Thursday, November 17, 2011

Beside the Seaside

I had almost a whole week off for the Water Festival last week, only working on Monday.  Tuesday I cleaned the flat and generally pottered about.  It was a glorious day, and I walked over to Anh's in the midday sun - mad dogs and all of that!  I've taken to walking a lot more lately, and it really helps me to find my bearings.  I'm pretty happy these days to walk into oncoming traffic, I just hope I don't try it at home: cars and motorbikes won't try and avoid you there.  Which place is the truly civilised one, I wonder?

The school paid for us to head off to the beach for some team building.  It did mean getting up at the fart of a sparrow to get a taxi to the school.  We had strict instructions to be there at six thirty sharp.  They had closed my street because it was Independence Day, and I live near the Independence Monument, though why anyone should feel the need to close the street for a parade at 6am is beyond me!  The taxi picked me up nearby and we collected a couple of other people on the way.  Now 6.30 sharp for a Brit means getting there just before 6.30 in readiness to leave at 6.31 promptly.  But not if you're Khmer!  It means hanging around for 3/4 of an hour, waiting for the extra bus to arrive, chatting to your mates, and trying to organise something that doesn't really need organising.  I can't tell you how many extra times I had to go to the loo (though those of you that know me well will know that it was a lot!)

Eventually we headed off in our charabanc forming a convoy of pink and blue buses like some kind of Barbie and Ken go on holiday movie.  The streets were getting pretty busy by now and it took forever to get out of Phnom Penh, but finally we were on the road to Sihanoukville (or Kampong Som as the Khmer call it).  I settled down to listen to my shite-pod and perhaps catch up on a little sleep.  A voice from the back of the bus, 'Gin, is that a spare seat by you?'  I confirmed it was and Tom made a satisfied noise.  'I might send one of my kids down to sit by you in a bit.' He said.  I informed him that I don't do kids, and that seemed to make him quite gleeful.  'Go and sit by your Auntie Gin, Ellie'  He suggested.  Luckily Ellie is a smart kid and declined the offer.

Sleep, though, was not to come on gossamer wings.  No sooner had we left the environs of Phnom Penh than the chief doof of our bus stood up and declared that the games would soon begin.  I groaned and turned The Cult up louder to see if Fire Woman could drown out the South East Asian tunes being played on the tv on the bus.  Some bloke on the screen was wailing because his woman had left him, which is pretty much what all of their songs are about.  The games commenced, firstly a Q and A with prizes of biscuits and crisps.  Oh goody, I thought, that won't make the children sick then!  Then someone had to tell a joke, only it was in Khmer and it went on for about ten minutes, at the end no one laughed, so he told it again to see if it was funnier the second time.  It wasn't!

After two hours of games we reached a toilet stop, much to my relief!  Though it did start to hammer it down with rain when we'd stopped.  The bus drove about five minutes up the road, and then ground to a halt.  It had broken down, though it wasn't all bad news as we had stopped right next to a toilet.  About an hour later we headed off again, the rain had stopped and Rottha was sitting next to me.  I told Tom I was really sorry but his kids wouldn't be able to sit next to me after all!  Finally I fell asleep.  I count it fortunate that I didn't see the up-turned bus, the two dead bodies or the up-turned truck on the road.

After an age we arrived in Sihanoukville and checked into the Seaside Hotel.  I've done adventure travel, I've even done a Dragoman trip through India and had to share a double bed with a complete stranger, and that bed was none too clean, but I have never had to share a twin room with three other people before!  I'm sure the Khmer are used to it, but then they are all a size zero (maximum), four Westerners is another matter.  It was a tight squeeze!

I crossed the road to the restaurant for lunch, and was accosted by someone who didn't really know me, and who asked me to sit at his table.  We then had to wait ages as the restaurant wouldn't serve us until the table was full.  The other's had been waiting ages for us, and I was hungry and grumpy, just woken up, no coffee, and breakfast had been many, many hours ago!  The seafood was pretty good when it finally arrived.

The image I had of Cambodia's deserted paradise beaches was quickly dismissed as the place was packed.  I wandered up the beach with Meena and we found a couple of deck chairs and bought a coke between us.  The sea was warm and full of Khmers with inner tubes shrieking with laughter everytime there was a wave, and, it being the sea, there were quite a lot of waves!

From the sea I could only watch in horror as a twelve year old Cambodian boy reached into my beach bag and ran off with my purse.  I shouted at him, and the little fecker looked up and saw me, unfortunately running out of the sea to give chase is like running through treacle.  I'm pretty certain that the waiter told him where I kept my money as he only stole my purse, and I would recommend The Fisherman's Restaurant/beach bar on Ocheteaul Beach should be avoided at all costs as it is the centre of a crime ring!

Everyone from the school was very helpful afterwards.  I was accompanied by 4 Khmer staff while I reported it to the Tourist Police, though the police were as much use as a chocolate beach umbrella.  My new teaching colleagues lent me money and really rallied around.  If you are going to get robbed, (and you are if you stupidly take your purse to the beach!) it was quite the nicest way for it to happened.  Amber lent me money, Caitlin phoned my landlord when she got to Phnom Penh the next day, and Meena came back with me in a tuk tuk and made sure I could get into my flat.

After the beach barbeque in the evening there was a disco and yet more games.  I declined to take part in the games, though it has been a long time since I played musical chairs.  The Khmer won almost all of the games, though I am proud to say that an Englishman held his own in the 'swinging an aubergine between the legs to move a plastic bottle' game.  When it comes to comedy vegetables we are a great nation!  There was a lot of dancing and some of those buttoned up Cambodian colleagues of mine can really shake their tail feathers!  It might have been the free beer but some of them were damn attractive too!

We left the beach the next day in our little charabancs and visited a water fall before arriving home in the middle of a traffic jam caused by the Water Festival.  I spent the rest of the week marking 70 writing assignments, going blind because the writing is too small, and losing the ability to form plurals or use the letter 's' in the third person present simple! 

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