Upon arriving in a new country, there are various tasks which need to be accomplished. I spent my first two weeks in Cambodia procuring the necessary equipment for my life here before I start work. Until I had these things, I still felt like my existence here was transient but now Phnom Penh is once again beginning to feel very much like home.
The first item on any young person’s shopping list is, naturally, a mobile phone. Here these are both readily available and cheap to buy – easy! Although I have my iPhone, I prefer to use a Cambodian sim in a super cheap phone for day-to-day life, not least because my track record with phones is not the best. Additionally, flashing an expensive piece of technology around in Phnom Penh is an unwise move. Therefore I am now proudly sporting a bright red nokia brick which not only bounces when I (frequently) drop it but also allows me to relive my childhood by playing snake!
My second item to buy and something I consider a must have for all expats in Cambodia and South East Asia more generally is a motorbike helmet. Ok I didn’t go all out and get one which covers my full head and chin as it’s just too hot for that. But the $9 I spent would be considered a splurge by many locals. Pretty sure that my helmet, emblazoned with the logo “SpakGroup”, would not pass a single EU Health and Safety test. Still it’s better than nothing. And no mum, I’m not planning on falling off, it’s just a precaution … and I think I look pretty fetching in it!
Thirdly I needed a place to live. And for that, in my opinion I needed a roommate. I may be 24 but I would rather not live alone, simply for companionship and security reasons. Luckily Facebook has more uses than simply acting as a platform for people to moan about their jobs/partners/children/life or do shameless self-promotion for yet another travel blog ….. Anyway, through an Expats in Cambodia group on Facebook, I got in contact with Ruth – no not myself, another Ruth. She is also from the UK and is living and working in Cambodia until next June. We messaged each other and agreed that if we got on well when I arrived, we would look for a place together. The day after I landed, we had dinner in my favourite cafe, and the subsequent day I moved into her one bedroom flat in Phnom Penh, with the view to looking for a bigger place in the near future. Spontaneity like this is the life-blood of expats everywhere. And as I type this I am sat in the kitchen of “The Ruths”, our delightful, third floor, two bed apartment in Tuol Tum Pong district of Phnom Penh, just a few minutes walk from both my favourite market and cafe.
Finding “The Ruths” in itself was an experience. Cambodia doesn’t have estate agents, at least not when you’re working with a budget as small as ours. Instead I searched apartment listings online and called the numbers below. About fifteen minutes after a phone call, a guy on a moto then arrives at our designated meeting point (usually KFC by the market for some reason). At which point introductions are made and I would clamber onto the back of this moto (proudly sporting my SpakGroup helmet) and we would whizz off together through the streets encircling Tuol Tum Pong Market, stopping at houses known to have vacant apartments where we would be shown around before speeding off to our next viewing. This system works well … if you only have one “estate agent”. I however made the foolish mistake of calling many. One apartment, which I really didn’t like coincidentally, I was proffered at least four times. It’s always awkward explaining to the guy diligently ferrying you from apartment to apartment that the last few he’s shown you you’d already viewed two hours earlier with a competing agent. My tips for anyone looking for a place would be to limit your “estate agents” to a maximum of three, ensure you know their names (I got very confused), and make a note of who shows you which apartment. The agents take a commission upon your securing an apartment so it is in their interest to show you places they think will meet your requirements. Consequently, many will call you days later with new listings, which is exactly how we found “The Ruths”. Kheang was the first estate agent I met with and when he heard about the apartment I now call home, he immediately called us, a loyalty and consideration which paid dividends (or an unspecified percentage of $380 at least!).
We secured the apartment on Monday evening, and I moved in 24 hour later. I then spent the next few days buying crockery, cutlery, saucepans, wine glasses (a definite necessity), storage units and organisers, food, and cleaning products. Ruth moved into “The Ruths” on Friday after her previous rent was up, and we are now thoroughly settled. It’s amazing how quickly somewhere feels like home as soon as you put a few pictures from home on the walls and stock the cupboards with some comfort food – pasta, pesto, and hello panda cookies.
We hit the town on Saturday night both as a celebration of our move and to begin networking with more expats living here in the view to throwing an actual house-warming party in a few weeks time. Prior to last night, the guest list would have numbered three but now we have eight people to invite!
Now all that’s left to do is start work tomorrow ………