Thursday, November 18, 2010

Waking up in Cambodia

This morning I woke up in Cambodia

The first thing I heard was the squeaking nose from a junk collector roaming the streets.  She squeezes a little toy which makes a noise, presumably to tell people that she's there and she wants your junk.  I found out later today that a junk collector makes about $1.50 per day.  Although that is low, many people here make less than $50 per month. 

Waking up in Siem Reap, which is in the northern part of Cambodia, is like taking a cold shower and listening to rock music at full volume.  There is sensory overload and initially, it's all a little difficult to take in.  There are lots of people, lots of motorbikes, stray dogs roam the streets, nothing looks familiar and there just doesn't seem to be any order.  About anything. It's third world chaos but this is my third time here so I didn't expect anything less. 

I've already been here for two days.  TWO DAYS.  I feel like I have already settled in.  I don't mind the beggars anymore, I don't mind it when I get asked for a tuk-tuk ride every five minutes, I don't mind the noise, the pollution and the blank stares when I speak too quickly.  I love the people, the food and the feeling of being in an exotic land.  Time is passing far too quickly but here is what I've done so far ...

The first day was spent walking around.  Getting a feel for the place.  We went to the market and bought some t-shirts.  I also bought an Omega watch for $29.  The Rolex was the same price but I decided to go for the better-looking Omega.  I have my doubts that it will work in a week (or less) but the vendor was very sweet and somehow I felt like I couldn't disappoint her and pass on the sale.  Eddie was suffering after the long plane ride so we decided to get massages.  I paid $26 for an hour, which is quite expensive in this country but the amenities were excellent and the masseuse was very professional.  My friend, Savong, said that he knows where I could get a great massage for $3.  This is something I will consider.

We had lunch at the Red Piano.  The claim to fame for this restaurant is Angelina Jolie who apparently dined here during the filming of Tomb Raider and had a cocktail named after her.  The food is very cheap, very good and we got a great view of the chaotic street below from the upstairs patio. 

In the evening, we were invited to have dinner at the Seven Candles Guesthouse where we were staying.  This is the second time that we have stayed at the Seven Candles and there are some very good reasons why; the family who owns the guesthouse is absolutely incredible and it only costs $20 a night.  There is no better hospitality for that price.  When I stay at the Seven Candles, I feel like I am staying with my own family and they all remembered us from the last visit.  Welcome home.  They are that nice. 

The dinner was great.  We dined on spring rolls and Amok, which is a Cambodian fish curry.  For dessert, we ate some weird hairy fruit that had a gelatinous center.  Everything was perfect, from the cool evening air, to the conversations with the other guests to the delicious food.  And the price?  $5.  These are the reasons why I come back here. 

And today nearly killed me. 

We went to the orphanage very early because we had planned to take all the children to Phnom Kulen, which is the sacred mountain where one of the Cambodian leaders (can't remember who) proclaimed himself a god-king a couple of centuries ago.  We stuffed about twenty kids into two SUVs.  In our car alone, there were 14 people, including three very young children who were either asleep, crying or climbing all over the car.  And I mean it when I say they were climbing ALL over the car.  The trip took about an hour.  When we got there, Savong took Eddie and I up to see the famous reclining Buddha and we deposited lotus flowers and incense at a shrine.  Then it was off to the waterfalls. 

There is no way that they would allow children of these ages anywhere near these waterfalls.  The water was downright treacherous and if the water wasn't passable, then they had flimsy narrow boards to help you cross.  All I could think about was one of the kids (some of whom were only 3 or 4 years old) either getting washed away and drowning in the sacred waters or else breaking a leg and requiring surgery in a provincial hospital (That's scary.  You just have to take my word for it).  The kids threw caution to the wind and leaped over big wet rocks and played in the swirling pools.  Of course, they jumped on me, splashed me, wanted me to carry them across the really dangerous parts and generally threatened my life with their antics as well as theirs.  For lunch, we had a huge feast consisting of hacked up chickens, fried livers, rice, dried bananas and plenty of soda.  And then there was more swimming, more photo taking and more taunting fate by scrambling over big wet boulders.  The ride home was uneventful but slow.  Quite a few people were trying to sleep but the road was so rough that anyone who did fall asleep ran the risk of whacking their head on the window while the driver slipped into a pothole. 

And now it's now.  It's warm outside but comfortable.  I'm dang hungry and look forward to going to one of the better restaurants in town which is just down the street.  I didn't sleep very well last night but I'm wide awake.  I wish I didn't have to sleep. 

Tomorrow, we teach English at the orphanage.  This could be interesting.  The kids love to play with us but listening to us in a classroom could be a whole other ballgame.  Savong told us to be ready for 8am.  He didn't give us any other choice.

And so, for now, I'll sign off.

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