep an eye on Austin because I have been told he could get stolen and eaten when he grows up.

Bye, bye Judge. Puppy Austin is here to remind me of the circle of life.


HomeChef said...

hi diana:

sorry to hear about Judge... be strong. is there a strong belief in buddhism in cambodia? Judge will reincarnate...

i'm back at work after a 4 mth maternity leave of absence. my boss is still the same, in fact i think she became worse, more stressed, more insecure, more micro managing since i came back. i sometimes wonder why i'm here. so, please continue your good work out there, and inspire the rest of us.

your friend always,

Jimmy Yap said...

Hey Diana

I'm sorry about Judge. He was a really sweet dog. Keep writing. Your posts about Cambodia are great. I'm learning a lot.


El Farto said...

Hey Diana,

Happy Belated Birthday!!!

Sorry about losing Judge. Nice observation about the circle of life though.

A stray cat adopted us a couple of months ago too. Just walked into our office and got used to me feeding her cat biskies. Someone in the office started called her Rosita (perversion of the names of two pretty colleagues here) and the name stuck. Rosita has gone through two pregnant cycles under our watch, but interestingly enough, nobody here has ever seen her kittens, though we know she must have them since her teats were swollen for a while. Anyway, we've grown quite attached to each other, and I keep wondering what's going to happen to her when I eventually leave. What're you planning to do with Socks when that time comes?

And thanks, you're doing a wonderful job enlightening us all with your posts. (You've actually made me feel bad for making more than minumum wage now, you Socialist you!)


Diana Saw said...

Hey guys,
thanks so much for the messages. Sorry been out of action. Had the misfortune of getting dengue. Argh! Sometimes I do wonder why am I here. Alan tells me about meeting someone in a pub in Glasgow who said he couldn't wait to get out of Cambodia. "It's a shithole," the young man said (he came on an adventure tour to see Angkor Wat etc). There really isn't much to see, in Phnom Penh especially. Angkor Wat is interesting if you like temples.

So don't think my life here is great, CS! Working sucks, but there is some comfort in knowing it is predictable and that you are good at your job. I guess you just need to know what you want in life. Everything comes at a price.

Minny! Rosita sounds wonderful. I have not thought about Austin's future. I guess I think I will be here for the long haul. Eeeks, just typing that made me panic. Somedays I just really miss home. The cleanliness, the airconed nation (it's blistering hot now), paved roads, cheap and good hawker food...

And Jimmy! You're the one who introduced me to this country! I'm glad you like the posts and I'm surprised I have stuff to teach you about Cambodia. Hope to see you soon!!


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