Young girl collecting water hyacinths
Living for the weekend – I am a prime example.
There is nothing like 1pm on Saturday – yes, shock and horror, the torture of work (even here in laid back and almost horizontal Cambodia) extends beyond Friday 5pm. For the less fortunate at least. Sadly tourism shares certain attributes with surgery and emergency medical units, without the bonus of decent pay. On the other hand we have not had any fatalities – yet…
Locking the door and leaving makes me happy. I say bye bye to our security guard who bleaches his face, sports a funky pink wooly hat (which is admirable in the 40+ heat) and quite possibly wears make up. Free for day and a half. Lucky me.
The chariot aka moto #1 awaits the queen and off we go, cruising the countryside.
Admittedly, following my (non)sense of direction we often find other places rather than the ones we were initially looking for and for some strange reason get sore ears. Bliss. I think it’s the wind. But mostly we ride without looking for a destination.
Sweeping in a pagoda
It’s amazing how close to “civilization” you can be and yet the expression on dark brown faces of locals with years of hardship carved into them tells us that “white man” never ventured here.
I observed different stages of “out-of-town-ness”.
Sealed roads generally mean that locals are in some sort of connection with town. They go to the markets, kids go to school and occasionally a “barrang” passes by on a bicycle, moto or even a tuk tuk, venturing into the unknown, templed out. The closer to town we are the more likely we are to stumble upon an extended hand, cheeky smile and the ever present “muy dollaaaa”. We are not that special here and more often than not they see a walking wallet in us. More often than not we are – in comparison.
Further from sealed roads and into the countryside we still get genuine smiles, waves and enthusiastic shouts of “hello” but no more “one dollar”. Refreshing. And not in a patronizing way. Fields of over- saturated breathtakingly beautiful shoots of young rice, water buffalos, cows, dogs, grubby kids, daily chores. I love rural Cambodia. Endless photo opportunities on the same same (but oh so different) variety, enhanced with the changing seasons.
In the fields. With kitten, oxen and flies.
And then, deep in the heart of the countryside, where your ass is complaining about the bumpy ride, roads once smooth turn into sandy paths and then disappear altogether, the international “hello” you thought you knew and mastered so well no longer works. We are met with curious, shy smiles. Hesitant suggestions of waving. Confused looks on children’s faces. We are really standing out here – like a sore thumb and that is the fun of it. Crazy “barrang” shouting “soosedai, soksobai” raises an eyebrow or two. We go one step further and invert the Cambodia greeting – “sai-so-bok!”. This is a winner and works every time, guaranteed. The ice has been broken. We are friends. We never let on that this is also just about as far as our Khmer skills extend. That and stating “kdau na” which sums up how very hot it is today indeed. Weather talk is not only for the Brits you know. We say our good byes to the giggling group and ride off.
We made their day and they made ours.
Our beer and pizza later on are well deserved. We have to go easy on rice and not overdo it.
Don’t invite me for a cuppa, I will not let you make it.
I like my tea just the way I like it.
Water needs to be freshly boiled, tea has to be the right colour, the right strength and in a white cup the right size. And of course it has to be proper English tea.
Now, I know that no decent tea crop actually grows on the UK soil (or does it? I could be wrong…) but the Brits mastered the art of blending the precious golden leaves like magic.
It may be all doom and gloom in grey old Blighty but they have the best tea and I have to give them that.
I suffer elsewhere and have my mules carry this valuable contraband across continents whenever possible. Currently my cupboard boasts stock of over a year of daily cups. I am safe for now. When I get to less than half I will get nervous and start looking for the next possible tea mule victim.
But back to autism – or au-TEA-sm should I say….?
My good friend Liz reckons that we all suffer from autism to a certain degree. She used to work with autistic kids so she would know. Little glitches, twitches and hick-ups of personalities, some call quirky, odd, strange, deranged, funny ….well, mildly autistic. Now you have an excuse!
Tea is me. How strange for a Czech bird who grew up on weak concoction of inferior quality blend of what I suspect must have been a mixture of wood shavings and tea packing shed floor sweepings, taste enhanced by lots of sugar and lemon. Shiver. Now I am a tea snob. I don’t care what you think.
Actually my autism extends further. I will not drink water from a cup and fruit juice tastes just awful from anything else but a nice glass. Only in extreme cases will I drink beer from a plastic cup and wine? Don’t let me start on wine.
Now go and put the kettle on, luv, we’ll have a cuppa. I ‘ll make it and you can wash up. Biscuits would be nice.
"So, how was your holiday?" was the first question I got asked when back at the office after two weeks of Thai island bliss and a bit of city slicking...
Depressing as it was simply being back, reflection upon time spent away brought back memories of longer travel and no need to be back anywhere, no deadlines, no ties. Sigh. Endless days of wandering, exploring and being free. Travelling. Different now. Duty calls and we all have to eat and wine is not free either. It should be though.
"Very nice but too short" was my flat reply....and my eyes returned to my two screens and fingers kept typing....
"Oh and look how brown you are!" (approving tone of voice from my "white" colleagues, while my Khmer co-workers frown upon every extra tone and shade of brown I gain and get closer to their own skin colour.)
But there is a mystery to holiday tan.
It disappears really quickly despite living in a country where on balance there are 2490 sunshine hours annually and approximately 6.8 sunlight hours for each day (OK, I had to look it up) - but that's what comes with enjoying an a/c office. You are locked away from all this sunshine. Same goes for the UK but the amount of sunshine hours (I imagine) will be much less.... I would look it up but really, who cares.
Back in time of short (two weeks....still too short in my books) Greek getaways I could almost hear my sun kissed skin crack and peel in the cold of the plane air conditioning system on the way home, depressed fearing my holiday reputation would be ruined. That and gathering post holiday germs so I could be sniffing and coughing and sharing more than just memories with my friends.
First hot shower on the UK soil would have me peeling my back with a sick satisfaction of a monkey yet desperate to keep my carefree beach look for as long as possible. No such luck.
In the UK and Europe the general rule of thumb goes like this: You go on holiday. You come back brown. You had a good time. You come back white? You had ......ehrm not such a good time. End of story. That's why I never made it as far as Scotland although I hear it is stunning there.
With more years leaving their trace on my face I tend not to reach for that bottle of tanning oil anymore and I get restless after 20 minutes on the beach, in fact factor 20 is my best friend, if I remember to pack it. Nobody wants to have leather boobs although I have seen plenty. No thank you, it's not a pretty sight. Laugh lines you say? No. I don't think so. With every gray hair I discover and immediately rip out with a pair of handy tweezers I may well need counseling soon. So no more prunes. I should invest in a hat. One of those funky ones with massive shield, flowery pattern. How about t(hat)?
Here people with lovely smooth brown skin torture themselves with unknown lethal potions to bleach their faces white. Girls and boys.... It's sickening and it looks sick. Specially with combination of wannabe blond (read orange and breaking off) hair. But who are we to say, we who used to spend lunchtimes in a solarium, standing there butt naked with funky glasses grinning into radioactive tubes hoping to come out looking a little more sexy than a freshly boiled lobster and carrot stew (I wonder what that would taste like???). All in preparation for holiday of course, nobody wants to be THE white body on the beach! They can spot you from miles around.....
The moral of the story is that we all seem to want what we don't / can't naturally have. Curly want straight. Black want white. Blond want black. Chemistry is king, where would we be without it?
....and I am making a hairdressing appointment as my highlights need a bit of attention.
When you are new to Cambodia, this could be you:
Sitting at a cafe, bar or restaurant, enjoying a beverage or three (it is your holiday after all) and suddenly you stop mid-sip, jaws open (hopefully you are not dribbling...yet) and your eyes follow two stunning young Cambodian girls, giggling, heels, make up and .......pyjamas.... You look again. You nudge your companion and giggle yourself. Yes, that's right, pyjamas. Hello Kitty, Angry Birds or the more classic Disney issue of Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse. Top and bottom. Accompanied by a fake Louis Vuitton handbag.
I wouldn't have a clue....about cartoons and fabric or fake bags - but the main thing is that I ditched PJs long time ago.
Pyjamas, the symbol of comfort.
I have to reach far into my memory to recall my last set...
I can handle wearing PJs during sleep. Just. If I really have to. I can recall long forgotten school friends bunking off purely for the joy of pretending to be sick and being able to stay in their pyjamas all day. Lucky you, parents....
I hated staying in bed when daylight crept into the room, even when sick. I hated PJs. I don't own a pair now - or is it a set? Who knows...
So I keep wondering about my Cambodian neighbours patrolling the streets in their finest ! Flannel !!! Edition of cartoons that I have never heard of - and hopefully never will. Is it a matter of fashion? I sincerely hope not..... But why the make up and heels? Is it a matter of comfort? Again, why the make-up and heels? I haven't seen this phenomena in other Asian countries and I have travelled many. Some questionable pattern matches - yes - sure, but that extends as far as Russia so we must tolerate this.
PJs continue to puzzle me. It's too hot here, anyway.
Any and all (logical) explanations of this strange fact of life in Cambodia are welcome here. Thank you.
On Cambodia's love affair with decibels - take two...
This morning I dragged my sorry body, weakened by the weekend activities, out of bed at 5am with thoughts of piercing my own eardrums. Not my ear lobes, I did that when I was 5 and my parents went shopping leaving me at home for a split second. My ear drums.
No need for alarm, Wat Polinka's greatest hits maxed out did the job for the whole province of Siem Reap.
Combination of the worst Turkish nightmare, strange cruel cat murdering ritual with a dose of snake charming. Lovely.
Are we celebrating Monday? There is absolutely no need for that, thank you.
With no real history of self harm - aside from the aforementioned weekend activities - I continued to think dark thoughts and concentrate on not spilling hot tea over myself. Intentionally or not, that's besides the point.
There was a pause…..and prayer for a power cut, only a short lived moment of happiness and relief, then the noise resumed with even more brutal force. STOP TORTURNING ME!!!
On that note, I shall get on with my day and contemplate once more what keeps me in this country, Kingdom of Wonder. I should wander......far far away.
....it's worrying, really, that I work in the travel industry... Just don't tell my boss.
The reasons for my grumpiness at work or in general could be plentiful.
I could be overworked and underpaid, I could be hungover or I could suffer from lack of sleep. I could be all three. Often I am.
The latest of the three reasons is why I am writing this. I am futurely undeslept and fully charged. It's 11pm and my windows are shaking. The neighbours are having a party. I did not get an invite.
Cambodia and megaphones, microphones, electricity, weddings and karaoke..... When electricity fails us, we have
generators, cats and dogs. Perfect.
There is a reason why karaoke booths are often padded, soundproof and windowless. I have never been inside one and never plan to be, but I do wonder if straitjackets are also provided for participants who are willing to sing their hearts out. If so, at what stage? I imagine they take you away from there to even a bigger party when you can't be contained any more.
Only once I applied the philosophy of "if you can't beat them, join them" but then I quickly gave up. My ears can't stand it. You win, neighbours, you win.
I thought it was all over for this year.
Khmer New Year madness successfully behind us. Wedding season threatened by the approaching rains and thus the risk of plentiful gowns ruined by mud and water. But no. It is never over in Cambodia. The noise is the king. I call it noise, locals may call it music.
Wedding music is my enemy number one. Ting-a-ling-a-ling-a-ling out of tune k-ching-bing aaaaand here we go again ting-a-ling-a-ling ..... you get the picture. Whe shall repeat this for the next few hours until you WILL be taken away in a straitjacket hopefully into a nice padded soundproof cell somewhere far far away.
The sight of a yellow and pink marquee being erected in the neighbourhood makes me nervous and immediately I look for the position of the speakers. Where are they facing and am I likely to be knocked off my bike on the way to (and back from) work purely by the soundwaves? Most likely. Earplugs are useless. There is no help. Stack of red plastic chairs makes me sweat.
I fear Cambodian weddings. The stuff of nightmares.
What were they like before electricity? I really do wonder. Probably quite pleasant and I would even attend one, but nobody is able to tell me...
The following picture stays with me whenever weddings are metioned:
7am (admitedly quite late in the day), music blasting, tables and chairs set up, tissues on the floor from previous night's mayhem, people getting on with their daily lives in the neighbourhood - clearly not annoyed by the racket which makes me more annoyed by the minute...
Scene of the wedding party clearly deserted with not a soul in sight. They are smart and having a sleep in. Apart from one old frail grandma; she is sitting right next to the speaker (well one of them) getting even more deaf than she already is. Puts you right into the party mood, let me tell you.
Once a (Khmer) colleague of mine put me in my place. He told me that wedding music is beautiful. I could never understand it. It makes the heart of a young lad flutter and long for a beautiful lady in his life. It makes him want to get married too. The sooner the better.
I have my doubts and reservations to all of the above....
......peace and quiet? I will keep the rant on cats and dogs for another time then and get some sleep......Oh and bull frogs. Appropriate with the wet season coming into full swing.
My favourite childhood story goes like this: Bloke has a donkey. He feeds it one heap of hay every day. One day bloke needs to leave for a little while. Being a considerate bloke that he is, he gives his donkey two heaps of hay to survive on. Poor donkey doesn't know which heap of hay to start with, they both look the same, hard choice you see, he wrecks his little donkey brain with this teaser and in the end dies of hunger as no decision is made. (The bloke in this story is Professor Buridan who tells his students until their ears bleed the importance of being able to make a decision in time. The name of the donkey is unknown.)
I have a similar problem. Not only I consider myself a donkey having caried heavy loads in my time but I also suffer from similar undecisiveness as our donkey friend from the previous paragraph.
The most recent example would have to be my trip to Thailand last week. Shopping opportunities there are much greater than in our little Cambodia. I was very much looking forward to shopping. The difference in lifestyle and living conditions is visible immediately after crossing the border in the delightful township of Poipet (renamed Poopet by myself and many others) and Aranya Prathet on the "other" side.
I needed heaphones for my ipod. The old ones melted away in the heat of Cambodia. I found countless stalls. Shops. Street vendors. All selling headphones like they were going out of fashion. In fashionable colours mind you. Pink, green, blue, yellow, red and plain white... I was overwhelmed. I never even got to the stage of choosing or asking for price. I never bought any headphones in Thailand. My ears still hurt from my old worn melted ones I somehow kept for sentimental reasons. Luckily I did as they blocked out the shouting of our Vietnamese fellow passengers in a crammed van back to Cambodia. Thank you, headphones, and thank you, Metallica.
Shopping malls - and I have been to a few before in my previous life - have blown me away this time. You really do need a map (what a country pumpkin you must think!). In the end I had to leave as I could not face the pressure of what I should like,
what I should buy, what my life should be about. Still, the material demons are gnawing at my soul but I am resisting,
returning to the "jungle" with only two boxes of Marks & Spencers finest tea (on sale) and a few biscuits. Plus one black bra
that actually fits my western boobs and you can cross or remove the straps. Revolutionary.Yes, we do need Thailand.
Shells from the beach add a significant weight to my bag but hey, they were free and there was plenty of them, so don't tell me off for that.
Shopping is very different in Cambodia. In fact, the rural Asia shares the same pattern everywhere or at least I think so.
Number of shops or stalls selling exactly the same thing in a very near proximity to one another. You have seen it before:
roads lined with stalls selling only bananas or jackfruit or any other fruit that is in season or whatever. Sections of markets selling only shoes or hardware. Same goods. Exactly the same. My question is: how do you choose who you will buy from? All bananas are the same yellow. They cost the same. Even the vendors look very similar..... I get confused and walk away and wonder what is the logic behind it? What if, in the land of bananas, you suddenly find yourself craving for melons? Do you have to go to a melon village? And how do you determine who has the best melons? Serious matter here. I need answers.
I was having my half yearly spruce up some time ago and while comfortably seated in a hairdressing chair with foils safely
secured to make me look like an alien, I was mindlessly turning pages whith pretty people on them when a conversation
from the next chair became a little more interesting.
An expat lady, havig lived in Siem Reap for a while, had introduced (I think) sweets to a bunch of kids. Kiddies loved them.
So much in fact, that she had some more brought over from wherever she was from. All gone in a second. She presented the idea to the parents, some of whom had small shops in the neighbourhood, to sell these sweets. This stopped the conversation. Confusion set in. Parents considered the matter carefully. They scratched their chins, rolled their eyes and shrugged eventually with a negative verdict:
"Erhm....but nobody else is selling them..... "
I rest my case, Cambodia, all this time and I still don't understand you. Off to buy some bananas or at least I will try....
A brief encounter in a clothes shop today, Ko Tao:
Anna: "Sabaidee Kaa"
Smiley" "Sabaidee Krap"
Female shop assistant cum owner: "grunt"
Male shop assistant (husband): '"snore...."
Browsing. Picking up items that look good. Sale rack: bargain at 150Baht per piece.
International brands. Marks & Spencer. H&M. Made in Cambodia. Ironic really.
Anna: "Excuse me, can I try these (four items) on?
Female shop assistant: "No can try".
Female shop assistant: "On sale, no can try, cheap cheap..., grunt"
Anna: bemused "Why?"
Female shop assistant: agitated and loud: "On sale, NO CAN TRY!!!"
Anna: slightly annoyed and Thaiglish applied "Why? I no can try, I not know if fit or not, I no buy, cheap cheap
or not!!! You no sell!"
Female shop assistant: waving arms, clearly upset and rude: "Fuck off!!!"
Male shop assistant, awake now and fully charged: "Yes, fuck off, you go home!"
Anna: throwing chosen items back on the pile, laughing, still annoyed: "Bye bye, good luck with all your future sales, will recommend you wherever I go...."
Smiley: "Fuck off too!"
Anna and Smiley walk out of the shop bewildered, amused and pissed off at the same time.
Female shop assistant comes out, shouts one more "fuck off" for good bye, in the middle of low season and shop
Anna will buy all her clothes in Cambodia.
Thailand, land of smiles? Me no think so. Now fuck off.
My eyes are scanning the passing scenery; combination of rusty corrugated iron sheds, modern apartment blocks under cloudy skies, green paddy fields spiced up by the occasional pagoda and the soundtrack is Wondrous Place by Billy Fury. Fitting - somehow.
Not that this part of the world is exotic to me anymore, not that mere 7 hours of train travel can be considered a "great journey" but there is something special about a good old rickety ride, nodding off to the comforting repetitive noise of wheels on railtracks and being rocked to sleep while the world remains a blurred line outside your window.
On various occasions, travelling in China, tired and starving, my companions at the time and I were ready to venture out of our comfort zones and try whatever was on the menu being pushed around - only to find a residue of "once was sauce" and bones making a drumming noise against the aluminium pot. No, thank you. Around this time we all started to worship the Instant Noodle and Hot Water Urn gods.
As we are heading further south, with the wealth and urban decay of the city behind, we pass gorgeous emerald green fields, villages that look very similar to their Cambodian cousins, and oddities that make you giggle like a full size football pitch with a tree growing in the middle of it! Skies remain cloudy and I have to make peace with the fact that rainy season is just starting.
Along the way we are reminded of last year's horrendous floods that claimed many lives and made thousands homeless.
Dirty water lines mark many places higher that I find comfortable to think of. Let's hope this year Mother Nature will show her kinder face.
As I am fighting sleep, my mind wonders back in time. Back to one truly great and memorable train journey. Across Turkey. From East to West. Two days and one night from Van to Ankara. Having purchased our seating tickets (economic reasons of a backpacker...) and drank sufficient amount of sweet black tea with the entire crew of Van train station, we turned up on time the next day, found our spot and settled in: fairly empty carriage, few curious passengers smiling shyly, dusty seats and windows open for nature's own a/c.
Perhaps it was us being purely exotic to eastern Turkish eyes that earned us a free upgrade to - not our own compartment - but the whole train car! "For you to enjoy privacy" said the train conductor as he locked the doors behind him. And what a great ride it was! Hair rasing moments realisig that the rusting twisted mess in the bottom of the valley was in fact a train (not
unlike ours) that didn't make it.... Better not think or imagine... Breathtaking scenery, mountains, gorges, valleys and open spaces of uninhabited land. But the real memory of the trip is this: middle bunk down, me on it, flat on my belly, head in hands and face inches away from the open window, sun close to setting and outside endless orchards of sweet smelling apricot trees. Turkish delight of sorts!
anna bella betts
Never still, always on the move, looking for the perfect capture... Cambodia is currently my home, presenting endless opportunities....
In this blog you will find no profound wisdom.
Just accounts of daily life, sometimes about photography, often about wine, occasionally about travel adventures and sometimes about nothing at all.