Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steppin' Out

Friday nights begin with a walk to the AK. On the way I think of Walt Whitman taking the ferry from Brooklyn to Manhattan excited about what is ahead and enjoying the trip.  If he were on his way to the AK he would be tipping his hat to the drivers, "you the man" he might say. He would stop and laugh with the fireman who are always out in the evening playing badminton, each point seemingly funnier then the last.  I am sure he would see the beautiful smiling faces and feel the energy of the rushing motos and tuktuk, sounds that might have him think of a song   "I Hear Cambodia Singing.......
Gayla and Sambath

Your table is waiting at Le LiBan
      The AK is a small speciality shop that has a free wine tasting on Fridays from 5-7 and has been my destination the last couple of weeks.  Even though I call the usual suspects a  gathering of cheapskates, the crowd that shows up is really nice.  Australians, Indians, Cambodian, Italians, Americans and more.  There is cheese and bread and of course wine.  Its not really a tasting or it maybe starts as a tasting but then it just becomes a lot of people standing around with  glasses filled with wine.  Turn around and there is someone new to talk with and the conversations get pretty lively.  Gayla's friend Sambath is the manager of the AK and she is really stunning.  I think I have to say here that Gayla is really stunning too (she might read this).  Well by seven everyone is getting  hungry and its where to go to dinner?  We have been to some pretty nice restaurants, secret places, hidden away.  Myfavorite hasbeen Le LiBan.  Walk through the gate and it is just beautiful, so different from the gritty streets.  It was all but empty when we got there and the owner came over to greet us and he ended up staying for a while.  We took a tour and each table was surrounded by its own separate garden.  There is this tree there that is some kind of a palm that fans out from a sturdy trunk to maybe 12 branches each ending in one giant leaf.  A sweeping symmetric show of leaves from the front and back but almost disappears from the side.  The owner is Lebanonese and a real charmer, I say this because he had us buy a $35 dollar bottle of wine, and us well past our the wine tasting appreciating part of the night.  Next week is Indian and the next is Italian but somehow tonight is my suggestion.
Cecil, Gayla, me, Sambath and Giampaolo
    The Boddhi Tree is my Sunday morning breakfast spot.  I've never seen the garden lit up at night and our evening thunderstorm moved through with just enough noise and lightning to create an ambiance I can described in one word, magic.  Two weeks ago I bought some prints to hang on my bare yellow walls and then I went and got them framed.  They turned out really nice.  In the art shop I was struck by these original paintings that were kind of impressionistic oils of classic Khmer stone carving.  I asked how much? $50 matted and framed.  I was blown away and have been thinking of ways of getting these painting to the US and sell for $500 or more.  Anyway I brought this idea to the table because Giampaolo's company is  AsiaFutura Trading, he brings Italian food into Cambodia.  He liked the idea and said he would sign on, then Gayla said that everything she brings home to Colorado draws attention.  She really likes the fabrics here.  Cecil is an accountant and he jumped on board too.  A company was forming and we quickly realized that Sambath would be the perfect spokesperson.  We all agreed that she would beguile America and get them to love Cambodia: riches would soon follow.  Well it was really fun talking and laughing and dreaming up names and how a year from now we will have a big glassed in office on the 44th floor of the tallest in Phnom Penh.  "What are you some kind of a cooperate pig?" I think Gayla said.  (We might have to go without her).  The night continued with two bottles of wine and before we knew it the waiter asked us to settle up because they were closing.  We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.  Phnom Penh is different when is it late.  All the stores have closed up and the metal gates locked tight.  The streets, so crowded just a couple of hours ago, are all but empty.  The tropical breeze sways the palms with just faint notes of that song.
Potential millionaires
Where is Walt this morning?  Singing that Leonard Cohen song ".....I ache in places where I used to play..."?  I have to remember not to drink wine and where are all those clever name we thought up for our company?  I probably won't check to see if we have any orders because I have a stack of papers to correct for Monday.  And where did that magic go?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The People that I Meet

Always waiting in ambush
To say that Cambodian are a tolerant, easy going and happy group of people sounds about as dumb as saying the Irish are drunks or Italians hot headed, so I will say the Cambodians that I meet are just the nicest people.  Walking down the street I always get a nice smile from someone.  Even the moto or tuktuk drives who are always saying "Tuktuk", smile when I say no, and they will laugh if I say "Wakwak".
       As usual my life falls into routines and the Cambodians I meet notice.  I go the a Sunday service and stop in a really nice cafe and guest house called the Boddhi Tree.   I never have much time so now the waiter, Sopheak, a really nice kid in his twenties, asks coffee? as I walk through the garden.  Two weeks ago when he brought it over he said that he remembered that I don't take milk or sugar and I said how nice of you to remember, the only problem is that I do take milk but not sugar, but for two weeks running I have not had the heart to tell him.  Cambodian coffee is not that good anyway and I'm really looking for half and half so I decided to just have it black, just like he remembers.  One of my other regular stops is SuperCheap, a beer and wine store.  The names of these places that cater to westerners are kind of silly, Lucky is chain of grocery stores and sub shops and hamburger places,  Excellent Market is right around the block and its isn't really that excellent,  but SuperCheap lives up to its name in one respect, Beck's Beer for $4.20 a six pack. It is a modern store and has a glass front and sliding doors.  It is way over staffed, which is the case with a lot of stores, and there is a young man in SuperCheap who always spots me coming and I can see him head for the Beck's as the doors open.  I really don't think he sees me as incapable of finding the beer or unable to carry it to the counter, he is just nice.  One day in between walking in and paying at the counter (it takes three girls to ring up the sale and put the six pack in a plastic bag) a downpour started.  He came over and took my beer and put it aside and invited me into separate part of the store that is kind of like a wine cellar, super air conditioned and fun looking at all the labels, some over $200 a bottle.  He came back ten minutes later to say the rain had stopped.
The Beck's is on the right
  Samol has become my tuktuk driver and because I have been tutoring two or three afternoons  a week I am calling him a lot.  He is the nicest guy.  I feel like a cross between a rajah and a ugly American sitting in the back of his tuktuk but it is always fun seeing the city and taking note of the driving.  I've said this before I know, but the antics on the road here are really quite amazing.  Maybe they teach accelerating as you enter an intersection at driver's ed because everyone does it.  Even Samol who drives really slow, does it.  When there is congestion at an intersection, motos slip though the smallest opening to get to the front and a group always goes up on the sidewalk and then to the head of the cue.  No one gets mad.  I watch Samol watching them and I kind of get the feeling he is saying "Good move". Twice my appointments got cancelled at the last minute and Samol was down stairs waiting and when I told him he says "No Problem".  I used to ask him how much, some drivers are really a pain about money, but Samol always says "Whatever you think", so I don't ask him anymore.  Gayla told me that her first year here she was really broke and Samol would take her places for very little or nothing.  She trusts him and calls him a friend.  Every time she and I go somewhere he is always invited in and always declines.   He invited us to his homeland on the last holiday and we both had to decline, but made a little pack that we would go out to the country to visit with his extended family next time we get invited.  Now that would be a story I am sure.  As you might have realized by now I am quite taken by the people I meet.  Samol's quite dignity, the thoughtfulness and positive nature of him and others have become what I am most impressed with in this little backwater country.  If, as the beatitudes say, 'the meek shall inherit the earth',  I would think the Cambodian will own a lot of property.