Saturday, July 22, 2017

July 21 – Let’s Go To Phnom Penh

The trip to Phnom Penh was a snap. A fancy mini-bus picked us up at 8 am and five hours later we were dumped in some unknown location in a commercial district of the capital city Phnom Penh. Of course, there was a small throng of tuk-tuks looking for business, so after gathering up our things we grabbed two of them for an extravagant five bucks each and set off into the concrete jungle of the Cambodian capital. The traffic was a mad frenzy. The people here are masters at finding that extra inch on the road that lets you sneak past somebody else. It’s funny – the drivers are constantly and blatantly cutting each other off, but they all do it with a smile and nobody ever seems to get mad at each other. Don’t be trying that in Brantford, otherwise some big bellied, ham fisted hockey dad will get out of his Ford F150 and punch you in the face.

Our hotel, the Ohana, was located right in the heart of all the action, overlooking the mighty Mekong river. We exploded our stuff all over the room and then went for a swim in the chilly pool on the ground floor. The kids and Ana went to the top of the hotel to explore the spa, and when I went up there I found the three of them sitting in a giant hot tub with an infinity edge spilling over the entire city. Cha-ching!

They had also made a new friend in the hot tub – John from Barry, Ontario and his lovely family. John had met a Cambodian lady six years previously, and had spent that entire time trying to get her and her daughter to Canada, as she had a child from a previous relationship. So far, his wife and the baby daughter they had together in Canada were living in Barrie, but her 11-year-old daughter was still living in Phnom Penh relatives, awaiting a visa. He told us much of the administration had been on the Cambodian side, as they have tight controls on allowing children to leave here, in order to prevent child trafficking. The whole experience sounded very stressful, and he had made 11 trips to Cambodia in recent years to spend with his adopted daughter and his wife’s family.

We went for a walk to see if we could find a place to eat. We seemed to be located in the heart of the red light district, evidenced by the abnormally large number of single, white, 60 year old dudes hanging around bars. And, of course, the bars themselves, with packs of provocatively dressed ladies displaying their wares out front, eyeing up dudes as they passed, beckoning them inside. Our hotel was just off the waterfront so we walked across the street to the giant boulevard, which was similar to the one in Baddambang – exercise equipment and many people, but somehow not quite as nice. We saw a large group of people playing some sort of footbag game, but the object they were kicking around looked more like a giant badminton birdie. Interesting - I must keep an eye open for one of those.

After a bit of wandering we found the Lemongrass restaurant so went in for a nice Thai meal. The prices were a bit higher than what we had become used to, but still very cheap. After eating, the girls and kids wanted to check out the local market so Tony and I found a riverside/trafficside restaurant that offered 75 cent drafts and we settled in for drinks and a cigar. We were down to the last two smokes we had bought in the Manila airport, so that would probably be our next big purchase on the trip.

The ladies and kids eventually joined us, and by this time it was dark and so I introduced them and Phnom Penh to a game I invented a few years ago. It’s called “Gecko Spitballing” and here’s how it works. Find a restaurant with a large, backlight neon sign and request a table directly beneath it. Order at least one fancy cocktail that comes with a straw. Pull out a napkin from the tabletop napkin dispenser. And then you watch…and wait. Soon, geckos will appear on the sign. Slowly reach for your napkin and then hold it up to your mouth and take a small bite out of the corner. Chew it well to get it fully moistened and into a cannonball shape. Lift straw to your mouth. Use your tongue to load the projectile into the straw. Now aim the straw at the closest gecko. Inhale deeply. Stay calm and focused. And then blow as hard as you can. The spitball projectile will blast from the straw, and if your aim is straight and true, you will strike the gecko and cause him to lose his sticky foot suction and fall from the sign, hopefully into somebody’s beer or, better yet, in their hair or down their shirt. And then let the frenzy unfold around you. Sit back and smile.

Sadly, this night my aim was neither true nor straight, and I just couldn’t hit one. The spitballs came close enough to graze a few of them, but I scored no direct hit. When the waitress caught me doing it, instead of throwing me out (as Ana was expecting), she actually stood nearby cheering and laughing, hoping for me to hit one. Magnus got in on the action too, but he aim was just as sucky as mine so we left the waitress and ourselves disappointed, and with nothing to show for it besides a bunch of spitballs stuck all over the tables, chairs, and ground.

We finished up the evening with a visit to the rooftop hot tub. John from Barrie was up there so we sat and chatted with him for a long time and he told us all about his Cambodian family and experiences here with the language, customs, and so on. It was also two for one hour so he asked me for help in drinking his second giant jug of Angkor beer. I’m always willing to help out a fellow traveler in need so we polished off the beer, which provided for a formidable headache the next morning.

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