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The Chilling Fields

So after the comforts of city life, I set a course for Cambodia, the only country in Southeast Asia not yet inked on my passport (unless you count Myanmar, and with their Marlboro and Levi’s currency, I would consider that less of a country and more of a hinterland eternally stuck in the past – a little like "Pleasantville" but without the pleasantness).

The journey to the airport involved a tram and a train to the main terminal followed by a fitful three or four hours of sleep, then to find out the one-hour shuttle to the AirAsia terminal did not commence until 5:00 a.m. (or 5:30 or 6:00 or 6:30 or 7:00, depending on who you ask). What was certain was that my flight departed at 6:00, and I needed an alternative option, and that right quick. The licensed taxis wanted a cool 60 ringets, or around 17 bucks, for quite a short journey. Instead I jumped in a gypsy cab, giving him every last ringet to my name (about 28.7). He whisked me off, and together with his friend, we set off onto a dark road. They demanded my money immediately, always a suspicious sign, and then at one point I was certain he steered the car away from a sign pointing to my terminal. All the while, the two men relentlessly reminded me how much they liked American dollars, and, didn’t I have any that I could add to the kitty? There are usually several responses when a scam begins to unfold on the street, but they had me without recourse, in the middle of nowhere, with all my belongings, and with a flight to catch. I decided to use the "play dumb" approach (though rest assured I will never, ever, resort to the "I’m Canadian" approach). After a lot of back and forth without any headway, with me just repeating how great Malaysia and Malaysians are, the driver told me he was Christian. How to take this information? Am I more or less likely to be mugged? I wanted to remind him that our last president, ostensibly also "Christian," instigated policies and conflicts leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people. In the end, his circuitous route led to my terminal, and I rushed out after offering a perfunctory gratitude, and jumped on this:

The plane was emblazoned with the insignia of world football’s most evil team (think of the Yankees, then extrapolate the insidiousness using the largest logarithm your Texas Instruments can handle). Despite this, the uneventful flight landed a few hours later in Siem Reap, the jumping off point for the famed Angkor Wat temple complex.

Finally, an historic sight not on Nicholson’s and Freeman’s "Bucket List"! The dozens or maybe hundreds of temples are as numerous and old as Wikipedia says they are, I would guess. They weren’t rediscovered until the 20th century, which gives a good idea both how repressive Cambodia used to be and how dense is her foliage.

Unlike the Taj Mahal, which was built as a shrine to a deceased love, the temples were Buddhist and functional. A few had colorful shrines:

And though rare compared with their Thai or Laos counterparts, there are still a handful of monks wandering around the grounds:

I traveled around the area for the first two days by bicycle (daily rental, $1), whereupon I met and befriended two other pedalers (peddlers?) from Amsterdam, the kings of the two-wheeler. Sanjay and Lydia and I would later join two Germans and two locals. Each night we gathered at the Banana Leaf, a restaurant at the beginning of the surprisingly hip Pub Street of Siem Reap.

Given that nearly all of us were big fans of "The Big Lebowski," the White Russian was the drink of choice while in Cambodia. "Another Caucasian, Gary." Here is Nina, a fashionable but easy-going daughter of the deputy prime minister:

Though she didn’t sing in Khmer, you should check out the sometimes soothing, sometimes pop, sometimes whimsical musical styling of "Dengue Fever" – the band, not the disease. Nothing whimsical or soothing about the disease.

At night we traveled to the night market, which pretty much resembled any other Asian street market. That is, except for the advert for flesh-eating fish. Maybe the designers of the sign thought that by using unintelligible English, foreigners would acquiesce to the obvious delights of aquatic nibbles. Don’t forget, "Immediately you will get the excitement fun and laugh that never have before especially."

Amazingly, my word processor didn’t underline that last sentence, which may describe why its original author seemed satisfied with his finished product.

For our last day, the group hired a few tuk-tuks to visit some distant temples and waterfalls. The temples were unique to each other. Many were built at different periods and from different stones. Here’s another one, ‘cause I know you just can’t get enough.

And this one is a little like the haunted houses of movies (of course the sepia doesn’t diminish the feeling):

My favorite was Phra Tom, apparently the setting for part of "Tomb Raider." I can’t remember if I have never seen the movie, or if I just don’t remember the plot due to the wit and wisdom of Angelina Jolie. Here is a pic of the temple, enshrouded by a Tetrameles nudiflora, more commonly known as "Spung":

For our last night, I "tended" to important matters:

Before grabbing the turntables to show’em how we gets down in Brooklyntown:

 

A long overland journey back led back to Bangkok, where Anne has returned from the islands. We parted ways for the last time. Thanks for intermittently spending April with me, Anne Baker!

My dad always claims I have good airport luck, and this would seem to have continued. After asking for a window seat on my flight to Korea, the agent informed me all they had was exit row. Normally a spacious seat, but for my red-eye I wanted my seat to recline. I was about to accept my fate when I harmlessly asked if there was anything else. Her reply will serve as no surprise to one Richard Klein. "Sir, I can put you in Business Class, will that be satisfactory." And this for a man dressed in cargo pants, flip-flops, and in a U-class ticket. I climbed the stairs to the VIP lounge known as "Prestige Class" at the top level of the 747-400. My seat reclined fully flat at the touch of a button, and after getting through the first few minutes of "Annie Hall," I was out faster than Michael Spinx.

 

Another all-day layover in Korea. This time I skipped Seoul and took a bus to Incheon, where I did nothing in particular and took all of one pic:

I should mention that, for a white man, finding Chinatown in the middle of a Korean town is as indistinguishable as Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio to a Mormon.

From there a quick ten-hour hop to the South Pacific. I awoke just in time for a sunrise, somewhere south of Guam.

And after sleeping the day away, I awoke shortly before sunrise, in sendmoneyplease’s final country. Here is the first of two weeks of Fijian sunsets.

All it would take is one more coup d’etat here, in which case, there would be…

 

 

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
May. 13th, 2009 03:17 am (UTC)
Ciao
Hi sendmoneyplease,
I sent an e-mail when you were in Thailand but no reply. I've read your Cambodia entry, so that I know you're ok. Nice web. Contact me if you'd come to Hanoi again.
Tuyet-met in KL
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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