• Life, love and tarantula in Phnom Peh

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    Phnom Penh, Cambodia, reminds me of Cebu of 10 years ago. It is, at the same time, modern and laid back. There are very few tall buildings (over 10 floors) and there are many residential structures with beautiful traditional architecture. And heavy (?) traffic is like 6 a.m. in Manila. I like Phnom Penh.

    Before coming here, friends (who have not been here) had warned me about the peace and order situation. Even Cambodian friends had warned me about petty street crimes like pickpocketing and snatching of bags and jewelry. In three days, I have only experienced the good side of the city and its people.

    We go around here by tuktuk, their very own tricycle. These tuktuks are creatively constructed to reflect, again, the cultural designs of Cambodia. Tuktuks are very practical and maneuverable in the busy, crowded streets of the city. Bu they are pretty pricey. A tricycle ride in Manila could range from P7.50-P30.00. Here it is $2-$4 and locals pay only $2 going anywhere around the city. And there are a big number of them lining the streets and crowding around tourist establishments.

    Cambodians are very proud of their cultural heritage and icons. Everywhere you look there is no mistaking you are in Cambodia. They move on and progress at their own pace from their own strengths. They do not pretend to be another New York or Los Angeles or Hong Kong or Singapore.

    I love Cambodian food. They are pretty similar to ours. For example, their Loc Lac is exactly like our bistek minus the sour taste of calamansi and their fish amok is similar to our laksa. They also use coconut in their cooking. I enjoyed eating their steamed coconut rice. Fellow participants to the Sub-Regional Advisory Committee Triangle Meeting and friends from the International Labor Organization (ILO) Manny Imson, Catherine Laws and Albert Bonashat; POEA’s Rosemarie Gondranios-Duquez, ATUC’s Dom Tuvera and TUCP’s Rafael Mapalo have been exploring dining places in the city and we like what we have sampled had so far. The other night we dined at Friends Restaurant and ate fried red ants and crispy tarantula. Fabulous foods; icky at first but once you eat them, you will enjoy them. Both ants and tarantula are oozing with proteins.

    Phnom Penh is teeming with tourists. Most of the passengers in my Malaysian Airlines (I am safe and alive!!!) flight were foreigners speaking in different tongues—tourists or businesspeople. Phnom Penh is alive 24 hours a day—a very good sign of a burgeoning tourism industry. Hotels are full, restaurants are packed with tourists. There are not many locals there; I guess they still enjoy their home-cooked food.

    One thing they are proud of is the pepper grown only in Kampot Province in southern Cambodia. According to people here, there was a long time when all French chefs all over the world used only this variety of pepper. And this is not just a legend. So off to Central Market we went for a kilo or so of this pepper for “pasalubong.” Didn’t really smell differently from Philippine pepper but if picky culinary French chefs say it is the best, maybe it is so. I will try using it when I get home to Manila.

    I am not familiar with the business situation here in Cambodia but small and medium enterprises are visibly thriving. The whole of Phnom Penh is bustling with commercial activities. According to my very pretty Cambodian friend and businesswoman Eng Sopheap, the management consulting firm where she belongs is blossoming and they are looking at a bright future for business in Cambodia. The manufacturing sector—garments, food processing, furniture and others—is likewise flourishing, especially now that foreign capital is pouring into the country. There are many new companies being formed every day. Sopheap, who is a management consultant, says they assist their local and foreign clients in the many options open to them in their developing economy.

    I am off again to explore more of Phnom Penh and experience its culture and way of life.

    Even now, I think I will not tire of coming back here to explore other parts of Cambodia, not just the tourist attractions. I still have to discover the different aspects of the beauty of Cambodia.

    Feedback to moje629@gmail.com.

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