Monday, March 15, 2010

Cambodia: Come for the Temples Stay for the Adoption Procedings

To be a good liberal leftie it sometimes seems that you have to love all countries and that you have to especially love all countries that are poor and you have to super especially love all countries where the people had some terrible shit go down (extra super double especially if the US brought that shit down themselves). By this scale Cambodia should be the number one leftie travel destination. The problem is that even bleeding hearts love 500 thread count sheets and electricity and clean sidewalks. Cambodia is pretty rough around the edges. The streets are mostly doubling as garbage dumps, the traffic is chaos, the bugs are huge. When you're traveling, especially when you're traveling for long enough to be called a traveler, you start to feel like you should go see the REAL shit. You know, the stuff mere vacationers never have the time to find, the places that other white people fear to tread. But if you're like me (bourgeois, impatient, really super white) you don't really want to be in the shit. It's always either too depressing or too boring and so you end up on a beach somewhere, looking at the beautiful ocean and wondering if you should have just gone to Florida (You know, if Florida was about 500 times cheaper).

The poverty and the history of the Khmer Rouge make Cambodia a troubling vacation spot. The people are in your face constantly trying to sell you something you don't need for more then it's worth and the history is in your face constantly reminding you that maybe you should buy a plastic change purse for $5. Hell, maybe you should buy 7. The Tuktuk driver who I'm trying to talk down from $3 to $2 for a ride across town is thinking, "Look bitch, your country bombed this place as part of a war with my enemies for 5 years, THEN some asshole from my own country who couldn't even pass college IN FRANCE comes back and just starts killing people because he thinks farming rice should be my greatest joy in life and now I've got drunk white girls all over the place who wanna argue with me over an amount of money that any other day they'd gladly use to buy 1/4 of a cup of coffee." And I can't blame the dude. If I lived through life in Cambodia 25 years ago my ass would STILL be drunk and anytime someone so much as brought up the idea of me and my friends maybe getting jobs and establishing a sanitation department I'd roll my eyes and start with the "When I was your age..." stories. I don't blame him, but I don't have to enjoy paying 3 times the going rate for a ride to the bar.

In Cambodia we have sat on beautiful beaches, seen a tree full to brimming with gigantic fruit bats and eaten a brilliant concoction called bonsong which consists of cold rice noodles, chunks of cucumber, grilled pork, peanuts, a chopped up spring roll and a savory broth. But Cambodia is known for only a few things: Horrible genocide, amazing temple ruins, orphanages and the making of the Tomb Raider movies.

After only 8 days in Cambodia, I can tell you exactly what happened to Angelina Jolie. She shows up decked out in her Lara Croft finery, having just discovered that with enough humidity and enough latex, yes, you can sweat from your boobs. Her hotel doesn't have a full wall between the bedroom and the bathroom, this entire town seems to be sculpted out of wet stinky mud and ain't nobody serving a PB&J, not even if you're making a blockbuster film, not even if you pay $20. She rocks into a local establishment and orders a Cointreau, lime juice and soda because, for some reason, she doesn't know that drowning misery requires much stronger medicine then orange liqueur. (The place names this drink after her and thus dooms all future tourists into paying top dollar for a glass of booze whose alcohol content can't possible be over 3%.) Anyway, she's in a bad mood. But then, out of the 900 degree heat pops a smiling little face, he makes a few jokes, they laugh, he maybe tries to sell her a lanyard, she buys 8. Then, next thing you know, she's back in LA shaving a faux-hawk onto the head of a 3 year old Cambodian boy and talking about raising her own international soccer team.

The kids in Cambodia are adorable. Sure they're always trying to selling you chotskis for inflated prices but they're also smiling and waving and dancing all over the country. The shrieks of "HELLLLOOOOOOO!!!!!" followed by waving so vigorous it could spawn a new aerobics trend, peel from school house windows. The local custom seems to be to dress all boys under the age of 4 in only a tshirt and so I have seen more peen in this country then in 5 years on the NYC dating scene. In one restaurant, the owner's son got his naked butt up on a table and dropped it like it was scorching hot all over the flatware. The next day, on a second visit (how could we say no to a free dinner show?), he emerged from his bath holding a gigantic toy ray gun and stalked his way across the dining room like the naked Cambodia James Bond before being scooped up for fatherly butt swatting.

Our greatest Cambodian child cuteness show took place in Angelina's own stomping grounds just outside of the temples at Angkor Wat. A few nights into our stay (visiting the sights of all of Lara Croft's greatest ass kickings, naturally) we had dinner at the local night market. The owner/waitress had brought us a bunson burner, a makeshift grill, a plate of raw shrimp and squid and her 5 year old child to keep us company. He started off his comedy stylings with a costume composed of toothpicks stuck anywhere they'd stick -- his nose, his hair, his mouth, all were festooned with wooden barbs -- perfect for scaring the white people. I met his growl with a "Grrrr!" of my own and a friendship was born. Next he showed us his muscles, and examined ours, feigning awe. Then he ran out into the street and flagged down a tuktuk driver, he climbed into his carriage and waved and waved as his chauffeur drove him slowly around the block. Then he was back to show us his belly, and demanding to see our bellies, then his chest -- my refusal to respond by flashing by bra received much frowning and pointing but I held my ground and managed to avoid a Cambodian indecent exposure arrest. Next, he demanded to use my Carmex but he obviously wasn't expecting lipgloss with such a kick because as soon as it hit his lips he was spitting on the ground and wailing to his mom about how disgusting this American woman was. By now we were done with dinner and forced to be on our way bidding our new friend adieu with vigorous waves of our own and a 2000 Reil ($.50) tip for his troubles.

So let's say you don't want to adopt a Cambodia kid -- should you still plan a visit? Well, the nice hotel rooms are $25 and so far the beaches are free of full moon parties. The temples put the ruins in Rome to shame and occasionally you can find street vendors selling doughy steamed buns stuffed with everything from minced chicken to cabbage and boiled egg. So, of course, like any Obama-loving secret socialist I'm going to do the good thing and say, "Yes, Come to Cambodia." Be shocked and sad and a little grossed out. Be amused and giggly and awed. And when you're sitting on a street corner in the dustiest town ever next to a river of mud unable to find a cafe clean enough that your lily white butt won't cringe while drinking her coke breath in, apologize to your boyfriend for being a huge baby and figure that this too is part of the experience. And then get yourself on the next bus to the beach.

And really, you can't be sure that you don't want a Cambodian child of your very own until you see them in action. Our little friend from the market wasn't even in an orphanage, in fact his mother was standing 5 feet away so I had to consider more drastic action like telling him I had some candy in a van just down the road. Unfortunately he was more of a Jolly Ranchers fan and I went with Snickers, foiled again.

1 comment:

kp said...

i love this post. i wish i could meet your dinner companion.