Pser Leu

posted by Lindsey Isaf

The front of the Pser Leu market seemed to aesthetically please and ease the unknowing foreigner. Stalks of miniature bananas, perfectly ripened, hung from every small, cluttered market store. Contrasting the yellow and green bananas were neighboring assortments of baskets with cluttered colorfully unidentifiable spiked, rippled, or velvety fruits and vegetables.

In almost any other country, such color and armored fruits would signify a dangerous ability to attack one’s stomach or life, but in Cambodia eager, confident hands swarmed the bursting baskets. Besides the unfamiliar names that accompanied each fruit and vegetable, the market’s appearance was comfortably similar to an American farmers market. This familiarity invited me further. Feeling confident from the surrounding spectrum of color and the welcoming smiles, I continued.

The road leading through Pser Leu market’s perimeter was a mud road that doubled as a walkway and a side road. Constantly I found myself weaving through the trash littered road while actively dodging motorbikes that weaved uncontrollably through shoppers. In addition to surviving the market’s Frogger game-like setting, I continuously hopped across each puddle of water that I considered potentially polluted. Nevertheless, a smile shone on my face as I anxiously ducked and dodged down the side road.

Eventually rounding the corner the sights got progressively more gruesome and the stench more potent. Cleavers shined in the daylight with each up and down motion that accurately cleaned numerous fish while leaving each head attached. Next to the woman, who skillfully and artfully dealt with each fish, was a bucket of panicked, freshly caught fish squirming to escape their companions’ fates. Passing the seafood, further down the newly muddied road, ripple surfaced cow stomachs (tripe) laid coiled in baskets.

Above hung various sized cuts of chicken and beef while some rested flat similar to a buffet. The aroma of the unrefrigerated beef, chicken, and fish along with other faceless aromas wafting through the open market made me wary. With one gust of wind, my strong stomach nearly failed me. However, my feet eagerly continued towards the next set of stalls as if they had a mission unannounced to me. My sight and smell had no choice but to follow. The stench was worsened by the presence of an open sewer system that was being fixed.

On one instance, caught by surprise and slightly repulsed, I was forced to resist clasping my hands over my nose and mouth. I figured it was my saddened American-adapted sense of smell because I suffered while others seemed unbothered. Napping children slept under or around the meat and fish as if they were temporary teddy bears while other children ran around this tight maze like it was a playground. Each ran from one stall to the next, all in between incessant laughter and occasional yells of “HELLO” and a wave. Finally I ducked under the roof to visit Pser Leu’s “secrets” hidden beyond the outer food market.

I concluded the outdoor, unrefrigerated market was certainly a health inspector’s worst nightmare and hoped for drier goods on the inside. Soon I found myself quickly racing through one more food section where the stench was as thick as fog because of the roof enclosure. Once inside, the air was thicker than the humid, outside air and could only be broken apart by the humming of numerous fans in each stall. Only by walking further into the market could someone find some relief.

At the heart of the market, the free flow of air was marked by a golden glow that lights the entire area. At first one might think the gold glow was some mirage left in the middle of chaotic shops. Maybe the earth’s core had finally erupted through some crack in Pse Leu. But, by approaching the center, the large amounts of glass cases selling gold jewelry bracelets, necklaces, and earnings meet the eye. Beyond the glowing epicenter of the market, there were hundreds of stores as far as the eyes could see. Rows of bedazzled prom dresses, extravagant textiles, and clothes with humorous English sayings. European sized tight jeans were folded presenting their unique pockets with printed words of “Iphone,” “Lexus” and “Gucci.”

Next were the awkwardly placed dentistry offices alongside the piles of rusted supplies for yard work. The items and descriptions were innumerable. Every corner had something. Someone could even buy a knockoff of an expensive designer bag while you glanced at the manikan feet wearing shoes next door. After spending an hour aimlessly and continuously lost, I had barely skimmed the surface.

The blinding sun and sweltering heat, was the only indication that I had maneuvered my way out of the market and onto the street. Pser Leu truly resembled a Khmer style Walmart. Each aisle carried a large selection of various necessities. There were no foreigners and the prices were fair. The lack of foreigners allowed for cultural insight. Each stand, with its unordinary sights and smells, and each heat-induced sleeper or lively passerby told a story.

Pser Leu’s has the capacity to entertain locals for days straight, whether to buy clothes, sell farm products or woven baskets, shop for an engagement ring, or eat lunch. Escaping the tourist area of Old Market, I have realized that Pser Leu serves as a perfect medium for storytelling. The stories of local culture and the daily lives of individuals are told through each crammed aisle.

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