Friday, December 3, 2010

I'll take "potpourri" for $800, Alex

A few things that are rattling around, still to be said:
  • There's something kind of disturbing about the constant refrain of tuk-tuk drivers in Phnom Penh coming up and saying "Killing Fields?!" They say it over and over again - Killing Fields? Killing Fields? It feels like walking the streets in Germany somewhere and having Jews come up and say Holocaust?! Holocaust?! It's unsettling, and I know it's a tourist destination, the main Killing Fields memorial site, and I know it's immediate and often personal history, and I know it's just a shorthand, and I know it's no different than saying "National Museum?" or any other destination, but it unsettles me every single time. I'm not sure how to feel when I say no. What I want to do is stop, and look at the person and tell him I'm so sorry that this horrible thing happened to them. Then I realized that if I'm talking to someone in his mid- to late-40s, it's a bit more likely that I might be talking to someone who perpetrated the crimes than someone who survived them, since so few did survive. Complicated.
  • For the most part (except on our return to Phnom Penh, curiously), vendors and tuk-tuk drivers have been remarkably low-key. They don't chase us down, they don't keep asking after we say no, etc. This was true in all of Cambodia and Laos.....except at Angkor Wat. We went to the vendor area to buy a bottle of water, and you couldn't go near it without being swarmed by kids selling postcards (look lady, see, Angkor Wat sunrise, Angkor Wat clouds, temples, see lady? you buy? One dollar, look lady...), kids trying to take you to their family's "stall" to buy food or drink, women trying to pull you this way and that, to buy food or drink. So Marc headed toward one woman to buy water -- purposely not going to the left because that woman was being too pushy -- and as he paid for the bottle of water, the pushy woman started screaming at him: "You don't keep your word! You bad person!" I guess this is the intersection of a constant flood of tourists and great need.
  • Cambodia is always described as one of the poorest countries in SE Asia, and I think Laos is considered poorer. In southern Cambodia, everywhere we looked we saw people with at least a couple of cows, a few pigs, a bunch of chickens, and fields of rice. Curiously, we didn't see cows in Laos, though on our trip out to the waterfalls we did see a couple of chickens here and there.
  • In Laos, the word for hello is sabaidee (sah-bye-deeeeeeee), and it's always said with a smile and with palms pressed together and held at your chest, like the namaste pose. It's an all-purpose word, I think - it means hello, good morning, welcome, all those concepts. When we'd go to breakfast at our restaurant in Luang Prabang, the young women who worked there (one nametag:  Mrs. Chit, waitress) would stop whatever they were doing, turn to face us fully, and place their hands together and give us a full sabaidee. I started doing the same thing and it felt really amazing - not just a mindless hi in passing, not really paying attention, but a real stop and look and acknowledge. I enjoyed every sabaidee given and received in Laos.
  • Our dinner last night at K'Nyay was absolutely amazing, and I hope Marc can replicate it when we get home. We had sweet corn fritters for an appetizer - the kernels were giant, and the batter holding them together was very light and crispy, and I could've eaten them til the cows come home. We each got char kreung - mine with chicken and Marc's with shrimp - and the sauce was so spicy it left our lips and tongue stinging for a long, long time. They were served with a wild rice mixture that was perfectly chewy and nutty and stood up to the rest of the meal. We actually got dessert, which we don't usually do; I got banana fritters (served with a small scoop of ginger ice cream) and Marc got pumpkin coconut parcels, which were delicate and subtle and really delicious. I really wished my camera had been working, the food was beautiful and wonderful. We may go back there tonight, for our last dinner in Cambodia.
For our last two days in Phnom Penh, we're staying in a tiny little hotel - the Blue Lime - down an alley behind the Royal Palace. If it weren't for the loud construction project going on all day long next door, this would be a nearly perfect place to stay. I love the decor - it fits my aesthetic and makes me happy - and it's certainly reasonable. Our first of two nights we had a regular room, but tonight, our last night, we got a room with a private pool....for $75/night. Want to see?

looking out our bedroom window, at our pool

standing outside at our pool's edge, looking back into our room. COOL!
this is the main pool for the hotel - not bad either, but the noise is a bit too much

For a bit of sightseeing this morning, we walked to Wat Phnom, which is the namesake wat for this town. According to legend, a woman named Penh found 4 Buddha relics in this area, and took them to this phnom (which means's the highest point in town) and this wat was built. Anyway - big, wat-ey, and interesting.

this elephant is available for people to ride around the wat
there was a small bunch of monkeys hanging around

and here it is, Wat Phnom.
    So we leave Phnom Penh tomorrow, Saturday at 11 something in the morning, for the 2.5 hour flight to Hong Kong. We leave Hong Kong around 5-something pm (still Saturday) and we land in JFK at 8pm (still Saturday). After flying for 16 hours (just the Hong Kong-JFK part). That always blows my mind and confuses me a little too much.

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