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A Day in the Guesthouse
Jan 28, 2004

Sometimes, the most interesting travel experiences happen when least expected.  I'd decided to spend a day hanging out at my guesthouse in Siem Reap.  I'd planned on doing nothing; some reading and a bit of writing.

I'm sitting there reading when a group of Cambodians invites me to join them.  They are sitting around a big cooler full of beer.  They hand me a beer and tell me to help myself to the food.  Some of them are taxi drivers for the guesthouse, I don't know the rest. 

I ask what they are celebrating and am told that it's someone's birthday.  But then they all start laughing.  I can't tell if it's actually someone's birthday or not.  I consider trying to ask the question again, but am pretty sure that will be answered by more laughing.  I can't figure out a way to figure out what they are celebrating, but I suppose it doesn't really matter.  A couple of hours into drinking and some sausage is brought out.  I eat one.  It is very dry and tastes a little strange.  I ask what was in it.  They tell me "Woof woof - dog" and start laughing once again .  I have no idea if I've eaten dog, but I suppose that doesn't really matter either. 

Pick, one of the Cambodians is visiting from a village outside of town.  He is dating an Australian girl so he speaks very good English.  He told amazing stories of what it was like to grow up in and around Siem Reap.  Siem Reap is a nice prospering town, full of tourists, but it was a very different place only a few years ago. 

When Pick was a kid, one of the big recreations was chasing mortar shells.  He tells me that the explosions are very exciting.  The kids would chase after airborne mortars and then yell the Khmer equivalent to "wow" when they blew up.  They'd hop into the brand new crater, the one from the mortar that just blew up, and wait for the next mortar to come along.  As hobbies goes, this has to be one of the most dangerous.  Every once in a while one of his friends would get a bit to close and be killed.

When Pick was 13, he saw his first white person.  Some journalist came to Siem Reap doing a report on Cambodia.  Mothers in Siem Reap told their children stories about evil giants with yellow hair that lived in the jungle and ate children.  The stories were designed to keep the kids out of the jungle which were full of mines, but the children believed them.  The reporter's translator asks Pick to come over and meet the white person who has some questions.  Pick starts screaming that that the reporter is going to eat him.  It took quite a while of negotiation and reassurances before Pick was finally willing to come talk to the reporter.

At 16, he was conscripted into the Cambodian army and fought against the Khmer Rouge for 3 years.  He is very lucky to have survived, as a very large percentage of his fellow soldiers were killed.  One time, he fought for 3 days straight to recover his best friend's body.

Pick told the best stories, but the entire conversation was interesting.  Pick's Australian girlfriend, Cindy, told me that she volunteered as an English teacher, teaching English to prostitutes.  I half-jokingly asked if that was so that they could upgrade clientele.  It was very sad, but she responded "Yes.  At least the western clients don't beat them up." 

Current events and politics were also talked about.  I asked if the elections were still corrupt and was surprised by the answer.  The Cambodians told me that the elections are now fair.  But then they went on to explain the situation and it then made sense from the Cambodian perspective which is accustomed to massive corruption.  The majority of Cambodians vote for Hun Sen because he has stolen immense amounts of money.  He is now so wealthy that he has stopped stealing.  Public funds are actually starting to go where they are supposed to.  If they were to elect a new Prime Minister, then that person would steal everything for the next 10 years and they'd be back where they were.

Mom - Jan 30, 2004

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADAM!  I hope you find something really fun to do for your birthday.  We were really glad to hear from you and are fascinated by your experiences.  It's a lot to think about; prostites learning English so they don't get beat up by their johns and voting for the richer candidate because they have less to steal. 

I paid your espensive visa bill, transferred $ and deposited $ for your ebay sale and Suwanta.

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