Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sara's 29th Birthday or Adventures in a Share Mini-Bus

Sara's Birthday

If you remember we spent most of our anniversary on a bus under the impression this would save me from spending my birthday on a bus. Well, there goes that idea.

We thought we would spend the night of Monday the 31st in Phnom Penh and then take the bus out to PCV Lauren's village the next day. The day before my birthday. However, Lauren suggested it would be perfect if we came to her place on Wednesday instead. We would get in Wednesday evening and then could hang out with her on Thursday, her day off from school. So despite our best laid plans, we ended up on a bus for my birthday anyway.

There isn't really a bus to Lauren's village. There is a mini-van. We learned the mini-van to her village would probably be leaving from the market at 1:30pm...which means more like 2 or 2:30pm according to Lauren. Unsure of where we were going and how long it would take to get there Cale and I ended up at the market where the mini-vans depart from around 11:30am, a little early for our trip. The tuktuk driver looked around and found the van going to Lauren's village. The van driver then showed us a phone number on his cell phone, we compared it to the number for Lauren we had saved into our phone. They matched! We knew we had the right van and we didn't even have to attempt any verbal communication.

Seeing has how it was going to be like two hours before the van would even think about leaving Cale went off in search of water and a money changer to get our dollars changed into riel. I have a future post planned about money in Cambodia, but it is sufficient to know that USD and the Cambodian riel are both accepted currency. However, the more rural you are the less use you will have for USD, except maybe $1s. While Cale was off, the mini-van driver indicated I should sit in the van. I was the only passenger at the time and it was a little warm in the van so after 20 minutes or so, I gave up and moved outside in the breeze to wait.

When the van finally headed out Cale and I were thinking that we were in for a pretty luxuriant ride by Cambodia standards. There were only six or seven passengers in the van including us and a baby. Normally these sorts of modes of transport are stuffed to the gills. Granted the trunk was so packed with bags of flour and cement and our bags and a couple of plants and car parts that it couldn't shut. But I have never seen one of these vans on the road without a trunk that is propped open with stuff and tied down with rope. More car parts were tucked into the floor space inside the van, but in general it was pretty roomy. Along the way we picked up packages and letters from people on the side of the road. We picked up a lady and a baby on the side of the road. She had large wicker shelves with her and they put them inside the van in such a manner that Cale and I had the entire back seat to ourselves and the wicker shelf took up another one of the backseat spaces. Now we were feeling pretty confident that we would have a roomy ride, there was furniture hindering other passengers from sitting next us. However, we had gotten excited too early.

At the first stop outside of Phnom Penh they took out the wicker furniture and strapped it to the roof. Then we picked up several more passengers ensuring that there were now two other people sharing the backseat with me and Cale. Cale, unfortunately, we sitting on the end where the roof of the van curved down. He was too tall and could not sit up straight without hitting his head on the roof. For a significant portion of the ride, he stuck his head out the window. All in all there were more than 15 passengers in this seven or eight passenger mini-van and that does not include infants or children sitting on laps.

There were two babies being held on laps in front of us. One of the moms' favourite baby diversions was "look at the barang" and they would hold the infants up and encourage them to look at us. This has happened to us a lot on our travels. I feel a little like one of the characters in Disneyland, like I am Mickey Mouse or something, and all the parents are constantly bring around their babies to look at me or pointing me out to the babies. I try to oblige by making funny faces.

The girl sitting next to me on the bus was fascinated with my tattoo. After a while of staring, she worked up the courage to touch it. After a brief touch, she then did some more aggressive rubbing. The best I can tell is she was trying to determine if it would come off. She also kept pointing back and forth between our hands. I know that the Khmer and Thai are very skin-colour conscious. All skin/body products (including deodorant) around here are whitening. I was guessing she was saying something about the differences in our skin colour, but I couldn't be sure. I asked Cale if he knew any colour words, but he wasn't sure either. Lauren thinks she was probably commenting on my skin being white and beautiful and hers being dark (and therefore, not beautiful). Immediately after the hand comparison she started pointing out all the holes in her jeans to me and at this point I was complete confused as to what this could possibly be. So I just smiled and repeatedly said I didn't understand.

After several hours in the van we were dropped directly at Lauren's door, which was nice and saved us having to figure out how to get there. Lauren had seen it was my birthday on facebook. She suggested we go into town, pickup up some typical Khmer dessert and bring it back to her house to stick a candle in it. So we did.

The dessert we had is called Tuek Kawk, which breaks down to water ice, but what we would call shaved ice. The shaved ice is mixed with your choice of "toppings" (the topping goes on the bottom), which are not traditional Western dessert items: corn, black beans, green beans, etc. This is all covered with lots of sweetened condensed milk and sugar syrup can also be added. It is pretty good. I cannot find anything on the internets about the Cambodian one, but
this wikipedia page on other similar asian desserts should do.

And that ladies and gentlemen is how I spent my 29th birthday.

Tune in next time when Sara gets fondled by the women in the market and we go in search of an exorcism.

— Sara

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