Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in Cambodia
Days 1-4 of our Southeast Asia Odyssey

Brian and I departed Korea on Christmas Day after a year of teaching in Andong. As I have previously mentioned, the time flew and we can't believe it's over, or that we aren't exactly sure where we'll be working next year (although it is likely to be teaching English in Asia again). Unfortunately, my laptop has been having some persnickety issue in connecting to certain wi-fi networks, namely those in our guesthouse and hotel, so I have been unable to blog for my adoring fans before today. I will have to give a brief summary. Just to set the scene, Brian and I are sitting on the second floor of a French restaurant on the Beach Road in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, enjoying free wi-fi and about to enjoy some fromage, salade, pain, and so forth.

Day 1: Incheon-Hong Kong?-Bangkok-Phnom Penh...Christmas mostly consisted of flying. We didn't realize until we were at the gate in Seoul that we were going to be stopping in Hong Kong. We did have to deplane there, but despite the free internet I was unable to post an update from there because the browser did not satisfy Google/Blogspot. Then it was on to Bangkok where we walked a LOT around the airport, and then finally to Phnom Penh for a most wondrous evening welcoming us to Cambodia. Lots of people were wearing Santa hats, like in the airport in Thailand and in the bars in Phnom Penh. Good festive times. We stayed in the Waterview Guesthouse on the river in Phnom Penh (including a balcony!), walked around the night market, and sample a few watering holes, including one where Brian could watch a bit of the NBA Christmas day game.

Day 2: After another spell walking around Phnom Penh and sampling its delights, including cheap breakfast and iced coffee and crowds and street crossing (the trick is to saunter, not try to dash through the motos), we headed in a van with other traveling types from various guesthouses to the bus station to catch our bus to Sihanoukville. After a long wait at the bus station ON the bus, and a several hour bus ride, we pulled into this ridiculous tourist beach town, found our hotel, and found the beach. My initial impression of Sihanoukville is one of just being generally startled that it exists. I mean, two months ago I had never even heard of it. I know that some of you have heard of it, but most of you have not. And yet, here I sit gazing out over throngs of travelers from all the Western world, strolling to their hotels, beach bungalows, restaurants (French, Greek, Indian), used bookstores, massage parlors, bars-a-plenty....bars with, like, 75-cent beer, I might add. Cambodia is cheap, including this developed, backpacker-laden tourist beach area. We got in some beach time, some food-in-one-of-the-many-restaurants-on-the-beach time, some hotel bar time, and some DJ party-in-a-bar-on-the-beach time on that first night.

Day 3: Tuesday I got to sleep in with no alarm for the first time in ages, and after several nights in a row of few hours of sleep, thanks to leaving Korea, packing, final noraebang night, etc. Tuesday was relaxing. We sat on the beach for a long time. That is, after all, the main event here. We sat on beach chairs, ordered lunch, read, splashed, sunned, and watched scores of other travelers do the same, comfortably, with chairs and beach umbrellas and open patio establishments stretching in both directions. Night consisted of the fabulous Beach Road Hotel bar again, then dinner at a wonderful guesthouse bar called Monkey Republic across the street, where we had delicious burgers. Mine was of the vegetarian variety. I have already declared that I am so happy, these past 72 hours, to be back among the vegetarians, and the acknowledgement of vegetarians, after Korea. We ended the night a few doors down at The Big Easy, another guesthouse with bar, this one showing Brian's Arsenal game on the big screen, and several small screens.

Day 4: Wednesday was boat trip day. For $15, you get a boat ride to nearby islands, snorkeling, and breakfast and lunch included. We boarded the small boat with 20 other people - and mind you, this is not your typical ferry, but rather a long fishing-type boat that looks like this, very Cambodian/Vietnamese, and wooden. And small. But, nice breeze! - and set "sail" with the outboard motor chugging in my face since I was lucky enough to land in the back row. We stopped for brief snorkeling off one of the islands, where you couldn't see much but I did get to see a bunch of black sea urchins nestling on the rocks, and one of our boatmates stepped on one, getting a spiky part embedded in his foot - ouch! We spent the midday on the main island where there are some "services" (bungalows, a kind-of bathroom, and a kind of bar, at which Brian could order what I think was a green coconut to drink - for real, a straw in the top), and where our crew cooked our delicious lunch while we lay around on the beach chairs reading and relaxing, occasionally getting up to swim or snorkel. On the way back to Sihanoukville we stopped off of the third island for some more subpar snorkeling (but yes, with sea urchins).  Now we are back in Sihanoukville, where we just ate wonderful baguettes and fromage, thanks to those awesome French for colonizing the place.

I wonder if anyone who doesn't get my sense of sarcasm is reading this? At any rate, today on the island I finished the book I started reading on the plane to Phnom Penh, First They Killed My Father  by Loung Ung, which details the horrible things she and millions of others experienced under the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. I highly recommend it to any of you who are grappling with the concept of Linda in Cambodia, trying to work out what is this place and what happened here and why have we been so scared of it since the 1970s - it's an interesting look at a history that has been pretty much ignored in the U.S., as far as I can tell.

Sihanokville trips me out by its very existence. Also, I feel like I could be anywhere. There's nothing paticularly Cambodian about it, other than that it's here. It's one of those places that would make Julia Sugarbaker say she wants to see "the real Cambodia," with Suzanne replying that she was perfectly content to stay on Serendipity Beach. Part of me is looking forward to going back to Phonm Penh and then on to Siem Reap so I can remember what country I am in. But there is a small part of me excited to lie on the beach and do nothing again tomorrow.

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