Saturday was my last night in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and it was one of the best days of the whole trip. I helped a couple teachers who are in limbo move their stuff to a hostel. And by “helped” I mean I tagged along so I could go to the little coffee shop just down the street from the hostel and get a strawberry chiller. I did carry one suitcase up four flights of stairs, so I earned that chiller, dammit. But we had lunch at great street food place and visited Wat Phnom, one of the oldest temples in Cambodia.
We’d been to Wat Phnom before, it was the first stop on the City Tour we did the first Sunday we arrived. It’s within walking distance which was great because I was so sick that first tour I didn’t recall seeing a lot of the stuff that was there. And it was really nice to walk through with just the four of us instead of a group of twenty. It felt less intrusive to the people who were there praying and making offerings. I thought I’d pick up some things from the little tourist stand but none of it was really Wat Phnom or Phnom Penh. There were a lot of things with Angkor Wat on them, elephants, lions, and a few statues of Brahma.
At five o’clock we added the teacher with the most nicknames: Aquaman/BoBear/Little Bear/Dread Pirate Robert to our number and set off for a boxing match. Entry to these things is free, you just have to pay for the ride there. It was a broadcasted match and we got front row seats.
The kickboxing was great, make no mistake, I’d love to go to another one, but the star of the show was the zebra print clad bookie taking bets. This woman was shameless and managed to get Jay to wager five bucks on a match which he promptly lost.
There were four matches each match lasted five rounds or, in one case, until a KO in the second round. Dude got his bell rung by a beautifully executed roundhouse. It was incredible, had I not been watching his feet I wouldn’t have seen him move it. It was like a snake strike there and back in less than a blink. And he was one of the slow fighters. There was a fighter in the last round whose kicks were absurdly fast and that fight ended in a draw because the other guy still dodged them. A couple more years of experience and that kid will be undefeated. I mean his footwork was incredible. Still needs work on his punches, but had those kicks connected they would’ve dropped the other guy.
I would say far too soon the fight ended and we went our separate ways for the last time. Three went back to the hostel whilst Aquaman and I returned to the Marady Hotel so we could leave the next morning.
Yesterday, Feb 21st, Aquaman and I got up at the ass-crack of dawn and headed to the airport. It was kind of nice being on the streets of Phnom Penh at 530am. Not a lot of traffic and the air was cool and cleaner. It was a nice send off from the city that in ten years will be a bustling destination place. And it was nice to take a Tuk Tuk instead of the taxi I was thinking about. As we’d been talking at lunch the day before, Phnom Penh is leaving the age of Tuk Tuks behind. As the middle class continues to expand and more and more people get cars there’s a very good chance Tuk Tuks will be pushed off the roads for the sake of efficiency. They might keep some for tours of the city for foreigners, but they won’t be the staple of transportation.
Which makes me sad for future visitors. I don’t know how you can actually experience Phnom Penh unless you’ve gone the wrong way down a narrow one way bumping over potholes at fifteen miles an hour dodging stray animals and pedestrians only to come screeching out into the street with only a cursory glance at oncoming traffic. I mean, that’s what makes Phnom Penh fun.
Anyway, I digress.
I still hate flying. Only had two three hour flights and it was still miserable. Aquaman and I had the same initial flight so we got to Guangzhou and picked up our luggage, but what should have been a two and a half hour layover for me and a two hour layover for him, turned into less than an hour for him. So he had to book it. I had just at an hour to get through customs and security which was nerve wracking but we lucked out because the security line was the longest and it only took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get through.
Then there was the hike.
So I got through security and there’s this little thing like a golf cart with eight seats sitting there with a sign that says “To B Departure”. And on my ticket it says I need to be at B. So I climb aboard and before I have my backpack settled on my lap we’re off.
I never wondered what it would be like to ride on an indoor Tuk Tuk, but now I have the answer to that unasked question. It could be a ride at Cedar Point. Pedestrians? They better move. I doubt we were going that fast, but this dude had it floored the entire way. It blew my hair back.
It was great and I was glad for it since I found my gate was, of course, the farthest from arrivals as physically possible. They might as well have just put it on the other side of the city.
By the time I got to my gate I had fifteen minutes before boarding.
And I still hate flying.
But the flight was fine, hardly any turbulence and a smooth landing. The real challenge was grabbing my luggage and trying to find who was picking me up. By a stroke of luck, one of the ladies who was here to get me saw me first. Since our ride hadn’t yet arrived we sat at Starbucks and she asked me about the US and I asked her about China. She was really cool and I wish she was coming with me to Yan’an, but oh well.
I had thought I’d be staying in a hotel or hostel, Jay, the godsend that he is gave me the name of a hostel I could book if I was left to find my own lodgings. Luckily? The son of the lady who owns the school I’ll be teaching at owns a “hostel.” It’s nice, but I’m guessing this is just a place they use for teachers who are doing their training in Xi’an. I think I’d rather stay at the place Jay told me about but how do you kindly ask, “Hey, I know this is free, but I’d like to pay to stay somewhere that looks cooler.”
Anyway, I thought I’d just spend the rest of my night just chilling after all day of traveling, but alas, ‘twas not to be. We went to the house of the guy I’ve been emailing who, while writes English fairly well, can’t speak a word of it. So for an awkward hour and a half I drank delicious green tea and listened to the Chinese conversation going on around me.
Then we went out to eat, this is like 8pm, I’ve been up since 430, because my brain hates me, and I am almost asleep on my feet. You have no idea how exhausting Chinese society is until you’re in it. Every single one of us was performing in one way or another. Always, always, always keep your best face up.
So after a month of somewhat plain Khmer cuisine, I assaulted my body with a variety of spices it didn’t get even in the US. I know I had some kind of fish soup, roasted pig’s feet which were pretty good, some kind of mushroom, potatoes, eggs, and some kind of really rich soup that I really enjoyed.
My stomach is not happy with me.
Then they ordered me some kind of noodle bowl and, seriously guys, I haven’t been eating a lot, like once or twice a day for the last month, this was three times that in one meal and I’d already eaten on the flight. And there was also some kind of mozzarella stick looking thing they told me was rice covered in brown sugar sauce.
I tried a little of each but at that point I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep. Traveling itself is exhausting. Traveling and then preforming for four hours about damn killed me.
Fiiinaaaaalllllyyyy it was time to head to the hostel where I am sharing a room with two of my Chinese teachers. I, according to them, am the only foreign teacher at the school. So it looks like I will have an apartment to myself. Dank Sei Gott.
They’re both really nice, but even with them I feel like I have a face and expectations I have to put on that’s just not there with other Westerners. I may well have to find the ex-pat corner of Yan’an and head down there once a week or so just to relax.