It just wrenches my heart everytime I pass through my old neighborhood and get a glimpse of our old home - this lovely blue Khmer house on stilts by Wat Bo Road near the Old Market. With bougainvilleas creeping into the gate and a garden fringed by mature trees, this is the closest my family ever got to "A Year in Provence" sort of living.
Before us moving to this house, this was home to another artist - a French oil painter named Vincent who made masterpieces here for a year. Before that, this was also the home of the founding manager of Artisans d'Angkor - an institution known for reviving traditional Cambodian crafts.
Vincent, the painter moved because he thinks his "artistic" zone is being bothered by the carwash that just opened next door. So we got lucky and got the house for ourselves, sealing a two-year contract for lease.
So then, we renovated the house, planted a lawn and squeegeed our sweat to make the house our home. Spending an arm and a leg to replace the roof tiles, install double walls, fix the ventilation and what-nots, we didn't care about expenses as long as we find our bliss.
And bliss we found. Soon, these empty walls and rooms were filled to the brim with artworks, doodles and handmade furnishings that was brought about by a ceaseless flow of inspiration.
It was also here that our son Freedom had his field day of firsts - the first time he stood on his own two feet and eventually walked. The first words he muttered with sense were also here...
My wife also tried her hand in developing a green thumb where she started her likig for orchids and where we both grew an herb garden - from basil to string beans and exotic shrubs from the Philippines like kadios and alogbate.
This is where we'd spend lazy weekends reading books, whipping out experimental dishes in the kitchen or simply snooze around beckoning corners...
Even our labrador Chockie couldn't agree more...
But the smooth ride ended quite soon. Our landlady, Madam Lada started squeezing us out for more money for loan (I lost count of how many times her son had an accident and how many uncles of hers passed away) or exhorbitant electric billings (up to 400 dollars per month!) that seemed like the GDP of a small, African country!
Finally, one day in May, she asked us to move out as someone already bought the property. She promised us though that she will pay us for our deposit and the money she owes us as soon as she receives the payment from the buyer. Of course, it would take a major intensity 9 earthquake and a Katrina-esque cyclone before she could pluck us out of there but finally, we moved out on early June.
It's been more than a year now, but until now, we haven't been paid back. She still owes us almost 2 thousand bucks and we have tried all sorts of measures to try to get our money back - from doing a diplomatic talk to hiring Khmer staff to negotiate and even calling the police but to no avail. At this point, we've given up, but when we saw the "House for Rent" sign up last month, I began to wish I invented the atomic bomb.
Welcome to Cambodia.