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Winged beauty: This large and supposedly quite rare butterfly has a wingspan of about 15 centimetres. Photo: John Anthony

Bulk bikes: A man pumps petrol into a van carrying dozens of stacked bikes. Photo: John Anthony

Home sweet home: A man tends to his garden aboard his houseboat in Kompong Phluk. During the wet season the village transforms into a water world. During the dry season boats sit on bare land and houses, on six metre stilts, tower above the treetops. Photo: John Anthony

Water babies: Two boys play on the water around their home in Kompong Phluk, Siem Reap. The naked boy was doing this hilarious little dance while the older one twirled his sticks like nunchucks. Photo: John Anthony

Gone fishin’: A man and woman net fish amongst the tree tops of a flooded tributary to the Tonle Sap river. Fish is a staple in the Khmer diet. Photo: John Anthony

Mesmerised: A boy sits in a boat while playing with some type of plant. Photo: John Anthony

 

Greener pastures: This is what much of the Cambodian countryside looks like – rice paddies as far as the eye can see. Something like 80 per cent of all Khmer people are rural workers. Photo: John Anthony

Crocodile rock: Crocodiles bask in the sun at a farm in Siem Reap. Photo: John Anthony

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I had been warned about how things go missing in the blink of an eye in Cambodia.

Last week I found that out the hard way – twice.

In this country, where poverty is rife and the average income is $2 per day, people will steal anything in order to make a living whether it be a 50-cent lighter or a $5000 wristwatch.

When traveling I always try keep a close eye on my belongings and avoid straying into potentially dangerous situations but last week I was caught with my guard down and paid the price.

The first theft happened on a Friday evening in Phnom Penh. I had just bought a bicycle from an American reporter at the Phnom Penh Post who was leaving the country. I paid $25 for it and was chuffed that I now had my own mode of transport.

The next day I took my new set of wheels for a spin to the local market where I left the bike in a compound where you pay 50 cents to have it safely guarded alongside hundreds of others. You get given a ticket which has the same number as one which is attached to the bike.

A relatively safe and secure system I thought.

But after an hour or so of perusing the market I returned to the compound at about 6pm to see the compound no longer existed. There was no fencing, no ticket booth, no guards and evidently no bikes.

I immediately realised I would never see that bike again and reluctantly paid for a moto ride home. I was off to Siem Reap the next morning and wouldn’t be returning to Phnom Penh for a week so chasing up the theft with staff at the compound when I returned would have been futile.

The second incident was a much greater blow and I largely have myself to blame.

At about 11pm I was walking back to my guesthouse in Siem Reap after enjoying some drinks with friends. I had $300 in my wallet, which I had withdrawn from an ATM earlier that day. Foolishly, I had forgotten to take the bulk of it from my wallet and leave it in the safety of my guesthouse.

As I was crossing a walk bridge about 500m from my guesthouse two lady boys pounced on me grabbing my crotch and trying to sell their services. Then two more joined in and I suddenly found myself surrounded by a mob of frenzied hookers.

I pushed them off me and told them to fuck off.

After they backed away I checked my pockets. Wallet, iPhone and keys were all still in check so I hurried back to my room.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when I went to pay for breakfast, that I found my wallet was completely empty. The sticky-fingered lady boys must have swiped my wallet from my back pocket, grabbed the wad of cash from inside and placed the empty wallet back in my pocket all in a matter of seconds.

The next day on my bus back to Phnom Penh I met an Aussie bloke who had the exact same experience the night before, in exactly the same spot, which is considered a relatively busy and safe part of Siem Reap.

After returning to Phnom Penh my Australian landlord, who had warned me of such behaviour, said lady boys were some of the best pick pocketers around.

“It’s what they do mate, they’re professionals. People will do anything when they’re desperate,” he said.

In future, whenever I see a a lady boy at night I’m walking in the opposite direction.

Pedal power: Later today I will be as mobile as this lady when I purchase a bicycle for $30 US. Bikes are a great way to get around Phnom Penh as there are no hills. Photo: John Anthony

Kaimoana: A bowl of fresh crabs are sold in a Phnom Penh market. Photo: John Anthony

Hello sir!: Cycle rickshaws are a common yet delightful sight in Phnom Penh. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I haven’t used one yet. Photo: John Anthony

Chop chop: A young girl uses a cleaver to cut up vegetables in a market. Photo: John Anthony

Top heavy: A man sits atop a freshly harvested crop being transported through Phnom Penh. Photo: John Anthony

Murder house: One of dozens of cell blocks at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum formerly known as Security Prison 21, which was used as a detention and torture centre by the Khmer Rouge during it’s four year  rule. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, there were only seven known survivors. It was the most morbid place I’ve ever been. Take a look at the Wiki page for more information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuol_Sleng_Genocide_Museum. Photo: John Anthony

The little things…

It’s funny how after arriving in a new country it’s often the little things that catch your eye. Here are just a few minor details I’ve noticed during my first 10 days in Phnom Penh:

  • People here often wear their shirts backwards when riding motos. I don’t know why exactly, but it may be to stop their shirts wildly fluttering behind them.
  • Lots of working class men, particularly tuk tuk and moto drivers, like to wear black cotton gloves with white embroidery. They’re kind of like those skeleton hand gloves lots of us had as kids, you know, with the Velcro strap. I think it’s just a bad fashion trend currently sweeping the nation. Their hands must get so hot and sweaty in there.
  • Another fashion trend popular with the younger generation are tight jeans. And I mean proper tight-fitting stovepipe jeans, or as Sam Hunt likes to call them My Foxton Straights. Even labourers wear them working through the heat of the day. Again, they must get so hot.
  • Now, this is a confusing one for which I can find only one explanation. Virtually every cat I’ve seen in Phnom Penh has part of its tail missing. It’s a sad sight seeing all these cats walking around with a nub for a tail. For an explanation I’ll just paste what I tweeted when I first noticed this strange phenomenon: “I’m puzzled as to why so many of the cats in Cambodia are missing their tails. Is that the tasty part or something?” I’ll say no more.
  • Another detail, which is actually quite concerning because it puts my life in danger, is the stray wires hanging down from power poles. The frayed ends dangle freely about six feet above the ground. Not ideal for a man who is 6’’ 3’. I think this just comes down to non-existent health and safety regulations – both a blessing and a curse for many parts of Asia.
  • Like most places in the world the rich in Cambodia like to show off their wealth. For people who own expensive imported cars this is achieved by having the make of the car stickered down the side of the vehicle. Most common are LEXUS and LAND ROVER, just in case it was unclear what the big SUV charging through all the motos and tuk tuks was.

 

And these are just a few of the trivial details I have noticed so far in Cambodia. Have a good day.

Deep in thought: A Cambodian man sits outside his motor parts store at the Toul Tom Poung Market in Phnom Penh also known as the Russian Markets. Photo by John Anthony

The waiting game: A moto driver waits patiently for his next customer on the streets of Phnom Penh. Photo by John Anthony

People mover: A group of workers catch a ride home at the end of the day. Photo by John Anthony

Golden glow: This is the view from my desk at the Phnom Penh Post on the eight floor of the Phnom Penh Centre. Photo by John Anthony

Passing time: A Cambodian man sits on a sidewalk in Phnom Penh and watches the day draw to an end. Photo by John Anthony

Brooding skies: Heavy monsoon rain clouds move over the city at the end of the day. Photo by John Anthony

This was a brief I had to write yesterday for the daily police blotter column. It came from a Khmer language paper called the Koh Santepheap. It was translated by one of our Khmer reporters and handed to me in broken English to rewrite. The following is a true story:

A 25 year-old man, who ate his hunting partners dog after it was killed in a monkey attack, was shot dead by the dog’s disgruntled owner using a crossbow last Tuesday. Police said the suspect and the victim were friends who often went hunting together in Kratie’s Snuol district. It is understood an argument broke out between the two when the victim would not help his friend save his dog from being savaged by monkeys. The victim then took the dead dog home to eat. When the suspect saw this he fired his crossbow at his friend, killing him instantly. The suspect confessed his crime to police after being arrested.

Here is a link to my first story in the Phnom Penh Post about land conflicts – one of the most serious issues Cambodia is currently facing.

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2011081651065/National-news/scope-of-land-evictions-revealed.html