My parents have (mockingly) observed that I have simply taken much of my old life and transplanted it into a different (and much hotter) country. However, there are things I do here that I do not have to do back in the UK. So this is about the differences between my life in the UK and life in Cambodia. (I won’t be writing in this post about differences in the life in general for Brits and Cambodians.)
Food preparation can take longer. This is because you generally have to be a bit more thorough. Vegetables should be washed or peeled. If you are eating them raw you may wish to clean them in either in a bleach solution or use fruit and vegetable washing liquid (St Andrew’s is the most common brand). Also, sieving rice is a bit time consuming. It’s a bit like panning for gold, but the gold is good rice and the dirt is ants or other bugs. (The ones you miss generally float to the top of the pan so you can skim them off.) There’s also a game I like to play when I’m eating called “herb, crumb or ant?”.
Writing the above I realised they deserve a section of their own. I both simultaneously hate and admire them. They are my arch nemesis. The Joker to my Batman; Lex Luther to my Superman. Although, not only would this make for a sucky movie, they generally have the upper hand. Yes, I may have sprayed, drowned and frozen thousands of them, but there’s always more. And they get everywhere. Everywhere.
So, storage becomes a big deal here. Trying to ant/ heat/ humidity/ water/ dust proof everything is a nightmare. As it’s only me, I just put pretty much everything in the fridge or freezer. (Medicines should go in the fridge, especially during the hot season. If you are a couple and you are considering…er… family planning options, most of them should also be kept somewhere cool. See the notes on pharmacies and effects of heat below.)
My rice is currently in the freezer, to kill the thousands of ants that snuck into the bag when it unraveled one afternoon. Another storage solution is a closed cabinet which has it’s legs sat in little bowls of water or powder. These often have ventilation holes to stop condensation and mould.
Although Phnom Penh has pretty good water (and Siem Reap isn’t too bad either), you will probably want to consider other drinking sources. You can import water filters from either Thailand or Korea, but the filters need replacing annually and if you go away, it’s best to empty them otherwise you may come back to algae growing in it.
You can, as I do, buy big blue bottles of water, which I then have to carry up two floors. It also always means I’m checking to see how much more I’ve got and when I’ll need to buy some more. These bottles are often quite dusty and can leak. Also, they have a small plastic plug on the top so that you can let air in to make the water drain properly. However, if you forget to replace it, the little blighters find their way in.
Cooking on one stove
I just have a single, small, temperamental gas stove. This is what I cook on. I’ve become quite good at judging when the gas is going to need replacing. However, if it’s halfway through cooking, it can be annoying. My stove is broken, so I have to use a lighter to ignite it and this is quite fiddly. If the stove is already hot I may burn myself a bit. I am always shaking cans to see if I need to buy some more.
Ordinary tasks becoming difficult
Cambodia is really hot. It’s okay as a tourist, where you go from air conditioning to tuk tuk to air conditioning to pool but doing daily things can be really hot. Washing up is a pain. Most homes in Cambodia don’t have hot water (although I do have a hot shower, which is great). So, I will often boil a kettle for it, which makes the kitchen even hotter. By the time I’ve finished, I’m a sweaty mess. It’s no surprise that Khmer do a lot of cooking and washing up outside.
Also, going to the bathroom is sweaty work. It’s the most humid and the least ventilated part of your house. Often the floor is wet too, so if I’m wearing socks, these need to be removed. If there’s another reason you’re a sweaty mess when using the loo you may need…
You need to pay attention to the medicine you are buying here. If it’s made in America, France, etc., then it’s fine. If not, you might want to just buy some tic tacs and rely on placebo.
Most medicine, as I’ve already mentioned, needs to be stored below 25 degrees Celsius otherwise they become inert. Therefore, the pharmacy should have air conditioning and not just fans. For most drugs you’ll have to go to a pharmacy for but you can allergy relief medicines and ibuprofen from the counter.
Another word of warning: check the ingredients for fever relief medicine. It will usually contain ibuprofen. If, however, there’s a chance the fever is due to dengue, don’t take it. NSAIDs (of which ibuprofen is one) increase the likelihood of complications with dengue (such as dengue hemorrhagic fever).
You could always just use some Cambodian medicine: tiger balm, cupping or coin rubbing instead.
The heat affecting random things
My British underwear has not held up to the rigours of the Cambodian climate. The heat and rough-and-ready washing machines will kill the elastic in them. (This is also why family planning equipment should be kept somewhere cool.)
Phone batteries suffer too, and often will need replacing.
Also, any cool drink will soon be covered in a film of condensation. This can get nearby papers wet or drip onto your crotch while you take a sip so it appears you have bladder problems.
Carrying random things
You think midges in Scotland are a problem. There are insects everywhere here and they want your blood. Especially if you are a foreigner who lives on a diet of sugary drinks and sweets. So I carry around (but forget to use) mosquito repellent. I usually have hand sanitiser; wet wipes to cool you down (keep those in the fridge too, it’s so refreshing…), and sun screen, and sun glasses to protect your eyes from dust on a tuk tuk, and a dust mask, and Imodium…
Adjusting to these things is a challenge, and I’m not fully used to life here yet. But, I still love it and I fully appreciate how easy I have it. Now, I have to go and kill some ants.