I live on the southern edge of sunny Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in a working class neighborhood. The dorm that I live and work in is located off an unnamed, unnumbered street. We technically have an address, but it’s definitely not the street we’re on.
Enter from Monivong Boulevard, make the first left after the fourth electricity pole and look for the tiny gold sign on the wall behind it. If you see a recreation center to your left, you’ve gone too far. Once you successfully turn onto the street with no name (this is not a U2 reference), pass two speed bumps and a wall that jets out. Then, you’ll see a red door with no sign on the right. That’s me.
On my street, which is more of an alleyway, you’re surrounded by restaurateurs pushing their tiny carts, woodworkers building elaborate furniture and decor, and children running around barefoot or buck. Sometimes the kids smile and shout, “Hello!”, to me as I grab my morning coffee or ride past them on my bike. I think it’s the only English word they know, but boy are they great at it.
My neighborhood coincidentally houses quite a few Vietnamese folks, bringing more familiarity to my stay here. I order my 50¢ “cà phê sữa đá, ít đường” every morning. When I’m craving a second lunch, I grab some $1 bánh hỏi with some 25¢ gỏi cuốn.
But let’s not forget the many piles of trash or the endless monsooned potholes or the motos driving dangerously close to your skin. And the smell, you never know when it’s going to hit you. I don’t want you thinking this is some sort of tropical paradise vacation I’m on.
My means are modest. My room fits two bunk beds, four desks and chairs, and one dresser wardrobe. I’m currently alone, but we hit max capacity every now and again. I have the luxury of a fan to myself, no AC though. Bathrooms are dorm style. There’s a kitchen down the spiral staircase, and another one below that on the ground floor. I’m lucky to be fed with home-cooked meals made by the students.
Welcome to my Phnom Penh.