An excerpt from the ohronniewhereartthou? book.
Climbing ruins, fending off vendors, and bad intentions from Mr. David.
I thought I would enjoy a single day exploration of the Angkor temples, thinking it was just one or two piles of rocks I’d be looking at, but I needed a three day pass to see all of them and I still don’t think I spent enough time. My new friend, Mr. David, whom I met at the water’s edge holding the sign the day before, drove me around the temples in his air-conditioned sedan but never came into the park areas with me. He just stayed with his car until I returned later, wet, stinky, sunburnt, and hungry.
The sun was beating down hard and climbing the insanely steep stairs of each temple was exhausting with the heavy camera equipment bag stuck to my sweat-soaked back. There were one hundred or so temples that were built between the ninth and fourteenth centuries and left for the jungle to swallow and for people to pilfer. Some of the temples have massive trees that had grown around and through the stone and now support some of the structures from collapse. It was fascinating to see the thick web of roots cascading down over the walls of the carved stones. Piles of carved rubble that used to be roofs were everywhere and made me think, should I be walking under that unstable looking stone roof that hasn’t collapsed yet? Some of the stone walls were leaning so far over that walking beside them was frightening. The movie ‘Tomb Raider’ was filmed in one of the temples, a guide told me, just before he asked for fifteen dollars for twenty minutes of pointing to the best spots to capture my pictures. He became quite annoyed when I said I only had ten. And then I became quite annoyed when he expected cash for an unsolicited tour – but I gave it to him and off he went and started talking to the next tourist climbing through the beautiful heaps of ancient stones.
Every time Mr. David dropped me off at the next set of temples, an explosion of shouting and excited vendors would rush towards me, all of them coveting the valuable American notes I was hiding in my pockets. “You need cold drink man?”, “come eat here, I know your driver”, and “you buy book?” were screamed to me a thousand times. Shoeless three-foot tall kids with souvenirs strapped to their bodies ran over and blocked my passage to the temples, trying to convince me to buy their wares. It had become amusing and I started to enjoy the attention, especially when some of the young ladies yelled “I love you!” Unfortunately I could never see who was in love with me – just too many people frantically trying to get my attention.
A small boy came up to me and pulled out a tiny Buddha statue made of metal from his pocket. He wanted a dollar for it, and he asked me what country I was from. He said, “Ottawa is the capital of Canada”, right after I told him. Then he asked me to name any place and he would tell me the capital city of that country. He knew more about the world than I did! He was maybe eight years old and after our conversation he was a couple dollars richer.
After the second night of sore knees from clambering up stone stairs, my Siem Reap guide, Mr. David, took me to a Cambodian dance club, where I was the only Caucasian strutting my stuff. When I first arrived, at least ten girls rushed over and slapped laminated cards with pictures of beer bottles right up against my face – so close I could almost taste the plastic. The cards were on lanyards hanging from their necks. They started yelling the names of the beer they were trying to sell me. I got confused and felt like I would be trampled to death while I recoiled from the advancing women. I started to laugh because it was so absurd the way they were all in a tizzy, pushing each other’s beer cards away from in front of my eyes. I pulled back and tried to focus on what they were holding and I finally saw, and pointed to, a familiar bottle of Thai beer that I enjoyed in Bangkok. The other girls immediately left in disgust, their obsession of me was over. After I was pickled enough, I got off my chair and danced. I even stayed on the dance floor to do a traditional Cambodian dance as two girls grabbed my arms and helped me with the moves. Round and round we went for about ten minutes while people watched my ineptitude at mimicking the ladies’ movements. Mr. David and I sat down after the music changed to slow lovey-dovey dance time and to my surprise a beer wench sitting beside me was eating bugs from a bag. I was repulsed and fascinated at the sight of her munching on black cockroaches like they were chunky potato chips. I think they were cockroaches – they were certainly substantial in size and resembled them in the dark club. She tore off the legs and wings and passed me one. I studied it for a few minutes, turning it over and over in my fingers and then the girl started giggling at me. She probably thought I wasn’t going to eat it, so I popped it in my mouth and started chewing. Mmmmm... salty. Tasted like cold steak. She passed me another and this one was crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle. She passed me a third, but I had proved my manliness, so I declined. Afterwards, with my head spinning, my ears ringing, and insect innards stuck between my teeth, Mr. David loaded me in his car for our next destination. The sign was in Cambodian, and even though I was plastered I still couldn’t read it. I realized moments after we entered that he had driven me to a brothel. The rows of teenage girls behind the glass with numbers pinned to their shirts made me feel horrible. The ladies were set up like a school class photo, just standing there waiting to be chosen. I told Mr. David that I wanted to leave right away and he was pissed at me. He drove me to my hotel quickly, and without a word. Apparently I was supposed to pay for him to have one of the girls from behind the glass too. Oh Mr. David ... bad, bad, bad ... and I bet that wasn’t your real name.