I will begin where I left off, my trip and arrival back in Cambodia. Ahem, rather, I will start with memories of my first time here. As is one of my customs when traveling, I feel it is necessary to sample the various local brewers’ specialties. In Cambodia, this means Anchor and Angkor beer. Har licquor, it seems, is largely westernized (Johnny Walker comes to mind), and this may be ignorance on my part, but other locally-made ”hard stuff” I fear needs to be categorized as “Jungle Juice,” which 1) probably tastes like the bug spray of the same name and 2) does the same nasty things once imbibed.  

 Anyway, back to the beer. Anchor is absolute swill, and ranks with budweiser, heineken and pabst in my book of crappy beers. Angkor, conversely, approximates Coors Light, but isn’t as strong, and is really just “augmented” water. I developed a taste for it the last time I was here, and have once again “taken to the bottle” (of “augmented” water, and in compliance with any standards of sobriety).

But I digress. On flying from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh, I was once again served breakfast. Being that breakfast is my favorite meal, I was not disappointed. Being that it was airline food, I was. Anyway, as the breakfast trays approached, I noticed that the little mini-butter packet for our mini-highly-processed-non-rolls was made by Anchor. For those of you who know me, for the past several (4…5?) years, I have made it my New Year’s Resolution to eat less butter. I do this because there is no practical and quantifiable way to verify that I actually eat less butter. Honestly, I think I’m losing the battle, but that only forces me to renew this resolution yearly, and hence insure that my other vices remain safely untouched. Thus, while I sat on the plane, the thought of my New Year’s resolution never occured to me, and if it had, I would have said, simply, very simply, “meh.” And so I spreadsome Anchor butter on my mini-highly-processed-non-roll. To my surprise, it was swill, or whatever the butter-equivalent is for that word. That is not to say that it tasted like something fresh from an Irish churn, but that, like Angkor, I could develope a taste for it. This butter was the highlight of my flight(s).

 Moving away from butter and beer (important though they are), I will turn now to life at the Boddhi Tree Guesthouse, since many of you prospective readers may find this of interest. For those of you who don’t know the Boddhi Tree, please bear with me, and there may even be something worth reading. Plus, if (when?) you come visit me, you should stay there. Anyway, Non (his spelling, not mine) got his hair cut, which makes me feel taller, which is, in other words, good. Ti (my spelling…wrong by definition) is still Ti. I haven’t seen Sophon; Sidan is well, and the first thing he said to me was that I was wearing the same hat as last time (accurate memory considering my hat is a nice indistinguishable beige). Thou is busier than ever, and his tuk tuk siren isn’t as pleasantly ubiquitous as in times past. His sister and nephews and nieces are now in Phnom Penh (he brought them here), and he is still studying English. Finally, Khmao is doing very well. I checked up on him about late-night rooftop violence, but he didn’t say much. Since he’s a cat I wasn’t expecting anything too deeply philosophical, like a debate between the efficacy of principled nonviolence or the Hobbesian State of Nature, but I thought I would get a little more out of him than I did.

 Upon my arrival to the Boddhi Tree I was greeted by all the moto drivers, who remember us all very well (source of income) and send their wishes for you all to come/return (source of income). One of the moto drivers, Thy (his spelling, and probably what Ti’s should be), came and gave me a gun, then asked me what my name was since he had forgotten. I only remember him as someone I was obliged to drink with at the wedding. Speaking of which, Non invited me back to his “homeland,” and I said I would go so long as I didn’t have to push another bus, or spend the eight hours it took to get back sharing and ipod and listening to John Mayer (good) and Brittany Spears (it wasn’t my ipod).

This evening, as I was reading some Kiva stuff (I can feel the rejoicing in San Francisco) and eating dinner, the wind picked up and blew flower pedals and leaves throughout the Boddhi Tree. Non, like the good man that he is, grabbed a broom and swept evertying up. Just as he had all the debris in a nice pile, and as he walked to get the dust pale, the wind kicked up again, blew his pile everywhere, and more flower pedals and leaves blew off the trees and other shurbbery. I cannot express Non’s response in words, but it was some kind of yelp that came out while he was swallowing. I stopped reading (sorry) and laghed for a good two minutes before I could compose myself.

 Now, this event was not merely comic. No, there was a lesson in this as well. As a lover of words, and someone who regards himself as nominally observant, I found that I had an opportunity to teach Non a new word–Futile. Normally my lessons in futility revolve around the Mark-girlfriend dynamic (static?), but as Non and I had already discussed this, I felt this example would be more clear given the recent events. Truthfully it was the opportunity to discuss futility in a way that was not at my expense (informative though those lessons are). At this point, I needed a phrase that would help drive the point home, something catchy that he would remember and link to this concept of futility. I now refer you to Star Trek (see Mark’s list of objective truths, #3, “Star Trek is the bomb”). We are all familiar with the Borg expression “resistance is futile,”and despite the fact that it isn’t (we still have Captain Picard, don’t we?), it is nonetheless a catchy phrase. Now, I could not use the word resistance, because the reference to Star Trek and the situation at hand were not compatible/complimentary. Thus, in short, I chose a substitute word, and we now have “sweeping is futile.” This should, of course, be recognized from this point forward as an axiom.

I will now move away from life at the Boddhi Tree, because I just recently moved away from the Boddhi Tree. Mission one in my move was to find a moto driver. To accomplish this, I stood up. Instantly two moto drivers appeared at the entryway saying “you need moto bike” (I won’t punctuate this quote, because I am still debating myself about whether or not this phenomenon is interrogative or imperative…apologies to non-grammarians). Regardless, I did need one, and told the drivers where I wanted to go. They worked out the details, like which one would take me. Of course, my driver said he knew where he was going (most say so), but as we were driving he also said he was the son of King Sihanouk. By this point, however, I knew he didn’t know where I needed to go. That being said, I deployed my “rugged” Khmer in hopes of remedying the situation (Note: I use the word rugged because it implies that my accent is intentional. On the contrary, my throat does not make those shapes/sounds, but in deference to my first Khmer teacher I will try and make her proud by using “rugged”) Anyway, since we had turned right on Sihanouk Blvd. instead of left (he may have wanted to visit the king, which was in the “right” direction), I told him to turn left. He turned right. Now, recognizing how rugged my Khmer is, my next decision was to tap his left shoulder, and then point, just in case I had actually told him to turn right by accident. He turned right again. Those of you tracking my progress may note that we are now headed in the correct direction (two rights = one left). This may be so, but this is Phnom Penh, which means I had no idea where the hell we were, plus I’m directionally impaired to begin with. Thus, my moto driver (a really nice guy, by the way) pulled over to ask for directions from a tuk tuk driver. I felt reassured when the tuk tuk driver burst out laughing. Nonetheless, after two minutes of what was undoubtedly humourous ridicule (certain things always translate), we were on our way again, turning right every single time. We eventually found the place…after another 10 minutes of driving (a long time in Phnom Penh), and, sitting outside the Guest house was the same tuk tuk driver. He was still laughing (there is lots of laughter in Cambodia). While they sat chatting, I went in, came out, and moved 300 feet from the Boddhi Tree, to a place Non recommended just around the corner. A big part of this decision was the ugly, disagreeable, shirtless white guy smoking a cigarette outside his room. He would have been my neighbor, and I didn’t want to hang out with him. Now I get to hang out with my friends at the Boddhi Tree more often.

This was not the extent of my houseing search. Earlier that same morning, Sovath, who for those of you who don’t know is essentially another brother, showed me the room he was about to rent for $30/month. There was a room next door, and being intersted in what life is like for a Cambodian, I went to check it out. No way could I have lived there. There wasn’t a window. It was basically a tin shed on the third floor of a builiding, like an oven, but an old one (i.e. without a window). I can’t imagine living in a place without ANY natural light, ever. Knowing that Sovath now lives there is even harder. For a while he was living at a Christian place, but to live there he had to study the bible for an hour and a half every day (he’s Buddhist, like 95% of the rest of the population), from 10-1130am. On the weekends, moreover, he was not allowed to study anything else, like English. So he moved, and is now moving again so he can study more (his last house got too crowded). I would have him live with me, and pay for it, but I know he wouldn’t accept my offer, which makes is much harder.

Now that all my friends, loved ones and relevant individuals are breathing a sigh of relief that I am not living “like a Cambodian,”I will now turn to my present living situation. I have a shaded balcony, two chairs, a small table, bed, refrigerator and fan (= air conditioning). I also have my own private bathroom (or, as they say here, “bathroom inside”).

There are certain things one looks for when in search of a place. I look at the wass for a starter. Mine are not crumbling, and are colored in a pleasant nuclear yellow, like a blond labrador dunked in gatorade. There is also ample light, supplied by the sun, as well as many well-placed overhead lamps. To my surprise, I also have a full-length mirror (perhaps a quantifiable way to measure my butter intake), and my pillow cases depict a bunch of brown teddy bears holding soccer balls (seriously). That being said, there are also certain things which one does not look for, which one expects to have automatically, such as a trash can, or a toilet seat. Every other place I’ve stayed in has had both of these. I have neither. Luckily, the Boddhi Tree is nearby, just three right turns away (I don’t think I turned left all day).

 Much love to you all,

Mark

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