A market with soul

Spent lots of time this weekend with friends, a necessary thing as I really wanted to be with my family.  I just got the news of the death of my uncle.  A man who has been an important person in my life.  Both COVID and physical distance on the planet mean I won’t be able to grieve with family so keeping busy and leaning on my new friends here has been so important.  So, while this is not a platform to share my grief, it colours my adventure this weekend.

As will become tradition the staff headed out for drinks after work.  Passion fruit margaritas in an urban park made for a great Friday night.  We ran the place right out of all the fruit for making their wonderful drinks so I will have to wait until the next visit to try the mango or dragon fruit version. 

Saturday many of us spent all morning and into the afternoon at a local clinic getting our health checks done.  It had elements of a clinic at home and yet there were definite signs that it is not the kind of place that is on the leading edge of technology and modernity.  Low ceilings, simple reusable tools.  Staff onsite to analyse the blood, vision, EKG and urine.  The staff showed the same quiet kindness I have come to love about the Khmer people.  The doctor with his folder of paper, printed tests and hand written notes was professional and patient.

After we all finished up there, we were starving and so headed for lunch.  We picked a restaurant that was near where we all wanted to explore after, the Russian Market.  The market was mostly as advertised.  I say mostly because it was virtually empty.  Clearly even here in the heart of the capital city COVID has wreaked havoc on local business people.  Many food stalls were closed, and there were few enough customers that our group of seven was able to split up and find each other again.  Considering the photos and videos I’d watched online the place should have been jam packed full.  While it made exploring the stalls more enjoyable my heart was a bit bruised for the locals.  Some were napping in their stalls, others sharing a meal, or trying to catch the attention of the few people wandering by.

One of the wider aisles for clothing

Produce and meat vendors

A little bit of everyting

The large white bucket contains the pancake like onion batter that make these yummy smelling grilled onion buns

One of the seamstresses. She was kind enough to let me take a photo.

The whole aisle here is ladies at their sewing machines

A whole area devoted to all things auto, moto and tuk-tuk

One of the really fancy salons stalls

I had not yet gotten my bank card to work so was hesitant to buy anything, and honestly a fair bit nervous to engage the vendors in the game of bargaining.  I have never been any good at it and while I know I have to try it is tough, I’m just not wired that way.  Seriously, ask my husband.  I did find one small item that day, a pouch that will allow me to comfortably hold all the paper money that is so essential here.  With no coin used I always seem to have a mitt full of bills, different currency and different size most traditional wallets just don’t cut it.  I picked the style I enjoyed (yes, a touristy style but hey I am not really a local gal) and asked for the price.  A couple back and forth, I turned to walk away and ta da!!! I talked her down from $1.50 to $1.  You’re laughing, I deserve it.  Honestly, I was proud that I negotiated and was able to do so calmly.  I’ll get better with practice, but for now I am just proud that I did it at all.

Sunday, many of the new teachers went out for brunch.  I had a Cambodian dish called lort cha.  Noodle, bean sprout and pork stir fry this restaurant added baby bok choy and a deep peppery sauce topped with poached egg.  This picture I offer you is not my own, I was too busy visiting and talking and forgot to grab a picture for all of you.  It was fabulous!  Something I would love to learn how to cook. 

From there I headed out on my own back to the Russian market to do some real shopping.  I found a corner that I had not really seen the previous day and was pleasantly surprised to find a little stall of lights.  In looking at her items the lady and I begin talking, well really, she was selling I was curious how it would go.  The more I looked interested the more she offered.  I had her take down items from higher up, asked about colours of shades, could I change the bases…Ultimately, I landed on her making me two bedside lamps, blue water lilies with wooden bases.  I’ll share photos of the purchase on Facebook once I have them.

The market is really a whole community in tight quarters.  There are salons, mechanics, seamstresses, clothing, cloth, kitchen and household items, food stalls, produce, meat vendors and more.  I could not believe the ladies in the little salon cubbies.  They would fit two or three people in there to wash and cut hair in most places I could not get a good photo of the size because I could not back up to take the shot.  In some of the clothing stalls the vendors were literally sitting atop their stacks of clothing.  The seamstresses had a space hardly bigger than my bathroom.  My next purchase was a diffuser and some fragrances (sorry my love). 

One stall that seemed to have lots of selection I begin to talk with the vendor and her nine-year-old daughter starts talking to me.  At first, I think its cute and endearing but quickly I catch on to this game.  This well-spoken little girl will make one hell of a salesperson when she grows up as she hardly missed a beat with me.  Every sales line you could imagine came out of that little girl’s mouth.  She wanted me to test all the oils, checked again and again if I needed other items like incense, body oils and maybe a second diffuser for the bedroom, made suggestions for me, told me what others seem to like…seriously!  Her little sister (5 years old), 14-month-old brother and the husband came around when we had wrapped up the sale.  Truly this little shop likely was the primary income for the family.  As the baby toddled up with his dad my newfound bargaining skill evaporated and I paid almost full price.  Pangs for my family soothed a bit seeing this happy group play and work together in the market.

A smile on my face I was off to track down some linen to liven up the apartment.  I had seen a stall the day before that had a few things that caught my eye so I headed back there.  Here linen was stacked to the roof in such a way that you felt like you were walking into a hideout when you stepped inside.  The woman here had so much to offer her gift to sales clearly was up selling.  I had a list and was sticking to it, but may in the months to come head back and pick up a few gift items.  I walked away with two throw pillows and covers and two table cloths.

Shopping list tackled I headed home. My interactions with the locals were just the things I needed.  They are savvy salespeople never forget that for a second, but there are not abrupt, loud or rude.  It is a gentle negotiation full of smiles and kindness. All told I spent $60 and have lots to show for it, I hope my purchases helped in some small way these families while the tourists are gone.

Headed home and tackled the finding the pool.  This should not have been a difficult thing, but, well Cambodia.  You seen Olympia City is huge.  There are 5 condo towers, a hotel, a mall and a spa.  With very little signage and no idea where to go I did manage to find the spa.  The lady there was kind enough to walk me through two buildings to the other pool and I was finally able to go for a swim.  My timing was not ideal as I ended up swimming in the rain and can’t offer any photos of the pool just yet. 

My success at the market and a good workout left me feeling much better than I would have expected given the news of my uncle.  I am feeling braver by the day and am looking forward to finding a few more local spots.  There is an Indian restaurant nearby that is supposed to be really good and also a smaller local market that may have to become my provider of local produce. 

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