Parallel U
pt. I

Number 7–Accumulating

Opened up my brief case yesterday morning and surprised a palefaced baby house lizard who jumped out and scurried away. Any building that isn't air conditioned has a lot of venting built into it's structure, since it's never cold enough to need tightening up. They often also include screening sufficient to keep most bugs and bigger lizards out. I always marvel at how the lizards scurry around upside down on the ceiling; however they do occasionally fall into your lap. They tend to hang around outdoor lights at night to feast on plenteous bugs.

Back in Thailand I was sitting peacefully and quite motionless, enough anyway for one of them to crawl onto my arm. I had no idea what it was – could've been one of those giant roaches – so I brushed it off quite brusquely. Unfortunately for the poor lizard I knocked its tail right off! He was a bit surprised and went on his way but the tail just didn't want to give up. It flailed away frantically for at least five minutes – I was mesmerized – slowed down but still kept up a steady pace for another five minutes – I was having a hard time believing my eyes – and still, fifteen minutes after the terrible deed it still had a few twitches in it. I heard they grow back so I didn't have to feel too guilty.

Back to the briefcase – only three weeks and already I'm accumulating. Papers for only three classes started getting out of hand so I had to have something. I hate shopping but how can you go wrong with a used but good shape leather case for $5? I almost hate looking that official. I also had to have a radio to listen to BBC, which is rebroadcast on FM here. I’ve always been a radio news freak and I must say that BBC is far superior to NPR. Aside from the better quality, more internationally minded reporting, you don’t have to listen to a lot of corporate commercials.

Then I had to have coffee making apparatus so I could avoid stumbling over the rubble first thing in the morning to obtain my java fix. High quality local coffee runs about two bucks a pound.

When I first arrived at the guest house I mentioned to one of the long timers, who once played blues guitar professionally and is intimate with every guitar shop in town, that I had my heart set on acquiring an acoustic bass guitar. Interestingly enough he'd just spotted the first and only such instrument in all of Cambodia – they're not all that common. It was painful to spend the money but it plays much better than one I tried out in Portland that cost twice as much. Even with the 20 hours of classes I expect to have soon I still will have lots of free time. So I've got my presents and I'm set.

This is a market town. Just a block from where I live is a street market that completely takes up about five short blocks and one long perpendicular block. it includes about 150 vendors selling every manner of fruit, vegetables, meats, toiletries and shoes and the long block is a fabric market. There are numerous similar street markets all over town, but what's really remarkable is the new immense market located only a long block away! It covers about 6 square blocks with two stories plus a mezzanine and includes thousands of vendors.

It isn't as if the entire center of town isn't lined with storefronts selling everything you can imagine. Very similar to the market, when you see a store selling sewing machines you know there are likely to be another dozen lined up. If you come across one storefront which repairs motors there'll be a slew more in the same block.

The big market carries that to an extreme. Many of the stalls are as little as one square meter (about 10 sq. ft.) and if you're looking to buy a kilo of rice there'll be a hundred vendors to choose from. With a single antiseptic Wall-Mart (one of my favorite bumper stickers; Mall*Wart, Your source for cheap plastic crap) run by one big boss, a dozen kowtowing managers and a couple hundred clean cut uniformed peons you could easily generate the same cash flow while dispensing with the confusion of thousands of individual vendors.

Of course all of the Mall*Warts in the world don't have the variety of merchandise you'll find at the public market. Here you'll find fresh fish, dried fish and canned fish; whole chickens, cut up chickens, live chickens and fried chickens. Paint, tools, fishing supplies, stereos, straw mats, jewelry, clothes, 100 kilo sacks of beans or rice as well as a kilo at a time (as well as far more variety than I could possibly remember) and in every case you've got a minimum dozen vendors to choose from and for some items more than a hundred. It's an amazing experience wandering through the aisles.

There are several other large markets scattered around town, the most notable being the old market in the heart of downtown (what there is of a downtown– Phnom Penh is a low rise city). It's a work of art – art deco, in fact – as well as an example of superior urban planning. It has a large central dome with four wings coming off the dome. A large part of the structure is cement blocks or formed cement which lets air and light through – the light comes through literally thousands of patterned holes and gives a magical feeling. As for its placement in the urban context, it forms the terminus for the city's major diagonal thoroughfare and several other major streets. From a lot of different directions it focuses your eyes. It’s a spectacular sight and one of the things I love about this crazy city.