Saturday, December 20, 2008
the final frontier -- and last post for a while
So I have a fair bit written (which i'll include below), but the computers here chug along so slowly that it was a miracle that i could upload the video(it took two tries of over an hour each) and i don't have the patience to try with all the photos (pho-tos?). But I thought you should be left with a grand finale, and i clearly wanted to exit (temporarily) with a crunch. With that said, here's the vid -- note, it's not for the squeamish... (and sorry about the lighting -- it gets a little better)
Tomorrow i head to laos, so i might be able to post from the capital, vientiane. but i arrive late and leave early in the morning for a 24-hr bus ride north, then jump on a boat for a 2-day trip through the jungle, and then perhaps another 2-day trip south. soon thereafter i fly to myanmar (burma) where the government is the only ISP and often shuts it down. not sure how much posting i'll be doing. so happy holidays to all; i should be back around jan 5 and hopefully can put up a great big update of adventures both culinary and amorous.
here's the last post, with a few photos
Post 13: A word of explanation: the current title of this blog is actually something I came up with for a column I’m doing for a new magazine that’s launching in the January (details when it’s official). So when I decided at the last minute to try to keep you all with me as I ambled down dusty lanes, pointing paying and eating, I was a little lazy and behind, so I just threw that title up there and continued.
In retrospect, there are many titles I could or should have used, among them
*Courting Cestoda (pic below) or Man vs. Microbe
*He Doesn’t Know He’s White
*I Lead with My Stomach
Or it could have been another installment from a series of books I began in my twenties:
*How to Live Like You’re Homeless in the Great Cities of the World…
Any one of those probably would have done the trick, but the one I finally decided on is:
*At the End, I’ll Eat Myself
Hope you like it, and that there’s no more confusion.
One other bit of business, my brother is now maraschino-ing my blog with his responses as comments at the bottom of the posts. You will quickly see that he and I are two parallel lines that meet at the roast pork stand. I encourage you to enjoy the smarter, more charming, taller, blonder, stronger, better cooking, more procreative and more worldwise of the two brothers. I got the bigger feet.
Well my time in Siem Reap is coming to an end. I was going to leave this morning, but last night ran into Anthony, an excellent older Irishman (65) former hippie and socialist, as acerbic as I on all topics (just mention politicians, hope, television, tourism, India, or smokeable drugs and you will get a curse-festooned jeremiad), who also has a soft side and gets almost teary talking about the “impressive” and “atmospheric” elements of the temples (though he completely agrees about the ruin, and admits to imagining them in their heyday and how the world has seen nothing like it since). He’s staying at the same guest house, and we spoke yesterday morning at coffee, then ran into each other in town in the evening. I stood him for a few beers 857 while he taught me world history, then confessed to having come to Cambodia to smoke “special cigarettes” – not those kind -- _very _ special cigarettes. So I agreed to follow him to the various bars where such things were rumored to be available. Like many such quests, it all felt foolish and more pathetic than edgy, and eventually I left him to check in with you lovelies.
Apparently, though, unburdened of his collegiate imperial-boy load, he did get offered a few bags of what might have been “China white – the best” or what might have been talcum powder. Not being allowed to test drive it, he passed.
Day 11 The real reason I stayed on, though, is because our landlord told us he’d show us his crocodile farm this morning. I had no idea it would be in the back yard, a giant tank filled with 12 or 15 full-grown monsters. It was stunning. I hope you can tell from the photos that we were pressed against the wall just above the killers, and they were mighty mighty. Incredibly impressive and studly, and I’ve never felt more like a petite fours, sitting on a tray for someone/thing to pop in its mouth as a treat. They stared at me like I stare at the chickens on the rotisserie at Cosco – still too expensive! -- (or like dirty-footed boys would at the lurid goats heads I’d see spinning in the Arab quarters of Paris). It was an interesting and in some ways liberating sensation; my identity had traveled the full distance from man to meal.
So it’s my last day here now, and I have a fair amount of work to do for Agatha, nerve’s photo editor and my own personal Patton. She sends me files -- too sexy to open in public – so large they make the local cables start smoking and send Fudgie into anxiety comas, and to these I’m supposed to write dashing and witty accompanying text. Just what I need, to be revved up even more, so far from ms. harrison and her inimitables, in this fableland peopled only by girls in their teens. (the ceiling fan ticks; the air thickens; the room closes in; droplets form and connect and become rivulets that run down my arms; I feel an invisible jungle that could hotly assimilate me, mulch rising up and to pool me under; so many strands of kudzu twining round my eyes and limbs and throat…)
I could never have edited nerve in the tropics.
A few other things I’ve noticed here in Cambodia: the garbage trucks, such as they are, never seem to have a hood or any protection whatsoever around the engine: it’s just exposed and the driver sits right behind it on his cushioned bench. Odd.
Also, one forgets in America what pregnant and nursing dogs look like. Virtually every dog here is dragging its pendulous teats around, looking pretty miserable. My landlord, Wab, told us a story about a male dog coming in to mate with one of his females and he scared it into the crocodile pit, and the dog actually tried to fight. I asked if it escaped and he made some comment about them whacking it and “dog barbecue.”
A sidenote on eating pets. If you are troubled by the idea, and you’re not a vegetarian, then you, my friend, are much hypocrite as I (though mine exhibits itself in other realms). How can you feel okay eating pork (especially if I tell you about the guy driving down the road with a whole live hog tied squealing to the back of his moto) and then worry for or think it unjust that some eats Lassie? I know it’s a clichéd argument, I just had to get it off my chest as I finish the last of these Golden Retriever ribs…
The Cambodians, especially here in Siem Reap since this is the spot of the country’s biggest tourist attraction, really speak a lot of English. I was able to change a watch battery, talk to a young man about bartending as a career (while eating the delicious Nuom salad ), hear all about the crocodile trade from Wab, etc etc. Much as I’ve struggled to learn to say Please, thanks, delicious, yes, no, hi, bye and 1-100,000, I can only imagine how hard it must be for them to become travel agents for Westerners (all speaking differently accented English) and all the rest. I know you know all this already, but it really is marked . (that said, here, as in Vietnam, the phrase I can’t seem to explain to anyone or get them to translate for me, is “What is this called?” Nor do my fucking books list it. And the ironic thing is that every time I try to ask someone, they think I’m asking about some thing and tell me its name, but I can’t get them to understand I want to know how to say the question. Is it a conspiracy?
A few other (among hundreds) of things that have intrigued me: One, that people here can’t do math. All the locals take out calculators to do simple calculations like 4 times 5 or 3% of 20 dollars. Perhaps they are taking 11 hours a day of English classes and that doesn’t leave room for the maths, but it is perplexing.
Then there are these ubiquitous large flat wooden carts – almost like a barn door on wheels – covered with tiny clams seasoned heavily on the outside of the shell. These I don’t understand. I also don’t understand why this exact place that I choose to have fruit shakes and type these words seems, within minutes of my arrival, to be the Port Authority station of flies. They don’t seem to be after my drink, so am I to conclude that I’m honey sweet without knowing it? Or more like a giant piece of dogshit?
Forgot to mention the rapport I developed with a very old man who was always squatting on the sidewalk on the route to the old market, watching traffic. I’d see him every time I passed, always said hi, and he would flash me a hysterically bad-toothed grin. I think there might have been some betel nut in there, but wow, what a mouth (apart from which he was actually quite handsome). Just past him, the tuk tuk drivers would see me coming and imitate my stormtrooping gate, then howl. Clearly I was a neighborhood favorite
I’ve been on the lookout for a good pair of sandals, only problem is that my feet look like Sasquatch prints next to any of the local products. In Saigon, I had barely started to glance at a woman’s offerings and she shouted “No fit!” I had no choice but to slink away sheepishly. Then today some girls were laughing as I pulled out a sandal and then looked at my paw. Alas.
Day 12: I was really looking forward to the bus ride, considering how magical the trip up was (and since I had just had my best breakfast yet, though it seemed rather Vietnamese), until the bus driver started literally blaring Cambodian pop schmalz and playing the videos on a TV. Putting in my ear plugs, it lowered from 108 to 103 decibels, and within minutes I knew there’d be no appreciation this trip, but at least I could buy a bag of spiders and crickets and take them to the bar.
No dice. We fucking stop at two bus-friendly restaurants (ugh), and I end up just getting a sliced-up mango and an iced coffee. The good news is that the young Cambodian guy next to me on the trip is a tour guide at Angkor, speaks good English, and tells me where to go to get a cheap guest house (if any of you want to go to Siem Reap, I have his card; he’d be willing to pick you up in Phnom and facilitate as much or as little as you’d want. Good guy), and ultimately tells a moto driver for me -- very sweet (and notice how with no plans, things do keep working out. This I’ve always called the Rufus principle, and it’s always made me furious because I never used it, overpreparing instead to little or no benefit). It’s as if the universe in collusion to loosen me up. You’ve got a long way to go…
Well, call it a homing device. I found Phnom Penh’s so-called “bug market” within an hour of my arrival (the fact that it’s outside of the walls of the Silver Pagoda helped, as did it being right by the river, always my first destination, but I really had no idea where it was). It’s a good thing I promised you I’d eat one of the giant winged roaches because I’m still scared shitless and dying to back out. They’re huge! I had just bought two, trying to look cool, when an asian man, seeing me get them, made a kind of “oooh” noise that was not at all encouraging. I think the way I’m going to have to do it is make a little video for you all and try to post it. The comical thing is that I feel like I should eat them tonight so I don’t leave them in my room overnight and attract more……of them! (Bro has a great story of having a few bananas in his “hotel” room in New Orleans and waking up to a menagerie).
Apart from the abject terror of my bar snacks tabbed for later, somehow Phnom Penh doesn’t feel quite right. The traffic, though not as bad as Saigon, is annoying; none of the street food seems appealing (and all of it very familiar by now, until I get a little crepe-like thing with sweetened condensed milk drizzled inside, grilled as I watch in a golfball of butter – now that was incredible, if potentially instant infarction-inducing). I finally find a market back near my guest house (after circling for half an hour toting the bugs), and hunger forced me to get some completely lackluster Chinese fried beef and noodles (he had a wok full of excellent looking seasoned beef, then my plate came and the strips were naked. That ain’t the way to treat a future autophage!). I think tomorrow I’ll take Ron’s advice (and Bernie Bernbaum’s threat) and start eating in restaurants. But I think if I return to Cambodia, I’ll do the bike trip between here and Siem Reap and avoid both cities. By the time Jeremy meets me in Bangalore, I’m probably going to have rented a mule to carry our bags as we foot our way, village to village, on the road to Mumbai.