It had been a long flight (27+ hours) and my internal time clock was completely wacked out. I got in about midnight Cambodia time but it was lunch time at home and, though exhausted, I was completely awake. Soval, the taxi driver, had taken me to my new home for the weekend, the New Golden Bridge Hotel. It was closed. He knocked on the door for me and a young woman in white printed flannel pajamas welcomed me. She showed me the register to sign and then, with two hands and almost a bow, formally handed me a key on a big blue and white lucite key chain that had a predominate 115 on it. My 15 dollar a night room was room 115. The most notable thing about this room, besides the fact that room One 15 ended up being at the top of four flights of stairs, was the heat. It was the same temperature of hot everywhere, windows open or closed, outside or in. The internet said it “felt like 106 degrees”. I believed it. Sleep was not to be had.
To Be or Not to Be…White
So, while Not sleeping, I dumped all my possessions onto the bed to re-organize. I had my concerns about what to wear the next day, (today) in light of the heat. The guide books said covering your upper arms and upper legs was respectful to the culture. I picked something that complied with that rule but wondered how I was going to get by in the heat.
Then today I carefully observed people’s dress, hoping…please let the guide books be wrong! Couldn’t I wear a little less to stay a little more cool? I was sadly disappointed. Not only did the women cover their lower legs and their upper arms, both men and women covered every stitch of skin they possibly could. Long sleeves, long pants or skirts, hoodies with the hoodies UP over their heads, socks worn with flip flops and many times hands in gloves. In light of the sweltering heat I was astounded. Soval the taxi driver explained it to me. “They are protecting their skin because they want to have light skin”. He laughed. “It is different than you. You want to be dark. But here, dark skin is very bad and the men don’t marry women as quickly with dark skin.” “But what about the heat!?” I protested. “What do they do about the heat?” He seemed confused. I repeated myself. “How do they handle the heat with the long sleeves and long clothes?” That did nothing to clarify the situation and he seemed to not see the problem at all. “Oh we have plenty of heat! It is not cold like in your country”. :^
Nevertheless, while they all wanted to be white like me, today I wished to be small and brown like them. I didn’t like being singled out and asked a million times if I wanted a Tuk-Tuk ride. (motor cycle taxi) I wanted to be an invisible observer mingling in the crowd. So tonight, finding an open air restaurant where lizards hung out on the ceiling, I sat quietly in a corner sipping on one glass of wine for a very long time. After awhile the servers forgot about me, as I wanted nothing more, and I became the landscape for just a while. I got to see the family that owned the restaurant be a family- with all the little kids running around and the body-guard of those little kids carrying them here and there and making them laugh. I saw the Tuk-Tuk drivers hang out across the street and friends greet each other and catch up. I was happy then, even though the only thing it really showed me was what I already knew…we are pretty much all the same.
Visit to the Killing Fields
Have you guys seen that movie? The site of the recent Cambodian genocide (1975-1979) where up to 3 million people were killed was so amazingly sad. Soval the taxi driver’s father was killed during this time by the government.
At the end of the tour the guide said “Let this be a lesson to all of us. You do not think this will happen in your country. Neither did we”
Properly Disposing of Puke
Seeing the Killing Fields live and in person had been quite an emotional experience. That combined with sweltering heat IN SLEEVES, no food and not much sleep left me feeling ill. Before I climbed into Soval’s cab for the return trip, I got a fresh coconut for $1. It had a hole in the top with a straw in the hole and I drank the cool milk knowing that coconut juice is one of the best things in the world to rehydrate a body. It was not enough. Half way back to town my head begin to swim, then the sick feeling started and I knew I was about to loose everything in my stomach. I wondered how to communicate this to Soval and if he would understand. I imagined myself opening the car door and puking while the cab was moving. My mind roved to and fro for a better solution and finally landed on the plan of using the plastic bag the coconut had come in as a barf bag. Soon enough, that plan was executed. Soval felt bad for me when I leaned over the bag and repeatedly retched clear yellow fluid into it. He asked if it would help if he patted my back. I assured him I was OK and, after awhile, I was. Except that I was holding a clear plastic bag of pee colored puke. So I held it and we drove. And, I held it and we drove. Finally it became too much for him. “Throw it out there.” He told me and pointed to one of the little mounds of dirt and trash piled up against the concrete wall lining the road. I wasn’t exactly sure what these piles of dirt and trash were, but they appeared every ten yards or so along this wall. I had seen no trash receptacles at all. “So, is that trash? Does someone come and pick it up?” I asked and Soval hesitated, thinking of how to answer me. “Ummmmm….yes”. He finally said, but I figured he was lying. We were approaching another little trash mound. “Throw it there! Now!” He said, so I rolled down my window and chunked it. The bag hit the ground and pee colored puke spewed all around the ground and on the wall. I sat back in my seat, glad I was not at home where I would have been charged a billion dollars for being the worst litter bug in the freakin world.