Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Pearl of Asia

Phnom Penh is hot. And so are its women.

I decided to wander around in Phnom Penh for a few hours and eventually make my way to the National Museum. After a breakfast of pancakes with chocolate sauce, I sauntered out of the hostel towards the 'Wat Phnom'.

The Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple built sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries A.D. The city gets its name from this structure, and it is the centre of celebrations during the Khmer New Year. The Khmer New Year is celebrated on the 13th or 14th of April and the celebrations last for three days (Maha Songkran, Virak Wanabat, Tngay Leang Saka).

Khmer New Year celebrations are said to be one of the highlights of visiting Cambodia with people dancing on street-corners, music playing everywhere, and several fascinating Cambodian games. Of course, due to my impeccable timing (as displayed in Singapore), I had left Cambodia before the Khmer New Year and missed all the fun.

I then saw a very broad squat building - a massive structure with a thick, high wall around the perimeter. I was about to take a picture (from across the road) when a security guard hollered, "No picture! No picture!"

What? WHY??. Ahhh! American consulate, is it?. Hey wait a minute - do I look like a terrorist to you??? Oh ok, I guess I do.

With my dignity intact, I made my way to Preah Monivong Boulevard and then past the railway station to the Central Market. On Preah Monivong Boulevard I saw a Lexus Land Cruiser on sale for about $14,500. Wow! But changing gears is difficult with paws. So I walked on.

The Central Market was a fantastic mix of stimuli that tingled my visual and olfactory senses. It seemed you could buy anything there. And it wasn't a mall! I'm so sick of malls. It was bustling, not too noisy, and choc-a-bloc with little shops. But I was here for a reason. It wasn't just happenstance that brought me to this place. I was here on a mission. A mission to sort out my most immediate need - the ability to gauge time. Basically I needed a watch.

So in I went looking for a little shop that would sell cheap watches. I needed the watch to last just a little over two weeks. But what I found was brilliant. It wasn't a little shop by any means! There were rows and piles of watches as far as the eye could see. The eye of a half-blind old man. Nevertheless, my Indian eye spotted the cheapest looking one in a matter of seconds. I picked it up and asked the lady standing behind one pile of watches, "How much?"

"6 Dola"
"Nooo, 1 Dollar"
"5 Dola"
"1½ Dollars"
"Hmpf. No"
"2 Dollars?"
"4 Dola"
"Sree? Okay"

SOLD! For 3 dola dollars. I still wear the watch, and I love the 'disco' lights.

Armed [*snigger*] with my new watch I wandered down a series of criss-crossing streets in the direction of the National Museum. These streets of Phnom Penh are so interesting and were well worth the walk in the near 40ºC heat.

The National Museum was interesting, but not extraordinary. They mainly have collections of artifacts from the Angkor temples. Yet again I saw carvings of the feathered serpent ('Quetzalcoatl' in Mexico). I've now seen evidence of this in India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mexico. And I genuinely believe that there's far more to this than meets the eye.

After I left the museum, I decided to visit the Royal Palace near the riverside. Unfortunately it was closed for the afternoon. I was tired, sweaty and I needed a place to rest for awhile. On my way towards the riverside, I saw an Irish pub called 'Rory's Pub'. "I can sit here for a few minutes and maybe even eat something as well." I ended up leaving the pub at 10 p.m.

Rory's Pub was an absolute blast. I met so many interesting people under that one roof. An old Irishman was telling everyone that the Great Recession in 2008 took place because the Mexican cartels pulled their drug money out of the American banks. The owner, an American, grew up very close to where my brother lives, and so we had a fair bit to talk about. Then there was the young Canadian who had been working with Médecins Sans Frontières in Sudan. And the Scotsman who was reading 'Twilight'. He was reading it because he thought it would help him understand his teenage daughter. Hah! But he was a Gooner, so all is forgiven. Needless to say, I had a great time there.

I headed back to the hostel very pleased with my accomplishments for the day. A well deserved rest - you bet! But we seldom get what we deserve. So I packed my bags and headed to the bus station at 11 p.m. I was going to go to Siem Reap to see the Angkor temples!

Cambodian buses are rarely on time (so I've heard, and witnessed). The bus was about 1½ hours late. While waiting at the bus station I made friends with some Khmer people who didn't seem as frustrated as I was. All they did was look at their watches, sigh, shrug their shoulders, and smile. All I could do was look at my watch and grin at the 'disco' lights.

Just a few minutes before the bus arrived, a French couple shuffled in to the bus station. They hadn't booked tickets in advance, so the man sat on the floor (for the overnight journey!!) and the woman sat next to me on the last row. French lady had pointy elbows and every time the bus shook they tested the strength of my ribs. If I leaned away from her, the window latch tested the strength of my skull. This was going to be an uncomfortable ride. I thought I heard rain outside as the bus barreled along the highway. But I didn't care. I wanted to sleep.

Elbow. Latch. Elbow. Latch. Latch. LATCH. OWWW!

I didn't sleep much that night.

Click here for the pictures.

1 comment:

  1. hmmm... :) you seem to have come back with your skull n ribs intact!!! ;) so what's the time on that disco lights say!?!