Delightful Cambodian Girlfriend (5/7) – The Apartment
Tired of hotels! We decide to take a serviced apartment for the last week. Norah beams: "Not so boring! Can go to market… buy food… cook something… soup, fish, chicken…" Yes, a place with a kitchen is so much to her liking.
I discuss it with a few westerners in the FCC. One guy says: "Ha! That I couldn't tell my lady – move to an apartment and she has to cook. Of course she wants restaurants, she doesn't want to work in the kitchen."
How about your steady lady? Norah for one is different. One thing, she really likes to cook, she likes to think carefully about food and to compose new dishes every night – mostly very edible. And what's more, she is not happy with the hotel breakfasts. Even 50 USD hotels in Phnom Penh have lousy breakfasts based on greasy omlettes stuffed into cardboard baguettes. The hot meats they dish up you wouldn't want to see. Every so often, after waking up in a Phnom Penh hotel room, Norah would go: "Pothole, I need something small-small from market. You know what, I go to market to buy now, before it's too hot. And then I take breakfast on market, you no need to wait for me." Beaming assuringly. So she could have the heartiest of soups plus good free tea and freshly squeezed fruit juices on Psah Boeng Keng Kang, Psah Tuol Tom Pong or Psa Thmei, while I stay with the greasy hotel grub. She knows I enjoy market food, but in the morning I am dependant on a relaxed quiet beggar-free ambiance.
Surprise surprise, once we move into the serviced apartment, she never has any more shopping needs before breakfast. But we both get into a new after-breakfast-shopping frenzy. She marauds Psa Boeng Keng Kang for veggies, fruit, fish and chicken, then over to Psah Thmei for select teas and coffees; while I plunder the expat stores on road 240 for muesli, real bread and real imported cheese. Together we storm Lucky Market for boxes of orange juice and mosquito coils for our tiny balcony. Drinking water we don't need: We have been supplied with an impressive 30-liter-bottle of drinking water in a special metal rack ("that's just one dollar fifty", shrugs Ning.)
Of course you may see it as that too: Apart from sleeping, touristing and eating together, there is not so much more we can do together. There is no way I could help her with her job or studies, and we can't talk about international news or Jonathan Franzen. So, when we have to buy food and cook together, the common tasks enhance our feeling of being a real couple, not just a holiday flirt without any final destination.
Or not? Anyway, when alone, I'd prefer hotel to serviced apartment, it's more entertaining. But together with a local girlfriend, I'm for the apartment. It is nice to have the bedroom tucked away, not to stay in a hotel room – a box built around a bed. And then, the self-arranged breakfast in the apartment with everything exactly to my liking is simply fantastic. For teas and coffees as well as for the food. When I hang on the apartment's couch around 10 a.m., a real decent cheese-salad-tomato-fresh-pepper-basil-sandwhich in one hand, good personalised green tea with lemon in the second and my Khmer lady in the third, I don't miss any greasy hotel omlettes, nor ditto waiters or guests. Would you?
— The Tea Pot —
We have a living room with kitchenette and balcony, a separate sleeping room and a small windowless, but squeaky clean bathroom. All that for 50 USD a day, just like the hotels (the long-term rates are much more economical). The price doesn't include any breakfast of course, but hotel-like room service and free laundry. Surprisingly, the place is tastefully furnished in semi-Mediterranean style with no signs of the otherwise ubiquitous brash pseudo-Empire.
One thing our kitchen doesn't offer is a good pot to cook tea where the open leaves can be removed easily. We might ask management for that, but why, Phnom Phen is cheap and full of bargains on basics like teapots.
So Norah comes home with a nice teapot from Psah Thmei. But it must have been Chinese-made, because it is ill-constructed: Whenever I pour the brewed tea into another pot to keep the liquid without the leaves, the cover of the teapot falls off and the hot tea runs out. It's the same spiel every time. I have to do it over the sink, and carefully.
One night we'd like to enjoy a pot of hot tea on our small balcony. I pour the freshly brewed liquid, forget about the Chinese syndrom – and slop a liter of boiling tea over my uncovered arm! – "OH DARLING, OH DARLING, OH DARLING!!!!", Norah screams in despair, holding my arm under cold water. My left arm quickly achieves the color of steamed lobster; it's a hell of a pain, but Norah seems to be even more in trouble. "Sorry, my darling, sorry, SORRYYYY!!!!!" – "Why you say sorry", I hiss, "it was my stupidity, I already knew that this teapot is weird, still I poured the hot liquid without watching out". – "Sorry, sorry, SORRYYY", she insists, "I buy stupid teapot, why I do this, now my man have so much pain, stupid Norah, SORRRYYYY…"
"I go to buy medicine for you!" – "NORAH! NO! It's 10.30 p.m. You can't go out alone in Phnom Penh now." – She insists, and I know quite well I can't stop her except by tieing her up, which I only do on more playful occasions.
"Will you take the rental moto", I ask her? That's not advisable, a lone girl on a Honda. – "Yes, what else?!?" – Our apartment building is a bit isolated, there are no motorcycle taxis on hand. Fortunately, we have rented the half-broken machine from her landlord, no armed robber would kill her for that one. She is in her shoes and out.
Twenty minutes later Norah storms back in, breathless. I have to swallow several tablets, then she has this dispenser of – whatever. I have to hold my dark red arm over the sink, and she sprays whipped cream all over me. "Can I eat this?" – "Crazy!" – I have to keep the whipped cream on my arm for a while, then she washes it off ever so softly. My Norah might be a good nurse, you know.
Finally in bed, she makes sure my burnt arm is comfortable, not touching any cotton. – "Are you ok, darling?" – "Yes, thanks darling, you take care so much!" – "No! Not! WHY I buy stupid tea pot to put your arm on fire??? Pothole, SORRRYYYYYYY….!!!" – 24 hours later, no traces of my stupid accident are left.
— The Slip —
At this serviced apartment, you simply drop all your dirty stuff into the rattan basket in the sleeping room. One day later, your washed clothes will reappear in the wardrobe.
Ding-dong! There was a ring on our apartment's door. Oh, the cleaning lady. Look, she brought a few hangers of fresh laundry. She's my favorite gal here, always a healthy smile. But what? – "Sorry, sorry, sorryyyy", she whispers. – "Mee'en ey", I ask her, what is it? – "Sorryyyyy…." She holds up a piece of laundry on the top hanger, "Sorryyyy…" – it's a slip of Norah's! Obviously the cleaning lady is shy to hand me all the laundry with Norah's slip on top. I say "Oh, ad panya, awkhun cheran", no problem and thank you, give her a big grin and smile byebye. She shuffles off, "Sorryyyy, SORRYYyyy…."
As soon as the door is closed, Norah hurries by: "Who was it?" – "The cleaning lady, darling! With our laundry." I never knew that handling a lady's slip is such a drama in Cambodia. How is that in Thailand, Stick? <Much the same, they're generally a bit funny about stuff like that – Stick> Anyway, I for one never give my own slips to the laundry service, I always wash the undies myself, by hand. I had assumed Norah did the same, sometimes I see her slips drying on a hook.
"Look what she brought", I say to Norah and hold the shining dark blue lace slip into her face. – Over the course of a nanosecond, Norah's face turns from energetic enterprising Khmer dark to a shocked pale white. "WHATTTT???? There was my slip in laundry?!?!? I never wanted – SORRYYYYY…" She tears the corpus delicti off the hanger and shoves it into her part of the wardrobe. – "What's the problem, darling? It's just another piece of laundry, no?" – "NOOOH! I never want to give slip to laundry service, NEVER!!! Sorryyyyy….!!" – I try to give my shaken lady a reassuring grin, but she won't calm down – "Sorry, sorry, SORRYYYYYY…."
This girl is a bit too sensitive for my liking….
The tip for serviced apartments is a very good one. In Bangkok, serviced apartments generally offer FAR better value for money than the better hotels – and are far, far better equipped.