Who has two thumbs, missed his flight, and is covered in sewage water? This guy. But today I have learned a couple valuable lessons about sticking to plans and getting around Southeast Asia. Never wait out the rain and never get out of the tuk tuk.
The day started off great I had a nice Indian food breakfast and met up with my friend Jess for coffee and deep thoughts. After she took off to buy bus tickets I decided I would hang out at the coffee shop for a couple hours until it was time to head to the airport.
Around four hours before my flight it began to rain heavily and I thought “no problem, I can just wait out the rain.” Wrong, wrong. It rained for a solid hour and as soon as it let up I got my bill and started moving toward the airport with plenty of time. No sooner was I in the tuk tuk than the rain started thundering down again. Within minutes there was a foot of water on all the roads. A few minutes later two feet. The tuk tuk could barely make it through the now engine high water.
As the water continued to rise, we came to a particularly deep river/road that we had to cross. Only it was not meant to be. The engine of the tuk tuk went totally underwater and died. As we sat in the newly formed waterway, the river/street continued to rise. A giant SUV passed us by and caused a wave that lifted the tuk tuk up off the street. Water came in one side and out the other as we started to bob. I thought for sure we were going to capsize.
I got out of the tuk tuk and helped pushed it back to dry land. While wading in the street/river, I became joyfully aware of all the things other than water floating about. Not so sanitary. After a twenty minute wait (trying to get water out of the engine/gas), we tried again. Twice more the driver tried to cross the waters only for the engine to die. On the fourth time we made it across and up to a high road. Unfortunately we went straight into a giant traffic jam. I arrived at the airport at 5:40. Alas, my plane left at 5:05. It had taken us more than three and a half hours to get six or seven miles. In the end, I was able to get another flight, took a train home, and showered for an excessive amount of time.
Also, my Thai came in handy on the train. When I heard two women snickering about what was surly a very unpleasant odor coming from my clothes and person, I was able to apologize and embarrass them a little. And isn’t that what learning a language is all about?
My last full day in Cambodia already! Well, at least it was fun and I saw a bit more of the city. Jessica and I hit the markets in the afternoon and sort of ate our way across town. We tried some delicious street foods again. Yeah.
Then we spend quite a long time walking around in the covered market looking for cool clothes and collectables. We were also trying to avoid the torrential rain that was flooding the streets.
I also had a chance to once again drink a delicious set of iced coffee and tea, the best in the city according to a plaque signed by “three Danish coffee lovers.” The older man running the stand had been in business there since 1980 which is actually pretty amazing especially considering the history of the period.
Pretty slow and easy day here. I got up a little late and walked around the corner to a great Indian food restaurant that I have been eating at a lot. It seems like many Indians from Tamil Nadu and Kerala live here, so the South Indian food is great.
After eating breakfast, I walked around the city for a while. I went to a big wat that way focused around Angkor stone monumentalism and the cosmic Buddha. I am not sure why the cosmic Buddha is so much more popular here than in other places, but it seems to be.
I went to an expat coffee shop that caters to the white, wealth, and sometimes snobbish coffee drinkers about town. I have to say it was good coffee though. I continued to get my caffeine on throughout the day as most small snack meals and street food come with unlimited tea if you go to the right spots.
After walking around for an hour or so I found myself in some of the older housing projects that are starting to disintegrate even as they continue to be inhabited my many many people. While in the area I picked up a bunch of sour cherries for a street vendor and proceeded to eat them all as I walked around.
Perhaps it was not the best idea to eat a pound of unwashed super ripe sour fruit, but in the end (no pun intended), my stomach was only mildly distressed.
In the evening I went to a local bar that was hosting “nerd night,” where many expats, young academics, and NGO workers meet to present on their topics of interest. I watched my friend Jessica give a great Pecha Kucha talk about the golden age of Cambodian film. Pretty fun night out really.
Amazing day today! I started out early by heading off to the old Royal Palace. It was very cool and just as shiny and grand as I remember. Inside the compound there are several buildings and a few temples that were used by the royal family and in the affairs of court. There is also a wraparound mural that is several hundred feet long and, despite its state of decomposition, is actually really cool to walk along and look at. The Royal Palace seems to be a big hit on the tourist circuit. I looked back at my old photographs and memories from my visit about ten years ago and there was absolutely no other tourists around except for a few monks. This time there were hordes…wait is that offensive… of Chinese tour groups. It was almost as impressive a transformation as the palace itself.
Next stop was the National Museum which has a number of great holdings from around Cambodia. It also does a great job displaying the contemporary nationalist narrative of the Cambodian nation through semi-outrageous maps and historical claims. I also found out that the museum building itself is a UN World Heritage Site. Pretty fancy, eh?
After my morning out, I met up with my friend Jessica from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. She is here studying Khmer and doing research for her M.A. thesis on Cambodian film in the 1950s and 1960s. She has been living here for several weeks, so I totally leaned on her local, and linguistic, knowledge. We walked around the city for several hours eating local street foods, finding a currency exchange, and generally having an awesome time.
One particular highlight was our visit to Olympic Stadium, a large public space created for sports and recreation in the 1950s (or 1960s maybe?). As we climbed to the top of the stadium, a massive rain and thunderstorm broke out and we had to run around to a covered food area with all the other locals. We spent about forty-five minutes under a concrete roof looking out at the city as rain poured around us. It was great fun and we used the time to eat ice cream, drink orange drink, and sample pressed sugarcane juice. After the rain stopped there was a great rainbow that stretched in a high arch above the stadium. It was pretty fantastic.
I finished the night off with some delicious and cheap southern Indian food. I find that tall food is often more delicious, and this dosa lived up to that claim! Yummm!
Well, I have come to Cambodia. My Thai visa expired and Phnom Penh seemed like a great destination for the aptly-named “visa-run.” I will only be here a few days, but because I am returning by air, I will get a new full month visa. This way when Laurel gets here, we can relax for a while before we make plans to leave the country again.
When I arrived I really didn’t have any plans or a place to stay, but I thought it would be pretty easy to figure out. The taxi in from the airport seemed really expensive so I tried to quickly make some new buddies and share a ride toward town. I ended up meeting a group of French expats who live in the city and work in a French program at a private university. Curiously, they informed me we could not go straight into town. First we had to swing by the Burger King and get hamburgers. You see, as they informed me, there is only one Burger King in Cambodia and it is there in the airport. How these Frenchmen and women’s love for Burger King relates to the well known sense of French linguistic and culinary superiority or anti-Americanism, I am not quite sure. However, as we ate they did regale me with the benefits of French language programs in Cambodia.
I got into the backpacker distract a little late and many places were full. I had to go to four guesthouse before I found a room. It is actually really nice place and despite being called the Goldie Boutique Guest House, it is really not too expensive and has nice furnishings. It is somewhat arts and French. At least I would like to think so. Well, tomorrow is a big day!!!