Same same, but better

Day XLI – April 28

Breakfast of bliss: rolled oats with banana, Vietnamese coffee for head and a coke for the tummy. It’s a UK run place so a little more expensive: a whole $4,25.

One of the tuktukdrivers that asked us if we required his services right the moment we walked out of the hostel was so clever as to follow us to the place we had breakfast and is still waiting for us when we come out.
So we let him take us to Rolous, an hour ride at $6 each, over the highway and then a small dust road with more sympathetic bamboo houses alongside it. Our driver points out some things like a snake farm and is making little jokes with us when his wife calls.
When we come out of the palm woods we have to buy a ticket at a lonely concrete tollhouse. The other girls told us it’d be $15, but the lady in the booth tells us it’s $20
“That long time ago, price go up now.”
“That was just last week?”
“Ok, ok, special price for you, $16”
We get back in the tuktuk and drive another 20 minutes over a dry sort of prairie before we get to the harbor; a tiny little stream filled with longboats.
We’re showed to one of them and take off for a 2-hour trip to the floating village of Kampong Phluk on Tonlé Sap.
floating village
It’s inspiring to see how people here use anything they can find to make things work. Why would you need a special or new sheet when you can just use an old billboard canvas to cover your boat with?
And these houses! It’s very obvious the water level is currently very low. But the houses must be much higher than the water could ever reach; the first 2 stories are skeleton structures of wooden poles where the fishing nets are hung to dry, some tools are stored and the kids are playing. And only on top of that, 6 meters from the ground or so, is where the houses stand, where they live, cook, eat, sleep.
It looks like up there it’s all built of bamboo; the floor spread out at least the width of a plank apart so that from down here you can look in. The walls are made with bamboo leaf, and some have scraps of wood and corrugated steel, prefab wall or even roof tiles intertwined in the construction.
And all of them have verandas in front, heavily hung and coloured with flowers and plants, and laundry of course.

That’s another thing you see so much more of here in Asia; laundry hung out for all the world to see. But out here it only makes sense to hang it outside, and with this heat you must produce more of it.
It’s just that in the city you’ve got all that dust and smog…

And finally there are those smiling and waving and shouting kids again. We’ve missed their enthusiasm since we left Samraong yesterday. I guess they see to many tourists already in Siem Reap and Rolous.

It’s funny how I always used to be quite proud of my English, and I’d be too stubborn to admit if I didn’t know a word. Now I don’t care anymore if I don’t come across like a native; I’m not. And plenty of natives have complemented me on my English and accent. So what if I have to ask what the correct word for ‘fungi in the water’ is? So what if I mix up than/then? In Dutch I do it all the time with d/t.
That’s another lesson in it for me; things don’t have to be perfect, it’s much more important to see it through, make it to the end; just do it, without fear.

When we come back to town, Rikke has come down with a foodpoisoning and needs to lie down. Not such a blissfull breakfast for all of us…
Patrizia and I decide to try those fish massages you see on every streetcorner. And then I see Annie and Kaitlin, who I met in Luang Prabang aswell, sitting at a table; small world.

So these fish massages, the big thing in Siem Reap; you put your bare feet in a tank filled with water and little fish that nibble away the dead skin and dirt. Around the tank, benches are built to sit on. And I spend 10 minutes giggling, with my legs pulled up; letting them down every now and then but it’s just too ticklish to let them in completely. But once you get through that it’s actually very nice. And afterwards your feet feel like silk.

After dinner, we’re having a beer when I see a guy walking by; second time I see the whole thing so I run after him, expecting he’ll tell me he got in Hanoi or something. So I ask him, and he tells me:
“On the nightmarket just across the river…”
“What, here in Siem Reap?!”
So I explain to him how long I’ve been looking for it. Anyway, I rush to the market, asking every shirt lady “Same same but better?”
“No, jus but diferen…” is all I get.
Until finally, one of them told me to wait a minute while she runs of to find it at her father’s booth. And she’s got it! So now I’ve got it! My own same same but better shirt! I was looking for it too hard so had no ground left to haggle so had to pay the full 2$ and 800riel I had on me. The shirt I’d been looking for since Vang Vieng. Yay!

Hehe, and now I’m stoned ^.^
On the veranda I ran into Gabriel, the gorgeous latino I met on the bus last week but had already seen around in Spicy Laos – again, small world.
So he also made it to Garden Village. And he invites me to share his joint. I tell him I’m a little hung over and still have a headache but he promises me it’ll only get better.
It’s a pure and strong one and the high comes in quickly.
Too bad the high takes my social away. Too bad the high takes his handsome away. Too bad it was a lie about curing the headache. But it’s funny how precisely I can visualize it; these bright green arrows pushing against my temples.

And now I am so thirsty! But I can’t get myself to get up, not even to go to the bathroom I had to for a while now; let alone to go over to my locker to go and get money out so I can buy some drinking water, which I’m all out.*

* One and a half month back in the Netherlands when I read this, and I think
“why didn’t I just go to the loo to drink some water over there?” completely forgotten how you only drink bottled water over there.

Back to the city

Day XL – April 27

Those cows that walk around town at all these random places, freely; it’s not like they don’t belong to anyone, but they’re not really ‘owned’ either.
I wonder, how do you tell which are yours?
But I guess it’s a bit like the bikes we’re using now. We call them ‘my bike’ because we are used to the word ‘mine’. But they’re Greenway bikes, Mr Ya’s bikes. He calls them ‘the bikes’ though. There are no locks on them, but no one would steel them, no matter where in town we’d park them.
Yesterday at the orphanage the one Rikke is using was borrowed. Five minutes later it was returned though, no harm done.
A little left-over of communism I guess, like there are so many in daily life. There is no ‘mine’ or ‘yours’; there’s not even a translation for the word – everything is collective goods. And when someone has had a bad harvest or needs money to repair his home, neighbors and friends; the community, will step in to lend a helping hand. This seems to be a sense of compassion still so much alive in all these countries I’ve visited.
You don’t see that anywhere in the western world anymore.

I thought time would slow down out here, being in one place, having a daily routine.
It hasn’t one bit. We’re about halfway but it still feels like we only just got started.
And the classes this morning: after explaining the stuff we put on the poster, there was hardly any time left; it just flew right by.
Next time I’m doing a project like this I will be sure to take more time, 6 weeks at least.

This heat makes for an unquenchable thirst for sodapops, and for swollen legs and ankles. It’s quite tiring.
And also means showering before 10pm has no use, and falling asleep is hard to do. And waking up before 6am is a given. And the worst is there is nowhere to swim. I really hope we’ll find a pool in Siem Reap this weekend.
Hard knock life in Cambodia…

Yeah I guess we do stink after a hot day like this in class. The taxidriver that came to pick us up, just pulled over to buy a facemask.

After the modest settlements by the road, it’s an insane sight to be driving into Siem Reap over the highway, which takes us along all those huge resorts. All that fake glamour is quite nauseating once you’ve seen the real life.

We made sure to book our night at Garden Village Guesthouse this time. And when we get there we’re shown to our rooms, with actual roomnumbers and everything.
But it’s so much better; their dorm rooms have a single wall and a roof, but otherwise it’s outside; just a bed and a net – what else would you need?
The ‘room’number is written on a paper, hung on a corner of the net.
Amongst about 10 doublebeds there are 2 bathrooms to share, just the simple toilet/shower combo you see in every budget hostel. Plain, but just fine by me.

I’m starting to get a little worried about my leg. Putting bandaids on it reverses the healing process so much it has now turned into a bright red wound. But the minute I walk outside, I catch a fly feeding on me…

We have dinner at one of the stands along the curb, where we find a pearl of Engrish on the menu; right in between the pork dishes there is one named ‘spicy porn’. Great food. And after missing my daily fruitshake for a week –I’ve not seen them yet in Samraong- it’s a relief to find them on the specials card.

We meet the other Greenway girls for a cocktail at happyhour.

Is this the first time I mention happy hour? I only started noticing in Vietnam, how they don’t really get the concept but handle it like: it’s an hour and we’re happy. It can apply to anything; clothing, food, drinks… and it can mean any sort of deal but usually something different than the second-for-free deal that we know.

And what do you know; at the place nextdoor, right across from me, sits Rob, the Scot I met in Spicy Laos, Luang Prabang, Laos. He’s been taking a different route, but still it’s impossible to meet someone just once on this Southeast Asia backpacker trail.

After the mandatory second cocktail we proceed to bar Angkor What?! for a dance and more drinks. Yun and I decide we need a shooter, so bend over the menu and pick something all us 6 girls might like; peachvodka it is. Sounds sweet right? Well it doesn’t taste it.
Did the trick though, so we merge in the crowd of crazy crazy party party for an hour or so and dance away to all the classics – 2 Unlimited, Vengaboys, 2 Brothers On The 4th Floor – and the new classics, those bakcpackerhits you hear everywhere – Swedish House Maffia, Bruno Mars, Rhianna.
I guess we do; Mariella’s decided we need another bucket.
Once tired we sit down at Temple Bar for a Tombraider -supposedly Angelina Jolies invention- a nice mix of bitter lemon, lime and vodka.
Eventually we get a little shattered, some going home, some making out with a boy that just randomly joined our table; the way it goes at partyparty. Some wallflowers and some party hardies.
I end up on the dancefloor with 2 girls that are here on vacation from Phnom Penh, a 16 year old and her 20 year old cousin as her chaperone. I don’t know if they are rich and famous or how they ended up in a club this late, but they appear pretty modern.
That I’m talking to a boy though, makes them a giggle, and they joke at me like he’s my boyfriend. Yeah he was hitting on me, but a little drunk too, and other than that I just wasn’t attracted to him. Suddenly the girls don’t seem all too modern anymore…

At 2am I decide to go to bed; Pat, Rikke and I are supposed to meet for breakfast at 10am. I walk home alone and at the end of Pub St Alley the ambush of tuktukdrivers awaits me. I tell them I will be fine and will just walk, but one of them keeps insisting: “I go home now, I go that way, I take you there, no charge.” Too sweet an offer to decline. Everybody is so friendly here, for a big city, but then I guess Siem Reap isn’t that big after all.