Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Trip: Cambodia
Date: October 3, 2006
Place: Phnom Penh

It looked like it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day when I left the hotel this morning, so I decided to rent a motorcycle today and drive south to see Phnom Chisor (Khmer ruins) and Tonle Bati (lake with fishing villages). Unfortunately, about a half an hour out of Phnom Penh, it started to downpour. I pulled under a tree for a bit of shelter, but the tree was small and it was raining hard. Fortunately, the tree was in front of a small Cambodian house and the woman who lived there gestured that I could come inside out of the rain. As I was getting soaked, I took her up on her offer. Her whole family was there - husband, daughter, and three sons. She didn't speak English, but we both spoke a bit of French, so we could make rudimentary conversation. I told her where I was going and she explained to me that I was on the wrong road. I then figured out (with the help of her son who did speak some English) where the right road was. By that time the rain had subsided, so I started to go. I had a few pencils left so I gave one to each of her children. I really appreciated her generousity. She didn't have much (baiscally just a one room shack), but what she had she was willing to share with a complete stranger.

I finally got on the right road and drove for a half an hour through the rain. I stopped by the road to again ask directions only to find out that I passed my turnoff. (There are no street signs here! In Khmer or English!) I was then very wet, so I pulled over to the side of th road at a little street-side restaurant to dry off a bit and relax my legs and head. (The motorcycle rental place didn't have helmuts; I heard too many helmutless motorcycle driver horror stories growing up from my dad, the ER doc, though so I bought a helmut before heading out. Sadly, it was not very comfortable...) I managed to order lunch without my speaking a word of Khmer and without the owner of the restaurant speaking a word of English. I somehow managed to get rice (another guy was having it, so I pointed to what he was eating) and something else. I don't really know what the "something else" was, nor do I think that I want to know after examining the bits of "meat" that were in it... There was a teenage girl who worked at the restaurant and she found it hysterical that I ordered and was trying to eat the Khmer food. She kept giggling at me...

Thankfully, I did finally find Wat Chisor. Unfortunately, that expedition took me all day, so I did not have time to go to Tonle Bati. It also rained all day! So much for my brilliant idea of going today because it would be sunny!

Just a few notes on Cambodia...

First, the ATMs here dispense dollars instead of riel, the national currency. Most people here prefer to be paid in dollars. I have found that dollars are the preferred currency in several countries outside of the US! (The Lao people also prefer dollars to their native kip.)

Second, motorcycles are EVERYWHERE here. I would say that about 85% of people drive motorcycles, 10% ride bicycles, and the remaining 5% drive cars. I have seen some strange things on motorcycles as people use them to transport things as well as individuals. Here is my top ten list of bizarre things that I have seen on motorcycles:

10) Family of five (mother, father, and three small kids)
9) Family of four and their dog! (who balanced himself on the handlebars)
8) A truckload's worth of freshly harvested rice
7) About a month's worth of groceries
6) A huge pile of bamboo sticking quite far out the sides
5) A large stack of bamboo bookcases
4) A large, glass display case
3) A barrel of gasoline and a little boy (the boy's father was driving... :) )
2) Live pigs
1) About 100 live ducks tied by their ankles to the motorcycle

Yes, you read that last one right! As I was driving home tonight I heard quacking sounds. I turned my head left and saw a motorcycle (two of them actually!) with about 70-100 live ducks tied to it!! It was one of the craziest things that I have seen!! I pulled over to get my camera and then sped up to try to get a picture. I took about four photos and then it started to rain so I put my camera away so I wouldn't damage it. I think that two of the shots got in the ducks, but one was far away and the other was blurry and off-center (hey! I was driving a motorcycle and had to use my left hand to take the picture!) I will see what I can clean up in Photoshop though, and will post the pictures on my website...

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