Friday, February 10, 2012

That’s Different

I so badly have been wanting to highlight some of the crazy, funny, strange, (and sometimes annoying) cultural and just everyday life differences that we’ve come across during our time in Cambodia, but I’ve never known where to begin. Since I’m tired of using that as an excuse, I’ll just list them here in no particular order, and probably with nothing connecting them, either.  Here we go.

1.  Car seats. Ok, not funny really, but strangely humorous in its own way. See, they don’t use them. It’s not a law, so why do it? I mean, safety and research studies and things like that haven’t really come up in their readings. Anyway, we have car seats. We don’t have a car, but we brought our car seats. When we go on long trips, we use them. We can hire a taxi and a driver to take us anywhere in Cambodia. I think our longest trip was 6 hours so far. Well, when we pull out our car seats as we bring our luggage downstairs, I watch as every single time, without fail, the driver tries to load the seats in the trunk with the suitcases. It makes me laugh because I’m wondering what in the world he thinks those things are? We then grab the seats, buckle them in, and watch as they stare at us in amazement. Then they ask where I’m going to sit and laugh as I squeeze in the back of a 90s Toyota Camry between 2 car seats. That part is not funny. So don’t laugh!

2.  Hotel keys work differently. Usually you just get one per room because it’s your power source. You plug it into a contraption that looks like this:

This is a nice one with English directions because I photographed it in Bangkok. Usually it doesn’t have any words on it at all. As it shows, when you insert the key the lights, air conditioner, fans, or anything that uses electricity comes on. When you take it out, the power goes out. It’s Southeast Asia’s way of conserving power. My smart husband (who might or might not care as much about reducing his carbon footprint) has found a way to rig the system so that it’s still cool when we come back to our room after a hot day out in the Cambodia sun.

3.  Hygiene.  It’s ok to pick your nose but not your teeth. Really, it is completely 100% acceptable to pick your nose. Like, you catch someone’s eye when they are doing it and they do not stop. They just keep digging. (This has not been good for my 3 year old!) But not the teeth. While using a toothpick, you must use the other hand to cover your mouth. Strange. I’d totally prefer it if people would cover their nose while picking it!

Oh, and peeing on the sidewalk is ok, too. I’m not just talking about kids. Grown men do this, too. But that’s just the ones who are poor and don't have a home. Where else are they going to go? They do turn and face a fence or gate or something. Well, usually.

And while we are on the subject of peeing, how about this sign in the ladies’ restroom?

I think I can definitively say I had no problem following the rules. Would you?

4.  Restaurants.  I want to tell you about all the quirky things about eating out, but there are too many. That deserves its own posting.

5.  Recycling.  It does happen. Like crazy. But it actually is crazy. They do lots of upcycling and reusing. It’s pretty amazing the things you can buy here made of old mosquito nets, plastic bags, newspaper, magazines, metal pieces, coconut shells, washers, buttons, thread, and pretty much anything you can think of. But there’s no place to recycle. There are people who walk through the city with “squeaky carts” that just make a distinct squeak noise out of some reused plastic bottle and you are supposed to run outside and give them your recyclables. Or, there are others who dig through trash looking for these things to sell for money. The sad thing is many of the Cambodians – and as many rich expats - just acknowledge that people will go through the trash so they don’t bother to recycle. I find it so incredibly sad to think about. Our apartment has a trash chute and we are too high up to hear the squeaky carts so we leave our recyclables by the trash chute and some cleaning lady in the apartment complex comes by to collect the recyclables and likely gets paid for dropping them off. It’s our small part to help.

6.  Construction.  Speaking of our apartment, I have to tell you there’s been a new apartment complex next door under construction since we moved in. I don’t have photos of it but have to show you a picture of what construction in Cambodia looks like.

They use bamboo for support. Strong, lightweight, and easy to find, but quite a sight to see. The guys standing on the scaffolding outside our window – on the 10th floor – with no braces or support of any kind are quite a sight to see, too. A terrifying sight!
On another note about construction, I find it strangely interesting that people live at construction sites. Yes, live there. I discovered this when I was walking through our parking garage one night, which has window openings into the garage of the construction next door and heard a baby crying. I looked in to see whole families sleeping there. They just move in and stay there, I guess until the job is done.

7.  Family photos often involve my kids here. What? Yes, my kids in their photos. Here’s an example.

And another.

And another.

People often ask us if they can pose with our kids in their photos. I bet I would think someone was creepy if they asked me that in the US. I wonder? Here I think it’s sweet, but it one time at the beach (when I didn’t have my camera), it got a little annoying when people lined up to take turns getting photos with the kids. Especially when one girl really wanted to get her picture made with my husband and linked her arm in his and didn’t seem to want to let go. I wasn’t sure what to think of that. I bet that one’s out there on the internet somewhere.

8.  Bugs.  Yes, let’s talk about bugs. I found bugs in my brown rice the other day. I mentioned it to a Cambodian friend and told her how I had to throw out the whole bag of rice and she was appalled. “Why didn’t you just cook it?” she said, inferring that the tiny roaches would die in the water. Um, no thank you. I can buy a new bag of rice. But I haven’t had the desire to yet, for obvious reasons.

More bugs. Have you ever heard someone call someone a nitpicker? I have, but I of course had no idea what that meant. I’m laughing because, being from Texas, I seem to know a lot of sayings that not many others know, so maybe you don’t. Well, if you’re like me and you’ve heard it, or even used it, but don’t know what it means, let me educate you. It’s a professional bug detector. Nits are the egg sacs from head lice. We have nit pickers here who kindly remove them from people’s hair so that the infestation stops! Just like any other pest, they grow immune to those pesticides you can buy as shampoos and things at the store, so eventually you need a nitpicker to help you out. Any local hair salon has one. And now you know. That’s probably a bit different than your fancy hair salon, huh?

9.  Massage. The salons here are so much better. Everything comes with a massage. Pedicures are $3 and you get a 30 minute massage. Not a cheap quick rub like you get back home, a real massage. Sometimes they even climb on the chair and put their whole 80lbs of body weight into it! Haircuts come with a neck and shoulder massage. For just a few dollars you can just show up to get your hair washed for 30 minutes while they massage your head. I want to try that but haven’t yet. Eyebrow waxes come with a face massage. That means my eyebrows look better than they’ve ever looked, by the way.

10. I’ll show you my favorite now. It’s like 20 seconds. Just watch the movie, making sure you pay close attention to the little running man as the time runs out.

I love to watch those running men and think how we would advise caution in the last 5 seconds before a light changed but they just tell you to run faster.

I love how different things are every single day.

I love that God gives us a sense of humor for living in a new culture.
And I often wonder what they think of us.

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