Friday, January 6, 2012

Frustration and Success

Overall, I’m settling in here. I feel a little more content, and a little (a very little) less reticent to step foot OTG (“outside the gate,” for those who don’t watch Terra Nova). But there has been one thing that has frustrated me this week, and today added a new frustration. Fortunately, the day ended with some success.

On Monday, my hair dryer died. I was using it when I heard a crack. Then I smelled, and finally saw, smoke. As Jeff puts it, I had “released the magic smoke,” and there was no hope of recovery. Ok, not a big deal, I thought. I’ll just let my hair air dry (let the frizzies begin!) and then go buy a new hair dryer.

Only, it became a big deal. I asked my housekeeper where I could buy one, and she wasn’t sure, because like most Cambodians, she has perfectly straight, shiny, beautiful hair and doesn’t need a hair dryer. However, she had two suggestions: the third floor of Soriya Center, or Central Market. Now, I’ve been warned that electronics purchased anywhere in Cambodia, but particularly in the tiny unnamed stalls of markets, tend to last a week or two—if you’re lucky—before they unceremoniously release the magic smoke. So I opted for Soriya Center, a nearby mall that has many unnamed stalls but also a few “real” stores.

Upon my arrival, I went directly to the third floor. It had a bunch of stalls and a large Sony store with lots of big screen TVs. No luck there. I tried the fourth floor—there was a large store with some household goods, but when I asked for a hair dryer, the saleslady tried to sell me some gel. I tried the first and second floors. No luck there either. I exited Soriya completely discouraged. But there was still hope: my tuk-tuk driver knows where everything is. I explained what I wanted … then explained again … and a third time, adding hand motions. Ahh, he understands! Now, my driver has excellent English, so the fact that it took three tries to make him understand should have been a clue! He didn’t know, but maybe Bayon supermarket? I had to go there anyway, so sure, let’s try that, despite my significant doubts.

As I suspected, Bayon did not have hair dryers. I resigned myself to weeks of frizzy hair while I waited for a hair dryer to arrive from my friends at Amazon. But my driver does not accept defeat easily. No, he cruised past a whole row of electric stores on the way home, decided one looked promising, and sent me in. I peered through the glass door and saw nothing but expensive cameras. As I could see the entire store, I didn’t go in. I told my driver to admit defeat that I would order one from the States. He took me home—but he cruised slowly, and slowed down even more when electric shops were in view.

I spent the rest of the week with frizzy, air-dried hair. Definitely not my preference, but not that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Then came this afternoon.

A little background: When newcomers arrive, the embassy provides a welcome kit, consisting of various household goods—sheets, towels, pots, that kind of thing. Once the newcomer’s stuff arrives, the welcome kit is returned to the embassy. Well, our welcome kit had some particularly useful items that we don’t want to lose. A rice cooker. Three high-quality, truly universal power strips that we currently are using, even though our stuff is here.

Now, we knew we’d have to give these things back. We really should have bought our own long ago. Unfortunately, we did not buy our own. However, welcome kit items usually are purchased locally, so we assumed we’d be able to buy them quickly. In preparation for returning the welcome kit on Monday, Jeff emailed the people who stock the welcome kit and asked them from whence those oh-so-precious power strips came. They helpfully gave us the name and location of the shop that stocks these little miracles.

So today, I ventured forth, armed with a name, a location, a driver, one of the power strips so there could be no confusion, and every expectation of success. I planned to augment my success with the purchase of a rice cooker, which my housekeeper had promised was available everywhere, even in the Sony store at Soriya Center.

Ah, the hopefulness of naiveté.

My trusty tuk-tuk driver got me to the correct store, with a slight detour because it was on the opposite side of the divided road, so we went to the next intersection where we could turn around … only to see the “No U-Turn” sign and the two policemen on the other side making illegal U-turners illegally U-turn themselves right back around. So it took a little longer to detour, not that big of a deal, especially on an errand in which I’d virtually been guaranteed success.

We pulled up outside the store and I confidently ventured in. “Cumriep sua,” I greeted the salesmen, trying out my Khmer language skills (with little success, judging from their faces). One of them responded in excellent English, so I pulled out my power strip and told him that I needed more. “Exactly like that?” Yes. “We don’t have that. That was ordered from overseas.” But I was told that it came from you. Do you do business with the U. S. embassy? “Yes, but they didn’t order any power strips from us last time. That didn’t come from us.”

Totally deflated, I left. Every assurance of success, and still—abject failure. Sigh. Looks like a message to Jeff is in order … can I go home now?

But no. I’d already told my driver I was going to buy a rice cooker, and I didn’t want to face the prospect of complete failure. Surely I could accomplish the second goal of the day, right?

So off we went. I told him I wanted a rice cooker. He didn’t immediately suggest a store, so I told him to head for Soriya Center. After all, my housekeeper assured me that the Sony store has them, and I personally had seen three different ones in a stall there, so even if I had to buy the thing from a stall, I was going to buy it!

On the way to Soriya, my driver suddenly pulled off. There was a large electric shop on the corner, and he suggested that I try there first. The nice young lady who believed she spoke English did not understand what I wanted. Eventually, when I couldn’t explain it any other ways, she asked “For the chicken?” No, not for the chicken. For the rice. She looked confused. I asked if they had anything at all for the kitchen, as I was seeing mostly lighting and fans. She had no idea what I was asking. So I asked if there was anything for “pteah baay” (rice-house, or kitchen, in Khmer). “No, we don’t have anything for the chicken.” (Yes, she clearly enunciated “chicken.”)

Upon my return to the tuk-tuk, my driver said “You want to go to Soriya now?” Yes, please.

At Soriya, I headed straight to the third floor, to the Sony store. As I peered through the windows, I wasn’t certain that my housekeeper was right about them having rice cookers. All I saw were huge TVs. But she’d named this store specifically, so in I went. I wasn’t too far in when I saw microwave ovens.  Ah, my hope is renewed! I kept going, all the way to the back.

Eureka! I saw toasters, slow cookers, and blenders. Then I struck gold—rice cookers. There even were brand names that I recognized! Who knew that the words “Panasonic” and “Philips” could incite such joy? I walked up and down the aisle several times, debating with myself. Is it really worth an extra $20 to get a brand I recognize, just because I recognize it? Nah, let’s be adventurous!

Decision finally made, I pointed it out to the saleslady who’d been stalking me during my perusal. (In the States, her proximity would have screamed “You’re a shoplifter!”; here, it’s annoyingly normal.) As I turned to exit the aisle, I froze.

There, on a shelf in the back of the Sony store, on the third floor of Soriya Center, were five hair dryers! Sure, the cheapest one was twice the price of the one I’d ordered off Amazon, and it looked a lot cheaper, and it has very little power. But it’s a hair dryer! Woo-hoo! Sold!

In the grand scheme of things, having a hair dryer now, rather than 1 to 5 weeks from now, doesn’t much matter. But a girl’s got to celebrate success where she can, right?

And, Miing-Miing (as Alexa calls our housekeeper), I’m sorry for doubting you!


  1. Just goes to show, it's still hard to go wrong with Sony :-) (right, Ryan?)

  2. Oh the joys of living abroad! I have experienced similar things myself in Uruguay. I am particularly missing American food products because Ron is not at the Embassy this trip, but at the Ambassador's house instead,we do not have the luxury of buying a few wonderful American products everyday. But, boy oh boy, do they ever have the ham and cheese. lol Suzan

  3. Congratulations on your finally successful shopping adventures!


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