Sterile Area

March 19, 2010

Our final day in Cambodia dawned sunny and cool (95 degrees). Feeling a little chilly, I put on a jacket and ate breakfast indoors, where they had cranked the heater to temperatures that Cambodians and I were more used to, around 110.

I got up early so that I could pack quickly and then wait for everyone else to get ready to go. Next, we made sure to hurry to the airport so that we could wait around for a while to board. Then people jockeyed for position and cut each other off in the boarding line to get on the plane first and wait longer for it to take off.

After boarding, boredom set in faster than usual, and 10 minutes into the flight I found myself absorbed with trying to figure out what the in-flight movie or TV show was without sound. The sound was working fine, and I had headphones, but it was more intellectually-stimulating to try to decipher the film, which employed people I vaguely recognized in addition to Danny Glover, John Cusack, and the guy from Kingpin, based only on memories of movie trailers that I may or may not have seen months earlier. Helped immensely by the title flashing across screen, I eventually came to the conclusion that the movie was 2012.

From the research I’ve done, I know that this movie, despite being about events taking place 2 years in the future, is 100% fact. Everything in it is futuristically-accurate because it’s based on historically-accurate, indisputable facts from a vast number of reputable sources. For this reason, once I exhausted my pastime of trying to figure out what the movie was by figuring out what the movie was, I broke out the headphones and watched closely to ensure that I didn’t miss anything. From this careful scrutiny, I ultimately learned two ground-shaking facts about the all-too-near future: in 2 years, Obama is going to look like Danny Glover. And Mr. Glover-Obama needs to order the construction a giant boat city NOW if we’re ever going to finish it in time.

One uneventful, 11-hour-long flight later, we arrived in Los Angeles. As we marched off the plane, I noticed a door to one area of the airport that said, “Sterile Area.” Oh, how true that is. We have returned to a sterile area, where tap water is drinkable and people stay in their designated lanes while driving. Trash generally ends up in bins and dumpsters. People encase their houses in drywall to cover the innards. Commercial and residential buildings seek tenants in advance so that they can be built from start to finish all at once. And people are not allowed to ride in the bed of pickup trucks (in California). Resources, public areas, buildings, and our bodies are all sterilized by rules and chemicals. It’s a bittersweet return to the first world. I’ll miss the people and the relatively simple way of life; at the same time, I can now get a real cheeseburger whenever I want. And there’s no substitute for a good cheeseburger.

This will be my last post on this blog. Thank you for reading.

Through the Looking Glass

March 16, 2010

Kerry, the trip’s leader, mentioned that Cambodia is an “upside down world.” He noted that it’s as if we have traveled through the looking glass to a place where down is up and black is white. As I thought about this, I have seen more and more how much it is true. Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed:

  • On the ceiling fan controls in our hotel room, higher numbers meant a slower speed.
  • Cambodians deal and play cards counterclockwise, and in some games they deal to the dealer first.
  • On the domestic departures terminal in the Siem Reap airport, it said, “Welcome to Cambodia.”
  • The attendant in a men’s bathroom was a woman.
  • In America, we have stringent regulations for how babies can be transported. They must be in a baby seat, facing forward, in the back seat, etc. In Cambodia, babies are carried in the arms of a family member on the back of a moto (moped), while neither the baby nor the carrier are wearing a helmet. Toddlers can sit in the lap of the driver with their hands stabilizing themselves on the steering apparatus while the driver weaves through traffic.
  • Tan is bad. Pale is good.
  • It’s extremely hot here (see caption: Swooning Candle below), so naturally everyone wears long sleeves. Also, on particularly hot and sunny days, in an effort to not tan, Cambodians will wear anywhere from 1 to 3 long-sleeve shirts and/or sweatshirts.
  • Everyone cuts everyone else off while driving (see “Scootching” post below), which is exactly like America. But unlike the U.S., the people who get cut off don’t seem to care. They know it’s going to happen, so they wait patiently until the roadway is clear.
  • When the traffic light is green, you still have to inch through intersections because there will be people trying to scootch from every direction…
  • …so the logical extension of this fact is that red lights mean nothing, whether there are police around or not.
  • The flow of traffic in Cambodia is the same as it is in the United States (in the right lane, unlike England). However, there is always at least one person driving the wrong direction in your lane, either going directly at you about to make a turn or in the shoulder on your side of the street, several lanes away from where they’re supposed to be. Take that American traffic cops.
  • There are countdown timers on walk signals, green lights, red lights, and yellow lights, so that when you’re approaching a light about to change, you know just how much you have to speed up in order to make it through. And when you’re sitting at a red light, you know how much time you would have to wait if anyone cared enough to stop you from going right through.

These are all ridiculous quirks about the country which I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. However, there is one upside down thing that I’ve noticed that’s not funny at all and that is the reason I’m here: a police officer will give tickets to moto drivers who aren’t wearing helmets, but they’ll do nothing to shut down a brothel where girls may be enslaved just a few blocks away.

Images of Cambodia, Part 2

March 12, 2010


One sip and it's as if I'm back home!

Oh yeah, that's why I didn't get a car with a trunk.

I will never complain about high gas prices again!

I don't like bugs, so when I found a cockroach among my toothbrush and toothpaste, I knew I needed to take drastic action. The drain doesn't close, so this was the next best solution.

There are no words.

Images of Cambodia

March 11, 2010

As promised, the picture of 6 people on one moto. Talk about good balance.


I told you it was hot here. During the first week, the coldest it got was 97 degrees.This candle couldn't take the heat.

So that's what happened to Babe! This was in a meat market. On a scale of 1 to atrocious, the smell in the market fell somewhere between atrocious and uber-atrocious.

This is what Cambodians get married in. If you get married in Cambodia and you're a guy, apparently you need to wear a shiny polyester blazer. We can always tell when a wedding is going on because the receptions consist of a blown-out loudspeaker cranked as loud as possible (no joke. Our translator confirmed that the tradition is "the louder the better"). I'm relatively certain that I could produce the music that emanates raucously from these speakers by holding three mallets and randomly hitting a xylophone. That is, except for the one time we heard the three-mallet xylophone rendition of Black Magic Woman.

Who wants bananas??? The entire back seat was full too.

A Picture and 272 Words is worth 1,272 Words

March 9, 2010

I’m sure you have lots of questions about what is depicted in this picture, so allow me to enlighten you. I will start with the focus of the frame, the purpose of the picture: my hat. The color coordinates perfectly with the khaki pants I have chosen, which flow brilliantly into the more vivid white of my shoes. My blue shirt complements the head- and leg-wear, providing a subtle contrast to each of its khaki bookends. I selected this shirt to complete the outfit because the blue superimposed on the light brown pants creates a beautiful dissonance that immediately attracts the eye. The outfit as a whole at once excites, startles, calms, and pleases the viewer (and, I should add, the wearer as well).

And now to the rest of the picture. There is much distinctly Cambodian subject matter that I should explain because I want you to fully understand my experience here. The tan-colored dust on the ground calls the eye back to my khaki pants and surreptitiously frames my white shoes, while the painfully red chair in the foreground jars the viewer and repels his gaze, where it will inevitably land again on my hat.

I have strategically positioned myself just off-center in the frame; in this way I highlight the rows of dead fish hanging for sale in the open air. It is clear that very few of the fish are in bags, so the viewer also quickly becomes the “smeller.” Though poring over and scrutinizing the pungent merchandise may at first seem inviting, the imagination will quickly turn the eye of the beholder into the nose of the same, and the viewer is forced to avert his eye, once again coming to rest on my hat.

Ode to Cambod…(ia)

March 8, 2010

In case you didn’t know, I like to put down my thoughts in rhyme sometimes. Below is the Ode that I have written about some of my experiences thus far. Please bear with the meter as it gets a little squirrly at times, but stick with it; it’s easy to figure out.

The sun’s scalding tongue reaches down from on high
And runs rivulets down my face and my thighs
I cry but can’t escape the sweat-drenching fire
Soaked, I run and jump in the river to get drier
My pungent pits create a cloud around me
A wafting wall that’s an impenetrable boundary
Like Peanuts’Pigpen, but my smell is meaner
If I bathed in rotten fish, I’d probably be cleaner
All the clothes I packed are dirty in 2 hours
But laundry here is cheaper than a VHS of Austin Powers
Don’t tell the maid you want it done, this utterance would be a chore
To get your laundry done, just throw it on the floor!
Water bottles, wrappers, I look for a trash can
With about as much luck as if I look for a gas can
Traditional Cambodia, there’s none to be found
Someone’ll clean it up; just throw it on the ground
And if you’re on your moto and you run out of gas
Don’t speed to a station, there’s no need to go fast
Just find a stand by the road, then slow and choke the throttle
Gas is simply sitting out in large Coke bottles
But trash and gas and laundry’s not the point of this trip, dude
The point and the purpose, the impetus is obvious: food!
Hot soup for breakfast filled with shrimp and fish
At 7 in the morning there could be no better dish
Order my food and waiters always give a blank stare
I wonder “Did he understand my English? Does he even care?”
Thus, eating at a restaurant’s a little like roulette
Except that stomach pain is the only thing you bet
Don’t try the escargot, these snails really deliver
The street vendor treats will leave a parasite in your liver
If that thought makes you shiver, try the tarantula that’s fried
I kid you not, they serve it hot! (it’s better dead than live)
But now I should be going, I must get up from my seat
I really can’t delay, you see, because it’s time to eat


March 5, 2010

To communicate the mortal danger that we are in each time we sit in a car, I will dictate a ride in the car as it is happening:

Our translator and guide (Tehra) will be driving us in her car. This country never gets colder than 60, and that’s extremely rare and at night. More commonly it is in the 80’s and 90’s, year-round. Our guide lives permanently in this climate, so she has the practical choice for her car: a black sedan with leather seats. This is a Toyota with California plates and a frame on the license plate that says “South Bay Toyota.” How it got here, 8,000 miles away, I can only guess, and nobody else, including the local police, seems to be at all concerned with it.

I climb inside this furnace and my pants immediately melt to the seat. I’m anticipating that exiting the vehicle will be extremely difficult, as once the air conditioning is turned on, my pants and the seat cushion will harden and be bonded together. Trying to get my mind off my scalding derriere, I ask, “What is Cambodian music like?” Tehra proceeds to put a VCD in her car’s CD player. As she does this, a screen pops out of the dash, and not only does the music start to play, but a video to accompany it as well. Given this new distraction and the dangers that I know lie ahead, I make my peace with God and prepare to meet Him in the very near future.

Why there are lines on the road and street signs next to it I have no idea. We begin to drive and several mopeds (called “moto’s”) going the wrong direction lazily swerve out of our way. We never exceed about 30 mph (thank goodness), and we also never stay “in” one lane. Sometimes we stay in the left lane, other times in the right, and mostly right between the two. The vast majority of vehicles are moto’s. They pass on all sides and in all directions in droves.

Suddenly I see a young child crossing the street and brace for impact. However, Tehra sees him and does not slow down. The boy waits for a few moto’s to pass, takes a few steps forward, waits for a few more vehicles, walks a little farther, and continues this process until he’s safely on the other side of the street.

We arrive at a busy intersection and need to take a left. The idea of waiting for a break in traffic is completely foreign to the Cambodians. Instead, they utilize a technique that I have dubbed “Scootching.” Without ever really stopping, Tehra scootches the car’s nose out into the intersection. A few moto’s have to redirect slightly to avoid her. She scootches a little farther and the moto’s need to change direction more drastically. Still farther and some have to slow down and even stop (an almost unheard-of concept) to wait for her to pass. At last we have scootched all the way across and turned. Now we must merge with the traffic going our direction. Why waste time slowing down when we can simply drive straight at oncoming traffic while scootching into the right “lane”? So we accelerate and barge over amidst our new roadway companions.

I should clarify that scootching is not a jerky process with lots of stops and starts. It is rather a slow, smooth, and steady slide across traffic or into another lane. Also, everyone on the road does it, and nobody seems bothered by it. The patience shown by busy people as they wait for a car to scootch across their path is a stark contrast to the impatience exhibited by these same people when they scootch (no need to wait your turn. Just butt right in!).

Finally we arrive, and as we’re turning into the driveway of our destination, there is a single other moto in the alley, driving at us rapidly. Of course, allowing him to go by and making the turn with unlimited open space would waste precious seconds, and there would be no excitement in it, so Tehra turns immediately, forcing the moto man to slow and swerve to avoid us. My knuckles are white as I exit.

(Everything, except the melting pants, in this post is 100% true, without any exaggeration)

Twilight & Tomatoes

March 3, 2010

Hello, this is my first attempt at a blog. It tells of my adventures in Cambodia, where I will be living from now until March 18th.

Two flights ferried three others and me to Phnom Penh. The first was 14 hours long, the second 4. At the beginning of each flight we were greeted by the aggressively cliche song “Thailand will Touch Your Heart,” which repeated the words from the title in a rising crescendo during each chorus. If someone finds the mp3 of this song, buy it immediately, send it to me, and I’ll reimburse you for 3 times the purchase price.

During the second flight, I caught pieces of the in-flight movie out of the corner of my eye. Lucky us, the second (I think) Twilight movie graced the decrepit screen that descended from the airplane ceiling. As far as I could tell, being in the middle of a conversation and thus having no audio, the entire movie was about an old pick-up truck, a bunch of wolves, guys taking their shirts off, guys standing around with their shirts off, guys talking with their shirts off, and a whole bunch of guys (all of whom were shirtless) inexplicably animated over a girl who was mostly unattractive.

Our airline was called EVA Airlines. The in-flight meal contained a small cup containing an apparent fruit salad. This salad paired honeydew melon and pineapple with tomatoes, clearly showing EVA’s belief in the apparently scientifically-valid taxonomical classification of tomatoes as fruits. Personally, I disagree. I believe tomatoes belong in the vegetable category, though my only (resolutely unscientific) evidence for this opinion is that they most commonly appear on sandwiches and in salads, nestled comfortably next to lettuce, carrots, cuccumbers, and other VEGETABLES. I have a similar feeling about avacados, despite how delicious they are in contrast to many vegetables.

Upon arriving in Cambodia, we saw one moped carrying a family of six. Picture to come.