I seriously am in love with Cambodia, and, more specifically, the people here. They are among the most generous and kind people I have had the privilege of knowing throughout my life. I know this is a strong generalization, but I am basing it on the very real and genuine interactions I have had with the Khmer people.
Now, let me tell you about my fantastic Saturday.
We went out Friday night to a bar called Equinox to listen to a bluegrass band. The band was wonderful and they played some great music. Most notably, one of their encores was “Wagon Wheel,” which happens to be one of my favorite songs so I was quite thrilled with that. They also did a bluegrass cover of “Tiny Dancer” and “Kids.” Both were well done and rocked.
Saturday morning I woke up at a friend’s house and when I walked out into the street I was immediately greeted by Jet-Li. Jet-Li is a tuk-tuk driver who hangs out with my friends and was out with us the night before. He lives in his tuk-tuk on their street (soon to be my street as well!). He came up to me and in my hung over, slightly unsettled state, I blurted out that I needed coffee. He laughed kindly and walked me over to a little restaurant a few shops down and then ordered my coffee for me. I bought him a Coke and we sat there for a few minutes chit-chatting. I love that I am getting to know more and more local Cambodians, to know their stories and histories; it give me a great feeling of acceptance here. After our coffee and Coke, Jet-Li got a friend of his to take me home, assuring me I would be safe, which is cute because I have never once felt unsafe on the back of any moto.
My friend and I went shopping at Central Market and out to lunch that afternoon. The markets are always interesting: they same the same but the underlying dynamics that flow through the space are ever-evolving. It is so fun to talk to the (mostly women) about their products. I know they are expert salespeople just trying to make a sale, but their style is so wonderfully dramatic that it sucks you into a conversation most times. I always feel bad because I (surprisingly) don’t buy that often at the markets and walking away is slightly uncomfortable at times. For lunch we went to a little spot where we were the only Westerners. Fried rice with veggies and eggs for brunch, please. To get eggs, bacon, toast or any other type of what I would consider breakfast food, you must go to a specifically American or English breakfast. But I like the Cambodian style too…nothing wrong with some rice for your first meal of the day.
When our tuk-tuk pulled up in front of the hotel, my friends Danny and Tash were about to leave with, who else, but Jet-Li to go to a boxing match. Did I want to come? Of course! I ran upstairs to put down my things and switch out the new purse that I finally bought! And then we were off. It was a long ride to a side of Phnom Penh that I have never seen so that was cool. The boxing match was held at a television station and we took our seats among the crowded wooden bleachers. This was the first fight I have ever been to and it was awesome! Their was so much intensity and tension in the room and their was a band playing traditional funeral music that gave the fights an eerie, artistic quality. The fighters would literally do a dance around the edges of the ring before they began the matches and each boxer had his own ritual, whether it was bowing in the corners, stretching, or dancing. There were six fights, each one with five three-minute rounds and two minute breaks in between rounds. On the breaks the boxers would get completely rubbed down with tiger balm, which is like Icy-Hot, minus the Icy. It is the answer to every problem here: “Well, did you put tiger balm on it yet?”
While they were fighting, the boxers looked effortless in the ring although I know that it must be a crazy intense experience. Plus, it is really hot in the ring with the Cambodian heat, the people and the excessive lights that are bearing down on them. The only fight where someone got completely knocked out was the last one. And the guy went down hard; Jet-Li said that he got elbowed in the temple. I guess they don’t really use their elbows in their fights so it was a big deal. My favorite thing about the fights was the way the opponents interacted with each other. After every round they would smile and pat each others’ backs before being lifted into their corners. After the entire match, they would smile and hug; if a person needed helped out of the ring, the first person there to help was the other boxer. Cheesy, I know, but I can’t help it, it was definitely my favorite thing to see.
When we got back from the boxing match, I walked down the road to this delicious fried chicken stand. The guy who sells coffee in front of our hotel in the mornings happened to be there. I got my chicken and sat down with him. I proceeded to be really impolite and each my chicken with no plate and pouring the sauce over the chicken instead of putting it in a bowl and dipping. Well, my friend was not having it. He got me a plate, emptied my sauce into a bowl for me and ordered me a bottle of water. Even though he speaks hardly any English, he put up with me trying to have a conversation with him anyways. After we ate (he was eating noodles from next door), he gave me a ride back to the hotel on his moto.
As I am typing this Sunday morning, I see him walking down the street with his coffee cart. Time for me to end this post and go get some coffee to start my day. I’ll close by reiterating: I love Cambodia and I love it’s people most of all. I am so excited that this is where I have ended up on my first living overseas adventure.