Phnom Penh’s Expat Restaurant Reviewer?
Sitting with a colleague over koshari in a hole-in-the wall restaurant just off of Tahrir Square, I was not relishing the concept of moving from Cairo to Phnom Penh. In Egypt, we had an established group of friends, there were plentiful options for social and/or historical outings, not to mention the full commissary with an endless supply of Kraft Mac & Cheese. My lunch mate took a different approach to moving, saying he liked the opportunity to redefine himself. Not in the Janis-Joplin-becomes-Pearl way, but more along the lines of getting in shape, taking up a new hobby or refining an old talent. “If you want to work out three times a week, moving allows you to build that into your new schedule,” he explained. I decided I would do just that (not the working out part of course), so upon arriving in Phnom Penh I decided to take my little writing hobby a step further, and I redefined myself as a “journalist” (the quotes are definitely needed here).
I did have some guidance. My Obi-Wan Kenobi was Naomi, a free-lance travel writer here in Phnom Penh. She actually guided me into it a little. A friend of hers in Vietnam was the editor for a start up magazine called East & West, and they were looking for someone to write a piece entitled “48 Hours in Phnom Penh.” Beneath her pay grade, Naomi passed the info along to me after hearing from Ronit that I was looking to “redefine.” You can look for the article on the magazine’s website in the beginning of March. The assignment gave me the confidence to call up Phnom Penh’s expat magazine, AsiaLIFE, and pretend to be a writer. Solely on the basis of the emails I send to you all, the editor gave me an assignment to cover Phymean Noun, a Cambodian who runs an NGO and was one of the CNN Top 10 Heroes for 2008. Her story was so inspiring, I really wanted to give her the article she deserved.
Since then, I have written articles on the French Cultural Center, restaurants that do job training, a profile on a River Front restaurant that renovated and just reopened, and highlights of where to dine on Valentine’s Day. I must say, it is rather fun. I get to call people up and say things like, “This is Craig Gerard, one of the staff writers at AsiaLIFE.” It certainly sounds important. And for the last few issues, the editor has asked me to write mostly about food & restaurants. And since AsiaLIFE is THE expat magazine here, that must mean that I’m the Expat Restaurant Reviewer for Phnom Penh, right? Hardly, but it would make a good business card title.
Still, it has been a good crash-course in the Phnom Penh food scene. I’m trying more restaurants in a shorter time than I would ever do regularly. When we first moved here, I opined that we would need to eat out twice a week for our entire two years here for me to try all the places that look good. I may have it covered in the next few months and on someone else’s dime.
As for my writing, I can’t say that it has gotten any better, but this does give me cause to daydream about some day doing it for more than $.07 a word. But until then, I’ll hang on to my “real job” at the embassy and keep searching for the perfect restaurant to take you to when you come visit.
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