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Published: January 2nd 2015
A day in Chi Phat village--I want to say "typical" day--but nothing is ever typical. It usually starts with a bicycle ride, but then anything can happen...
At 6 am I'm out on my bicycle for a morning ride. I pass Veasna, a former cycling guide and tell him to join me. He says no, he just finished jogging (I doubt that) and besides, he doesn't want to wear out the chain on his bicycle. I head down the road. Dogs everywhere, sitting on the dirt road, sitting in the ashes of fires, sitting on each other, sitting on house steps, assessing the activities around them. Chickens always waiting until the last moment to dash out in front of me. Crowing roosters, bloated water buffaloes chewing grass. Cows clanging their bells as they plod to the fields to eat. I weave around the beasts, hoping no one jerks his head or does a projectile plop. People huddled around fires of leaves and branches. I'm in a shirt and they have jackets and hats. Kids in school uniforms heading for class by bicycle. I pedal along, enjoying the rising sun, shining through the coconut palms.
After 20 minutes I'm at
my turn-around place, with quiet fields on both sides, strange birds grazing and perching, so quiet. Head back, more people out, a few motos pass me. Now I'm looking for the lady who sells nom, the rice cakes mixed with coconut milk surrounding nut paste or bananas, then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. I like them for breakfast. Alas, I find no nom lady, so after my bath when I get back I go to the local haang bai for a breakfast of rice, duck egg, cucumber, and soup.
I go visit my second Cambodian son Rat. He lives in a very small wood house on the prImary school yard with his wife and three children. He makes me walk into a classroom of kids. He tells me I must speak Khmer. The teacher has no idea who I am. They all pop up from their seats and stand while I'm there. Must be my age. I talk in Khmer while Rat is smiling and having a good laugh outside. I see him through the window.
His precocious 3 and a half-year-old daughter whines a couple thousand riel out of her father so she can go
buy nom. That was easy, she runs off by herself to buy her snack.
His wife invites me for dinner that night. I accept.
I hang out at the visitor center for awhile, chatting with another traveler, then go to the coffee shop for a Vietnamese coffee with sweetened condensed milk and ice. Alistair from England shows up and takes me across the street to meet a teacher that he knows. Her name means "millionaire". I see Savin, my first Cambodian son, and he tells me he's taking a visitor to Andoung Tuek by moto.
I go to the local "pub" and sit and chat with the owners there while baby ducklings toddle around my feet. One surprises me by tapping on my toes with its bill. Alastair is there too. I see a guide bringing back a tour from the forest, and since he wanted to do a class with me, I find him at the visitor center. We meet later, and I give him some ideas on how to move the visitors through the forest. Part of the lesson is teaching him how to tell visitors how to poop in the woods. I have to
explain the word poop. I'm thinking if he doesn't already know this I've got a problem. Should I demonstrate, perhaps? Play acting of course. He comes up with the word shit, so now I know that he knows what we're talking about. I tell him it's better to use the word poop or poo, but his accent is so strange I fear visitors won't understand.
"Poop," I pronounce it very carefully.
"Pope," he replies. I try again.
"Poop." He watches my mouth.
"Poup," he says.
"Poop." I draw the word out, rounding my lips.
"Paoo," he says. He's not getting it, so I tell him to use the word toilet. That doesn't work, so we finally go back to using the word poop. This seems to be a topic of concern among the guides, who always want to be polite. My friend Pon happens to be cooking in the center today, and she's sitting listening to all this as I try to explain to the guide in Khmer and in English. Except I don't know the Khmer word for poop or shit for that matter.
I show him ways he can help people
in rough places on the trail. He is very sincere and earnest about learning. We play act what to do when you want to talk to the group. He does a convincing caricature of an old man that makes me laugh.
When the lesson is done, I give him a dictionary. I'm giving guides a dictionary if they complete three lessons. He's the sixth person to earn one.
Then he tells me he's doing a village tour for some people and I tell him I'll go too. Except it never really happens, I hang out for several hours total. Other guides come in from the forest, I say hello. Savin shows up, and suddenly there's me and five Cambodian men sitting there. A cook for the treks shows up and he says he wants to study with me. I say I don't know how to cook. He wants a dictionary so he can learn English. I say I got them for the guides. A guide sitting there tells me, but he wants to study. What to do.
One guide asks me how much longer I'll be here. I say maybe three more weeks then I go home.
But then Savin tells them I'm traveling longer, which is true. Savin seems sad when I talk about leaving.
Leeheng, a guide that I recently got to know better on a tour that he did, comes in from the forest and sits with me. I give him a card I wrote thanking him for the wonderful tour. He showed me tracks and trees and elephant poop and other kinds of animal poop while on the trail. He also wanted to be correct when talking about it, so I had a similar discussion with him then, except I understand him easily when he says poop. He invites me to dinner with Alistair to his house the next evening, but Alistair is going to a party. Another night.
I bicycle to Savin's house nearby. No one is there, so I relax in the hammock on his big porch and listen to motos and kids and water buffaloes walk through his yard.
Back at the bungalows, the mother presents me with a beautiful fruit called milk fruit. It's shiny purple on the outside. Her daughter tells me she climbed
the tree to get the ripe one for me. I ask them to save it for me for after dinner.
At Rat's house he's cooking outside, and his three kids are playing. We sit in his tiny house at a tiny table, but his wife and three kids sit on the bed right next to the table. So delicious, everything. She made a wonderful hot sauce, fried fish, and an egg vegetable stir fry with rice. She says she'll cook for me the next night. I give them money to buy river lobster. They never eat it because it is so expensive. I tell them it is New Year's Eve for me, so we should have it. Rat says they'll get lobster, fish, and beer. He'll put the table outside so Mum can see the moon. I say I'll make party hats.
Right after we eat, his wife goes outside and starts yelling about fire. Someone was burning leaves in back and now it was out of control and the trees are starting to burn. I tell her I'll bring my water bottle. Rat goes over in his flip flops and beats the fire with a leafy branch
and knocks it down, saving the day.
Yesterday there was a meeting about fire prevention at the community house about 200 yards away.
I return to the bungalows, where the lovely family slices my milk fruit and I share with them. I tell them my first experience eating the fruit, where the juice made my lips stick together. When I tried to blot off the juice, the napkin stuck to my lips. I tell the mother that next time she climbs the tree I want to make a movie. She says there are no ripe ones now, I say "I don't believe you" in Khmer, and everyone laughs.
Now I'm in bed, tapping this out. Karaoke blasts away in the village and I'm pleasantly tired.
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading. If you've fallen asleep, well, I'm doing the same.
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