“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, October 09, 2006

Siem Reap

Arriving into Siem Reap by boat is a bit of a shock. The 'ferry' docks at a small mud bank in the middle of a straw-house village. The luggage is piled on the top of the boat in a free-for-all, and everyone is scrambling to be the first to get theirs. It's almost as if they think that if we don't get it right away, the boat will drive off again. "Go the other way around the boat," One man said. "You can't get out this way." So I lugged my now very heavy pack (I bought a few too many pirated books and DVDs in Phnom Penh) around the foot wide precipice of the ferry, clinging desperately to the rail with my one or two free fingers (the others tied up holding my bags, food, sarong blanket, etc) only to discover that the other side was exactly the same. I should have just ignored him! Meanwhile, I have 10 guys yelling at me to take their tuk-tuk tricycles into town with them. I'm climbing around someone and then others are climbing around me (I refused to budge!) then when I finally get off the boat, I am absolutely surrounded. I am not joking here--it was certainly a super claustrophobia inducing moment. I was not afraid, but exasperated and amused. I even tried to tell them all to take a step back (that's the teacher in me, because I do that with my students all the time--is it any surprise that they ignored me and shouted louder that I had to take theirs! It's as if they think I wasn't listening.)

So one guy says, "I talked to you on the boat, lady!" And sure enough he was right. I zoned in on him for a moment, and he seemed to be offering a good deal. "1000 riel, lady. Come in my tuk-tuk." 1000 riel? That's 25c... a bargain for a 10km ride. The guy next to him was offering a much steeper 50c. "Okay," I said, verifying the price again to be sure I wasn't imagining it. The Lonely Planet mentions that they'll only take you for a cheap price in order to get something back. "Yes, lady. 1000 riel." So I climb in. Did I mention that it's been raining and the mud is about 2 inches deep and we're all slithering around in it. Nice bright orange stuff too... healthy rich soil, I'm sure, even if I don't want it caked on my shoes and sprayed up my trousers. I'm in, and off we go. I smirk at the other travellers being hassled as we weave and honk our way through the crowd.

So I thought I was being smart did I? The guy stops to take a piss half way along the road, a very picturesque road--lots of houses on stilts above the glistening river filled with smiling children and lazy men lying around in hamocks. There were even some pigs lolling around in competition with the men, but the men won, simply by numbers! So he comes back, but not to drive: he wanted to negotiate. "Lady, you need a tuk tuk to drive you around the ruins tomorrow?" "No," I said. "Let's just go." "But, lady," he whined. "It is 15km to town..." yes, I know he's poor (he only looked about 15 years old), but stranding me and holding me hostage is not a way to convince someone to hire you again. The conversation got more agaitated (on my part) and more desperate (on his part). I suppose I am shallow and selfish, but I hate being offered a price and then someone going back on their word. I threatened to get out (what the hell did I think was I going to do, hitchhike?) but that got him back on his bike and off we went. He pleaded again for me to hire him when we got to the guest house (he was disappointed that I wouldn't go to HIS guesthouse, but that's part of the scam). I do feel horribly guilty, because 1000 probably wasn't a fair price to pay, but hey, he shouldn't have offered it to me! All for the sake of getting someone onto their bike. I could say something really sexist here, but I won't...

Needless to say, I am getting tired of all the hassling. In the market, the little children close their fingers tightly around my wrists (I feel as if they put a cinch on my heart when they do it, and must admit I shake them off) and pull on my shirt. I do feel sympathetic to them, I really do, but I just don't give to beggars, because it only encourages it. I am happy to share my meal leftovers (as I did last night), and am even happy (sometimes) to purchase something they're selling (but only if they don't pester me too much, though I do hate it when they don't go away when I say no), but the begging just goes to syndicates anyway. They certainly have honed their techniques though. I suppose it's all about Darwin isn't it... survival of the fittest. The ones who are more timid don't last, which just makes the ones left that much more annoying.

Watched the last part of The Killing Fields tonight. A really harrowing, but real movie. Poor Cambodia--what a lot it's had to go through. At least things are looking up for it though. The healing has begun.

Did I mention that the Killing Fields memorial was a bit of an anticlimax after the superb museum in town? As someone I met said, "I think I spent more time getting the the memorial than I did actually at the memorial." Sure, the actual bones were there (Stacked tall in an enormous pagoda-style monument) instead of just the photographs, and their were several prominent holes in the ground where the graves were, but it just didn't have the same impact and effect. It almost seemed sanitized because the torture house and the officer's room, and other things had "perished" (been taken away, no doubt, as a political favor). There's a scene in the movie that's pretty harrowing... he discovers similar fields of bones. Watch it, it's good.

So it's been raining a lot here. The puddles and mud are everywhere, so it wasn't like it was just today. What a depressing thought. I really don't want to slog it out among the ruins tomorrow. I've promised myself that I will ride a bike tomorrow, to save money, get some exercise and really experience it all. I just really don't want to have to do it in the rain. After all, it's a bit hard to hold an umbrella and ride a bike at the same time, and that's all I have in the way of rain gear.

Am reading The Lonely Planet Story about the Wheeler family's creation of that fantastic company. It's a good read... though a bit dry at times. Lots of lists of places they went in sucession. I certainly get a perspective of the generation and of just how hard it is to make a company really work (I would have given up so many times if I'd encountered what they did). I've idly thought about creating my own company (or several mini companies) because there are so many wonderful things to do, but I don't think I have the drive to see it through. Part of my Third Culture Kid mentality I imagine. I just don't achieve so many of my goals! I know that I can, but I just get distracted before I even begin. I really need to decide to do something and actually do it.

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