Friday, 11 November 2016

Almost Playing Footsie AND Kingdom Come (or It's a holiday in ........) and SGN to PNH

I wake up for the first time just after midnight. There is the result of sleeping all day in the train. Headache? Whew, what happened to that bottle of wine?  Could the two be related?
5 am. ENOUGH Sleep !  Must have a look at that infusion of light slowly spreading through the city.

6 am.  Time to shave and shower.  That thought has barely entered my mind when the lights go out.  Power failure.  The only things in my room still alive are my laptop and my cell phone. But of course the Wifi that I established with GREAT DIFFICULTY last night has now disappeared too because the router just went dead.  Ah well, talking about adopting an Asian laissez-faire attitude is much easier than actually doing it. 
6:30 Freshly shaved and showered in the dark (at least there was hot water !), I head out to check out whether last night's restaurant is open already.  HA!  Travel Karma is on my side again, they open at 6:30 am ;-) 
Of course, when I walk through the door at 6:37 and say "Open?" one of the two waitresses sorting cups shakes her head.  I just sit at a table to enjoy my re-found Wifi and tell them "No rush". I'm happy typing this and they seem happy sorting their cups.  
7:15 am.  I'm eating Squeasel of the Sea.  There are two dipping sauces there, I tried them, but want NONE of them in my food. There is something else missing.  So I display a picture of chili peppers with the help of Google Images and show it to the waitress in the hope of getting some of that garlic/chili dip again. She knows exactly what I mean and brings one to the table half an hour later when she supplies all the table with the elixir. LOL, a bit too late.
Yes, those fish in the left foreground are still spasming on their tray occasionally !

Think Grand Bazaar!

The Bamboo Bike. I've seen it online but never with my own two eyes !
7:45 am I walk through the market to discover that this is actually a REAL market for locals.  The stands around the outside might cater exclusively to tourists, but most of the gazillions of stores along the many many aisles and intersections in its vast interior are visited by locals.  I buy a hat.  It ALMOST looks like the one I lost on the Speedboat last February.  But then it doesn't really matter what it looks like because I'm bound to loose it on that same speedboat again within the next few day ;-)  (Author's note: I'm not taking the speed boat this time; have to find another way to loose that hat ;-)

Back to the hotel.  Still no power.  I fall asleep.

9:45 WOW it is HOT in my room.   Oh, right. STILL No power means STILL No A/C.

I head back to the place with Wifi, but this time not to the place with the maritime Squeasel but to the store right next door, a place whose Wifi I have been using while squeaseling: Une Journee a Paris.  The owner is unmistakably French.

Hey, maybe it's time to hang out the full-blown Colonial. The French were the colonial power in the good/bad old days (depending on who you ask) and I AM part French, LOL. Gotta get me some Croissant and some Baguette. Banana & Chocolate Jam?  Such a thing exists and no one ever bothered telling me? I had to come to Indochina to find this out? 

Actually, after she doesn't understand my "Il ya du vin?" I realize how poorly suited to be a colonial.  I even stumble with the languages.  I don't speak any more French, even though I could, but I'm verbally constipated.  Saying thank you in Vietnamese to a French woman is silly too, so I retreat to the safe ground of English. 

laptop camera !
 It's been a while since I've heard the phrase "Je vous en prie" (Hello Joanna !), but because of my language confusion (at least I don't speak German to anyone here, LOL), I only hear it said to others.

My new jam discovery tastes divine (what else would you expect from such a combo?). 

BUT, there is something. Something NOT right. Something I have not experienced in 10 days now. Hectic. I just noticed it.  And I'm not used to it anymore.  There is NO Hectic in Vietnam.  It's coming from the French woman.  The urgency in her voice with which she directs her employees.  The speed with which she traverses the restaurant floor back and forth.  The quick arm movements with which she tells the young Vietnamese guy who just applied for a job here to wait while she juggles her two Non-Smart cell phones.  The woman is radiating hectic.  I only just realized that I haven't seen hectic since I took off in a plane from Guangzhou !   And I REALLY haven't missed it.   I can feel my stomach cramping up just watching the woman.  Oh Oh.  Returning to Vancouver will be even more difficult than I had envisioned. sends me another e-mail.  They still haven't repented their evil ways of waking me last night, but this one is even worse.  "Are you ready for you hotel at Noi Bai airport in 10 DAYS". There is ONLY ONE reason to stay close to Noi Bai and that is to catch an early flight back East.   OMG  There is is again. This is the END. And it's NEAR !

When I put the finishing touches on this post in the place I'm travelling to (maintain that suspense !) I realize how much I LOVE this lifestyle and what it does to my general level of well-being.  Discovering new places and being a witness to the lives of people. It makes me blossom (Ouch, yeah, that doesn't sound right, but still gets to the core of the matter. And NO, I'm NOT talking about monster concrete cities where smug Lulu-Lemon-clad and oh so very clueless imitations of real people carry their wool-coat-wearing poodles around !

I return to the hotel. The whole market AND my hotel are still without power. 
 Some stores have brought out Honda portable generators but my hotel did not.  
In the lobby, the receptionist says "you ready for foot massage now?"  Two girls are already smiling and rubbing their hands.   "No time" I chicken out.  Somehow for me someone being paid to rub any part of my body still equates to some weird kind of slavery.  On the other hand, for many of them this is the only way of making money, so I will have to re-evaluate my position at my next destination, where people are much poorer than here in Vietnam.

Cattle control again, LOL

11:15 One of the foot-massage professionals is much more successful at flagging down a taxi (trained hands, LOL) than me aqnd then I'm in a taxi to Sai Gon International.

12:45 I sit in a bar in the secured zone of the airport, sipping on a glass of French Chardonnay (They do NOT serve Viet wine here;-(.  It paid off not throwing my 250 ml jar of Nivea out before security (It's not much cheaper here than in Canada), because they let me keep it (Finally people with sense, what the hell would I do with stuff anyway?  Threaten to moisturize the stewardesses all over?

1:15 pm. Time to head to the smoking lounge (HEAR that YVR?), and approach the gate for boarding.

This also means it's time to lift the veil off the mystery destination of today's journey:

     Kingdom Come.  
Anyone who has been following this blog should have known all along that the Kingdom I was hinting at could ONLY be the Kingdom of Cambodia! 
After all, in December 2015 and in February of this year I stayed in hotels not more than 500 meters from the Royal Palace ;-)

My admiration for the unbelievable resilience of the people here is perfectly exemplified by THIS VIDEO (Careful, NOT for the extremely squeamish).

Vietnam did draw one of the shorter straws in the 60s and 70s of the last century, but the shit that the people of Cambodia had to wade through during the last 50 years is truly mind-boggling.  And they still came out smiling (even if with that slight sad expression in the very corners of the mouth, which has always been the express route to my heart) which is blowing my mind every single time I am fortunate to be able to return here.

 I am heading to Phnom Penh, formerly known as 'The Pearl of Asia' !

I'm flying Quatar Airways today.  Quatar?  Where is that? OMG, I had assumed that it is that tiny Muslim state in Indonesia (That's actually Brunei), but NO, when I polish this post and look it up, it actually turns out to be a country in the Persian Gulf, close to Dubai !  
As a very chatty stewardess (she likes me ;-) tells me, the plane just arrived from Doha (Quatar), dumped most of its passengers here (Sai Gon) and will continue to Phnom Penh. 

This should tell you that I'm spending the 50 minute flight to PP in a BIG and VERY EMPTY plane.  

Trump voters would NOT be happy in this plane.  Public announcements and inscriptions on equipment are in ARABIC and English (in that order ;-)

I'd exchange a couple of the orange guys for a "life-vest under the seat" any day  ;-)
Phnom Penh Airport is one of the smallest and least busy airports I know.  O.K. Dawson Creek, BC, is less busy.   Immigration is a breeze (there are literally NO line-ups), but here in Cambodia those US customs officers who didn't like the condition of my passport FINALLY have found a soulmate. The Cambodian official has to make a comment about the state of my passport before he stamps it.  On the other hand, I do NOT have to put my fingers on the scanner like the first time I arrived here.  And of course, the fact that I pass through this easily is that I organized me an e-visa online when still in Canada. Little did the Immigration official know that the passport picture that I submitted digitally with the application came of a small DVD burned with passport photos taken here in Phnom Penh last December ;-)

Presumably Chinese tourists.  Those are the buses that have been getting high-jacked in Laos recently
As soon as I saw rows of houses from my window seat I got back an inkling of memory of how different from Vietnam Cambodia is, something I had forgotten in the 9 months since I have been here last.  It really gets hammered home when I walk out of the airport and ignore the nearest taxi offers. 

I already know from last time that the taxis and tuk-tuks available within the airport grounds are operated by a company with select drivers and is also quite expensive. But what is more important. Walk past the gates limiting the airport grounds and you will find the tuk-tuk drivers that do NOT wear a driver's uniform and don't drive identical cabs and tuk-tuks. But they are the ones needing the income A LOT more than the lucky few who get to pick up their fare within the grounds.  Once I paid US$ 14 for a round trip to a passport picture place about 1/5 of the distance from the airport to the river. An agile younger man acting as a fisher for the outside tuk-tukers has hesitation in his voice when he says "9 Dollar?" as answer to my question of how much the trip would be.  HOW could I argue with that. He leads me to an older driver who literally points at a distant vehicle "my tuk tuk", literally jumps ahead, and wipes the seat benches clean, all this with a big smile
 During the ride he will sing to himself and whenever we are stuck at a light, i.e. the carriage doesn't bounce around in a murderous way, he checks his teeth in the rear-view mirror.   THIS is what I came here for !   

Traffic can only be described as a joke. Sometimes it moves really smoothly but a few seconds later one finds oneself stuck in another plug of immovable metal. Scooters and motorbikes always can use the fast route over occasionally existing side walks or over bumpy mud tracks, if the sidewalk should be missing for some reason.  The constant stop and go (if traffic flows reasonably well) and the tire action on dirt create create outrageous amounts of dust that mixes with exhaust gases, causing even this travelling chain smoker to have fits of coughing, when an entire intersection revs up the engines just before the lights change.
That rear-view mirror is good for some things 

I am shocked at the discrepancy of the poverty and downhearted expressions here in the Capital of Cambodia after arriving from the thriving Sai Gon.  Is memory loss really setting in already or are people looking less hopeful than in February?
When we get to Riverside, I notice strange contraptions at the water's edge.
The cabby (Tuk-tuky?) sets me off at another Harmony Hotel, but it's only around the corner from the place that I have been yearning for for 9 months now:
Am I living the Trump lifestyle? NOPE. CAD $43/night !  (including breakfast ;-)
After checking into my hotel and barely avoiding peeing pants from joy of seeing the room and the seats on the balcony and the view again, I take a shower (They actually have functioning water heaters now ;-), and head out to get some cash (The US$ reigns here) and cigarettes (Back to the old couple who set up shop in a hotel lobby and first recommended a particular brand to me after I asked what Cambodians smoked).  The old man looks much frailer than in February and what looks like his grandson is helping out.  And here it shows how much I forgot: I request 2 packs of the yummy ones and after asking "how much?" he replies $1.25.  So I dig out $3 for the 2 packs and only remember how things are here AFTER he says "$1.25 for two".  Right outside that very lobby is an about 35 year old man with very disfigured legs selling bracelets. How can i not buy one?  It reads "Good Luck".  My newly acquired bracelet JUST placed on my wrist, I turn around and see a guy with one leg in a wheel chair looking at me hopefully. He has one leg. Who knows whether he lost it by un-exploded US ordinance dropped here or by landmines planted when Pol Pot retreated into the mountains?   This place is so full of sad misery !

The room at night

view from the roof-top bar and restaurant
Hunger has driven me into the the rooftop outdoor restaurant on the 7th floor of my hotel. I just ordered a bottle of Chilean White (by now I know that a single glass won;t do and the Price is Right) and my by now old favourite Amok Fish.   Below me, the floats that have been tied to the river banks for the upcoming Water Festival are now brightly lit.  A bat just passed in front of my eyes not 4 meters away.  

The water festival will take place between the 13-15th of November and has made a mess of my travel plans. I was going to take the newly re-establish Cambodian Railway down to Sihanoukville and play German whale on a travel-brochure-like beach. But this festival is something I feel I shouldn't miss. WHAT TO DO?  

I don't really know, but my original plan was to take a 7 am train tomorrow morning (It is 7 pm by now) to Sihanoukville because the information available online stated that the train only runs South Friday and Saturday, which would leave only tomorrow morning catch a train south.  The hotel manager however informed me that it runs every day now, which would be great.  Remember, in February there were NO trains running in Cambodia, and neither in the I don't even know how many years and decades since the French-built line was decommissioned.

Another thing that is bordering on the ridiculous is the amount of fish in my Amok Fish.  The bloody bowl is packed with it.  Who can eat that much fish???  Price for the yummy monster meal on the seventh floor outside restaurant with good music playing and overlooking the brightly lit floats on Preah Sisowath Quay along the Mighty Mekong ?  US $4.50!   When the waitress brought it, I asked for chopsticks and got a strange look.  She told the head waitress (sounds fancier than it is, believe me), who came over and asked "You don't want fork and spoon?"  Replying "I just look white" probably would have been way too too too smug, so I just shake my head and smile.

7 pm. OMFG. I just almost suffocated on a bite of my Amok Fish.  There is a barge in the middle of the river and a what sounded like a cannon shot just turned into an explosion of light over the river. 

 HOLY TRAVEL KARMA, this is simply TOO much. There was another time, when things were just too unbelievable. It was the evening after I arrived in Bellagio with my Spare Mom.  First a single engine propeller plane came towards us over the lake, turned, flew back, and repeated the procedure about 6 times.  Spare Mom and I jokingly coined the term of the George Clooney shirt I was wearing (He had a villa across the lake ;-) and killed ourselves laughing every time the flyer came around again.  When the plane stopped returning, the fireworks started.  And those were not organized by the city, we asked afterwards, but by a private individual.  Call me crazy, but I strangely feel that my Spare Mom is watching this with me right now !

The show goes on for 20 minutes and the whole road along the Mekong is packed with vehicles and spectators, most of them Cambodians. This is where they congregate, the Royal Palace is only about 300 meters down the road.  

After a brief hang out in my room (This is when I discover the CRICKET on my pillow ;-) to recharge my laptop and pin down these thoughts, I head down into the streets in front of the Royal Palace.
 At least I try to head down, but there is a young woman with a towel and bottle of oil stepping out of the elevator when I enter.  When I try to push the button, her uttering and pointing at my door seems to indicate that she is of the belief that I ordered her services.  Nothing could be further from the truth ! I try to convince her of that and she gives me an unbelieving look.  Look Lady, there are 4 rooms on this floor, what makes you think it was me who made the call or sent the e-mail or however that works?   Granted, I don't know what lurks behind the OTHER 3 doors on my floor and maybe she was just happy that what was behind my door wasn't all that UGLY !

This is an issue here, I can tell already.  It also explains the type of smile one gets from a lot of people. It's not genuine, it's a smile with a grain of desperation thrown in.  And like the scamming issue in Vietnam, who is to blame for this but not the tourists.  I remember growing up in Germany and the Boeing 747s heading to Thailand were commonly known as the Bums-Bomber (Fuck-Flights would be a valiant translation). 

 And you can guess who was taking those flights. And those overweight, retirement-aged, single men are also what walks the streets here (HEY, I'm NOT fat !). Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against a good romp, but what makes it really special in my mind is if the other side actually has a choice.  And if you're growing up in Cambodia, chances are pretty high that you don't. 
I walk down to the Royal Palace and the scene is endearing.  Cambodians seem to adore their Royal Family, because on the lawn before the palace is where they come to enjoy themselves.   

I'm just on the way back to my hotel, when reality catches up with me again.  Someone is convinced that I promised yesterday to meet him here today (or maybe that's just a lame line).  It soon becomes clear what is going on, but when he uses the phrase "sometimes you know when you like a boy" I quickly tell pat him on the shoulder and say "not today" because in these parts you never know whether the word 'boy' is used in the regular gay sense of a hot young man of definitely legal age, or in the 3rd world disgusting pervert tourist sense, if you get my drift. 

I remember the offers of 'very young girl' in February and still feel guilty for not having shouted out loud "Arrest this man! He is pimping your daughter! ".  It also make me look at all the other Western tourists with different eyes.    Trust me, Trump's "you can even grab them by the pussy" is nothing compared to what goes on in the 3rd world where hunger and need are so severe that morality and decency are often pushed to 2nd and 3rd place, which of course is sought out by the kind of tourist that  I'm talking about.  

The new hotel that I will move into in 2 days even has the telephone number of a hotline to call when one suspects that underage children are offered for sex. I hope that line gets lots of calls.

Enough of that. I'm having difficulty smiling now.  But I sleep like a log !

Did I mention that Cambodia is one of my very favourite places on this planet?  Good night world.

No comments:

Post a Comment