If you should ever find yourself about to embark on an evening of drinking with your friends Non and Sophon, consider the following:
It has been some time since I have last blogged, principally because I have not been in Cambodia for some time, and then still because I developed somewhat of a busy schedule during the time since I last blogged. That said, for those of you who suffered through my lengthy musings on life (i.e. butter and beer) during my last venture here, I will assuage you in advance by noting that my efforts now will tend towards brevity (though I still make no guarantees that my spelling will be any better as a result). So, New Orleans.
After many months of an essentially unpleasant existence (school-induced), I was of course sitting at school with a very strong desire not to be there. I therefore messaged a friend of mine to see if he would be interested in a short trip to New Orleans before my departure back to Cambodia. He was, and so we went. In the three days that I was there, I believe I had a bottle of water. Everything else was beer or coffee (overwhelmingly the former). There was, in addition, a lot of jazz, time spent on boats, and a short trip to a Walgreens to buy baby powder for my friend’s chafed thighs (the combination of heat and walking was not amenable to him). In one of many discussions of the latter issue—essentially me making fun of his being pathetic—he noted that he preferred the word ‘chapped’ over ‘chafed’ because of “the inherent double entendre.” Because I nearly equal him on the nerdy/loser scale, I understood his point. Because I don’t equal him on the nerdy/loser scale, I said he was never allowed to say something so stupid ever again. He will though. I will spare you any further explanation on such matters. So that was New Orleans.
Now on to Cambodia. By some miracle, or more accurately some school-induced state of exhaustion, I managed to sleep for most of my flight from LA to Taipei, and then again in the hotel I got for my 11-hour layover before my flight to Phnom Penh. Hence jet lag wasn’t an issue. Life has essentially been low key so far, the only exception being a frightful shower incident in which a sizable centipede decided to take up residence in my poof, only to relocate to my chest while I showered. For those of you victimized by the blogs from my last bit of tenure here, you may recall my aversion to surprise visits by large bugs. So when I noticed this giant scar-shaped thing crawling and biting its way across my chest, I immediately employed the poof to remove it from my person. Unfortunately, in the process I tossed the poof into the toilet. That was day one. My lathering capacity has been diminished ever since. As an insightful Private once said: “So it goes.” On a more positive note, I pass a “Car Spa” on my way to work everyday, and the irony was not lost when I saw a dog run across the street to mark his territory on a tinted Lexus parked in said Spa. As an insightful Tech Sergeant once said: “It’s the simple things in life you treasure.”
Hope all is well with everyone.
Food Poisoning, an Accident, a Bug, a Body Guard, and on Getting Over Food Poisoning, an Accident, a Bug, and a Body Guard.March 29, 2008
It has been some time since I have blogged, and while the title of this blog may imply that the reasons are food poisoning, an accident, bug problems and trouble with a body guard, this is in fact not the case. Rather, I have been, quite simply, lazy. That being said, the title is instructive on what has in fact transpired over the course of the last month or so since my last blog.
I will begin with my food poisoning incident, if for no other reason than because it happened first. Anyway, I met up with my friend Dara and his wife, as well as Sambath, people whom, for those of you who don’t know, I met the first time I was here. And, together with some other folks whom I hadn’t met, we all went out to dinner, which was quite enjoyable. This, mind you, was not how I got food poisoning. Rather, this is simply the beginning of the story, for, while eating dinner, Dara mentioned that he and his wife had rented a minibus to take them and a dozen friends up to Siem Reap for the weekend. They only had three people committed to going, and so there was ample room for me. Thus came the invitation for me to join them, which I readily accepted after asking my boss at work if it would be ok (on a side note, my boss and Dara’s wife, Sotheary, used to work together, so that may have helped). Anyway, roughly nine of us ended up making the trip up to Siem Reap, which was exciting since I really hadn’t left Phnom Penh since I got back, so I felt I deserved the vacation.
Unfortunately, I am genetically predisposed to getting sick whenever I go on vacation, and in this case it was only a matter of how exactly that was going to happen. Never have I been sick before in Cambodia, but the instant vacation is thrown into the equation, sickness comes out on the right side of the equals sign. Fortunately, in Cambodia, there are ample opportunities to get sick, and as such my genetic makeup was not under serious threat of change. Anyway, we pulled over to take a break from the drive and get some food at what most would classify as a “dive,” but which is, to the accustomed eye, a quaint little roadside establishment, replete with tasty food. I had now been given my opportunity to get sick on some delicious noodles, which I did.
The effects were not immediate, and for the rest of the drive my new friend Tara and I sang along to Beatles songs and, to my surprise, John Denver’s “Country Road.” By the time we arrived at our guest house, however, I was beginning to feel a bit off. Not sick, really, but off, which I can only articulate as a state of still being full long after the food I ate should have left my stomach. Thus we all went to dinner, and the concerns began pouring in over how I was not eating much. One, I had just stuffed myself four hours before. Two, that food hadn’t budged, so I wasn’t hungry. Nonetheless, I ate. The rest of the night was uneventful, though I spent the next morning trying to explain, to my friends’ amazement, how I wasn’t hungry at a late breakfast. Well, by this time it had become clear that I had some kind of food poisoning. I won’t go through the symptoms, but will confine my comments to simply saying that sometimes you just know what’s going on.
After breakfast we all went shopping, though the most that I can say that I did was a sort of pseudo-browsing—that is, looking at stuff simply because I had my eyes open as we walked through different shops (I’m not a shopper). When that was finished, and Dara had a new watch, we piled into the van and drove to the temples, at which point I, being the only white guy in the group, got to hop out of the van and buy my ticket. There was a little concern that I would not be able to handle this task, but after a little while I was able to convince them that, as an American, I am a veritable expert in standing in line and blindly shelling out money.
Hopping back into the van our driver took us to Banteay Srei, which is a bit of a drive from Angkor Wat and the other more famous temples. Tara is a temple enthusiast, and was very excited to go visit. Moreover, I was managing quite well. There was a knot in my stomach, but I just kept telling myself “mind over matter, mind over matter.” When we got to the temple we all piled out of the van and into one of the trinket shops set up just outside…to do more shopping. And as we shopped, browsed, or pseudo-browsed, I began to get a whif of some fried noodles coming from one of the food stands. Instead of my calm, meditative mantra of “mind over matter, mind over matter,” my brain began frantically repeating “get rid of this matter, get rid of this matter!” Thus, just outside the temple grounds, I hurled, with our minibus’s driver pounding my back and me saying “thank you, brother” in between bouts. Then came that feeling of elation that immediately follows throwing up, as if all is better and life has returned to normal, which it had. The rest of our little travel cohort then came to make sure I was ok, suggesting that I should lay down and rest. Well, as someone who is still actively defending his rightful title of “Last Man Standing” from the first time he was here, I was hardly in a position to lay down and rest. Additionally, I had come this far to see Banteay Srei, so there was no way I was going to miss it now that I was feeling bettern than I had for the previous 14 hours. Thus, I downed a bag of sugarcane juice, and walked with everyone else into the temple to admire the really, really detailed carvings. Thus ended my trip to Siem Reap. The drive back was uneventful beyond more stops for shopping and pseudo-browsing.
If having a slight bout of food poisoning wasn’t enough being leveled against the body, the following week continued to try to kill off my desire to be here. To be sure, if I have one complaint about life here, it isn’t the heat, the mosquitos, the food, or the language barrier, it’s the damn traffic, which sucks mightily. The traffic, in my opinion, is at its most dangerous when people try and follow the rules which are only nominally existent. That is, there are stop lights, but their purpose is largely symbolic. For example, when one’s light turns green, this does not mean go, it means “take the next ten seconds to make sure that everyone who’s planning to blast through the red light does so without you being in their way.” But then of course, as people sitting at the red light see you not moving, they assume, it seems, that this means that they should go, and so it is quite possible to sit at a light all day without going anywhere. Thus it is necessary to strike the appropriate balance, putting yourself in people’s way to demonstrate your intention of going through the intersection, while at the same time not getting run over by the people who don’t seem to grasp that you actually have that intent in the first place. This, mind you, was not the scenario I was in when I got clipped by a moto driver on my way to work on the thursday following my return from Siem Reap. Indeed, while turning off of Sothearos Blvd. into the little side street that runs in front of the Phnom Penh Center, where AMK’s office is located, a moto driver in a hurry to go wherever he was going decided to slam his moto into my front tire, thus sending me over the handle bars and flying for a good five or six feet before being introduced to the really bumpy and sharp pavement.
Some of you may of course be concerned with my well being, but for those of you who don’t know, my family is genetically programmed with a certain expertise in falling, whether from roofs, trees, skylight wells after the ladder has fallen out from under us and we are left dangling as our arms push against the walls to keep us from dropping, etc. (these are all documented cases). Thus, as I flew over my handle bars, I unconsciously prepared myself to execute what we call “the paratroop roll.” I will claim to have done this expertly, as nothing is broken. More importantly, I was wearing a helmet, and can now attest to its quality, which, being Cambodian, is at best questioned regularly. Either way, it kept my head from splitting open as it hit the ground, and in light of this accident, I maintain that anyone who comes here and plans on riding on motos and doesn’t fork out the $14.00 for a cheap helmet is nuts, since my head would have split open nicely.
On a side note, I should add that the moto driver stopped to see if I was ok. Admittedly, I am choosing to interpret his stopping as an effort to make sure I was ok, as opposed to seeing if I was conscious, and if not take my wallet, which I have also seen here. A friend of mine had something similar happen to him. He got in an accident and tore many a ligament from his arm, chest and back. Another moto driver pulled up, bringing a great deal of hope to my friend that he would not have to figure out how to get up and get to a good hospital all by himself. Sadly, the person simply walked over, looked in his backpack, and, seeing nothing worth taking, drove off. Anyway, this did not happen to me, so I just walked the rest of the way to work with my mangled bike, and began a 12-hour day, which ended as I came back to Phnom Penh from the field at about 7:30 at night, after the office was closed with my helmet locked inside. In other words, it was a ride home that I can only express as one being overrun with feelings of being gunshy. Oh well, all is good.
The weekend saw things pick up quite a bit. Me and the cousins drove out to “Lo-weigh,” a village which spans the border of Kampong Cham and Prey Veng Provinces, for the 100-day ceremony of my cousin Mony’s dad’s death. The drive was long, but uneventful, aside from driving an old toyota corolla along some really bumpy dirt roads for two hours. Toyotas are remarkable machines, by the way. Anyway, when we arrived I was an instant spectacle, as I was one of the only foreigners they’ve ever seen (maybe the only one, except for maybe my uncle Jim). I won’t go so far as to say that I am the only white person they’ve ever seen, for living in the same village was a white Cambodian, and unfortunately I think my presence opened the door for some discrimanatory remarks levelled against him. But aside from that, I got to spend a couple days in rural Cambodia, which was very nice. Things are still pretty patriarchal, or at least that’s how it seemed (I’m trying to avoid too much of an Orientalist slant to things, for those of you familiar with Said). The men drank; the women cooked and cleaned.
That being said, the beverage of choice amongst those gathered around the table playing cards, to my dismay, was not the innocent Angkor beer, but vodka. Rather, the Village Chief whom I had the “privilege” to sit next to (sleezy guy) pointed to it and called it vodka, and in Khmer was trying to ask me how we call it in English. I was certainly not going to betray vodka’s good name, as I’ve been to Poland and had some delightful stuff, and so I simply found myself uttering the words “jungle juice,” which I think is more accurate anyway. Then of course came the widespread effort, “a coalition of the willing,” if you will, to get me to drink that stuff. Simply breathing within a four-foot radius was sufficient to be able to taste it—paint thinner, for those of you who are curious. Nonetheless, I finally settled to taste it, not drink it, and so I took the shot, poured it begrudgingly in my mouth, and promptly spit it out, a process not at all dissimilar with using mouthwash, and the effect on the germs in my mouth was the same. I’m convinced that everything in my mouth was killed, and so if I ever have a desire to wipe out all bacteria (or all cellular structure in general, for that matter) from my system, I now know where to get it.
After the drinking situation had been settled, everyone resumed playing their card game, which I don’t understand at all (though admittedly it doesn’t appear to be complicated). Regardless, I had been a spectacle for the entire evening and into the night, with the Village Chief constantly assuring me of my safety in his Village. That being said, as I sat there peacefully a giant black bug the size of a small rodent suddenly jumped from the ground, over my shoulder and into my lap as I sat watching the card game. I don’t exactly know what “the bejesus” is, but it was promptly scared out of me. I immediately jumped up, screaming rather crudely “What the fuck is that?! What the fuck is that?!” And what, mind you, was the reaction of everyone in the area? Not a thing. Nobody even turned to look at the weird American jumping up and down screaming obsentities because his life was felt to be threatened by the biggest beetle in the history of the universe (it was probably genetically enhanced by all the “jungle juice”). In my astonishment and temporary insanity I continued screaming: “holy crap, I’ve been a spectacle all day, and now that I’m actually doing something worthy of mention you don’t even notice! What the hell is going on here!?” After another 15 seconds of my total lapse in mental clarity as spurred on by the giant death beetle, the Village Chief reached over, flicked it off of my pants, chuckled, and said “ot bahnya ha” (my terrible spelling of what “no problem” sounds like in Khmer). Thus, the Village Chief was true to his word in assuring my safety. (I should note that I had to take a ten minute break from writing this because of a yellow jacket hovering around me…yellow jackets are my enemy incarnate).
Anyway, the next morning in the village was quite nice. I took a walk early in the morning, at dawn, and when I got back the monks to perform the ceremony had come. They wanted to meet me, but, like everyone else, said they couldn’t speak Anglais. But then I heard them say Francais (both words are cognates in Khmer…I think), at which point I intervened with a brief and poorly pronounced “Je parle un peu du Francais,” and so our conversation began, which was a blast because I got to speak with a 75-year old monk from a generation that learned French. Honestly, how many people come to Cambodia and get to speak with an old person, since not many are still alive, and not many speak English, or remember French well enough to converse (which is all too understandable)? Regardless, that was the highlight of my month.
By that sunday afternoon we had packed up our stuff and drove home, and life resumed to normal. I planned a trip to Vietnam, deciding to spend my birthday in Ho Chi Minh City, thinking that perhaps this way I might actually remember that it was my birthday (I have a history of forgetting completely). I took off from work on Wednesday afternoon to pack before my bus left early the next morning. On that bus ride, I happened to sit next to a nice bloke heading to Ho Chi Minh to get some medicine, and so we chatted intermitently throughout the trip, and decided to share a guest house since we were essentially staying for the same length of time. When the bus got to the border, my new friend pulled out a picture of himself to show me. This may strike some of you as odd considering he was sitting right next to me and thus I didn’t need to see a picture, but this one was different, for it showed him in his uniform…his military uniform. “I’m a Major,” he said, which I took to be sufficient rank to cause me problems, but then he added, “…in the Body Guard service.” Now, this may have been foolish, but I somehow found myself asking whose Body Guard service, to which he replied quite simply: “Prime Minister’s.” And thus I seemed to be in a slightly less-than-ideal situation, which was reflected in the response that I quietly uttered to myself: “oh……shit.”
We made it through customs without difficulty, and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City a couple hours later. We got off the bus, and went searching for our Guest House, with my new friend asking me if our various options suited me. I simply said that if it worked for him, I would be just fine (really, what does one say in that position?). Anyway, we finally settled on a place and unpacked our bags and parted ways for the afternoon, during which time I started breathing again. That evening, however, we had dinner plans. Well, he had plans and I was invited (read: felt obliged to come), so I hopped on the back of the moto that he rented, and just as my ass hit the seat he gunned it off the curb and up the street. This in itself nearly caused me to do a backflip off the thing, which prompted me to think to myself about a possiblity that I could never have imagined before—I’m was going to die in Ho Chi Minh City. Fortunately, we made it to the restaruant in one piece, and sat down to dinner, during which time my friend said that he knew Tae Kwan Do, and began showing me his scars from the war(s) he’s fought in. He then went on to describe his liver condition, which he had briefly mentioned was caused by too much drinking when he was younger. This in itself was not particularly scary, since that was his problem, not mine. But when he said he was here being treated for Hepatitis C, I nearly choked on my noodles, then politely excused myself from the table to “go to the bathroom,” and instead ran to an internet cafe to see if I was at risk. Answer: NO. The next day I left the hotel before he woke up and didn’t get back until late, and he left to go back home the next morning. Everything after that was part of my return to “normalcy”: coming back to Cambodia, not having food poisoning, not getting in an accident, and not sharing a room with one of the Prime Minister’s Body Guards.
I’m a bit tired, by the way.
Much love to you all,
In the United States, to have one’s credit card account put “on hold” would be grounds for getting slightly upset, peeved even. Fortunately, I am here in Cambodia, and when my dad emailed me to tell me that he received a letter from my credit card company saying that my account had been put on hold due to unusual activity, I did not flinch or get terribly nervous. One, this is because you really can’t use a credit card here unless you’re along the riverfront, the tourist mecca, and thus a place I avoid. Two, this is because I assumed that the unusual activity was the actual absence of activity on my account, and this in fact made me slightly cheerful.
Nonetheless, knowing that should an emergency arise I would need it to get a ticket out of here, I hopped on the phone and called my credit card company. After taking time (stupidly) to learn that all the push-button options were not going give me the service I needed, I proceeded to peck at the zero key until the calm-toned computer lady finally realized that I wasn’t smart enough to be dealt with in her organized way. Thus, she transferred me to “hold” until someone picked up the phone. I sat for a few minutes listening to Kenny G and Tina Turner, contemplating whether or not the music sufficiently justified hanging up. But, just as Tina went into her last chorus of “I’ve Got the Power,” while at the same time I was picturing a 60-something year old woman in a leather miniskirt dancing about a strobe-light-ridden stage and singing, a fine man introducing himself as Earl picked up the phone and started asking me to verify who I was.
After that was done, Earl asked what my problem was. I told him that my account had been “temporarily put on hold” due to this “unusual activity.” He then asked me if I had been in California recently. I told him yes, that I was in San Francisco to attend the Kiva Training seminar thingy. At this point I became concerned that this short trip to California would cause them to suspend my account, but then I remembered that I didn’t use my credit card while I was there. At the same time, he asked me if I went to any KFCs, to which I said no, I hadn’t frequented any Kentucky Fried Chickens during my stay. Thus, we determined that it was someone with my credit card # who in fact had. By now I was amazed at our age’s computer advancements, that Visa and Kentucky Fried Chicken can determine whether or not someone trying to pay for their 16-piece grease bucket and 2-liter bottle of corn syrup is actually paying with their own fixed 8.9% APR money, or mine, in this case.
As the conversation wound down, Earl told me to destroy my credit card, that it was of no use, which I realized when I was trying to buy skype credit with it in an effort to call my credit card company, hoping that being in Cambodia would throw the system off just enough to let me spend $10.00, and thus put some activity on my account and preemptively end what I had thought was the unusual [in]activity. Regardless, for some reason, I can’t bring myself to destroy the card. It’s worthless to me, and to anyone who steals it, but there’s something about having it that is a comfort. This, mind you, is disturbing, as if I now seem to have a psychological aversion to parting with a worthless plastic piece of junk that says Visa.
But I digress. Work here in Cambodia has been good. I spent Monday and Tuesday in Kandal Province, which surrounds Phnom Penh. I was observing Angkor Microfinance Kampuchea’s (AMK) loan disbursement and repayment procedures. While these observations were going on, I had my Cambodian Kiva counterparts practice getting information for business profiles and journals, which they did quite well.
Now, while the work itself went smoothly, with no problems arising, my driving experiences, whether going into the field or getting to the office, have been noteworthy (at least nominally). I awoke Monday morning and began casually getting out of bed and getting ready. I visited with my friend Ratha, but as I looked at my watch I noticed that the time was 7:23am. The office opens at 7:30, and we were to leave for the field at that time. Being someone who is always early wherever he goes, I had timed the ride to my office: eight minutes. I would be one minute late, and would somehow miss the trip out into the field that was arranged especially for me. When pressed for time, I should add, my thought processes lack the rationality that I’m accustomed to approaching most of life’s situations with. Thus, I panicked, ran to Thy (the fastest-driving moto-taxi man I know), and, not being able to resist the theatrical moment that I was presented with, hopped on the back of his moto and declared: “Fly Thy, show me the meaning of haste.” He looked at me confusedly, and so I clarified: “I need to be to work in five minutes.” That he understood clearly. He smiled, started his engine, and blasted up Street 310. We made it in four minutes, and that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a moto. Thankfully traffic was non-existent and so my trip was not suicidal (Thy would have made it in four minutes regardless of the traffic), and I now inwardly refer to Thy as Shadowfax, for his magical abilities of getting me to work in half the time allowed me to check my email and go to the bathroom before we departed.
On Tuesday I made it to work even earlier, and this time taking the full eight minutes to get there. We left the AMK office at about 8:00 and drove out into the field. I should note here that the pretty rice-paddy scenery in the provinces makes for a generally enjoyable driving experience, but only for about ten minutes, after which time one realizes that banging against the side of the vehicle every time you hit a big bump is going to leave bruises up and down your left (or right) side. This was not an issue on Monday, since most of the time there were only three of us in the back of one of AMK’s early- to mid-1990s Land Cruisers. It was comfy, air-conditioned, and there was enough space between me and the wall of the truck to allow me to bounce about with impunity. Tuesday presented a different scenario. One of my colleagues, Paujo, a nice bloke from Maine who I share an office with right now, wanted to go out into the field to see the same processes that I was. Thus, as he rode into work at about 8:00am on Tuesday, I called over to him and told him that we were heading out and that if he wanted to join us he could. He ran up to the office, dropped his stuff off, made sure there wasn’t anything pressing that demanded his attention, and came out.
In the meantime, I was casually leaning against one of the Land Cruisers, ready for another pleasant ride out into the field. Suddenly, however, a small Toyota Tacoma pickup truck pulled up and Pok Thy, the regional manager responsible for Kandal and also my guide, hopped in the front seat. I looked in the back seat (and at least it boasted an extended cabin), and grimaced. Four of us—Sophanith, Sophany, Paujo and I—would occupy that four-and-a-half foot space for the rest of the day. Paujo and I had backpacks precariously arranged on our laps or on the floor, which meant either blocking the air conditioning or having no foot room. I opted for the latter, and remained awkwardly positioned but reasonably cool, despite wearing dress clothes like everyone else. We arranged ourselves efficiently (like sardines, i.e.), and I waited for the driver to come shut my door. I was going to shut it myself, but when I tried I incidentally elbowed myself just beneath the ribs with the full weight of the door, which drove home the point that I should not have done that. Thus, it was up to our driver to close my door for me, and while I sat trying to look calm, I was in fact quite worried that much of me was still hanging out of the truck. He shut the door with enough oomph that everything previously hanging out was now smushed up inside. He chuckled. I made an involuntary grunt-like sound.
And thus we drove. When we hit the dirt roads, and the bumps that came every five seconds, my left shoulder banged against the corner of the door and the frame of the truck, while my head bounced back and forth between that same corner and the headrest (the corner won). Additionally, halfway into the journey, I began to notice a numbness coming over my right side from the waist down. Then I realized that I had committed the cardinal sin of long drives: I was sitting (read: bouncing up and down) on my wallet, worthless credit card and all. This too would leave a bruise, though I couldn’t feel it at the time.
Trying to take my mind off this sensation, or lack thereof, I asked Paujo what he figured the life of the suspension on these vehicles was. He said he didn’t know, and instead remarked rhetorically that he wondered what the suspension of his own rear end was, though his choice of words was slightly less kosher. The day continued on in this way, and when it was finally over, I asked Sopanith: how do you say “I’m tired” in Khmer. He told me, and I now have a new phrase, which this week has seen wide usage among those of us going into the field.
I took Wednesday off, needing to go to the bank to open an account, which was an ordeal in itself. The first time I went to the bank they told me I needed a letter from my employer saying that I actually worked in Cambodia and was not some useless lemming merely seeking to make a deposit. Thus, the next time I went into work I pulled up AMK’s letterhead and typed one sentence saying that I work here. Paul, my boss and AMK’s CEO, signed it and had me go get it stamped. In Cambodia, I should add, things with stamps and other official-looking “insignia” seem to be highly valued. On a side note, I should say that this largely constitutes a joke, as the first time I was here I found myself signing my name on fifty certificates of completion for a workshop that I and several friends put together. I could have signed “Santa Claus” or “Mr. Bojangles” with the same effect.
Anyway, when I was at the bank on Wednesday, they asked me if AMK was closed? I said no, and then they asked why I wasn’t at work. I told them: “because I needed to come here to open an account.” To this they replied: “why didn’t you come when AMK was closed.” AMK is closed on the weekend, and, coincidentally, so is the bank. Somehow this point wasn’t getting through, but fortunately some lady kept hearing “AMK” being mentioned, and so she walked over. I looked up, and saw one of my colleagues, who then verified that I am not a useless lemming seeking merely to make a deposit. For example, she too was there instead of at AMK. This is perhaps the first and only time that I will ever be grateful for windows between offices. Hers is right next to mine, and in this case that lack of privacy allowed me to open a bank account.
Thursday I was supposed to go back out into the field, but AMK did not have a vehicle available, and while I was slightly disappointed, my body was glad it had another day’s rest in a nice air-conditioned office. That night I went out with a friend who I met here and a few of her Cambodian friends, as well as some folks she met while traveling. We grabbed dinner and drinks, but as I had a splitting headache I didn’t drink anything and decided to call it a night fairly early. I hopped a moto and set off for home. The next thing I knew, however, I was in the Boeng Kak area at around 11:30 at night. At night, this area becomes a bit seedy, as evidenced by the many strung-out people drinking in dive bars and the drug dealers dangling bags of weed in front of your face as you drive by. This it seems actually takes some skill, since they never obstruct the moto-driver’s field of vision, but manage to slip the bag of drugs between him and his passenger. They know who to market to, evidently. Nonetheless, I found myself saying repeatedly, in Khmer, “no thank you” (why I thanked them I’m not quite sure…instinct, perhaps). Fortunately, I somehow got across the point that, as a wholesome lad, I don’t frequent the prostitute- and drug-ridden sections of town, and instead live in a nice quiet neighborhood, which I eventually got to.
Friday turned out to be a casual day, but a big one since AMK’s Kiva profile is done and I now have access to do things of consequence (hopefully good consequence, mind you). Being very tired though, I was also very ready for Friday to be over, and at 5:30, after a ten-hour day with a working lunch, it was. I shut down my computer, packed it up, and walked out of the office and into the heat of a fine Cambodian evening. I hopped a moto for home, and off we went for the casual drive home. As we proceeded towards my house, however, I noticed that my moto driver didn’t turn right onto Street 310 like most drivers do. Considering the fact that the opportunity to cross from one side of the street to the other in heavy traffic never presented itself, I didn’t blame him. There were other ways to get back anyway, and so he kept driving until he was able to get across the street. By this point, however, I began to notice that the sputter of his moto grew into a loud cough, and, on an unpaved side street about a mile from my place, the engine quit. He jumped up and down on the starter, trying to get some life into the tiny scooter, while I likewise bounced up and down on the seat. Tragically, his efforts were in vain, and I aggravated the bruise on my posterior.
Knowing that my ride was over, I began to dismount so I could start to walk, but he just looked at me and motioned for me to stay seated. He then sat back down, and with his left leg began pulling us along, determined to get me where I was going (despite the fact that he no longer knew where he was going). So there I sat, wearing sunglasses, slacks, a button-down shirt, dress shoes, and a helmet, moving at about half a mile per hour down a dirt road on the back of a moto while the driver pulled us both along with his left leg. This was not “the meaning of haste,” and rather an omniscient being’s way of getting back at me for defying the odds and making it to work on time on Monday.
As we creeped along, and as I sat thinking about how it would be faster for me to walk, and calorically more conservative for him to let me, I began to notice that everyone was out on in the road or on their balconies looking at us (well, probably me). Now, I hadn’t been at all comfortable with the situation at hand, letting some old guy drag me about a dirt road in Phnom Penh, but now that I was being stared at with confused-to-angry looks, I decided that it was definitely the time to get off. I went to stand up, but the guy grabbed my arm and sat me back down, and so I seemed stuck on the back of this guys moto. I felt, very simply, like a jackass. Then suddenly an idea came over me, I could help him out, and so between his left leg and my right leg, we pressed on in our slow journey. After about ten minutes we hit what could legitimately be classified as a road, and so I gave him a buck, begrudgingly took what change he had, and we parted ways. Two minutes later I was on the back of another moto, this one with enough gas, though the driver also didn’t know where he was going, and so after another ten minutes of trying to convince him that I did, I finally arrived home and had a beer.
In other news, and I have no idea what caused this, I have had immense cravings for fast food, not KFC, mind you, but burgers and fries, and Coca Cola as well. I don’t eat this stuff in the US, and I stopped drinking soda years ago, but for some reason I now have deep cravings for it. Thus, three days last week I went over to Lucky Seven (fast food chain) and got a sandwich, fries and a coke. Additionally, on Monday, when lunchtime came, we all piled into the comfy Land Cruiser and drove to a restaurant in Kandal. It boasted “fine Khmer and Thai cuisine in a relaxing and comfortable environment.” The terms relaxing and comfortable are of course strictly relative, as the floor was covered with tissues that previous diners and we used to wipe dust and dirt off our seats, and I spent most of the hour batting flies away from my Coke, which I drank warm because I did not trust the source of the ice. I ordered fried rice, which is a generally safe dish since everything is cooked, but I was slightly dismayed that it came served on a bed of lettuce and freshly cut tomatoes. Hepatitis A aside, I was starving and assume that I’ve been immunized for this, so hopefully I have antibodies. Fortunately, nearly two weeks later and I can say that nothing happened except the fact that I filled my stomach with some very tasty food. My days of dietary WMD are over, and my daily meals have returned to normal: lots of rice, fruit, stir-fried vegetables, and some good meat, pork in particular. Life is never dull here. Life is good.
Much love to you all,
p.s. The wicked French lady came back earlier than I expected. She never paid Thou, saying that her guidebook (three years old, mind you) said that Visa extentions only cost $35, and thus Thou was ripping her off by charging $40. Thou managed to get back at her, incidentally, for when she requested a ticket to Ho Chi Minh “Ville,” Thou’s sister accidentally booked her a ticket to Sihanoukville instead. We laughed heartily as we sat picturing the wicked French lady sitting properly and confidently on the bus bound for the south shores of Cambodia instead of Vietnam.
Today was my first day at my MFI, AMK. Paul, the CEO, is a wonderfully nice guy (the nicest ex-pat I’ve ever met here, in fact). He is from the southern suburbs of Chicago. The utter mention of the words south and Chicago in the same sentence immediately frightened me, as if a sudden and deep philosophical difference suddenly arose between us. Thankfully, and this must have been commanded from on high, he is nonetheless a Cubs fan (see Mark’s objective truth list, #2, “Baseball is the best sport in the world”). I will be his friend even if for this reason only (though I am sure there are many other valid reasons for friendship.
Being here as a Kiva fellow, I felt that my first day’s experience should be mentioned first, but as nothing in this entry’s title really involves my first day at work (except maybe the last part), I’ll move on to the past few days. I will begin with the wicked French lady. As I was reading up on Management Information Systems (not a pleasure read) and visiting with the guys at the Boddhi Tree, I began to take notice of a cantankerous old snot who would not cease whining about everything, loudly, and with a French accent which I believe was intentionally pompous. She had ordered a beer, Anchor, which immediately made me aware that her taste in life’s finer things was poor. When the beer arrived, however, she began ridiculing the staff (my friends) about the glass she had been given. Evidently, the standard, eight ounce beer mug is not suitable for a refined lady such as herself. Did it make her look fat? Like an alcoholic? Uncivilized? I don’t know, but she needed (yes, “needed”) a tall, “smooth,” dainty glass, something that would befit her status as a rich French woman who traveled half the year and never worked a day in her life, which she proudly declared. At this point, I began to consider throwing her off the balcony. But, being principally a nonviolent guy, I decided I could not do this. Being that I would have had to carry her upstairs to the balcony before I could throw her off of it, it also seemed like the timing wasn’t quite right.
The next day was a standard day. I woke up, ate breakfast, read, did some writing (not blogging), went to the market, etc. That evening, though, it rained, poured, inundating (a word I’ll discuss in a later blog entry) the streets. The wicked French lady had peaked my curiosity (rage, actually), so I decided to return to the Boddhi Tree to see if anything else on par with the night before would happen. I sat, prepping myself for something to unfold by reading more about MIS. As the rain came down, the wicked French lady stormed into the guest house with an angry Cambodian behind her. The two were yelling. Evidently, he had been here tuk tuk driver, taking her back to the Boddhi Tree from Street 240. It was about 7:30 in the evening, dark, and wet, really freaking wet. She, of course, was perfectly dry. The tuk tuk driver was demanding that she pay him $2.00 for the ride back, while she insisted that the ride only costs $1.00. Now, for those of you who don’t know, she is what is generally referred to as “full of it.” I would use another word, but I only hazily remember the parameters of my blogging privileges with Kiva, and choose here to substitute an innocent pronoun in the place of a more crass word, truthful though it may be. Anyway, the two yelled at each other, and, frankly, given the conditions outside, she should have paid $3.00. As the yelling became louder (by the way, Cambodians don’t yell much, at all), the tuk tuk driver brought up the Khmer Rouge, S-21 prison, and the Killing Fields, and told the wicked French lady that she did not know Cambodian history, she retorted, declaring that she knew it much better than he. She then said that this whole incident was stupid and that the tuk tuk driver should not be so greedy over a dollar. She would have been over the balcony had she actually been on the balcony, I thought. I also pondered just getting up and giving the guy the extra dollar to set a good example and embarrass her, but then the tuk tuk driver said that she was stupid, and, suddenly recognizing his exceptional powers of perception, I decided to continue watching. Additionally, I think she realized that the tuk tuk driver was probably going to follow her to her room if she did not pay him, and so she finally yelled at Vireak to give the guy a dollar, and he left.
As I sat watching this display of unparalleled stupidity, Vireak text-messaged me about said stupidity. As many of you know, I am text-messaging averse, that is to say that I have never learned how to do it. Given this situation, however, I felt compelled to respond to my friends words of keen observation. Thus, I set out to teach myself how to text message. It took me ten minutes, but I finally typed out “she is crazy,” and hit send. My phone replied simply: “message failed.” Determined not to let my friend’s efforts at communication and subterfuge go in vain, I tried again, and, in spite of myself, was successful. Within twenty seconds I received “you are right, she is crazy” as a reply. This text messaging, I maintain, is the only time that a Cambodian will ever write in English faster than I can. Nonetheless, Vireak had encouraged me to learn something new that evening (don’t ever think it’s okay to text message me though), which is always refreshing.
While I sat watching the wicked French lady sit down, order a beer, and chug it like a baboon guzzling the juice from a coconut, I decided that I had to mock her with my Cambodian friends. I heard Thou outside, and decided to go chat. Thou was chatting with a very drunk moto driver, who had imbibed way too much of his own wine. I declined the offer for a taste. I started up a conversation with them, when my drunken friend said “ooh ae vu”. Mind you, it took me a while to figure out what the hell he was saying, because I was trying to interpret his “words” as being spoken to me in broken English drastically altered by his drunken state. Thou, however, is brilliant, and told me that he wanted to know where I was going, and that he was trying to speak French (oú est vous). Always wanting to practice French, or any language that I don’t know so well, I embraced this less-than-ideal situation and began conversing with my very drunk friend in a language that I was at the present moment comparatively fluent in (those of you in the know about my aptitude with the French language can probably now guage the extent to which he was drunk given my comparative fluency). Then of course Thou decided to break into his French, at which point I suddenly realized I had another opportunity to teach my friend Thou a new word. I asked him if he was familiar with the term bête, which he said he was not. Given the wicked French lady’s wicked French nature, I felt that this was the right word to teach, and so Thou and I laughed at how elle est bête (she is stupid). Mind you, Thou has not mentioned to her that he knows some French, because, as he says, she is like a baby. The less he has to speak with her, the better.
Sadly, the wicked French lady has screwed many Cambodians over, and when confronted with how it might actually be proper to pay them the right price, she says that because she is on holiday for so long, she has to budget, and that those people who stay for less time are making it difficult for her. In “budgeting” (think euphemism for “screw over like a heartless…”), her purchases include a $100.00 pair of shoes, which she financed by not paying for her rides, or paying Thou his fee for extending her visa ($5). Why he extended her visa I have no idea. I would have burned her passport, but that would only increase her stay. She has also stayed in nearly every room at the Boddhi Tree, demanding that she be moved every day because of some problem: rats (i.e. her imagination), mildue (it’s freaking Cambodia), size (too small, to large and thus too expensive). All I have to say is that she is a miserable old woman, and that I hope she never sits upstairs.
Moving on, I will now turn to my stinging shin. Some of you may have guessed that it had something to do with the wicked French lady (Laura’s her name, but as I find Laura to be a pretty name, I decided not to use it, less it be ruined for me). Well, no, my shin has nothing to do with the wicked French lady. Rather, it is the result of children playing in the street. Back in the United States, in the quite streets of our sprawling suburbs, we scold our children for running and playing wildly on the asphalt. Here, in the chaos driven streets of Phnom Penh, this value system does not seem to exist in many cases, or the streets are simply too loud for the kids to hear their parents cautioning them (again, not a lot of yelling here, except for “you need moto bike?!,” which I’ve now analyzed more fully and decided is both imperative and interrogative…again, apologies to non-grammarians). Anyway, as I walked to the internet café, there were two children playing in the street, near what is technically the sidewalk, but functions as a parking lot and place for vendors to sell stuff. In other words, one is forced to walk in the street, and while this may not seem safe, I actually feel pretty safe doing it, more so than in the US. That being said, these two kids were playing badmitten (sp?), though without a net. As I approached them, I noticed a certain glow appear to emanate from me. This certain glow, oddly, differed from my normal, natural glow, and I quickly realized that it was coming from the headlight of a moto fast-approaching from behind. I knew the moto would not hit me, that he’d go around, but I was walking straight into this one little girl’s swing at the birdie with her racquet. I had a choice, make a sudden move and hope the moto driver was still able to go around me, or brace myself for this innocent little girl’s feeble little swing. No contest, I would take a slight nick to my leg, and then laugh with the child, who would be amused and excited about being able to run home and tell mom that she clobbered an American with her racquet. I think I erred in judgment, for that girl swung with such gusto that I nearly fell over and banged my head on an old man’s grill, on which cooked some delicious-smelling grilled bananas. I hopped around on my good leg, while the little girl laughed just as I suspected. Finally, after regaining my composure, I comforted myself with some of those grilled bananas and continued on to the internet café, where I emailed Asawari briefly about my first day.
While the shin incident was a painful experience, the night before was quite pleasant. Sovath and I drove up to Olympic Stadium, where we talked about stadiums in the United States, and about life in general. He asked about the difficulty in finding American girlfriends. Mind you, Sovath understands a great many things, but in terms of my wisdom on such matters he is still lacking a bit in the understanding department. When I tried to explain this lack of wisdom on my part, he did not believe me (and thus I am tempted to take him home with me so he can explain his disbelief to various females). Anyway, as we walked, he came up with the weirdest analogy (simile). He said that I walked like Santa Claus. Impressed though I was with his familiarity with western religious/mythical/capitalistic icons, I was a bit concerned with how a 5’9”, 158-pound guy in his 20s could walk like everyone’s favorite blubbery old soul. I thought that perhaps it was the damage from the girl’s racquet the night before, but as I was not limping I did not want to fib. Rather, we walked over to some bleachers, and sat down. He never said anything, and so I will take that to mean that I do not sit like Santa Claus.
Moving back to my first day at work, I will take this time to comment on my attire. I wore a very sexy pair of grayish-green slacks, a light blue polo shirt, brown belt, and flip-flops. In other words, I looked like a waiter at a posche Hawaiian golf resort, expert at carrying Mai-tais across sandy white beaches to slowly-reddening people dividing their time between the sea and their blackberries. I immediately apologized for my shoes, and explained that my shoe tailor would not have mine ready until the 31st. Paul did not seem to care, probably because from the ankles up I was business casual, or because several other people were wearing sandals, though I was the only one who wore a matching belt.
Upon returning from work to my house, I was met by my friend Ratha, who immediately said, “mmmm, you look good.” Normally, I associate “mmmm” and “good” with a Campbell’s tomato soup commercial, but given the new association with me this evening I was a bit confused as to what my response was supposed to be. “Thank you” seemed appropriate, so I started there. Ratha was truly impressed, apparently, and it immediately became clear that this was not going to be a casual compliment, but a full-fledged conversation. I braced myself. Ratha then said, “I do not speak good English, but, mmmm, good!” He was shaking his head back and forth the whole time, to add emphasis to what he was saying. I commented that my clothes came from the market, but he replied, “yes, but…” and then began showing me how impressed he was that I tucked my shirt in. He touched the fabric, pants and shirt, and just smiled, “mmmm, good!” I said ‘thank you’ again, went upstairs and changed.
In other news, it seems that my friend Khmao has taken what I have taught him about non-violence to heart, as there are now several rats living comfortably (i.e. fattening up) at that wonderful place called the Boddhi Tree. Mind you, there were no rats in any of Laura’s rooms, since there is no place to hide, and so I maintain that she was making this up. Nonetheless, I had another chat with Khmao today and told him that, while nonviolence is important, so is eating three squares a day. Life here continues to be good, and in addition to my lesson with Non about how “sweeping is futile,” Thou and I now have “elle est bête.” I walk like Santa Claus, and look “mmmm, good!” The pork here is outstanding.
Much love to you all,
p.s. The wicked French lady returns to Cambodia in April. I think I’ll buy her a beer, in a regular mug, and have a little chat about how not to be a wicked French lady.
This will be short, as it concerns my last blog entry. First and foremost, I should reiterate the importance of editing, which, no longer being recquired to do so at work, has meant that I have become what is called “fastidious.” Fastidiousness has its consequences, namely that, in my encounter with Anchor butter, I said that it WAS swill instead of saying that it is not. More importantly, I said that Thy gave me a gun. I am not exactly sure how gun came out, but it does share two letters with the word I meant, hug. Thus, for those of you who are concerned that I am packing heat as I meander about the streats of Phnom Penh, your fears can henceforth be allayed. Moreover, if Thy had given me a gun, I doubt I would have given him a hug. Yet another example of the need to edit is in my inspection of my place’s wass. I’m not sure what a wass is, or rather are, since the next sentence referred to them as the plural they, but what I really meant was “walls,” which, as I said, are not crumbling.
That being said, I have not edited this post, so please interpret whatever typos I made as you see fit (though please do so in a way that makes me sound more likely to stay alive…where gun=hug, e.g.).
I will begin where I left off, my trip and arrival back in Cambodia. Ahem, rather, I will start with memories of my first time here. As is one of my customs when traveling, I feel it is necessary to sample the various local brewers’ specialties. In Cambodia, this means Anchor and Angkor beer. Har licquor, it seems, is largely westernized (Johnny Walker comes to mind), and this may be ignorance on my part, but other locally-made “hard stuff” I fear needs to be categorized as “Jungle Juice,” which 1) probably tastes like the bug spray of the same name and 2) does the same nasty things once imbibed.
Anyway, back to the beer. Anchor is absolute swill, and ranks with budweiser, heineken and pabst in my book of crappy beers. Angkor, conversely, approximates Coors Light, but isn’t as strong, and is really just “augmented” water. I developed a taste for it the last time I was here, and have once again “taken to the bottle” (of “augmented” water, and in compliance with any standards of sobriety).
But I digress. On flying from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh, I was once again served breakfast. Being that breakfast is my favorite meal, I was not disappointed. Being that it was airline food, I was. Anyway, as the breakfast trays approached, I noticed that the little mini-butter packet for our mini-highly-processed-non-rolls was made by Anchor. For those of you who know me, for the past several (4…5?) years, I have made it my New Year’s Resolution to eat less butter. I do this because there is no practical and quantifiable way to verify that I actually eat less butter. Honestly, I think I’m losing the battle, but that only forces me to renew this resolution yearly, and hence insure that my other vices remain safely untouched. Thus, while I sat on the plane, the thought of my New Year’s resolution never occured to me, and if it had, I would have said, simply, very simply, “meh.” And so I spreadsome Anchor butter on my mini-highly-processed-non-roll. TO my surpirse, it was swill, or whatever the butter-equivalent is for that word. That is not to say that it tasted like something fresh from an Irish churn, but that, like Angkor, I could develope a taste for it. This butter was the highlight of my flight(s).
Moving away from butter and beer (important though they are), I will turn now to life at the Boddhi Tree Guesthouse, since many of you prospective readers may find this of interest. For those of you who don’t know the Boddhi Tree, please bear with me, and there may even be something worth reading. Plus, if (when?) you come visit me, you should stay there. Anyway, Non (his spelling, not mine) got his hair cut, which makes me feel taller, which is, in other words, good. Ti (my spelling…wrong by definition) is still Ti. I haven’t seen Sophon; Sidan is well, and the first thing he said to me was that I was wearing the same hat as last time (accurate memory considering my hat is a nice indistinguishable beige). Thou is busier than ever, and his tuk tuk siren isn’t as pleasantly ubiquitous as in times past. His sister and nephews and nieces are now in Phnom Penh (he brought them here), and he is still studying English. Finally, Khmao is doing very well. I checked up on him about late-night rooftop violence, but he didn’t say much. Since he’s a cat I wasn’t expecting anything too deeply philosophical, like a debate between the efficacy of principled nonviolence or the Hobbesian State of Nature, but I thought I would get a little more out of him than I did.
Upon my arrival to the Boddhi Tree I was greeted by all the moto drivers, who remember us all very well (source of income) and send their wishes for you all to come/return (source of income). One of the moto drivers, Thy (his spelling, and probably what Ti’s should be), came and gave me a gun, then asked me what my name was since he had forgotten. I only remember him as someone I was obliged to drink with at the wedding. Speaking of which, Non invited me back to his “homeland,” and I said I would go so long as I didn’t have to push another bus, or spend the eight hours it took to get back sharing and ipod and listening to John Mayer (good) and Brittany Spears (it wasn’t my ipod).
This evening, as i was reading some Kiva stuff (I can feel the rejoicing in San Francisco) and eating dinner, the wind picked up and blew flower pedals and leaves throughout the Boddhi Tree. Non, like the good man that he is, grabbed a broom and swept evertying up. Just as he had all the debris in a nice pile, and as he walked to get the dust pale, the wind kicked up again, blew his pile everywhere, and more flower pedals and leaves blew off the trees and other shurbbery. I cannot express Non’s response in words, but it was some kind of yelp that came out while he was swallowing. I stopped reading (sorry) and laghed for a good two minutes before I could compose myself.
Now, this event was not merely comic. No, there was a lesson in this as well. As a lover of words, and someone who regards himself as nominally observant, I found that I had an opportunity to teach Non a new word–Futile. Normally my lessons in futility revolve around the Mark-girlfriend dynamic (static?), but as Non and I had already discussed this, I felt this example would be more clear given the recent events. Truthfully it was the opportunity to discuss futility in a way that was not at my expense (informative though those lessons are). At this point, I needed a phrase that would help drive the point home, something catchy that he would remember and link to this concept of futility. I now refer you to Star Trek (see Mark’s list of objective truths, #3, “Star Trek is the bomb”). We are all familiar with the Borg expression “resistance is futile,”and despite the fact that it isn’t (we still have Captain Picard, don’t we?), it is nonetheless a catchy phrase. Now, I could not use the word resistance, because the reference to Star Trek and the situation at hand were not compatible/complimentary. Thus, in short, I chose a substitute word, and we now have “sweeping is futile.” This should, of course, be recognized from this point forward as an axiom.
I will now move away from life at the Boddhi Tree, because I just recently moved away from the Boddhi Tree. Mission one in my move was to find a moto driver. To accomplish this, I stood up. Instantly two moto drivers appeared at the entryway saying “you need moto bike” (I won’t punctuate this quote, because I am still debating myself about whether or not this phenomenon is interrogative or imperative…apologies to non-grammarians). Regardless, I did need one, and told the drivers where I wanted to go. They worked out the details, like which one would take me. Of course, my driver said he knew where he was going (most say so), but as we were driving he also said he was the son of King Sihanouk. By this point, however, I knew he didn’t know where I needed to go. That being said, I deployed my “rugged”Khmer in hopes of remedying the situation (Note: I use the word rugged because it implies that my accent is intentional. On the contrary, my throat does not make those shapes/sounds, but in deference to my first Khmer teacher I will try and make her proud by using “rugged”) Anyway, since we had turned right on Sihanouk Blvd. instead of left (he may have wanted to visit the king, which was in the “right” direction), I told him to turn left. He turned right. Now, recognizing how rugged my Khmer is, my next decision was to tap his left shoulder, and then point, just in case I had actually told him to turn right by accident. He turned right again. Those of you tracking my progress may note that we are now headed in the correct direction (two rights = one left). This may be so, but this is Phnom Penh, which means I had no idea where the hell we were, plus I’m directionally impaired to begin with. Thus, my moto driver (a really nice guy, by the way) pulled over to ask for directions from a tuk tuk driver. I felt reassured when the tuk tuk driver burst out laughing. Nonetheless, after two minutes of what was undoubtedly humourous ridicule (certain things always translate), we were on our way again, turning right every single time. We eventually found the place…after another 10 minutes of driving (a long time in Phnom Penh), and, sitting outside the Guest house was the same tuk tuk driver. He was still laughing (there is lots of laughter in Cambodia). While they sat chatting, I went in, came out, and moved 300 feet from the Boddhi Tree, to a place Non recommended just around the corner. A big part of this decision was the ugly, disagreeable, shirtless white guy smoking a cigarette outside his room. He would have been my neighbor, and I didn’t want to hang out with him. Now I get to hang out with my friends at the Boddhi Tree more often.
This was not the extent of my houseing search. Earlier that same morning, Sovath, who for those of you who don’t know is essentially another brother, showed me the room he was about to rent for $30/month. There was a room next door, and being intersted in what life is like for a Cambodian, I went to check it out. No way could I have lived there. There wasn’t a window. It was basically a tin shed on the third floor of a builiding, like an oven, but an old one (i.e. without a window). I can’t imagine living in a place without ANY natural light, ever. Knowing that Sovath now lives there is even harder. For a while he was living at a Christian place, but to live there he had to study the bible for an hour and a half every day (he’s Buddhist, like 95% of the rest of the population), from 10-1130am. On the weekends, moreover, he was not allowed to study anything else, like English. So he moved, and is now moving again so he can study more (his last house got too crowded). I would have him live with me, and pay for it, but I know he wouldn’t accept my offer, which makes is much harder.
Now that all my friends, loved ones and relevant individuals are breathing a sigh of relief that I am not living “like a Cambodian,”I will now turn to my present living situation. I have a shaded balcony, two chairs, a small table, bed, refrigerator and fan (= air conditioning). I also have my own private bathroom (or, as they say here, “bathroom inside”).
There are certain things one looks for when in search of a place. I look at the wass for a starter. Mine are not crumbling, and are colored in a pleasant nuclear yellow, like a blond labrador dunked in gatorade. There is also ample light, supplied by the sun, as well as many well-placed overhead lamps. To my surprise, I also have a full-length mirror (perhaps a quantifiable way to measure my butter intake), and my pillow cases depict a bunch of brown teddy bears holding soccer balls (seriously). That being said, there are also certain things which one does not look for, which one expects to have automatically, such as a trash can, or a toilet seat. Every other place I’ve stayed in has had both of these. I have neither. Luckily, the Boddhi Tree is nearby, just three right turns away (I don’t think I turned left all day).
Much love to you all,
Since the last 40 odd hours have involved sitting at a gate or in coach, it would seem odd that there exists the potential to write anything, but as I am still in a state of exhaustion, I’ll simply disagree with myself and write something anyway.
Leaving San Fran was really quite simple, and way better than my previous experience at LAX when I nearly went on the conveyor with my checked bag through security–interrupt: they have new keyboards at this internet cafe, which preclude me from being able to use parentheses…anyone who knows me knows the difficulty this presents; thus, what should follow the word “security” reads something like: I actually think it the policy of LAX to make sure that one does indeed hop on the conveyor belt with your bag and go through security with it. Being only a code orange, they probably just decided to let me off easy
Anyway, during my last day in San Fran I got to chill with Navin, the coolest person on earth (yes, even above me…also, I just figured out how to get parentheses…the keyboard is wrong when it says the left one is above the #8 key, and aside from some swirly “letters” on the keys, it’s a standard qwerty). Anyway, again, she was telling me about the Nanny Diaries (or maybe it was the princess diaries…I can’t remember just now…thank god for parentheses), but the point is that they were showing the Nanny Diaries on my flight, which I decided to watch. So, on my flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong I watched the Nanny Diaries in German. That was Cathay Pacific’s choice of language for this particular piece of in-flight video entertainment. I am not sure to what extent this was a good test of my german skills, as the story was pretty generic…i.e. girl=nanny for uber-rich, white asshole parents; gets “disenchanted”/fired, security camera catches her lecturing the bitchy “mother” who really cares for the child in the nominal sense (by calling her son her son)…fast forward, happy ending. I watched because the nanny was hot and it was in german. There was also this one jock-like dude who was supposedly somewhat shallow in the beginning but by the end had developed yoda-like wisdom, as all good-looking secondary male characters do. Either way, I was jealous since he got to kiss the hot german speaking (overdubs) nanny while my shoulder was co-opted into my neighbors awkward sleeping arrangement.
Now, food. I must say that I was actually able to sleep for a bit on this flight, and before I knew it 8 hours had passed. Psychologically this is very important. My typical experience is to be asked if I would like the braised chicken with rice or the fish and spicy noodle just seconds before I fall asleep. This did not happen, and so in a clear state i was able to order the braised chicken. While the fish may be just as good (i.e. just as bad), the thought of travelling for another 16 hours with fish breath…well, enough said. Anyway, in the decade that I have travelled internationally (not that impressive, really, but Ireland in 1998, when I was 12, did represent the first time I was out of the country), I have noticed that the food on airlines is improving. There is one thing that remains a concern. My meal came with prochiutto (sp?) and melon, which I became mildly excited about…as much as one can in situations such as these. Suffice it to say, the melon measured up to my expectations of airline fruit, but how fat and salt with a bit of meat (i.e. prochiutto) can taste bad remains a mystery. But, there it sat on my plate, looking particularly scrumptions. I picked it up, moved a bite towards my mouth, and it smelled like feet. Knowing that some of the finest creations smell bad (cheese, e.g.), I committed to not letting this prejudice keep me from continuing. I put it in my mouth, and it tasted like feet. In fact, I think it probably was feet. Swallowing was a test in the power of the mind, particularly the ability of the conscious to tell the subconscious (as well as the decenting parts of the conscious) what to do.
That being said, I am now in Cambodia. The ride from the airport did not go as planned, since I had to take a taxi and look like a rich white guy, but it beat sitting on a moto with 60lbs of luggage depending on my ability to keep in on the seat. My taxi driver got lost, not uncommon, but I finally arrived, slept, walked to the internet cafe, and wrote this. Ah yes, home in Cambodia again…now I have to go eat.
Mong Ran is one of many Cambodians who has AIDS. She lives on the outskirts of Phnom Penh with her three children, the youngest of whom also has AIDS. Her husband died of the disease in 2005, which is when Ran learned that she and her daughter, Thyda, had it. Her life prior to receiving a micro-credit loan was largely influenced by the prejudice associated with having AIDS, namely an inability to find work. To earn a living, she helped a friend sell goods at the market, taking home 500 riel ($0.125) per day. Upon receiving a loan, she was able to open a food stall in her own home, which serves members of the immediate community who lack the capacity to travel into Phnom Penh for their goods. Her income has grown to 10,000 riel ($2.50) per day. Upon repaying her loan, she plans on taking out another to expand her business and thus increase her monthly earnings.