Thursday, December 29, 2005

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Back in PP after a good cultural faff about in Siem Reap. This capital is pleasant but I am not here just for the fun of it. All roads may lead to Rome but the path of stupidity has brought me back here.

Despite what gappers may claim on their CV, backpacking in South East Asia is a piece of piss. Even in truly fucked-up Cambodia, sorting out the basics is laughably easy. I suspect this clashes with my earlier forays as a backpacker or that I somehow had built myself up for more adventure. This is why I think I have a subconscious part me that is determined to throw a wrench into the works and screw things up for my chuffed-with-himself incarnation.

Over a week ago, I happened to walk by a large NGO (I shall not pinpoint this particular organism except to say that they have recently thought it wise to adopt a crystal as one of their symbols) whose British counterpart I had been involved with. It could have been a desire for something new, a wish to feel all warm and fuzzy inside or I could have mistakenly consumed a Happy Shake (Happy is Cambodian for “laced with drugs”) but something in me decided to walk past the snoring guard and his shotgun and offer my services as a volunteer. My conscious self was all keen and happy just as my evil subconscious imp was probably doing a pagan dance of celebration.

I mentioned that I had some experience as a caged office monkey and would be glad to spend a week or so helping them with whatever admin crap they wished to inflict on me. The people I talked to looked keen and we discussed a few things I could do. The fun stopped shortly after.

I always knew that there would be some paperwork and bullshit before they could send me to proofread press statements or inventory bandages or whatever but I never guessed how far they would take it. They asked me for a CV and cover letter for the files so I hastily updated some old resume with some fresh lies and exaggerations and typed the best cover letter I could considering I was applying for the post of Whatever They Wanted Me To Do in exchange of the princely salary of $Buggerall. I raise my eyebrows when they told me it would take a few days but I accepted that such is the world and got on a bus to Siem Reap.

Upon my return I put on a clean shirt, shaved and sprayed my armpits with what a poker-faced female fellow traveler called a unisex deodorant. I trotted off to the HQ of the anonymous charity just to be told with a big smile that they had sent my “application” off to the Secretary General. As a precaution I re-iterated what I was expecting and told them that if they had problems finding something for me to do I would not be offended in the slightest. They told me this was normal and that I should call them in 2 days. 2 days later I was asked to contact them in another 2 days. I pointed out that I was running out of time on my visa and was worried that they would put more manhours into finding out something for me to do than I would be able to put in. They told me again this was normal and they were very glad to have me.

I have been pondering this and I am unsure to what the true cause of this particular ballsup is. One theory is that I have put these poor people on the spot and they are trying desperately to find some sort of activity for me where I would do little damage. Possible some cultural trait that I haven’t figured out yet makes them unable to tell me to piss off but thanks for offering.

Alternatively I know that this particular country’s branch has just been through a massive revamping of their admin structure assisted by counterparts from colder and richer branches. These expat advisers no doubt impressed on the Cambodians that they should strive to reach the same modus operandi as their western brethren in aid. If this is the case then they seem to have been most diligent in acquiring the bureaucratic inertia that most large organisations seem to saddle themselves with. Another job well done for the international community.

Anyways this limits my movements within Cambodia and is sorely trying my patience hence the notion that this was quite a large ballsup even by my standards. As tempted as I am, I don’t feel right telling them to forget the whole bloody thing but this is proving more of a hindrance to me getting some jungle time in Cambodia than the zillions of landmines still lying about. It is possible to find out what areas have been cleared of these little marvels of human ingenuity and you will generally be OK if you walk somewhere that many other people and some cattle have trod on for the past few years. NGO red tape is another minefield altogether and slightly trickier to navigate.

As the weekend cometh I feel safe to piss off to Battambang for the arrival of 2006 but will return to the one place on earth where you have to specify ‘Without Dope’ when ordering a fruit shake. I'm sure my misguided attempts to help will provide me with much writing material in the near future.

Take care,



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