Letters of Life

Cucumber-Cool in Cambodia

17083 - Phnom Penh - Street

Image by xiquinhosilva via Flickr

Phnom Penh, Cambodia — One thing I learned in the newsroom back in the day was to establish one’s dateline (the date and location of the story, placed at the top) when one is abroad, in the field.

Coming to Cambodia soon after Christmas can be an iffy thing. Either I am unprepared for the work at hand (because I’d been on holiday too long), or I don’t feel up to the task.

But initial trepidations about leading a team, a team of 18 at that, into a developing city melted almost immediately. It must be the air. In fact, that was the first thing that got me, the airconditioner-cool evening air.

Unlike the tropical humidity which makes one irritable and agitated over the pettiest thing, the coolness in the breeze tranquilized my anxiety and literally made me chill. So it didn’t matter very much that the hotel failed to pick us up from the resort-like international airport.

Later, riding in the tuk-tuk (a motorcycle taxi which sits 6 in the open-air back) to dinner at a pizza place, every restaurant boasted free wi-fi in neon lights, as if that were the key feature of the restaurant.


It’s been only two years since I last visited this Khmer capital, but Progress has changed its face yet again. Tonight was the first time I stepped into a mall in Phnom Penh. A mall in Phnom Penh. . .inevitable, like a young child who suddenly grows up.

New malls, a theme park by the river, enticingly called Dreamland, flashy trucks and Hummers, shops retailing clothes you could easily find in neighboring prosperous cities like Bangkok or Jakarta.

The Phnom Penh I used to know is no more. . . I imagine this must be how my parents and their parents felt when Singapore made its own leaps toward the First World. But it wasn’t in double time and in ever-increasing speed.

Yet coming back to this city of my youth (I first experienced Phnom
Penh at age 24), I feel the gladness of return. I look forward to meeting old friends and making new ones, friendships that have lasted and will last a lifetime.


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