In Kratie, Cambodia still, and finding this place to be quite fascinating. Inside resting, as all do in the afternoons here, escaping the worst of the heat, computer on, and theoretically online. But just as it was for all of yesterday, nothing goes out, and nothing comes in.
I had heard when I arrived here that the power was very flaky, but other than some interesting power surges and swings in the afternoons, hadn’t seen that much. I have now. This morning I headed out on the bike – 7:30 am, power was on and fine. First I rode down the street one minute to the bookshop – Red Sun Falling – called this as it looks out on the river where the sunset boasts a blazing red sun seeming to fall into the
island out in the river. By the time I reached Joe’s, the power had gone out.
After checking to see what he was baking for desert tonight, I headed north out of town along the river road, about 7 k to Phnom Sambok, a temple on a high hill referred to as The Mountain. The purpose is just to wander and observe, and to climb up to the temple for the view of the river, and a shady rest.
After I wander my way to the top, and do the requisite shoeless hatless visit to the Buddha, I sit in the shade of the building, Ten minutes later I am fast asleep on the tile, unable to stay awake as the heat builds. Oops, awakening much later with a start, I work my way back down, wanting to cycle back before the searing afternoon arrives, especially as the road hasn’t much shade
I get back to town – four and a half hours after leaving – where I stop in at the closest thing to a market here – a minimart with half the shelves empty – at the big gas station on the roundabout. Looking for cold juice. Juice is available elsewhere, but cold is a rare treat. And juices are keeping me alive, still unable to eat much. The girl has
to total my purchases by hand, there is no power still.. The ride the rest of the way home is maybe 3 minutes, and as I ride I am realizing damn, no power means no shower, and boy do I need to cool off with a rinse. Also no aircon, not that it works very well but it is something, and why I am paying $10 a night now that an aircon room opened up, instead of $4.
What a relief to find that during that brief ride, the power had come back. Perhaps it is in my hands. I leave, it stops. I return, yadda yadda. well, were that so I would wave my wand and conjure the internet back as well. So much for the scheduled Skype call, aborted by the uncooperative internet two days running now.
Cambodia does seem to teach you a bit of patience, and certainly to alter your expectations. You take it all as it comes, or would make yourself crazy. It’s a very relaxed attitude, and I like it.
For my ride I had gone along the riverside road where the houses are continuous, both sides. Many are shops, some selling some basics, like a corner grocery store and liter bottles of petrol. Others have stands out front with garden produce or fruit, or other cooked edibles, sometimes a huge steaming pot on a fire right by the roadside filled with corn. Others hang out signs – a sewing machine for a tailor, a lovely smiling woman with her hair nicely coiffed for the salon, a motorcycle means a repair shop, There is even a sign bearing a computer closer in to town.
Others cycle along the road with a cart filled with baguettes and some pot of something cooking the rice-noodle soup I read about? Or the cart might be hung with all manner of kitchen gadgetry. An interesting one this morning seemed to be a mobile leather shop. One fellow has a long wooden cart which he pulls along, filled with ice blocks. He saws off chunks for the ever present ice chests which hold cool (never cold) drinks for the little shops and food stalls. An occasional wooden cart is pulled by two cattle rather than being cycled or pushed, or pulled, or moto-d. Back in town are some which move along very quickly under pony power.
Whatever works, or whatever one can afford to buy.
People sit outside, or in their doorways, or walk about on errands. The traffic is composed of many motos with most often one or two people riding, but as many as four; bicycles with less affluent adults or with children, again often two on a bike, and this huge variety of moto and bicycle powered conveyances. Dogs and chicken are everywhere as well. Alongside there is the occasional wat (Buddhist temple) or school, and of course, among the tiny ‘shops’ many simple residences.
Having been invited in to one of these homes a couple of days ago, I have a picture in my head of what is inside, though often I can see right in as the road is raised and is level with the living quarters, on stilts, with cooking areas and hammocks underneath. To the extent that the home I visited is typical, inside is a slat floor that allows a bit
of ventilation, and to the rear on one side a semi-enclosed sleeping platform which looked like the master bedroom area, and on the other side another small room which I wasn’t quite forward enough to ask to see though I would love to have known.
The home was quite tidy and had a large armoire centered on the rear wall between the two small ‘rooms’, a separate area toward the front dedicated to prayer and a surprising number of books because, according to the son who had invited me there, the father was a devout Buddhist. And a small TV on another dresser.
Back now out on the road, the school I pass is marked by three sets of no-nonsense multiple speed bumps. The bike lock in my basket flies out on the first set. And again on the second. I give up and lock it to the handlebars for the third. Even barangs can learn.
The few cars use their horns freely to warn the motos and bikes and walking people and dogs so they can move on through without disaster and with minimal disruption to their faster pace. Some large trucks pass too, some carrying 50 kg bags of something, probably rice. The more interesting large trucks are the local transport, full of people, and with tops completely loaded with everything else.
I ride through a named village area. The only way it differs from the rest of the scene is that here there is a series of similar tables by the roadside, each stocked with two local handmade specialties – krolan is sticky rice mixed with coconut and beans, cooked in bamboo tubes, sold by the kilogram. The one I buy costs 1300 riel – about 30 cents. The other specialty here is nhem – little dabs of raw spiced fish wrapped in banana leaves, costing 200 riel a packet – about 5 cents. In town things tend to be a bit more expensive, and at times there is dual pricing – one for barang, one for Kymer (pronounced ka-mai).
I am grateful for this extra day I have decided to spend here as I am finally getting past the cacaphony of images and seeing more of the detail. And I am also using this day to make myself eat. Not so easy with the constant heat, especially for one who turns out to have a somewhat delicate digestive system.
And the clothing!
Of course there is a great deal of the street child dirty ragtag. But with the teenage and older girls, the fashionable colors are pink, red and lime green, preferably all at once. The absolute favorite style is K-mart pajamas in the most weird and often garish prints available. Hello Kitty type branding is popular, and rhinestones and glittery decals, the more the better. I’ve been told that I should dress this way – in garish K-mart pajamas – and would then pass as just another local old lady. Oh man, would I love to try this, as my bike riding ensemble!
Unfortunately, it is pretty much impossible to photograph all this without being obnoxious and intrusive. So I must just let my eyes and my words do the recording.