Parallel U
pt. I

Number 5–Fingers to the Bone

Exactly one month after leaving Portland and four days after hitting Phnom Penh I got a job. I was under a grand mega-optimistic illusion that I could just travel until my six month return ticket needed to be used, but as usual, my projections of what I could or should spend were way out of line with what I actually was spending. It would have been folly to try to make it without additional income.

I'll be a working stiff committed to four months of teaching. I'll start out with 12 hours a week doing three courses at Parallel U. They do have BA and MA degrees and more but it ain't no Harvard or even close to Podunk U.

My only teaching experience consisted of a short 8 month stint in Bangkok 8 years earlier. Nevertheless, I so impressed them with my worldliness and whatever, not to mention that I’m a published author – never mind that I’ve only sold 150 copies of my book – that they gave me courses in literature and Asian culture. Materials for the lit course are condensed, photocopy versions of Robinson Caruso and David Copperfield. The Asian culture course uses copies of an Australian high school text. That actually might be interesting since I'll be teaching geography and religion. I’ll have forty freshman students at a time (who all wear uniforms) and earn all of 8 bucks an hour, split shift. Sure sounds like work to me since I'll be preparing for classes and be sorta responsible... but such is life.

It's only 400 land miles or so between Bangkok and Phnom Penh but I made a point this trip of sticking to short hops. Only once did I spend a whole day en route. Otherwise I made a total of nine stops, traveling only a maximum four hours in between. When I arrived here I looked for the small, wood, 3 or 4 room guest house I stayed in back in '94.

Unfortunately it was replaced by a new multi story, kinda spendy edition but the one next door turned out just right. Two bucks a night, comfortable room, great veranda – with a spot for my hammock – overlooking the street which hadn't changed in the intervening years. It's still a combination of rubble and dirt with a little garbage mixed in. They still pile the day's garbage on the street corner – there's a produce market right there – but at least they now have real garbage trucks to load it into and they do pick it up every day. Previously they would come by and shovel great mounds of trash into open bed trucks.

It’s really a dusty city this time of year, which is not hard to understand considering that 80% of the city's streets are not paved, including some of the major thoroughfares. One day produces a thick layer of dust on everything. I feel sorry for the street trees. However, can't say the streets would be easier to deal with when they turn to mud in the rainy season.

But the city is so fresh and alive it has always attracted me, and a lot of other expats as well. It's one of the cheapest places to live with probably the least visa hassles – never have to leave if you arrange it right – and no restrictions on outsiders owning businesses. After such a tragic history, they seem open to everyone who desires to be in their midst.