Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Parts of Phnom Penh sorely need better garbage pick-up
It's evening in downtown Phnom Penh, and I'm walking home along the quiet river front. For some reason, some rube dumped a pile of garbage right on the roadside just ahead of me. 

But this doesn't get my attention. Further ahead, I see a group of tourists approaching. As I tread ahead, I squint, trying to see the group of foreigners clearer. That's when I reach the garbage pile, and I instantly realize that I’m looking in the wrong direction.

The pile of garbage, now right next to me, is MOVING! In the dim light large spots move about the refuse, and now that I've arrived, they quickly scatter.


There must have been 20 of them. Big ones too. In a flash they abandon their dinner on the trash heap, and scamper in all directions. For the most part the rats run away from me, all except for one. For some reason, one of the large rodents runs straight at me!

The kamikaze rat runs right towards my feet. Shocked and surprised, and not knowing what to do, I begin hopping from foot to foot, hoping the vermin won't run up my pants leg. My jumping around from one foot to the other, must have looked like the bizarre dancing of a madman.

The brave rat runs into the darkness, and I stop jumping around. The tourists, which I had been staring at before, are now staring right at me! From that distance in dim light, they weren't close enough to see the rats, but they easily saw this tall white man jumping around like a maniac on a downtown street. They must have assumed I was stoned on drugs.

Catching my breath from my close encounter of the rodent kind, I cross the street embarrassed, and continue my trek home.  

* * * * *

Window screens are not just foreign to Southeast Asia, they’re almost non-existent. Culturally they never caught on, and they’re too expensive for the average family here. Khmers like the fresh air, and their windows are usually left open.

However this lets in not only the fresh air, but also other unwanted guests, like mosquitoes. This is one reason why malaria and dengue fever are health problems in the region. But I would soon discover that insects aren’t the only unwanted visitors that enter these open windows.

Mice, the unwanted urban visitors (photo: Wikipedia)
One night returning to my hotel room, I walk into the bathroom. Flipping on the light, I'm startled to see rolls of toilet paper lying on the floor. Hmm… that’s strange, I think. Last I saw, those rolls of TP were up on the shelf, next to the open window.

That’s when I spot something in the toilet.

A mouse!

He’s still alive too. He’s hanging on at the front of the toilet bowl, with only his face and front feet above the toilet water. He’s also staring right at me.

Apparently the little rodent had came in through the window, and hopped up onto the toilet paper on the shelf. Somehow, they had all came tumbling down, leaving the TP on the floor, and the mouse in the toilet bowl.

I’m in no mood to deal with this, so I go wake up the hotel clerk, to have him take care of this problem. Soon the clerk comes up, and I show him the little intruder. The clerk ponders a few moments, closes the lid, and flushes the toilet! That wasn’t what I was expecting.

The clerk opens the lid, and surprisingly, the mouse is still there!

He flushes again, and still the mouse survives. That mouse is one strong swimmer.

Giving up, the clerk leaves to get the security guard. Thankfully, the guard has a better solution: he removes the mouse by picking it up with a plastic bag around his hand. He then disposes of the critter by taking it outside.

I’ve seen plenty of rodents before in Southeast Asia, but in a toilet??!!

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