OUT OF AMERICA/Welcome To Cambodia
I hadn't had anything edible on an American airplane in forty years, so the spiced chicken and fish on the China Eastern Airlines flight from Honolulu to Shanghai was a very pleasant surprise. The flight was a smooth ride on a large Airbus with happy, pleasant flight attendants.
The puddle jumper flight from Shanghai to Cambodia offered less. Part of the problem was that the plane was small, rickety, turbulent, and the flight attendants were bitchy. Part of it was me. That first eleven hour link to Shanghai was an exciting adventure. On the four hour flight to Cambodia I felt more like a factory worker who had just put in a triple shift and needed sleep worse than oxygen. My best efforts couldn’t altogether calm the frayed nerves.
Having landed in Cambodia, life will be very much in the present tense from now on. So will the writing.
The first thing I notice is as surreal as any Disney cartoon. It's 11 PM. It's seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit on November twenty-third. The air is so steamy that palm leaves thirty feet in the sky give the appearance of dancing in clouds. As if in a Twilight Zone episode, it seems more like a hallucination seen through an airplane window.
The second thing I notice here is that people are smiling a lot more than they do in most other places I have been. Life in Southeast Asia is good in many ways.
The Tanei Boutique Villa Hotel looks like it was a French governor’s palace a hundred and fifty years ago. Beautiful marble floors, heavily sculpted wood work, and interior fountains and gardens are obviously worn down but still beautiful. There is a sizable swimming pool of aged tile and the first cold water jacuzzi I have ever seen. Right near it is a row of thirty foot tall palm trees. The one nearest the jacuzzi has a gorgeous purple and white orchid growing out of it. On the other side of the swimming pool is another row of a dozen palm trees. They grow right through a shade awning with lounge chairs under it.
Geckos are everywhere. None of them are selling insurance.
Right behind the pool is the restaurant where guests enjoy a buffet breakfast including scrambled and hard boiled eggs, vegetable combo, stir-fried noodles, potatoes, various sugared juice drinks, coffee, tea, and a few other choices.
Many European countries are represented by visitors here in the city of Siem Reap, as are Japan, China, Korea, and other Asian countries. There are Indians, a few Muslims, Abercrombie and Fitch Americans, various hippies, and many other internationals dodging the naked little Cambodian children that dance in the spray of garden hoses as their families tend shops. There are camera toting people of nearly all races and many national origins.
The Wi-Fi and most other things available here work somewhat, kind of, maybe, much of the time. No matter where in the world you are, nothing works all the time. This fact is a lot more pronounced in a third world nation. The Tanei does a good job considering they are working with the limited modern technological resources of the region. There’s a Catch 22 about countries like this, it being that your money goes a long way—but you can’t buy what they don’t have. Regardless, at twenty dollars a night, the Tanei doesn’t hear many complaints.
For me, the best part of the hotel is the smiling, friendly, amenable staff. I have recently spent a lot of time in hotels in America that provide shit accommodations and snarling staffs at expensive prices, and then expect the customers to be grateful for the screwing they are getting. The Tanei is a much welcomed change from that, even though “hot water” means it's just a little bit less cold than the cold water, things like TVs and telephones don't always work, and the Internet is questionable.
The food in the tourist district is delicious, but a lot of it is heavily fried, salted, or sugared. It would be a safe guess that they don't use the health food store kind of oil when frying. Oddly enough, the food from the street vendors may be among the healthiest around—and the tastiest. Much of it is grilled right in front of the customer and uses no oil or apparent additives. There has to be a salad and other altogether healthy food in this country somewhere, but I have yet to find it—except for one bowl of vegetable noodle soup from a street shack restaurant that was magically medicinal!
The bread here is mostly industrial cafeteria white and looks like cardboard. It makes Wonder Bread seem like real food. The diet, as well as the rural poverty, lack of medical facilities and sanitation, and the hot wet weather that bacteria love are largely to blame for Cambodia’s small health risks to tourists and natives alike. It’s not as bad as it sounds at first. A little care, awareness, hydration, and moderation keeps most folks healthy.
Stepping out of the hotel brings one in to a whole different world. I will find a much quieter apartment very soon, but am now in an area close to Pub Street and the Night Market. This section of town is the “Times Square” of the city and is designed for tourists, but hosts everyone. It has small markets, massage emporiums, bars, travel agents and tour guides, clothing stores, and restaurants. Traffic is heavy. The dust and pollution causes many locals to wear surgical masks while walking in the street or riding on their vehicles. I have followed their lead.
The traffic is made up mostly of motorbikes and tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is a glorified motorbike taxi with a cart attached to the back capable of carrying four passengers. At least eight or ten tuk-tuk drivers will hit on you during a three block walk, offering rides, tours, girls, or weed. They can be aggressive, as can everyone trying to make a living around here. Massage girls, barkers in front of restaurants and tour places, and anyone selling anything will get up in your face about it.
I find ganja here on the first day. My twenty dollar bag from a tuk-tuk driver named Mister Khompat works pretty well for brown stuff. It is going to take some research to find anything green to smoke around here. Life will be okay until I find it. They have Happy Pizza here. The same decent-for-brown type weed as Mr. Khompat’s is a regular ingredient in Khmer (Cambodian) cooking. It is not a tripping type experience like my Green Mountain Green Monster Bud cookies in Vermont, but I certainly am relaxed and happy after doing half of an apple pie sized pizza. Just to give you an idea of what the prices are like around here, that buzz cost three dollars and the full fish dinner I had after it cost two and a half.
The fruit is delicious. The high temperatures are consistently ninety degrees Fahrenheit with heavy humidity during the “cool season” of December through February, so plant growth is not a problem all year. There are the regular papayas and bananas and pineapples that one might expect to be growing in a climate like this. There are also fruits so exotic that they look manufactured to many Westerners. The dragonfruit is about the size of a grapefruit. It has red, jagged, multilayered skin that houses a white fruit containing thousands of tiny black dots that resemble poppy seeds. It looks spooky but tastes delicious.
Buddhist temples are everywhere. Many contain the area’s public primary and high schools. The grounds of the temple can cover anywhere from a square block to a square acre. Any temple grounds’ central feature is always the main temple itself. I go into several to see the artwork and icons, meditate, and feel the vibe. Interior artwork often includes paintings depicting episodes in the life of the historical Buddha. The stories are partly literal but mostly metaphorical.There are some museum quality images of Buddha’s birth, Buddha climbing down from a higher heaven to help in lower heavens and on Earth, and so on. There are many statues and images of the historical Buddha in each temple. These are designed to be a focal point, working as an inspiration for people to instill Buddha-like qualities within themselves. Buddha is widely known as having been an enlightened man, not a god. He was, among other things, the world’s greatest psychologist. Folks with their finger on the pulse of Buddhism don’t actually pray to him so much as aspire to become like him. The Buddha himself was famous for saying that no one should believe anything he ever said blindly, but should rather examine everything on their own to determine if it is gold or bullshit. (That is not his exact wording.) This is not a religion like others where a God or Messiah is going to come save everyone. It is up to every single person to save everyone, and it starts with personal growth and saving oneself. It could be said that this is not a religion at all, but much more so a spiritual practice or a school of thought.
In a form of self programming, constant repetition of and focused meditation on phrases referring to positive qualities (love, compassion, strength, etc.) eventually instill these qualities in the person that practices focusing on them. Do enough of this meditation, and the neurons in your brain start wiring and firing on these ideal sentiments consistently. This is only one form of meditation. There are many.
Any person with eyes in their heart, or at least a little bit of sensitivity, that walks onto any temple grounds can immediately feel the difference in atmosphere from that of the outside world. This feeling may be best described by the animals. The many wandering dogs and cats on the downtown streets get little respect from, and scurry nervously around, most humans. But dogs and cats on temple grounds lie down or saunter around comfortably wherever they damn well please. They seem to be in a meditative state of their own and have no fear of humans. They usually pay little to no attention to human passers-by. Temple animals act like they own the place and in theory, as fellow living sentient beings, it is considered by all that to some extent they do own the place as much as anyone else does! Buddhism uses the term “sentient beings” often. What does it mean? The words “sem chen” mean “mind possessor.” So when they say have compassion for all sentient beings, it means anything with a mind. What does that mean? Good question! Many would argue that most plants know enough to turn towards the sun, and that qualifies them as having a consciousness or mind. Others think not.
Among the many other buildings besides the main temple are several incredible pieces of architecture. Many include ancient carved stone columns depicting deities of compassion. Sculpture is on everything from mausoleums for the dead through a vast assortment of spiritual structures. There are also ornate and boldly colored wooden buildings that are curved and carved into shapes that resemble waves rising and falling in an ocean. Many of the other buildings, especially the schools and monks quarters, are more ordinary concrete and wood structures.
The only thing things that appear in Siem Reap, Cambodia as frequently as temples are restaurants and massage parlors. Most parlors appear legit, with girls and massage tables right out front behind the glass doors and windows. I go into one that gives this appearance but am immediately taken into a back room. The five dollar half hour massage is just a precursor to an offer for a twenty dollar hand job. The woman sits on my back and grinds her fully clothed vagina into me while rubbing my neck and shoulders. Then she flips me over and massages the abdomen right into the pubic hair. All this is obviously not a therapeutic effort but rather an attempt to give me a hard on I can't argue with. She asks if I want the more expensive jerk off. I can't see paying her to do something done much better myself, and tell her so. I will try a different massage parlor next time. I'm sure some of them actually focus on the massage itself—or at least offer more varied services.
I don't know if everyone has a favorite tuk-tuk driver, but I do. Sarath picked me up at the airport. He is about an inch or two below five feet tall and might weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet. Nonetheless he can sling my awkward fifty pound duffel bag on to the cab of his tuk-tuk as if it weighed nothing at all. He speaks English very well and seems to enjoy doing it. I have the hotel desk call him whenever I need a ride because Sarath always brings a smile, good personal stories, local information, and a fair price.
On today's trip Sarath tells me about how his leg got crushed by a car and he can't stand on it much. This is why he became a tuk-tuk driver. He also describes the Cambodian government. They seem to have many of the same problems that the American government has, including questionable elections. What I hear from the tourists of various nations about town is that the questionable elections thing seems to be an ever increasing international happening.
The hotel I am in is great, but in the middle of way too much traffic and pollution. Today's tuk-tuk trip is about finding an apartment that is a little bit out of the main downtown area. Sarath, as always, is a great help. He knows a place. It turns out to be a very good place and I will move in there within a few days. Two hundred fifty dollars a month for a one bedroom with air conditioner, wi-Fi, TV, furnished, combination kitchen/living room, and hot water. The water and the gas for the stove cost extra. It also has a gorgeous swimming pool on the roof and an even more gorgeous view to accompany it. There is a small gym with a bit of weight lifting equipment near the pool. It seems to be an odd and eccentric tendency around here that luxuries often come before the basics. You may move into a place with a Beverly Hills looking swimming pool but no hot water in your room. You may have a bed that feels like concrete and has only a bottom sheet, walls and floors with tile stains everywhere, but a marble fountain in the lobby to rival The Ritz.
The apartment building is on a relatively quiet side street facing a river that's not very pretty, but a river nonetheless. The place is far enough out of town to be breathable, but close enough so that a two or three dollar tuk-tuk ride gets you right back into the middle of the action.
In the heart of that action where I still live for the next few days, adjoining Pub Street, is the famous Angkor Night Market. No one seems to sleep around here! Tourists are bending the clock into manic shapes while trying to see every sight available within the week or two they have in Cambodia. The locals are up at the crack of dawn and heading to work, but won't be denied their evening party. The Night Market and Pub Street is where everyone converges.
The main part of the Siem Reap Night Market contains several rows of stores. Each row houses around thirty stores separated by metal dividers under a single tin roof structure. Some of the items available in the stores are: clothes, fabric, watches, jewelry, preserved bug and bat skeletons, artwork, Buddhist icons and meditation beads, cigarettes, baskets and assorted crafts, stuffed and carved animals, and bottles of whiskey with a dead scorpion and cobra floating in each. I shit you not! The lady says, “It give energy.”
From the main pavilion, the market spills over into the outlying streets. Rows of restaurants, bars, clothing stores and massage parlors as well as food booths are everywhere. The two most interesting food booths are right next to each other. The first serves deep-fried snakes, scorpions, silk worms, cockroaches, grasshoppers, and other assorted tasty critters. The booth next to it sells fried ice cream. They call it that, but it is actually milk and fruit being continually blended together in a large baking pan with a refrigerator unit below it that must hold liquid nitrogen. After five to ten minutes of blending and flattening and rolling and flipping, the fruit and milk became one blended frozen unit that is rolled up in sheets to be stuffed in a cup.
The Night Market nearly blends right into Pub Street. The combination creates a very big, lively, and loud entertainment district.
I am suffering severe cramps all over my body. They are a result of hauling too many duffel bags around the world in ninety degree humid heat, badly aggravating a decades long history of skeletal/muscular problems. The change in diet probably has something to do with it too. A legit massage has become a major necessity. I walk into a place so out in the open that it seems sure to not be another hand job palace disguised as a massage therapist castle.
Sohk is the name of my massage lady. She is thirty-nine years old, very cute, and gave me the best hour-long foot rub I have had since the privilege of being reflexologized by the legendary Shelby Shue of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Sohk cannot speak any English, but the other two ladies in the establishment can. I call them both “sister,” which they like a lot, and we carry on a friendly conversation. Part of that conversation makes it clear to them, and they make it clear to Sohk, that I need my back and legs done after the feet. All the time I keep looking back at Sohk while talking to the sisters. You must've heard the expression, “she has a smile that would light up a room.” Sohk had it, kept it on her face the whole time, and I couldn't look away from it. The sisters noticed.
“You like her. She likes you. Take her back to your room for the back and legs massage! She can be your girlfriend. You take care of her and she will take care of you. Massage you every day.”
They say something to Sohk in Cambodian that makes her giggle like a schoolgirl and give me a little pinch. I give her a smile and nod, and we're off to my room.
I strip down into nothing but massage-able skin and lay on my stomach to begin the back rub. After about ten minutes of beautiful rub, the rising heat coming from behind me as well as within me can no longer be ignored. I roll over and start undressing Sohk, with her cooperation, as we kiss. Our lips separate to nibble at each others’ necks. My way has always been “ladies first, whenever possible.” I move on to caress and lick her torso until my tongue reaches between her legs. Imagine my surprise as she pushes me away! I've never known anyone to not like oral sex, at least not when it is being done to them. Maybe “ladies first” is an unusual concept in Asia? Testing that theory, I reposition myself for some oral sex from her. She nibbles reluctantly for a minute and then pulls away.
The romance is there, but the techniques are from two different planets. She tries to missionary position me into entry, but I am so taken aback by the whole situation that I lose my inspiration.
This is a completely novel and shocking experience to me. All evidence points to the fact that they just don't do oral sex around here—whether it is with a soon to be serious lover who is really interested in the person they are with or just a passing massage parlor acquaintance making a living.
I continue to enjoy the rest of the massage, and Miss Sohk’s continuing playful, smiling company. We tickle each other and laugh. We continue to bring up good feelings for each other and the warmth remains between us. I may still go back for legit massages, but am certainly saddened by the stillbirth of what might have been a beautiful long term romance. I look at certain things as essential in a romantic relationship. Oral sex is just one of them. It seems so bizarre that in a country with comfortably relaxed, liberal sexual customs—and occupied for a century or two by the French, no less— that isn’t one of them!
I guess I’ll just have to keep knocking at that door until I find a woman who enjoys my walking through it.
There is another piece of knowledge about relationship essentials that has been reinforced in spades from this experience. It is about how important communication figures into any union. The next woman I attempt a relationship with will have to speak at least a bit of English or Spanish. I am going to start studying Cambodian. Certain things just need to be spoken about. What are your feelings about tomorrow's plans, where would you like to go for dinner, and who the hell doesn't like oral sex and why, all fall into that category. A mutual respect, a chemistry that can't be denied, and a warm loving smile may be the backbone of intimate relationship, but communication is the muscle structure that holds that backbone upright and prevents it from collapsing into dust.
A bit more of a shocking revelation to me about my personal relationship essentials is that I may need to give and receive simple affectionate attention as much, if not more so, than complex sexual activity. I feel strangely satisfied for someone left unsatisfied. Mutual feelings of love and kindness stemming from honest affection are obviously responsible.
Affection, at times, seems even more important than food and water. Maybe it always is. Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe that’s true for everyone.
***NEXT—?THE RUINS OF ANGKOR WAT, THE LARGEST TEMPLE EVER CONSTRUCTED ON EARTH?, and ?THE DRAGON NEIGHBORHOOD?, and—?WELL, I DON’T KNOW YET, EITHER! ***If you missed the Intro to this third book that the above piece is from and would like to see it, just check out the Puppy website blog YOU WILL NEVER READ ANYTHING LKE THIS..." right here at this site, or go to Wordpress (fearlesspuppy), or send an email request to email@example.com This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info p.s. Titles being kicked around for this new book are Racing Death Around The Planet and Voices Of Reason From The End(s) Of The World