Surviving in the streets of (expletive deleted) Phnom Penh

Disclaimer:the views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not reflect those of VSO’.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed my obsessive concern with road safety in Phnom Penh  This is shared by a local band called The Mekong Pirates as will be made clear further down this post. I went to hear them at the FCC last night (Saturday 13th) with some of the VSO crowd, from ‘9 till late’. At the risk of readers asking themselves the very relevant question, ‘I thought volunteers were supposed to be living a life of privation and sacrifice – he’s having far too good a time’, I must say that this was a great night out.  The band is French and made up of a quite insane combination that works really well.   For Scots among you think Salsa Celtica, only Asian / Cajun fusion rather than Latin American /Scots.  The male lead singer played an accordion.  He had a great French voice, and as you would expect from French music there were a lot of words and they obviously mattered a lot, although I did not catch any specific references to Derrida,    …. but what you would not usually expect from French music was that the music was also very good – two drummers, two trumpets, trombone, sax, a keyboard/clarinet player and acoustic, bass and electric guitars,.   The other lead singer was a Khmer woman who could have been anything up to 8 months pregnant, but that didn’t seem to affect her easy rhythms and Khmer singing intonations, which worked really well against the fluid but guttural French of the accordionist.  They wore a combination of different types of piratical headgear, Johnny Depp style, or, bizarrely, pork pie hats..  Some of the timing and intonation was a bit out, but exuberant dissonance was part of the style – throw the whole thing together and you get something very special:  live music.  The brass section just brought the house down on some of the numbers and for their encore, the brass players came down into the dancing audience and played their stunning restatements of the musical theme again and again in among us.    The final song of their set contained a declamatory chorus lines which went something like… ‘  … just surviving in the streets of f***ing Phonm Penh…’ , sung, or rather shouted, by the whole band with great feeling.  It’s obviously a great favourite.  The FCC was full of French people, of whom there are obviously rather a lot in PP, most of whom seemed to be Mekong Pirates fan club members.  Sign me up.  I would go back to see them any time.

Personally the most surprising bit of the evening was that I was able to dance for the first time since I damaged my knee in the Edinburgh Marathon in May – let’s rephrase this.  It would have been almost impossible not to dance, and so I found myself moving about on the dance floor.   I say ‘dance’ but my movements bore little relationship to my usual hyped-up jerks – a more mellow and relaxed style more in keeping with my advancing years and the need to protect my knee.

I also now have a new (well second hand) bike, picked up in Street 105, which has a number of second hand bike shops and a good selection of bikes, if you are 5’6” and under, but not too many for guys my size.  John C from Ireland came along with me and we strolled around the same block several times before I eventually accepted his advice and looked for the street where it was, rather than where I thought it should be!  (sorry John).  He also patiently advised on the purchase and after a bit of testing, pidgin Khmer, sign language and a short bargaining interlude, which was conducted entirely by us entering different figures into a calculator (he put 50, I put 42, he put 48, I put 45 then we agreed! – that’s about £30 for those of you in UK land), I rode off the proud possessor a typically styled PP road-bike with tread on the tyres, brakes that work, a saddle that is at the right height and three speed gears.  It’s not perfect:   the handlebars are a bit close to the saddle and at any speed at all, the top gear requires too much pedaling – my legs area doing a lot of revs! – I definitely could do with a fourth gear!  But I’m not complaining.  It’s a joy to ride compared to the various VSO bikes I have tried out over the past few weeks.  The higher seating position and better power transfer, which allows for a quicker getaway from standing still, should also help with safety.  The bike is better but I’m not fooling myself – cycling in PP is still a risky business.

PP's finest cycling machine

PS Last week I was very critical of John Humphries so I feel I should in fairness point out that he definitely learned from his experience.  In last week’s From Our Own Correspondent he did a piece on his experience in China and I thought demonstrated quite a good balance in his appreciation of that country’s development.


7 thoughts on “Surviving in the streets of (expletive deleted) Phnom Penh

  1. I just Googled Mekong Pirates and found this – There’s a piece of video I think filmed in Kep earlier this year. I could sort of imagine you dancing to the music.

    Very glad you’ve got a decent bike – just don’t get too gungho and try carrying things like fans on the back of it!!
    Joan x

  2. Hi Danny, well it looks like you have settled really well and your bike looks fabbie, the pictures of you with all those kids emailing and the news of how school is over there with the classes makes me really think and appreciate how we are over here, i hope you continue to make progress and keep well and watch yourself on your bike!!

    many blessings to you over there and the people you are with
    Ludgate church sends many prayers to the people with VSO and for yourself and your family while you are away.


    • Hey Louise
      How lovely to hear from you.
      I hope that you and all your family are well and appreciate your kind thoughts and prayers. Today and yesterday I was in teacher traning colleges, seeing how the Cambodian teachers are trained. Teachers here are not terribly well qualified (esp. primary teachers) and are not paid nearly enough. A primary teacher may only earn $50 (about £32) a month, which is certainly not enough to live on. However some of the teachers are very dedicated and hardworking for their students. I saw a class with over 50 students really having a nice lesson with their teacher yesterday.
      Well I hope things continue to go well at Lornshill!!
      All the best
      Danny M

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