For Sale: Vespa PX150 – $350

Vespa PX150

Note: The vespa has been sold. Sorry.

Manual, four-speed, kick start. Only 42,000km on the odometer before it was permanently disconnected. I haven’t seriously crashed it in two years, so comes with good Vespa karma, also top box, basic tools (pliers, tyre/sparkplug iron, screwdriver), spare clutch cable, spare spark plug, half a litre of 2-stroke oil. Overall, it’s in poor condition – rust on the frame, badly damaged paintwork, original Vespa and Dell’Orto parts from 1979, troublesome gear shift – which is why I’m selling it this cheaply. I’ve maintained it regularly with Kim Hong Vespa Shop.

I’m not going to send it anywhere, so this is only applicable to people in Phnom Penh. If you’re interested, email me at

The minimal kitchen: A rare victory over acquisitiveness

The minimal kitchen

One of the horrors of leaving your home for a foreign country is leaving a life’s worth of accumulation behind. One of the joys of arriving is accumulating anew and realising that a huge amount of what you’ve previously accumulated is ephemera. Left is a photo of the entirety of my current cookware in Cambodia. Most of it is so cheap, it’s practically disposable but in accumulating anew, I’ve pared the kitchen back to what I consider to be the bare essentials. When you have the rare chance to populate your kitchen with tools in a single hit, you tend to focus on the utilitarian rather than the meretricious.

Only two items are particularly Cambodian. The opaque bucket on the left is a cheap ceramic filter (locally marketed as “Rabbit Filter”) which lets you enjoy the fresh, cholera-free flavour of Phnom Penh tap water without the risk of death. Between the vegetable peeler and the waiter’s friend on the right is a tool to shred green papaya and green mango. The other local element is the quality of the appliances – the combined purchase price of the pictured rice cooker and blender is not more than $30 – and so it is within reason that they’ll catch fire at an inopportune moment.

Omitted are our set of knives – a full block of Victorinox knives, a single 20cm chef’s knife, and sharpening steel – they were returned to Australia on our last trip in preparation for leaving Cambodia. My predilection for travelling with carry-on luggage only and the airlines’ aversion to knife-toting passengers are a poor mismatch. I also couldn’t find the bread knife when I took the photo. The remaining knives are the Thai Kiwi-brand cleaver and mini cleaver: these are the tools that I’ve seen locals do everything from gut pigs to carve fruit with, and so they’ll suffice for the next few months.

Also missing is the bakeware and turbo oven, a mini convection oven that is a remarkably good oven analogue for a machine that looks like a glass basin attached to a hairdryer. I’ve recently discovered that the “defrost” setting cooks at just above 60oC which is perfect for toying with meat in a manner that would make Hervé This proud.

While it will be heart-rending to part with the 1960s yellow glass dinner set that I methodically collected through a decade of thrift shop trawling and the Mexican iron tortilla press, I can do without much of the kitchen junk that I have in storage. And disposing of it gives me an excuse to acquire again.

Ed Interviews Me

Ed Charles from Tomato, followed through on a meme from Lucullian Delights to interview another blogger with five questions. Here are the questions Ed sent me with my responses.

1. How long have you lived in Cambodia and why did you move there?

Just over two years. Why? Lack of decent fermented fish in Australia, and the result of the 2001 Australian election made moving to a fish-filled, single party state seem much more appealing.

2. Could you explain how blogging has had a positive (or negative) effect on your life/work?

Work-wise, it’s a massive positive. I finished my full-time job just over a month ago and at the moment I’m food and travel writing professionally for my remaining few months in Phnom Penh. Without blogging, I’d now be unemployed. I’ve got an article and photo in today’s Wall Street Journal Asia on fish amok and a few more food and travel articles forthcoming. In my non-travel writing work (marketing with a copywriting/web bent), the blog makes for a handy portfolio.

Life-wise, blogging lets random strangers have a forensic account of what I eat upon which they can comment. I’m still unsure whether this is a good thing or not. I’ve also met a few other bloggers who happen to be in Cambodia and elsewhere, and they all seem to be not as freakish as you’d expect from people that you meet at random from the Internet. After I was in the local newspapers, a few restauranteurs have recognised me when I’ve been eating at their restaurants and accost me for not reviewing them.

3. What do you miss from Australia in terms of culture and food?

Lamb. The many cultures that eat lamb.

4. Where else (if anywhere) would you like to live in the world and why?

Thimpu, Bhutan. It’s so hot right now.

I’m open to moving anywhere that isn’t being shelled by somebody nor can be described as “post-genocide”. Living in Phnom Penh has made me realise that I can make the best out of living in most cities. The new E3 visas that Australians can get to work in the USA makes either the Bay Area or New York very tempting, but in all likelihood, I’ll be back in either Melbourne or Sydney for some time.

5. In your view what’s the biggest problem with Cambodia and is there any hope in it being solved?

This will be controversial regardless of which problem that I pick: the depth of (sometimes vested) interest in every problem in Cambodia amongst business and development professionals fuels intractable debates. There are many problems, each more problematic than the next.

With that broad disclaimer, my pick for biggest problem: complete lack of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. It is what underpins civil society and provides a base for all other development. The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG who took on the task early on in Cambodia’s rebuilding outlines the problem much more eloquently than I ever could:

On my initial visit to Phnom Penh I found that there were virtually no judges. No courtrooms. No officials. No laws. When we consider the challenge of international law and order, it is vital to remember that, in many countries, even the most rudimentary of governmental institutions may be missing. Any judge of the old regime in Cambodia who did not flee the country was almost certainly murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Accordingly, Cambodia had to start again. I remember vividly speaking to the new “judges” in what had been the old courthouse in Phnom Penh. None of them was a lawyer. Most of them were teachers. At least they could read and write. They asked me rudimentary questions about what it meant to be a judge.

Could they remain members of a political party? Could they accept presents? What would they do if there was no law on the subject? My task, with judges from India, Zimbabwe, France and elsewhere, was to offer a crash course in the judicial function. Similar courses have been given under the auspices of the United Nations before and since. Most recently, in East Timor, judges from many lands are working with locals to rebuild a rudimentary system for the administration of justice.

These are the truths of many countries. I explained to the “judges” in training that it was unacceptable for them to receive gifts. If a gift were accepted from a large multinational corporation, happy with the outcome of a case, it would soon become known. No one would trust the decision of that judge. Yet I was told that it was a strong tradition in Khmer culture to offer gifts of friendship and gratitude in certain situations. I warned that this was intolerable in judicial office. The eyes of my listeners were downcast. Later it was explained to me that judges in Cambodia received as salary $US20 a month. The only way they could survive would be by occasional gifts. Only in that way could they educate their children. I saw a look of anguish in the eyes of the new “judges”. I could perceive their dilemma. The notions of “privatisation” had combined with cultural politeness to suggest the supplementation of meagre public salaries. Police and guards on roadways in Cambodia regularly levied “tolls”. It was a kind of users’ contribution to the pockets of the lonely guards performing a sometimes dangerous job. Yet judges are supposed to be in a different class, I insisted. The eyes were lowered further. I was demanding a rule that it was almost impossible to live by.

There can be no global rule of law without an uncorrupted judiciary. Nations can enact laws. They can subscribe to solemn international declarations. They can ratify treaties. But unless those who enforce the law are uncorrupted, it will mean little or nothing. Reliance on the uncorrupted decision-maker is something we take for granted in developed countries. But in most countries of the world the judges and magistrates are underpaid, if they have been paid at all.

My endeavours to persuade the World Bank to interest itself in the underpinnings of governance in Cambodia, fell on deaf ears. This was before the new head of the Bank, Mr James Wolfenson, an Australian, took it, with other global institutions, down the path of strengthening governmental infrastructure. Without an infrastructure of integrity, talk of money laundering laws and extradition or of drug law enforcement and international police cooperation, is rather empty. In many countries of the world the absolute prerequisite to a just, efficient and lawful implementation of high standards against international economic crime is simply not present. This is why the new interest in governance of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, the OECD, the Commonwealth of Nations and other bodies is to be applauded. Without independent and impartial courts, the building of a global rule of law will enjoy only selective success.

I don’t believe that this problem is impenetrable – if I did I would be consigning many of my good friends to a life of pointless work and a hopeless fate.

Want me to interview you?

  1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.” I’m on the road at the moment, so I might take a while to interrogate you.
  2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please ensure I have your email address.
  3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Wiener-related crime on the rise

Via DAS, Phnom Penh Post:

APRIL 23: Four suspected robbers were shot dead after preparing to commit robbery at 9pm in Russey Sang village, Prey Veng province. Police said the four exchanged gunfire and tried to escape on a motorbike after they were ordered to stop for inspection. Police confiscated two AK-47s and 43 bullets, three flashlights and a plastic bag of poisonous hotdogs.

Hotdogs: bringing out the wurst that humanity has to offer.

Where do recalled products go? Cambodia

Just a word of warning for American peanut butter fiends via the Cambodian Parents Network: Lucky Supermarket in Phnom Penh is currently selling a batch of Peter Pan brand peanut butter that was recalled in the US of A due to its salmonella content rather than being a sickly sweet approximation of real peanut butter. According to the US FDA:

ConAgra is recalling all Peter Pan peanut butter and all Great Value peanut butter beginning with product code 2111 that already was distributed. The company also is destroying all affected products in its possession. The company has stopped production and is working to identify the cause of the contamination. ConAgra has advised consumers to destroy all Peter Pan peanut butter and any Great Value peanut butter beginning with product code 2111.

The recall also features the fantastic line:

“Tennessee” is a type of Salmonella.

My advice: eat Cambodian. There’s a local brand of peanut butter which isn’t too bad (and I’d plug it if I could recall its name). If your kids miss the saccharine evil of Peter Pan, just add a teaspoon of MSG and a slug of corn syrup to the local brand. To get a full refund for your peanut butter, ConAgra says:

If you have this product, please discard it, but save the Peter Pan Peanut Butter lid or label beginning with product code 2111 imprinted on it.

For a full refund, please mail the Peter Pan Peanut Butter product lid or label beginning with product code 2111 imprinted on it along with your name and mailing address to the local distributor in your geographic region. The complete list of distributors by country can be found below.

No Cambodian distributor is named but my guess is send it to:

Bao Quang Production and Trading Co., Ltd.
Room No. 503, Bldg. No. 4
Lang Ha Badinh Dist.
Hanoi, Vietnam

Addendum (22 March 2007): The Cambodian brand is “Healthland Natural Peanut Butter” and is found at most Phnom Penh supermarkets. Cheers to DAS, PB. Lucky Supermarket has since pulled the products from its shelves.

Welcome to the tastiest year, pigs.

Sait chrouk aing

Gong xi fa cai.

Last Chinese New Year, I made a few limited and achievable resolutions for Phnomenon..

This Year of the Pig I only have one: achieve global respectability for Cambodian food.

So as well as writing on the web, this year I’m crossing over into the mainstream press. Expect Cambodian food to be coming to a newspaper or magazine near you. Also, this will be the last year of this website (at least, the last year that it will be updated with any frequency from Cambodia) and I want to end it on a note of unfulfilled desire.

Your taxpayer dollars buy me a frozen kangaroo.

Happy Australia Day 2007

Happy Australia Day 2007.

Australian expats in Cambodia celebrated in the traditional manner by getting their booze on at the complete expense of the Australian Embassy. I had originally planned a detailed review of the food on offer (lamingtons, Australian rib eye beef, sausage rolls, pho) but was too bewildered by the carved ice monsters and 5 metre long Harbour Bridge to concentrate or take detailed notes.

Sadly the above iced marsupial could not withstand the onslaught from a disgruntled expatriate, and was swiftly beheaded in a single drunken blow.

Happy Australia Day 2007

Third World de Luxe: Luxe City Guides Cambodia and Laos

Luxe City Guides: Cambodia and Laos

Since imperial powers began extending their sovereignty abroad, Third World nations have been ripe for the picking as luxury travel destinations. What the colonial era lacked in wifi facilities and post-Orientalist irony, it made up for with linen suits and mahouts. Any colonising nation with the nous to build a hill station knew that luxury travellers would soon follow, even if those travellers were the bored ruling elite and the tuberculosis-ridden. Late last year, bespoke guide-crafters Luxe City Guides caught onto this hundreds year old trend and released its first truly Third World guide concatenating Laos and Cambodia. What it lacks in directions for Indochina’s best Directly Observed Therapy destinations for TB sufferers, it makes up for in postcolonial drollness for the jaded colonisers.

Luxe is an excellent concept notwithstanding their occasional pretentious wankery. The Luxe model is where travel guides of the future are headed: know your market niche incredibly well and then recommend where to go, as opposed to the Lonely Planet model of encyclopaedic listing and loose attempts at objectivity. People like choice but not too much choice.

The other real beauty of the Luxe City Guides is that somebody who lives in the same city as the guide usually writes them. This one is not, by virtue of covering four urban centres (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Vientiane, Luang Prabang). Author Jo Craig’s home province of Siem Reap receives better coverage than Phnom Penh but I wonder if this is mostly because there is so little choice of anywhere decent to eat, drink or shop in Siem Reap (if you want to avoid the “people who carry their own luggage”, in Luxe’s parlance). The tips for visiting the Angkor complex are so well known that both the free Canby Guides and the Lonely Planet mention all of them, which is not any great surprise given that tourists/invaders have been holidaying/pillaging at Angkor for a few hundred years. Angkor Wat still holds some secrets but the only way that you will find them is with a skilled excavation team.

For Phnom Penh, the recommendations are mostly a taste of the obvious. Shopping in Phnom Penh? Walk along St. 240 and St.178; shop wherever looks like a Western store. I was hoping for a few of the truly excellent local shopping secrets, like the 50s antique warehouses in Stung Meanchey or the best place to commission yourself a hand-painted Khmer road sign before the artists who make them die out. These will stay local shops for local people. The much more obvious omission is Cambodia’s markets. There’s a passing reference to Psar Thmei (Central Market) and the Sorya Mall, but that is all. Every expat in town has a Luxe-ish market secret but they’re obviously being held tightly to their chests.

The other false assumption that I have made is that when people visit Cambodia that they are keen to eat some Cambodian food (Disclosure: I write popular Phnom Penh-based Cambodian food site, Phnomenon). In Phnom Penh, three Khmer restaurants get a mention, preceded with the warning that “you’re unlikely to be swooning over Khmer cuisine”. Swooning guardedly about Cambodian food is my stock in trade but it is difficult for me to take too much umbrage when the top-end of Khmer cuisine in Phnom Penh is still under development.

The winners:
Maxine’s (Snowy’s) : Laudable bar owner Snowy pulls off a Fiji-sized coup by suddenly being considered an upscale bar instead of a wooden hovel leaning precariously into the Tonle Sap. Possibly the only bar in Luxe’s history to not have running water in the bathroom. Snow, I salute you.
Pop Café: There’s three other great Italian restaurants around Phnom Penh that I’d head to before Pop – Le Duo, Luna D’Autunno, or La Volpaia, probably in that order. Pop does beat all three on convenient location for upmarket travellers (post-Happy Hour stumbling distance from FCC), but that’s about all.
Sugar Palm: Probably gets a guernsey solely by virtue of being located on St.240 and being empty because it’s about five times as expensive as a much better Khmer restaurant anywhere else in town.

The losers:
Street food vendors: Luxe says: “ warned, eating street food can have unsettling and explosive consequences”. I guess that it would be unsettling to discover that there are some delicious gems amongst the tasteless tailings.
Cambodians: Apart from Mali’s, the only locals that you’ll see at the restaurants mentioned will be your waitstaff and at a few of them, that may not even be the case. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a business mentioned that is owned by a Cambodian national.
Japanese food: Sure, it’s not like going for a slice of kuromaguro near Tsukiji, but any of the several Japanese restaurants around Phnom Penh would be worth a mention.
FCC: It has become a tired cliché to stick the boot into the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Phnom Penh. Luxe does anyway but for some reason holds back on offering the same criticism of FCC Siem Reap. FCC does good business because they know their market segment: scared tourists and moneyed expats looking to soak up some mock colonial ambiance at a happy hour with a great view. FCC have drifted well outside Luxe’s market, so why bother even mentioning them?

Note: map link sticks a pin in Maxines (Snowy’s) over the bridge (Chruoy changvar)