Watchin’ the river flow…

…so we are in a Land Rover Discovery, weaving like quicksilver surfers through the dense and frankly unpredictable early afternoon traffic of northern Phnom Penh toward a meeting at the office of the national landmine authority when suddenly the drugs take hold… no, what really happens is that my boss slips the best of AC/DC into the stereo. At the traffic lights the waiting motodops and tuk-tuk drivers are suddenly startled by the crunching metallic chords of ‘Highway to Hell’ blasting bass-heavy from our skull-and-crossbone emblazoned vehicle. I’m sure the panic that flared briefly in their eyes was partly due to the fleeting thought that perhaps Keith Richards had finally decided to visit PP…The day is becoming more and more surreal – this morning, a long conversation (in a meeting) about one of our field operatives who was hospitalized with broken ankles after hitting a car with his motorbike. “So lucky, to escape with such minor injuries” say we foreigners, nodding sagely. A little later we discover that it was actually a cow that he hit… earlier, shaking his head in profound disbelief one of my colleagues emerged from his office “those bloody termites have eaten my in-tray” he said as he forlornly poured himself a cup of coffee.

So when we arrive at the venue and find a spread of chocolate chip cookies, brownies and miniature pate rolls laid on for us, who is surprised? When one of the presenters repeatedly pulls the plug of the projector out mid-presentation, causing an eager Australian lady (who appears to be the only person who can work the thing) to vault over the table each time it happens, who raises an eyebrow? The strange becomes the commonplace in this fantastic city.

I was people watching at the river yesterday, awaiting Mr. R whom I was going to buy dinner for to thank him for his help with the little O’s party. The elephant strolled by, as it does most days at about 4.45 and swarms of foreigners raced alongside it, snapping photographs frantically to remind themselves… of what? Ray Davies was probably right, that “people take pictures of each other, just to prove that they really existed…”
I was too busy with one of my favourite sports, which is observing the passing streams of traffic and counting the number of passengers on one moto. My record sighting to date is seven, which was on the airport road one night last year. Of the seven, two were seated on the front mudflap facing the driver. Two and three are most common, but you can spot the occasional four and five, and the much rarer six. There is also the game ‘most unusual object being carried on a moto.’ My winner so far is a palm tree (admittedly only about five metres tall), ‘though the lavatory pan with cistern and piping attached runs it a close second.

Mr. R arrived and we repaired to the Pop Café, where the most delicious Italian food (the penne with meatballs is out of this world!) is served to you by the Cambodian Stevie Nicks and her be-frilled sisters, and then on to Hurley’s Cantina to observe the bad behaviour of foreign journalists covering the Khmer Rouge trials in all their technicolour (yawning) glory, whilst an old ex-soldier bearing a remarkable resemblance to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry does a peculiar shuffling dance dressed in what appears to be a 1940’s pinstripe demob suit decorated with braid and medals…

If the tourist office is looking for a slogan to sell the city to potential visitors, might I suggest this –

‘Phnom Penh – never knowingly boring.’

Listening to – ‘Bitches Brew’ Miles Davis
‘Give me back my man’ B-52’s

Really missing – my beautiful wife and baby boy XXX

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It was a good day…

Our good friend Ben wandered across to our house gate to get his usual early morning taxi to work the other day. I was at the gate, son in hand (or more precisely, in arm), fending off the jibes from the passing schoolkids. (Maybe they’re not jibes – maybe they say nice things like ‘oh, what a caring father – look how he tends his son in an unselfish manner’ – somehow, I don’t think so… ‘ Look at the fat old barang kidnapping that poor baby ‘ is probably more accurate) Ben is as cool as hell, a lanky, laconic Tucson dude who knows Joey Burns from Calexico personally (now how cool is that!), with a laid back manner but a righteously fiery interior that does not suffer fools gladly, so of course I surreptitiously eye the bag of paperback books he is carrying, as they will be, without any doubt and at the very least, interesting. I guess that he is going to give these away, so I need to scan them discreetly and think of a good reason to score any good reads from this undoubtedly tasteful grab-bag. At this point, the taxi approaches and Ben pulls a well-thumbed volume from the bag – ‘ have you read this –?‘ it’s by Jeff Chang, called ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop – a History of the Hip-Hop Generation’. My mouth goes, ‘no, I haven’t’ whilst my brain is going  ‘now why the hell would I want to read that?’ which is probably much the same reaction Ben had to his birthday present from us, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume One. So, I make the right noises, take it thankfully, go inside and get ready for work. That evening I make myself begin to read it…

You’ve probably guessed what’s coming next, and believe me it’s hard to admit this. Hip Hop has largely passed me by, mainly through my choice – maybe it’s an age thing, probably in the main a culture thing, but I am amazed to report that I am COMPLETELY consumed by Chang’s book at the moment. I am about a tenth of the way in to its 546 pages, and I am so thoroughly gripped by its spell that I really don’t want to put it down. I’ve also been re-reading passages again and again, going with the flow of his words and the wisdom of his analysis, but most importantly he has ignited within me that spark of really wanting to hear the music, really listen to all the component parts in the same way that I can submerge myself in the layers of sound when listening to the Velvets or the Byrds or the Beatles or a thousand other skinny white kids with guitars…

 

At the age of 51, I am so excited that another period of discovery is upon me…

 

Thanks Ben…

 

Right Now Listening To – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry  – Reggae Greats

                                           Johnny Cash – I Walk the Line

                                           Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5.55

                                           Wilco – everything (they sound like honey tastes…)

 

 

Reading – Jeff Chang – ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop – A History of the Hip-Hop Generation’ (Picador)

 

still crazy after all these years