Let’s get straight into it shall we ?
Friday afternoon I get a call from my friend John at around 2pm. He is re-roofing his 90 year old French colonial building and wants to know how / who would be interested in all the old hardwood rafters,columns and battons. He says he is waiting on an offer from a Khmer timber merchant and reckons there is enough to build a house . Initially he mentions a figure of a few thousand dollars. I tell him I could well be interested if the Khmer guy lo-balls him and sure enough John is only offered $500 so I tell him to hold off until i go take a look myself. So at 5pm i found myself climbing a ladder onto his roof and sure enough, there is enough wood up there to feed every termite in Cambodia – and they have actually already started on some of the pieces. I go into a slather at the thought of building a house for $500 but there is one huge challenge ! getting it off the damned roof ! John’s apartment is three stories high and some of the lengths are 6m long and 125mx125mm = HEAVY ! I have to call some Khmer contractors to come take a look and when they start uhhming and ahhing and scratching their heads I can see the $500 house fading. Problem is John needs it off his roof NOW and I tell him the process is inherently risky whether they go down through the apartments or over the edge. One slip and one dropped beam damaging property or worse and all of a sudden everything goes sideways. In the end I had to say no as it was just too much of a mine-field. Ever read the story of Parson’s Pleasure by Roald Dahl ? That’s kind of how i felt.
With a large day out at mum’s house looming the next day I decided to take it easy whilst Leakhana was out on the town with all her lady friends. She promises me she won’t stay out all night dancing and drinking champagne and I find her a disheveled mess on the couch downstairs when I get up at 6am. Ho Hum. I put her to bed, feed,shower and dress Gran Grace and Angus and by 9am we are in the car headed for the ferry over the Mekong – minus snoring wife.
Off the ferry and I decide to pay a quick visit to Rob and John who rent upstairs and downstairs of Dr Andrew’s house on the banks of the Mekong. This house is one of the nicest in Cambodia and has a dress circle view of the city, expansive lawns, a pool and a fab timber house. Rob makes me the worse coffee I have ever had and the kids make straight for the pool with Luke ( John’s boy ). Angus slips over almost immediately and grazes his entire face and nose making look like he has been in a car accident but that does not stop him and he is into the pool and stepping into the deep before I can blink so I have to grab an ankle and stop him from drowning. By now it is only 11am and I am exhausted already.
We finally arrive at mum’s house and there are contractors waiting already. For some odd reason Phalla had ordered 20 tonnes of dirt and has had it dumped in two strategic locations right in front of the house blocking all access routes. Why I ask ? “Aren’t we using it under the house for the floor ? “. No….we are suing sand so the tiles don’t sink ! Please……just leave the project management to me !! Leakhana arrives with Nek and Pek and Jirra having caught a tuk tuk over from Phnom Penh so before you know it fish is cooking, beer is cooling down and I am haggling with a long procession of builders, carpenters, laborers, candle stick makers and butchers. Chris and Aya arrive with their kids and we all enjoy a few cold beers before heading over to the beach for a nice long swim . I would like to say sleep came swift that night but there is a wedding out the back that plays doof doof music until 3 am and then at 4am the traditional ceremony music starts. Funnily enough – the dogs are silent !
Sunday morning rolls around finally and we are all a bit tired. Forgot to mention that Super Yay ( our 90++ year old great grandmother ) has come over with is and she spends what seems like the entire night talking to herself quite loudly. I am GAGGING for coffee and bacon and eggs and Phalla and I waste now time in getting stuck into moving at least one of the piles of dirt around. This is done with two hoes and a couple of baskets so it is not easy and we are soon sweating like porn stars on set. More contractors arrive and we finalise arrangements for the complete removal of the kitchen and bathroom and the construction of a small perimeter retaining wall to contain all the sand we will dump in readiness for tiling under the house. We beat the guys down to $170 ex materials which I think is pretty good. My Khmer family of course think it is $10 too much. When we go out there next weekend we will see a big change for sure. Underneath the house will be completely open and we can start planning our bathrooms and kitchen.
And finally……..I bring you my neighbor who is just putting the finishing touches on an electric car for his son. This car is an absolute cracker and for me it encapsulates all that is wonderful about Cambodia. A dirt poor but clever as hell father using everything within his means and reach to create something special for his family. legend. Hopefully he will do one for Angus…..