Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas in Cambodia

If I had to characterize this Christmas in one hyphenated word it would be non-traditional.  Christmas Eve was spent down by the riverside and then waiting for the 1:30am night bus to Sihanouk Ville. Since it didn't arrive until 3am we had a lot of time to think about the little town in Bethlehem but mostly Chris and I watched with fascination the comings and going at the Mao's Club which was next door.  I was thinking that STDs might have been the most common gift exchanged on that night.

Our waterfront restaurant

The night bus, which is a sleeping bus, (no seats just double decked padded kind of beds) got us into Sihanouk Ville around 7am.  Instead of looking under the tree, we looked for our island.  There are two Koh Rungs and two resorts, one Songsa the other Songsaa.  My contact person must have been sleeping in because there was no answer when I called and the Christmas spirit was fading fast.  Finally a call, meet at the port island marina, we leave at 10.  There is a Buddha.  In a little restaurant we waited and met Michael from the UK and Maria from St. Petersburg (not the one in Florida).  They too were hoping to go to the right island and resort.  Another phone call "maybe 10:30".  We were having a good time getting to know one another and watching the antics, like a moto driver coming down the pier across the gang plank and right into the restaurant, no one bats an eye.  And then after a cup of coffee, where is the bathroom? around the back, two sheds with boards missing and the beautiful green tropical water below.  Did it say employees must wash hands after using? not sure.  Another call "maybe 11:30", then we hear it is too rough to cross.  About noon the boat driver comes over with his daughter to say no crossing today, too rough.  OK. Michael and Marie had been in Sihanouk Ville for a couple of days so they suggested we go to a little resort close by and then hope the boat would go tomorrow.  The resort had a pool and open air restaurant, a bar and rooms and bungalows, $18 a night.  We were so tired that it looked great and it was.  That night they had a Christmas party and we had fun.  The next morning we got a call before 8 and once again the boat was leaving at 10.  We met Michael and Maria for coffee, "where were you guys last night?" we asked.  Oh we went to a Go-Go bar.  Well, I was pissed.  All I could think of was Goldie Hawn in those white boots. I didn't ask why they didn't tell us because I was afraid that their answer would make me feel old.
Merry Enlightenment
    Back to our port side restaurant (I made sure I used the bathroom in the resort before I left)  it was still really windy and we thought our trip today would be the bus back to Phnom Penh, but no.  More Koh Rungers arrived and soon were were motoring across the harbor and out past the breakwater.  John, dad, Denise,mom, two daughters in their twenties from Australia, Chris and I, Michael and Maria and a German woman, Leven.  Well the weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was rocked, if not for...................anyway I couldn't help but go there because  John put on his baseball cap and written across it was SKIPPER. Michael look oddly like Gilligan. Ok, I want to be the professor, Maria, who resembled Ulma Thurman, was the movie star, Leven, Maryanne, Chris, who left all his money back at my apartment was the anti-millionaire so lets just leave it like that.
The tiny ship was rocked
It really was rough, so much so that we had to land at a little fishing village on the other side of the island and all jump in the back of a pick up truck to get to the jungle trail to hike into the resort.  Our journey together made us all fell friendly and familiar.  The resort, wish I had another word for it, was just a bunch of bungalows on the beach, a covered deck with a long table and some lounging chairs. Nice but not Club Med.  John (Skipper) thought it was the nicest place he had ever been but I think he says that about everywhere he goes.  His daughters, Zoey and Catherine, have been traveling in SE Asia for the last 6 months and now Mom and Dad are catching up with them.  A really nice family.  Our two days there were fun, swimming, hiking in the jungle, a fire on the beach at night, playing cards and talking with our new friends. I have really gotten to like the international flavor of being in Cambodia.  What's going in in Russia Maria?  What do you think about Putin and Obama?  Michael had lived in South Africa.  Denise went to Antarctica twice. Perth is a boom town with all the Chinese money pouring in for mineral resources.  Zoey and Catherine had great stories about Laos and Vietnam. I chimed in to say that I have to cut my grass once a week in the summer.   Leven got sick and we all took turns checking on her and trying to help her figure out what to do next. 
Leven aka Maryanne
Gilligan hanging on for dear life
Michael and Maria
The beach outside our bungalow
Leven got sick and we all took turns checking in on her.  She ended up returning to Sihanouk Ville with us but she was still sick.  Chris and I took her up to our Christmas place and got her a room where at least she would have AC and could get something to eat.  I hope you are ok Leven. Our trip back to Phnom Penh was uneventful and it was good to get home.  I've enjoyed having Chris here and  showing him around.  We've been doing a lot of walking and sitting on the balcony catching up the last 30 years.  Off the Siem Reap and Angkor Wat for New Year's weekend. Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Khmer Wedding

The happy couple
Weddings in Cambodia are a big deal.  Ever since I arrived I've wondered about them and seen and heard them and wanted to get invited to one.  Most of the teachers at school who have been here any amount of time have been to at least one because some Khmer (pronounced Khmei) staff member has gotten married.  So I thought my chance might come from school,  little did I know that my landlady's daughter, Leng Mouy Teang (goes by Pov), just got engaged and yours truly got an invite.

Thanking her relatives
First, the seen and heard.  Almost every weekend some street is blocked off and tents are set up and decorated and food is cooked out and music is played.  It is very elaborate, but until I got a little closer, I didn't know that really meant.  Oh and heard, the music is really loud.  Second, I really haven't been to the wedding, its in January, but to the engagement party.  Get this, it was today, Saturday, from 7am to noon.  The music started at 5:45am.  By 6:30 I had had it and wandered out to my balcony with my view of cultural diversity being reduced to three initials  "WTF".  The music is hard to describe, it is really loud,  some of it sounds kind of ancient and Indian and then morphs into the worst of soft rock.  All the words seems to say "sometimes when we touch, the honesty's too much" repeated many times.  My upstairs neighbor, Claude, a friend and teacher from school was also up and we decided we would go down at 8:30.  When we got there, the downstairs was transformed and it was crowded.  Everyone turned our way and directed us to a good spot to sit.  They were pleased and honored by our presence. Such a nice feeling and I felt so privileged to be there.  Just then, Pov arrived.  Wow, I really am in Kampuchea.. 
This is the down stairs where they park their cars

Elizabeth Taylor would be jealous
Claude, who is much more inquisitive than me, found out the story two weeks ago.  Mom and Dad are not here all the time.  Pov kind of runs the place and Kea and Leung (a story for another time) do all the work.   Pov is a really modern girl; tiny, looks 16 but is 26.  Always has her phone out and wears angry bird t-shirts and jeans.  Her English is good but she has funny word choices, like she refers to the day after her wedding day as Happy Day.    Well she had a young Khmer boyfriend and he used to come around and stay on the 4th floor.  I hadn't seen him in a while but wasn't really looking, then Claude comes in two weeks ago all primed with gossip.   Pov is getting married and we are invited, but that's not the best part (he can't wait to tell me this) not to that good for nothing hip hop kid but to a 30 year old engineer.  Mom got rid of the boyfriend and arranged this wedding.  Well in thinking about it I've decided that Mom  probably knows best (right Mom?). 

Right after the ceremony
Dad, me, groom,bride, Claude and Mom
I always sit at the fun table
The music is now off and a priest, minister, monk, not sure which, is leading the ceremony.  He is kind of chanting and gifts are exchanged and candles lite and rings put on fingers.  Lasted about a half in hour.  Finished with a prayer. Oh yeah, the bride and groom to be, have to go through motions of gratitude to their parents and to relatives.  Pov is kind of a brat and pouted a couple of times when prodded to do her part their way.  Fun to watch, but she was really lovely and fun to look at, the dress and hair and spiky shoulders and golden snake ankle things.  When it was over there was tons of picture taking and then out to the tent to eat.  I tried to see if they would whip up some eggs benedict, but had go with my second favorite breakfast: fish with its head still on, a whole chicken that looked like it got stepped on, lots of gelatinous difficult to describe food items in a sauce that my girlfriends at my table seemed to love and encouraged me in Khmer gestures to take more of.  They were also trying to tell me something, don't want to jump to any conclusions, but does anyone know how you say aphrodisiac in Khmer? At this point Claude spilled a glass of water into his lap and we all got a kick out of that.  I said to him, now's our chance; I'll tell them all you had an accident and I have to take you to the bathroom.

We did leave soon after and said our goodbyes and aoukuns (thank yous) in an appropriate way.  The wedding is in January and I'm buying a new shirt (and ear plugs) and I'll tell you all about it.