Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cambodia, part 2

As it often goes, the ride from the airport provided my first impression of Cambodia. It was rainy, so the tuktuk ride gave us a frontrow seat to the damp dust on the side of the highway, cyclists pedaling by with cheap plastic poncho-style rain jackets, plenty of motos honking and getting honked at, and the occasional tour bus. Many hotels along this road seemed permanently half-finished, ghost-town-like with their lack of windows. You can see what somebody was hoping to build, but has since left behind for one reason or another.

A good number of locals wore those facemasks surgeons wear while driving around; we never figured out why… maybe pollution, maybe bird flu? A good number of locals also can fit 4-5 people on a single moto, and it’s not unusual to see a mother balance her 2 year old in front of her on the moto as she drives through town.

As Emma mentioned, we met an Australian couple. We all had a fun night of beer and dinner and beer and cards, but I think after they heard we liked math, they decided we had nothing much to offer and proceeded to provide innumerable tips and insights and directions and suggestions for our coming weeks of traveling. It was great stuff to hear, but a bit wearisome after a full evening of it, and Emma and I were happy to have met some cool people but also happy to escape again. All in moderation I suppose. We saw them a few times the next day too – twice at the temples and once at dinner – chuckling at the coincidence of it all, even when the probability of two couples of the same age and same budget and same goals searching out the same destinations is pretty high.

Emma and I found a pretty cool lunch spot called the Singing Tree Café (or something to that effect). A green salad with tahini that whet Emma’s appetite for veggies and then a glass noodle salad with peanuts, lime, and other stuff, and then a soup that was damn good too, but I defer to Emma for an analysis of that one. Also, a dang good iced coffee thing. Anyway, this Café had that hippie/backpackers feel with plenty of posters and announcement boards detailing different causes and foundations and stuff. There was also a Monk Chat every Wednesday at 5:30pm where a monk would come and talk about the basics of Buddhism.

That afternoon we rented bicycles and decided to ride south along the curry-colored river that ran through town. The scenery kept changing: the road went to dirt, the houses became one-room thatched huts on stilts, and there were wooden and bamboo bridges rather than concrete ones. I had become pretty impassive to people calling out for me, since any eye contact in the market brings a flood of “Want to buy? Cheap!” and expectations; but it was impossible to not respond cheerfully to the little school children’s “Hello sir!” as we passed. We kept going and eventually the road ran between huge fields. At the edge of town there was a small stretch of road where the main business seemed to be karaoke bars: these were often just one huge bamboo terrace with a thatched roof overlooking the rich green of the fields, and even in the late afternoon some of them had music going just loud enough to drown out the sound of their generators. I would have liked to stop for a beer, but I think getting out of one of their hammocks before dark would be pretty much impossible. And we don’t like riding in the dark too much since our janky bikes don’t exactly have lights or anything, but at least this time my knees could pedal clear of the handle bars and the seat wasn’t tilted backward 45 degrees.

We got back at 5:25pm and figured might as well go check out Monk Chat. We were a little hesitant after looking in, since at first glance the other 6 or so tourists seemed to be either yoga junkies or hippies who had gotten ripped beforehand. At the worst, it would be good people watching. Sitting down it felt like a self-help group and I was worried we might have to play the Name Game. One of the monk’s friends who had just dropped out of the order a few months beforehand was visiting, and the monk handed to floor over to him for most of the time. It was great to hear about Buddhism from his perspective; he tried to define it, tried to dispel a few common misconceptions, and provided a small glimpse into his life as a monk for 14 years. I think we both liked the themes and the ideas (I’d like to read up on it some more) but weren’t that interested in the part where those ideas become a religion, with the symbols and rigid rules that develop over time.

Emma and I happily debated some of the different parts of the talk over nachos and fajitas and a couple pitchers of margaritas ($15 for everything… suhweet) at the only Mexican joint in town. It was a nice goodbye to Cambodia.


Mark Blackwelder said...

Someday your grandkids will ask if they can see the photos from this trip and you'll refuse out of embarrassment... SHAVE!

Sean McCarron said...

playing cards? yeah my fucking cards. jerks.