Saturday, April 28, 2012

If you'd asked me what I planned to do with my first weekend in Phnom Penh, I would perhaps have suggested a walk along the river, sleeping in, finding a good coffee.

I might not have mentioned taking part in a public novelty dancing world record attempt.

Yet, that's what I found myself doing this afternoon.

When we arrived, there were already about 500 people gathered, blue caps firmly in place, practicing the steps to the Madison. For those Aussies for whom this is unfamiliar, this is a Bus-Stop-like repeated dance involving step step kick, step step kick, clap, turn 90 degrees and do it all again. Anyone sensing a theme here?

It was being filmed, part of a BBC sponsored TV series aimed at engaging youth in current affairs, via a soap opera and radio show. My new French friend's contact was facilitating and somehow we ended up as official recorders. Thus, as the clouds broke onto a crowd swelling to 1200, we stood, the international neutral observers, one at the end of each row of 32, and watched for the requiring 5 minutes as the mostly Cambodian dancers stepped, clapped and occasionally cheered for the camera.

The guy at the head of my line had obviously been dragged into participate, and shuffled his way vaguely left and right, exactly opposite to the rest of the crowd. Next to him, a young beauty wiggled her way through the steps, resplendent in full denim suit (complete with bows) and fluffy slippers featuring cartoon kittens on each toe. Behind them, an awed three year old stared at the dancers around her, fixed to the spot. The rain set in properly, the music kept going, and the blue caps bobbed along.

Afterward, we had to sign an official declaration. Were we aware of Guinness World Record regulations? Was everyone in our row dancing? (I excluded the child. Sorry but I'm signing my life away here!) And the organiser pointed out the essential recorders - perched on top of tall buildings overlooking the square, the cameramen with the sniper-like setups to take in the whole thing in one sequence.

The rain eased and the leather jacketted hip hop boy band came on. Forget One Direction, Utopia is where it's at.

As long as you speak Khmer.

(Catch the world exclusive from next Sunday at

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's all about the light

Sometimes life develops a cinematic quality. The way the sunshine fills the room, the hum of passing traffic, the side comments of fellow passengers.

For me, it's been the entire week.

The presentation, the official nods, the gift of a silk scarf held prominent for the photo.

Rain clouds dripping onto a mustard Melbourne skyline.

Beers in a cozy booth.

Standing at the microphone, my voice resonating into the future. A room full of faces growing less intertwined.

The vacuum cleaner under our feet.

My grandmother waving from her open front door.

The crisp sunshine seeping into my soul.

A chance meeting of a boy from another place and time - the struggle for context as we glance at each other. Then again: different country, different boy.

And my trolley case wheels rumbling down another marble walkway.

Maybe it's being mindful.
Maybe it's being disconnected.

Maybe my lens is coming into focus.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

A culinary tour

I've spent the last three weeks traveling around the country. 39 health facilities in 14 working days! Plus a lot of time sitting in the car, and a lot of time eating. The best way to experience a country's cuisine? Go with a local:

Mekong river algae, done two different ways, and the ubiquitous sticky rice. After dark in Pongxay.

The best Pho I've ever eaten, with the usual pile of lettuce, mint, basil, chives, lemon & beans. On the road back from Botene.

Self explanatory. Xayabuli ferry crossing.

Sour chicken soup & wild ginger flowers. Cooked by health centre staff, Phosaykhun.

Do you eat river pork?
Oh. You mean liver. And lung and uterus.

At 8 am.

The liver & lung are fine. The uterus... perhaps at a meal other than breakfast?

Chose not to partake this time.

Mini coconut-like fruit - be careful to catch the milk inside while biting into it. Xayphoutong.

Other memborable moments include:
Smoked buffalo meat
The live catfish given to us by another health centre, that jumped and dripped, trying to eat through its plastic bag gaol all the way home in the car.
Green papaya salad
The densest dark chocolate mousse I've ever eaten
Baguette sandwiches, done Lao style with sweet chilli sauce & coriander
Early-season specialty rice
Car food (apart from the corn): coconut wafers, oranges and sticky fresh tamarind pods
Korean sukiyaki-style BBQ
Black sticky rice and bean cakes, wrapped in banana leaves
Fried chicken & kebab-style grasshoppers - accidentally ended up chewing on the flattened chicken head
Fresh Lao coffee with condensed milk
Green snake bean salads
Hard boiled duck eggs, complete with embryos - the only other thing I've declined.

And of course:
Ant egg soup.