Wednesday, 5 June 2013

In Cambodia

The "You want Tuk Tuk Motorbike"-shouts meet you everywhere, and I mean every where, there is no escaping them: Coming down a hill and having about two meters to go until I reach the sandy beach, my goal, as anybody with a bit of common sense can see ... but the guy on the motorbike quite obviously lacks this sense which is, come to think of it, not that common at all, for he asks me whether I am looking for a motorbike ... Same thing again (Motorbike? Sir) when I'm about to sit down in an outdoor cafe ... Maybe not now, I retort.

The hotel's name in Siem Reap is either Mekong Angkor Palace or Angkor Mekong Palace, said the receptionist in Phnom Penh who had booked me a room there. Whatever but definitely Palace, I replied. Yes, she smiled.

The Philippino sitting next to me on the bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville is about 25, a registered nurse, and works as the manager of a sports club. He looks the part. About twenty minutes into the ride, he says that he's glad that television was invented for he gets so easily bored. I do not feel tempted to tell him that for me there is hardly anything more boring than television.
What fascinated me most in this country were the children, and especially the street children, and yes, I'm somewhat aware of their problems.
I've taken a particular liking to two girls, aged around ten, one of them was selling books (and among these one that turned out to be one of my major recent discoveries: Edward A. Gargan: The River's Tale. A Year on the Mekong), the other was selling scarfs, both spoke excellent English. When the one with the scarfs realised that I was not interested in buying any, she asked whether I would buy them something to eat and pointed to a street vender who was passing by. Yes, I said, and so we went to the ambulant food stall. Needless to say, there were quite some other children who by then had joined us. 
See you tomorrow, said the one with the scarfs after they all had gotten their food. Well, probably not, I will be leaving tonight, I said. She extended her hand and said: Have a good flight. See you next time.
How long does a taxi to the airport take? I ask one of the receptionists. All three of them rise to their feet and the one that I had addressed says: It takes 20 to 25 minutes when there is no traffic jam, when there is traffic jam it takes 30 minutes. There was quite some traffic that evening and the ride took exactly 70 minutes. I did not mind for it was the most extraordinatry taxi ride I've ever experienced: the driver was about my age, father of nine children and had previously worked as a driver for the government and then for the UN. After we got tired of chatting, he put on music from long ago. Now imagine two elderly guys sitting in an airconditioned limousine stuck in traffic singing out loud "Let it be"! It felt just great!

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