Post 15: Can’t change his spots – quite literally

Hello again my dears,

A short sweet return, as i have three posts ready for you now, the triptych culminating in another video at post 17. But for now, some last bits on cambodia:

Erratum: What I thought were water buffalo and then called oxen because they were domesticated (and the last image I saw of an asian man riding a water buffalo was depicting life from at least a hundred years ago) were in fact water buffalo . Fantastic. Also explains the tendency to mud bathe.

Day 13, Today the plan is to go a bit higher end, fancy-pants, in search of imbricated flavor combinations and a touch of the haute (perhaps in diametrical response to the fact that my friend yesterday told me I had had the chance to eat rice-paddy rat in Siem Reap and missed it. Fed ex?).

I walk around the whole morning, hitting various markets that of course are fascinating in the extreme (among the pics you’ll see later, prawns the size of small lobsters with hugely long intense cobalt-colored legs; a stand with all the various Cambodian seasoning leaves -- awesome; a tied-up bundle -- bro, a hank? -- of dried bird hatchlings – very strange; fresh pepper, still green, on the stem; and others. (and do click on this one of the hanging dried fish -- they're gorgeous).

One thing I’m looking for is this combination cleaver/ultrabadass peeler/shaver that I’ve seen women using for all kinds of things, including slicing the thinnest disks off an entire bunch of lemon grass at one time. That would save a lot of work (though it might be difficult to explain on the plane). They have little ones, but all the working women have these honking huge ones; I covet.
Unsuccessful in my search, I ultimately eat at the 20-stand “food court” inside the central market – massively a-bustle and sweltering – and have a delicious beef and noodle soup (she had big beef bones leaning against her pot – I always take that as a good sign – then she sliced the steak super thin and cooked it by swirling it in a ladle of hot soup before putting it all in my bowl. Delicious.). Almost immediately after, I pass by the first curry stand I’ve seen, so I have a second breakfast of red curry chicken. Not amazing, But I do end up talking at length in French with a Cambodian woman named Bonasy (close to my age) who wants to take me around tomorrow, but I have to leave in the morning, plus speaking French exhausts me. And I get even shyer than normal. The name of my shame, still after all these years: French.

An almost random thought, but something I noticed when I started speaking with Bonasy: Single men among you, have you entered the phase where when you notice a woman, you immediately check for a wedding ring? Do you know when you made that switch? It’s seems to me that it comes on rather subtly. For me it happened some time in the last two years, and it’s interesting how often one can predict that there will be one, even with considerably younger women

Phnom Penh has a lot of temples, and they’re very beautiful. Of course I like the older, deteriorating ones best, so I’ll put up the photos when I can. I also especially like the entranceways to the monasteries; they have intricately carved stone facades above the gates that are very nice. They’re almost my favorite part. (photos someday)

A side note: what are all the fucking backpackers carrying? Those front bags they tote around in addition to the rucksacks are an obscenity, and why are all their bags always jammed-full? Have they already bought everything that they will buy, or do they have to throw something away with each new purpose to keep zero sum? I’ve been here two weeks and not struggled at all having just 2/3 of a small pack of stuff (including a snazzy shirt and Fudgie). Yes, there is laundry service in the third world, and are the backpackers really changing into those goofy outfits. If you’re going to pack your armoire, why not bring a few outfits that look decent? At times I think that each of us is representing our entire color, and good god do white people tend to look bad.

I’m not in especially good spirits. The computer difficulties are driving me crazy; my landlord at this place is cheesy and patronizing (I know, it’s his job, kind of); I asked him for names of good Khmer restaurants and he directed me to one that had an all-English menu outside and prices for dishes starting at $5. Fuck that. My mood did just perk up because in our lobby they have a television that they keep on all day showing the National Geographic channel, and on their most terrifying list (or some such) were featuring things I’ve eaten this week. I feel a new, stronger sense of being king of the foodchain.
King of the bleeping foodchain can’t find a restaurant, however, at least not one that looks right, and then realizes he forgot his phrasebook and won’t be able to order anything, plus he will only be able to eat one dish, so a random point and shoot could be a problem (I have yet to send back a morsel on any plate and feel, ethically, that I must continue this policy). In my sad prandial peregrinations, I find myself back at last night’s outdoor market, though this time at the other end, and it’s clearly less Chinese. I buy everything in the row: a bowl of lemongrass beef and rice (I think it might be the “dry” type of curry, “amok”) -- simply outstanding; a skewer of grilled chicken hearts, a childhood fave and very nicely spiced; another nuom salad (quite bitter) and a kind of beef/pickle salad from the same woman (eh); a grilled sausage that comes with banh mi veggies but no bread (I could use some); and a Black Panther premium stout (8%). Nothing haute, I’ll admit, but pretty damn good. Not the worst way to leave Cambodia; I actually think the amok was my favorite thing in Cambodia.

So I decided to wear my fancy shirt to the airport so I could strut around and be supercilious to the backpackers (again, the hypocrisy runs as deep as the vanity). I also got there very early so I could try to change some flights, etc (I realized I didn’t want to spend new years eve in burma). So there’s virtually no one at security, I blow right through, and then the Cambodian passport controller, while giving me the stamp, asks how my visit was. I say wonderful, that the Cambodian people were very friendly, and he says, “You like me? … I like you.” I’m completely caught off guard, mumble something unintelligible, and he says, still holding my passport and exit card: “Travelling alone. No wife or girlfriend. Very good. Born 1969 but still have very young face.” I smile and make nice till he gives me my ID, then make some comment about having a girlfriend waiting for me back home and run to the business lounge. Jesus, the shirt!