I haven't been able to blog an Asian update yet, mostly because a 12 hour difference in time translates to a 12 lightyears' cultural difference and a week’s plus worth of observing. When we reached Cambodia, we were pleasantly surprised by an immense amount of different sights, tastes sounds and people. Having little expectations about this country due to our short duration of stay, we've been soaking up the culture shocks while attending teacher training and combating jet lag. After a long flight of watching a foreign man physically assault his butch haired girlfriend with via french tongue, the sight of a headless swine hanging by its hooves dripping red life onto the sidewalk seemed fit for NickJr. Regardless, no matter how you approach these outlandish situations and customs, you can't help but walk away with a laugh and a story no one in America would likely believe having not seen it firsthand. Before 8 am you could've been propositioned on each lap of your morning jog via Asian penis flash, mimicked Simon says style by a curious (and possibly mentally-challenged) young Khmer boy shadowing your every step—hands on hips—perfectly mimicking your walking or walked to a food cart down the street to grab some fried rice topped with a fried egg. The Khmer (“Kah-Mai” is what the people of Cambodia are called) have an affinity for placing a fried egg on top of nearly every dish served. And considering i could swim through scrambled embryo and make sweet love to a nice benedict, I'm all for this eggcelent practice.
The very first thing we noticed our airport "shuttle" was that the people in Cambodia literally have zero laws regarding transportation and traffic safety. Expecting a van to transfer our expansive amount of luggage and bodies to our accommodations, we experienced a bit of apprehension when three motorbikes pulling carriage-type apparatus arrive, drivers got off, threw our luggage into one and motioned for the five of us to divide in the other two. We soon learned to know and love these carriages as “tuk-tuks,” realizing that they would serve as our sole mode of transportation pretty much anywhere. It's pretty cool actually, to have the wind blowing through your hair while you take in the millions of different things to view, uninhibited by the glass barrier of a normal car window. However, this mode of transportation would require much less attention payment, had the government in Cambodia chosen to enact some form of traffic safety regulations. Instead, a mosh pit of motorbikes, tuktuks and the occasional Japanese-made vehicles operate on an: "okay you turn," "honk mean I come behind" or "I cut you off, don't me over" policy. As Jill described it perfectly: it's basically one big game of chicken. The person who backs down at the last moment yields the right of way. Red lights don't mean stop. There are no traffic lines. Driving into oncoming traffic to avoid an inconvenient u-turn is a common practice, as is placing toddlers between the driver and a motorbike steering wheel. I've seen entire generations of family on a motorbike made for two, seated chronologically from wrinkletoes coughing up rotten organs in the back to baby grasping the steering wheel like a rattle. I don’t expect an underdeveloped country to be versed in the practice of western driving decorum, but for the love of Buddha can we at least baby helmet.
Upon entering our joint accommodations and sitting on the beds, we promptly understood that our mattresses did not welcome the heaviness of our sleepy bodies with the tempurpedic comforts of home. The mattresses are basically cardboard stuffed with packing peanuts and make a lovely crunching sound because the plastic wrapping remains in tact. Not to mention the pillows have more fluff than a political campaign and wreak havoc on my chronically tender neck. I imagine waking up on a Cambodian mattress-pillow combo feels much like having a sleepover in the nursing home from Happy Gilmore. Our next surprise arrived in the form of engineering I’ve yet to see surpassed by any First world restroom. Rather than a separate bath-shower-toilet-sink combo, the people of Cambodia, rather ingeniously, opted to create a hybrid restroom where the showerhead cleans not only items in its contained area, but everything in the room due to the fact that the entire bathroom comprises the shower. Therefore taking a piss in the middle of your bathroom while showering and brushing your teeth is socially acceptable, if not encouraged. This premise was also welcomed with open American arms by the likes of three girls with already little poise in the ways of western bathroom etiquette. Also in the bathroom alongside the toilet resides a white kitchen sprayer. But I think we all know there isn’t a sweatshop of little Khmer’s scrubbing dirty dishes while on the crapper, although you could completely execute such a task in this bathroom. Rather, the Khmer people aren't big on toilet paper and the kitchen sprayer performs as understudy for wiping your ass with dead tree. At first, I couldn't figure out why on earth the bathroom at the school began completely desiccated but by the afternoon I basically have to paddle my way to the toilet. Well, the aptly named "butt sprayer" explains that anomaly. And considering how much the food here has wreaked havoc on my digestive system, it's no wonder these people need a little something extra to feel so fresh and so clean, clean. It's also not unlikely to stumble upon an Asian toilet—the name given for a hole in the ground with spots to stand and squat… and in these lovely commodes, a buncket and water replaces the butt-sprayer.
But the bathroom etiquette and unregulated traffic practices are mere icing on this rice flavored cake. And speaking of flavors, I've eaten anything from crab curry and sushi flavored chips to fried crickets. They also had BBQ tarantula at the rest stop but I opted out, deciding that the best way to conquer my fanatical detestation of spiders would probably not be to ingest a giant charred one. Other than the strange flavored snacks, the food is great. Rice is basically served for every meal and we haven't paid more than five dollars for a meal, which is considered expensive. That's probably the biggest shock, I've never felt rich before but here I'm Warren Buffet. Which is awesome, but as in anything else there's a downside. The downside to you feeling rich is that everyone else assumes that you actually are rich, meaning that down any given street will be countless children offering you food, trinkets and things in exchange for money. When you say no, they give you the biggest puppy eyes I've ever seen and whine something to the affect of "you give me money to go to school." Now what soulless person is going to passionately reject the aid of a small impoverished child’s education? Well the thing is, from a young age, these kids have been strategically trained to do anything from call you beautiful to memorize the state capitals so that they can impress you by spewing back your information when asked where you're from. Those wily Cambodian people could crush Vegas in a week—I’d bet my bottom dollar. At the rest stop on the way to Siem Reap, there was no shortage of these sneaky little businessmen. And I employ the term rest stop loosely; it was more like a flea market with holes to piss in. Immediately after exiting the bus, we were swarmed with twenty little tan children carrying platters that hold bags of fresh fruit. They begin individually chanting "you buy Mango from me," "you buy banana from me," etc. Once you decline, rather than give up the good fight, these clever horse flies begin asking you questions about yourself, tell you your pretty or guilt trip you with the education front. Now, if you actually want the service or product that they're soliciting (which I did) you aren't exempt from this harassment even post purchase. I wanted some mango and my little Khmer boyfriend that had been on my heels since I left the commode had mango, but it appeared unripe and marginal at best. I refused to pay a dollar for his mango and every negation sparked a puppy dog look coupled with "don't forget about me." He sells out of mediocre mango and tells me he will go and get me another. I say okay as in thank Buddha you’re leaving my personal space. In the meantime the bus is loading up and not wanting to be left behind at a Cambodian rest stop, I bought mango from another girl and got on the bus..then rudely awakened by the fact that although the bus was home base, it wasn’t soundproof. The little salesmen stood at the door repeating "you buy from me, you buy from me" and every time despite negations of purchase they rpeated their shpiel like door-to-door bible salesmen. Often they would add an ‘mmmmkaaaaayy’ to the mix, sounding more nasaly and annoying than Mr. Garrison from South park. And before I could say NO mango, my little stalker was there looking extremely irate.
I merely said okay to whatever he mumbled before he scurried off but somewhere in between that moment and me finding solace on the bus, he'd completely turned on me. The puppy face was gone and I was greeted with the other side of child soliciting… the angry soul eater side. I made it out alive when the bus driver finally closed the door on my unfriendly stalker. And for my first week in southeast Asia, making it out alive from the clutches of a child wallet bandit seems pretty impressive.